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Lyndon Blue: Review

Filtering by Category: livereview

AKI SWATI & ZIGGY @ CHEVRON FESTIVAL GARDENS, SATURDAY FEB 11

Andrew Ryan

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.

LUCY PEACH - SILVER TONGUE (EP)

Andrew Ryan

“Lucy Peach” is a name I’ve heard around Perth for years, only more recently delving properly into the music attached to it (I’m always late to the party). Lucy Farley’s stage name itself is kind of deceptively quaint, evoking the pastel fuzziness of that altogether agreeable stone fruit. The music that accompanies certainly isn’t abrasive - in fact, it’s very smooth on the ears - but it’s not music that pretends life is always peachy, either, as one discovers on the new EP Silver Tongue.  

Take lead single 'Bomb' - a strident, instantly memorable song in which Peach bellows defiantly in the face of an unspecified dread. The central metaphor is stressful: “and It hit me, and it hit me / like a bomb going off in my chest / And now I’m scared to breathe in case I burst whatever’s left,” which to me reads like a great summary of a panic attack but could probably refer to a great number of things. The lyrics throughout are open-ended enough to invite one’s own projections, although there are some enjoyable daydreams of poetic specificity: “i'll be riding down the mountain with wild flowers in my hair / baby beside me and new coins in my pocket / and six white horses to take me anywhere.” All of this sits atop a soulful arrangement of woody bass, 70s-pop piano, tidy snare paradiddle and lush handclaps. It’s a beautiful orchestration, each sound neatly occupying its own space, excelling at its clearly defined role.  We bounce around triplets, synchronised offbeats and gliding guitar as Peach’s voice flies around on the jet stream, “looking for a safe place to land.”

'Silver Tongue' (the track itself) draws on a similar palette and arrangement approach - which, depending on who you ask, is either a savvy strategy to court cohesion or an over-reliance on tropes that have already played out comfortably. Granted, the latter concern would never come to mind if the tracks weren’t back-to-back; ideas get sardined in the EP format. Anyway, all the sounds are round and crisp like the perfect apple: gloriously recorded and mixed. Lyrically, Peach her tackles the frustrations of songwriting, but with a self-assured centrepiece: “I’ve got a silver tongue in my mouth and I’m not afraid to use it.” She proclaims her aptitude matter-of-factly, a bit like Leonard Cohen’s profession that he had no choice; he was “born with the gift of a golden voice” in ’Tower of Song.’ And like ‘Tower of Song,’ the track spins a kind of mythic narrative around the songwriting process, but altogether obliquely, never mentioning the creation explicitly.  The best part to my ears is the bridge: arpeggiating, staccato guitar and crumbly kit building in a gentle crescendo towards the song’s earwormy riff, and a healthy plateau.

I’m kind of allergic to ukeleles these days, which is testament to the charm of 'Be So Good,' insofar as wins me over. The verse uke swiftly swells into something very atmospheric and poignant, a sort of orchestral folk melancholy - and the key centre modulates intriguingly in the chorus, lending the song a sense of singularity. Overall it’s minimal, faintly brittle, recalling Angel Olsen at moments. There’s nothing fruity or unusual about the lyrics here, in fact they seem wilfully straightforward, which has its own appeal. “I’m gonna be so good to you. Will you be so good to me?” 

Peach saves the best til last, in my opinion: ‘Girl, The World’ brings together all of the EP’s strong points and combines them into something buoyant and understated. The verses boast the record’s most gleefully “purple” lyrics, while the chorus is good old fashioned motivational pop - “wake up, go and get what you wanted / girl, the world is spinning around and you’re on it.” Lines like this could come of as cheesy and patronising over the wrong backdrop, but the subdued exultation here really works, like a quiet but heartfelt implication from one friend to another. The chamber pop arrangement would befit a Jens Lekman or Grizzly Bear track - slip sliding string section and dispersed percussion, nimble guitars, bass thump. The synchronised violin-sail and guitar-plink in the chorus is a treat to behold.

Lucy Peach has crafted something extremely resolved with Silver Tongue - consolidating a unified sound that while not unprecedented (it reminds me a bit of that last Sarah Blasko album, Eternal Return) is nevertheless distinctive, and provides a deeply satisfying listening experience. It’s superbly produced and the songs are brilliantly crafted. I’m hoping that with future efforts we’ll hear more experimentation, spurred on by the confidence that comes with having created something so solid; that’s when it’s ripe to be deconstructed and played with. And I hope we’ll hear lyrics that tap into more real-life detail or poetic curveballs, thereby moving beyond see-sawing from endearing generality to tried-and-true evocative imagery. But whatever Lucy Peach does next, I’ve little doubt it will be sonically vivid, lovingly hewn and brimming with assertive melodies. That’s the broad trajectory she’s on. And it’s a winner. 

EM BURROWS & THE BEARDED RAINBOW @ MOJO'S BAR, FRIDAY OCTOBER 21

Andrew Ryan

 

To start with the personal: I have a weird relationship with psychedelic rock these days. The genre was my gateway drug to "weird music," and to much of the stuff I love now. As a teenager I prayed at the altar of Syd Barrett, had my brain turned inside out by Mink Mussel Creek and their influences in turn. The genre's become increasingly prevalent in recent years - particularly in Perth and Freo, where the spectre of Tame Impala looms large- and inevitably I find myself critiquing whether its implementation is genuinely mind-expanding, or merely trading on bankable tropes. The latter means witnessing innately experimental music reduced to a "paint by numbers" approach that is the antithesis of the counterculture spirit it's indebted to, which is no fun. And then, there are other times when it's like you're hearing a delay pedal for the very first time again, and the whole world glows in technicolor. Returning to Mojo's after a spell away, I'm met with many shades of psychedelia, folk, rock and pop (often all at once). My brain and heart weave through, trying to unpick what does and doesn't inspire. 

I walk into the sounds of MAJUMBA. At once, the soundscape strikes me as classic dime-a-dozen Fremantle psych-rock: safe bluesy riffs with a bit of fuzz, chugging drums, post-Kevin Parker effects chains, but no apparent imagination. But actually, as their set goes on, it opens up into some cool tangents; rollicking punky codas, thick monotone passages, and there's one song with a particularly beautiful, high melodic bassline that perfectly cocoons its faintly jazzy chords. So no, Majumba aren't the epitome of my grumpy old man grievance, but I guess they're still honing a creative voice; I hope they hone it towards the road less travelled.

Out in the rear courtyard, EMILY GARLICK is gently capturing hearts with a serene, flawless voice and tinkling stratocaster. It's been a while since I heard anyone with such impeccable technique (vocal technique, mic technique, guitar technique) playing at a local pub, though Emily doesn't come off as supercilious in the context. Instead she peacefully works her song-loom, occasionally yielding results that sound a little too polished (in a commercial radio way) but frequently weaving gold, as with the final tune, a magical strain called "Fingernails" that pits unpredictable melody against quick-blooded, melancholic double guitar.

Inside is DIGER ROKWELL who's limbering up into a notably eclectic, joyous string of tunes. The man with the WA cap and t-shirt treats us to a nickelodeon of styles, ranging from vocoder-laden G-funk to space disco, moody house to dusty beat tourism, Hendrix-hop to jungle. While for some producers this might seem confused and cluttered, Diger somehow pulls it all into his motley aesthetic whirlpool and makes it blend, though the variety keeps its sense of reckless liberation. He looks like he's having plenty of fun too. This might be my favourite Diger Rokwell set I've seen. Unable to resist, I dance like a silly fruit tingle.

Out in the garden it's JOHNNY BURROW, the younger cousin of tonight's headliner, armed with just a mic and electric guitar. He uses both to great effect, dispatching wonderful slacker folk songs. They're personal, witty, deadpan without feeling aloof. Reference points come to mind: there's a hint of Malkmus here, as well as the wide-eyed, honest bedroom pop musings of Darren Hanlon etc. But Johnny doesn't specifically sound like anyone at all. Which is pretty remarkable.

Inside we meet MOONPUPPY, a bunch of fresh-faced fellers channelling substantial pop traditions. It's well-orchestrated guitar music that alternately recalls The Smiths, Orange Juice, Mac DeMarco and the languorous vocal croon of Julian Casablancas, among other things. Chords reach beyond standard pop/rock harmony and - thanks to the smooth, mellow delivery - often wander into west coast soft-rock territory. But none of this sounds like postmodern pastiche; it's been arrived at independently, with plenty of heart, and endearing roughness around the edges. A charming Haruomi Hosono cover ('Sports Men'), meanwhile, shows that their influences come from far and wide. They're a pleasure to behold, an earnest reminder of why you liked indie rock in the first place. Definitely "ones to watch," both in the hackneyed music-industry sense but also, just, a band one should go see.

MARLINSPIKE fire up and immediately my psych-rock bullshit radar is on high alert again; the first few minutes play out like generic space-rock jamming that hasn't been novel for forty years. But soon enough this bleeds into song forms, and we get a tune that sounds like a Celtic air channelled through Aussie blues-rock of the '70s. Like Led Zep's folky excursions, but steeped in dank lager. A large part of their appeal is the drums, which are delivered with a clipped accuracy worthy of a marching band (the drummer, in turn, looks incongruously well-groomed). The bass is punctual and plucky too. So, these things pin all the guitar swirl to a taut rhythm section, stretched over jagged edges. And despite their nods to the psych-rock canon, they're not married to it: songs just as readily spiral into passages recalling recent Radiohead, or the melodic post-punk of Television.

And they lob the shuttlecock to the band of the hour, that is, EM BURROWS AND THE BEARDED RAINBOW. The group's releasing an EP tonight, which is called Solitary Sounds although their aesthetic is actually all about big, layered, team-effort arrangements.

And what a sturdy team. Assured bass and effortless drums with a soul music kinda touch; juicy rotary organ, precise chiming guitar, crisp backing vocals and percussion. Of course, Em Burrows sits at the sonic centre: her confident vocal projections and emphatic piano drive these tightly-spun songs forward.

And they are unmistakably songs, not soundscapes or sketches or anything else. Each has a distinct self-contained identity, an instantly memorable hook, clear lyrics. Each boasts a decisive mood and musical lineage. The sanguine, bouncy hemiola feel of 'Weights and Measures' recalls Jethro Tull or early Yes, while 'Solitary Sounds' and 'Dreamers,' tempt comparison to The Zombies and Jefferson Airplane. 'Timeline' is a big bluesy burner, and 'Paces' spreads Doors/Beatles undulations over a funky backbeat.

There's no point pretending this isn't throwback music - right down to their fanciful flower power band name, the Bearded Rainbow wear their influences on their velveteen sleeves. What separates them from any number of retro-rock caricature bands is (firstly) their thrilling adeptness, and (secondly, moreover) the earnest and adventurous quality of the songs. Each feels like a genuine reflection on a contemporary moment, even if it's rendered in a period style, and this honesty is complimented by the pre-ironic optimism of the sound. Lines like "woah-oh, nothing really changes, ah-ah, we're going through our paces" might sound banal in the hands of a lesser artist, but Em Burrows shoots them through with anthemic melody and lively resolve, so the message feels universal and timeless rather than trite. It's a skill epitomised by Fleetwood Mac, who could make axioms hit home with euphoric immediacy - and Em Burrows is on a similar tip, while also peppering her lyrics with psychedelic whimsy (tigers howling at the moon, bubbles in outer space, and so on). In the end, the central and gravitational appeal of Em Burrows and the Bearded Rainbow isn't that they sound a bit like A and B '60s band or use X and Y instrument sound. It's that they're clearly playing the music they absolutely, desperately love, and they're doing it with full commitment and gusto. In moments of such clarity, all my anxiety around the use of psych-rock tropes seems laughably irrelevant. And if such pure musical moments aren't a joy to be cherished, then I don't know what is.  

 

 

CAMP DOOGS @ SOMEWHERE NEAR HARVEY, OCT 7 - 9

Andrew Ryan

Coffee pot whistling, we bundle clothes into bags, grab way more snacks than we will eat and
fewer warm articles than we will need.
The sun’s still naked and glowing as we buzz down the freeway in my plucky hatchback,
stopping in Jandakot with the small planes circling, here to pick up S___, and to load heavy boxes of wine and beer.

South and further south, crucial Miami Bakehouse pies by the mulberry tree and shetland pony (lots of dogs here today).
In Wokalup,

a boarded-up Witch-themed roadhouse

we buy bags of ice and a souvenir stubby holder in fluorescent peach -
before the final stretch of the drive.

Meadows yellowed by capeweed, cows lazing in dense groups,

‘Versaci Soils,’
disco blaring

And

bright pink signs pointing to CAMP DOOGS – they  jump out of the landscape like serendipity, when it collides you with an old friend in a distant city.

Roll down the window: tireless George wands us through. Sliding into the destination, it’s clear the rain of recent days has taken its toll on the earth underfoot.

The hatchback struggles, lurches and clangs down a swampy route to the carpark. But it prevails.

We receive our pink-threaded Doogs dog tags and begin the first muddy slog to the camping field with our ambitious cargo.

As we trudge we see the final touches being put on the main stage, just in time for GORSHA to jump in and sling us some of their slack-jawed, nasty-but-nice Darwin garage punk hootenanny.

The site is a sprawling figure-eight of fields with a lake in the middle, a creek and its capillaries running through, dense trees all around the perimeter. It’s a totally different vista and feeling to the old Doogs site in Nannup. But nevertheless beautiful, in a new, more open, more pastoral kind of way.

