Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

Lyndon Blue: Review

Filtering by Category: localtalent

BATHS @ THE BAKERY, SUNDAY MARCH 23

Andrew Ryan

I take a flight to Perth on Thursday night, feeling like a bit of a fancy boy on Qantas and all. Not only do you get the cheese and crackers with your dinner, you get the bread roll and butter too – and as much red wine as you can balance in your feeble little plastic tumbler sitting on a fold-out table 40,000 feet in the sky. I view an episode of that ‘Redesign My Brain’ show where the charismatic Todd Sampson tries to soup up his neurons; after a month’s training he can memorise the order of a randomly shuffled deck of cards. Apparently juggling is incredibly good for brain function too; I make a mental note to take up juggling; I will soon forget. I decide to watch ‘Gravity’ – some people raved about it – it’s not very good, but it’s a real gas watching the action sequences as the plane wobbles through a bit of turbulence. The film concludes as the plane hits the tarmac; I nod at the attendants and stroll out into that weird footbridge tube that connects the plane to the airport. I always feel like a smooth bastard walking through that tube, having alighted the jet and begun a purposeful stride through a secret tunnel as if doing Something Very Important. This is inevitably followed by the feeling of being a dumb sucker, waiting for luggage to crawl out of its hidey-hole in the fluorescent foyer, waiting for it to float along the conveyor belt as I squint at it, trying to decide if it’s mine. Homeward bound: that timeless journey through Ascot, Burswood, et al, past the unnecessarily imported date palms that usher you towards the Bell Tower. No doubt Will Weisenfeld, aka BATHS, made a similar journey a few days later. Maybe the date palms felt strangely familiar and comforting to the LA-bred musician. Maybe he got to his hotel (do fairly-big-indie-musicians stay in “hotels?”) and sank into his warm immersive namesake, absorbed some sounds as per the favoured pastime that gave him his moniker, and maybe when he got out he found himself in a place called the Bakery, a place of sea containers, fake grass, murals, red velvet and hard black surfaces.

Quelling the silence and breaking the ice is MODESTY BLAZE, who you might know as Jo Lettenmaier, and who in any case you should know as a wonderful lady who one would assume had sold her soul in exchange for an endless supply of incredible tunes to whip out during radio shows and DJ sets. Well, you’d assume that except she has so much soul on display. As the bass and the snare slinks in, there’s no better way to start the night.

We drift down the street and grab a bit to eat. Upon our return the empty airspace inside the Bakery has shrunk considerably. Icy cool splashes of ale combat the rising net body heat. LEON OSBORN is playing now, but where is he? Ah, he’s at the DJ table, tucked away in the room’s far side, but a surreptitious live set is brewing. He can’t keep it a secret for long because his gliding, squelching, crunching and popping compositions bring all the boys and girls to his proverbial yard. These tunes are simultaneously dark and bright, glistening with the nostalgic erotic sweat-sheen of ‘90s RnB (there’s a Destiny’s Child remix towards the set’s end, if I remember correctly) and heavy with the heft of futuristic trap and moodily textured post-dubstep. Arms and hips across the room are pendulums in the night.

More sweet rhythms emerge from the decks of PATIENCE, aka Daniel Dalton, long-haired heartthrob of the dance music scene who’s responsible for this whole hootenanny via promo company ICSSC (“I Can’t Stand Still Club”). Then over to CATLIPS, the electronic production outlet of musician/composer Katie Campbell.

Truth be told I’ve been in a bit of a weird mood all night: I haven’t really been out in the world since getting back to Perth, mostly cooped up rehearsing for shows, and the bustling Sunday night room swimming with familiar, half-familiar and unfamiliar faces is a bit of a shock to the system. But with the percussive throb, clang and patter of CATLIPS’ irresistible beats, I am thrust into a state of sheer enjoyment. As with all the most affecting music, I forget myself; I become almost only a giant tympanic membrane. Katie’s warped and processed voice loops over her intoxicating drum motifs, vintage house basslines shifting steadily through the low-end. I move to the groove, and feel almost reborn.

Then my band Seams plays, and it feels a bit funny being up there with guitars and acoustic instruments and stuff after so much in the electronic vein this evening, but in any case I’m stoked it be playing, and it seems to go mostly OK. Another spell of goodness for our indefatigable resident DJs, then over to our Feature Presentation.

BATHS tonight is both Will Weisenfeld and his buddy Morgan Greenwood (from now defunct IDM-pop group Azeda Booth), expanding the possibilities of Baths’ usually-solo live show. While Will would once have been tied to his APC, drum machine, effects units et al, this is now mostly Morgan’s domain, opening things up for more a more kinetic delivery. They play a strong card early: the big, pumping, but fragile, “Miasma Sky.” Tracks like this took me a while to warm up to on record; I loved the production, the use of “diagetic sound” (never has a song been worsened by the addition of rain sounds), but the sort of chiptuney chords over techno beats with emotive, thin, falsetto pop vocals took things a bit too far into the “Postal Service” direction for my default tastes. Nevertheless, the record it’s featured on (Obsidian) has grown on me hugely and, what’s more, tunes like this take on a whole new life in the live setting. Bolder, deeper, dancier. I’m sure it’s not just my imagination, or the effect of having a big dense crowd in the room: the loudness and the delivery tonight reveal something brand new in Baths’ music, a fierce intensity bordering on the sort experienced while witnessing a metal set, but counterbalanced with sweet melody and fascinating textures. Plenty of recognisable tunes emerge, but with the duo setup allowing for increased experimentation and improvisation, songs often take strange and unrecognisable detours before return to a familiar form. At key moments throughout, Wiesenfeld’s voice rises to a ferocious, desperate scream; at others, it’s a whisper or – as per the rapturously received “Lovely Bloodflow,” a sweet choirboy carol. It all wraps up with a pounding and powerful rendition of “No Eyes,” a richly layered song that grows off a relentless stomp-and-snare a la Nine In Nails’ “Closer.” Similarly, it’s a sexually frank page in the Baths songbook, with the earwormy refrain: “It is not a matter of / if you mean it / It’s only a matter of / Come and fuck me.” Of course, Baths is never afraid to speak frankly through his lyrics, or to confront his own psychology, physicality, mortality. And it’s that honesty that makes the explosive, bellowed ending of the set ring so true. Scarcely in recent times has such lush, dense, beautiful and danceable production met such nuanced, candid, idiosyncratic vocal work. Put it all on the table in a dynamic live show, and you’ve got yourself an emotionally intense party. I’m glowing, inspired, slightly drained, and yet – deeply invigorated. Feel like I need a bath.

SECRET WAREHOUSE DANCE PARTY @ SECRET NORTHBRIDGE LOCATION, SATURDAY FEB 15

Andrew Ryan

It was called “Secret Warehouse Dance Party,” which was of course a pretty tongue-in-cheeky thing to’ve called it. But it was nevertheless a pretty stealthy, or at least incidentally hidden, affair. If, a few hours after sunset, you had been strolling casually down N_______ Street, you wouldn’t have noticed a thing. Still, perhaps a sudden breath of wind might’ve lifted your hat into the carpark, and maybe it could have rolled down the alleyway, whereupon you’d have seen the huddle of charcoal silhouettes, the pinprick glows of scattered cigarettes, the quietly flailing laser-lights through the high window of the bare, geometric brick building. Perhaps you would have been curious enough to walk past the good-looking young men standing by the door in caps, curious enough to pry open that door with one hand and peer inside, and see more silhouettes seated on crates and on the floor. Perhaps you would have joined them.

If you’d done this, you’d have found yourself listening to the warm melodious atmospheres of a local musician named STINA. Stina, pumping an old wooden harmonium that aspirated sweet, cloudy chords and weaving pacific melodies on a synthesiser, would entrance you fully. Digital drum machines would patter and pulse organically through the gently lo-fi haze of a bass amp. It might have been one of the loveliest things you’d heard in forever.

After that you might linger outside and sip a beer with the growing crowd, or you might stay inside and listen as BILL DARBY splashed into a set of complex and deeply listenable tunes. Here is dexterous, skewed pop carried by Darby’s vocal melodies and unconventional but impressive guitar playing; buoyed and anchored by sturdy live drums and laptop layers, a pleasure to behold.

And as Roland the Realest returns to the DJ podium to share a set of powerful grooves, the floodgates open and the people flow in. The lasers spin and whirl across walls with what seems to be a newfound intensity, the drinks flow and the room undulates with feet, elbows, knees and heads warping to the beat. As the wave seems to be cresting, a band from Melbourne called HOLY LOTUS begins to play.

Holy Lotus are Greg, Leonie and Lucy; Greg used to play around Perth as/with The Ghost of 29 Megacycles and with Pacific By Rail; Leonie used to play a lot in Perth too, as Li’l Leonie Lionheart. None of those reference points would really help you predict what Holy Lotus end up sounding like: energised, spritely indie rock evoking your favourite post-punk moods; persistent hi-hats, thick fuzzy bass, thin, echoing keyboards and the dulcet attack of Leonie’s crystal vocals, occasionally joined by Lucy’s too. If you’d stayed to watch, and craned your head over the surging mob, you’d have seen the beautifully ad-hoc setup: scattered amps, microphones propped up not by mic stands but by easels and revolving book racks. You’d have seen the silhouette of Greg thrumming his bass amid a cloud of laser-flecked smoke machine miasma. Mostly, overall, you’d have danced and cheered throughout their mellifluous and invigorating set.

And if you’d ducked into the alleyway again you might’ve seen the police arrive and gaze on at the festivities, only to leave minutes later, imposing nothing save their brief presence. You might’ve sat in the expansive carpark cracking yarns, or you might’ve stayed and boogied to Roland’s A-grade selections, which soon make way for the juicy glitch electronics of Chrism + Fenris. C+F make hard-hitting experimental jams, informed by chiptune, techno, house and industrial sounds. Striking up a delicate balance between heavy weirdness and danceability (and with Leonie joining them on drums for one tune), the party spirit endures and continues to grow.

If you’d waited in the long queue for the bathroom and returned, you might have found yourself surprised to now be dancing alongside renowned Australian artist Richard Bell, to the strains of unexpected, unbilled performer Tomas Ford who is blasting his trademark electro trash and prowling around in an American flag tails coat. And if after that you were still on the dancefloor, you’d have found yourself awash in golden hits new and old – from Blue (the room erupts: “eyyy, must be the money!”) to Snoop Dogg and Disclosure and far beyond. And if you’d left about then, you’d have done so reluctantly, bidding farewell to good friends old and brand new; slipping under the yellow-lit roof of a Swan Taxi not so long before dawn, and wishing that tonight’s magical intersection of extreme talent, zealous energy and wholesome vibes would never ever end.

FRINGE WORLD HIGHLIGHTS @ PERTH CULTURAL CENTRE, FEAT. BAREFACED STORIES & MORE

Andrew Ryan

A fortnight back: Friday night fades into view amid a swell of well-dressed bodies, beers and varied conceptual art protrusions. A bucket lies on its side where, not long before, a man (his name is Martin Heine) had attempted impossible push-ups with his feet on the wall, his arms on a ladder and his head teetering over the water-filled pail. His failure to sustain the act saw his crown plummet into the vessel, spilling liquid across the floor. The performance was called ‘Climate Change.’

The exhibition is Paper Mountain’s “RUN ARTIST RUN,” a survey of works produced expressly by directors or key players in Perth’s array of Artist Run Initiatives. Most of these reflect, with a healthy touch of irony or obliqueness, on the nature of running an ARI in and of itself. Dan Bourke of Benchpress provides a diptych of four-colour risograph prints, each showing a profile of a stock-image jogger, first drinking from his water bottle, then spraying his entire face. The currency of stock photos (endlessly repurposable images, humorously devoid of internal logic) plays well into the premise, whereby process (in this case, near-accurate photo reproduction with risograph and soya ink) is at the fore. The jogger becomes a tongue-in-cheek motivational metaphor; art is sweaty, exhausting work, but it’s good for you. Compare with the hi-vis vest, helmet and boots of Hard Work Club: an artist statement describes how construction is the hardest work the artists could imagine. Two artists are photographed looking decidedly uncomfortable in the FIFO-type gear. We’ll stick to visual art, they concede, in an endearing moment of both affirmation and humility. Moana ARI supplies an engrossing and strangely beautiful mixed media installation, marrying a used drop sheet, a painting of an instructional washing-machine diagram and faintly cryptic wall text to ruminate on the visual poetry and gentle absurdities of the gallery lifestyle. Paper Mountain directors transplant an assortment of plants from their home balconies to the gallery’s far wall and ask patrons to water them – an endearing inversion of the artwork maintenance dynamic, and perhaps a sort of utopian metaphor for arts patronage in general. It’s a fascinating show, a sort of not-quite-behind-the-scenes; a reimagining and aestheticisation of such processes and ideas as give rise to shows like itself.

The following night we snake through lanterns and wandering bodies to enter the recently relocated ‘Common Ground’ store, which sells clothes and artisan wares. Up the back of the spacious Rechabites Hall adjunct room, chairs are arranged in neat rows and a small area is delineated as a makeshift stage. The show is called ‘SLUMBER PARTY TIME TRAVEL,’ created by new comedy duo SLOW LORIS (that’s Marnie Allen and Ella Bennett, FYI) and things kick off with a black and white, pre-filmed, wall-projected scene of a prototypical feminist being beaten down with the placard of the faux-moustached archetype-patriarch. A toy rat approaches the victim’s body – text reads: “the rat steals the soul from the mouth of the dead suffragette!” which is more or less the best line ever. Cut to 1988 where two (seemingly average) schoolgirls, Candice and Evelyn, are returning from prom. Bemoaning the terrible eventuality of the hotly anticipated occasion, they discuss boys, hair, drinking, nails; they bitch about classmates and scheme sternly in relation to Candice’s family’s organised crime cartel. As the pair’s teenage political apathy and middle-class entitlement grows clear, Candice’s brilliantly-named pet rat (Jürgen!) emerges as a supernatural MacGuffin: eyes glowing red, he transports the pair into the pivotal days of the suffrage movement, and into the future, to learn some much-needed life lessons. Well, on paper that seems to be why – in the event, this show isn’t burdened by any overt moralising, character growth or even a particularly consequential story arc. Rather, it’s a howl-inducing succession of oddball dialogues, bizarre scenarios and amazing, often subtle, one-liner gags. They take cues from countless comedic approaches – from innocent wordplay to topical humour and irreverent cultural references; to the surprise tactics of unexpected violence and vulgarity, to outright absurdity. Oh, and wigs. There are a LOT of wig changes in this play. Expect more great things from Slow Loris if their debut is this golden.

The next afternoon I go and sneak in for the closing hour of JOSH COBB’s exhibition “Pillars | Truss” at Free Range. Featuring nine sculptures dispersed handsomely through the modestly-sized gallery, Cobb’s first solo show is really exceptional. Molded concrete, carefully cut and assembled jarrah and geometrically contorted metal rods intersect to create beautiful, compelling and dynamic 3D works. In each, Cobb has considered spaces and events his own home, channelling the sort of meta-sculptural process involved in creating places in the world – a process of closing in on ever-smaller sites and shapes to demarcate nuances of ownership and purpose. If concrete is the foundation and wood the elaboration of form, these silver steel lines notate movements, journeys and gestures – invisible traces made solid. I don’t know about these motivations instinctively, of course. Josh is one of the friendliest artists – nay, humans – you’ll ever meet, and when prompted he gladly talks me through the entire process with a grin, before showing me his book on Egyptian Cosmology.

Thursday night spins round and after playing a gig at the Bird we end up in the Fringeworld pleasure gardens. There’s a silent disco going down and, as my buddy Rupert says, it’s the first silent disco we’ve ever seen that actually seems to be “going off.” We join in and, amid 3 channels of audio groove goodness on the tricolour glowing headphones, the boogie flows effortlessly. As Pharrell croons intimately in our ears, we are indeed “up all night for good fun.”

The Saturday just gone I zoom in on that newly underground train and it spits me out the other end in a kind of Narnia, a small doorway in a way which opens up into a majestic secret viewing arena called TEATRO. I’m here to experience a special – and final – Gala edition of Perth’s much-loved night of oversharing, BAREFACED STORIES. The stalls are steep, dark and packed. The stage is big, a wide yawning plain compared to the singular performers who soon appear, but it doesn’t feel impersonal. Maybe the deeply private, close-to-home tales soon to spill forth are enough to shrink the room, to make the whole thing feel like a huddle.

