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Lyndon Blue: Review

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

Andrew Ryan

I was all juiced up for Lady Leshurr and Ngaiire last night, a show at PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens which ultimately didn’t go ahead. It seems like the threat of rain in Perth is enough to bring all but the most tenacious events (see: Camp Doogs) to their knees. To be fair, I wouldn’t have been planning for Perth precipitation in February either. But still. We can put robots on Mars and not waterproof a venue? No doubt there is more to the story, a Faustian epic involving Puddles, Insurance and Grime to which I’ll never be privy.

In any case there’s a very shiny silver lining to the clouds. The next day, I notice that Mei (Mei Saraswati) and Tess (Tess Darcey, Akioka) are doing a collaborative set down in that very same bayside venue as AKI SWATI. What a combo! It’s not that these two haven’t teamed up before; they regularly appear on the same lineups, and together form Sibling Music - a project aimed at engaging and inspiring school kids through experimental and electronic music workshops. But I’ve never heard the like-minded sound sculptors perform as a duo, so this is an exciting thing.

I step out into the damp air, ride a bus down the Beaufort Street hill and wander through a gently vibrating CBD. 

Down where the river meets the land, there’s a gate leading into a corridor of bars, food stalls, tents, grass, occasional trees. And on a small stage opposite a particularly inviting knoll, there’s AKI SWATI. The set takes off with the Mei Saraswati ‘Swamp Gospel’ – an ode to the lost wetlands that now form much of Perth’s concrete laden CBD. While retaining the track’s memorable melodics and popping percussion, it’s reworked somewhat to accommodate the otherworldly, improvisational approach of Akioka - as well as the latter’s formidable vocals. The rest of the set follows a similar tack, launching from established songs, layering on harmonies and – between these more structured anchor points – exploring loose, painterly, often still very danceable interludes.

One gets the sense that this is a larval form of what AKI SWATI could be; a glimpse and the wild fireworks of creativity these two could produce if they put their heads together for an extended period. That being so, it’s nevertheless a wholly satisfying set - full of the integrity, light-hearted humility and adventurous musicality, we’ve come to expect from both of these local heroes.

During a short intermission I go check out KYNAN TAN and DEVON WARD’s unique sound installation, Co•–st•–l W•–ve Tr•–nsl•–tor. It’s emenating from two tall speakers, mounted on a floating raft in the quay. The stuttering, swooshing, fizzing and hissing sounds you hear are sonic translations of wave data gathered from buoys near Nauru, Manus and Christmas Islands. Natural phenomena, slowly becoming adulterated by climate change, encoded in a way to which our emotions are receptive - and standing in for the human distress signals we cannot, or will not, receive. It’s a great work.

Back up inside the Gardens, Ziggy Fatnowna (aka ZIGGY) is rearing to go. The local rapper is backed by a classic live combo: drums, bass, guitar and keys, all of which coalesce to create something impressively tight and tasteful yet thankfully, not too squeaky clean – tempering jazzy chops with a relaxed garage-band sensibility.

Anyway, the thing that grabs you first is Ziggy’s energy. He’s got charisma in spades, the presence of a consummate professional at a young age. The juggernaut of positive intensity bounces around the stage, never missing a beat across Kanye covers, freestyles over Kendrick grooves and his own instantly memorable originals.

His delivery is impeccable, his flow as rhythmically interesting as it is accessible. His rhymes – though occasionally predictible – are always convincing, and at their best they’re a grin-inducing treat. More important than any of these technical apsects though it’s Ziggy’s broader project: his songs are vessels for stories and experiences, historical truths and vivid polemics, from the voice of a young indigenous man. The tracks from the ‘Black Thoughts’ EP comprise a case in point, with title track rallying against indigenous youth incarceration. I wasn’t expecting to see a crowd both cheerfully boogying and chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ in thespace of a few minutes today, but it’s happening. ‘Black Face,’ decries white Australia’s shrugging or defensive attitude towards a recent incident in which a child went in blackface (as Nic Naitanui) to school book week.

Overall, Ziggy’s set is a stunning balancing act – between political diatribe and party music, frustration and celebration. It’s deeply personal, often highly specific in its critiques, but draws everyone in, which is no mean feat. Ziggy’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting hip hop acts to emerge from Perth in a while.

Elizabeth Quay might feel like a bit of a fake cultural hub. A Colin Barnett trophy to show off to visiting politicans, diplomats, business moguls and tourists, a site that appeared out of nowhere and which represents little of Perth’s grassroots arts scene. But like plants grow through concrete, today’s shown me that our town’s most authentic and motivated creatives are prepared to make the most of any space. Even if – as is the case with Aki Swati, Kynan Tan, Devon Ward and Ziggy – their narrative threatens to rub the hegemonic space-makers up the wrong way. And that’s a far more exciting a takeaway as I could’ve hoped for on a meandering Saturday afternoon.

