It’s the first weekend of the year. Not much has changed, really – a “two” is now a “three,” recycling bins are full of calendars – but like any January it seems a little bit fresh. The cap has been popped and the year still has all the fizz in it. Anything can happen and it probably will. We might find life on mars. Someone might decide to throw a generator party on a salt lake. Maybe it will be Coel Healy (of Water Graves, Weird Frequency) and his buddies that do it. Maybe there will be bands, and food, and fairy lights.
The shadows are long by the time we decide to head to the salt lake. We squeeze ginger ale, vodka, mint and ice into an unassuming bottle and dash to the city, sliding down escalators to the Mandurah train. We chug on and the sun plunges, smearing flamey orange-pink across cumuli and treetops. About now, a quorum of folk are forming a ring around Alex Last and some jam-buddies, but I’m stuck on a locomotive, so my good friend / super-special-guest-reviewer Alex Wolman will write a little bit now, from the comfort of the Baldivis salt lake:
“SEER WAVE is the solo project of SALAMANDER frontman Alex Last, except it involves all the members of Salamander…and a couple more. Whereas Salamander’s sound is extremely dark and primarily concerned with feelings and ideas of, as Last puts it, “ecstasy,” Seer is an altogether much happier affair; the drum beats a little bit funky and the synths resoundingly exultant.”
…We jump off the train and navigate the shrub that skirts the highway. Alex:
“I found myself in a meditative trance during the first two songs. Both of them jerked and veered around with strange sounds and rhythms that were kept from becoming discordant by a wall of enveloping ambience. The final number saw the rest of the band leave with only Chloe and Alex left on different synths. It was almost a dance song with a strong driving beat that Last would drop out and pull back expertly; using his 404 in a rhythmic way, rather than for soundscapes as he does in Salamander.”
We turn a corner and approach the swirling sounds coming from beyond the trees. The faint, phasing clamour and a huddle of cars are the only clues that a few metres down the sandbank a new band called STARCLEANER are playing, and Matt “Magnolia’s” Acorn is cooking quesadillas and spiced corn and fried banana, and peddling mate, and smiling figures are gathered by the dozens. Starcleaner are beautifully matched to their surroundings tonight, or vice-versa; the fresh ensemble plays a sort of soft-hued dream pop with gently driving psych-rock rhythms, and the mass of sound billows and whirls in the open air, carried to our ears on the breeze. The songs don’t seem hugely distinctive in isolation, but the amorphous cloud of wonderfully perfumed tunes suits us fine. I will keep an ear out for Starcleaner; they already sound tight and rich and comfortable and can only get better from here.
We drink the ginger punch (Alex chistens it the “Albany Mule” – like a Moscow Mule, but if a mule was supposed to walk from Perth to Albany it would probably give up somewhere around Baldivis Salt Lake). DOCTOPUS spread their suckered limbs into the dimming air, imbuing the mood with equal parts melancholy and ramshackle jocular fun. Fairy lights draped over bushes become invaluable sources of illumination as Stephen Bellair narrates slack-jawed suburban tales of love, frustration and goodtimes. A massive grasshopper befriends us and treks over our various limbs. The quesadillas prove unbelievably delicious. And between sets, the FACE DJs – Nathan & Rhys Savage – provide sanguine dance nuggets – all buoyant synths and techno throbs lending a neon edge to proceedings, occasionally transforming the night into a sort of tasteful ‘90s bush-doof. The generator is switched off briefly to refuel. Pitch-black, near silence. It’s back on soon, and we’re back to bathing in a thin yellow glow.
But nothing quite so perfectly electrifies the salt lake as the final band of the evening, ELECTRIC TOAD – and I swear on my life that I decided to use the word “electrify” before I even remembered the band’s name, which shows just how apt the name is, before we even get to the fact that toads (probably) live in/around lakes (maybe not salt ones) (I dunno). The ‘Toad has swollen considerably since I last bore witness, and maybe it’s a one-off augmentation, but it’s totally awesome – five (yes, FIVE) electric guitarists, including hunks from local garage group HAMJAM, and the three boys from DOCTOPUS, as well as Richard Ingham of TACO LEG on 2nd drums. And the super-group’s exactly as fun as it sounds – a total free-for-all thick with way too many power chords and Bellair’s punky vocals up front plus Jeremy Cope – a sort of Puck-like figure, but taller – hopping around with a tambourine. The throng fixates on simple riffy songs, turning humble 2-3 chord tunes into sprawling bombastic outback avalanches. Everyone is dancing which kicks up clouds of red-brown dust and salt into the night sky and a flood light drowns bushes and low-growing gum trees in brightness. After a particularly to-the-point Black Flag-esque number, Bellair runs like a bewildered caveman into the thicket, returned drenched in blood. Must’ve encountered a local bunyip. During an extra scary Stooges-eque track he returns to the bushes, stumbling around, pursued by Jeremy Cope, returning to pour the rest of the “blood” all over himself. In the next song Cope tackles Bellair to the ground, resulting in what looks like another James-Brown-esque faux-injury routine, but proves to be an actual broken/sprained/damaged leg. The band trucks on as the ice pack is applied. Bellair and the boys receive rapturous applause.
Yes, dust, sweat, fake blood, and actual casualties – the ‘Toad went hard tonight.
We gaze at the all-consuming hemisphere of stars and inky black and feel the energy bouncing everywhere, the exuberance, the freedom and the party for its own sake, on its own terms. The world is a baffling web of agendas and commerce and careers and complications and in this way an entry-by-donation gig on a salt lake feels like a fundamentally subversive thing, a genuine momentary utopia that refuses to be sucked into the vortex of modern-day bunkum, especially when it is loud and outrageous and beautiful and fleeting. But that subversion, or whatever, is totally beside the point of this joyous, unpretentious, life-affirming and fresh-aired occasion. This is about good people and wide open spaces and the sunset and sound and sensual delights and positive vibrations. Things that are good and will always be good, however weird the world gets. Which sets the tone for the new year rather nicely, if you ask me.
Picture by Swa Hili