NICK SUN is up first. I’d never heard of him before, but he’s got his own wikipedia page, so I guess he’s a pretty big deal. I’m not really mentally prepared for Sun’s quick-mumbling assault, which is hilarious, confronting, endearing, weird, moving and thought-provoking, all in the space of about ten minutes. He discloses tales of an affair on a friend’s couch with an over-eager S&M enthusiast (“her safe-word was more”) and about trying to entertain British children at a festival whilst souped up on ecstasy, ultimately to have them follow him into a toilet block in single file (“the words “pied pedo piper” kept looping in my head”). These outrageous stories go beyond mere craziness or train wreck cringe-factor; they are laden with pathos and humour-soaked abhorrence at Sun’s own thoughts and actions. Upon watching his sexual partner have a PTSD-induced seizure mid-canoodle, Nick muses: “I wondered how long I had to watch before it wouldn’t be impolite for me to check my Facebook feed.” Such lines of self-reproof come thick and fast and are as refreshingly as they are awkward.

JACQUES BARRETT follows, with two pretty damn funny recounts of communication gone horribly wrong: first at an RSL, secondly with a convicted pedophile who should’ve been a pizza delivery guy. The punch lines rely on being offensive to make an impact, but Barrett’s real forte is in becoming different characters mid-story; taking on voices, gestures and mannerisms to increase mid-gag laughs tenfold. Next it’s LISA-SKYE, the Melbourne-based comic responsible for the fringe show “Bunny and Mad Dog Get High.” There is plenty of getting high in her confessional – mostly by her parents; the storytelling sits halfway between humour and grim poignancy, and as such doesn’t quite nail either, but certainly goes some of the way. One gets the sense that these stories – bound up, as they are, in a protracted narrative of childhood, adolescence and identity, would work better in a more long-form format. Conversely, comedian MIKE GOLDSTEIN plays the stakes low – discussing, simply, his failed attempts at acting in advertisements, and why Red Rooster will never work with him again. It’s funny, good clean fun, but not especially “barefaced.”

After a brief intermission, we hear from Bryan O’Gorman, a super amusing, giggly, Canadian “professional jerk off” who waxes lyrical about doing coke in a toilet stall at 5am and getting unexpectedly digitally penetrated by his one-night lover. Matt Saraceni provides by far the evening’s most emotionally intense story, as he details his final memories of his father, who passed away between last year’s fringe festival and now. Barefaced stories needn’t be funny, and this one certainly isn’t – it’s earnest, touching and sad – though Matt, remarkably, manages to inject a generous helping of jokes into the deeply personal tale. Similarly pitting personal tragedy against humour is Brian Finkelstein, the self-consciously cynical and neurotic New Yorker who details his wife’s amazingly chirpy demeanour, his anxieties over the prospect of parenthood, and the impossibly difficult experience of their pregnancy ending in a miscarriage. In a few short minutes, Brian lays out some of the most gloomy forecasts for life and humankind one could encounter on a Saturday night, and yet leaves us on a note of life-affirming optimism. That’s quite a schtick.

Fringe so far has been, as you’d hope, a freakishly diverse array – aesthetically, emotionally. Perhaps the unifying factor is a sense of risk-taking; less beholden to commercial interests, these shows will take the plunge into weirder, more polarising territory. Last year I saw, hated, and ranted in vitriolic criticism of a particular Fringe show in a review for this column, but that’s fine – divisiveness is truly part of the fun. And for every pocket of creativity in Fringe that you don’t personally enjoy, there’ll be loads that you do. It’s as easy as getting on a train, mind the gap, take the leap. Perth FRINGE WORLD runs ’til Feb 23.

MUDLARK - ZIMDAHL 12" EP

Andrew Ryan

Among the latest crop of Perth bands, few acts have produced such staggeringly unique and skilfully executed music with so little hype as MUDLARK. Perhaps it’s their online reticence, their unabashed lack of pop tropes, or the fact that until now they hadn’t really released anything in a formal or physical way. Contemporary shifts towards internet listening and distribution habits notwithstanding, the latter consideration remains a crucial rite of passage for any emerging band, and Mudlark have pretty much nailed it with ‘Zimdahl’ – a 5-song EP distilling the labyrinthine guitar-and-drums sound they’ve honed thus far while hinting at new ideas and tangents. Out on the prestigious format that is 180 gram 12-inch vinyl, and via the noble Australian experimental label Wood & Wire, this is a pretty perfect debut; captured entirely live with a truckload of mics and no overdubs, it’s a direct and unapologetic introduction to the sometimes dizzying Mudlark experience.

You enter the thing via the simply-titled ‘&.’ After a screeching burst of noise, we plummet into a sweetly reverberating web of guitar tangle and sweep and tightly-packed percussion. There’s something calming about it all despite the feverish pace and rapid-fire airing of motifs. Perhaps, as Pitchfork’s Andy Battaglia remarked of Honest Jon’s 2010 ‘Shangaan Electro’ compilation, a certain intensity of speed can overwhelm itself, until you’re forced to zoom out and view it all with a serene detachment. Melodically, this opener is focused and mellow despite being so rhythmically busy, even hyperactive – like a swarm of fireflies flitting fast-motion in an opiate haze. Clocking in at close to seven minutes, it’s the EP’s longest effort, but the top-heavy approach works well – particularly when ‘&’ is so intensely listenable.

‘Fine Ointment’ begins more sparsely, allowing each percussive hit to boast its unique attack, warm flourish and quiet nadir. Briefly we are propelled by a dense, driving beat before ambient swells mark a return to contemplation. This sort of nuanced, dynamic back-and-forth (and-all-around) continues throughout the track’s 5 minutes and 55 seconds, throwing conventional song trajectories out the window. The seemingly arbitrary (but nonetheless deeply compelling) shifts between moods seem to imply an undisclosed visual: as if the tune were soundtracking a mercurial short film oscillating between intense action and zen stillness. It’s the most unusual tune on the record and, in some ways, my favourite.

‘Proud Nubian Princess’ gives you a bit more to cling onto in terms of conventional composition and groove. After an intro of sepia-tone guitar swells and woody rattling, a discernible handful of hurtling minor key riffs dance over an insistent (though, as always, complex) 4/4 pattern. Lost in the heady momentum, the tune seems to end in no time at all; a hissing 30-second denouement of what sounds like innocuous household appliance noise sees out the track’s brief epilogue.

It’s amusing, refreshing and slightly distressing to find that track 4 is called ‘Troy Buswell Sniffing Seats’ – on the one hand, way too many post-rock (or whatever) bands have a dull habit of giving every tune a lofty, pseudo-intellectual title, possibly containing Latin words or arcane references. The invocation of old mate Troy serves the purpose of sucking us back into the local realm, in all its grotesque glory, and meanwhile foregrounds the absurdity of naming strictly instrumental music in the first place (there’s no evocative link, to my ears, between the tune and Troy’s pervy antics; I certainly wouldn’t call it programme music). The sounds are vintage Mudlark – tempo shifts, wild flurry, intricate drums and melodically dense, unfurling guitar – until the two minute mark, when it suddenly makes way for a pared back, funky mood.

‘Resting on Hollow Laurels, Resting’ brings things to a close, with its pitter patter snare-off snare, hi-hat incisions, moody upper-register chords and stormy tremolo guitar. It’s got an almost jazzy spookiness to it that feels fitting as an outro to the record. True to form, the tune is frantic and enigmatic – it doesn’t offer up a sense of peace or comfortable finality. Like a thriller film wrapping up with loose ends and itching questions, Mudlark’s ‘Zimdahl’ ends how it plays out – as a weird riddle, a fascinating and deeply enjoyable mystery.

SQUAREHEAD & MORE @ MOJO'S BAR, SUNDAY JAN 5

Andrew Ryan

The new year is upon us. Twenty-fourteen; it rolls of the tongue nicely, and arrives in North Fremantle, where the sky is wispy maya and the air a cool autumnal feint. Past handsomely flaking facades and seasonally shuttered shopfronts, Mojo’s Bar embraces us again.

We chat and contemplate the summer, the year that is to come, the hopes and the dreams that go with it. Before long, the evening’s musical entertainment begins with Mai Barnes, accompanied by Alex Vickery, the pair functioning as a duo reduction of Mai’s brainchild band GOLDEN STRING. Beginning with Mai and Alex on their secondary instruments of guitar and piano respectively, the first tune is a curious, though by no means unsuccessful, introduction to a set of utterly beguiling songs where moody progressions underpin gently intoned vocals, glowing loops and shimmering string lacework. Not even the daylight still streaming in the windows can belie the magic of the moment. There’s a crucial alchemy going on between Mai’s compositional nous/lyricism and Alex’s savvy violin counterpoint: inspiration, expression, rigour and technique mingle in a way whereby it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins; the finished work is so convincing it wouldn’t be amiss to draw comparisons to post-folk wunderkinds like Joanna Newsom or Andrew Bird. The terminally modest pair would, of course, laugh off such a suggestion, but it’s there for all to hear; this is really something special. “Silk Carapace,” one of my favourite local songs of the last couple of years forms a late highlight and a solo-Mai rendition of Elliot Smith’s “Roman Candle” closes things out. Sunday evening is off to an impressive start.

The light through the window panes dims to a moody sunset hue and Jake Webb surfaces in front of us. Sprite-like, he hops atop a tiny wooden chair and squats on it, his brown brogues curling under his frame as he peers at his keyboard. A smooth, patient, trip-hoppy beat drops and this evening’s METHYL ETHYL set begins.

This initial tune floats carelessly on a tepid sea, sky-blue synth-wash dripping down your face and slyly filling your head from all angles. Drawn out, hazy vocals glide over the sanguine tranquility like a rosy-cheeked ice-skater smiling with a bellyful of red wine. It’s a slow-burn, sparse groove that ushers in a seemingly new sound for Webb’s solo project, which has previously erred more towards skewed, guitar-driven chamber pop. The next song, with its insistent crotchet-heavy loop that may or may not be a piano sample and twisted, twirling choral refrain, is strictly reminiscent of Panda Bear. Throughout the set, live vocals frequently sit atop dense layers of harmony, while hypnotic beats undulate within; the influence of Mr. Lennox never seems too far away, though nor does Methyl Ethyl stray into the realms of cryptomnesia or pastiche. It’s an exciting shake-up of a formula which had hardly outstayed its welcome, implying that Jake won’t be looking to rest on his laurels any time soon.

SEAN O’NEILL emerges from the woodwork. Formerly a Perth-based soundweaver, he’s been in London for some time now playing with British indie band WOLF and honing his solo talents in his spare time. Clad in stern stage blacks, he and a trombone player appear to share those talents.

Wringing his trademark volume-swells, fingerpicking patterns, echoing loops and crisp tapping lines from a clean electric, O’Neill provides a melodic landscape that is at once loose, neat, folksy, abstract, mellifluous – often lacking any obvious beat, though always maintaining a smooth organic flow. Following a flash of haunting instrumental compositions and downbeat songs, local drum wizard Sam Maher jumps up to join the pair for a final tune – adding stormy clicks, rolls and shimmers to bring the set to a heady crescendo.

At last it’s over to SQUAREHEAD who are not, in this instance at least, a garage pop band from Dublin as Google will have you believe; this Squarehead is a trio out of Melbourne, comprising Tobi (bass, synth programming), Billy (drums) and Zac (electronic drum pad). And if the name comes across as a sort of unconscious amalgam of monikers belonging to electronic darlings Squarepusher and Radiohead, well, it wouldn’t be the most misleading title they could have given themselves, nor would it tell the whole story (natch, a name rarely does).

What the three conjure up is part indie electronica and part jammy, loopy math/prog rock with heart – heart being the crucial ingredient, since so much work in the latter sphere ends up sounding like little more than a well-rehearsed masculine boffinfest. Nay, among the intricate riffings and tight, sometimes jagged grooves (see’ Raindrops’) there is the warm clang-and-bellow of steel drums, the satisfaction of melodic chord progressions, the free-spiritedness to improvise and let loose over the foundation motifs. Tobi frequently lays down a thick, tonally decisive bass line to anchor things but soon warps his instrument to sound like a high-pitched synth or wailing, overdriven lead guitar. The only danger with injecting so much emotive content into technical, high-energy jams is that it can start to approach that sense of bombastic melodrama that makes bands like Dream Theatre so damn awful, but Squarehead do an admirable job of steering clear of that particular territory. It might sound weird to praise Squarehead on the basis of what they succeed in not being, but it’s worth commending given the trappings of the sounds they’re bringing together, and the connotations their approach might usually bring to mind. Ultimately, it’s a hugely satisfying sound and they ought to be heard by more people across our fair land and beyond. I have to leave to catch my train before they play their last song, which is a bummer. They seem like the sort of band that would play a corker of a last song.

The train whip-cracks back towards Perth city, the mellow glow of Mojo’s fading into the winking lights of the curving bay’s horizon. Tonight was nothing if not a reminder of the untold wealths of understated talent simmering away even in the seeming doldrums between Christmas and festival season. It would have been quite intimidating, really, if everyone wasn’t such a damn lovely human being. Things work out nicely sometimes.

SWEETDOG SOIREE: NEW YEAR'S EVE PARTY @ MOJO'S BAR, DECEMBER 31

Andrew Ryan

The last wisps of 2013 are leaking out the window. Was it a good year? Every year is, after all, an incredible year, a great year, an awful year, a catastrophic year, a busy year, a strange year. Some years are worse than others – 541 AD, 1260, 1941, 65,000,000 BC (mass annihilation of the dinosaurs) – these were all particularly bad. For all its misgivings, I don’t think 2013 was in that kind of league. So that’s nice.

But the relative goodness of a year has no real bearing on what we do on New Year’s Eve. If our year has been great, we thank our god or cosmic force of choice, reflect on our favourite moments, and hope the next revolution around the sun follows suit. If our year sucked, we celebrate in the bright-eyed hope of a kinder twelve months to come; we dance to forget our troubles. One way or another, we party.

So it is. We roll up at Mojo’s in a golden boat, riding the waves of time’s passage with the sun still on our shoulders. We swim past the stretched-out queue with guitars and electric trinkets and as the sun sinks we let myths play out in music.

Someone hands me a Melbourne Bitter and happily it splashes down my throat. A band called WHAILS fires up on the indoor stage and although they hammer that sort of blues-scale psych-rock melody whine that’s far too prevalent lately, they approach everything with a welcoming light-heartedness that is endearing. It’s an inclusive, silly, innocent and well-delivered approach to psychedelic pop reminiscent of T-Rex, or even Gong.

The courtyard out back is filling up and CHILDSAINT are tightening cymbals, plugging in guitars. Long-haired boys with floppy hats ignite the ends of cigarettes, drinks chink and pour and spill. Childsaint (the duo of Chloe and Jane, now featuring Ashlyn on drums) seethe pleasingly through their set of shadowy tunefulness, by turns recalling the angular moods of Warpaint and the crusty, satisfying dirge-folk of the Dirty Three or Bad Seeds. As a unit, there’s a looseness – which suits their sound, though at times it’s loose to the point of losing cohesion and detracts rather than enhances. That’s the sort of crinkle that gets ironed out almost of its own accord, with time, and I’m sure it will; until then there is plenty to like about Childsaint.

FLOWER DRUMS unfurl, back inside. Tonight’s set is the most interesting and effortless Flower Drums outing I’ve encountered, with tunes readily swapping between sunny pop freewheeling and curious experimentalism. The setup is straightforward: four people, on bass, drums, guitar and guitar/synth/vocals respectively, but they seem to transcend the predictable trappings of such a lineup as if it were wholly natural to them… the blurring of tradition and idiosyncrasy reminds me of acts like Deerhunter and Kurt Vile. “In One Place” gets a well-earned guernsey, with its watery melodies and beguilingly simple refrain. I really need to find out what their last song is called, a galloping instrumental in which groove itself is the lead voice. That one’s an absolute cracker.

MOANA intensifies things, leaving no ear in the courtyard untouched by her hot-knife-through-butter voice. When I first saw Moana Lutton she was a soloist playing a motley assortment of tunes on a guitar; the name now signifies a fully-fledged rock band brimming with organic energy, an energy which proves contagious as it undulates through the now well-lubricated throng. Moana never drop(s) the ball. “One to watch in 2014,” as they say.

MT MOUNTAIN are another band who’ve absolutely blossomed this year. Super-intelligent stoner/psych rock; the genre tag belies the sophistication of their songwriting and arrangements, but is nevertheless accurate. Tonight they dip their toes further into the pools one might call “ambient,” “doom” and “drone” whilst keeping groove and lyricism at the fore. They don’t exactly look excited as they play; visually they could be giving a shy tutorial presentation on the key essays of David Hume. But the proof is in the pudding that melts joyfully into your ear canals.