LUCY PEACH - SILVER TONGUE (EP)

Andrew Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

PIKELET, ERASERS & RABBIT ISLAND @ EL GROTTO, THURSDAY NOV 3

Andrew Ryan

I don’t visit Scarborough much, and haven’t since I last went there to buy plants from Marjorie’s backyard (Marjorie sells plants from her backyard, and bric-a-brac from her garage, and sends the money to a school in Zimbabwe). Sometimes I pause, midway through a trip to or from some other destination northwards along the coast, and take a quick salty plunge. Certainly I’m not often here at night.

But a show at this new venue, El Grotto, has pulled me away from my cradle, on a Thursday night no less, and so I walk through the shadows of the Rendezous Hotel and the Giant Roundabout Clock, and into the Mexican-themed restaurant/bar.

Amber Fresh, aka RABBIT ISLAND slips onto stage as the grotto's patrons drink beer and chomp on gourmet hotdogs.

Moving between piano and guitar, she reanimates songs I've now heard dozens of times but never grow tired of. I think it's mainly because they're such good songs but also because the delivery is so honest every time, the music's core emotion so vividly rekindled. A pop song's lustre can dull if the hook is overplayed or the mood is wrong: Amber's songs seem to transcend such concerns. They're more like poems, they breathe and expand, their sensibilities shift with each iteration's emphasis and lilt, they shoot through their surroundings like soft lightning. It must be hard to deliver a tune like 'Adam's Song' in a boisterous beachside bar, singing a paean to human rights and equality, lamenting the injustices of the global economy and social subjugation. But Amber does it, serenely and fearlessly, transfixing whichever ears are prepared to pause their conversations listen. Joining in on drums is none other than Evelyn Morris - aka Pikelet - whose remarkable intuition and technical skill leads to a host of inventive, neatly interlocking accompaniments - despite being totally off the cuff.

Following in the wake of this dream team are another superlative duo, ERASERS. The pair originally hail from these Northern beachside communities so the setreads as a kind of peculiar homecoming, or at least a return to the landscape that must have partially informed their origins. It's not hard to imagine that their patient organ tones, misty vocals and undulating guitar lines are a kind of musical analogue for the long and sighing coastline or - equally - a kind of peaceful meditative salve to the antagonistic attitudes that peer-band Last Quokka sing about in their song 'Northern Suburbs.' In any case, their set is a characteristically beautiful commingling of warm synthetic and organic sounds, pushed ever-forward by polyrhythmic drum machine momentum, encouraging both dance energy and introspection.

As the night's unfurled, the dinner crowd has slowly waned and the attentive listener contingent seemingly swelled. It's amid a newfound atmosphere of anticipation that PIKELET moves to the stage although things are still pretty casual (what I failed to mention earlier is that the "stage" is styled as a comfortable bohemian lounge room, with lamps, old couches, pot plants and Persian-style carpets).

Pikelet begins by acknowledging the Noongar people as the traditional owners of the land on which the gig takes place, and that sovereignty was never ceded. The former point is well-known and can risk sounding trite without further elaboration, which is why the second clause is so potent: here we are, still on stolen land. It's a brief but crucial point of political context, of the sort which suffuses Pikelet's practice; everything is considered with regard to networks of representation and power, and creativity cannot (alas) occur in a vacuum.

The musical performance itself is a thrill to behold; a wild rube goldberg machine of synths, vocal and drum live-sampling, sequencers and sound-manipulation. There's 'One Structure Also Many,' whose rich arrangement emerges as if by magic, like a Mr Squiggle composition suddenly making sense - it's a very special jigsaw of a song. 'Dear Unimaginables' complements a kind of neo-Gershwin piano dream with ambiguous lyrics referencing ambiguity itself: "It is open, it is unwritten. It is always near, but never quite here." The high-pitched yearning towards the song's close is incredibly intense - "It feels so distant, what I want" - a vague universal given tremendous gravity by its brilliant delivery. The unsettling 5/8 of 'Interface Dystopia' is one of Pikelet's hardest-hitting polemics to date, offering the daunting question "can you remember the last time you had any fun without… interference from capitalist dystopia?" The feeling that the world is unavoidably tainted by failed and violent systems can be overwhelming, and is perfectly encapsulated in this singular track, which although devastating, ends on the comforting communality of the experience ("you're not the only one, you're not the only one who feels completely hopeless sometimes."). On a brighter note we get the Pikelet classic 'A Bunch,' offering heartfelt thanks and love to friends and fellow travellers in the weird adventure called life.

Rabbit Island, Erasers and Pikelet might make perfect sense as a lineup, but despite using some similar tools and effects, their respective musics aren't that similar. What really seems to bind them together is a shared, earnest belief in the positive power of music, and a vibrant empathetic streak to their craft: empathy with the landscape, empathy with other people. An openness to new ideas, and an aesthetic of warmth.

As I write, noted fear-mongering racist/misogynist/bad guy Donald J. Trump has just been elected President of the United States; "leader of the free world." Hate's got the popular vote, and we wait and pray and see where its tendrils extend. The world is an increasingly scary, mean place.

We need love, we need beauty. We need artists like Amber, Rupert, Rebecca and Evelyn more than ever.

