It’s curious that I find myself on a bus en route to see Kirin J Callinan at the Bakery. It’s as if I just woke up here. I hadn’t thought about it at all. It isn’t a decision I’ve assessed. It doesn’t really feel like a decision at all – it’s simply happening. There’s a sense of inevitability to it, like death or puberty; even before you know what it is, you kind of know it’s coming. Is it because I’m a huge, devoted Kirin J Callinan fan for whom there was never any real option but to see my musical hero play live? Nope. In fact, until a month or two ago, I’d have raised a single eyebrow and pouted in confusion if you’d mentioned the name, expecting me to know who he was.
As it turns out, I’d already seen him play – as second guitarist with Jack Ladder – but all that was etched into my mind was a pencil moustache, greased-back hair, a singlet and swaying hips, as well as some Prince-esque guitar licks; I hadn’t a clue what the guy had written on his drivers’ licence. In any case, fate brought this peculiar man back into my life – via the internet, initially, naturally, me perusing music websites and he thrashing about without many clothes on and alternately howling, whispering and crooning over stark, weird, brooding song-pulsations. Perhaps it’s this sense of bamboozlement that has me destined for the sea-container castle: a desire to unravel, or at least be fully and brutally exposed to, the mystery of this man.
As I arrive I’m doused in the busy, squall-like sounds of MUDLARK. This duo’s name has appeared on innumerable posters over the last few months but until now I haven’t managed to catch a set. I’m immediately glad to be surrounded by their sounds; intricate, insectoid drum clicks and booms whirr and race in a flurry while verbed-out, agile guitar flips and washes over itself. There aren’t really ‘hooks,’ familiar structures, or totally logical grooves, which could exhaust or infuriate some listeners. But as far as luscious, rhythmic, chimaeric listening experiences go, Mudlark are surely be one of your best bets in this town.
From here’s its onto another rich and rhythmic ensemble, the now almost universally-loved USURPER OF MODERN MEDICINE. I mean, I’m sure there are people who don’t like this band, but I’ve yet to meet them. Their undulating groove-propulsions and synthetic flourishes are second to none, at least locally, if not Australia-wide. The unfortunate departure of monster-drummer Cam Hines had me worried but the arrival of Mike Jelinek (The Growl/Gunns/The Silents) means they haven’t missed a beat in the transition. A few new songs here a welcome addition, many of them introducing more major-key shimmer, imbued with a kind of candy-punk mood possibly owing to the J-pop influence of japanophile Steve Hughes. It’s a set that leaves me eager for more new material, something which we’ll thankfully be privy to pretty damn soon.
And soon the clock strikes 11, and the chilly night kicks further along, and curiously the Bakery crowd has yet to swell to anything beyond a moderate huddle, which would be odd for any Friday night at this place, but seems particularly ill-fitting on such an auspicious evening. Nevertheless, there’s palpable excitement emanating from the small and devoted throng. KIRIN J CALLINAN takes to the stage in a modest haze of smoke, clad in an arabic robe and jodhpur-esque trousers while his accomplices (on drums and bass/synth respectively) stand stone-like wearing monochrome jumpsuits and cycling sunnies, looking like members of Eiffel 65. Normally I wouldn’t pay such heed to outfits – but these feel like more than fashion accessories. As per, say, Grimes, these colliding visual styles seem to prefigure a more general philosophy of the world in which we find ourselves: the visual confusion is a mirror to the disorienting, internet-infused landscape of today, where something can be everything, every aesthetic at once and (by extension) intricately singular, or else totally null.
It’s a mood which does indeed seem to extend the music, as Kirin straps on his guitar and, hemmed in by a ritual-circle of effects pedals, dives into the razor-wire of frenetic and dark songs like ‘Halo’ and the bellowing, desperate ‘Embracism.’ A mood of trying to contend with everything at once, the overwhelming horror and immensity of the world, and finding yourself either in the throes of nihilism/hedonism or else beautifully, heart-brokenly earnest. These tunes – which blaze along towards more standout tracks like ‘Thighs’ and ‘Way II War,’ tend towards the former, drenched in Birthday Party-esque goth-fluid or Suicide-type drum-machine-headache-n-drawl. One of the most arresting things – it’s simultaneously uncanny and refreshing – is the overt presence of an Australian accent within a performance that recalls New York or European rock at its most confrontational, genre-irreverent and avant-garde. But transcending any historical or contextual notability is the sheer quality of the performance and songs. Kirin J Callinan may be a classic provocateur, counterposing his acidic, spittle-flecked tunes with oddly polite and meek stage banter and gettin all awkward and surreal on you, but ultimately there’s a very transparent commitment to writing great tunes and being ridiculously good at using these instruments, warped effects (including a brilliantly, freqeuntly employed step filter), and stylistic tropes. Songs like ‘Apology Accepted’ expose Callinan’s more old-fashioned, soulful, melodic side, without ever sacrificing the sense of sonic and lyrical adventure. You could call the whole thing ‘pretentious’ – but the pretence is very much part of the point, a layer of weird grime and dizzying peculiarity which is both fascinating in itself, and the perfect foil to the heartfulness which ultimately makes Kirin’s efforts so truly rewarding. This guy, whichever route he takes next, is going to be one of the most remarkable forces in Australian music for a while yet – about that, I have no doubt.