We’re setting up camp and getting our bearings for the next while, so I miss some bands that would’ve been good to hear, but such are the misadventures when you forget to bring a tent cover on a weekend promising thunderstorms, and have to improvise a solution (the solution is to have resourceful buddies).

[Sunset]

[dusk]

I’m back down in the lakeside viewing-pit for GWENNO, who blends gently funky, artful electro-pop with the Welsh language so seamslessly you’d think it was common practice.

CALE SEXTON keeps the synthetic ingredients bubbling and increases the pump-pressure,

then over to the ineffable MINK MUSSEL CREEK, my favourite Perth band ever.

Amber Fresh introduces the biggest MMC fan of all – Nick Odell of Cease and Alzabo – to introduce Mink – who blow every leaf off every tree with their fiercer than ever delivery of oddball psych/jazz/jive/sludge classics like ‘Meeting Waterboy,’ ‘They Dated Steadily,’ ‘Cat Love Power’ and ‘Doesn’t the Moon Look Good Tonight.’

The audience is less a group of people and more a big heaving cloud of sweat, mud, limbs and howls. Unreal.

Few could follow Mink Mussel Creek at this point without feeling sheepish, but Melbourne veterans BASEBALL are firecrackers with a comparable kind of feverish, imaginative intensity. They blaze through their set of violin-strewn post-punk, Ev Morris (aka Pikelet) nonchalantly hurling intricate, heavy drum lines while singing; frontfeller Thick Passage (Cam Potts) screeching his evocative lyrical tales inspired by middle eastern history, the whole thing a thunderous thrill.

Things can’t really get any wilder, so now, an alternate tack –

the smooth track –

the mellow, cratedigger-informed jazz of Melbourne’s KRAKATAU.

Bandleader James Tom’s keys glide like a magic carpet;

much-loved Perth expat Jack Doepel switches calmly between sax and keyboard duties, massaging brains deeply with both.

The night gushes on:

DEEP DOOGS, a flashing steamy gumbo cavity

the undulating selections of RIVER YARRA

and glow-sticks and rum

and the magnificent MORI RA

Eventually enough friends have succumbed to the night

And I slink out through the trees, over the creek

and I stomp through the dark with organiser doog Matt Acorn

who’s been valiantly MCing on the fly ‘coz Tristan got sick

and Matty gets stuck knee deep in the mud but we pry him out like a scarf from a car door

In my tent it is cold and damp and getting damper as the skies open up and the patter becomes a roar but I curl up in the driest patch and wrap the dry bits of sleeping bag and doona around me and give myself over to fate.

[Saturday Morning. Grey light, pre-dawn]

I’d said I’d do a sunrise performance on Sunday and maybe Saturday too, and heck I’ve woken up at 5am so why not. I slip out the zip, stomp through the frosty air to my car, fetch a guitar and an amp and a sampler. It starts raining, I dash for the nearest undercover area, which is the main stage. No-one is around save for one technician clambering around to keep things dry. I try to help and then I set up my stuff.

“Whaddya doing ya crazy dickhead? There’s no-one around! Go to bed.”

He’s right of course, but I’m here now and I feel like playing, so I strum a gentle drone into the foggy, wet, silvery sunrise as the man clambers into the back of a truck to sleep.

A few hours later, the sun a little higher -

it’s the BURUNDI PEACE BAND & CHOIR
I’m immediately smiling, overwhelmed by the life-affirming East African grooves and the group’s heartwarming community vibe. Keyboard drum machine keeps things pumping along, guitar pings, bass gambols, the choir’s voices ring out in a rich polyphony. At the end of the set, kids emerge from backstage - break dancing and doing backflips – I’m grinning my head off and my eyes are wet and it’s not from the rain.

Soon, HEARING – another Melbourne band; hard to google, with ridiculously good pop songs, well-balanced arrangements with beautiful clean-guitar lead lines, all buoyed by Liv’s flawless vocals. One of the weekend’s surprise highlights for sure.

A quick lap of the property, a visit/last repsects paid to the semi-submerged Mitsubishi Magna in the too-deep dip in the side road… RIP

And VERGE COLLECTION – undeniably fun, hummable guitar music embracing the “dolewave” fascination with suburban banality, personal narratives and jangly chords, but forgoing the fairly common affected sloppiness. The screws are screwed in tight and shiny in the comfort of a well-lit back shed.

ALL THE WEATHERS are willfully silly, wonderful and baffling; ADAM SAID GALORE are dark and jagged, tucked into a kind of niche tonality that sounds like nothing else this weekend. LALIC (pictured) bring emotive spacious prog-pop – hazy, layered, erratic, unshaken by the breeze of trends.

Reformed Perth unit MILE END sound impossibly tight and intense after so much time apart, and are a thrill to watch, as buddies drift by behind them on the lake on a dinghy. SARAH MARY CHADWICK soon after is a total u-turn, raw, bare, direct and at times clumsy; ultimately honest and great.

The afropop energy of SOUKOUSS INTERNATIONALE results in a big sexy muddy party in the rain, before Melbourne’s GREGOR brings us approachable yet arcane indie rock, expounding a kind of slow-burn harmonic science.

PIKELET jumps up solo and forges a set consisting of relatively few songs, but each one a masterpiece, delivered with Evelyn’s trademark casual virtuosity (on the synth, looper, floor tom, voice etc) and lo-fi sensibility. It’s a low-key but high-spirited performance imbued with a simmering political polemic (back to back anti-capitalism missives!) and lots of bright, earnest love (back to back songs about gratitude for friends).

CATE LE BON closes the main stage with joyously ragged melodic rock music, twang and pummel underscored by thoughtful songwriting and overlaid with some of the weekend’s standout vocals.

those were some musical things that happened

but have I even begun to communicate

the smiling soul of camp doogs?

have I told you about:

the ‘deep water greenhouse,’ (the cosy ambient tent jack and rory made and that countless beautiful people played in)?

ECOHOONS: bmx riding with magenta body armour and gabber blasting?

IRL body-marbling?

the magic drag of ash baroque?

naked swimmers?

quesadillas?

tarot readings by the campfire?

club mate?

blisters?

sunrise performance #2, the proper one, with L___ reading poems,
with people asleep on the trampoline and the couches,
someone sipping whisky as the sun comes up?

deep doogs #2, when it got moved to the Wild Doogs stage coz the original one was too munted by the rain, and Mori Ra powered through the morning with a blissful rainbow of japanese pop?

the cows?

the purple flowers?

the yellow raincoats?

shaved heads kissing in the half-light?

the ferns?

the creaking branches?

the ludicrous chats?

the bushwalks?

the ominous slate-coloured clouds?

the glorious, finally emerging sun?

have I really told you about camp doogs?

I cannot.
But if you were there, you know what it was – you feel it in your breath, in your blood, and in between your mud-stained toes.
And if you weren’t. I hope I’ll see you next year. 

Good doogs.

Photo credit: Eleni Battalis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

THE SONICS @ THE ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, TUESDAY SEPT 28

Andrew Ryan

(1)

The electric guitar crackled into existence with the experiments of George Beauchamp, Paul Barth and Adolph Rickenbacker around 1931. Technological innovations have usually heralded new approaches in composition and performance, so it’s tempting to see the early ‘30s as a subtle turning point in which the organic, age-old sounds of acoustic music began to transform into the unnatural and explosive tones which became rock and other modern genres. But is that how it went?

No doubt the early 20th century reconfigured what could constitute music in terms of timbre and sound-source. Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo had written his influential manifesto The Art of Noises in 1913, calling for an embrace of machine sounds in musical orchestration.  Synthesizers were already in production, with alien-sounding devices like the theremin emerging in the ‘20s. But the early electric guitars were mostly used to boost the instrument’s volume in a big band context, and the original synths were used as science-fair novelties, or to replace solo instruments in conservative genres like classical music (with some notable avant-garde exceptions). To my mind, the freakish idiosyncrasies of these musical inventions didn’t fully realize themselves as popular music styles until the ‘50s. By then, synths had proto-techno pioneers like Kid Baltan & Tom Dissevelt, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and more pushing the electronic sound in new directions (not least the direction of suburban lounge rooms). The electric guitar had mavericks such as Howlin’ Wolf, Pat Hare, Chuck Berry and Sister Rosetta Tharpe whose increasingly frenzied songs and playing styles developed alongside deliberate distortion of the guitar signal. Link Wray was toying with vacuum tubes and poking holes in speaker cones with pencils to get a dirtier, fuzzier sound.

And soon enough, in 1960, The Sonics formed, bringing electric guitar freak-out to a fever pitch. The name reads as a mission statement: they weren’t chasing any particular musical nuance, but rather the raw impact of sound itself. Their first single (‘The Witch’ in 1964) still sounds like a train hurtling towards you, threatening to fall apart - with its primal vocals, sandpaper guitar and spluttering drums. When it flips into an insane double-time tempo one minute in, it’s easy to hear why people often peg The Sonics as key progenitors of punk.

Who’d have guessed that such an immediate and incendiary band would still be touring in 2016? But the tunes have aged remarkably well. The Sonics’ recordings were a revelation for me in high school, and seeing that they were coming to Perth for the first time, I had to get along.

(2)

I meet D___ and F___ in the warm dining room that adjoins the Rosemount and 459 Bar. We listen to some of the mellow jazz billowing out of the latter, sipping dark ale before heading into the Rosie band room to the hectic sounds of THEE LOOSE HOUNDS. The band wears their garage punk influences on their well-tailored sleeves; the “Thee” is a kind of genre-signifier meme which probably emerged to differentiate garage bands with similar names, as with Sonics-era group Thee Midnighters. Later on you get Thee Headcoats, Thee Mighty Caesars, Thee Oh Sees etc. This band even has a song called ‘Painkillers’ which you’ve gotta suppose is at least a partial homage to the Perth duo. Anyway, as much as they belong to a tradition, Thee Loose Hounds also sound fresh and volatile: blurted vocals and squealing guitar thrashing about over weedy organ tones and spirited drums. The neurotic spasms of a song like ‘Diggin’ will appeal as much to fans of Eddy Current or Royal Headache as early Horrors: it hits you at a pre-intellectual level, like a spank, and balances aural nostalgia carefully against modern punk flavours and the trio’s specific palette (notably lacking in bass, but not to their detriment).

(3)

“All the way from Tacoma, Washington” says a man in black, “please welcome THE SONICS.”

The hitherto reserved crowd erupts in a high-pitched scream, and five more men in black walk on stage. They get in position behind a bass, saxophone, guitar, keyboard and drums respectively, and without any nonsense launch into the power-chord driven 1966 track ‘Cinderella.’ Like most Sonics songs, the lyrics are simple, bordering on banal: “She's got-a pretty long hair, And she's five-foot-two / When she ran away, I found her glass shoe.” But the delivery is so fierce that every phrase sounds genuinely desperate - and you’re happily sucked into the narrator’s jive party dilemma.

The set rolls along with this persistent party energy, the crowd responding in tow with plenty of twists and shouts. There’s only the occasional spoken interjection - usually from founding member and saxophonist Rob Lind, who offers rally cries and contagious goofy smiles. He mentions his excitement at finally making a Perth visit, and seems to really mean it. This positivity suffuses the whole experience, an wide-eyed celebration of reckless rock in its rawest form.

A surge of excitement arrives for the band’s iconic version of Richard Berry’s ‘Have Love Will Travel,’ and classics like ‘Boss Hoss,’ mixed in with equally good tunes off 2015’s This Is The Sonics - their first original LP in 49 years. There’s the blistering boogie of ‘Bad Betty,’ written by the band’s original keyboardist and vocalist Jerry Roslie, delivered by touring member Jake Cavaliere with perhaps more excitement than any other tune of the night. On other songs, vocal duties are passed over to touring bassist Freddie Dennis, formerly of The Kingsmen - his molten screech is a brilliant addition, and fits perfectly with their established howling sound. Fellow new tune ‘Be a Woman’ gets pride of place near the end of the set - having been written in Australia, for The Sonics, by the Hoodoo Gurus. It’s tailed by fan favourite ‘Psycho,’ with its unforgettable hook, excellent drum fills and emphatic backbeat delivered by former Link Wray drummer Dusty Watson. The crowd has now truly forgotten it’s Tuesday night and is straight-up cutting loose. The Sonics slink off stage but are soon back - of course - with their other biggest goth/protopunk hits, ‘Strychnine’ and ‘The Witch.’ 

I’m frequently skeptical of “reunion tours,” particularly with scant original members, which capitalise on the glories of bygone decades. But who can blame this group of guys who happened to age - but lost none of their uncommon gusto - for playing rock and roll? The Sonics sound as tight as they did in their supposed heyday, and to avoid becoming a “jukebox band,” they say, they wrote a new album. Lo and behold - it’s as good as much of the garage-rock contemporaries that have built upon The Sonics’ sound in the interim. Why stop now?

 

 

POSTCARD FROM THE NT #2 FEAT. METHYL ETHEL @ THE LIGHTHOUSE, AUGUST 16

Andrew Ryan

G’day again from the Top End. A week or two deep into my first Northern Territory immersion, it doesn’t feel any more mundane or predictable. Still seeing a new bird with a new kind of brightly-coloured dinosaur crest every day, or a new outrageous-looking lizard, or a curious establishment advertising rodeos and crocodile waterskiing. This seems like a place that reveals itself gradually, if at all. 