The risk of being unimpressed by SPACEMANANTICS has been steadily declining over the last year or two to the point where it is now a non-concern. This band has vitality and skill coming out of every one of its many orifices and they use it to create dense, dynamic, creamy psychedelia in the lineage of Bowie and (more contemporaneously) MGMT; or, as a former member of Mink Mussel Creek today mused on Facebook, a bit like Mink “but less heavy and dirty and way better at music.” Despite being crammed into a minuscule corner they’ve decided to actually add another member, Jamie Canny on saxophone. I have never been one to criticise the decision of adding a saxophone to anything, and I certainly won’t start now. Keep it up, Spacemen.

I must admit things start to get hazy around the time of HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, though their tightly-wound ridiculousness is still echoing in my skull in some capacity, as per the masculine riff-centric momentum of RED ENGINE CAVES and the increasingly smouldering power-blast of FOAM. The overwhelming feeling throughout is a burgeoning sense of togetherness; people are here with themselves and with their friends and their bandmates and their fellow performers, but more and more they are simply here with everyone. It’s a feeling that permeates all the music tonight, too, the musical and thematic threads that run through the bands selected by the mighty BRUNO SWEETDOG, enigmatic record-label-cum-events-promoter extraordinare. Bruno knows about community (particularly about Fremantle and its rock and roll lifeblood) and community is perhaps they guiding light on to the path to goodness right now. We tip over the midnight gong, rolling and tumbling through heady darkness, smoke, liquid and lights, into 2014 and the unknown. We do it with grins, and the knowledge we are not alone on this mysterious journey. Here, before us, slowly beginning its self-unveiling, is a year of new music, new friends, new adventures. We throw open the window and begin to drink it in.

Photo by Alistair Walsh

THE COOL PERTH NIGHTS AWARDS 2013

Andrew Ryan

Selected and presented by Lyndon Blue & Amber Fresh

A few weeks ago Amber and I were at the Bird and we were talking about music awards (I think the WAM festival was happening) and we threw the idea of a “Cool Perth Nights awards” into the air and pondered it. Because, while we may not wholeheartedly endorse the competitive sport-ification of creativity, we certainly think those who excel should be acknowledged. There are many ways to excel, and some tend to be officially honoured less than others. With that inequity in mind, as well as the beaming and overwhelming memory of the immense year that’s been, here are our official selections. Please write your objections and complaints on the back of a box of nougat and post to CPN headquarters.

INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS

Best dj/comedy combo in a casual dj: Jefferson/Brett Murray

Best commuting solo artist: Nick Allbrook/Peter Bibby

Best festival/event/gig compere: Tristan Fidler (doogs, dugong
derby, magnolias)

Best Moustache: Mike Litton (Cow Parade Cow)

Worst Moustache: Mike Litton (Cow Parade Cow)

Best hairstyle on Kucka: Casual, shoulder length, blonde

Best hair on an electronic male (non-robot): George Capelas

Best use of legionnaire cap: Eleventeen Eston/Hugo Gerani

Best use of vacuum cleaner in a solo performance in front of parents at the bird: Benjamin Witt

BAND/GROUP AWARDS

Band most likely to succeed because of being great: Tame Impalalala (retroactive prediction)

Best band most likely not to succeed because of being too great: Amber: Mental Powers? Lyndon you pick. Lyndon: Yeah, Mental Powers, and The Intenso Band and Race To Your Face and Drowning Horse and others.

Band least likely to succeed but might just succeed: Electric Toad

Best ultra-elusive group: Cosmo Gets

Best band name not yet used by a band but talked about a lot: Textile Traders

Band most likely to move to melbourne next: Water Graves

Best band named after a city: perth

Best band named after a bird: Mudlark

Most adept under the influence: HAMJAM

GOOD TIMES & EVENT AWARDS

Best festival vibes: Camp Doogs

Best festival snacks: Comida du Sol

Best multi-venue pilgrimage: Slanted & Enchanted (Lyndon was the only pilgrim)

Best events company collab: Good Company + {MOVE} (“The Greater Good”), woah

RECORDED OUTPUT AWARDS

Single most likely to positively influence the nation: Mathas feat. Abbe May, ‘Nourishment’

Most underrated release: Mei Saraswati, ‘Jungle Backyard’

Most-hammered bandcamp repeat button: Golden String, ‘Silk Carapace’

Best blissout number: Craig McElhinney, ‘Divorce Bliss’

Most undeniable boogie-factor: Savoir, ‘Zinli Rhythm’

Best album cover: Ermine Coat, ‘Parking Lots’ (Moody seascape, self-portrait, party hat, smirnoff bottle, goon bag).

Merry Chrimbo – see you all next year!

POND @ METROPOLIS FREMANTLE, THURSDAY DECEMBER 12

Andrew Ryan

Everyone remembers their first time. For me, it was at the very start of 2009. The day was fine. The night was balmy. The mangos were ripe and plump. Yes, when I first saw POND perform they were launching their debut album (“Psychedelic Mango Vision,”) at the Norfolk Basement, and I raved about it using countless testicle-metaphors on an online forum, and that, children, is how I secured the job of writing for Cool Perth Nights. Interpret that how you will, but I like to think that our editor-in-chief was swayed less by the balls-humour and more by the fervour that POND managed to inspire in my recount. To this day, it remains one of the most recklessly, innocently fun shows I’ve ever seen; it left me in the absolute highest of spirits.

Tonight, I find myself back in Fremantle, a whole five years later (I only just realised how much time has passed; my jaw drops a little). Five years – that’s half a decade since I first saw POND; half a decade is a pretty long time in an individual’s life, let alone a band’s, given that most bands don’t actually last more than a couple of years.

I meet some buddies at a trendy restaurant called Bread In Common, where they bake their own bread, grow their own herbs, serve things with foreign names on share plates and pour beer into tall skinny glasses. We bump into Cam Avery (of Pond) out by the vergeside herb garden and follow him to the venue. He tells us they’ve recruited a new member, and will be playing new new songs (of the forthcoming unreleased album, “Man It Feels Like Space Again”).

We arrive. It seems I haven’t moved very far in five years – only a few metres across the road, from the hallowed Nor’k to Metropolis nightclub. Of course, there’s a big symbolic shift there: from the small, quaint, literally underground bar to the cavernous, hard-surfaced, big-budget venue. In that time, Pond have totalled five albums, written a sixth (probably a seventh too) released an EP and more: not bad eh, and their fan base has grown as ferociously as their discography. So while I feel a little odd entering this towering, dark space to see this band who seemingly only yesterday were howling “Mango, mango, mango” in backyards – I guess I should hardly be surprised that things are a little different now.

As we enter the hefty hangar, it’s to the devil-may-care strains of national tour support act DOCTOPUS. It’s awesome that Doctopus have assumed the role of opening act: they don’t sound anything like Pond, but they share their affinity for loosey goosey outrageousness. They’re kind of like Pond’s pared-back little cousin; despite having been compared to Eddy Current Suppression Ring and their ilk, there’s an anti-aesthetic, hyperreal cosmic weirdness to the ‘Pus that sets them apart. Tonight, the growing crowd stares on in a winning blend of bafflement and joy as the trio hurtles through their set. Stephen Bellair is at his raucous best, wearing his Thursday best (Lakers jersey), howling and talk-singing through beautifully matey lyrics like “Man, I think you’re cool.” Jeremy Holmes is on the ground, strumming his guitar with a businesslike perpetuity as if he were willingly grating a never-ending block of cheese. And John Lekias, ever the gentlemen, reins it all in with his raw but accurate beatings. Vintage Doctopus, sharp like good cheddar.

POND emerge to rapturous shriekings. We buy some rum and drink it. We’re a good ten metres from the stage and, tellingling, can’t get any closer: there’s a hefty barrier and then a densely packed wall of bodies. So it feels a little impersonal, but only a little. Nick Allbrook, at least, has a way of making himself feel like he’s infiltrated your skull directly, however far away he may be.

The band sparks up and from the outset it’s obvious that this is a thicker, meatier Pond sound than we’ve heard in the past. Like the difference between Tom Yum and dense, beefy Pho. This makes sense: we’re looking at a six-piece now, with all original members in the front-line, Cam Avery newly on bass, and former sound tech Matt Handley on drums (he adds another beard to the line-up, which surely adds to the manliness of the sound). Shiny Joe Ryan and Jay ‘Gumby’ Watson are free to deliver twin-riff assaults on their six-string squealers and Jamie Terry is still on hand to add another creamy layer on the electric ivories. So yeah, the sound is big.

What’s more, Pond are sounding as polished as a the proverbial Venus in Furs’ shiny shiny shiny boots. Everything is tightly refined and carefully rehearsed, though seemingly no energy is lost in the process. Naturally there’s a trade-off – slick precision, to some extent, necessarily curtails loose spontaneity. It’s a worthwhile sacrifice. The way I look at, there are plenty of bands out there capable of channelling the cosmic slop – far fewer who’d pull off being a finely tuned glam-psych explosion.

A green morph-suited Jeremy Cope with an X taped on his chest dances seductively around the stage, adding a surreal flavour to proceedings. Tunes like the hulking ‘Giant Tortoise’ come flying at you with the sort of fuzzy riff-driven vim that would make Jimmy Page weep into his Hermetic robes. There’s the surreptitiously motowny stomp of ‘Fantastic Explosion of Time,’ and – as a pleasant surprise – lush “Frond” cut ‘Torn Asunder,’ in which a melancholic rise-and-fall scale passage parries with feathery flute and Syd Barrett-esque twee before dovetailing into an all-in, all-consuming intergalactic riff.

The songs from Pond’s latest album, “Hobo Rocket,” seem to take the focused blokey intensity borne of “Beards, Wives, Denim” and channel it into something weirder, darker and more intriguing. Tunes that are both apocalyptic and funny spiral into longer formats and freakier melodies. So by the time they get round to ‘Xanman,’ this isn’t happy-go-lucky Pond so much as a full blown astral nightmare, and it feels positively thrilling.

The set closes out with a straight-faced, zoned-out one chord jam, a sort of high-intensity group meditation session, before the boys disappear and looping noise rings on.

It was a great set – I can’t fault it. But it feels like something was missing. And I think it was the chaos, the unpredictability – the exhilarating sense that everything could implode at any second. This is the closest I’ve seen to Pond on ‘autopilot,’ and while they’re still piloting a damn cool aircraft covered in fairy lights and tin foil, one yearns for that edge of danger.

Luckily for me, a fantastic implosion is just around the corner. Pond re-emerge, but this time joined by members of Doctopus, Richard Ingham (ex-Pond, Taco Leg et al), Felicity Groom, Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) and various other buddies. They dive in to the Electric Toad song ‘Ladies,’ and jam it out in a glorious tangled sprawl, howls, yelps, prosthetic frog’s heads and all. This is the pandemonium that completes the puzzle.

Five years later, POND are not the one-dimensional psychedelic party band they were born to be. Their catalogue twists and turns through light and shade, pop genius and bedroom experimentalism. Tonight they show they can tie it all up in a neat little package – and with a little help from their friends, still throw the caution of neatness to the wind.

Photo by Rachael Barrett

SLANTED & ENCHANTED @ THE ASTOR THEATRE & THE BAKERY, SATURDAY DECEMBER 7

Andrew Ryan

As the sun began to creep out of view, dipping below the tops of buildings and moving towards the sea, I was feeling a lot more slanted than enchanted. My body aching, my head pounding, my brow laced with sweat and furrowed as I squinted out those piercing beams of golden light that can screech just prior to dusk. Thanks to someone’s special genius, the Cultural Centre had been converted into a pseudo-beach, so I reclined on a deckchair for a few minutes. A blessing, though the noise of children and surf music prevented any real repose.

I’d read that the best hangover cure was Sprite and greasy food, so I ducked into The Moon for a little of both. The pint of icy sweet fizz went down like a cool elixir, and I nibbled on some fries. I was not winning, but I was back in the game.

I climbed William Street, distracting myself in the labyrinths of oriental grocery stores. At some point I sidled over to Beaufort Street and crawled into the Astor. In the dark main theatre, I found a row of seats with no-one sitting in it. I went and sat in the very middle of the row, and laid my head in the V-shaped gap between the seats in front.

And then, something amazing happened. My ill-gotten self-pity began to drain away like bitter tea leaves in a sinkhole. The darkness soothed me and as my eyes eased back to their fully open position, I saw four men and a dorsal fin. The fin belonged to jaws and it was cutting through the ocean’s surface like a knife splashed across the Astor’s far wall. The four men were a band called PERTH.

Perth (or as they tend to style it, perth) are back in Perth after most members relocated to the Victorian capital; an irony lost on none of them, especially (drummer) Matt Saville who started a project called Melbin’ in protest. Though the room is steadily filling, it’s a shame there aren’t more people here to witness this rare and beautiful set. It’s grooving, heavy, raw, processed, delicate – less lushly textured than on their recordings, though if you’ve heard the latter you’ll know that’s kind of a given. If I had to compare the set to anything, it wouldn’t be another band, but instead a record: the White Album, to be precise. Like the Beatles’ self-titled epic, perth manage to sound like a rock band and simultaneously sprawl into abstract soundscapes, long jams, intimate minimalism and mind-bending genre mashups. With pensive, post-rocky tracks like “Quantum Chronological” and “Original Food” sitting alongside the outrageous “Jilted,” they recall that record’s uncanny ability to oscillate between straight-faced beauty and winking jocularity without ever jarring. Nice work perth. Hometown pride.

The next band I see are CAVE, who I’d only heard briefly before but what I’d heard was enough to get me excited. They don’t disappoint. Bluesy, funky jams reminiscent of Holy Fuck make way for endless, dystopian vampings of single notes in the vein of My Disco. Warm, gritty guitar tones, heavy biting bass and crisp, powerful, intricate drums drive along the intoxicating, unpretentious throb and flow. You’d be right to call this music “krautrock-ish,” but only in the sense that it seems to embrace a bunch of that umbrella term’s common reference points: repetition, sprawl, Germanic precision alongside wild, free expressiveness. You won’t hear any Hallogallo-pilfering motorik cliches; in fact, the grooves commonly eschew 4/4 altogether, opting for motifs based around 6s and 7s. Nor will you encounter dusty mystic warbling synthesisers; the palette belongs to a rock band, indeed, a punk band. Whatever it is, CAVE is its own thing.

Now I catch COW PARADE COW in one of their last-ever shows, surrounded by cardboard mermaids, streamers, metallic jellyfish and other aquatic decor in the small upstairs Cool Perth Nights room. The music makes me outrageously happy, the band’s approaching terminus makes me sad. This is Cow as best I’ve ever seen or heard them, dense with buoyant percussion, all-killer-no-filler setlist, intriguing chord progressions, lyrics and – perhaps above all – feverish, majestic party grooves. Cow Parade Cow are talented and imaginative enough that they could get away with being a “serious” party band, but having fun and taking the piss is too high a priority, so we’re privy to bovine onesies, handlebar moustaches, matching white skivvy-trouser combos and other larrikinism. Consistently self-deprecating and yet consistently great, Cow Parade Cow are a local treasure.

Back to the big room it’s the JOHN STEEL SINGERS who pump plenty of sweaty energy into their metronomic, fuzzed out, harmony-laced explorations. The offbeat addition of ska-type trumpet into the psych-pool is fun and disarming, and despite technical difficulties (disappearing holdback, a silent microphone, keyboards vanishing from the mix to their point where their player opts to just dance around stage with a beer for a while), these guys are fast-paced fun and distortion-bathed goodvibe from start to finish.

Upstairs, well-dressed bodies are swirling and mingling in the well-lit art deco foyer, and RUNNER are eking out remarkable soothing sounds from guitars, drums, voiceboxes in the CPN room. These guys have a pretty blissful sensibility; they sing like choirboys grown-up (that’s a compliment in my books, see: Panda Bear) and play with orchestral deftness. My only criticism has always been a lack of variation, a tendency to play it safe; this minor concern seems to be growing irrelevant, too, with new songwriting approaches sounding more compelling than ever. Recalling the best moments of Midlake and Grizzly Bear, I’ve got high hopes for what will presumably appear on Runner’s next recorded offerings.

METZ obliterate the downstairs theatre. They actually obliterate it. Hot molten guitar with razors in it, vocal screeches, a Temple-of-Doom style boulder of a rhythm section and a tsunami of collective sweat leave everyone just completely annihilated. Destroyed. Flattened. Burnt to a crisp. My eardrums shatter into a million pieces, I pick them up and shove them crudely back in. I will never be the same.

