The day chosen for the backyard show turned out to be the rainiest day of the year. Morning arrived humid and heavy. It sat on your shoulders like a hot wet towel. By noon, the heavens began to sprinkle and when I arrived in East Perth, the humidity had yielded to a cool refreshing dampness. Raindrops still splashed me teasingly as I carried speakers and lights through the front yard, past the geodesic igloo, round the side path and into the dewy backyard. It was a grin-inducing sight: smatterings of people all about in bright-coloured garb, sheltered under tree branches or the vine-covered patio canopy, else reclining in picnic chairs or gathered, laughing, in the kitchen. A barbeque sat open – on it a pitcher of punch, plentiful hummus, felafel and other delights. Mei Swan arrived as I did, and was soon setting up her performance apparatus in the garage, on a table adorned with gold-tasselled cloth, behind her a crimson banner reading ‘Parliament House, Papua New Guinea.’ The whole scene was already shaping up to be something quite unique.
Now Mei begins, and banishes the few dark clouds remaining. Essentially all instrumental parts are pre-recorded and triggered live through Ableton (I’m guessing it’s Ableton), so visually there’s not a lot to latch onto apart from the sight of Mei crooning soulfully into a golden microphone. That’s more than ok, because the music of MEI SARASWATI is already a sensory banquet. Her tunes are alluring and flawless amalgams of contemporary R&B, glitch electronica and eastern tribal rhythms; sonic collages invoking bodily movement and euphoric sensations. One of the most modest soundmakers in Perth, Mei is also one of the best. Along with Kucka, Andrew Sinclair and a bunch of others, she’s part of a new wave of inventive local artists creating semi-electronic, cosmopolitan post-pop with a real focus on songcraft and adventure. I feel like it’s some kind of wave, anyway. More important are the serene and nourishing tones that Mei here emits: I said soulful before, and truly, it’s music for the soul, as deep and honest as it is funky and texturally enticing. Everyone’s spirit melds into some kinda luminous column like plants of pure light growing around a single tree and ascending into the exosphere, but all too soon, Mei’s set comes to an end. She smiles, and silence reigns.
The sun is still shining, so we collapse the camping tent placed before the garage-stage as an emergency shelter. Now, to remedy the quietude, come DOCTOPUS. Doctopus comprises Stephen Bellair (also of The Good Boys, Carbuncle) John Lekias (Runner, Cow Parade Cow, These Shipwrecks) and Jeremy Holmes (I don’t know of any other bands this bearded wonder has been in but chances are he’s been in some) – and although they only have six arms between them, they make sufficient noise to make any cephalopod proud. Previously I’ve gotten shoegazey, kinda rustic dream-pop vibes from Doctopus, but today it’s a different sounding beast to the one I’ve encountered before. This is more raw, up-tempo, a bit more angry and a bit more ‘60s. Bellair’s voice is somewhat bear-like and alternates between subued tunefulness and high-pitched yell-singing about people being ‘shit friends,’ and it’s rad, though I imagine it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of affair. Doctopus are the only band of the day that suffer from a lack of a fleshed-out PA setup; it’s hard for an un-mic’d kick drum to cut through loud amplifiers, even when the mighty ankle of Lekias is delivering the thuds. Still, c’est la vie with backyard gigs. The super pleasant, relaxed atmosphere more than makes up for occasional sound qualms such as these.
SALAMANDER – fraternal pairing of Alex and Chris Last – then emerge from the astral wormhole, but in tearing open the sky they also let its water fall out. As the duo set up (with impressive speed!) the deluge beats down mercilessly. The grass turns to sodden swampland, the trees to leafy mops. The low hiss and rattle of rain is vociferous on the rooves. The sky is steely blue-grey and the daylight is dim and mean. But this is showbusiness, albeit domesticated, and Salamander – being, after all, amphibious by nature – are not about to let a little downpour stop them. They promptly let loose perhaps the most viscerally digabble set I’ve ever heard them do, oozing with brain-bending swells, synthesized noise implosions, intergalactic beats and dense textures wrenched straight from the dank and dark subconscious of a maverick narwhal. One tune elicited a bliss-out so hard I thought I’d melted and mingled into the swamp-sludge beneath me; it was a clever tune, brutal but nuanced, reminiscent of Gang Gang Dance at their most hefty. It ruled. Alas, as another intense tune began to reach its climax, a technical hiccup shut off all their sound. Bummer of the century (hyperbole of the week). But for real, it was a damn shame.
Before we had a chance to get too depressed about it – but not before an actual flood starts to form around the stage’s floodlight – LEAVING bubbles into earshot. This is Rupert Thomas of Erasers fame, gone solo and further exploring the limits of warm repetitious drone, synthesized warblings and arpeggiations, simple melancholy beats and gentle melodies. It definitely draws influence from the synth heroes of the krautrock era – Klaus Schulze, Cluster et al – as well as taking cues from modern contemporaries, but the sound of it is just so absolutely Rupert. I don’t mean in terms of how he is as a person; although he is a mellow fellow. Nay, there’s just a certain magic resonance that pervades everything he does, a kind of stillness and peace, and it’s distilled with LEAVING. Rupert also happens to be responsible for the OWLS record label, which is launching both Leaving and Salamander tapes today. Busy guy.
And finally comes the fragrant and mysterious SACRED FLOWER UNION. Luscious and sinewy digital noodlings wrapped around tribal beats built from canned congas, steel drum samplings and 90s techno blips. Dan Griffin – the one-man union, previously of Clean Living – builds his tunes up with loopers and four – count ‘em, four – delay pedals, creating linear sound structures that are ultimately restrained, blissful and by no means crude (as loop-pedal layer-stackings can easily become). Just like Leaving and Salamander before him, Griffin has the wondrous ability of wholly transporting your mind and spirit to another plain. Salamander’s was wild, intense, adrenaline-charged; Leaving’s was slow-motion and eden-like; the world of Sacred Flower Union is perhaps somewhere in between, but somewhere else again, laden with neon vegetation and ritualistic buoyancy. SFU has a tape out now too, also launched today, on the Future Past label.
And though the rain hasn’t let up, our spirits remain undampened, and our imaginations charged with technicolour electricity. Today reminds me of childhood afternoon where, with a single marble, a bucket and the end of a broom – plus a generous sprinkling of make-believe – you could transport yourself to the far reaches of space, the heart of medieval battle, the moist depths of the jungle or the corridors of strange gothic mansions. Today it’s the power of incredible tunes, as well as an abundance of good mates, that allows us to escape the material world and venture far and wide, all from the (admittedly soggy) comfort of one backyard. It’s a truly vivid adventure. Along with such recent initiatives as Yardstock (numerous gigs at numerous North Perth houses on one afternoon), today injected me with a sense of ultra-excitement for what may be a burgeoning backyard gig circuit. It’s the way of the future I swear. How often do you get offered spicy pumpkin soup at a pub? Exactly!