The weekend arrives in Katherine town, so we scout out the nightlife. There’s Kirby’s, the corner pub, which local wisdom suggests is probably best avoided unless you like pokies and fights. There’s the “Golfy” (Golf Club) which rumour has it may be pretty raucous tonight (not sure why). But we settle on Mahogany’s, which boasts a courtyard dense with fronds, a brightly-lit buffet dining hall, $5 Toohey’s and a dingy billiards room with free jukebox. So the night evolves into a rolling playlist of INXS, Roxy Music, Australian Crawl et al, and we drink cheap lager and play pool against two young American soldiers with stern faces and haircuts you could slice carrots on. We almost win, too, but I sink the cue ball while shooting for the black, to the tune of Meat Loaf’s ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).’ Possibly “that” is beating two burly GIs at pool who look like they’d be none too happy to lose. 

The next day we visit Edith Falls, a forty-five minute drive out of Katherine. Paddling in the lower pool, a natural clear-watered swimming hole, I weave through languid frogs and large black-striped fish. I climb onto a rock teeming with bright green tree ants and survey the scene. A small cascade emerges from a green gully and streams into the reservoir. Two kilometres up the hill, in the top pool, a far larger waterfall tumbles into a shining surface ringed by red-earth crags. We swim past rocky islands to the torrent, and through the wall of thick, gushing water. On the other side is a tiny room: one wall is black rock, the other three are hissing white water, and the floor is all shadowy ripples. I recommend visiting this tiny room if you ever want to feel like you’re in a secret inside-pocket of the world’s great big coat. 

The next morning I say goodbye to Dook the dog, and then we’re in a ute owned by a friendly accountant who’s hastening to Darwin to catch a flight. He tells us about his home town in North India and his cricket teams and how he’s going to visit a lavender farm and a potato chip factory in Tasmania. I offer him some potato chips. In Darwin we haul into the share house that’s putting us up, which is obscured by palms and all turquoise walls, wood and air. I walk to the NT Art Gallery and Museum, where classic Papunya Tula paintings (which in the 1970s established the now-ubiquitous dot painting style) sit alongside old fishing boats, stuffed snakes, political cartoons and an audio installation recreating the sound environment of Cyclone Tracy. 

Tuesday crops up, which means nothing, until I notice that Perth band Methyl Ethel are playing a Darwin Festival show. After sunset we sip spiced rum and walk brisk down Smith Street mall, toward Festival Park, where several hundred light bulbs hang between the tamarind trees.  

Scooching into the Lighthouse, which is actually less a house and more a circle of wooden fencing with a stage and a crown of more hanging lights, we hear Methyl Ethel’s first chord ring out. What simultaneously slaps and tickles your ear is the distinctive Jake Webb guitar sound, pseudo-orchestral, with the perfect smattering of delay and lush modulation. Add Thom Stewart’s decisive p-bass thump, and Chris Wright’s smooth and punctual drum talents, and you immediately recognise the tight, increasingly widely-loved Methyl Ethel sound. As far as far-flung appeal goes, how many Perth art rock bands could zip up to Darwin and pack out the main festival stage before the set even starts, on a Tuesday night? Not many I’d reckon, but this trio are worthy claimants to the honour.

They’ve long since got these tunes down pat, effortlessly locking in with synth, vocal and noise samples triggered from Webb’s Roland 404, or Wright’s SPD-S. Even without these additions, though, the band produces an astoundingly big sound: guitar chime and reverb, vocal echo and full-bodied rhythm section tones filling out the sonic space. This more or less consistent palette is repurposed for myriad purposes. There’s the persistent, sparse dream-funk of ‘Idée Fixe’; the UFO-abduction soft rock of ‘Rogues’; the 12/8 choral pump of ‘Unbalancing Act’ and the feel-good rollick of ‘Twilight Driving’ in which go-to Aussie sax guy (and Darwin resident) Gus Rigby jumps up and lets out a golden spiral of reedy strains.

All throughout the crowd is either still and transfixed, or dancing with smiling unruliness. Maybe the only negative response is when Webb announces he’s going to have a drink of water, to which one gruff punter bellows: “Drink beer!” On balance, I reckon Methyl Ethel would have to be pretty happy with their reception. Orrite, more from up here next week. Stay warm, sandgropers!

BUTTER SESSIONS w/ SLEEP D, DAN WHITE & CALE SEXTON @ LATE NIGHT VALENTINE, SATURDAY MAY 18

Andrew Ryan

It’s Saturday evening and I’m trying to convince the Doc to come out and party. The Doc isn’t keen which is fair enough: he’s just worked fifty hours straight or some nonsense, it’s a chilly night and he’s already curled up on the couch with a bowl of porridge. So I join him for an episode of Seinfeld (“The Sponge”) and then step out the door, making the obligatory return for a forgotten item (phone), before setting off into the dark and damp. Past the school, past the lights, onto the burrito strip; Planet is having a DVD sale so I have a nostalgic rummage en route, and carry on.

Tonight’s BUTTER SESSION was set to take place at a “secret warehouse” – the native home of the contemporary subcultural discothèque - but for whatever reason that didn’t play out. This doesn’t bother me too much; I like warehouses as much as the next boogiebody, but it’s pretty nice to be able to walk to the venue, knowing home is only a stumble away. This proximity makes me biased, but it feels like Highgate is increasingly a hive of creative culture: there’s Highgate Continental over the road, peddling ever fascinating music, books, art, apparel – and the twin-storeyed Late Night Valentine is now less a blip, more a haunt. Highgate Conti’s sibling organisation GOOD COMPANY are the movers and shakers behind tonight’s party, aside from the Butter crew themselves, who are here to deliver no less than three (3) live sets for our aural/corporal pleasure. Local spinners “Viv G” and “Thelonious Mike” go back-to-back for the warm up, fanning the tentative first embers of the dancefloor fire. The selections are swell but it’s too early – the mood too subdued - to really experience them in full effect.

Things perk up a little with the arrival of CALE SEXTON, who doubles-down on some unapologetic, adventurous <i>ish</i>. Things are sounding four-dimensional, thick and bright and gooey. I order a whiskey sour at the bar and am told they don’t have any eggs. I didn’t realize whiskey sours involved eggs, and gladly accept the vegan version. Back in the huddle, Sexton delves into this spooky Y2K techno palette, and I suddenly want to play “Perfect Dark” on the Nintendo 64. A tall, loud-voiced guy behinds me announces that this is some “whack shit” and he feel like he’s playing a late ‘90s sci-fi shooter game. Clearly I agree with him on the latter point but whack wouldn’t be my descriptor of choice. Unexpected, maybe. The boy swims into yet murkier realms of synth dissonance and bubbly darkness, before scooping us back up with the arms of digestible analogue tanzmusik. A really healthy spread, so’s at various points I make spontaneous eye contact with my dancing neighbours as if to say <i> “aw yiss.” </i>

DAN WHITE follows, a seamless transition from one Butter brother to the next. His set is fine, and I mean that in most senses of the word. Fine as in “perfectly adequate” – but not (for me) especially memorable, ultimately less compelling than last year’s eclectic <i>Off Bluff</i> 12”. Then again it’s also fine as in “fine wine,” like there’s a certain refinement discernable via yr discerning schnoz, and fine as in “fine weather,” as in, this is definitely still a favourable backdrop to feeling good. It’s also fine as in delicate, like lace, albeit the heftiest most pumping lace you’ve ever heard pumping out of a big Voyager PA: it’s carefully, lovingly woven together. Unfortunately the threads used are just too stock to excite me, the same time-honoured drum machine sounds, rhythm patterns, politely gurgling basslines, so that it’s also fine like “finé” – that is to say, finished, somewhat <i>over</i> as soon as it begins, because you know what to expect and that’s what happens. (Although – was it Cale Sexton or Dan White who dropped that curveball isolated jungly breakbeat and masterfully wove it back into a house groove? Kudos to whichever). Anyway, for the most part this set strikes me as an inevitability unraveling as you dutifully step to the 4/4 throb. But “dutifully” makes it sound like an unpleasant obligation, like a “parking fine” kind of fine. That’d be unfair. In the end I simply temper the yin with some yang (or is it the other way round?), ducking upstairs for bursts of HENRY MAXWELL’s life-affirming disco and funk selections. This two-pronged approach works out well for me.

Back in the basement we’re wide awake for SLEEP D, a Frankston (Vic) duo comprising Corey Kikos and Maryos Syawish. They’re a pair of fun-loving, omnivorous scalligwags who also happen to be the Butter Sessions founders. What we get is a live set that’s beautifully honed but loses none of its spontaneous energy – the partners working in perfect telepathic sync to produce a singular mood, a pulsating trajectory dense with squelch, slap, click and tasteful EQ swoops. It’s really satisfying to watch these two tweak their mixers, sequencers, synthesizers – things falling into place neatly, like a smooth play down the field in a high-stakes footy match.  And although the unwarehousey 2am cutoff may have disappointed some, I reckon it made the whole thing seem handsomely lean and concise. An elegant sufficiency.

If there’s one thing common to tonight’s Butter Sessions signatories (apart from demographic, and rough genre overlap), it’s a gaze set more upon the past than the future. These grooves call upon older technologies and mash up established tropes, intentionally plumbing the warm depths of memory to foster a nostalgic type of dance party (without being out-and-out retro). This is all good in my books; I don’t think nostalgia is all bad, I’m a big fan of analog electronic sounds, and I love to see what can be achieved by collaging aesthetics from our personal and collective pasts. Still, if the Butter Sessions artists really want to make an impression on the dance music landscape, they’d do well to (musically) acknowledge more of what’s happened in the last ten or so years - and what’s being pioneered now.  That’s a thought, an option they can take or leave. In the meantime, we’re not likely to stop dancing.

 

 

 

 

SHIPS IN THE NIGHT #13 @ PAPER MOUNTAIN, THURSDAY MAY 19

Andrew Ryan

Part One

Thursday, early evening… I clock out of work. I’m lucky enough to like the places and people that employ me; still, if someone’s paying you to do something, it’s probably because it needs to be done and nobody wants to do it for free. So you’re a utility, and on less inspired days you can feel like a mere bit of machinery. Not even the proverbial cog, which has a certain slow rotational grandeur and evokes luxury watches, but something more crude and forgettable – a washer, maybe. So today I’m feeling like a washer, and we all have washer days, which is fine, as long as it doesn’t surreptitiously snowball into washer life. And maybe the preventive for washer life, indeed a key antidote to capitalism, is poetry, which is everything that washer life isn’t.

None of this is going through my head as I buy a cheap sushi roll from Is Donburi, but perhaps some intuitive awareness of it is ebbing in my bones, because I find myself suddenly set on attending the local poetry showcase Ships In The Night. In this twilight hour, I manage to wangle a Black Sabbath t-shirt so as to discard my work uniform, and begin to feel less like a washer, Ozzy’s primordial wail echoing in the back of my brain. I wander aimlessly in Northbridge for a little while, noticing things, smelling the air, feeling the pavement as my feet clap down on it. Eating my sushi roll.

I climb the stairs into Paper Mountain – which if you don’t already know, is an art space above a café on William Street. Its central white-walled gallery is hemmed in by artist studios and a communal space called The Common Room. We find ourselves in the latter tonight. There’s a small PA and nominal stage at one end. Makeshift bar (bottles in ice buckets) at the other. Floor littered with cushions and other comforts, the walls lined with books, art-things and plants. And now Albie walks in – that’s Albert Pritchard from Shit Narnia – acoustic guitar in hand.

Playing the opening set to a silent, gazing crowd in a small, well-lit space is no easy task. Some would say it’s daunting. But if Albie’s daunted as he strums us into his songworld (which he here calls NEW NAUSEA), it doesn’t show. He seems both nonchalant and diligent as he clamps and plucks steel strings, and exhales charming melodies. The melodies carry redolent stories and images: tales of personal recollection or communal memory, old sentiments rendered in fresh phrasing, and flashes of the Western Australian landscape – from Claremont Quarter to the sweeping south-west. There’s a blistering Shit Narnia song in the mix, and plenty of hushed, minimal reflections that suggest a more soft-edged Gareth Liddiard. Despite its irony and bittersweet humour, there’s absolutely nothing cynical about this music – which feels as pure and worthwhile as the first song that ever got sung.

Local creative and feminist comedy-night instigator ALYCE WILSON is our host for the evening, bringing her marvellously awkward deadpan to bear on the unsuspecting flock. She thanks Albie and leads us through some metahumour surrounding jokes she’d prepared earlier, before introducing the next guest.

This is CICOCIA OLA, which is a pseudonym for Zoe Kilbourn, who apparently didn’t prepare any poetry to recite, pulled out at the last minute, and then pulled back in at the last-er minute.
Her reading is thus (reportedly) ad-hoc, but all the better for it. Zoe reflects on how she never quite finished her grandmother’s eulogy before reading it at the funeral, and how it was marked by pleasant generalities. Here, she attempts a kind of rectification, exploring her memories of her grandmother both good and bad; digging up strange facts, contradictions, glorious realisations and uncomfortable truths. As much as this is a tribute to her grandmother, the reading is also self-reflexive, a rumination on Zoe’s perceived inability to finish anything she starts or to adequately prepare for deadlines. Embracing these kinds of insecurities doesn’t always come off aesthetically, but here it really works, amounting to a performance that is raw and honest, thoroughly human, and which effaces its own flaws: in the end, Zoe had prepared exactly as she needed to.

AXEL CARRINGTON now stands before us. The man is best known for his work in various Perth bands (currently Hip Priest, Rag and Bone) and for writing some you-beaut, earnest music criticism. He begins tonight with some of the latter, reading a review of Shit Narnia’s EP from last year. It’s a good review, full of insight and warmth, and it’s delivered well. I only question the choice of reading in context, given that two members of Shit Narnia are performing tonight; it all feels a bit too pats-on-the-back. Still it’s plenty endearing. He follows up reciting the lyrics to his song ‘Tall Ships,’ seemingly a lament reflecting on early settlement. This sits easier: poetic, evocative, political without being self-righteous.