FABULOUS DIAMONDS – who I’ve reviewed glowingly in the past, and who I was looking forward to – don’t really do it for me tonight. Maybe it’s the unfair fate of being, if only unconsciously and viscerally, compared to the bone-melting onslaught of METZ. I mean, the set is good, I do enjoy it, but there are no surprises – Fab D’s are still frowning into their instruments, playing droning synth lines and persistent, thumping, yet faintly slapdash drum patterns. There are kosmische arpeggiations and some juicy moments of harmonic dissonance, but having seen the duo do two similar sets before, this does feel just a touch redundant. Is that unfair? The band is predicated on deadpan repetition and monotony after all. But the most interesting bit for me is an awkward one-minute song wherein Nisa Venerosa sings a sort of brief free verse poem over a lonely unison melody played by Jarrod Zlatic on the keyboard. It is, at least, a deviation from the formula. I don’t know if the formula’s run its course or what. Maybe they just need to smile once in a while.

Now DEERHUNTER. I’m sure that one of my fellow CPN writers will discuss them in some depth and/or poetic flourish – for my part I’ll just tell you how what goes on in my head. First it’s like, OK, taut anticipation then I hear the room’s growing cheers as silhouettes trickle into view – here comes Deerhunter. More specifically, here comes Bradford Cox, since he’s the only member people recognise, despite being the only one disguised by a blonde diva wig. The set begins with booming electronic bass drum that bellows through the sub speakers with enough force to make you forget what day it is. Loud, immense – but not necessarily aggressive – guitars and drums descend on the occasion, before Cox pipes in with his trademark wail. The whole thing feels grandiose and i m p o r t a n t, a real r o c k m u s i c e v e n t. But there’s no real sense of ego or pretense emanating from the band; indeed, there’s a burgeoning sense of fun. The punchy garage-rock of the band’s latest album didn’t really beguile me on record, but here in the live setting, it feels electric and vital and something to share in like so much communion wine. Halfway through the set, Bradford tells (improvises?) a truly hilarious story about he and bandmate Lockett Pundt growing up as puppy dogs in a cockney dog-fighting ring in Salford, which he caps off with – oh my lord – a faux-Hendrix guitar solo rendition of Star Spangled Banner. I laugh out loud for a solid minute. Who knew incredible comedy was part of the deal? In an amazing final act, they jam out the superb ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ for about ten intense minutes; Cox barks Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ over the final stretch; and then it’s their recent LP’s title track, ‘Monomania,’ which proves euphorically huge. The night could end here, but it doesn’t, and thank goodness, because I’m now totally wired and rearing for more.

We opt to walk down to the Bakery rather than take the colourful Party Bus shuttle (still not sure if that was the right decision) and, despite having sadly missed KELPE by the time we arrive, we make it in time to see LE1F climbing on stage. I don’t really know what to expect from the New York rapper, whose reputation as an unorthodox producer, openly gay emcee and icon of freaky post-internet aesthetics precedes him. His music and performance style was something I’d heard far less about, and I’d only listened to a couple of tunes – but turns out he’s one of the most inventive and compelling rappers I’ve seen grace a stage in ages. His vocal approach is tight, clipped, at times warbling and outright ridiculous – but always delivered with skill and poise. Unlike many rappers I’ve seen, LE1F makes an effort to constantly engage the audience around him, chatting, hi-fiving, getting up in their faces – and however warped or dark his tracks may get, the dude is smiling, which is very reassuring. Not to mention his sultry contortions, DJ-deck climbing and gymnastic dancing, which is as entertaining as anything we’ve seen tonight. He constantly changes up his pace, rhyme schemes, and pitch, injecting each verse with a dynamism that’s impossible to ignore. LE1F brings charisma and talent in equal, hefty doses, and that is very promising indeed.

It’s 2am and here to yank me out of a brief energy slump is JON HOPKINS. The name has been uttered in hushed tones all night, often accompanied by such hallowed phrases as “Brian Eno” and “electronic album of the year.” Some had feared his set would be too weird or cerebral for the end-of-night party closer slot, but they needn’t have worried: Hopkins only dips his toes in the pool of abstraction and experimentalism here. Sure, plenty of the tracks (particularly in the set’s first half) sit outside the realm of mainstream convention, introducing noise, glitch sounds and arrhythmicality, but grounding it all is a constant progression towards increasingly sanguine techno-style beats. The room begins to swell and surge. I go and check out MATHAS in the adjacent room, and as always, he’s in fine form, flowing eloquently and musically about local and global concerns with wordplay and wit, yet I’m inevitably drawn back to the clamourous party agenda of Hopkins’ set as the night concludes. The crowd is already spraying sweat and kinetic energy like a giant lawn sprinkler, and by the time he pumps out “Light Through The Veins” (aka that instrumental that introduces that Coldplay album), everything is positively explosive. Not bad for 3am after almost 9 hours of non-stop music.

My metamorphosis from glazed-over, hung-over drongo wandering the streets to an enthusiastic sea-sponge absorbing and hopefully re-oozing party moods was quite astounding. I make no claim to any kind of self-realization there. I owe it all to the magic of SLANTED & ENCHANTED, the delightful vision and planning of Life Is Noise and (ok, vested interests, but credit it where it’s due) Cool Perth Nights. Most festivals make you pay three figures twice over and put on about a hundred bands, about ten of which you actually want to see, most of which clash with each other, and all of which you have to watch pushed up against some fluorobro’s sweaty bicep. Perth’s new album title asks “What’s Your Utopia?” and, when it comes to music festivals, mine is surely a little like Slanted & Enchanted: consistent quality, positive energies, music for the mind and music for the body. And projected videos of ocean adventures, and cardboard mermaids, because why the hell not. Tonight, the format was totally nailed, and the acts were beautifully selected. We just gotta pray to Poseidon that it happens again.

RIP WAAPA: THREE COMPOSITION GRADUATION RECITALS @ THE BAKERY, TUESDAY NOVEMBER 19

Andrew Ryan

If you hang around psychologists or people who like to drop fancy terms, sooner or later they talk about “cognitive dissonance.” Y’know, the state of simultaneously holding inconsistent beliefs or attitudes; espousing one thing and doing the opposite. That sort of thing. Usually cognitive dissonance is described as discomfort, though I reckon (and maybe I’m wrong by definition, eh, ask a psychologist) that it can feel really nice. The woozy double-magnet pull of two apparent truths; conflicting ideas jostling each other down a corridor one-idea-wide.

So it goes when you find yourself at a music conservatorium graduation recital, with long-term behavioural training saying “I must be reserved, still and respectful in this context,” while irresistible beats, vibrant lights, whirring images and intoxicating melodies zap your mind into saying “I must be wild and move rhythmically in this context.” Tonight, I keep catching myself laughing, cheers-ing schooners, swaying to the complex grooves, before feeling a jolt of propriety urging me to hone in and get serious: this is a recital after all, mate.

But if, as an audience member, it takes me a while to reconcile what I perceive to be two worlds, it seems our performers tonight have done so long ago. The sets on offer are a far cry from the stuffy, coldly conceptual fare a cynic might expect from a prestigious modern composition school. But nor is this your garden-variety electronica/experimental night at The Bakery. This is a warm Tuesday evening in November and everything either side of it is undoubtedly something else.

I arrive just in time to collect individual flyers from the graduating composers before TIM CLUETT rises onto the stage. He’s joined by a small cast of musical mates: Louis-Ferrie Harvey (drum kit), Rosie Taylor (percussion) and Michael Terren (keys, electronics). Together the four of them ease into the set’s first half: a twenty-minute, four-part piece called “Reawakening.” It shudders to life like an ancient robot remembering its programming – moving powerfully but erratically from one glitchy, dizzy beat to the next. Envision the most careening moments from a Thom Yorke, FlyLo or Modeselektor track, get a live band to perform it and have the rhythms drunkenly expand and contract in perfect unison; this is the approximate sound of the opening, titular section. This bleeds into the sliding, textural “Piranhas Sensing Blood” and onto the alternately jazzy, warped and throbbings explorations of “Sound Founder/If You Break It You Buy It” and “Heiau.” Tim’s compositions are intricate, adventurous, dense and fiercely unpretentious; the challenging, unconventional elements (which are prevalent) never come at the expense of more epicurean concerns like groove, harmony and mood. Persistent, zig-zagging shakers and seedpod percussion from Taylor provide a textured rhythmic glue atop Cluett’s beats and Harvey’s hits; Terren remains admirably restrained, mostly piping in with mellow, sporadic chords to establish tonal shifts. The second half of the set sees only Cluett and Terren onstage, with Cluett’s contemporary beatmaking proclivities coming to the fore. While not as arrestingly original as “Reawakening,” these tunes are more readily digestible on the dance floor and retain an air of experimentation and microscopic attention to detail.

Next up is Katie Campbell, aka CATLIPS, who’s been appearing plenty at local shows both in a solo electronica capacity and as a member of KUčKA. Her performance tonight is unique as far as composition recitals go, I believe: no written scores, no extra musicians to realise the pieces. It demonstrates a brave departure from institutional convention and – notably – a whole-hearted embrace of solo dance music production as a compositional form, both by the composer and the academy. To me that’s totally cool, and remarkable in a subtle way – it speaks volumes about where things are at and where they’re headed. Katie appears behind the trestle table, relaxed and focused, holographic silver shoulder decals glinting in the polychrome light. She arrives with “Dialects” which, after five heady minutes, moves into new single “Kamimbla,” all shuffling along with nonchalant abandon. What follows is a sanguine, flowing set of eight pieces mostly rooted in the house, techno and future garage traditions, but ultimately far more concerned with honest explorations of sounds and rhythms than playing to genre ideals. Katie pops and locks as she summons each new crunchy snare, pitch-shifted vocal sample and warm undulating bassline; strange and wonderful visuals accompany every track, pitting pop culture references, patterns and text against warped special effects in perfect rhythmic synchronicity. The audiovisual whole is greater than the sum of its parts, affording the performance an aesthetic thread and an enjoyable – if absurd – visual narrative, where mirror-image psychedelic video game rollercoasters meet fried eggs, tropical islands, gangsta iconography and Windows default desktops. Under the mentorship of AV wunderkind Kynan Tan, Katie has stepped up the immersive quality of her performance and we must hope it’s an avenue she keeps delving into.

Finally it’s HENRY GILLETT, whose performance – comprising roughly five segments – sits in stark contrast to the previous two, and steers us into dark, nightmarish waters. I wrote about an HG set not long ago (at Village Oblivia X), but tonight’s bears little (if any) resemblance; the former channelled classic, upbeat techno, while Gillett’s recital sits firmly in the noise and experimental camp. “Tribal Doctrines” alludes to traditional African music and music concrete while occupying its own claustrophobic realm; “Noise Interludes 1-5,” with their cannibalistic cycles of improvised feedback, push the boundaries of what might be considered musical sound (and I mean that as a compliment). “Salvations,” “Silent Altercation” and “Migrant” take us on a dark, glacial journey through the nether regions of the imagination: while much “dark” music simply adopts a surface aesthetic of grimness, this is genuinely terrifying. The visuals projected alongside the black-clad Gillett don’t do much to cheer you up; footage from the grainy black-and-white film “Begotten” (1990) treats us to images of a bandaged “god” dimemboweling himself with a straight-razor to give birth to “mother earth” who emerges from his corpse – and then things start to get creepy. As the performance unfurls, Gillett takes an unhurried approach to manipulating atonal textures, punctuated by occasional rhythms, underpinned by shadowy drones. Although his work is haunting, sinister, and sometimes hard on the ear, it’d be wrong to describe it as gratuitously confrontational. This is stuff that holds up a mirror to the dark corners of your soul: contemporary surrealism at its best.

And so three immensely talented young composers say RIP to their WAAPA lives – for now, if not forever. Their choice of title for the event lends a cheeky wink of irreverence to proceedings, but the wink shrinks in comparison to their evident respect for their academic mentors: the likes of Stuart James, Lindsay Vickery and Kynan Tan who are all present this evening and who receive heartfelt thanks as performances come to a close. As institutions like WAAPA increasingly encourage work like this – work which feels new, exciting, important, relevant – the sense of cognitive dissonance, the line between what is perceived as DIY or underground and what’s formalized or highbrow, will continue to dissolve. Just as a band like, say, Badbadnotgood has capitalized on its conservatorium training to make genuinely compelling music, so too are these three incredibly well-equipped with their synthesis of natural talent and academic rigour. Seeing what they all do next is going to be a tremendous amount of fun.

CRAIG McELHINNEY 'COMPLAINER ORIENTATION' LP REVIEW

Andrew Ryan

Sometimes you feel a hole in your soul and you have no name for it. The one in which my body and mind’s more nebulous complaints echoed for the last two years had no real shape or colour, but I now realize what it was: a crevasse, deep and wide, waiting to be filled with the diffusing mist that calls itself COMPLAINER ORIENTATION. Which, if you are interested, is the name of the long-awaited new LP by Craig McElhinney.

McElhinney’s last official record, ‘Sore Loser,’ emerged at the tail end of 2011. It doesn’t exactly feel like forever ago, but for a musical conjurer as hardworking and prolific as Craig, it’s been surprisingly long between drinks. He’s hardly been slacking off, playing regular live shows, collaborating on oddball sets with Chris Cobilis. He teamed up with Kynan Tan for an audiovisual overture to Aimee Smith’s dance work ‘Wintering,’ and recorded music that’s either snuck up modestly on Soundcloud or else not wandered into public view. By anyone’s standards, he’s been a busy boy.

With ‘Complainer Orientation,’ the ever-exploratory McElhinney leads us into terrain that’s both uniquely strange and yet inexplicably familiar; I guess the word for that is ‘uncanny.’ Having painted with mixed, eclectic palettes spanning countless melodies and moods (2011’s ‘Temple Pathworkings,’) and wandered through sprawling pastoral/botanical dreamscapes (2010’s ‘Be Water My Friend,’) this new outing almost feels like a return to the solemn, glacial, monochromatic world that Craig immersed us in on his first two records (‘You and Me Are Young And Brutal,’ and ‘Loser Orientation,’ 2009). But to suggest that ‘Complainer Orientation,’ is a mere throwback to a vibe plumbed four years ago would be both unfair and just plain wrong. Craig is always moving forward and rarely looking back, however snaking his path may be.

A dimly lit shape greets you on the album’s cover. I couldn’t tell you for sure what it is, though it resembles a squat stone bottle, or mottle-glazed vase. Its half-shadowed, cryptic allure nicely presages the album’s feel: it’s a record of mostly darkness and flickers in light, where the shapes and surfaces of things emerge but don’t give themselves away.

We enter via ‘Them.’ Hear the dusty sound of a moment stretched over the horizon: a plateau of drone and lapping textures whose essence is ‘stillness.’ Here I could mention track lengths, for curiosity’s sake (they vary considerably), but it’s irrelevant really: for all intents and purposes, time stops during this opening tune, and the album flows as a single entity rather than individual long/short excursions. ‘Strange Readings,’ hints at clairvoyance with its ambiguous title and quietly looping Gypsy-scale melody, enveloped in the blur of hiss and crackle, before ‘Ancient Path II’ harnesses that layer of surface noise and tempers it into a seething, surging rhythm offset by enigmatic percussion. Hooded figures clutching lanterns move single-file through a moor, and the whole thing plays out on a grainy, failing VHS tape at three in the morning.

Next it’s ‘Sokak’, which is the sort of tune that only Craig McElhinney could make: for the most part it’s barely there, the faint echo of a monastic chant deep within a cave. Eventually it’s joined by warped stomp-and-clap rhythms and a digitally fried vocal warble that could come equally from a man as a howling wolf, then back to the choral wisps, but with newfound clarity. Other people might have the technical nous to create this track, but they simply wouldn’t think to do it. The weird genius of such layerings is haunting and singular.

You float through the soft-edged, ambient beauty of ‘Lost’ (no points for guessing which Craig-adored TV show inspired that one), which opens up into the synth-patter and yawn of ‘Soft NASA.’ The latter sounds like what I imagine space to feel like, but I’ve never been to space so instead I’ll compare it to the immensity you feel when you’re swimming far from shore, staring out and down through snorkel-goggles into the sea’s overwhelming endlessness. It’s as close as you’ll get this week to a sonic equivalent of the feeling of awe.

That sense of awe is channeled into a more melodic, deliberate form on ‘Divorce Bliss,’ though it remains strictly liquid and light. I can’t tell exactly how tongue-in-cheek the [record label] Badminton Bandit site is being when it proclaims Divorce Bliss to be the album’s “first single.” It spans more than seven minutes comprised entirely of slow-bleed chords and ambient textures, and isn’t exactly about to elicit high rotation on Triple J. But the thought kind of works: this is classic Craig in warm bathwater drone mode, the sort of track that you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy if you’re prepared to take a few slow breaths and let it wash over you.

