It had been a rainy summer’s day in Melbourne, the kind you know would make you sweat if it wasn’t for the hourly downpours cooling the air and painting the road silver. I made plans, cancelled them, repeated this process a few times over, ended up watching Girl, Interrupted and eating Fads (those cigarette-shaped lollies that sort of definitely promote smoking to children). Now – the shadows grow long and I wonder what the night will hold; suddenly, word of a show at Long Play – free, with two French bands, and a new band featuring some acquaintances/esteemed soundmakers. G___ is in the lounge and he wants to go too. We hail a cab down the road and roll up to the inconspicuous North Fitzroy bar as the sun is setting.
Newcomers FAYE SOFT have already started their first ever set – a little earlier than expected -when we arrive. Walking through the bar, along the connecting thoroughfare and into Long Play’s rear cinema/gig space, we’re greeted by the tumble and squawk of cycling drums, lurching bass, high-end jerky guitar and echoing, barked vocals. It’s a wild cacophony, and totally improvised, so the chance of these tunes sounding particularly structured is small. There’s not much tonality to speak of, either: guitar and vocal notes are seemingly plucked out of the air and vigorously hammered, dissonant as you please, while the bass undulates without obvious resolution. And yet there’s a cohesion and a unity to it all, not least thanks to the tight, mechanical grooves struck up by the instrumentalists: Ev (Pikelet) on drums, Liam (Lalic) on bass and Elliot (Two Steps on the Water) on guitar. Georgia Greenway intones her freestyle vocalisations over it all, giving it a conversational punkiness. It’s fun, far-out, sort of apocalyptic atonal dance music: reminiscent of DNA, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, or pick your favourite keyless no-wave wig-out and infuse it in a hot mug of Melbourne. By any measure, a good time.
Crucially interested in having a good time, but by very different means, come FRANCOIS AND THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS. The Sainte-based Domino signatories wear nice leather shoes and trousers, have attractive guitars and play the sort of high-spirited, pristine pop that won’t offend anyone at the family Christmas table, but that even a hardened cynic would have trouble hating. The beats are sanguine, the guitars deft and chiming, the vocals melodic and carefree: think Real Estate meets Vampire Weekend but Francophone, and with more choreographed full-band dancing (yes, this happened). Francois himself is charismatic, dorky, a great performer. It all goes off without a hitch and whips the room into a gently sweaty tumult.
The “gently” part goes out the window as Parisians LA FEMME begin to fill the stage with bodies, and the airwaves with devil-may-care outrageous, grinding bubblegum punk. To a backdrop of Nosferatu (playing charmingly on the cinema screen behind) they skate through a set of cleverly executed dumb songs: crusty garagey riffs, organ stabs, catchy choruses, but all put together with a savvy sense of songcraft and some freaky fun moments, like stuttering semiquaver synth or beguilingly smoky boy-girl vocals. There’s even a bit of haunted-housey klezmer-surf thrown in for good measure. The room is blisteringly hot now, and despite the rows of cinema pews, no-one’s seated any more. Everyone’s resigned to the sweat-drench, embracing it, twisting in the aisles, howling into the din. Sooner or later the singers are waving around a double-ended silicon sex toy and the throng on stage is getting increasingly raucous, culminating in the silly thrashabout “Marie, You Smell Like Sex,” before descending into some rather indulgent and protracted – but nevertheless fun, in a weird way – jam sessions. It’s a loose, humid, ridiculous Tuesday night vibe. “I’ve hardly been to any gigs like this in Melbourne!” Exclaims G___, “It’s like a Perth house party gig!” Which I thought was a pretty funny, and neat, comparison. I wonder if this is indicative of the contemporary house party mode in Paris. The French might not be renowned for their rock ‘n’ roll, but with fun-loving bands like these flying the flag, we may have to watch out they don’t knock us off our larrikin perch.