HUGH MANNING is the aforementioned other member of Shit Narnia, ever the poet, even when fronting the punk band. I first met Hugh at a double-denim party, he was stomping around the loungeroom bellowing his poetry apropos of nothing. It was fantastic. Tonight’s not so different but the room is still, Hugh is still; we all shut up listen closely.


This stuff is singular. Angry, gentle, unmistakably Australian and “unaustralian,” lyrical and direct all at once. In musical pentameter, he riffs on relationships, self-doubt, social paradoxes, leaving Albany. And though it gets bitter and loud and close to the bone, it never veers towards to the crude brashness endemic to “slam” poetry. Everything is measured, worked, carefully placed. It’s not a poet in a punk’s body or vice versa. It’s just Hugh, at his inspirational best.

ELIZABETH LEWIS rises to the stage, the redness of her dress punctuated by a stack of white poem-etched palm cards that she shuffles through, choosing verses not quite at random. “Stop me after five minutes,” she requests, “or else I’ll just keep going.” These poems are relatively short – such that they often evoke the evanescent brevity of a haiku, without actually being haiku – and orbit the themes of love, loneliness and self-knowledge. There’s a stirring poem about Elizabeth’s mother (who’s in the crowd) and her ambivalent self-sacrifice. Others trace moments of unexpected emotional overload: having to cover up a photo of a beautiful smile, or leaning into strangers on a train to apprehend some closeness. The act of fishing becomes a metaphor for prescribed masculinity and self-sufficiency; distance becomes winter, and bones become warmth. These conceits belong to old traditions, but are used to great effect. Perhaps more than anyone’s tonight, these poems speak to an inner life, the private and unspoken world.

GOLDEN STRING is Mai Barnes, and sometimes Hayley-Jane Ayres or others, but tonight just Mai Barnes. Mai’s a remarkable songsmith, having appeared with her project seemingly fully-formed a few years back: warm-hued, piano driven compositions awash with misty vocals, canned percussion and swirling loops. Tonight feels like a valiant stride forward, at least from where I’m sitting. There are heaps I’ve new songs (I only recognise one or two), new textures and rhythms, and a more intense stage presence (Mai’s dancing like a fiend and literally climbing the furniture). Furthermore, her quotidian, self-deprecating banter now feels less apologetic and more like a light-hearted anchor to the real world. Without it we might all float away into the gilded heavens and never return.

Part Two

We’re onto our “headliners,” TRISTAN FIDLER and LAURIE STEED. Exactly what constitutes a headliner (in any context) is unclear but in any case, these two gentlemen have certainly had a tremendous output of top-notch creativity in their time. I’m itching to hear what they’ve readied for us.

With Tristan, it’s a short story called ‘Please Be More Sombre’: divided into two parts, tailed by an epilogue. The story follows the fictional Evelyn, once a member of an esteemed Australian post-punk band, now a jaded office drudge. Tristan paints a hilarious portrait of corporate culture, more vividly familiar than say, The Office; richer for its inner monologues and local specificity. Evelyn entertains herself by dropping stationary to torment her colleagues, is harangued by her younger male boss, avoids crowds and listens to Suicide while waiting for the train. In part two she encounters an insufferable life-affirming flashmob (Tristan renders the inane pop-songs they wheel out perfectly) and is inadvertently featured in a viral youtube video. Despite having to read faster than he might’ve liked to fit in the time limit, Tristan does a magnificent job of reciting his hilarious tale – a piece of writing evidently informed by pop culture, observational humour and the incisive, gently hysterical musings offered by the likes of David Sedaris. Highly recommended if you can track this story down, but otherwise, busy yourself with Tristan’s excellent A Rich Tapestry webcomic/print sine.

Laurie Steed also serves us a short story (or rather, an excerpt from a forthcoming book) in two parts. Rather than “part one and two” it’s presented as Side A and B of a cassette, Just Hits ’85, a nostalgic compilation that frames the narrative. We meet a young boy, obsessed with Lionel Ritchie, who may or may not be a version of Steed’s younger self (I’m merely speculating, but there’s no doubt real life and fiction intermingle here). He picks daisies with a girl on the school oval, plays video games until dinnertime, watches his brother’s underwhelming footy matches and reads his sister’s diary. And of course, listens to pop songs on tape. It’s all sweetly familiar – almost achingly familiar – stuff. Everything takes a more melancholic turn around the end of Side A: divorce, confusion, allusions to an affair and a mother’s depression. Still everything is wrought through a bright-eyed, innocent voice that prefigures grim reality; I’m reminded of Tim Winton’s Lockie Leonard books, where sadness sometimes bleeds from between the childlike lines. Ultimately, Laurie’s most impressive feat is combining every detail – be it funny, tragic, or picturesque – into a singular thread, a snapshot of time and feeling that’s so cohesive it’s real. From chewing on a popsicle stick at school camp, to contemplating the realities of love, these scenes feel as vivid and tender as any memory I can lay claim to.

The evening wraps up per Ships in the Night tradition with an Open Mic segment. We get some good offerings: mostly artful spins on love, lust and attendant regret. Easily the highlight, I’ve gotta say, is the wide-eyed, lank-haired Geoffrey Power-King who delivers some truly surreal and revelatory standup. It’s a mashup of deadpan bad puns, fragmented social commentary and genuinely original jokes that have me laughing till my ribs hurt. When his brief time-slot’s up, Geoffrey rebuts: “It’s Ships in the Night, not Censorships in the night!” and continues, ultimately delivering the most drawn-out gag of the year. Weird and great. More of this please.

Epilogue

Two nights later I find myself at Jack Rabbit Slim’s: Shannon of KISSINGER X KRUZ firing rapid bars over Nathan Tempra’s sanguine beats, Nelson of POW! NEGRO launching wild rhapsodies, and then the amazing SAMPA THE GREAT belting her smart, dense, assured and optimistic verses. One thing I notice is that tonight’s and Thursday’s worlds of poetry are – if only incidentally – divided along racial lines, in any case along concurrent “genre” lines, perhaps lines that could happily overlap more freely. The archaic division between rap and literary verse are gladly dissolved in many pockets of the world and arts communities, but then again, scenes develop according to commonality of experience, and hefty beats or lack thereof. The main thing is that poetry is all around, a heady spiral towards the ceiling, rich lyrical expression not only occurring but doing so productively, in a way that seems to advance hopeful messages and expanded awareness. Of the world and the self. And we feel like human beings.

I OH YOU feat. Collarbones, The Harpoons & More @ Ding Dong Lounge, Sunday April 5

Andrew Ryan

The hot cross buns have been baked and gobbled, or else fobbed at a discounted price; the Easter eggs have been consumed and their wrappers splayed leaving distorted foil patterns on tabletops. On this calendar-attested long weekend I find myself back in Melbourne, and for the most part I swan about aimlessly: leafing through books, avoiding rain, affording myself a beer here and a game of pinball there. But it would have seemed remiss not to attend a gig, and luckily enough there’s a particularly appealing one tonight, Easter Sunday, at a venue I’ve never attended featuring a band I’ve been meaning to see live (The Harpoons). So I meet with A & C, and C makes us some burgers and we stroll in autumnal chilliness to the tram which chugs, squeaks and dings us to our destination.

When we enter, near the start of proceedings, it’s MILWAULKEE BANKS gracing the stage. Two men looking pretty serious, in caps and black longsleeves; one is hovering behind a laptop and trigger device, cradling a mic in one hand, while the other prowls around the front of the podium – mic to his mouth, eyes slightly widened, centre of gravity lowered. They are a hip-hop duo, though musically, they eschew the genre’s more common tropes – there’s no boom-bap, no funk/soul sampling, nor are they overtly channelling the slow syncopated extremes of trap or the stomp of hip-house. Instead, they seem to be treating their tracks as dark contemporary electronic pop, subsequently layering rap vocals. It’s a neat concept, one that should allow them to straddle different demographics and wiggle into a range of bills, but does it work? Mostly – the combination sits best when the vocals are at their most subdued, and the laptop-handler’s occasional pitched-down vocals add a nice spooky touch. When things get rowdier on the mic, it starts to feel like an awkward clash; “m*therf**ker” getting barked in an Aussie twang makes for a strange bedfellow with moody, stylish synth-beatsmithy. But hey, maybe I’m just being a square. In any case, it seems to be working for them, and if they can further hone their idiosyncrasies they might become a really memorable force.

Next up are those fated HARPOONS, who A & C have been telling me to go see for many moons, and it’s cool that we’re all doing so together. We drink some whisky on the charmingly decorated balcony/smoking area – potted plants floor to ceiling greet us, backlit by moonlight and neon – before racing inside so as to not miss any of the hotly anticipated set. To be fair, a crummy mix – whereby everything somehow sounds too loud and too quiet, and altogether muffled and indistinct – means that it wouldn’t have been too big a shame to have missed the first few songs. But that soon gets sorted out, and we’re able to fully appreciate the sultry neo-RnB slow jam excellence of this much-loved local ensemble. There’s no doubting their remarkable collective talent: everyone pulls their weight, with Marty on electronic beats and semi-acoustic marimba (drum-kit’s gotten the boot, it seems), Henry and Jack nailing guitar and bass duties, and Bec – undoubtedly the most viscerally impressive of the lot – absolutely shreds it up on the voice-aeronautics. “RIP to the competition,” as Lil B would say. But a few songs in I’m wondering: is there anything new on offer here? Or is it just four kids who grew up in the ‘90s channelling contemporary RnB for a quietly nostalgia-hungry crowd?

The answer soon arrives: yes, there is innovation in the Harpoons’ sound, and for every homage to the brilliant production and vocals stylings of yesteryear’s smooth-moving heroes, there are bold hints of experimentation. We hear excursions into ambient pop, lush four-part harmony, global folk influences and punishing club rhythms. Weaving itself throughout is a sort of life-affirming motown/soul sensibility that harks to the band’s more traditional roots. By the tail end of the set, the crowd is hurling itself at the ceiling in a rhythmic way, and singing along in a joyful unselfconscious way, and it’s almost a rude shock to the system when The Harpoons don’t play an encore. But all is well. And we are happy.

GOLD FIELDS soon take command of the airwaves, dusting every surface with a generous coating of rich cheese powder: but in the best way possible. We have back-to-back indulgent hits from the likes of Kelis, Outkast, Michael Jackson and other such heroes. My jaw periodically drops: surely they’re not playing “The Next Episode” straight after “Beautiful (feat. Pharrel)”? But oh, how they go there. And suddenly the shameless sacred backlog of bangers unfurls, clunkily and gleefully.

In stark contrast come the first few songs by COLLARBONES: dark and distantly nihilistic, throbbing but never quite inviting you into the party, with washed-out vocals and cacophonous production keeping you at arm’s length. But soon a distinctly positive vibe reasserts itself, with picture-perfect frontman Marcus Whale offering cheery, silly banter and beatmaster Travis Cook grooving dorkily up back in flip-out sunglasses. The set proves to satisfy on a number of levels: there’s subtle complexity to the compositions, but also plenty of roof-raising pulsations to pump your fist to, and Whale delivers some very special dance moves. In its artful croontronica way it reminds me of seeing How To Dress Well, but it’s about six times better. The set ends with an utterly preposterous remix of of Phantom Planet’s “California” – aka the OC theme song – blaring out in all its daft EDM glory through the room while Travis Cook thrusts and boogies to a crowd who have long since resigned themselves to the joyful silliness. We enjoy a final wiggle to the DJ’s selections before swapping the darkness of the club for the darkness of the street; knowing that to have witnessed sets like these on a Sunday night, to have danced and laughed as we have, is surely something of an Easter miracle.

SEUN KUTI & EGYPT 80 @ PIAF’S CHEVRON FESTIVAL GARDENS, THURSDAY MARCH 3

Andrew Ryan

Sliding down William Street towards Elizabeth Quay, insistent rhythms and brass fanfares bubble up to meet me. Through the garden gates it’s KOI CHILD, Perth’s ascendant jazz-hop darlings, quickening the blood in the veins of an unseasonably chilly Thursday night.

Koi Child might not have been the most obvious choice to support afrobeat legends Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, but really it’s a perspicacious bit of programming. If Kuti & Co represent a seminal intersection of jazz, funk and traditional Nigerian musics, Koi Child embody a distinctly Australian response to the ever-evolving hybrid sounds of the African diaspora. Fronted by Johannesburg-born mc Shannon Cruz Patterson (tonight he gives shout outs to his friends back in South Africa), Koi Child are clearly conscious of their work’s global genealogy as they become increasingly prominent on the world stage. Naturally, the burgeoning ensemble don’t squander this opportunity to open for such a well-loved group, and they treat our pricked ears to a joyous set of strident keys, dense horn beds, slick quick-paced rap and confident, restrained solos. Blake Hart’s drum feels are sounding more effortlessly on-point than ever, acoustic kit fusing seamlessly with SPDS electronic grit. The whole thing is delivered with the light-hearted humour of a group of mates having a lark, as well as the tightness of a professional touring band. Which is a pretty beautiful combination.

Speaking of beautiful combinations, there’s a palpable sense of alchemy when the incredible EGYPT 80 fire up their introductory groove. The band famously backed afrobeat king Fela Kuti until his untimely death, at which point his then-14-year old son Seun was tasked to carry the (presumably daunting) torch.