‘Misery Control’ feels like a slightly re-hued appendix to ‘Divorce Bliss,’ before ‘Unknown Door’ opens up, dense with those undulating patches of light that reflect off a swimming pool onto any nearby surface that will host them. Somewhere in there, there’s what sounds like an autoharp being played in the biggest cathedral ever conceived, and a circling buzz of something more sinister. The hint of darkness drops away, however, leaving you with a flicker of lucidity and optimism.

Back in the opening track (‘Them,’) Craig includes a snippet of movie dialogue, which forms one of the record’s rare linguistically-driven moments:

“I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. I feel much better now. I really do.”

The quote comes from HAL 3000, the memorably personified spaceship computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its inclusion reads in several ways. For one thing, it feels like a cheeky message from the Craigler beyond the listening interface, a man offering a trademark smirk from within his shadowy hood: “Sorry I’ve been away so long, guys, but I’m back and it’s only going to get better.” It’s almost like the sort of pop-culture interpolation a rapper might use to usher in a fresh offering after a period of hiatus. But more interestingly, the quote comes from a character both machine and human, and it plays out in a way that is both charmingly innocent and chillingly dark, a dichotomy that in some ways characterizes ‘Complainer Orientation’ itself. It’s not a record of “light and shade” so much as an immersive swirl of greys that compellingly blend the two. It’s uncertain whether the image on the front is one object, half-lit, or two things: one in light, and one in shadow. Similarly, it’s hard to say whether ‘Complainer Orientation’ is imbued with optimism, grimness, both by turns, or each inhabiting the other. All I know is it’s a beautiful thing, one I’ll be revisiting: if not to decode, then to simple relive.

You can buy ‘Complainer Orientation’ online from Badminton Bandit’s bandcamp page.

VILLAGE OBLIVIA TEN @ THE VELVET LOUNGE, FRIDAY OCTOBER 25

Andrew Ryan

When I return from a lap of Planet Video, the Velvet Lounge’s lights are extinguished and strange noises are leaping through the air. The tones are as dark as the room, and far more threatening: undead warbles, synthetic nightmares, surgically clean claps and razor-sharp hats amid waves of undulating black fluid. Once upon a time people probably assumed that music made on a computer, using digitally-wrought sounds, would never rival its organic equivalent when it came to sheer emotional evocation. OUROBONIC PLAGUE is a testament to the notion that digital audio can be as gut-wrenchingly brooding and unsettling as any raw-as-sashimi black metal band. Mind you, as per metal itself, there’s a fun oxymoron: these dark sounds, with their freaky momentum, compel you to move hedonistically – which ends up being pretty smile-inducing and life-affirming. Tonight’s isn’t the best OP set I’ve ever heard (man-behind-the-moniker Nick Sweepah is bedevilled by a few technical issues), but it’s still a quality chapter in the ‘Plague chronicles.

I drink some cider and play a set myself, crossing my fingers that my uncertain loops and samples and beats and sound effects don’t all fall in a heap. For the most part they don’t, and in any case it’s a crowd of friendly, supportive faces opposite me – shrouded in shadow though they may be.

One of those faces belongs to honey-voiced chanteuse, super-songwriter and tonal experimenter TANAYA HARPER. Under her new pseudonym of LOVE/CAT she sets up in the ice-blue glow of a laptop screen. Harper introduces vocals into the mix, layering unhurried incantations over misty synthetic beats. The microphone addition means piercing feedback rears its unwelcome head, but it’s not enough to deter the ear from the subtly remarkably and wholly beguiling sounds of LOVE/CAT, a name that will hopefully appear heaps more, soon.

The set bleeds into another: now it’s KARLI WHITE, who dives in with a nod to local peer talent, a Kucka sample, looping hypnotically. Gradually, she leads our ears in the direction of her own compositions – discretely layered, crisp, propulsive vehicles for vocals to ride effortlessly upon. It’s a very “2013” sound, which is by no means an admonishment. It’s relatively early days for White, and I’ve little doubt the coming year will see her hone a more idiosyncratic sound; as far as quirks go, she’s already working live electric guitar into the mix, a tactic favoured by Diger Rokwell. It’s a wise one in its tendency to muddy perceptions of whether an act follows in the “live/indie” tradition or the “electionic” one; of course, the dichotomy is as false as the question is irrelevant, but it’s nice to see the conflation all the same.

The night gets deeper, darkier and hazier and there, somewhere in the chaos and the void is a table teeming with every kind of sequencer, drum machine, effects unit, mixer and patch cable under the moon. STRUNKDTS (aka Cromlek Fernandez, brainparent of the entire Village Oblivia series) is poised behind so much hardware that it appears to almost bubble and writhe, and his dextrous hands move swiftly to tame and contain it. The scuffle gives rise to a rejuvenating and wild trajectory of blips and beats, classic-yet-futuristic dance polyrhythms hurtling towards a fluorescent horizon. These are dense, warm, zig-zagging grooves, bereft of a lot of the nightmarish nastiness that often accompanies STUNKDTS’ work, but certainly maintaining a healthy amount of off-kilter warpedness.

As the clock strikes a grim twelve, we meet TRAVIS DOOM, local goth troubadour who sets up his synth/pedal/ array mirroring a buddy with a similar layout. Contrary to the casual and friendly nature of most sets this evening, the ‘Doom experience is pretty self-serious and provocative: Travis writhes around the stage, swings the mic at speakers to elicit shrieking feedback and howls with harrowed gloom over pulsating beats. Drawing heavily on that tradition of brooding, nihilistic stage presence that spans myriad acts from Suicide to the Birthday Party, this set all feels a bit too intense and apocalyptic for my current carefree mood, but there’s no denying it’s delivered with precision, artistry and conviction.

Village Oblivia X closes out with the stark yet moody yet ebullient techno of HENRY GILLETT. Gillett’s a relative fresh-face on the live electronica circuit, though I first saw his face many years ago when he was playing cello in an orchestra of which I was also a part. Sometimes I would see him down at the skate park on the foreshore, too, and once he tried to teach me to drop in. Doubtful he remembers that (I still can’t drop in, Henry). Anyway, tonight’s set is an unrelenting tour through emphatic but simmering moods, cloudy, dusty melodies swimming around hefty four-to-the-floor, lively metallic hats and atonal noise injections. It’s exactly the sort of thing you want to hear at 1am in a dark room, and I hope he does it more often.

Like waking from a really pleasant, sweaty dream that should’ve been terrifying but turned out to be really enjoyable, I roll out of the Velvet Lounge and rub my eyes. Saturday morning beckons, full of promise: Village Oblivia’s bushy-tailed, freewheeling beats and super-positive end-of-the-world vibes are still with me. They carry the sort of momentum that keeps you going, smiling, with the blood rushing a little faster, long after the lights come back on.

HUMAN XEROX 3 - 'MEDICINE' LAUNCH PARTY @ THE BIRD, SATURDAY OCTOBER 12

Andrew Ryan

It’s been a long, sun-washed, weightless kind of day. Long, even though I slept all through the morning, before finally rolling into the city, where I ran into about 900 blood-covered zombies at the base of the Horseshoe. I hoofed it up to Peter’s Cellars, where the man (was it Peter?) took my money and gave me six cans of VB. I hung out at Madison’s backyard, where loads of wonderful people performed: Mercia Wise, Ermine Coat, Fabian Rojas, Laurel Fixation, Shit Narnia, Mining Tax, a bunch of spontaneous poets with Alex Griffin slapping the drums behind them in support. The date palms swayed, rays warmed our cheeks, the cask wine flowed or stayed cool in the ice-filled Coles trolley.

Soon it was Hyde Park, where performances were forgone in favour of delicious salads, hi-jinks, brews and dub music over the speakers. The light was getting grey-blue and people were dispersing. We moved on to Northbridge, where my journey began, nourishing ourselves with burgers at the base of the horseshoe.

This was my road, but one of many which lead to THE BIRD that night. Once there, I blasted out some cobwebs with a shot of the bar’s good coffee, then set about enjoying ELEVENTEEN ESTON. The enigmatic man with the legionnaire’s cap feeds perfectly-constructed throwback beats and basslines through his Marshall stack, before taking to his guitar with nimble fingers and wailing like a monster. It’s a controlled monster though, a well-dressed monster, with very clean jeans and dark shades. Eleventeen Eston has a synaesthetic quality, bringing with the tunes visual associations so vivid they seem to sit in your retinas: LAPD cop cars cruising past palm trees. Australian rock bands clanging reverby drums and steely guitars in a haze of multicoloured lens flares. Eston’s is a flawless and no-doubt loving pastiche, the sort you can grin about, and dance to, without having to worry about anything at all.

From there it’s on to RABBIT ISLAND; the trio of Amber, Jake and Sam were a highlight last weekend at Camp Doogs, and they bring a dose of that performance’s rarified, coruscating aura along with them. Some of Amber’s “classic” compositions are notably absent, but there’s nothing lacking. They start with the lovely, ghostly ‘Waterfalls’ by Carbuncle, and move like scarves in the wind towards spellbinding originals and borrowed tunes reimagined. They begin covering Peter Bibby’s “Medicine,” though they cut it off halfway through.

Halfway through, it’s worth mentioning what this whole evening is all about. And that is, in a word, MEDICINE. The Bibby song is the latest to be selected for the ‘Human Xerox’ project, an ambitious and ingenious vision bubbling up from the Technicolor mind of one Matthew Aitken (Gulls, Gilbert Fawn, Eggs Press, Magnolia’s et al). Basically, Matt chooses a song, puts out the call for anyone and everyone to cover it if they want, and then the myriad versions end up on a pretty-looking CD of Matt’s creation. This edition features two Rabbit Island versions, Eleventeen Eston, and about fifteen other bands/individuals. While you might think that listening to the same song reworked 18 times in a row would be tiresome, believe me: it’s a ripper.

One band that’s not on the CD, but whose poppier, more eclectic brother band (The Tigers) provided the song for Human Xerox No. 1 is THE SABRETOOTH TIGERS. They plonk themselves onto the Bird’s stage and very quickly accelerate into a set of smart dumb rock songs. There are massive drum fills courtesy Chris Cobilis (never realized how good a drummer Chris actually is) and barked refrains of things like “ROCK AND ROLL FOREVER” amid derisive lyrics that underscore the group’s bloke-riff facade. We nod our heads vigorously and absorb sweat-steam. I wish these guys played more often, it’s wild fun.

And then it’s the man himself, Peter Bibby, and the trio that fleshes out ‘Medicine’ in a group setting: FUCKING TEETH. Here’s a band I haven’t seen for ages, with the exception of last weekend, which only half-counts since they were beset by bum leads and issues of that ilk. Anyway, tonight solidifies the idea in my mind that Fucking Teeth are much more than a loosey-goosey good time punk band: they are, as it happens, a super accomplished and versatile rock band, one with both a sense of purpose and a sense of humour. I’m probably late to the party with that realization but there ya go! There are ridiculous songs (the X-Ray Spex-ish “Come Through My Jungle,” the howling punk freakout “Spastic Dog Dick”), the silly-but-clever (“I Wish You Were Dead”) and the earnest and beautiful, albeit slightly oddball (“Chair,” which ranks among the best Perth songs of recent years and bears a classic quality, much like the titular piece of 1950s fine-crafted furniture). Whatever the mood, there’s a sense of the whole room being totally involved, engaged, invigorated. People thrash about and lose their footing. People join in the howls and choruses. It’s and outrageous goodvibe, but what stands out to me this evening is the quality of the playing and songwriting that makes it all happen: the band has gotten tighter, smarter, more convincing, without losing any of its freewheeling charm.

And if that’s the spirit of Fucking Teeth – all-in, anything goes, unbridled fun, genuine creative excellence – then it’s only fitting that ‘MEDICINE’ forms the focal point for the new ‘Human Xerox’ – a project born of a sense of play, of sharing… of having a crack, and enjoying the craic.

CAMP DOOGS @ SOMEWHERE IN NANNUP, OCTOBER 4-6

Andrew Ryan

I’ve got to say, I’m feeling pretty blessed lately. Last mailout, I wrote to you from the top of a wave-shaped granite inselberg in Hyden, looking out over a superb weekender. This time, I find myself on the cool banks of the Blackwood River, where it passes through Nannup – flanked by Jarrah and Marri trees, spiralling vines, purple enamel orchids and dewy ferns. Sure, the two weekends have had sandwiched between them a few less-inspiring days, in which I went to work, got the flu and lived out other forgettable details of routine urban existence. But at this moment, that all melts away – almost as if it never happened – dissolving into the vivid, fresh realness of here and now.

Picture a riverbank in a forest, grey-blue sky peeking through the canopy. Over the bank and down a trail is a stage, set in a sandy crater, surrounded by cocoon-like paper lanterns. Tree roots span the crater’s walls like tightropes, and people sit on them, legs dangling into the pit dotted with dancing bodies. Music from the hefty PA rings out across the clearing; through green thickets, over to huddles of tents. It patters across the walls of Brazilian food trucks and flits down the chimneys of jarrah farmhouses; it licks through campfires, bonfires, and crackling sooty fires in a stoney pizza oven. The music rustles the fur of possums and wallabies, skates over blue-wren feathers, swirls around gum leaves and carries on. Across an improvised bush cinema, an ad-hoc mini golf course, a ping pong table, a beauty hut distributing free clothes and glitter adornments. A marquee, set aside for chilling out, emanates its own tunes. Somewhere someone strums an acoustic song; elsewhere there’s the hiss of a tinnie opening, there’s the zipping of a tent door, there’s the rushing sigh of the creek. Everything’s covered in a blanket of serenity, but everything’s buzzing, vibrating at its own happy frequency. This is CAMP DOOGS.

If you haven’t heard of CAMP DOOGS, you might be furrowing your brow in this point asking “What’s he on about?” which is a fair question. A bunch of months ago (eight or nine or maybe more) a bunch of like-mind, creative can-doers came together with an idea. These folk included Coel Healy (from Water Graves) and Stephen Bellair (from Doctopus, Electric Toad etc), Ben Konto (Artrage), eventually Steve Hughes (Usurper of Modern Medicine) and Matt Aitken (Gulls, Gilbert Fawn, Mangolia’s). The idea was a camp, a getaway in some verdant corner of the state, with bands playing and good people hanging out being free and easy. I remember hearing about the prospect back then and thinking “yeah, that sounds cool.” Little did I know the extent of the vision – or, indeed, the extent to which that idea would grow. Come Friday, we all load our bags onto buses in sunny North Perth, grab colourful wristbands and set off on a southward journey. What lies ahead is more rich, more magical than perhaps anyone could have predicted.

“DOOGS!” Cry bus-riders, crunching snacks and chatting at a medium hum. We crawl along the freeway, finally escaping onto open road. Farms, country towns, flocks of sheep blur past. We stop over for a pee-and-snack break an hour out of Nannup, before sailing on, and the bus emits a cheer when we pull into the sanctuary. A fire blazes by the old wooden bus stop, and some young boys entertain us with sticks and flame while other buddies play cricket with gum-nuts. Eventually a ute rolls up and whisks us away, a few at a time, down a winding gravel road to a fern-lined campsite. The sun’s about half an hour off setting, and we soon find ourselves at the stage. It’s like nothing I could have envisioned, this specky pit, combining a fully-furnished stage complete with lighting rig, the glowing lanterns (hand-sculpted by Dimity Magnus), statues, yellow sand and the natural surrounds. First-time camper and our inimitable host for the festival TRISTAN FIDLER gives a “welcome to Doogs” – he’ll continue to say “Welcome to Camp Doogs” before every set over the weekend, as well as proffering countless amazing jokes. Grinning and opening our first beers, we dance about to the heady rhythms of loopy psych-prince SACRED FLOWER UNION.

Dynamics dip with an acoustic set from Bobby Burgess of DROP MACUMBA, then intensify with the LONG LOST BROTHERS who sound more ferocious and sanguine than ever I’ve heard them. Apparently Andrew Ryan’s sweet vocals can be heard over in Nannup town. MUDLARK deliver an absolute corker, I watch side of stage with my jaw dropping as Warsame Hassan tears up the drum kit like an intricate abacus and Steven Bovenizer scuttles his way round a dulcet, verbed out guitar. NORA ZION joins them on vocals and boy, what a sweet, silvery treat.

