Sometimes I get a bit too excited writing these articles, I’ll admit. I’m pretty excitable when it comes to music I guess and it can be nice to think of shows as microcosms of things which are big and rich and problematic and shifting and enduring and generally outside the scope of a single date on a calendar. But tonight I’m lying in bed just sipping on a hot chocolate and feeling pretty damn cosy and serene, and all I really want to do is tell you about the really good day (and night) I had on Sunday.
The day began as a Sunday should, in my opinion: slow and blurry. No real decisive point between being asleep and and being awake, more like a really gradual cross-fade consisting of dreams and winter sunlight. The morning unfurls lazily, dipping its extremities in coffee and shower-water.
Eventually I head into the city, where the sky is grey, the air damp and welcoming; I visit a Sunday marketplace in the recently repurposed Moana Chambers; while I’m there I peruse Alistair Rowe’s fantastic “Pioneer Village” exhibition in the Moana ARI space. Onwards, I wander through Northbridge to a friend’s Highgate housewarming, quaffing mulled wine by a crackling bonfire. Before long I find myself bound for North Fremantle and, with the trains down, I hoist myself onto a trundling pre-Transperth-era bus, signs in 1940’s-type script reading “Metro: Welcome Aboard!” The quaint machine crawls through sunset traffic, and for all its quaintness, leaves a less-than-favourable impression with its seeping, nausea-inducing petrol fumes. The bus driver kind of makes up for it though. He barks abuse at cars and tells anyone wearing football paraphernalia (it’s Derby day, by the way) to catch a “footy bus instead,” even if, like us, they want to go to Fremantle. I’m not even sure if the fabled “footy bus” exists.
But enough of these extraneous details. I disembark within frisbee-throwing distance of Mojo’s bar, and receive the crucial wrist-stamp. After a quick livening coffee from Mrs. Brown’s next door I return to find LOST/TUNELESS sparking into motion. The duo consists of Fabian Rojas (of Electric Toad and candid public music-video-documentation-project Barefoot Sight) and Ashley Ramsey (visual artist and drummer with local pop wunderkinds Dianas). The combination is a refreshingly earnest, eclectic and impossible-to-dislike burst of DIY rock. Lost/Tuneless’ approach has its roots in punk’s most fundamental, uncynical tenets: here’s a guitar, here’s a drum kit, don’t worry if you don’t know all the parradiddles and flammy-flams and sweep-picks and arpeggios, you can still make cracker tunes. In a way that recalls the hibernating (and admittedly more outrageous) duo Frozen Ocean, Lost/Tuneless don’t over-analyse or trim the scope of their influences. You might hear any number of oft-isolated subgenres rear their heads: It’s like, “blues, power-pop, Sabbathy proto-metal and shambolic punk walk into a bar and say: well, uh, why not?”
From the feel-good, riff-driven abandon of the duo we shift to something almost entirely different, and yet infused with a similar sense of DIY humility and disregard for nonsense. This is GOLDEN STRING, a new band which expands on the songwriting of Mai Barnes, who’s been sneaking around town playing solo for a while now (as well as appearing, sometimes, in other acts such as Ermine Coat). What hits your ears with Golden String, seemingly, is the culmination of several years’ creative percolation from the aforementioned songwriter: tunes that have been written but never given a fully-fledged arrangement, musical ideas that have been brewing but previously denied the expanded outlet they warranted. This is the first time I’ve seen the full band. It feels like both a release and – impressively – a carefully refined forty-odd minutes of song-sculpture.
Where to begin? You hear dusty piano chords undulate beneath expertly woven guitar lines; sturdy drums and agile bass simmering below violin contours. Amid all this, Mai’s pristine voice remains unabashedly central: frequently looped and layered into elaborate spiderwebs of sound, but just as often served neat. Lyrics are a key component, never flippant, and delivered with unfaltering aplomb. My brain – infused as it is with pop-culture taxonomies – grasps at comparisons: Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett? Nay, the violin’s steering me to conclusions – Beach House? Perhaps, especially when the tinny drum machine kicks in, but that scarcely begins to cover the breadth of ideas on show. St. Vincent, Owen Pallett, Kate Bush (shamanic dancing inclusive), Go Betweens? All these are grossly inadequate reference points, informed simply by my own listening habits, but I guess the point is that Golden String reminds me of noble acts who both are both talented instrumentalists and undeniable alchemists when it comes to songwriting. If I spout any more praise right here I’m gonna come across as a delirious sycophant, but be it known, if I was less self-conscious I could prattle on about songs like ‘Silk Carapace’ for reams. Reams!
The good-night splashes on in a puddle of excellent people and mango beer. CATBRUSH mount the stage next, the potent combination of singer/guitarist Ellen Oosterbaan and drummer Anetta Nevin, deprived of usual bassist Ben Rose, but unfazed in their rock-n-roll vocation. Throwing caution – but not finesse – to the wind, CATBRUSH deliver muddy, sloppy, nonchalant rock with a subtle sort of artistry that you feel more than you hear. Largely, this owes to Oosterbaan’s voicee, which is simultaneously powerful, understated and slinky – but also arises from the members’ respective aptitude on their tools of trade. Ellen’s been playing for years, under her own name and in bands such as (Timothy Nelson’s) The Infidels; Anetta’s cut her teeth in many contexts, from art-goth gloomsters Like Junk, to the aforementioned Ermine Coat, to – more recently – Fucking Teeth. Their shared breadth of experience shows, bringing a level of expertise to their swagger which really makes it shine. There aren’t too many bands in Perth doing this sort of thing – casual grit, with an artisan’s touch – but they’d easily hold their own against a swathe of Melbourne bands channelling comparable vibes.
The evening decides not to “wrap up“or “wind down,” – instead, it detonates, with help from ELECTRIC TOAD. Electric Toad are one of those portable, amorphous party-entities that guarantees a riotous time. Helmed (usually) by the outlandish yet ridiculously down-to-earth Stephen Bellair, pinned down to a steadfast groove by John Lekias, and invariably joined by more guitarists than you can poke a cane at, it’s a sure-fire bet that things will get messy, loud and very very fun. In my mellow mood I wonder, briefly: can I handle the ‘Toad right now? Will their intensity ruffle my entirely relaxed feathers? But such concerns are irrelevant. Once they fire-up their intoxicatingly simple, egalitarian, fuzzed-out riffs you are under their toady spell. The band’s changed a fair bit since I initially saw them, when they functioned more as a sort of soft-rock-psych pastiche, abounding with wordplay and a tongue ensconced in cheek. Now it’s more anarchic, fulfilling perhaps the original mission statement of POND, who began (if I recall correctly) as an anything-goes, all-in jam band brimming with otherworldly influences but ultimately coalescing into a wall of sheer physical party momentum. Anyway, we dance, we sweat, we sing along. The riffs dissolve into a big crusty soup, chunks of synth and vocal barks swimming through the noise. It finally screeches to a halt, and we dry ourselves off.
As days and nights go, this one seems too good to be true, insofar as nothing about it’s been anything less than grin-inducing. I get home, half-expecting something to go horribly wrong. It doesn’t, and I’m granted the good fortune of getting to ride the evening’s supreme mood into the next day, which finds me here, writing these words with the hope that you might go investigate these bands for yourself. Or, failing that, maybe I can offer you some hot chocolate. I make a damn good hot chocolate, actually.