Egypt 80 always sounded incredible but it’s apparent that the decades of working together have resolved the group into a kind of unstoppable hive-mind. Immediately, world-class rhythmic collages emerge with a nonchalant ease. Viscerally buoyant drums and percussion, slyly syncopated bass, twin crystalline guitars, impeccable horns arrive in your ears with thrilling inevitability. Backing vocals, vibrant costuming and seemingly unaffected dancing adds to the spectacular impact of the band on stage. Thus the scene is set for Seun Kuti, whose larger-than-life presence would quickly overshadow any lesser ensemble.

He appears: a crisp shirt so yellow it almost glows and densely patterned blue and white trousers. And, naturally, a glimmering saxophone. The crowd billows, rapturous cheers rising into the night air. Kuti grins and dives in, here in his element, like a frog released into a pond. They segue into Fela’s ‘Mr Follow Follow’ – in Seun’s words, “I always start with one of my father’s songs, to show him respect.” The band moves on to more recent Seun-era originals, such as the politically-charged ‘IMF’ (“it really stands for International Mother Fuckers”) and ‘Black Woman.’ Kuti leaps and struts about the stage, chanting anthemic choruses, wailing with wild intensity on the sax, or else whipping the crowd into a frenzy with shirt-removal and bum-wiggle. Apart from being an incredible performer, he’s extremely funny (joking about eating kangaroo, Lagos and urbanization) and always politically minded, discussing the toxic influence of “the American dream” in Africa and the dangers of prioritizing dogmatic religion over science. Those who begrudge Kuti his longer-than-average spiels between jams are probably not cognisant of the lineage he’s following; Fela’s music was always part of a radical protest movement and a distinct verbal (not just musical) political dialogue. For Seun to unapologetically follow suit feels apt, and imbues every rambunctious horn stab or energized groove with added gravity.

Kuti tells us about astral travel and his love for marijuana, repurposing its active ingredient (THC) as an anagram for ‘The Higher Consciousness.’ Far from mere stoner celebration, this too becomes a political call-to-arms as Kuti leads us in a climatic chant of “Fight the greed / with the higher consciousness” over a stomping mid-tempo riff.

In his review for The West Australian, Grant McCulloch wrote that during Thursday’s show “the party never quite hit fifth gear” – which might be a fair observation in regards to large portions of the audience, who seemed more content gazing on in wonderment rather than actually moving as the music so clearly compels you to do. But there were undeniable pockets of fifth-gear abandon, particularly closer to the stage, where Kuti & Egypt 80’s relentless energy became truly infectious. Whether you were quietly observing or throwing your whole body into it, this was a remarkable show, a distillation of so many of the things that make music special. It was physically and emotionally inspiring, conceptually resolved, politically engaged, technically incredible and ridiculously fun. The latter is notably absent from much of our (Australia’s) politically-minded cultural expression and maybe we yet have something to learn from Kuti’s approach. Truth be told, this was among the best shows I’ve ever attended. And I don’t say that lightly. I say it with my heart-rate raised, my face beaming, my favourite local musicians all paying tribute with their applause throughout the crowd, and my eyeballs reflecting the most sincere and powerful live dance-music troupe I ever did see.

THE NECKS & HAUSCHKA @ PIAF'S CHEVRON FESTIVAL GARDENS, WEDNESDAY 24 FEB

Andrew Ryan

There are films you’re supposed to have seen, and lots of them are films I haven’t – Apocalypse Now, Schindler’s List, The Goonies – which creates a weird sense of guilt, like I’ve broken some sort of unspoken cultural contract. On a more niche level, it seems there are bands you’re supposed to have witnessed live, and Australian trio The Necks is surely one of them. The group’s approach – which entails long, unbroken free improvisations that slowly evolve and shift – is around thirty years in the honing, and the stuff of legend. Amid surprisingly chilly February air, I bump into K___ in the line for the bar, and confess: “Yeah, I’ve never seen the Necks before. I’ve missed them every time they’ve come.” (In my defense, I wasn’t even born when they first started playing). K looks relieved and laughs: “I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

D____ and I cradle plastic cups of liquor through the curtained entry point and find a pair of free seats in the already well-populated outdoor auditorium. THE NECKS begin: quiet, unobtrusive drones and gentle cymbal wash coalescing in space, waiting for a detail to emerge and take the lead. Eventually, this lingering fog of sound does make way for movement, an unhurried and simple two-chord undulation driven by subtle piano variations and the gentle melodics of bowed double bass. Drums, bass and piano all abide by this sense of movement, though not in a uniform way: each instrument cycles through its own ebb and flow at its own pace, creating layers of overlapping dynamics, slow-motion sea-foam crashing on a shore at night. This continues for a long time, eventually driven along by Tony Buck’s insistent quaver dings on the cymbals. Things are changing, but almost imperceptibly, like we’re ants ambling along a Rothko. At some point, crotales and seed pods are added to the kit, expanding the sonic palette. Chris Abrahams’ piano playing moves from a fluid, almost synth-like drone style towards more discernable arpeggios and pseudo-melodies featuring octave harmonies and blue notes. Lloyd Swanton begins to alternate between bowing and pizzicato, gradually locking in more with Buck’s increasingly structured thumpings. It finally coheres into a swaggering common-time groove, floor tom emphasis on one! and! two! comprising the main figure. There’s no real moment of epiphany or totally united rhythm; piano and bass slowly fade into silence, leaving Buck to usher us out with a shimmering, rattling cowbell, which cross-fades into discernable oompah/dancehall bangers emenating from a nearby circus tent.

Following a short break filled by a minimal deep house DJ, German musician Volker Bertelmann aka HAUSCHKA appears under the towering festival stage-dome. Armed with a prepared grand piano, incidental percussion (to likewise go inside the piano) and unseen electronic sound-sources, Hauschka’s approach is essentially a fusion of established extended techniques combined with fairly accessible contemporary classical and/or EDM-influenced compositions.

This format plays out in a set of continuous sound, as with The Necks; unlike The Necks, this set is busy, crammed with ideas, variable polyrhythms, clear-cut melodies and emphatic sound events. Bertelmann tapes small drums and tambourines, egg shakers and other foreign objects to his piano strings, eliciting concurrent percussion sounds when he strikes particular keys. At times, this is remarkably effective (at others, it’s seemingly arbitrary and borderline annoying). Here and there he strips back the physical “prepared” elements and proffers kind of Satie-esque piano interludes which creates a pleasant dynamic counterpoint. Other moments rely more heavily on electronic augmentation, whereby piano keys might trigger a kick-drum sound that gets looped, or where a synthetic texture plays from an unknown device.

Whether Hauschka’s overall project is innovative or gimmicky kind of depends on what mood you’re in, and how much you think his process serves its ends. Certainly, the process is foregrounded – a camera films the inside of the piano, with all its rattling insertions, and projects it on the big screen rear of stage. This is definitely YouTube generation stuff, designed to “wow” through its audacity and extravagance before it generates any kind of more contemplative thought. That’s not to say the latter can’t arise, or that it’s necessarily cheapened by its ostentatiousness. Some of the best music is flashy, self-consciously and deliberately novel. For my part, I can only really get on board with a portion of the actual compositions here, and the process (intriguing though it is) isn’t compelling enough to sustain your interest alone. At its best – where form and function operate in symbiosis, where compositions are unique and well thought-out – Hauschka’s style reveals moments of beauty and exciting possibilities. At its worst, it feels like a cheap trick, with uninspired musical ideas propped up by clunky gimmicks and somewhat dated electronic influences.

THE NECKS and HAUSCHKA were a well-programmed pairing. Both evince an emphasis on the nexus of tradition and experimentation. Both are preoccupied with repetition, layering, phasing and long-form listening. Fittingly, or perhaps ironically, each act’s flaws and strengths felt inverse to the other’s.

The Necks are seasoned professionals and their delivery tonight was as flawless as you’d expect. Every sound they eked out was ear-pleasing and effortlessly cool; nothing stuck out as weird or wrong. What they seemed to lack however was any palpable sense of adventure. This is the sound of an ambient/improv/post-jazz trio playing it safe, doing what they do well, to nobody’s detriment. But given their reputation as genre-smudging and envelope-pushing, heck even just in the sense that it’s sometimes nice to be surprised, I would have liked them to take a few more risks (melodically, dynamically, rhythmically, texturally, take your pick).

Perhaps it’s not fair to judge a band against their hallowed, iconic status – after all, musicians (mostly) just do their thing and it’s the public and critics (mostly) who generate a discourse of hype and expectation. But then again it probably is fair, because it’s this discourse that’s sustained their illustrious career. At this point I want to hear them pushing themselves.
Hauschka, conversely, was risky business. He moved restlessly between ideas which at any one moment might seem brash, uncool or incongruous. His multi-tasking is ambitious and he couldn’t always nail the one-man-band mechanics, resulting in moments of vulnerability and imprecision. And yet, Hauschka’s flawed set boasted a forward-looking zeal that The Necks seemed to have abandoned in favour of a comfortable routine.

Hauschka and The Necks are both world-famous; both are the recipients of glowing praise, and are perhaps likewise victim to hyperbolic expectations. We assume they ought to be boundary-pushing, or note perfect, or both, and maybe they’re not bout that life. For what it’s worth, both were a pleasure to behold. But each act would do well not to rest on its laurels, and maybe even learn a little something from the other.

PHIL STROUD & AKIOKA @ THE BIRD, SATURDAY JAN 30

Andrew Ryan

A couple months ago I walked down to the always-charming Highgate Continental and picked up a black disc in a black sleeve with a green and white label. This was the second 12” release from Good Company Records, Phil Stroud’s ‘The Forest’ b/w ‘Yemaja.’ I took it home and stuck a needle on it and wiggled my joints around the living room while my bones hummed in joyous harmony with the earth.

Then my itchy ears found Stroud at RTR’s Distant Murmurs festival, adapting his compositions to the stage with an eight-piece band. With keen eyes I later notice the ensemble is back for a headline show at the Bird.

Fringe Festival flavours the night air. Walking through Northbridge at this time of year you can’t escape the stained glass of spiegeltents, pink bunting, festoon lights; the food trucks, carnival sounds, bars styled as giant fountains, strange costumes wandering. Whether that’s your scene or not, it’s hard to deny the cheery electricity it adds to the surrounds as you pass through. I meet J and we drink a plastic cup of champagne in a repurposed rickshaw.

Over at the Bird, ANDREW SINCLAIR is dishing out hot tunes like Oprah dishes out cars. Apart from being a Highgate Contintental co-founder and a Good Company Records label boss, Sinclair has been relentless on the disc jockey circuit lately; unfailingly his selections are at once soothing, energizing and surprising.

Emerging first on the live stage is AKIOKA, who I’ve never seen or heard before. I do know that Akioka is the moniker of Tess Darcey who also provides vocals and percussion in the Phil Stroud expanded band. Anyway, here she is, backed by strange and stunning freaky-nature projections courtesy of local artist Amy Priemus.

Her tunes are truly remarkable, wild washed-out pop experiments bringing together lush noise, bright invigorating beats and subtly brilliant vocals. The wonder of any given track is paralleled only by how quickly she moves through them; it’s amazing (and slightly daunting) how nonchalantly Darcey bounces from one compelling idea to the next. In this way, I’m reminded of hyperactive brains like Flying Lotus or Holly Herndon, how their creativity just blazes before your very ears. Not that Akioka really sounds like either of those people, she sounds like Akioka. Her last track – a moving ambient slow-burner with the refrain “I pray for my synapses” – is one of best and most emotionally powerful tunes I’ve heard in ages. I’ll be rushing to whatever Akioka shows I can from now on.

BEN M of the esteemed {move} DJ syndicate keeps the room’s pulse up with a funky-silky cascade of sounds before PHIL STROUD arrives on stage. If Akioka gave us a rapid-fire onslaught of varied ideas, Stroud’s approach is almost the opposite. Take a rhythm or a riff, sit with it, feel it, see how it feels to let it roll on for a while, gradually build. It’s a minimalist and meditative mindset that – while channeling jazz and traditional percussive musics sonically – has a lot of confluence with modern dance music production techniques. Which, of course, is why it makes so much sense on the Good Company label alongside the likes of house aficionado Hugo Gerani. It’s also why it makes so much sense to people’s rhythmic proclivities tonight, with the whole tightly-packed room transfixed and palpably oscillating to the groove. As the sound density ebbs and flows, Priemus’ visuals continue, taking us hurtling through a kaleidoscopic forest and deep into abstract imaginings. The band – thick with double-drums, vocals, keys, flute and bass – is unfalteringly tight, and soulful in a restrained kind of way. Tintinnabulating textures shuffle over booming kicks and weave around djembe patter and crunchy chords. The light and the percussion become one, a vivid moment, now a vivid memory. There aren’t many musicians locally, even in Australia, plumbing this kinda sonic well, and here it is in impeccable form. Perth can be very proud of its Stroud.

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Image by Dolphin Secrets

RTRFM's DISTANT MURMURS FESTIVAL @ ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, SATURDAY JAN 16

Andrew Ryan

A wide-open Saturday, a train and a bus to the North Perth Plaza… Apparently it’s too hot for me to even drink Beer in the Beer Garden – my body wants pure hydration – so I guzzle some water and stand under the Rosemount’s misting nozzles. Thank goodness for the discernibly cooling effects of BAHASA MALAY who’s starting up as I arrive, the multi-skilled Nora Zion today joined by Brendan Jay (Wednesday Society, Mental Powers, Weapon Is Sound) and Matt Aitken (Gilbert Fawn, Gulls). The set is sprawling and weird: full of hard-to-place samples, obscure rhythms and disorienting tones. But it’s tastefully wrought, beautifully performend and underpinned by ace songwriting sensibilities, making it a wonderfully well-rounded listen to start the day.

