It had been a particularly beautiful Grand Final day. I’d ridden my bike through the warm sun and gentle breeze, along Merri Creek and to a friendly house tucked away in Northcote. There, mates gathered round with beer and tasty morsels and half-watched the game (it wasn’t so compelling), half-larked around, half-gazed out in sleepy warmth from the balcony and onto the backyards and cityscape yonder. We kicked a footy out the front (I got it stuck up trees at least three times) and then rode to a local team’s fundraiser party, which turned out to be a riotously fun gig/disco in a High Street art space, with Tom & Jerry projected onto the walls and joyous funk bouncing out of the speakers.
None of this has very much bearing on what happened at the Liquid Architecture [Experimental Music/Sound Art Festival’s] showcase at the Tote, ontologically speaking, but it framed the whole thing psychologically.
Did I really want to go and hear “challenging,” artistic, noisy music after a day of drinking VB, kicking a footy and bobbing to high-spirited party anthems?
Did I want to leave the dancefloor behind, abandon this pry pit of electric limbs, for a menagerie of cerebral sound-making presented via the frequently self-serious rhetoric of contemporary art?
Well, maybe I didn’t, but I figured I’d go and find out. And I’m glad I did.
When I arrive it’s in time to hear the CHARLES IVES SINGERS, who comprise neither [American modernist composer] Charles Ives nor singing per se, but are great nonetheless. They are proof that whatever you choose to do musically, it’ll be kind of awesome if you do it well enough: there’s scarcely a discernible rhythm or melody, rarely a “pleasant” timbre, and superficially their technique could be decried as “utter nonsense” – madcap trilling on a recorder mouthpiece, abstract honking on a sax, erratic guitar noise. But it’s brilliant. Though visual artists by trade, the three gentlemen have a remarkable intuition for dynamics, texture and mood, sensing shrewdly when do pipe up and when to let someone else’s sonic pandemonium shine through. One member (I think it’s Victor Meertens, but these guys are shrouded in mystery) provides vocals, but they’re not so much lyrics as stream-of-consciousness ejaculations, stuttered wringings of words like “It…is…important…not..to..peak..too…early!” And yet the whole set felt like a peak, one genius oddball idea after another, culminating in playing a footy with a bow to toast the day’s events, and then playing a ripped up piece off corrugated cardboat in the same fashion, before shrugging, and concluding the set.
CURED PINK seep into view, sporting a deceptively traditional lineup of guitar, bass and drums. A trumpeter with a table of effects enters the fray, giving some indication as to the exploratory spirit of the band; but it’s almost impossible to predict how they’re going to sound. Once you hear them, it’s barely any easier to describe. It begins with the drummer proffering sentences into his mic, things like: “How long can you stay sitting down on a plane?” Which their guitarist then echoes in a warped shrieking voice. At last the whole band drops in, providing sort of assemblages of rock motifs (4/4 drum beats, distorted guitar parts, thick bass lines) that have rusted away from the inside out. The result feels like a wonky, clattering skeleton of a post-punk band dancing in the moonlight. Though Cured Pink might seem a touch pretentious on paper (reviews and bios speak of nihilism, the band not as music but a “cultural project,” and conceptual justifications for never naming songs), they’re also a lot of fun. Irreverent, giddily half-grooving, loud and bizarre, both luxuriating in the industrial/noise-rock mode and happily swerving around it.
A bald man and a very hairy man are on stage now. The bald man’s name is ALESSANDRO BOSETTI. The hairy man’s called M THEFT ABLE (though that’s probably not what his mum calls him). Alessandro is behind a laptop; M Theft Able is standing near a microphone, and also behind a pile of curiosities (scrap metal? A box with springs stretched across it? And a jumble of electronics…)
What transpires is one of the most remarkable performances I’ve seen in a long time. You’d think this was a finely honed act the duo had been tweaking for a decade. And yet, these two don’t even normally work together.
M Theft Able launches into a tirade of strange and incredible vocal sounds – from would-be foley effects to ultra fast-paced babbling to psuedo-electronic vocalisations and beautiful melodic singing. Beneath this mouth-wrought phantasmagoria, Bosetti processes bits of the vocals and adds his own textures: echoes, synthetic warbles, granular sandpaper. MTA clangs, rattles and thrums on his DIY contraptions; soon enough, Bosetti joins him in vocal duets, be they strange, screeching, absurdist conversations or charming abstract singsongs. The crowd is well and truly onside by the end of the set, and it gets sillier and sillier and simultaneously more compelling, ending at last with M Theft playing a nose flute in the dark on one side of the stage while Bosetti gazes on silently. And in silence, this kaleidoscope of hilarious, overwhelming, joyous vocal-driven madness comes to a close.
It’s well after midnight; I’ve had a fair bit more than my RDI of cheap beer by now; and SWEAT TONGUE are about the last thing that my somewhat discombobulated head requires. But, they are what my discombobulated head is going to get. The Rotterdam ensemble are a strange and disjointed type of outfit, kind of Dadaist garage-punk – perhaps reminiscent of the Shaggs in their total disregard for the typical jigsaw-puzzle nature of musical interplay. Drums, arrhythmic clean guitar and growled/howled/spoken/moaned vocals are united not in any obvious musical way, but rather by a shared alien logic that my brain can’t hope to penetrate. Add to this the vocalist’s prosthetic leg embedded in the front of her leotard, dangling from her crotch; add to it, too, her fondness for rubbing the mic against a small oscillating fan to create a sort of farting noise, or against a huge one to modulate the sounds passing through it. Add to everything else a reckless onstage presence and a disregard for set length or decorum, and the totality is a dizzying, wonderful mess – a fitting end for a night that brilliantly fused noisy experimentation, true innovation, properly-funny absurdist humour and genuine – albeit unorthodox – talent.
I cycle home in silence. I stop to eat a delicious burger at a late-night burger joint. I reach my bed and collapse. The shiny red Sherrin of weird and blood-quickening delight bounces to its own curious beat in my skull.