Sometimes a gig’s quick approaching and you chew it over and see how it tastes in your brain, you weigh up the “pros” and “cons”; you inspect your mood, and consider the “what if.” Maybe you head out, still unsure if you’ve made the right decision, or perhaps you stay home, prepare some good food, kind of half-regret but also quietly relish your apparent laziness.
The NO ZU gig discussed in this article is subject to no such equivocations. With the shiny sweaty octet announced to play at Mojos, I’m on the bus heading south along Stirling Highway without a thought – ‘cause if the HEAT BEAT comes to town there are no two ways about it.
Driven by some primal instinct and the light of the rising moon, I slide off this 999 by the friendly familiar lights, the burger and coffee smells, the flaking facades.
First peach off the bough is PHIL STROUD. I’ve written about Phil’s sets a few times lately but I’m not worried about repeating myself here. Tonight’s offering is a totally different thing. Giving his five-piece entourage the night off, Phil mounts the stage with only a laptop and some very daring leather trousers. Kosmische light projections gush out of an unseen box, spilling dense patterns, purple and blue and white flickerings all over the man and the walls. The tunes bubble and clang into your ears, uncannily disembodied but maintaining his emphasis on insistent pulse, and thoughtfully layered, many-splendoured percussion tones. If something’s lost in terms of visual spectacle and organic human warmth, it doesn’t undermine the fundamental appeal of Stroud’s compositions. Here, bringing us more into the realm of Four Tet-ish digital mantra, it’s as clear as ever that the man knows how to create addictive rhythmic collisions, and synaesthetically tactile timbral collusions.
Cigarettes fizz, stubbies flow, pool balls clatter, smiles chatter. SUI ZHEN slinks in through the midst of it: Melbourne’s Becky Sui Zhen (also of NO ZU) sporting a platinum blonde wig and platinum-worthy pop tunes. She warms up the synths and round-toned drum machine, walking us leisurely thru her blue-skied sound-garden. Sui Zhen’s music has always been smooth and buoyant, with gentle surreal twists: psychedelic or uncanny signifiers bulging through creamy textures. More than ever, though, this all binds together into something that feels really robust and resolved, no hesitations, sheer momentum. With No Zu’s Cayn Borthwick on Sax and Mitch McGregor on Congas, and digicam-luxe poolside visual of Sui Zhen projected large, it’s a memorable and undeniable ~z~o~n~e.
And yonder – NO ZU – what can be said about No Zu?
If writing about music is like dancing about architecture then writing about
is a desperate cabriole grande over a cathedral spire, and I’m not a great dancer. But, mate, we dance, because this is NO ZU and dancing is a physical inevitability. Surrounded by buddies, body heat, foot thump.
A suspenseful controlled-burn kind of introduction, then they dunk us straight into you-beaut single ‘Ui Yia Uia,’ with its magical 2-note baseline and vocal/percussion/synth jigsaw. This lean, geometric layout is infiltrated by serpentine sax which explodes in the closing fanfare, bringing the tune’s zodiac ramblings to a head. There’s no “arc” from here in – the intensity just builds and builds, with bodies thrashing, hanging from beams, reflecting in disco balls. Steam rises from mesh singlets as mallets pummel tom drums. Daphne and Becky sashay and intone in restrained synchrony. Low frequencies squelch and bounce against rattling triplets and emphatic thuds. The crowd is getting seriously loose – with no room to budge, the only solution is to minimise friction, so shirts start coming off. Two boys stand in front of me looking like the dancing baby gif from Ally McBeal. Everyone spirals into a blurry hydraulic mess.
But NO ZU are more than just a big, wild, funny and well-orchestrated party band (of these, the world has a few). Instead, they’re a kind of science fiction – a bizarre hypothetical come to life, like instead of Jeff Goldblum and a Fly, it was any number of AustralianDIY weirdo-funk acts (see: Use No Hooks), a post-apocalyptic gymnasium, a tarot deck, a punk squat, a tropical jazz conference and I don’t even know what else. While this results in a somewhat sealed-off, hermetic world that contains No Zu and only No Zu as its aesthetic landscape, it feels liberating from the outside looking in. It feels like it’s possible to build an entire universe – full of beautiful clashes, confluences and contradictions – with just a few instruments, some weird ideas, and enough freaks to join the party. Despite being so singular, No Zu seem to open up an infinite horizon of energy and potential before us. It feels like anything is possible.