My shoesteps resounding round the white-walled, cavernous space are the only sounds I’ve heard for a few minutes. Not long til close, with a final spat of visitors unlikely to arrive, art galleries are a funny kind of doldrums at this time of night. Standing guard over artwork no-one’s observing is hardly one of an invigilator’s more peculiar tasks, however. Taken out of their creative context, plenty of one’s responsibilities are truly bizarre: checking on a bodybuilder to see if he’s finished bronzing himself, imploring people not to eat an oversized stalactite of gradually cascading toffee and – lately – explaining to frowning, somewhat bemused patrons that a disused cleaning tool can be art, and that presenting a found object in a gallery is not necessarily symptomatic of a twenty-first century indolence (one’s assessment of Thomas Rentmeister’s ‘Found Mop, ’ 2012, notwithstanding). After all, it’s been about a hundred years since Marcel Duchamp introduced the “readymade” to the world at large, placing bicycle wheels, bottle racks and porcelain urinals in galleries to question the nature of art and deny it its sense of definability. Such tendentious tactics intersected with the dawn of the Dada movement – and co-incidentally, as this gallery closes its gates, I begin my own movement towards Dada on Pier Street. Before you can say “premeditated segue” I encounter a wanderer named Javier Frisco and we discuss Western Australian fishing hotspots while approaching the record store. Past Swedish bakeries and greasy hotels, the alleyway entrance is dark and dank, but the warmth of friendly voices and glowing lights lies just around the bend.
Andrew Sinclair – helmsman of the good ship ‘Good Company,’ mastermind of the evening’s entertainment and gradual perfector of the Ivy-League-downtime look – greets us at the roller door and draws an inky black line on our wrists. We enter the garage, illuminated dimly by revolving polkadots of light. If early Dada artists put “non-art” objects in art environments, Dada Records displays a similar (albeit inverted) form of playful and productive subversion by putting bands in “non-band” spaces. In the big picture, the shop is a bastion of independent, rare and experimental recordings – particularly on vinyl format – in a CBD that reeks of indifference to such things. But more specifically, events held by Dada situate musicians (as well as sound artists and DIY food vendors) in a tin-roofed back room designed for the much more banal utility of parking cars.
We arrive in time for the slack-jawed rowdiness of GUNNS – a local band, but one I’d never heard before – comprising drummer Michael Jelinek (The Growl, The Silents), bassist Jennifer Aslett (Hootenanny, Oh! You Pretty Things) and Clinton Oliver (also of The Growl). Scuzz-laden, surf-inspired and/or trash-smothered punk bands seem to enjoy gratuitous double-letters (Thee Oh Sees, Mayyors, Lovvers, Wavves, Nodzzz), and GUNNS wink in the direction of such groups both by name and nature. Either that or they’re paying homage to one of Australia’s pre-eminent sustainable forestry companies. We may never know. ANYWAY, Gunns play damn crusty garage rock and roll (with an emphasis on the “roll”) that sounds like it’s dumber than it is. Which, curiously, is a good thing. The vocals here are fried, though never scrambled. Beneath the smog of distortion and reverb, bass and drums jive along in ways that sometimes approach sugary ‘50s progressions, othertimes plumbing protopunk snarl, and very occasionally veering into adamant motorik territory. The resulting mélange is hardly original, but it’s relatively rare as far as Perth is concerned, and in any case is a wonderful sound, akin to getting blissfully sunburnt on a lilo with a packet of codeine and a jug of kool-aid.
PER PURPOSE growl out of the darkness next, five long-haired louts straight outta Queensland. If Gunns are aiming for a California-infused cocktail of noise, Per Purpose seem to favour home soil for inspiration: from the Goldentone amplifiers, to the Antipodean vocal twang, to the between-song shout out to Kim Salmon, there’s a sense that this band feels a kinship with their Australian punk and underground rock forebears. And it’s hardly unreasonable for Per Purpose to fancy themselves a part of that lineage; their tunes boast that blend of maturity, upper-mid tempo sneer, general irreverence and trebly heft that pervades so much of this country’s memorable rock music (from The Saints to Witch Hats to The Drones etc). They have none of that thinly-veiled exuberance that often makes me love punk shows so much, exuding instead a vague apathy and disgruntlement. So I have momentary doubts. But really, the songs and the performance are top notch. “Warburton” is a wonderful tune. If I get a chance to see Per Purpose again, I won’t hesitate to do so.
Finally it’s trio TERRIBLE TRUTHS to send us off into the remainder of our respective Saturday nights. The band features Stacey Wilson (aka Rites Wild) who’s feeling encumbered by a heinous flu which prevented her from playing solo last night (at another of New Weird Australia’s VAGRANT events). Still, the show must eventually go on, and Wilson opts to battle through the set with her band. To the naked eye, she doesn’t seem unwell in the least – in fact, all three band members seem to be at the top of their game. Thrifty, linear drums propel sparingly arranged punk jams through the almost-warm air; call and response female vocals bounce rhythmically from speaker to speaker. The twangy guitar work of Rani Rose wraps itself, in a slightly clunky but totally apt manner, around Joe Alexander’s quick, centrifugal beats and Wilson’s fuzzed-out bass gallop. I’m reminded of Austin’s Deep Time (née Yellow Fever), as well as local wonders Wind Waker (RIP) and Astral Travel (RIP?), with a hint of Television and The Slits to boot. [Music reviewer and Perth musician] Alex Griffin remarks that they sound like a band called ‘Lilliput’ – I’ve never heard Lilliput, but I believe him, and will be sure to investigate Lilliput as a result. One the back of this one performance, which provoked the rather static (albeit appreciative) crowd here tonight to shake a leg or two, I feel compelled to count Terrible Truths among my favourite Australian acts. Poised, mysterious and artistic, but wonderfully unpretentious, their approach to groove and tones is rivalled only by their inspired song crafting.
Would it be over-the-top to now commence a sweeping ponderance about the parallel between Dada (the art movement) and punk rock, how both emphasize(d) shock tactics and controversy, but in a positive and useful way that both helped to clear the path for greater creative exploration, and proved potent as a political / social tool? Probably! Definitely! But that spirit of adventure and self-deprecation, that spitting-in-the-face of normalcy and mediocrity, is such a defining feature of (good) DIY music as well as the New Weird Australia initiative and Dada records itself. Tonight, meanwhile, has been more about good vibes, flickering shadows and light, BYO brews, great songs and the joys of being itinerant (physically, creatively) within the landscape of music. Here’s hoping these bands don’t settle down any time soon.