ORIGINAL PAST LIFE follow-up and although I’ve seen/heard them before, I’ve never caught them sounding like this. Whereas I’ve previous experiences OPL in noise/free-improv mode, today they let a string of patient, mellow, post-rocky instrumentals flutter in the humid breeze. It’s a soothing counterpoint to the sets I’ve seen prior, and a perfect ambience for the mid-afternoon swelter. Inside the Rosemount’s main room, POOL BOY offer a free ride on a gently chugging ghost-train, pushing through synthetic synth-cobwebs, rickety canned beats and dark, captivating vocals. This band makes great sounds that deserve to go “straight to the pool room.”

ATRIPAT takes over in the beer garden, nonchalantly broadcasting a web of intricate and arresting electronic compositions. While at times they feel digital to the point of being clinical (and maybe that’s part of the aim), these are thoughtful and often moving explorations – I’m excited for Atripat’s 2016.

Soon, inside the Rosemount-adjoining 459 bar, I find REGULAR BOYS doing their regular thing. Which is playing really nice garage rock/guitar pop with a heart of gold. Emphatically casual guitar bands are a dime a dozen at the mo’ but these boys have something special, which includes (1) being really great instrumentalists and (2) writing bloody lovely songs full of melodic interest and (3) visibly having fun the whole way through; truly a pleasure to behold.

Back outside the sky is getting dim and the ever-haunting ERASERS are floating towards you with dense organ drones, echoing vocals and stark, rattling drum machine. While Erasers’ sound is rooted in its minimal palette and meditatively consistent approach, tonight shows an interesting progression: a peculiar opening track that pits mechanically interlocking synth riffs over a beatless, abstract drum loop. These subtle interventions are the kinds of manoeuvres that keep Erasers’ stylistic growth ticking over, and sound all the more intriguing amid their steady, hazy sonic landscape.

The sly genius of local percussionist PHIL STROUD (ex-The Chemist) has recently revealed itself on Perth label Good Company’s second 12” release (GCR002 – Phil Stroud, The Forest / Yemaja). But tonight things get wild in three-dimensions, and Phils’ recruited a full live band (including keys, seed pods, extra drums, bass and wooden flute) to flesh out his expert rhythms. The result is a fiendishly tight, jazzy, patient and spacious trip into the outer spiral-arms of some exceptionally soulful galaxy.

I have to miss some of the set though, because it’d be a crime not to catch a bit of MINING TAX, who are just increasingly killing it every time I see them. The lo-fi, cheekily political synthpop duo are whipping up a hi-vis storm in the 459 room, blazing through bangers like the superb ‘Footy,’ and when I walk in vocalist Alex Griffin is already crowdsurfing his way towards the sound desk. Later in the night I will see his brother also surf the crowd. It is a good night when you see two separate Griffins surfing a crowd.

In the main room, I’m treated to a pleasant surprise from a band I’ve never heard before: SALARY (Fka Celery), who I’d been told were super messy and joke-y. Maybe they were in their celery (salad?) days, but now they’re a super resolved-sounding, spirited indie pop band. With sax, piano accordion, multiple majestic vocals and rollicking chord progressions they recall the likes of The Polyphonic Spree or Broken Social Scene, with a distinctly Western Australian twist.

DIGER ROKWELL takes over the beer-garden now with his hippy-hopperly synth-shuffle funk-trundle, daydreaming euphoniously on guitar as he is apt to do, with very special guest appearances from Ben Witt (shredding!), Felicity Groom (belting and throwing shapes!) Shy Panther’s Dan Fragomeni (crooning with intensity!) throughout. It feels like a cool weird variety show, which is a nice way to ring in the night’s final hours.

ALZABO blow our heads off with their thunderous sludge-cum-thrash wall of sound; SHY PANTHER return to the live circuit with their smouldering jazz-tinged rock, KITCHEN PEOPLE produce a mile-a-moment blizzard of punk abandon and Alex Griffin says it best as he dances in front of me: “They always seem to have an extra gear.” Indeed.

DISTANT MURMURS is an accurate name for a line-up like this if you live anywhere but Perth: most of these acts, after all, play relatively rarely outside of their hometown, and “anywhere else” is a long way off. To our ears though, these are immanent rumblings, town-criers on our doorstep. And while my gushing about these bands might at times seem hyperbolic, it still only goes part way to expressing my enthusiasm. Shows like this really make you click yr red heels together and murmur “there’s no place like home.” What a time to be alive.

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Photo by Billy Bowen

WILLOW BEATS @ THE ROSEMOUNT, SATURDAY DECEMBER 12

Andrew Ryan

I miss the bus stop and, staring desperately as the green machine hurtles on, soon find myself two kilometres up the road. Luckily the sun is already getting low and cooling off as I walk back. Past the servo, past M. Princi’s deli and butcher, past the park. I have some time to kill so I sit in a new Carribean-inspired café, chatting to the bushy-tailed proprietors. Like the establishment’s soon to be unveiled tapas menu, tonight’s music lineup is a spread of unknowns to me. Sometimes, before I even go to a show, I can make a good guess as to what I might write about it afterwards. Tonight’s not like that. I’ve heard little of Willow Beats’ music, haven’t caught Leon Osborn since forever; I’ve never heard Jamyang at all and have no idea what the DJs will spin in this context. But surprise – according to Russian novelist Boris Pasternak – is “the greatest gift life can give us.” So I finish my coffee, flit over the street and begin to unwrap my night-shaped gift.

DJ ANDREW SINCLAR enters the dark, glowing room with DJ GEORGE CAPELAS on his tail. Sinco gets the zone feeling nice and breezy with some slow-growing poolside slabs, before Capelas joins the party and together they up the dynamism. Overall, it’s a mellow and moody set of new and obscure wax-nuggets that leads into the night’s first live set.

Said set comes from JAMYANG (pronounced jum-yung if I understand correctly), which comprises a singer/songwriter/producer named Jamyang but also a live band known as Jamyang (if I understand correctly). Jamyang’s recent ‘Perisher’ EP is (I’ve since discovered) a really impressive piece of work, weaving organic sounding, synth-heavy arrangements together with jazzy rnb/pop songwriting and EDM-informed production. In the live setting, these qualities are very much present but – perhaps inevitably for an early-career live act – less convincing and cohesive. There’s a sort of aural dichotomy between live acoustic and digital sounds, and at various intervals the production values that give the EP its cohesion make way for a strangely exposed-feeling, conservatorium-pop kind of sound. This isn’t to say the set is without its sonic flair or charms; on the contrary, we’re clearly encountering talented players who are keen to engage with adventurous strategies for live performance. There are electronics in the drum kit setup and a talkbox (!) by the keys; when everything gels, it’s a sweet blend. More experience and attention to that coherence will see Jamyang flourish. Meanwhile it must be said: I’m not sure about two Drake covers and twoJustin Bieber covers, all in one set of ostensibly original material. But heck, the crowd seem to like hearing these familiar tunes and cry for an encore – so what do I know?

Over to DJ SPRESSO MARTINEZ (aka Catlips aka Katie Campbell). The prolific and prodigious producer here massages the airwaves with her selection of low-key tropical groovescaping and pared-back, dark-hued house. As icy cool as the blue-white canopy of fairy lights glinting above us. This leads us to LEON OSBORN who takes up the torch of left-field production and artful, often understated beats. He looks a bit lonely all by himself on the big Rosemount stage with only a laptop and APC for company, but there’s no denying the gregariousness of his sparkling sound explorations which come to kiss the cheek of everyone in the room. If you haven’t, please go and listen to his single ‘You Were Gone (feat Barksdale)’ b/w ‘The Map & The Territory.’ Big tunes. Another ear-pleasing accomplishment for Leon Osborn has been remixing WILLOW BEATS’ much-loved single ‘Merewif’; last October, he gave the duo’s futuristic sea-shanty a glitchy do-over with steamy synths and busy post-dubstep percussion. As such, he’s a natural choice of support for the Willowy ones, who emerge now with a cheery, but somehow ethereal presence.

On paper, Willow Beats might appear to be a pretty stock-standard triple J hype band. A fashionable young feller behind a laptop peddling synthetic beat music and a fashionable young lady singing serenely over the top. Look/listen more closely and they’re actually a lot more intriguing than many of their cookie-cutter counterparts, and I’m not only referring to their interesting backstory (Kalyani is actually Narayana’s niece, despite the apparent age similarity; they were raised in a Hare Krishna community; Narayana’s dad, Wally Johnson, wrote ‘Home Among the Gum Trees.’) Their music expands on the intricate yet sparse, song-driven yet dance-oriented model popularized by the likes of James Blake, Mount Kimbie and Flume. Rather than adopt an increasingly omnivorous approach to borrowing from dance genre tropes, Willow Beats look to more pastoral and literary inspiration. Water sounds, nature imagery, the fantastical world of JJR Tolkein and folky interludes all play a part in constructing the duo’s quietly unique sound. Live, they’re unpretentious while remaining conscious that they’re entertainers – there’s a healthy dose of attention paid to dancing, staging and costuming that’s often missing from live electronic pop in my experience. Certain moments see both musicians triggering beat elements; others see Narayana tweaking effects that shift Kalyani’s vocals to an uncanny low pitch; the slow-burn, romantic ‘Blue’ features Narayana taking to the mic, with an endearingly earnest, straightforward delivery. Of course, as far as vocals go, Kalyani is literally and figuratively centre-stage and I haven’t heard such an excellent live singer in a long time (in any genre or context). She doesn’t just boast a pleasant tone, good-pitching and phrasing – there’s a ruthless attention to detail and an apparent investment in the narrative of every song and line that elevates the songs beyond their surface appeal. It’s crucial: you can’t sound half-assed when you’re singing lines like “carve satin markings on my yellow flesh / violet petals flower in the mesh / the moon cocoons a fragile fetus in her swollen cave / wrap me in your gauzy haze.”

Amid the evocative esotericism, there’s room for bona fide bangers, like the hefty ‘Cog Goblin’ and the pulsing ‘Alchemy.’ With the crowd adrenalized and surging, they ride the wave of ‘Merewif’ out – the upbeat, sinister siren-song soaking the room in salty pos vibes. Willow Beats have an energized, open-minded creative vision and the technical talents to see it through. It’s exciting to think what will happen when they begin to augment their palette further and expand their aesthetic/lyrical world. Australia might have its first fantasy-electronica superstars on its hands.

WASO PRESENTS "BOLERO" & TERRIBLE TRUTHS @ THE BIRD, SATURDAY NOVEMBER 28

Andrew Ryan

1. I finish my red apple ale and walk around the streets for a bit. Loping past cathedrals and the magic apple sandwich bar. The v-shaped facade of Campbell House with its ’88-deco mint green-grid and sleepy palm fronds. Back in the hefty prism, the Perth Concert Hall, I take a red velvet seat; the suited virtuosi of WASO tune up prettily, the crowded room falls silent. The lead violinist and the conductor emerge briskly and applause erupts. But no time wasted. Here’s Juaquin Turina’s ‘Danzas Fantasticas.’ The mood is enigmatic, the delivery predictably effortless, even when the high strings are flashing out startling semiquavers that dissolve in steep decrescendos. Not much here I would Danza to, but plenty to conjure Fantastica imaginings: pastel-toned wanderings through the magical outskirts of little Spanish towns, like Quentar, where in the mountains I once followed a coquettish cat to a wild almond tree.

2. Later that night. The tattoo parlour on the Roe/William corner with venetian blinds like an accountant’s office, and the new stained glass windows of The Bird’s forthcoming sister restaurant (I think it’s going to be called “Young Love”). A friend at the ATM in a baseball cap: she’s got no ID and no money, but that’s not going to stop her seeing Terrible Truths. Enticing LPs on the merch desk that I can’t afford but make a mental note to scope out later. KITCHEN PEOPLE loading out, and my smile sinking briefly when I realize I’ve definitely missed them.

1. Some Ravel – but no, not the Ravel – to whet yr whistle. Plinking of the semi-aquatic variety and pirouetting woodwind melodies to open ‘Alborada del gracioso.’ That’s ‘Morning Song of the Jester’ according to most translators. Within the first few minutes there’s mellow orchestral interplay, bombastic rhythmic dissonance and then a sort of proto lounge-noir slink-along. Some really nice harp work and dynamic curviness. Some dank impressionist jazziness. Some requisite “exotic” pastiche, but nothing too hammy or crude. A moment’s glory for timpani and trombones; a big bright final chord that’s incongruously emphatic, almost comically so, and maybe that’s the Jester’s closing gag.

2. JIMMY CHANG, backed by some of the boys (Brod and George) from Spaceman, and Ben McD from Dream Rimmy, Ex-Sonpsilo Circus et al. Jimmy used to live in Perth and play more breezy math/post-rock type music with his project called Zealous Chang. The Jimmy Chang sound is more lyric-driven and swerves around from straight-up post-Tame Impala psych rock to spirited slacker jangle and even a bit of majestic, goofy guitar-disco. Impossible not to have a good time, impossible not to love Mr. Chang even if he was brandishing Dockers socks.