The pit is ablaze with energy as USURPER OF MODERN MEDICINE emit one of their reliably electric, grooving sets; DIANAS drop in to mix things up with both pummelling, rumbling rhythms and rich mellow harmonies. All through the night, incredible lasers dance across the treetops, forming mindblowing patterns and heiroglyphs on dark leafy canvases. Speaking of lasers, we soon hear from the motorik-heavy, densely spaced-out FRENCH ROCKETS, one-man-band NICK ALLBROOK (shredding distorted guitar and wailing vocals over drum machine), and an utterly blissful set from MMMHMM who fuse artful texture, candlelit rhodes-jazz, hip-hop and smokey house into a soothing and uplifting listening experience.

JO LETTERNMAIER takes over the decks, before REECE WALKER/EMERALD CABAL eventually do the honours. The whole evening’s overflowing with dancing, sipping and straight-up A-grade vibes, although in the wee hours the po-po finally show up to pull the plug on the substantial sounds. It’s a minor vibe-killer, but any despondency doesn’t last long. At one point we encounter a moth with a broken wing – the moth’s about as big as my hand and sits on it with the weight of a tiny mammal, looking at us with blue eyes and leaf-shapped antennae. After we spend a while trying to find it a safe spot to lie low, it takes to the skies despite having only one wing in tact. What a trooper. A true doog.

I wake up to the sound of pattering rain, not in my own tent for some reason, but instead sharing a sleeping bag in the ‘beauty hut,’ people walking by. At my head I find a mysterious silver can of food. A note reads: “DOOGS TREAT 4/9… GRAB A SPOON, PASS IT ROUND, SHARE THE LOVE. PS YOU LEGENDS.” When we get it open, we discover a supply of delicious caramel condensed milk which soon makes its way into cups of hot coffee. What an incredible doog act.

LOST/TUNELESS and CATBRUSH kick off the day with reckless but clever rock and roll; DIGER ROKWELL injects the surrounds with a healthy array of finely wrought, organic beats. The DJ sets have been amazing so far this weekend, with DJs Jefferson, Brett and Nathan whipping out gem after gem and narrating them with deadpan genius. Sometime around now one of them decides to play Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, which turns out to be the best idea ever. We decide to go for a swim, which also turns out to be the best idea ever, and having woken up a little crusty, the chilly Blackwood’s quick-flowing water proves the perfect reviving elixir. Some doogs jump in an inflatable raft and rapidly float around the bend.

The sun’s out now in full golden glory and it feels like a day at the beach. HAYLEY BETH & BRENDAN JAY deliver a wonderful fusion of dark, smokey songcraft and tasteful digital beats; DOCTOPUS rouse the throng into a wild swell as always. At 4.20 (“You all know what that means,” announces Jefferson) THE WEAPON IS SOUND explode into a set of heavy, swirling psych-dub, which culminates in a dense on-stage dance party. Before sundown there’s a custom clothing auction courtesy Sally Bower and Beth Maslen, and a giving of thanks to such good folk as Lewis Ryan (who’s generously doing sound for the weekend pro bono) and the amazing cheery GLENN, who owns the property and who’s been a constant source of help and jocularity. At some point there’s a much-reported riverside acoustic set by Peter Bibby (which I’m sad to say I don’t witness)… then it’s the super entertaining, hyperactive glitch-rap of Sydneysider SIMO SOO, the hilarious and fantastic mess-punk of SABRE TOOTH TIGERS, and the sweet textures and undulating beats of another east-coaster – OUTERWAVES.

It’s grown dark and I go jam with ERASERS in the SLOZONE LAYER (chillout tent), which is loads of improvised fun. When I return, it’s to one of the most beautiful moments in recent memory. A huge bonfire blazes at the far end of the sand-pit, illuminating majestic Jarrah trunks. The milky way glimmers in all its glory above. And a hush has fallen over the usually-buzzing crowd, who sit and absorb the rare beauty of RABBIT ISLAND – Amber Fresh performing with mates Sam Maher and Jake Webb. The set is all hypnotic, crystalline waves of sound and stellar melody.. we even get to hear the sublime ‘Adam’s Song.’ Wow.

We explore the pop-up cinema (they’re playing MYSTERY TRAIN with live accompaniment from MUDLARK) and then dance to MT. MOUNTAIN’s powerful stoner riffing; FUCKING TEETH (captained by now-expat Bibby) meet technical difficulties but, true to form, still deliver a wildly entertaining set. There’s KUCKA’s avant-pop explorations, a majestically intoxicated set from garage louts HAMJAM, analog synth wormhole vibes from BASIC MIND before the boys in blue make another appearance. With the main stage shut down for the night, we migrate to the Slozone Layer where HUGO GERANI keeps us moving with amazing tape-based house jams. I call it a night before the music stops, so I’m not sure if Leighton Head fires up a set, but I wouldn’t be surprised… there are doogs in here who seem like they could go forever. Man, I wish doogs COULD go on forever.

Alas. We wake up in the mid-morning, eat one last delicious Brazilian meal, drink some juice and begin to pack up our things. Everyone’s still laughing and hi-fiving, but the knowledge that it’s all coming to a close makes these last hours bittersweet. We jump on the last ute back to the last bus, polishing off the last of our brews. The ride home is full of satisfied smiles and sleepily joyous banter – though it’s certainly more subdued than the ride in.

So there’s the shorthand way of telling you what happened at CAMP DOOGS, but have I been able to tell you what it felt like? I fear I haven’t. Thing is, ‘Doogs was unlike any other music festival or gig I’ve ever been to, because it wasn’t really either of those things. It was a couple of hundred people sharing a weekend bush adventure, everyone with their own tales to tell, with the music and art and food and other entertainment simply providing one common backdrop. The extra magic of the weekend grew from its spontaneous twists and turns; meeting a possum near the campfire, making new friends in the freezing water, discovering a strange new flower you’ve never seen before, attempting to shotgun Emu Export, walking past Trent as he boasts a Hawaiian t-shirt, zebra costume, sunnies and holographic landscape print. Doogs was a thousand different things for different people, but for everyone I’m certain it was an unforgettable experience full of mutual respect, generosity, laughs, tunes, “pos vibes.” And those vibes continue to flow, in conversation on the street and on the internet, with Doogs reminiscing and already excited for the next one. If you weren’t there this year, I can only recommend you get onto it for next time round – it’s not a clique of campers, it’s not a music festival, it’s something totally unique: a sort of temporary utopia full of all the things you need and none of the things you don’t. Food for the senses, and for the soul – a congregation of like-minded wanderers, enjoying being alive. That’s about as doog as it gets.

Photo by Amber Bateup

WAVE ROCK WEEKENDER @ WAVE ROCK, HYDEN, Saturday 28 – Monday 30 September

Andrew Ryan

A sun-soaked boulder warms my jumper and jeans. A not-quite-cold breeze from across the plains plays at my hair. The sky’s powder-blue, streaked with cirrus, and the music echoes through the valley. It’s Gunns, singing the words “I’m sitting on top of the world,” which is kind of how I feel, even though I know that Hyden is roughly on the Earth’s underside. Figuratively speaking the words ring true; literally, they ring out, sprawling across the grey-green canopies and shimmering salt-lakes beyond. At this moment, nothing can trouble me.

Early today, this was not quite the case. My alarm rattled me into consciousness while the sky was still dark, the kookaburras still awakening; I joined mates from bands ANTON FRANC and THE TWOKS in a minibus, and we set off into the sunrise. We took at least one wrong turn before springing a flat tyre about an hour into the bush. Thank Odin we had a spare, which turned out to also be flat. Kindly farmers Vaughn and Kelly pulled over and drove us to a tyre shop to get the original offender patched up, while some of us jumped in another car that had pulled over, and also got lost.

Against fate’s will, we do arrive at Hyden National Park, with approximately zero minutes to spare. We (ANTON FRANC and myself, an auxiliary body) hurl our gear on stage and play a set, while the Fremantle Dockers play the Hawthorn Hawks. A crowd to our rear watches the match and roars, but a healthy quorum watch us, too, and it’s a fun mixture of relief and heartening good vibes.

I pick out a tent location as MT. MOUNTAIN rip assuredly through forty-odd minutes of darkly-hued, propulsive peyote-rock. As far as blues-rooted psych jams go, these guys are pretty interesting, catching you off guard with curious time signatures, crafty arrangements and dirgey interludes. DIANAS take over – I’ve waxed lyrical about this trio over and over, but they keep getting better, so I’ll keep doing it. They’ve largely shed their garage-rock chrysalis, emerging as a beguiling and layered pop creature. The rhythm section is driving, the songs are both fun and somehow melancholy and distant; the harmonies are unmistakable. The footy concludes; despite the purple defeat spirits remain high; Gunns fire up and I watch a few of their fast, dirty, sunny tunes before meandering out to the huge wave-shaped rock and climbing up its side. I peer down at the dried-up gnammas, seeing aquatic plants leftover from when the shallow pits were full of rainwater. I lie on a boulder and let the elements and the sound wash over me.

Some mates join me up on Hyden Rock while HUGE MAGNET play their back-to-basics blues rock down below. We see the pink-gold sun duck under the horizon in the west, and then hear the QUARRY MOUNTAIN DEAD RATS who muster a veritable hoodang replete with washboard, southern twang and rampantly scuttling tempos.

Few combinations are as satisfying as fresh paella and the wonderful, clever, ebullient and magic-infused Arizona band CALEXICO. This is one of the few non-Perth acts I’ve actually listened to in the past, though my existing fondness does little to foretell what’s in store. Lead singer Joey Burns provides a charismatic, smiling entry point to a set which zig-zags from one infectious sound to the next – be it bubbling mariachi, artful country or carribean cumbia. Every Latin or “world,” genre, mind you, is channeled and interpreted rather than merely appropriated. The dizzying eclecticism is tempered by old-fashioned indie-rock songwriting nouse, and delivered with an irresistible enthusiasm and virtuosity. A vibraphone here. A lightning-fast guitar solo there. A heart-squeezing duet with Hollie from Tiny ruins, a vivacious horn section, a crisp, restrained and quietly jaw-dropping rhythm section. I was expecting to enjoy Calexico; I wasn’t expecting to dance up a sweat in the chilly evening, nor feel totally revived by their incredible performance. This is one band that should never be missed if the chance to catch them arises.

Carrying us into the star-spangled later are THE CHEMIST – whose new percussion additions courtesy Phil Stroud provide an intoxicating counterpoint to Ben Witt’s chaotic guitar wig-outs and vocal gnarlings. We get a somewhat messy but lovably earnest set from punk legend KIM SALMON, who – between resurrecting acid-flecked Scientists classics, unpretentious rock songs and newer slacker-ballad efforts – fumbles with his iPhone to get the Tuner app to work, possibly the least punk gesture I have ever seen. Abbe May sees the night out with an impressive show, though I feel it clashes somewhat with the setting, a time and space steeped in positive moods and unpretentious revelry. Here, May instead adopts a sort of rock-god persona, complete with horror-movie eye makeup, tousled peroxide mop and oddly vitriolic banter like “They say karma’s a bitch… but that’s only if you fuck with it…Don’t fuck with karma!” The new songs from her Kiss My Apocalypse LP are masterfully wrought, dark synthpop jigsaws, but tonight I’m just not riding that particular wave. We meander down to the festival’s “speakeasy,” where a red light bulb and smooth jazz welcomes you into a repurposed Australiana-type cafe serving up free toast, tea, coffee and milo while a fire blazes in the room’s centre. Incredible.

At around nine in the morning, I become aware of sunlight streaming into my tent. Not long after, I become aware of the the sounds of one of the festival’s surprise highlights – COSMIC DRAMA. The group consists of bass guitar, drum kit and a majestic concert harp which provides dazzling, crystalline chords, arpeggios and jazz-inflected melodies over the slinky, stuttering rhythm section. The band name’s allusion to Flying Lotus gives you some indication of their vibe – but this is really a unique affair, and I kind of want it to continue forever. TINY RUINS follow – an Auckland-based duo revolving around the songs of the aforementioned Hollie Fullbrook. They’ve been touring with Calexico and, though their sounds aren’t necessarily comparable, it’s not hard to see why: these tunes are heartfelt, beautiful, faintly eccentric, channeling time-honoured folk styles in alliance with a modern indie-pop aesthetic. Perhaps none of this sounds remarkable, but with Fullbrook’s guitar spinning offbeat harmonic spiderwebs, her voice leaking half-surreal, half-quotidian lyrics, perfect double-bass and vocal harmonies from sidekick Cass Basil – it’s a really superb, compelling, hangover-soothing set.

THE PERCH STREET FAMILY JUG BAND now appear, with banjo, brass, musical saw and loony props in tow; they’re a fun and talented diversion, but we soon take to the salt lakes beyond the festival site, paddling in the buoyant salty pool. I take a stroll out into the scrub and marshes. The ground cracks and sinks like the surface of an under-cooked cake. The vista is dotted with low-lying pink wildflowers so bright they seem to glow, and spindles of lifeless swamp trees reach out of the mire like long, ancient fingers. We play a little Frisbee and return to the festival.

BILLIE ROGERS & THE COUNTRY GENTS deliver a set of inoffensive, squeaky clean country-pop, somewhat lacking in imagination but bolstered but good playing and occasional saxophone solos. DEPEDRO – the enchanting Spanish guitarist last seen with CALEXICO – stirs the crowd into a gentle continental frenzy with help from Paul ‘Sloandog’ Sloan (the festival’s big banana) and Cass Basil (Tiny Ruins, remember) on kit and bass respectively. RASA DUENDE follow suit, grabbing the relay-baton of energy and carrying it in intricate raga-cum-flamenco style. CHRIS RUSSELL’S CHICKEN WALK falls into the festival’s growing “nostalgia blues” basket, but they make a good go of it for sure.

Now up jump the TWOKS – they quite literally jump – by now they are friendly acquaintes (having shared in a traumatic bus ride) but I have no idea what their music sounds like, or if I’m going to like it. As it turns out, it’s one of the absolute best sets of the weekend, a fierce and unusual cocktail of live violin looping and intense, nimble, dancey drum beats. It is by turns reminiscent of Scottish folk-groovers Shooglenifty, Andrew Bird, Holy Fuck and even fellow Melbourners My Disco (but with a whole lot more smiling and singalongs). Frontlady/violinist/singer Xani Kolac whips out entertaining crowd interaction tactics and incredible fiddle skills while Mark Leahy holds down the incredible grooves. A man is one stage taking polaroids of everyone, then handing them to them as a goodwill gesture. The crowd is going mental. It’s a great time.

The SUNSHINE BROTHERS fill the air with the lush, hook-heavy, faintly psychedelic dub; CACTUS CHANNEL deliver danceable conservatorium-grade soul, before the MELBOURNE SKA ORCHESTRA (headed up by Nicky Bomba – ex-Bomba, John Butler Trio) deliver a hugely entertaining set of sanguine, down-the-line ska originals and covers with loads of tongue-in-cheek spectacle, pork pie hats and outrageous banter.

We dance into the hours just shy of dawn, up at the rock itself, where THE COMMUNITY Djs are spinning tunes ranging from experimental beats to street band marches and pulsating funk; STEVEN A. HUGHES projects suitably trippy visuals onto the rock face, and light rain sprinkles down, cooling our faces.

The freezing night winds up soon enough, with morning melting our frost-bitten sleeping bags. I stumble out and lean over one of the still-smoking fire drums. I stumble further, to the Wave Rock Cafe, where they sling me a coffee and poach some eggs. I ponder the beauty of the Wave Rock Weekender; how there was never a single bad vibe in the air; how the surrounds filled me with a life-affirming sense of wonder and warmth. How, due to clever, relaxed scheduling, I still managed to see at least part of every musical set as well as watching a few films in the makeshift cinema, wandering the crags and rivulets, enjoying the beers and pizzas and mexican street corn and sweet-smelling fires hemming in the festival’s central stage and dancefloor. I don’t want to romanticize it too much, for the beauty wasn’t in some kind of transcendence; it was in the reality of simple pleasures, like good mates, good music, good food, good places. Wave Rock Weekender, more than almost any festival I’ve been to, has its priorities in order. No matter how many flat tyres try to thwart my future journeys – I know for sure I’ll be back.

HOLLY NORMAN 'HOLLYPOP' EP LAUNCH @ ELLINGTON JAZZ CLUB, MONDAY SEPTEMBER 2

Andrew Ryan

It’s Monday night, which is one of those nights that you associate with – I’m not sure what – nothing much really (I think there might be something good on TV?) but Holly Norman’s chosen it as the night to launch her debut EP, and that’s convenient for me; after a pretty insular weekend, I feel like wandering the streets of Northbridge and ending up in a dimly lit jazz bar. So, as the sun sets, that’s what I do.

