BIGSOUND FESTIVAL @ FORTITUDE VALLEY, BRISBANE, SEPTEMBER 10-11
The opening didgeridoo, clapsticks and ‘90s house beat of “Come-N-Dance” by Blekbala Mujik wrenches me out of my sleep. It’s 6am, a time that I know exists, but am seldom required to have anything to do with. Harnessing a rare variety of immediate post-wakeup energy that seems to exclusively accompany mornings when I need to catch a plane, I hurtle down the hallway and make and scull a plungerful of coffee. I spoon some muesli into my mouth in the cool backyard sunshine, where birds twitter in their weird dawntime excitement and the passionfruit vine yawns, slowly prying open its psychedelic gold and purple flowers for the day. Before long I get a message from Johnny: “on our whey bro.”
I pull on boots, a jumper, a duffel coat (these things are mistakes) and slide into the taxi, where the news on the radio is depressing and the driver’s sniffing is driving Nick bonkers. But we reach the airport, and raid the buffet in the Virgin lounge, and fly with sleepy anticipation to Brisbane, and all is well.
Our overnight residence is called the Hotel Orient. It’s an old, wedge-shaped pub that juts out atop a concrete peninsula onto a newer, busy street. Its façade’s all cinnamon-brown and rounded. When we enter, the bloke minding the broom-cupboard office doesn’t seem to know who we are, so he summons another, bloodshot-eyed bloke down from a ladder outside (he’s painting the establishment purple). This man looks us up and down with a “yeah, they’ll do” sort of expression and sends us up the winding stairs to Room 13.
“I thought they got rid of Room Thirteens!” exclaims Nick, but alas I think it’s only thirteenth hotel floors that got the chop. Concentrated bad-luck remains in specific chambers. Luckily our luck seems relatively uncompromised so far. The room has three beds and instant coffee and a TV that plays back-to-back Seinfeld episodes.
Soon we rendezvous with the man we’re here for: Peter Bibby, who we’ll be accompanying musically at a place call “Ric’s Bar” tonight. Pete’s wearing a sleeveless denim shirt, which we all agree is a filthy move. We follow him to a bar called the Flying Cock, and drinking Flying Cocktails with excellent patriotic names like “The Mandarin From Snowy River,” and “Gin Like [Errol] Flynn.” Soon enough we’ve accrued a merry band of buddies, maybe ten of us. After adequate liquid intake we begin a stroll through Brisbane, along the river, finally ending up in the Royal Botanical Gardens playing songs for four teenage fans who had ventured out especially to hang with us hoodlums among the bamboo and ibises. One of them even takes a turn singing a song. What bunch of good eggs.
We drift back into Fortitude Valley and play the show at Ric’s. It’s loose and dark and cheery and people drink their jugs and do their jigs. Our mate Cosi Jaala makes a very spirited guest appearance during one song, and is promptly forcibly removed by overzealous bouncers. Once we’re done we enjoy some frothy beers and make our way over to a place called the Black Bear Lodge where FELICITY GROOM and her band are playing.
My blood races with anticipation! I haven’t seen Flick play in ages. And what a joy to watch a fellow Perthite kicking goals in Brisbane.
Yep, the set is a blast: both the older tunes, and new compositions from the forthcoming ‘Hungry Sky’ album. These new tracks, like single “Higher, Higher, Taller, Taller” feel somehow terser, more geometric; jagged where they once were sinewy. I might be imagining that, but there you go. In any case “Higher…” is an incredible song, driven by a simple tripletty verse rhythm that makes way for a Judy Garland-esque chorus melody – answered by a melodic snaking bass motif courtesy Andrew Ryan. Generally, it’s Steve Summerlin that handles the low end, and with a cool businesslike poise; he’s also added sporadic synthwork to his repertoire. Mike Jelinek is flawless and expressive on both acoustic and electronic drums, while Andrew Ryan’s guitar approach is as singular, syncopated, lyrical and distinctive as ever. In the centre is Felicity herself, who’s turned her focus more towards keyboard than guitar/autoharp lately, with no less success. Her demeanour is ebullient, half-mysterious and half-matey; her vocal work is as rich and effortlessly nimble as ever – and if I have one complaint, it’s that these deftly intoned strains aren’t higher in the mix. But no matter: the set’s a beauty, a formidable reminder of why I loved Felicity’s music in the first place.
I catch up with Adam, who’s over from Perth representing RTR, and we head on to watch a band called DMAs in an outdoor rectangle kind of like a skinny carpark hemmed in by shipping containers, with the band under a marquee. They’re utterly ridiculous, but impossible to hate whole-heartedly. They sound exactly like Oasis, and dress like modern-day chavs, and I’ve never read a review of DMAs but I bet they all say those two things almost word-for-word: there’s not much wiggle room for other aesthetic interpretations (they’re from Sydney, by the way). But in the half-drizzle and the crowd and with the Britpop handpercussion jiggling away and the guitars thrumming with utmost affected indifference, there’s some daft and genuine fun to be had, in no small part thanks to just how baffling their shtick (and its popularity) is.
We trot onwards to D.D. DUMBO, whose guitar/drum/vocal loopings are not exactly revelatory, but certainly not run of the mill either; using an inventive collection of sounds – from string harmonics to surreptitious harmonies and low rumbles – he builds a throbbing grid of neon-lit polyphony, ensnaring the ears with ease. We don’t stay for long though, as we want to catch some of the simultaneous BLANK REALM set – and we do, and it’s blaring, messy, sweaty, impressive, uncommonly REAL and totally beautiful. Our musicband listening-and-viewing marathon is rounded out by SEEKAE, who play in a high-ceilinged dance hall filled to the point of opacity by smoke, and pump hefty house rhythms and ever-tasteful, dance-informed live art-rock into the air. What a treat.
The rest of the night plays out in ludicrous ways that needn’t be described in depth, including a green LED-lit apartment, sugary soft drink and vodka, overdubbing old movies with utter nonsense and dancing like fiends to Fleetwood Mac. Back at the hotel, we watch a bit of the VFL game (Werribee V Williamstown) on the telly before we all drift off. In the morning I race around the ‘Valley trying to find toasted egg sandwiches and fruit, and finally we’re back on the plane, and touching down again, half a cryptic crossword later, as if none of it ever happened. “Yesterday morning / I woke up to a dream,” goes the first line of Blekbala Mujik’s “Come-N-Dance.” And so the feeling goes: it’s not the night-time, but the last 24 hours spent awake, that feel like a reverie. Not that I mind especially; it was a grand little dream to have.