“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no gig happening tonight,” declares the frowning man.
Everyone else in the room shoots one another a sideways, worried glance. The dusty late afternoon sunlight streams in through the tense silence. The just-completed layout of equipment, leads, lights and instruments sits there awkwardly, taciturn.
G, who just spent a cheap third-hand car’s worth on PA hire, swears under his breath and shakes his head. Really – is this it? Something about past noise complaints and someone not communicating some details to someone else… And the gig’s off? Bloody hell. That is going to be a fun situation to explain to the ten bands booked to play.
M, with his bushy beard and calm eyes, talks reason with the frowning man. Mate, we’ve been preparing for hours… G’s spent all this money. Surely…
There’s a back-and-forth, suggestions of various compromises. Finally the hypothetical is put forward: what if everyone played in the soundproofed rehearsal room in the corner of the warehouse? The plan had been to alternate acts between that room and the warehouse’s main space, and it would certainly be squishy getting everyone to play back-to-back in the smaller area, the low-ceilinged den with walls made of straw and mud. But it was the only solution that anyone had agreed on so far. So the PA comes down, slides across the floor and reappears in the tight enclosure.
I’m on a tram while this all happens. I get off the tram, walk home and grab my instruments, some incense and a disco light from G’s bedroom. I hop on another tram, only this one’s cloaked in darkness. When I arrive at Pitt Street I walk a few steps and see the towering warehouse, tattooed with graffiti, and huge 3D letters reading IRENE’S LINGERIE.
Inside, the recent air of terror is undetectable. Soft rock streams from a radio and a small crew of buddies are milling around, sipping beers, adding the finishing touches to the setup. I plug in the disco light, and its orb sends out a dozen multicolour beams, revolving around the room. We light the incense. The mood, at least as far as I can tell, is one of cheery relaxation. Perhaps it’s more relief.
CROTCH play the opening set, the duo opting to keep it all-acoustic and play to the array of couches and bodies still floating around the main warehouse space. Armed with an acoustic guitar, sporadic drums and two dulcet, winking voices, Claire and Leonie sing songs about life, love, pets and body parts. There’s a beautiful chuckle and frankness imbued in every tune, and a kind of slapdash delivery that might weaken the set if the pair weren’t so predisposed to making everything sound lovely. For one song, a bunch of buddies join them – everyone sits along the bar, crooning in unison. Croonison. What a wonderful start to the night.
Then I play, doing my electronic stuff on my lonesome which is what I call Leafy Suburbs; I’m playing in the clay room and a few friendly faces are watching and bobbing their heads along. It feels nice to play and nice to have played, to have it done and to relax. I stroll round the corner to the IGA “Plus Liquor” and stroll back with a six-pack of pale ales.
Then it’s THE CASUIST, two guys named Rob and Tim who – armed with a guitar, a laptop, a keyboard and a bunch of effects launch into a dark and kaleidoscopic tour of sound-worlds and genre explorations. From the opening tune, which has a sort of sludge-doom backdrop and grim narrative half-spoken vocals, to NIN-esque electronic rock to operatic synthpop explosions, the pair flaunt a spirit of adventure which, although leading to some slightly outlandish detours, is entirely contagious and charming. I hope I get to see these guys again, with their engrossing patchwork of darkness and fun.
CHIEF RICHARDS (who some have rumoured to be straight-talkin’ folk-punk troubador Peter Bibby, but such reports remain unproved) plays next. he is a guerilla gorilla with a penchant for beats and noise. He hunches over in his corner of whirring machines and flashing lights; armed with a guitar and iPhone he creates a layer cake of rattling tin-can guitar harmonies and cascading low fidelity rhythms. Apparently there is a Chief Richards album in the pipeline and I look forward to watching it ooze out the tap.