The Ellington is probably the only music venue in Perth where you have to book a table, and I hadn’t, so I lean on various vertical surfaces like an unclaimed umbrella until JACOB DIAMOND starts his set. When he does, it’s with a lovely tune that boasts an unpredictable, left-field chord progression; one that’s nevertheless satisfying, underpinning assuredly melodic vocals, and recalling songwriting greats of the 1970s. As if to read my mind, Diamond skates into a Neil Young cover – “Tell Me Why” – prior to two more compelling originals. Alternating between electric and acoustic guitars, he invariably betrays a jazz influence (dude’s studying jazz guitar at WAAPA), but it’s an influence, not a template: these songs steer clear of genres per se.
When you see a guy singing and playing guitar, there seems to be some unspoken onus for them to reinvent the wheel; so familiar is this performance model, it’s half-presumed to be exhausted. Jacob Diamond allays those sorts of prejudices, with rich and complex tunes by turns redolent of James Taylor, Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Don Maclean – as well as contemporary reference points like Dave Longstreth, Devendra Banhart and Grizzly Bear. He slips in a Paul Simon cover, takes a polaroid of the crowd, and mentions that the camera was a 20th birthday present the previous day. Barely pushing the two-decade mark, Jacob Diamond is writing some amazingly accomplished – dare I say it, “mature” – songs; his voice and guitar skills are more than ample tools to carry the tunes into the stratosphere. If he tones down the occasional American inflections (the accompanying vibe of affectation cheapens some of the sentiment here and there), he’ll have a pretty flawless thing going on.

There’s a substantial intermission between acts, and anticipation mounts steadily until an assortment of musicians looking more like a big band than a pop group appear on stage. They start clapping and stamping a beat to herald HOLLY NORMAN’S arrival.

Though you may not have come across her by name before, Holly Norman is no stranger to the music scene. She honed her skills as a classical/orchestral percussionist, studying at the University of Miami and WAAPA, performing in Berlin and Amsterdam and guesting with The Cat Empire. In the last few years she made her foray into Perth’s folk/indie/jazz spheres as freelancer, frequently appearing with Ensemble Formidable and Joe Black Trio (also contributing vocals to the latter). Yet despite years of avid creative collaboration and performance, last winter’s recording effort HOLLYPOP was Holly’s first excursion into the realm of solo singer-songwriting, seemingly a sort of revelation from behind the drum kit: “hey, I can do that.”

A pozible campaign and (no doubt) countless phone calls and rehearsals later, Holly is launching that EP and performing front-and-centre with a band of impressive allies. The clap-and-stomp beat bleeds into the tongue-in-cheek showtune pop of “Drowning at the Bottom of the Gene Pool” before the juicy, doo-woppy “Doctor Time.” These two tunes sit somewhere between the giggly, referential irony of Kate Miller-Heidke and the more oblique, clever, wispy piano-pop of Regina Spektor, and you could be forgiven for assuming that that’s Holly’s schtick early in the piece. Ensuing tune “Lara Enter The Room” mostly follows suit too, a motivational-type song aimed a friend, laced with that vintage showbiz kitsch favoured by Jens Lekman on tracks like “Friday Night at the Drive-in Bingo” – notwithstanding its weird and wonderful outro, reconfigured in 3/4, with heady weaving horns.

But a song about a donkey (“It’s Alright, Francine”) quells any fears of one-trick-ponyism. It’s a mellow, complex bit of songwriting with one of those melodies that you can hardly believe hadn’t been written already; the addition of piano accordion infuses it with a bohemian, Montmartre-type wistfulness. Sidestepping her tendency towards quotidian themes, Holly here spins a would-be fable told from an unexpected point-of-view, and it works a treat.

The next few entries in the set boast killer flute solos, and angular horn-section riffs reminiscent of those on David Byrne and St. Vincent’s recent “Love This Giant” album (kudos to Dylan Cooper, who’s handling tenor, for the arrangements). Lyrically, Holly begins to grapple with themes of contentment despite daily misfortune, and uneasiness despite privilege; she handles both with grace. There’s a song called “Grace” in amongst all that, actually – a folky, shuffling ballad recalling equal parts The Veils, The Whitlams and Julia Stone. With its shifting half-come-double-time chord pattern, intriguing lyrics, tessellating harmonies and lilting textures, it’s a strong contender for Holly’s best song.

For a debut EP and, effectively, a debut solo performance, Holly Norman’s well and truly triumphed. Despite having “nothing to hide behind” (as she mentions between songs) Holly the percussionist is entirely convincing as a standalone singer. She does jump on the piano for the last song, mind you (a cover of Hugh Laurie’s “Let Them Talk”) and it feels like a natural move; maybe the singing-only approach was a requisite kneejerk to depart from the drummer role, but given Holly’s enormous talents as a percussionist, it seems a shame not to exploit them during her solo outings. In any case, this is a great set, with an enormous amount of love and care put into it; a sense of crafty devotion and emotional investment that’s palpable when the EP’s producer, Noah Shilkin (the “Elvis Costello of Margaret River,” Holly laughs) joins her for a musical tete-a-tete on ballad “Deliver Me.” Some songs are a touch too vaudevillian for my tastes, but hey, that’s my tastes, and I can’t fault the delivery. In any case, the more understated and layered songs win me over by a good margin. The performances are solid, at times spectacular. The arrangements, the unexpected musical detours, are fantastic. As far as debuts go – you don’t get much better than this; Holly Norman has set the bar high for herself. But with the work ethic she’s shown so far, I’m pretty sure she’ll raise it again with her next venture down the winding chamber-pop path.

TOTALLY HUGE NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL: SONIC CELEBRATION @ PAKENHAM ST. ART SPACE, FREMANTLE

Andrew Ryan

Pakenham Street is dark, cold and silent – no signs of life worth mentioning. It could just as well be midnight as eight o’clock. A faint murmur of activity spills into the air from Moore’s art gallery on the neighbouring street, but apart from that, I’m not sensing any kind of nearby gathering, let alone one that warrants the name “Sonic Celebration.”

I continue to follow the footpath, dripping in and out of streetlamp glow, until I spy the four letters I needed to see: PSAS. The Packenham Street Art Space sits unassumingly on a dim corner, its simple sign the only thing announcing it to the world. Through a window I spy a green door, a poster for Macbeth, bundles of rope; bottles and jars of paint and glue and anonymous coloured liquid; a battered old violin case, and a lifelike donkey’s head mask. These are irrelevant, but nevertheless promising items.

The tiny entrance foyer, hemmed in tightly by stairwells and leering walls, is occupied by a desk and three welcoming individuals. A lamp sprays pale light across the shadowy alcove, and I inch down a narrow corridor, ducking under a low doorframe and around a corner to enter the main space. In contrast to the cramped entrance nook, this is a majestic room: wooden ceiling beams and rows of pillars sprawling through a warehouse-like cavity.

Scattered about the middle section of the space are speakers, though they look more like cybotronic mushrooms: translucent white material, like gauze or perhaps baking paper, is stretched across their up-facing cone, and beneath each membrane glows a cluster of small blue-white lights. This is the statis-mode of a new audiovisual experiment by KYNAN TAN & ANDREW BROOKS (or, collectively, the duo TE) and it soon erupts into an enthralling frenzy of light, movement and incidental sound. As subsonic or otherwise inaudible frequency are pumped at high volume into the speakers, the LED lights within bounce around like corn kernels popping. Seeing this occuring across ten or so speakers in a dark warehouse is enjoyable enough, but the real thrill comes from the thoroughly musical execution: this is basically a light and percussion work, and as a multitude of tempos and rhythms are pumped into the various speakers, we experience a dense and dizzying array of rattles and pops. It’s like watching fireworks, if the fireworks were programmed by a free jazz ensemble. Dipping into a surprising breadth of dynamic ranges, the performance reaches an intense climax, and finally returns to stillness, leaving us – freshly spellbound – to return to our tables and chairs.

Returning serve is percussion duo CLOCKED OUT, on stage this time, its members VANESSA TOMLINSON and ERIK GRISWOLD surrounded by toy pianos, melodicas, woodblocks, glockenspiels, floor toms, gongs (or is it a tamtam? sorry experts, I can never remember which is which) – and more. Their sound, generally juxtaposing two to four distinct percussive motifs, is seemingly chaotic yet – undoubtedly – intricately composed and rigorously rehearsed. Throughout, the performance straddles the boundary between percussive/melodic anarchy and tempo-anchored, mellifluous order. It’s a compelling tension, delivered with poise, nuance, and an ideal ratio of hard work and exuberant play.

Next comes DAVID TOOP – an English musician whose reputation in the leftfield music world precedes him. A former member of the new-wave group The Flying Lizards, he’s since carved out a space in a whole heap of fields, including as a journalist (writing for FACE and The Wire), an author (crucial texts “Rap Attack” and “Oceans of Sound” flowed from Toop’s pen), a solo artist, sound artist, and prolific collaborator (with Brian Eno, among many others). His set this evening is a fairly contemplative, ambling, but by no means toothless half-hour of classic experimentalism. There’s awkward acoustic guitar detritus (recalling John Zorn’s “Book Of Heads” guitar etudes), pre-recorded nature sounds, leaves rustling on a snare drum; as well as flute, e-bowed electric guitar, guitar played with a mallet, plus digitally-wrought glitch noise and bass resonance. It transforms slowly, at the pace of moving clouds; the soundscape changes and shifts, but often imperceptibly. It’s patient, grandiose, “zoomed-in” stuff.

Soon we’re privy to a first-time collaboration between Japanese musician/composer HACO and the New South Welsh analogue-tinkerer NATHAN THOMPSON. While that’s a promising combination, it takes me a while to warm up to this set: it feels hard to latch onto, disjointed and lacking any kind of real focus. I’m not bothered by the lack of pitch or rhythm in their noise explorations, more that they seem hesitant to dive fully into any sonic idea, instead introducing industrial-cum-domestic clangs, whirrs at rustles seemingly at random. But about half-way through it really picks up, to my ears, adding a continuous fan-belt type drone which anchors the loose collage, finally coalescing the whole thing into genuine texture. Haco adds some far-out, inhuman sounding vocals, and before long the warped noise sculpture resembles the hubbub of some kind of arcane workshop, where harmonic howls, hums and sparking electricity sit side-by-side on the airwaves.

Closing out the night is a piece by composer and visual artist CATHERINE SCHIEVE. Her work, ‘Experience of Marfa,’ comes off as the night’s most “composed” and consciously choreographed, even if it contains implicit elements of chance and freeform sound interplay. Inspired by an experience in the Marfa region of the Texan desert, the piece begins with a seated choir, arranged in a semicircle; two piano accordions, and slow, slippery electronic resonances performed live on the laptop. Bundles of long sticks, leaves and stones are dispersed inside the semicircle of performers, who stare blankly into the audience – along with the invocation of some non-specific experience in the desert, the whole thing takes on a quasi-mystical, ritualistic air. The laptop textures flow and shimmer, blending and seeping into the two toothier piano accordion drones; the choir bleeds through, various voices coming to the fore intermittently. Altogether, it’s a discordant, shimmering mass of sound – not moving forward in time, so much as just forever morphing within an abstract void. There’s a giddy, woozy feeling to it – like vertigo, or holding your breath underwater, or staring into the sun, or being consumed by the jarring forcefield of a UFO. Eventually we hear the sounds of a gong, handheld bells, a bundle of shaking keys, and disembodied sounds of clunking wood and screams – there’s a distinct druggy vibe emerging, like the trip is taking a turn for the worse. At last, the sounds thin out and only the familiar sounds of wind and running water remain. Catherine lifts one of the bundles of sticks above her head. Other choir members, including local new music maestro CAT HOPE, follow suit. Eventually the nature sounds fade out, and only the infinitesimal sounds of these twig-bundles rustling remain. Their wrists freeze, and so do the twigs. Now their is only silence, the sticks raised higher. After nearly 40 minutes of hypnotic, hallucinogenic drone, the lights fade, bodies become silhouettes, the sticks return to the ground, and there is silence. It’s a piece I can’t claim to fully understand, but, like some of life’s more affecting moments, its sensory and atmospheric qualities penetrate deeply and transcend logical concerns.

And as the lights fade back up, a wash of vivid red and blue, so ends the Sonic Celebration – a fitting and bountiful conclusion to a Tura’s performance program within the Totally Huge New Music Festival for 2013. On a dark, seemingly silent street, I stumbled upon a cornucopia of thought-provoking, mind-altering concoctions comprising sound and light. I can’t help but think of it as a beautiful microcosm of Tura New Music, and the experimental music scene itself; even when things seem empty and quiet, there’s a wealth of amazing experiences right around the corner. You just have to know where to look.

WATER GRAVES EP LAUNCH @ THE BIRD, FRIDAY AUGUST 9

Andrew Ryan

Sometimes shows are great because they’re congregations of good people: friends (or at least friendly types) squeezed together in a room, enjoying each other’s presence and the racket made by the musically-inclined kindred spirits huddled yonder. Sometimes shows are great because, irrespective of any personal connection or social hullabaloo, the music on offer is rich or exciting or innovative or clever or impressive or beautiful or fun, and speaks to you in some way. Other times the appeal comes down to atmosphere and spectacle: amazing light shows, energetic performers, musical sets that cross over into the realms of theatre and visual art.

But many of the shows that really stick in your mind are – naturally – all of these things at once, and WATER GRAVES’ self-titled EP launch is one show that feels like it’s going to stick. It happens last Friday, in the auspicious sound-oven of The Bird, set amid the cold and dark moisture of a wintery week’s tail-end.

I pull into The Bird’s car park and carry a few armfuls of gear through the sprinkling rain. I haven’t been this excited about playing a show in a while, as it happens. Something about the whole prospect is just really appealing. Myself and buddy Rupert play first (Amber – see below – just emailed me to say I should say something about this bit of the night, but for obvious reasons I can’t review it, so I’ll say it was fun and Chris Wright the sound-hero was as kindly and on-the-money as ever, and The Bird’s beer was cold and refreshing and the perfect antidote to any synth-inspired nervousness that might crop up when you’re trying to play music).

Then Amber Fresh (as above) – aka RABBIT ISLAND – gravitates onto the stage, with a band of brothers and sisters alongside her. What begins next is a set that encapsulates all the wonderful things about the Rabbit Island project; namely, Amber’s enchanting songwriting, her idiosyncratic, honest and casual performance style, and – beyond Fresh herself – the spirit of community, since Rabbit Island really is an amorphous thing with a rotating cast of wonderful supporting roles. Tonight we’re gifted to a choir accompaniment, – comprised of local musicians Elizabeth Lewis, Jason Pang, Todd Pickett (who sometimes drums for the ‘Island), Andrew Clarke (who tonight also tinkles some ivories), Sam Maher and Jake Webb (both of Sugarpuss, and both Rabbit Island regulars too). The decision to recruit a choral section is a great one, making the arrangements minimal and maximal all at once; delicate but dense. Amber, oscillating between piano and guitar duties, sails through old favourites as well as new originals. There are covers in the mix, too, but covers of friends’ songs: a sublime rendition of Peter Bibby’s “Medicine” proves a highlight, while a pretty but short-lived version of a Ben Witt tune acts as a charming gesture on the latter’s birthday. Rabbit Island will never be about chasing notoreity, or airplay, or attention of any kind; if Amber plays her songs in public, it’s only to transform them into a heartwarming communal experience. I only wish the throng in the Bird could bring their chatting down a few decibels, since they’re drowning out the celestial nuance of the Rabbit Island Choir. Nevertheless, no frustration’s manifest, and the exuberance of this team of harmonic buddies is palpable.

Rabbit Island recedes back into the sea of goodvibe to reveal SACRED FLOWER UNION melting into view. Dan Griffin, the sole practitioner in the union, stands behind a table of drum machines, synthesizers and effects pedals weaving aural magic with the tools on hand. From a cascading wash of thin, new-agey synth texture somes a rich steel-drum driven beat, building and amassing into a hefty undulating monolith of rhythm and goo. Behind him, a purpose-made video flits hyperactively between mundane, suburban images and otherworldly patterns. The word “trippy” if used too liberally in regards to visuals, but when you’re watching a shape drip down a screen that soon reveals itself to be bird’s-eye view of a man swimming downstream which is simultaneously an image of two warping trees, that’s trippy in my books. The Sacred Flower Union set billows and shrinks in intensity; throughout, Griffin is utterly immersed in his craft, evidently putting all of his spirit and body into making these sounds, dancing ferociously when the soundscapes bloom into pounding dance patterns. Finally, as the grooves reach a climax, he screeches into his vocoder, adding a layer of ecstatically harsh noise-catharsis that my ears had been craving. The set finally collapses under its own neon magnitude, and we bask in the afterglow.