1. Up in the rear stalls, in front of the pipe organ, the choir emerges, all in black. Now we have Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Choros No. 10: Rasga O Coraçao,” which seems to rest on an enduring dissonance that makes the whole thing tense, dark, adrenalized. Some fearsome piano rumble and intense choral layerings. Nice one, Señor Villa Lobos! Nice one WASO. Then the comparably relaxed “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” by Manuel De Falla. Falla is supposed to be one of Spain’s most important 20th century composers, and this composition makes a strong case for it. The three-part piece is brooding, sparkling, evocative, shadowy, like a slow boat ride in the moonlight, a quiet cruise punctuated by heavy spray on the hull.

2. Chats with buddies, a rendition of the Carlton club song, red wine. TERRIBLE TRUTHS appear and remind me that they are a wonderful, singular band. Comprising Stacey Wilson (Rites Wild, Regional Curse etc), Rani Rose and Joe Alexander, the band were born in Adelaide before moving to Melbourne; they’ve grown to become much-loved post-punk torchbearers. Now at last their debut (self-titled) full length record is out and they are sounding like a band who’ve nailed their aesthetic and are loving making music. What is that aesthetic? It’s perhaps mirrored in the attire of the respective band members: two parts dark and minimal (Wilson and Rose), one part Hawaiian shirt (Alexander). These are gently fuzzy, mostly skeletal rock songs doused in dual vocals and brimming with percussive flair (plenty of woodblock, cowbell and restless groove). They sound great on stage, and broadcast a barely-restrained exuberance amid the deadpan cool. The album sounds great too, the yin-yang on the cover mirroring its symbiotic balance of roughness and polish. Nice one, Terrible Truths!

1. The moment the room’s been waiting for, or at very least the lady in the blue satin dress next to me (she’s told me several times): Ravel’s ‘Bolero.’ And not without good reason: it’s a great piece, a proto-minimalist joy to behold, its distinctive melody traded from instrument to instrument as the supporting arrangement covertly swells to a fiendish climax. When the piece finishes, the crowd erupts in a similarly fortissimo frenzy, complete with standing ovation. The cynic in me questions why the response for this piece is so much more enthusiastic, and concludes that people ultimately just love hearing what they already know, having their preferences affirmed, enjoying comfortable familiarity. But then, it is a truly great rendition. The snare player, who has the hardest job in the world at this particular moment, is flawless, with a remarkably subtle quietude in the early sections. Each soloist is a pleasure to hear. The orchestra guides itself along, conductor Asher Fisch opting to remove himself from stage. It’s really very impressive and totally charming.

3. Maybe the plush concert hall is a better place to sit and contemplate the artistry of music than a rambunctious bar but then, the big dark room kindles a sleepiness in me that The Bird doesn’t. Maybe DIY pop music promotes innovation and expression in a way that wheeling out the classics doesn’t but then again, maybe a lot of us sway to post-punk to massage existing preferences and remind ourselves (and our friends) that we are this or that, that we have a right to wear denim and smoke cigarettes. Maybe Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ and Terrible Truth’s ‘Don Juan’ both hold a crystal up to beams of life’s light that we might not quite apprehend otherwise. I suspect so.

HIGH FOCUS RECORDS PRESENTS: THE "FRESHLY SKELETAL TOUR" FEAT ED SCISSORTONGUE & DEAD PLAYERS @ ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, SATURDAY NOV 21

Andrew Ryan

It was a balmy night at the end of a bright, champagne-infused day. Doc had become a real doctor in the morning; we had both finished university for the year. With a view to letting the celebrations roll on, we moseyed to the Rosemount where some of Doc’s favourite rappers (from the UK’s High Focus label) were performing. It seemed like a perfectly decent idea. We had no idea if it would live up to expectations.

Beyond the musk of the smoking area, and the chatter and clink of the beer garden, there’s a tunnel into the Rosemount main room. Here we find a blaring PA broadcasting a broad cast of local supports, including the intense but jocular DISORDERLY CONDUCT, and the articulate but somewhat forgettable DEMISE. Easily the most impressive of the Perth contingent tonight are POETS LAUREATE: a two-emcee, one DJ trio with contagious stage energy, engaging beats, and ambitious lyricism. This ambition doesn’t always manifest in flawless delivery; there are moments, particularly in fast-paced, Grime-inspired passages, where the Poets can’t quite keep up with the verses they’ve composed. Still, when their gambles pay off, the returns are significant: suddenly the set rises above the ranks of comfortable, mediocre skip-hop and becomes something special. Their sense of humour and evident camaraderie enhances things further. If Poets Laureate can keep up the ambition and hone the execution, they’ll be definite ones to watch.

Nevertheless – as much as I love a bit of hometown pride – there’s no denying that as the High Focus labelmates take the mantle, this is another league entirely.

EDWARD SCISSORTONGUE comes out with all guns blazing – those these guns blaze smoothly, effortlessly, and he never breaks a sweat. His stage presence (complete with indoor sunglasses that few could pull off) is almost icy cool as his rhymes. But the art trumps the persona; it takes more than swagger to conceive of lines like “Mud is getting scattered on a casket tonight / Vultures scale scalectrix circuits in the sky / where rigor mortis episodes are never televised – missing / Like ghosts in the machine, cogs spinning.” Sometimes it’s clear what Edward Scissortongue’s songs are about – mortality, morality and cathartic experience are recurrent themes. At other times what you get is a surreal lyrical rush, a flurry of warped imagery that evokes a Fear and Loathing kind of nightmare. Often it’s both, but in any case it’s all executed with the care and finesse of a master watchmaker, no detail left unaccounted for. Everything’s underscored by fascinating beats – compositions which are interesting not only in their deviation from convention hip-hop backings, but as musical ideas in the broadest sense. Apparently these instrumentals are mostly crafted by a Glaswegian guy named Lamplighter. All this makes me wonder why Edward Scissortongue isn’t way more famous, and why this room isn’t fit to burst. But every head in the place is certainly deep into it.

After a substantial (but not particularly long) set, Scissortongue passes the vocal torch over to Dead Players – the group consisting of rap luminaries DABBLA and JAM BAXTER, as well as producer/dj GHOSTTOWN. It’s no surprise that the High Focus artists have found themselves on the same label; Dabbla and Jam Baxter share Ed Scissortongue’s penchant for dark, weird, surreal and literary rhymes (though Dabbla’s are a little more down-to-earth). However, unlike the Scissortongue’s detached composure, Dead Players’ set tonight dials up the unhinged intensity, with the artists hurling themselves around stage, into the audience, into each other, over piles of broken glass and pools of frothing beer. It’s a big sweaty ugly freaky bacchanal. We sail through with a number of Jam Baxter’s skull-rattling, tongue-twisting solo highlights including the cheeky “Brains,” “Fresh Flesh” and “Leash.” His venomously-spat wordplay errs towards Lovecraftian imagery of splattered internal organs, septic goo, bugs, rats and so on: while the beats take care of your body’s need to flex, Baxter kneads your imagination. There’s self-aggrandization, but as with his flowery US contemporary DOOM, it’s wrapped in sufficient weirdo similes and magical anecdotes to be endlessly varied: “I said it with impeccable mystique, as I hot-wired a 747 with my teeth, last week / the memories are patchy, the word is, I left a bleeding segment of myself in every taxi / and crawled out the last as a disembodied fist / still swinging, still missing, still pissed.” Dabbla is typically more direct, unafraid to use simple silly lines like “I stepped on the rap game now it’s under my shoe.” But his delivery is blisteringly fast and tight, his demeanour wild, and when he wants to, he can get as oddball as the next guy: “Standing in the puddle, scared to guzzle from the cactus / Tell you something I do know blud, get more slam than a judo rug.”

Despite some challenging sound issues (Dabbla’s vocals come across mostly blown out and brittle, while Baxter’s voice sounds pokey and harsh), I soon realize this is perhaps the best live rap show I’ve ever seen. The three emcees tonight are at the top of their unique games, Ghosttown is a force to be reckoned with, and the group boasts an incredible joint energy, each man bouncing off the other like a ricocheting bullet. Bringing together the world of the club/street, and of deep, surrealistic poetry, the High Focus team are a remarkable exemplar of what is possible within hip-hop. After the roar-along track “Yeah,” the night ends with a raucous stage invasion; bodies pressed together, swaying, bouncing, beats blaring on. Doc gets to drop a sneaky 16 bars of a verse he’d prepared earlier, and Jam Baxter gives him a knowing look and a finger-point of approval. We bask in the wonder of it all as we walk home in the tepid air. A night I’ll remember til the worms nibble my eyeballs out.

(Photo by Dan Zeplin Media)

CLUB ZHO #123 @ THE HELLENIC CLUB OF WA, MONDAY NOV 9

Andrew Ryan

With an electrical sigh, all the lights and machines in the suburb go out. The traffic lights are down, so fat green buses and pokey hatchbacks wiggle through the intersection sheepishly. All the cafés close, the servo’s ice creams melt. I meet J and we walk around my primary school, eventually getting lost in the neighbouring hospital, finding ourselves in dim corridors between alien vending machines and a desolate hydrotherapy pool. Luckily, by the time the sun’s gone down I’m on my way out of this weird western suburb fever dream and sitting on an empty fat green bus, alighting at the museum, rounding the corner to the Hellenic Club.

An eclectic crowd of familiar faces and less familiar ones and H-Club regulars are scattered though the generous space, its walls lined with Greek tourism posters. Starving, I buy a plate of olives and chips and things, a mandatory Mythos, and sit down near the patch of carpet where music is going to happen.

The first thing to happen is ORIGINAL PAST LIFE, a trio comprising Michael Caratti (drums/noises) Warwick Hall (guitar/noises) and Adam Trainer (bass/keys/noises). As you might guess from all the noises, they describe themselves as a noise band, but their brand of inharmonic cacophony owes plenty to the worlds of pop, jazz and ambient music too. Indeed, OPL might be a totally different band from one gig to the next, occasionally performing neatly arranged compositions and at other times careening into a full-blown free improve wig-out. Tonight’s set is more like the latter. Drums sizzle and boom unpredictably, synth whirrs and ebbs, strings clang and screech. Unlike countless improv band sets, this one doesn’t start quiet, get loud and end quiet – it is pretty much loud the whole way through, with occasional dynamic dips. This results in a refreshing and memorable kind of noise jam that never slips into being “structured” but, in its spontaneous way, is certainly put together thoughtfully. Really fun to watch three musical stalwarts in reckless abandon mode and clearly loving it. Definitely seek out Original Past Life.

The set finishes sooner than expected, which is fine: better to be left hungry than bloated. Up next is ROSALIND HALL, whose sets I witnessed a couple of times while living over in Hall’s home base of Melbourne. She plays the saxophone, but not as you know it. The composer and sound artist eschews what you’d normally call melody and rhythm, instead adopting a minimal technique that foregrounds the sounds a sax player would typically attempt to hide. Like a painter drawing your eye to the brush strokes, Hall amplifies her throat and the inside of the sax horn, bringing breath, tongue and mechanical sounds into stark relief. The confined microphone teeters on the edge of feeding back, so that with the smallest emphasis, resonant harmonic frequencies shoot through the air. In the dim room, all our ears are pressed up against the chaotic shapes of metallic, undulating soundwaves. Hall’s music invokes a kind of mindfulness – of body, space, and sound itself – in a way that’s unique and aesthetically compelling, distinct from the term’s perhaps nebulous, new agey connotations.

On another tangent again is GRANPA ABELA, aka Lucas Abela, mainstay of the Australian experimental scene (though I’d never heard of him before this event got announced – Club Zho is good for turning up these wild gems). Turns out he’s done just about everything, from inventing freaky high-powered turntables, to making an album out of a Kombi van, to “remixing” Otomo Yoshihide (destroying his CD with amplified skewers) and working with the Flaming Lips. Tonight he delivers his trademark solo set which involves a giant shard of broken glass that acts (apparently) as a giant stylus. Abela places it in his mouth and blows, hisses, sucks, screams – the vibrating glass is fed through a smorgasbord of effects pedals, so it ends up sounding like the weirdest, filthiest synthesizer you’ve ever heard with all parameters set to “stun.” Abela improvises at peak intensity for a surprisingly long time, and keeps it surprisingly engaging, beyond the initial shock factor of watching a guy freak out with a giant shard of glass in his mouth. At last, though, the set has to end when blood is pouring from his lips, smearing the glass pink. Abela blows the last bellow of air from his lungs and, naturally, smashes the glass over his head.

In the unassuming surrounds of the Hellenic club, tonight’s selection of experimentalists has been captivating – with each performer careful to avoid cliché and offer something genuinely strange, artful and intriguing. Club Zho delivers the goods yet again. I raise my glass to them. Not that glass, Granpa!

WAM FESTIVAL: PROSPECTIVE HIGHLIGHTS FEAT. SWEET OBLIVION ALL AGES SHOWCASE, THURS NOV 5 - SUN NOV 8

Andrew Ryan

Wandering Northbridge streets in the warm white sunshine, colliding with just about anyone who might play music in Perth, drinking the breeze and inhaling refreshing beverages. Scuzzy guitars and wails, clunks and thumps; usually the purview of dark boozy rooms, these sounds suddenly spilling into afternoon air, over blades of grass and heads of children. Motley arrays of musicians and fans intermingling and floating round the block together in a deeply uncommon fashion. Such are my memories of WAM festivals.

The so-called West Australian Music Festival is a time of year that draws the local scene’s relationship with the broader public into sharp focus. Inevitably, there is criticism, frequently in the form of disgruntled Facebook posts: what about the glaring omissions? Who’s been snubbed from award nominations; who’s been “patted on the back” for the umpteenth time, or – at a more fundamental level – who cares what a self-appointed representative body for the WA Music industry wants to recognize and program?

