The jungle of steel and brick rises high and steadies itself. All around, lights of pearly white and brash colour cling like barnacles to thick, dark pillars with chilly, winking spires. On the ground, where gravity prevails, people are weaving, scurrying, lazing, smoking, eating, laughing, complaining, flirting. A bloated television sends a twitchy glow through an amphitheatre. A jazz band slaps and toots in a grotto. I slip through, hunter’s hat askew, stalking something new.
I’m endlessly fond of this town, its streets, people, bands, eateries, grassy knolls, spritely birds, flowery hillside nooks. Yet for all its merits (not to mention its sprawl) the city remains small: tight-knit, incestuous, sometimes parochial. With few places to play and a non-abundance of heads devoted to any one weird pursuit, the same faces appear in the same places, week to week. This is no real predicament: familiarity becomes a home-town. Still, it does make discovering totally unfamiliar local soundmakers a rarity, compared to larger, denser metropolises where multiple scenes sprout and develop in discrete pockets.
Thus: my excitement upon encountering Perth musical acts for the first time. Acts I’ve not seen or even really heard – not because I’ve been disinterested, but because fate has hitherto opted to keep us apart. And now I ply the savanna, my boots kicking dust into the night’s first moonbeams, my goal in the middle-distance. “Ave!” bellows the feathery head, its beak opening wide, beckoning. I tumble in. Pronged horns float through the dark. I strike a match and follow.
Here is ANTELOPE, five legs moving swiftly and efficiently in tandem, or else, decisive counterpoint. Its overall gait mechanical and crisp, almost robotic, with every step carefully measured and placed; the precision, meanwhile, is dressed in a faint haze, a never overwhelming glow (the sort that flanks a candle’s flame, or spills through a cinema). As I near the beast, the cogs and pistons each take corporeal form: surprisingly, young men, clutching guitars, drum sticks, a sampler-box. No-one sings, but occasionally there is an uncharacteristically brusque burst of speech: “We’re Antelope, how the fuck are ya?”
Like most post-rock and math-rock bands, Antelope aren’t really a post-rock or math-rock band. They’re shooting for neither the atmospheric, quasi-orchestral style of the most assuredly “post” outfits, nor the neuron-slapping complexity and rhythmic volatility of those who warrant the “math” prefix. There are moments that err towards each, certainly; generally, though, this is an instrumental rock band that’s rooted in agile, taut and terse drumming, upon which “angular” guitar and bass formations are layered. Melodically, some tunes fall victim to a certain blandness, but towards the end of the set the whole game is lifted: focused riffs, muscular jigsaw rhythms, fierce dynamics. ANTELOPE are already great, and with time they will be awe-inspiring.
Further down the bird-gullet is a whirl of horse’s hair, venom and smoke. Distorted steel-string spikes clip along over tight, stark, protean beats. A violin bow chugs zealously. Lyrics are alternately barked, howled and coldly intoned. The aggregate grooves are heavy, but buoyant, and expertly delivered. This is ZEKS.
Zeks are clearly a punk band, in the true sense of the word. Sound-aesthetic aside, (it’s seething, but more “art rock” than “three-chord snot”) they make no secrets of their distaste for on-stage propriety, or of their political inclinations. Amid sticker slogans bluntly decrying capitalism and tattoos bemoaning cops come (generally) more nuanced lyrics; ones that vehemently recount and rail against injustices and corruptions. The themes (whether you subscribe to Zeks’ political angles or not) lend a sense of gravitas and urgency to the already arresting arrangements, which are brilliantly underpinned and driven by the immense drum-work of Katie Malajczuk. The admixture of intricate rhythm changes, heavy guitars and bleak vocals recalls early My Disco, or The Nation Blue; with the addition of violin, Baseball comes to mind. Ultimately, though, Zeks have forged quite a special little sonic niche for themselves – one that’s rich enough to keep quality songs flowing for a while yet, I’d venture. The flurry ends with a disco-punk throb, invoking hip and knee spasms throughout the room: appreciation relayed physically.
Back in dark damp world, the lingering echoes die away, traded for the squeak and sigh of train hydraulics. If tonight has a lesson, it’s to leave no stone unturned – so often, it seems, does a gem lay in wait underneath.