“Afterglow” is not a bad way to describe the general sensation of listening to WATER GRAVES, either. The record-launching ensemble arrives on-stage, looking decidedly hip yet unassuming, setting up and gliding effortlessly into their set of shimmering tunes. Ostensibly a duo comprising Coel Healy (who handles beats and keys) and Blake Hart (on guitar and ethereal vocals), this live incarnation also features Pema Monaghan on extra vocals and Jake Suriano on bass guitar. Everything here is super slick and accomplished, awash with toothsome ambience and punctuated by the perfect quota of crunchy rhythmic insertions. Water Graves manage to bridge lush, dreamlike, slow-moving pop arrangements and the funky stutter of new-school hip-hop – in a similar way to international chillwave contemporaries like Washed Out or Toro Y Moi. But, for the most part, Water Graves don’t rely on the nostalgic VHS-style production values that pervaded the aforementioned scene; this stuff dips it dips its toes in the lo-fi end of the pool, certainly, but doesn’t drown in it, allowing the nuances to bubble to the surface in clear, crisp glory. If it weren’t for the daggy associations, I could gladly describe Water Graves as “easy listening” – these are not challenging sounds, nor do they pretend to be – they roll over you welcomely like warm bathwater, water you could totally deal with being buried in.

I bid farewell to the Bird, its good people, its musical satisfactions, its visual spectacles. My high expectations for the night are not only met, they’re long forgotten, floating away in a stream of warm, glittery here-and-nowness. Gigs which are all highs and no lows don’t come along every day; Water Graves should rest happy, knowing that their debut was released into the world in the midst of such a flawless affair.

Kirin J Callinan, Usurpers Of Modern Medicine, Mudlark @ The Bakery, Saturday, July 20

Andrew Ryan

It’s curious that I find myself on a bus en route to see Kirin J Callinan at the Bakery. It’s as if I just woke up here. I hadn’t thought about it at all. It isn’t a decision I’ve assessed. It doesn’t really feel like a decision at all – it’s simply happening. There’s a sense of inevitability to it, like death or puberty; even before you know what it is, you kind of know it’s coming. Is it because I’m a huge, devoted Kirin J Callinan fan for whom there was never any real option but to see my musical hero play live? Nope. In fact, until a month or two ago, I’d have raised a single eyebrow and pouted in confusion if you’d mentioned the name, expecting me to know who he was.

As it turns out, I’d already seen him play – as second guitarist with Jack Ladder – but all that was etched into my mind was a pencil moustache, greased-back hair, a singlet and swaying hips, as well as some Prince-esque guitar licks; I hadn’t a clue what the guy had written on his drivers’ licence. In any case, fate brought this peculiar man back into my life – via the internet, initially, naturally, me perusing music websites and he thrashing about without many clothes on and alternately howling, whispering and crooning over stark, weird, brooding song-pulsations. Perhaps it’s this sense of bamboozlement that has me destined for the sea-container castle: a desire to unravel, or at least be fully and brutally exposed to, the mystery of this man.

As I arrive I’m doused in the busy, squall-like sounds of MUDLARK. This duo’s name has appeared on innumerable posters over the last few months but until now I haven’t managed to catch a set. I’m immediately glad to be surrounded by their sounds; intricate, insectoid drum clicks and booms whirr and race in a flurry while verbed-out, agile guitar flips and washes over itself. There aren’t really ‘hooks,’ familiar structures, or totally logical grooves, which could exhaust or infuriate some listeners. But as far as luscious, rhythmic, chimaeric listening experiences go, Mudlark are surely be one of your best bets in this town.

From here’s its onto another rich and rhythmic ensemble, the now almost universally-loved USURPER OF MODERN MEDICINE. I mean, I’m sure there are people who don’t like this band, but I’ve yet to meet them. Their undulating groove-propulsions and synthetic flourishes are second to none, at least locally, if not Australia-wide. The unfortunate departure of monster-drummer Cam Hines had me worried but the arrival of Mike Jelinek (The Growl/Gunns/The Silents) means they haven’t missed a beat in the transition. A few new songs here a welcome addition, many of them introducing more major-key shimmer, imbued with a kind of candy-punk mood possibly owing to the J-pop influence of japanophile Steve Hughes. It’s a set that leaves me eager for more new material, something which we’ll thankfully be privy to pretty damn soon.

And soon the clock strikes 11, and the chilly night kicks further along, and curiously the Bakery crowd has yet to swell to anything beyond a moderate huddle, which would be odd for any Friday night at this place, but seems particularly ill-fitting on such an auspicious evening. Nevertheless, there’s palpable excitement emanating from the small and devoted throng. KIRIN J CALLINAN takes to the stage in a modest haze of smoke, clad in an arabic robe and jodhpur-esque trousers while his accomplices (on drums and bass/synth respectively) stand stone-like wearing monochrome jumpsuits and cycling sunnies, looking like members of Eiffel 65. Normally I wouldn’t pay such heed to outfits – but these feel like more than fashion accessories. As per, say, Grimes, these colliding visual styles seem to prefigure a more general philosophy of the world in which we find ourselves: the visual confusion is a mirror to the disorienting, internet-infused landscape of today, where something can be everything, every aesthetic at once and (by extension) intricately singular, or else totally null.

It’s a mood which does indeed seem to extend the music, as Kirin straps on his guitar and, hemmed in by a ritual-circle of effects pedals, dives into the razor-wire of frenetic and dark songs like ‘Halo’ and the bellowing, desperate ‘Embracism.’ A mood of trying to contend with everything at once, the overwhelming horror and immensity of the world, and finding yourself either in the throes of nihilism/hedonism or else beautifully, heart-brokenly earnest. These tunes – which blaze along towards more standout tracks like ‘Thighs’ and ‘Way II War,’ tend towards the former, drenched in Birthday Party-esque goth-fluid or Suicide-type drum-machine-headache-n-drawl. One of the most arresting things – it’s simultaneously uncanny and refreshing – is the overt presence of an Australian accent within a performance that recalls New York or European rock at its most confrontational, genre-irreverent and avant-garde. But transcending any historical or contextual notability is the sheer quality of the performance and songs. Kirin J Callinan may be a classic provocateur, counterposing his acidic, spittle-flecked tunes with oddly polite and meek stage banter and gettin all awkward and surreal on you, but ultimately there’s a very transparent commitment to writing great tunes and being ridiculously good at using these instruments, warped effects (including a brilliantly, freqeuntly employed step filter), and stylistic tropes. Songs like ‘Apology Accepted’ expose Callinan’s more old-fashioned, soulful, melodic side, without ever sacrificing the sense of sonic and lyrical adventure. You could call the whole thing ‘pretentious’ – but the pretence is very much part of the point, a layer of weird grime and dizzying peculiarity which is both fascinating in itself, and the perfect foil to the heartfulness which ultimately makes Kirin’s efforts so truly rewarding. This guy, whichever route he takes next, is going to be one of the most remarkable forces in Australian music for a while yet – about that, I have no doubt.

WA COMPOSERS PROJECT: DECIBEL RESIDENCY CONCERT @ PICA, FRIDAY JULY 5

Andrew Ryan

The composer is a curious character in the theatre of the twenty-first century. For one thing, he or she is rare: seldom does the new acquaintance introduce themselves as a composer, even if they do write music. Meanwhile, the composer has no obvious outlet, beyond appending themselves to another discipline – one can compose for film, for video games, for jingles, but dedicated presentations of new composers’ pieces are increasingly elusive. For a third thing, “composition” bucks all the current tendencies of cultural production and consumption: it’s time consuming, it’s tricky to mass-distribute, it’s difficult to replicate. For all its innovation and modernity, contemporary composition remains antithetical to the quick-fix experiences offered by social media and digital entertainment. From conception to transmission to digestion, it’s an extended process.

Thank goodness for organizations like Tura New Music who furiously carve out a space for composition to endure. At once welcoming and uncompromising, the organisation puts experimental and contemporary classical composition in the thick of things, refusing to let these styles slip into the esoteric nooks and crannies of Perth’s culture. Tonight, we’re literally in the centre of Perth Cultural Centre, upstairs at PICA in the West End Gallery, where WA Composers have been undertaking a ten-day residency prior to two concerts in which they’ll present the fruits of their labours. Tonight heralds the first one.

We wind up the spiral staircase and settle in the white prism of a room. Decibel – a slightly amorphous group led by Cat Hope and almost always featuring regulars Lindsay Vickery, Tristan Parr, Stuart James and Aaron Wyatt – are tonight joined by Paul Tanner on percussion and piano. They take their positions as the light dims and, after a minor false start, ease into HENRY ANDERSON’s piece ‘Resident Frequencies.’

It’s a work driven by the idea and impossibility of silence, a work that finds music in what would normally be considered sonic negative space. A recording has been prepared of the “silence” inside PICA; this recording has then been replayed in the space and re-recorded, over and over, in a strange process of layering near-nothingness, reminiscent of Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting In A Room” or indeed of conceptual artist Ian Burn’s “Xerox Book” in which he photocopied a blank piece of paper 100 times and ended up with visible black forms. The real intrigue here, though, arises from Anderson’s analysis of the prominent frequencies emerging in the recording, which – having been given a pre-recorded exposition – are passed on to live instruments. It implies a ghostly presence of inaudible music in even the quietest of spaces, of the titular resident frequencies that surround us without our knowing (interestingly, Anderson’s been overseas, so in one way, the frequencies almost exist in lieu of the composer during this “residency”). It’s a wonderfully accomplished translation of concept into listening experience, laying out its elements and providing ample space for contemplation.

Up next is JOHANNES LUEBBERS’ “The Past Is Never Far Behind,” which delves into rhythmic volatility, extended techniques and labyrinthine form in an effort on the composer’s part to escape his own habits and usual musical reference points. Probably the most tonal and “traditional” piece of the evening (it appears to be read from conventional scores), you hear the influence of, say, Stravinsky here moreso than that of Cage or Lucier. Still, the piece retains an air of forward-thinking adventure, providing a riveting listen from the jazz-trained composer and a well-placed addition to the programme.

Luebbers’ piece is followed by a composition called N-Dimension by Decibel’s own STUART JAMES and, I gotta say, it’s one of the most brilliant New Music works I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. With theory-heavy underpinnings (it explores “n-dimensional topographic space” through “elaborating on the dimensionality of […] musical structures) I feared that its accessibility might be lost upon a layman like myself, one unable to fully comprehend the conceptual roots of the work. Yet in another great marriage of idea and sonic outcome, N-Dimension proves not only accessible but deeply engrossing, flinging the listener into sparkling sound-environments ornate with feedback, flutters, live delays and textures that pan wildly between the four surround-sound speakers. Semi-distinct sections swell into earshot and trip over one another, forming a beautiful rolling mass that is neither wholly abstract nor familiar. The piece invokes “infinite and fractal pitch sets,” and while I can’t claim to know how that works, the mind-boggling scale (or potential scale) of the piece does seem palpable, as if what you’re hearing is a window unto a vast new realm.

Soon after, LINDSAY VICKERY’s “Silent Revolution,” brings us very much back to Earth: to the turbulent, dark and overwhelming world of oppression and resistence. With its thematic, it could hardly be more timely – mere days after Egypt ousted its first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi, and with plenty of other nations undergoing their own leadership upheavals and turmoil. Through a combination of richly illustrated scrolling score (projected onto a side wall) and highly evocative musical utterances, Vickery’s piece invokes or alludes to such uprisings, whilst also referencing the daunting realities of slums, trillion-dollar aircraft graveyards, toxic waste dumps and African refugee wars. While the limitations of both time and medium preclude the work from exploring these realities in any great factual depth, “Silent Revolution” opts to do what music does best: instill the emotional truth of the situation. “Silent Revolution” is dense with melodic anarchy and frantic, unstable rhythm, constellations of noise and pitch grasping at order but rarely – if ever reaching – it. Despite this, there are moments of beauty, lucidity, and a surface of calm. The title’s meaning, referencing a term given to drastic changes that occur with little fanfare, is ambiguous here. By my reckoning, it seems to point to the tremendous calamities and disturbing truths that go on under our noses – but also music’s problematic position within politics, as a cultural tool that is at once potent, powerful, and yet strangely mute.

INTERMISSION

[20 mins]

[I fetch some sushi]

[Chat with some friends]

[Realize I won’t manage a beer in time and fly back up the stairs]

The second half of the concert is ushered in by CHRIS TONKIN’s “Rapid Same Question.” It’s a remarkable composition which, in some ways akin to “Silent Revolution,” foregrounds the act of grasping and never quite arriving. In what almost seems like a cruel prank, Decibel’s performers furiously and erratically attack their strings, reeds, keys and drums in an effort to trigger a spoken-word recording of a text by Gertrude Stein, but are consistently thwarted by the stop-start structure of their parts. The acoustic sounds of the instruments form a quasi-random cacophony which is in itself interesting, but the half-discernible disembodied voice entering the fray adds a real point of intrigue. The text, when read in full in the program, evident belongs to the surrealist “exquisite corpse” tradition and is exceedingly abstract, ultimately implying that the search for meaning can be cyclical and futile: or, more optimistically, that meaning is not to be found in the signifiers so much as in the experience of the art and the passion of its practitioners.

In CAT HOPE’s “The Lower Drawer,” flute, bass clarinet and bass drum collude to trigger pitch-matched sine wave tones and gradually construct a 13-note chord. It’s a process of slow and steady artificialisation, as each organic and human-wrought sound trails off and leaves only a raw frequency – simple data made manifest – in its wake. As the piece unfolds, each new tone is lower than the last, approaching the “lower drawer” – though tonight the microphones detecting the played sounds seem to be favouring higher-pitched overtones, resulting in quite a stratospheric, glassy conglomerate of thin synthetic drones. It may not have been the intended texture necessarily, but chance plays a key role in the piece anyway, with performers exercising free agency in which notes they choose from descending clusters. That “The Lower Drawer” found itself in a higher register is not necessarily a failure by any means.

Two more pieces round out the night – the first, SAM GILLIES’ “The Aura Implicit,” which focuses on ineffable or un-named things by way of gestural sounds, dizzying 3D audio panning and a tight nexus of electronic and acoustic sounds. The translation from concept to content here is not as apparent as in other pieces this evening: maybe that’s a given when the piece is “about” the difficulty of expressing that which has no description? It’s an ambitious composition, and at any rate Gillies has delivered a beautiful, immersive work forming another quality chapter in the his personal catalogue (Gillies is a busy composer: he’s recently had a spatialized sound installation installed in a Roe Street Arcade, plays in multiple groups, and toured Japan a few months back). Finally, RACHEL DEASE’s “The Perils of Obedience” rounds out the concert. It’s perhaps the most historically focused – certainly the most cinematic – piece of the evening, fusing footage of Stanley Milgram’s psychological experiments in the 1960s with an eerie musicality that’s both melodic and conceptually driven. The experiments – which tested participants’ sense of obedience against their better consciences, to try and understand the human machinations of the holocaust – are mirrored in the score, with different instruments taking up different roles in a dynamic of control. While this parallel could have been more pronounced, or explored more thoroughly, the piece functions wonderfully on its own merits, with live drones, melodies, shifting chords and spoken word lab samples forming a haunting array against rippling visuals of the original experiments.

At the start of this entry, I said that “the composer” is a curious character in our contemporary dramatis personae. After witnessing Decibel perform the works of eight WA Composers, I haven’t changed my mind – but unlike characters listed at the start of a play, composers don’t need a neat role or a one-line justification for their existence. It’s more likely their work is driven by a combination of innate impulse, sound-related interests and a personal philosophy, and it’s up to the rest of us to decide how we take it or where it all “fits.” Organizations like Tura New Music, and ensembles like Decibel, are uncommon, but their existence is crucial, and for two reasons. One, people are still interested in composition. And two, not enough people are interested in composition, and groups like these offer sufficient fascination to grow that interest in the community. That most (if not all) of the composers tonight play in adventurous pop-music groups and engage with other realms of the arts is testament to the fact that composition of this kind is not at all dislocated from modern times, grass-roots culture or accessible ideas. On the contrary, it flows through and around these things. If tonight’s affirmed anything in my mind, it’s that this group of composers warrant the platform they’ve been given tonight: separate from academia, away from stuffy concert halls, in the midst of the city, the cultural centre, and its Friday night goings on – in the thick of things, front and centre.