We pull the ute up to a lonely, unassuming block under an ashy sky. It’s frosty in North Melbourne but our hearts are warm. We’re directed away from the Greek Wine Festival and round the corner to the Analogue Attic party (a momentary urge to commit to the former gives way). Through a narrow gate in a stone wall, there’s a courtyard full of handsome people clad in black and sheepskin. The party continues down a diminutive stairs into a broad warehouse. Originally a real meat market, I’d expected the venue to have a certain kind of anachronistic charm. But I hadn’t expected the performance space to feel so immediately transportive, a weird dimly-lit airlock with glowing rosy light, smoke clouds rising from under the stage, statuesque speaker stacks and NICO NIQUO in the middle of it all.
Nico Niquo makes ambient electronic music purportedly influenced by grime (specifically, the ‘eski’ grime synth favoured by Wiley); the conceptual conceit underpinning his latest album is, maybe paradoxically, “grime without the percussion.” To my ears, today’s minimalistic set owes more to contemporary classical music - but that could also be because there’s a violin player and cellist guest-starring alongside eponymous Nico Callaghan. Anyway, music-map orientations aside, what Nico Niquo’s set does is provide a disarmingly sparse geography of sound: gracefully shifting synth chords and near-frictionless timbres that move much slower than your usual train of thought, thus reconfiguring a broader sense of time. Sporadically, the live strings chime in with a humble cluster of notes, droning acoustically, a microtonal conversation with laptop-borne resonances.
Out in the chill, lining up for a can of beer — TIM HEANEY and UDMO keep our blood moving with plenty of charmingly understated house and rainforest techno.
Returning with beer, SODA LITE is set up, wading gracefully into a set of compositions that are more ambient, patient and sweetly evocative than anything I’ve heard from the producer before. Riding on the back of a deep fascination with local birds, we hear (and see, via chair-mounted laptop) avian interludes, amid cosmic wash, arrhythmic percussion grooves and soaring melody arcs. Soda Lite’s music recalls the wide-eyed optimism of new age music, but without the irony, cheap cynicism or superficial nostalgia that dogs so much revivalism. Instead, it feels like a contemporary continuation of the best parts of new age’s legacy; bright echoes of a future earnestly sought.
ALBRECHT LA’BROOY is a duo conjoining the elegantly named Alex Albrecht and Sean La’Brooy. They’re also the founders of Analogue Attic, meaning their own music functions as a synecdoche of the kind of “gentle electronic music” that the label’s designed to showcase.
The risk with “gentle electronic music” lies in being inoffensive to the point of becoming café background fodder, and this is where Albrecht La’Brooy really set themselves apart: remaining thoroughly gentle, thoroughly engaging, compromising on neither priority. Their arrangements swirl and softly surge, a light cool spray moving across your face. Their jazz-informed tonality is inflected with enough dissonance to make harmonic resolutions rewarding; the percussion/synth timbres - although familiar - never feel too predictable or generic. I suspect that’s less to do with using obscure gear or parameters, more with being rigorous using high-quality ish and eschewing boring presets. This evening they’re joined by Oliver Paterson on guitar and Josh Kelly on saxophone. These two blokes, in front of the stage and shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, clearly have chops. But perhaps their biggest contribution is their restraint - playing with the metronomic humility of a sampler, or else stretching out into something languorous and human, but still lean and pillowy enough to lie down in.
Analogue Attic are a label pushing a “less is more” approach in an age of information overload - tendering whittled-down sounds, a focus on local landscapes, and restorative, immersive moods. 10 releases deep, we can only hope they keep striding (gently) into the far future.