I was all juiced up for Lady Leshurr and Ngaiire last night, a show at PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens which ultimately didn’t go ahead. It seems like the threat of rain in Perth is enough to bring all but the most tenacious events (see: Camp Doogs) to their knees. To be fair, I wouldn’t have been planning for Perth precipitation in February either. But still. We can put robots on Mars and not waterproof a venue? No doubt there is more to the story, a Faustian epic involving Puddles, Insurance and Grime to which I’ll never be privy.
In any case there’s a very shiny silver lining to the clouds. The next day, I notice that Mei (Mei Saraswati) and Tess (Tess Darcey, Akioka) are doing a collaborative set down in that very same bayside venue as AKI SWATI. What a combo! It’s not that these two haven’t teamed up before; they regularly appear on the same lineups, and together form Sibling Music - a project aimed at engaging and inspiring school kids through experimental and electronic music workshops. But I’ve never heard the like-minded sound sculptors perform as a duo, so this is an exciting thing.
I step out into the damp air, ride a bus down the Beaufort Street hill and wander through a gently vibrating CBD.
Down where the river meets the land, there’s a gate leading into a corridor of bars, food stalls, tents, grass, occasional trees. And on a small stage opposite a particularly inviting knoll, there’s AKI SWATI. The set takes off with the Mei Saraswati ‘Swamp Gospel’ – an ode to the lost wetlands that now form much of Perth’s concrete laden CBD. While retaining the track’s memorable melodics and popping percussion, it’s reworked somewhat to accommodate the otherworldly, improvisational approach of Akioka - as well as the latter’s formidable vocals. The rest of the set follows a similar tack, launching from established songs, layering on harmonies and – between these more structured anchor points – exploring loose, painterly, often still very danceable interludes.
One gets the sense that this is a larval form of what AKI SWATI could be; a glimpse and the wild fireworks of creativity these two could produce if they put their heads together for an extended period. That being so, it’s nevertheless a wholly satisfying set - full of the integrity, light-hearted humility and adventurous musicality, we’ve come to expect from both of these local heroes.
During a short intermission I go check out KYNAN TAN and DEVON WARD’s unique sound installation, Co•–st•–l W•–ve Tr•–nsl•–tor. It’s emenating from two tall speakers, mounted on a floating raft in the quay. The stuttering, swooshing, fizzing and hissing sounds you hear are sonic translations of wave data gathered from buoys near Nauru, Manus and Christmas Islands. Natural phenomena, slowly becoming adulterated by climate change, encoded in a way to which our emotions are receptive - and standing in for the human distress signals we cannot, or will not, receive. It’s a great work.
Back up inside the Gardens, Ziggy Fatnowna (aka ZIGGY) is rearing to go. The local rapper is backed by a classic live combo: drums, bass, guitar and keys, all of which coalesce to create something impressively tight and tasteful yet thankfully, not too squeaky clean – tempering jazzy chops with a relaxed garage-band sensibility.
Anyway, the thing that grabs you first is Ziggy’s energy. He’s got charisma in spades, the presence of a consummate professional at a young age. The juggernaut of positive intensity bounces around the stage, never missing a beat across Kanye covers, freestyles over Kendrick grooves and his own instantly memorable originals.
His delivery is impeccable, his flow as rhythmically interesting as it is accessible. His rhymes – though occasionally predictible – are always convincing, and at their best they’re a grin-inducing treat. More important than any of these technical apsects though it’s Ziggy’s broader project: his songs are vessels for stories and experiences, historical truths and vivid polemics, from the voice of a young indigenous man. The tracks from the ‘Black Thoughts’ EP comprise a case in point, with title track rallying against indigenous youth incarceration. I wasn’t expecting to see a crowd both cheerfully boogying and chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ in thespace of a few minutes today, but it’s happening. ‘Black Face,’ decries white Australia’s shrugging or defensive attitude towards a recent incident in which a child went in blackface (as Nic Naitanui) to school book week.
Overall, Ziggy’s set is a stunning balancing act – between political diatribe and party music, frustration and celebration. It’s deeply personal, often highly specific in its critiques, but draws everyone in, which is no mean feat. Ziggy’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting hip hop acts to emerge from Perth in a while.
Elizabeth Quay might feel like a bit of a fake cultural hub. A Colin Barnett trophy to show off to visiting politicans, diplomats, business moguls and tourists, a site that appeared out of nowhere and which represents little of Perth’s grassroots arts scene. But like plants grow through concrete, today’s shown me that our town’s most authentic and motivated creatives are prepared to make the most of any space. Even if – as is the case with Aki Swati, Kynan Tan, Devon Ward and Ziggy – their narrative threatens to rub the hegemonic space-makers up the wrong way. And that’s a far more exciting a takeaway as I could’ve hoped for on a meandering Saturday afternoon.