I’m apartment-sitting (and cat-sitting) in Collingwood at the moment, which is a nice thing to do: I recommend it. Currently I can peer out the window down at a charming, albeit overpriced old milk bar and stroll on a whim to the well-loved main streets of Collingwood and Fitzroy. But before I even get that far, there’s the hallowed corner pub: The Tote, hemmed in by Wellington Street and a large-scale Keith Haring mural. That’s my destination tonight, and I slide in eagerly, having been keenly awaiting this lineup – an eclectic combination of some of my favourite Australian sound explorers. I zip upstairs. A man stamps my wrist; I don’t recognise him. But soon I realise it’s a guy whose music I’ve adored since I was in my mid/late teenage years, and I’d long wondered when I’d come across him in the flesh.
The guy’s name is Dave West. When you hear LACE CURTAIN on record, you hear the combined efforts of Dave (who’s made music via Rats Columns, Rank Xerox, Pauline Manson, Burning Sensation and more), Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppresion Ring, Total Control etc) and sometimes James Vinciguerra (Total Control). In the live setting, it’s whittled down to just Mr. West, but what he lacks in performance companions he makes up for in multi-tasking prowess.
Looking at the crisply-clad, clean-shaven young man in beige slacks and an expertly ironed button-down, you’d never guess he was a noisemongering veteran of the Perth, Melbourne and San Francisco punk/DIY scenes. He’s upright behind a neat web of sequencers, drum machines, effects pedals and other analog hardware.
The set plays out, as elegantly professional as it is endearingly bedroomy. Over the course of five or six main ideas, the ears receive ideal proportions of propulsive rhythm, melody, gooey-centred basslines, noise, oddball synth arrpegiations and heavily effected (but restrained, lucid and decisive) guitar strata. The all-too-brief performances peaks and closes out with a neatly-arranged medley of minimal disco-pop banger “I Can’t Wait,” and mechanically grooving “Unfortunate Life,” two tracks which bookend Lace Curtain’s recent and excellent “Third EP.” In true showbusiness style, West left us hankering for more.
The always entrancing RITES WILD follows – with a similar brevity, but unlike Lace Curtain’s expeditious dance-punk party, this is more of a knee-deep dip into the dark starry waters of the unconscious. Rippling electronics, gentle shimmering filters, simple cavernous melodies. Stacey Wilson’s output (which extenda to quality live band Terrible Truths and more infrequent solo projects Regional Curse/Comfort Zones) seems to be unified by a sort of quiet, patient, sometimes bleak but ultimately cathartic introspection. Compared to other Rites Wild sets I’ve seen, tonight’s ventures less deeply into the gnarlier regions of the soul; still it remains an immersive, dreamlike experience.
In town for the weekend, Perth’s analogue-house hero BASIC MIND yanks us out of our reverie like the most magnificent alarm clock you’ve ever encountered. It’s clock-like in more ways than one; like a fine swiss watch, there’s a flawless metronomic pulse that forms part of its function, but the real beauty is in the details. The intricate, perpetual cogs; the shimmering gold ornamentation. Basic Mind’s steady but mercurial kick patterns underpin slinky acid squelch in the low-end, warm pitter-pattering percussion and beautifully undulating synth patterns overhead. Whether amid the starker minimal house moments or in the throes of some Paul Hardcastle-esque lush jamboree, not a shoe-sole on the Tote’s upper level was still.
DEAD BOOMERS close the night out – perhaps unexpectedly, in the sense that their energies are a fair sight grimmer than those you might normally select to send an audience on their merry way. But in a strange, disorienting way, it totally works. The duo are a fierce, spitting stew of harsh “power electronics” and spasmodic industrial beats (controlled by Leith Thomas), laced with acidic vocal intonations courtesy Mark Groves. It takes me a while to get on board with the borderline exhausting seriousness of it all; sonically, there are no concessions made to the hedonistic impulses of the listener and lyrically, there’s a lot of political commentary and darkly abstract spoken word with not much to lighten the mood. But once you’re in a frame of mind that can welcome those parameters, it’s compelling, terrifying and excellent. The double entendre of the band’s name – evoking both the coffins of the now-senior generation in our ageing nation, and the carcasses of our national animal by the roadside – creates a fittingly bleak entry point into the dark journey this set entails. An unexpected comes towards its end, when Goves’ microphone malfunctions – left without vocal amplification, he becomes just a mouth, screaming loudly yet completely silent, drowned out by noise, rumble and muck. Seeing this desperate, doomed vocal delivery conjures a sense of hopelessness that works perfectly – as Ronan Keating taught us, sometimes “you say it best when you say nothing at all.” (They said I’d never work Ronan into a Dead Boomers review, but boy I showed them).
I disappear back round the corner, down a dark street. It’s not so late, but I’m perfectly sated – best to quit while I’m ahead I reckon. Tonight brought together four vastly different projects, all kicking massive goals in their respective fields. It was inspiring to witness; deeply satisfying to experience – and heartening (though hardly surprising) to see a Perth name on the top-shelf bill. Cheers to that.