I’m fresh – or rather, dusty, mellow and crusty – off the back of my annual Fairbridge Folk Festival pilgrimage, the ochre-red Pinjarra dirt still clinging like a rufous moss to my boots. The Bird – cosy and clean and dense with quaint contrivances – is a far cry from the sun-sprayed bucolic expanses that encircle Fairbridge village. Still, here is a place you can be true to your nature: unruffled by the world, sinking impulsively into the ether like it’s a pleasantly scented spa bath. Under the shade of a coolabah tree, four of us settle down to melt into the BILLABONG, but that is something that decorum and general cosmic magnetism prevents me from devoting many words to. Soon, in any case, the flickering light that skates around the room begins to find more bodies, more weekend-wearied yet smiling eyes to dart into.
A ‘dart,’ while the word is still warm off our tongues, bears mention: because not only is it a type of bird (or maybe that’s a ‘darter’ – apologies to any ornithologists in the house) it is also a weapon – used in hunting and combat, notably to administer a drug to its target. Yet a dart may also be a weapon of peace; a benign missile in a jocular pub sport, a sharpened tool of friendly recreation, a weapon of peace. The dart, therefore, is not entirely unlike reggae: used throughout its history as an apparatus of combat (albeit socially/politically), yet rarely – if ever – with hostile intentions. It too, is a weapon of peace. THE WEAPON IS SOUND dart on stage and arc into a set of captivating dub: the pure, tried and tested variety – though not without its memorable idiosyncrasies. Crisp-as-celery drumming provides the root system for a verdant, flourishing sassafras of slick and slinky offbeat pulsation, trumpet and saxophone growling themselves to life, the splendid but understated guitar of velvet-clad Tayo Snowball (is that the coolest fucking name or what?) coiling its way around the band’s inventive and often spooky Caribbean riffs. Dom Pearce of Injured Ninja/having-immense-mutton-chops fame plays the bass like Ryan Gosling drives in ‘Drive:’ with quiet suaveness and patent skill, but no funny business. All the while Brendan Jay (Wednesday Society/Rats/High Hopes) sits behind an octopus of cables, which connects to a small array of arcane gadgetry he manipulates to ‘play’ the delay effects – an utterly crucial role within the genre of dub. His buxom beard forms a hazelnut waterfall between his face and his electronic devices, giving him the appearance of Odin, Ruler of Asgard – if only he were instead, the ruler of dub delay (“Odin of delay? Odelay!” – Henry Neil McMagic).
The Weapon Is Sound have by now won the war against mental, physical and spiritual stagnation and imbued the room with a sense of deep and unrelenting groove and as such they dissolve in a pool of glimmering purple echo-fluid and allow MmHmMm to appear in their stead. The four men, carrying an air of raw swagger usually reserved for laconic cowpersons, station themselves behind synthesizers, basses, drum kits and laptops/MPCs respectively. They don’t explode upon entry but rather ease their way in, gently coagulating their discrete smooth tones into a conservatorium-style smoky jazz-funk groove peppered with Jack Doepel’s steezy-as-hell Rhodes licks. It’s no coincidence that the gentleman has recently been nominated for a ‘best keys/synth player’ Wami, nor that you can spell ‘Dope Jackle’ or ‘Jock la Deep’ using the letters in his name (actually that second bit is definitely a coincidence, but it’s an apt one). Soon, anyway, the jazzy cat MmHmHm had introduced swells into a smooth panther of soul, fusing warped vocal samples, digital trip-hop single hits, gooey keys and treacle-thick bass tones. One tune in particular approaches Jupiterian levels of hugeness; its bassline engulfs you with its inconceivable fatness, particularly with the fresh addition of Hamish Rahn (The Chemist) on live bass guitar. If you haven’t heard MmHmMm before: (1) imagine, perhaps, the more sultry explorations of Flying Lotus performed live by four talented and debonair fiends and (2) drop whatever you gotta drop to see them next time they play, because they will do glorious things to you. They are the sexiest band in Perth – I say it without hesitation. They make you want to make sweet love to the fabric of time and space itself. You may become visibly excited. You may wish to smoke a cigarette after you experience their set. Their name is altogether onomatopoeic.
And here are ABSOLUTE BOYS, straight outta Melbo-town, a three-piece comprising the age-old rock and roll triangulation of drum kit, bass and electric guitar. Yet these boys are anything but conventional in their sound and approach. Fusing the disparate yet confluent worlds of post-punk and dub, they are decidedly reminiscent of fellow Victorians My Disco: the two bands share an affinity for repetition, loudness, minimalism and hard-edge artistry – indeed, they even favour the same guitar maker (Travis Bean, known for his aluminium-necked axes championed by Steve Albini), and Benjamin Andrews from MD oversaw production on their most recent 12”s. Unlike My Disco, they’re not averse to a bit of harmony and the pop-song form – while their sound never loses its sparse, harsh aesthetic, there are some sweet melodies and chord progressions bubbling beneath the surface. Mantric, linear drum patterns – reminiscent of Sydney duo Fabulous Diamonds – underpin deceptively complex basslines and screeching, razor-like guitar frenzy. There is a rawness and a sense of an overarching punk ethic – but Absolute Boys still employ ‘good technique,’ albeit unorthodox. At times simple bass lines will grow into rich polyphonies by way of two-hand tapping and baffling hammer-on chords. Even at their most stripped-back, the trio are never lazy with their playing; there’s a precision and focus, which brings the rhythm-driven style to life. After a set of healthy length, they “run out of songs,” and proceed to explore one last jam before packing it in. If I have any beef with the band, it’s the demeanour with which present themselves onstage: somewhat sneery, offering chunks of ironic, dismissive banter rather than earnestly chatting or just getting down to the business of tunes. It’s a syndrome that used to be pervasive amongst indie bands, in my experience, and luckily seems to have dwindled of late, replaced by a norm that values friendliness and humility. If I’m enjoying watching a band, I want to feel like they’re enjoying playing to me – and I’m sure Absolute Boys don’t mean to come across rude or snide, but there’s an air of negativity that doesn’t contribute to good vibes. Nevertheless, it’s a minor complaint bobbing in a lake of goodness. As they finish their set I’m beaming, and I promptly purchase their ‘Single Space’ 12,” which is indeed a cracker. The lights finally come on and, with my boots coughing red dust, I stroll out of The Bird – already eager for the next time the ‘Boys are back in town.