“Im gonna call u so u can hear how insane gurner is,” reads the text message. I’m on the number 8 tram, skating past dark windows and blurred lights towards the city. My phone pipes up with familiar bongo sounds and I answer it. A microphone at Boney picks up the sounds of GURNER. The sounds are converted into zeroes and ones, sent via radio frequencies to a nearby mobile base station, and relayed to my phone, where they leak out of a speaker. I hear Gurner, albeit with some loss of fidelity, and chuckle at the “insanity” – it does sound pretty wild. A surging hi-hat gallops through waves of melody and rough synthetic sludge. Some kind of extroverted lead line screeches its way over the haze, oblivious to the artisanal obfuscation eddying beneath it. The phone hangs up.
Tonight, Sydney label FALLOPIAN TUNES is putting on one of its apparently always-excellent dance parties, in celebration of Document Swell’s new record ‘Ideal Scenery.’ When my body arrives at Boney, the upstairs hollow at the end of Little Collins street I scarcely otherwise visit, it’s just in time for support act BAD BONES. A long-haired, scraggly bearded man who might as well be Merlin of Carmarthen, rises onto the D-shaped stage and begins squeezing buzzes, rumbles, fizzes, whacks and booms from his midi-controller setup. Two hands manipulate pads and knobs on the table, while one besocked toe prods more midi-pads on the ground. All the while, pungent Nag Champa burns in a ritualistic bundle atop the table, vibrating wildly during the more extreme bass notes and creating elaborate zig-zags of aromatic smoke. Behind the man, a projector layers analog glitch visuals featuring manipulations of BBC videotapes and dense pixelated patterns. The set is delightfully weird and endearingly unpredictable, though the clash of familiar dance-beat tropes with imperfect rhythms and wonky meter makes it a little exhausting, eventually.
ABSTRACT MUTATIONS proceeds, a young man in no-nonsense sporting apparel forging straight-faced lo-fi bedroom techno. It’s undeniably nice stuff; synth bubbles that have collected a lifetime supply of lint, persistent hi-hats furrier than an angora rabbit, acid bass eeling its way through the ether, a world which is conceived expressively but geometrically, like a valley by Cezanne. There’s nothing much to challenge or surprise you within these tunes, though that doesn’t mean it’s boring – it simply treads a well-worn aesthetic path, and does so with admirable expertise.
RAYMOND SCOTTWALKER (whose musicnerd-boner moniker fuses the late electronic pioneer/soundtrack whiz Raymond Scott with pop-heartthrob-turned-avant-weirdo-genius Scott Walker) soon mixes things up. Noting the swell in the crowd and just how well everyone responded to the upbeat playlist between sets, he summons a half-hour of hip shaking power, traversing the cheeriest corners of modern underground house, texturally indulgent glitch-hop, clap-heavy shangaan electro style quickness and more. Most of the layers and structures are pre-recorded and simply let loose from a laptop-shaped cage, but nonetheless Scottwalker has probably the best stage presence of the night – dancing and grinning like he’d won the lottery, and sporadically tinkering with a small modular synth-box (bzzz, splllt, krrek) for added audiovisual interest.
DOCUMENT SWELL is not the last to play (the party carries on ‘til 7AM), but his is the last set I catch in full before the late-hour sleepy demons usher me away, and he’s the Fallopian Tunes-signed artist who’s launching a new 12” tonight so it’s a worthwhile set on which to conclude our text-based journey.
So Document Swell is an electronic music project of Simon Cotter, and I’m guessing “Document” means less “Microsoft Word file” and more “record of an idea, phenomenon or event”; the process seems to be a way of capturing moods, atmospheres, energies and sound ideas, immortalising them within the framework of heady grooves. “Swell” meanwhile is an apt verb to describe what happens to the lush compositions, and what happens to your heart when you hear them.
Resonant, woody percussion pops and rattles over the zen thump of an unassuming house kick; choral synth and buttery bass ooze through the gaps. The occasional steel drum, marimba or piano finds its way to the fore, a discernible singular voice bolting through the jungle of intricately woven materials. There’s the exotic and life-affirming “OOOT,” with its forest flute and snare that crunches like thicket underfoot. There are more stark and urban-sounding jams, too, but the common thread is a masterful command of groove, and a knack for finding the perfect blend of sounds. No part of me can understand why Cotter really needs (approximately) four drum machines, three keyboards, about five other sequencers and gadgets AND a laptop all onstage at once to create music which, although complex in composition, has a lot of breathing room sonically. But heck, I’m not going to question it – the proof is in the pudding. Do what you gotta do, buddy. The modest man bucks and sways vigorously, building his layers, and – unlike the other acts tonight – plays many of the bass lines, melodies and pads live in real-time. The room undulates, the sweat crystallises in the air, the screen surges with the ongoing analog weirdness, now displaying an aerobics video in warped technicolor glory.
When at last we descend the stairs and step out into the chill air and gentle raindrops, it is as we’ve shifted seasons, date lines, continents. I stop in at a nearby bar and drink some red wine to ease myself out of disco mode. In my groggy tiredness I accidentally get on the wrong tram and end up somewhere north-west of Essendon, but being suddenly awake and chirpy, I decide to walk home. I watch the sun rise as I stroll through the grey dawn, observing parks and sleeping gardens. I find an abandoned palm tree lying on its side, and decide to carry it the rest of the way. It is like a three-dimensional scrap of the music I’d just heard, nestled comfortingly under my arm. I stop in at a bakery, and buy their first loaf of bread. When I get home, the sun is well and truly up, eagerly commencing its daily shift. I must have been wandering for hours, ebullient rhythms echoing in my skull. I laugh, and collapse into bed.