Over to ORLANDO FURIOUS, the enfant terrible of Footscray, elsewhere known as Ben Snaith, previously of the band Caught Ship. Orlando emerges from the shadows in yet another corner of the tiny room (this room has a lot of corners) and, perched atop a pile of samplers and electronics, guides us through a pounding maze of beats, synthetic rumbles and unapologetic vocals. It’s tempting to put Orlando Furious in a basket with a number of other male tongue-in-cheek electro-punk-karaoke freaks like Tomas Ford (Perth), Simmo Soo and Johnny Telafone (Canberra/Melbourne) – the interstate similarities are interesting, though to lump them together does each a disservice. Furious, for his part, pits a sort of jokey abandon and kitsch (note: the big plastic bling he’s adorned himself this evening) against genuine know-how on his tools of trade and a surprisingly amount of compositional nuance, even when it’s blaring loud. My only regret is not dancing to more of this set.
Those who wish to continue dancing are duly rewarded with the onset of HOLY LOTUS’ vivacious tempos. These guys are doing the Melbourne launch of their reason (nicely pink coloured) cassette on Perth’s Pouring Dream records, and are the default stars of the show. What sort of band are Holy Lotus? They are in various ways a rock band, a pop bank, a post-punk band; but for me they will always feel like a dance band (and not only because Greg, who plays bass, once told me he hoped the group sounded like Daft Punk… which it doesn’t, at least not yet). Lucy Donovan’s simple, ever-tasteful synth lines create a bed of analog warmth while Leonie Brialey’s drums and Greg Taw’s fuzz-gilded bass pump the progressions unremittingly forward. While mostly avoiding the hallmarks of any given dance music genre, it’s pretty impossible to be exposed to their melodious riffs and wide-eyed grooves, like in the simultaneously cruisy and zooming “Breakfast with Records,” which sort of sounds like what might’ve happened if Tracey Thorn’s ‘80s bedroom band Marine Girls had caught the disco-punk bug. Holy Lotus sounded particular tight and professional tonight: a few months of solid practice and gigging have evidently paid off in the form of ultra well-oiled performances. Fear not, the “tightening up” takes away none of their casual charm, instead just ensuring that the grooves can flow unhindered through the atmosphere.
MADDEST KINGS ALIVE, which is actually just one guy tonight (Fenris, of chiptune duo Chrism + Fenris), sit stately on their electric throne, weaving heavy digital weirdness. Dark toothy injections play hide-and-seek with galloping trappy snares and a menagerie of synthetic percussion. Next is SHINY JOE RYAN AND THE SEARCH FOR FLAVOUR COUNTRY, in which Joe Ryan of POND fame plays his own curly, glistening jams with the assistance of buddies from the pond-pool (see: Jay “Gumby” Watson, Nick Allbrook) and beyond (Peter Bibby). Joe is of course one of Pond’s key members and the sound here is not worlds away, though there are inflections of country and folk and and ever-present sense of “the craic” as per the Shiny man’s Irish heritage. There is whimsy, there is pathos, there are riffs, there are swirling nostalgic textures. Before long, there is the smell of rubber and smoke as an amp explodes. Everything you could ask for and more.
SACRED FLOWER UNION, aka Dan Griffin, takes the penultimate slot and fills it with his trademark jams – dense, ever-growing layers of percussion and undulating synth, neon moss and geometric insects forming huge pulsating organic mountains. Though decidedly experimental in its process and aesthetic, Sacred Flower Union is a wholly accessible world that beckons you to dance without reservation and release your various energies into the ether. BAYOU close out the night, to a fixated crowd: their guitar-driven, atmospheric, melancholic rock meditations fill the room like sweet shisha vapour. Mingling, dark, rough-edged riffs like crusty vines crawling up Satis House. The haunting vocals of Angela Flood make her name seem onomatopoeic; and indeed the band itself resonates with the notion of a marshy body of water, but one you’re quite happy to sink into.
Eventually, the bodies trickle out, the bottles get cleared away, the taxis float past and even the soft-rock radio ceases to play. Most of the signs that any show occurred vanish one by one, save for a pile of amps and instruments to be collected by the harsh light of day. I don’t like using to word “epic” liberally but as far as lineups and achievements go, this one seems to warrant it: the gig that almost didn’t happen proved to be one of the most impressive and immersive in recent memory. The old lingerie warehouse, empty and unassuming as it was only a few hours ago, smiles at us as we leave. We lock the door and slip into the cool dark air of Saturday night’s short remainder, the clamour and glee echoing still, somewhere deep in our skulls.