When I return from a lap of Planet Video, the Velvet Lounge’s lights are extinguished and strange noises are leaping through the air. The tones are as dark as the room, and far more threatening: undead warbles, synthetic nightmares, surgically clean claps and razor-sharp hats amid waves of undulating black fluid. Once upon a time people probably assumed that music made on a computer, using digitally-wrought sounds, would never rival its organic equivalent when it came to sheer emotional evocation. OUROBONIC PLAGUE is a testament to the notion that digital audio can be as gut-wrenchingly brooding and unsettling as any raw-as-sashimi black metal band. Mind you, as per metal itself, there’s a fun oxymoron: these dark sounds, with their freaky momentum, compel you to move hedonistically – which ends up being pretty smile-inducing and life-affirming. Tonight’s isn’t the best OP set I’ve ever heard (man-behind-the-moniker Nick Sweepah is bedevilled by a few technical issues), but it’s still a quality chapter in the ‘Plague chronicles.
I drink some cider and play a set myself, crossing my fingers that my uncertain loops and samples and beats and sound effects don’t all fall in a heap. For the most part they don’t, and in any case it’s a crowd of friendly, supportive faces opposite me – shrouded in shadow though they may be.
One of those faces belongs to honey-voiced chanteuse, super-songwriter and tonal experimenter TANAYA HARPER. Under her new pseudonym of LOVE/CAT she sets up in the ice-blue glow of a laptop screen. Harper introduces vocals into the mix, layering unhurried incantations over misty synthetic beats. The microphone addition means piercing feedback rears its unwelcome head, but it’s not enough to deter the ear from the subtly remarkably and wholly beguiling sounds of LOVE/CAT, a name that will hopefully appear heaps more, soon.
The set bleeds into another: now it’s KARLI WHITE, who dives in with a nod to local peer talent, a Kucka sample, looping hypnotically. Gradually, she leads our ears in the direction of her own compositions – discretely layered, crisp, propulsive vehicles for vocals to ride effortlessly upon. It’s a very “2013” sound, which is by no means an admonishment. It’s relatively early days for White, and I’ve little doubt the coming year will see her hone a more idiosyncratic sound; as far as quirks go, she’s already working live electric guitar into the mix, a tactic favoured by Diger Rokwell. It’s a wise one in its tendency to muddy perceptions of whether an act follows in the “live/indie” tradition or the “electionic” one; of course, the dichotomy is as false as the question is irrelevant, but it’s nice to see the conflation all the same.
The night gets deeper, darkier and hazier and there, somewhere in the chaos and the void is a table teeming with every kind of sequencer, drum machine, effects unit, mixer and patch cable under the moon. STRUNKDTS (aka Cromlek Fernandez, brainparent of the entire Village Oblivia series) is poised behind so much hardware that it appears to almost bubble and writhe, and his dextrous hands move swiftly to tame and contain it. The scuffle gives rise to a rejuvenating and wild trajectory of blips and beats, classic-yet-futuristic dance polyrhythms hurtling towards a fluorescent horizon. These are dense, warm, zig-zagging grooves, bereft of a lot of the nightmarish nastiness that often accompanies STUNKDTS’ work, but certainly maintaining a healthy amount of off-kilter warpedness.
As the clock strikes a grim twelve, we meet TRAVIS DOOM, local goth troubadour who sets up his synth/pedal/ array mirroring a buddy with a similar layout. Contrary to the casual and friendly nature of most sets this evening, the ‘Doom experience is pretty self-serious and provocative: Travis writhes around the stage, swings the mic at speakers to elicit shrieking feedback and howls with harrowed gloom over pulsating beats. Drawing heavily on that tradition of brooding, nihilistic stage presence that spans myriad acts from Suicide to the Birthday Party, this set all feels a bit too intense and apocalyptic for my current carefree mood, but there’s no denying it’s delivered with precision, artistry and conviction.
Village Oblivia X closes out with the stark yet moody yet ebullient techno of HENRY GILLETT. Gillett’s a relative fresh-face on the live electronica circuit, though I first saw his face many years ago when he was playing cello in an orchestra of which I was also a part. Sometimes I would see him down at the skate park on the foreshore, too, and once he tried to teach me to drop in. Doubtful he remembers that (I still can’t drop in, Henry). Anyway, tonight’s set is an unrelenting tour through emphatic but simmering moods, cloudy, dusty melodies swimming around hefty four-to-the-floor, lively metallic hats and atonal noise injections. It’s exactly the sort of thing you want to hear at 1am in a dark room, and I hope he does it more often.
Like waking from a really pleasant, sweaty dream that should’ve been terrifying but turned out to be really enjoyable, I roll out of the Velvet Lounge and rub my eyes. Saturday morning beckons, full of promise: Village Oblivia’s bushy-tailed, freewheeling beats and super-positive end-of-the-world vibes are still with me. They carry the sort of momentum that keeps you going, smiling, with the blood rushing a little faster, long after the lights come back on.