These are all valid questions, and particularly if you’re forking out your hard-earned for membership, a degree of critical dialogue is warranted. In the end, however, it’s impossible to please everyone – and for my money, the line-up associated with this year’s WAM festival does an impressive job of curating a diverse, inclusive lineup. There are 166 acts in any case, so good luck not finding something you like. From Thursday to Sunday there’ll be opportunities to catch the flawless indie pop of ascendants METHYL ETHYL, JACOB DIAMOND and JONI IN THE MOON; the forward-gazing experimental songcraft of KUCKA and BEN WITT; the irreverent garage-rattlings of HAMJAM and PISSEDCOLAS; the deadly Motown/R‘n’B of THE MERINDAS; the diligent beats of SABLE and CATLIPS and EMPTY and so on and so in into the horizon. There are plenty of acts whose names I don’t recognize whatsoever, which is good news: it’s certainly not just the “usual suspects” being wheeled out. More so than ever, this year’s lineup feels less geared towards the old guard of Perth indie rock and draws from a broad spectrum of sounds including folk, dub, rap, punk, doom, jazz, trap, house, pop, country, ska, disco, post-rock, soul and just about any other genre tag you might want to pull out of a hat. Seemingly acknowledging that parochialism helps no one, WAM are also bringing interstate sounds into the mix; Victoria’s excellent dreamy-jangle ensemble THE OCEAN PARTY will headline the Newport on Sunday night.

The supposed drawcards, as with any festival, are those who’ve established a reputation and a following; bands like the much loved LOVE JUNKIES, TIRED LION and COMMAND Q. There’s something to be said for recognizing and bringing together acts that are already successful, but what interests me more is WAM’s capacity to water the garden where seeds are newly sewn. This is particularly crucial with regards to all ages opportunities. Too often, live music is oriented to coincide with alcohol consumption, which means that creative under-eighteens get needlessly sidelined. It was an issue that irked me and my bandmates in our teenage years; most venues are too cautious about licensing laws to let you in their liquor-lined walls, while alchohol-free events are few and far between. Keen to help remedy this situation, WAM’s teamed up with yours trulies at Cool Perth Nights to present Sweet Oblivion #7, which features no less than seven diverse acts born since 1997.

I’m more than happy to spruik the show, ‘cause it’s looking set to be a ripper. Emerging songwriters CARLA, SHANNON, ELLA E and ISLA will offer some of their original tunes; indie-folk singer/guitarist SYDNEE CARTER (who recently floored Danni Minogue and Redfoo on the X-Factor) will follow suit. Guitar-pop prodigies FIGUREHEAD, who recall the likes of Real Estate and – locally speaking – Gunns and San Cisco will represent the rock band contingent. I’ve seen these guys live and they are amazing, with beachy arrangements executed more tightly and tastefully than countless bands their senior.

Thoroughly talented, Denmark-based electronic producer SPIRE will tie things up in a bow. The 17-year old (real name Max Baines) stirs together bright, bubbling beats, pitched-up vocals and post-internet aesthetics to forge tunes that work on your nervous system as fast as adrenaline.

Whether or not any of this sounds like your cup of tea, there’s no doubt that all these “underage” performers are kicking goals in their respective fields. And as much as supporting all ages music is about fostering future talent, it should also be emphasized that there’s plenty of high-quality material emerging from the younger crowd right now. What’s lacking is not motivation, but a platform for these sounds to be heard – Triple J have been good at building that platform with Unearthed, and it’s excellent to see WAM getting more involved with the all-ages agenda. After all, creativity doesn’t begin when the law says you can drink beer; I have no doubt that most of the acts headlining this year’s festival were already well into the journey of making music prior to their eighteenth birthday.

The showcase will be held at HQ, that hallowed skate-park adjoining hall in Leederville in which many of us cut our teeth. The venue hosts all-ages shows every week and Sweet Oblivion nights (geared towards contemporary pop, folk and indie styles) every second Friday. It’s bloody good to see WAM on board with this one. The more we can embrace all corners of the state’s musical offerings, the richer our culture inevitably becomes.

SHIT NARNIA & FRIENDS @ NORTH PERTH BOWLS CLUB, SUNDAY OCTOBER 25

Andrew Ryan

Sunday afternoon, cheap pints, bowls, and good people who variously have and haven’t made a lot of noise in town lately. It’s a no brainer really. I float down to the green.

THIS IS SERIOUS PAM is very serious. Serious guitar and voice music for the discerning bowls club patron. But who is this masked man? Face shrouded in a balaclava, dressed in his finest frock, floral jacket and thongs combo, it is a mystery. In any case he spits and spanks his way through a rolodex of red-hot top 40 bangas including “LET’S CLUB IT TO DEATH,” “GREG?” and feel good singalong “DEFECATE ON MY FACE.”

Next on the bill is the usually masked and mysterious Chief Richards, aka the most bona fide neuron-melting loop-rock ape in the West. But it seems the Chief has pulled a sicky or some such because the bloke on stage looks a great deal like PETER BIBBY and, in any case, is singing Peter Bibby’s songs. Luckily Peter Bibby’s songs are very good songs (a fact to which the townsfolk of Cape Town, South Africa can now attest) and they rain down on us with a welcome familiarity. Bibs sneers, smiles, bellows and tongue-twists his way through his now-iconic suburban narratives as delightfully and unpredictably as ever, the main difference being that he’s now got a heftier beard and a bigger hat. The room is filling up now and the sun pours all over everything like Christmas custard.

At a leisurely pace, the Peter Bibby looking feller packs up his shiny silver guitar and the chameleon Stephen Bellair glides into view, armed with a mic and a laptop. Today’s performance – a solo rap set – is delivered under the moniker of AMBEYONCÉ KNOWLES, which apart from being a straight-up amazing name is also remarkably accurate. Most tunes feature a drifting, ambient synth type backdrop while Bellair freestyles over the top with a deep self-assured swagger that inevitably recalls Queen Bey herself (or maybe Sasha Fierce to be more precise). The lyrics here are strange and meandering, incorporating trap clichés (“swag”) and local references (an entire song is dedicated to Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui, which is particularly poetic since former Eagles star David Wirrapanda is watching with his kids in the crowd). There are some less-than-obvious pop culture references; in one tune Bellair claims to only associate with girls “who bump Kate Bush hell loudly,” while another (absolute ripper of a tropical party number) features the repeated claim “I’m Tony Soprano.” After the latter, Ambeyoncé claims “that’s the last real song” and winds up playing with the tempo of a pitched-down Beyoncé excerpt. The whole thing is beautifully chaotic but going by “Tony Soprano” one suspects that a full record/set of workshopped Ambeyoncé Knowles tracks would be a glory to behold.

NICK ALLBROOK soon skates up in his Christmassy cardigan, brandishing an elaborate web of effects pedals and dance moves to put Drizzy to shame. His sometimes gentle, sometimes explosively unhinged minimal rock explorations are uncanny in a bowls club context. Otherworldly sounds billowing through a mellow, quotidian environment. To his absolute credit, Nick doesn’t hold anything back; he belt and wails, often deviating into freewheeling feedbacky UFO shred-storms and wiggling til he’s practically bouncing off the ceiling. Underneath it all are Nick’s deceptively simple beats and basslines, which are impeccably wrought – deep drum machine pinball and seductive post-Andre 3000 layerings.

Having Nick Allbrook playing guitar to my left and Wirra playing pool to my right pretty much means my life is complete, but there’s even a set of steak knives, which come in the form of Albany’s finest, SHIT NARNIA. These boys are the sort of band that will pull you up by your bootstraps if you’re having a shit time, and consolidate your feelings about everything you love if you’re having a good one. Their tunes explore life’s everyday dilemmas and social peculiarities, right down to sex on golf courses, jocks glassing themselves at The Claremont. All of this shot through with a surprisingly eclectic mix of pop-punk, mathy business, emotive melodic rock; all stuff which may or may not appeal in another context but is delivered with such gusto, sincerity and cleverness that it’s just undeniable. Hugh swings and struts through the room like a loping dinosaur, and I’m reminded of the first time I met him, when he was dancing around and ad-libbing poetry in a loungeroom at a denim-themed house party. He’s got an unpretentious way of commanding your attention, sucking you into his singular articulations, sharing his intensity.

The beers and cheers continue to flow long after the music dies down. The bright sun turns to a dim glow and recedes into night. I wander on, satisfied that there’s nowhere I’d have rather been for this little pocket of time. Top job.

'THE REFLECTION TOUR' FINALE w/ WILLIAM BARTON, STEPHEN PIGRAM & THE NARLI ENSEMBLE @ OCTAGON THEATRE UWA, TUESDAY SEPT 29

Andrew Ryan

The Reflection Tour is a unique proposition. Drawing together musicians from across Australia, the Tura New Music project has spent the last few weeks travelling the continent’s North, from Darwin through the Kimberley and the Pilbara. Along the way there have been local community collaborations, evolving compositions, dumb jokes, strange tales, golf course concerts, long red roads and moments of newfound musical chemistry. Tonight, in UWA’s Octagon theatre, we witness the travelling troupe cross the finish line.

Like that classic of art/pop staging Stop Making Sense, tonight’s many-splendoured concert starts with just one performer on stage and no frills. Here’s Mt. Isa’s WILLIAM BARTON, seated behind a didgeridoo. Holding a drumstick he taps his instrument arrhythmically; moves as if to begin playing; then pulls back and leans into the microphone. “G’day!” comes his voice.

Back at the waxy mouthpiece, Barton begins mustering a low, rich drone, undulating excitedly. His approach is fascinating, building up intensity and locking into grooves – accented by barks, finger-flicks and stick-taps – before spinning out into abstract syncopations or unexpected textures. It’s a solo performance that seems to oscillate between traditional and innovatory, often dissolving the distinction between the two.

Soon Barton is joined by TRISTAN PARR (cello) and ERRKI VELTHEIM (violin) performing Parr’s piece ‘Strati.’ The piece is a kind of ever-expanding organism, with each iteration incorporating live recordings from the last. The genesis of the performance, however, is a score that Parr’s created by editing satellite photos of the Reflection Tour concert locations. These reworked images are fed into a digital graphic-score reader developed by Decibel (of which Parr is a member). The result is an eerie, hazy and thoroughly captivating soundscape driven along by colourful gestures on an atonal backdrop.

Out of nowhere comes a remarkable, complex and flowing solo piece called ‘New Digs,’ courtesy of guitarist STEPHEN MAGNUSSON. The man’s a bit of a legend across jazz, pop and other contemporary guitar spheres – listening to him play all by himself, filling the sonic space with such ornate musicality, really beggars belief. He’s a fiendish virtuoso and he makes no attempt to hide it, but he doesn’t wave it in your face obnoxiously either. Magnusson just says what needs to be said through the guitar, and does it with a poetic attention to detail.

All of this is very compelling and beautiful but the tone so far has been largely austere, with a sense of distance between audience and performers. This all changes when the delightful STEPHEN PIGRAM joins the crew on stage, spinning hilarious yarns and leading the band in buoyant renditions of his brilliantly crafted songs. We hear the gently chugging ‘Nothing Really Matters,’ the darkly funny ‘Crocodile River,’ the Calypso-styled ‘Moonlight’ – all brimming with beguiling melody and masterful lyricism. These songs – more than capable of standing up with guitar and voice – are taken up a notch and given a cinematic sonic richness thanks to the Narli ensemble (to which has been added the excellent RON REEVES on percussion).

Perhaps the night’s emotional high comes when this core group of performers are joined by yet another Stephen – STEPHEN ‘BAAMBA’ ALBERT from up Broome way. Baamba is a veteran storyteller, musician and performer – his years of experience manifest here in the form of a magical charisma and presence. We get the charming tri-lingual pearl diver’s song “Selamat Tingal,” and a cheeky, spirited version of Cole Porter’s ‘Begin the Beguine.’ Baamba peppers his exposition with riveting tales from his childhood and beyond; it’s a heartwarming digression. Another musical guest joins, and this time it’s the man responsible for the tour itself: TOS MAHONEY. Tos is the artistic director of Tura New Music, and many (myself included) are mostly familiar with him as the man who introduces a bunch of left-field performances in Perth. Tonight we get to hear another side of Tos: his admirable skill on the flute, which is conveyed through both jazzy melodic injections during songs, and through a curious pared-back improv session with didgeridoo and percussion (he calls it “perfludge” – a hybrid percussion-flute-didge beast).

There’s Veltheim’s ‘Silence of A Falling Star,’ a wandering ambient work reflecting on the North-west stargazing experience. Its textures don’t quite manage to coalesce into anything immersive or placid, which they seem to want to – but Pigram “playing” the wireless radio (attempting to find country music) is a wonderful feature, and in its offbeat incongruity it somehow glues the whole soundscape together. On previous performances in the tour, this work has literally been delivered under the stars, and I’d love to hear it again with a bright speckled dome above me for full effect.

We wrap up with an exhilarating, groove-heavy full band piece by Barton, and an all-in encore by way of Pigram’s hymnal anthem ‘Saltwater Cowboy.’ The standing ovation that follows says it all, really. It’s not often that a concert offers a genuine sense of open-minded eclecticism – drawing from innumerable traditions, combined with a multi-generational collaboration of cultural exchange and sonic alchemy. Even rarer is to hear something like that with this much skill, attention to visuals and performance, slick production and – more than anything – incredible heart and merriment. It’s no hyperbole to say that the Reflections tour exemplifies what’s great about music. I feel incredibly lucky to’ve witnessed the culmination of its 2015 lap.