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

Andrew Ryan

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

CAMP DOOGS @ SOMEWHERE NEAR HARVEY, OCT 7 - 9

Andrew Ryan

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

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

a boarded-up Witch-themed roadhouse

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

Meadows yellowed by capeweed, cows lazing in dense groups,

‘Versaci Soils,’
disco blaring

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Sunset]

[dusk]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the smooth track –

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

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

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

The night gushes on:

DEEP DOOGS, a flashing steamy gumbo cavity

the undulating selections of RIVER YARRA

and glow-sticks and rum

and the magnificent MORI RA

Eventually enough friends have succumbed to the night

And I slink out through the trees, over the creek

and I stomp through the dark with organiser doog Matt Acorn

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

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

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

[Saturday Morning. Grey light, pre-dawn]

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

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

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

A few hours later, the sun a little higher -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

those were some musical things that happened

but have I even begun to communicate

the smiling soul of camp doogs?

have I told you about:

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

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

IRL body-marbling?

the magic drag of ash baroque?

naked swimmers?

quesadillas?

tarot readings by the campfire?

club mate?

blisters?

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

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

the cows?

the purple flowers?

the yellow raincoats?

shaved heads kissing in the half-light?

the ferns?

the creaking branches?

the ludicrous chats?

the bushwalks?

the ominous slate-coloured clouds?

the glorious, finally emerging sun?

have I really told you about camp doogs?

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

Good doogs.

Photo credit: Eleni Battalis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

THE SONICS @ THE ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, TUESDAY SEPT 28

Andrew Ryan

(1)

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

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

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

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

(2)

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

(3)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

AKIOKA - RIGHT HERE (CS, POURING DREAM)

Andrew Ryan

Akioka has been one of my favourite local acts to see live in the past 12 months, and to my mind, maybe Perth’s greatest musical revelation in that time. Tess Darcey’s vocal contributions to Mei Saraswati and Phil Stroud’s live bands are indispensable, and her solo project (which also kind of operates as an AV duo with visual artist Amy Priemus, aka Dolphin Secrets) constitutes a unique and enthralling creative universe. It’s a sphere populated by warm drones, shimmering melodic shifts, ghostly vocal timbres. These things, bejewelled with synth and percussion psychedelia, haunting lyrics and warped organic forms. 

The only drawback was that during Akioka’s steady rise to local-favourite status, we didn’t have any “release” per se to latch onto (despite pretty consistent Soundcloud uploads). Call me old fashioned (garn!), but the former still feels relevant and important. It unifies compositions into a curated experience, demands consideration be paid to the flow and tonal interplay between tracks, coheres everything around artwork and text. 

So, when I found out Akioka had a tape coming out on Pouring Dream (run by Rupert and Rebecca of Erasers), I was rapt. And the other night when I was going to go out but anxiety got the better of me, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to instead run a bath, light some incense and cue up the calming tones of the two-track cassette; it’s called ‘Right Here’ and comes out on Saturday (Sept 24), launching at Highgate Continental.

The title track is up first, though “track” doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more of a minimalist concerto that plays out over eleven-and-a-bit magical minutes. First, a descending pentatonic scale played on gentle, raindrop synth. Then a meditative drone created by the slow, metronomic repetition of a single mallet on marimba. Vocal wisps float in and gather in the vague shape of a minor chord - mingling, undulating and suspending. Time passes differently while you listen. Everything moves both faster and slower than usual. The through-line is immersion - Akioka’s sounds become the place you’re in, making the title particularly apt. You’re finally jolted out of the trance when some of the sounds begin to play in reverse, leading you into the flip - ‘Light Up.’

Here, patient kalimba notes become the foundation for a loop laden with sweet choral vocals and low electronic feedback. Unexpected “lead” singing creeps in, tip-toeing over the dense hazy loop, gradually becoming subsumed by it. Again, there’s a hypnotic quality, but the machinations are less arcane: it’s easier now to witness the music changing, developing. Eventually the layers drop away, leaving only that first kalimba (but pitched down), and Darcey’s voice returns in a new key, spinning a folky melody in the open space, then re-tracing itself. Just as you’re fully submerged in this new section, it collides with the previous bed of loops, creating an eerie polytonality that would make Stravinsky proud. 

I’d thought that a two-track, minimally-produced cassette would be pretty easy to write about. Not so. I’ve listened to it about six times now and each time, I hear something totally different. Varied frequencies and nuances pop out, different rhythms seem to dominate, melodies “mean” different things. The sounds can come across as mournful, ecstatic, calm or foreboding. This speaks to the subtle complexity of Akioka’s approach, and also the cunning ambiguities she imbues. Like those MC Escher pictures that can be birds or fish, ‘Right Here’ changes dramatically depending on how you come at it, or where your focus falls. Rather than frustrating a resolution, this simply opens the music up to more compelling repeat listens - it’s generous in that way. The purple risographed cover designed by Dolphin Secrets is beautiful, too. Get your hands on a hard copy if you can, or enjoy the digital download. Either option guarantees poignantly disembodied music to enrich the physical and not-so-physical self.  

 

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

Andrew Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTCARD FROM THE NT #1 & NIMAS, AUGUST 6, 2016

Andrew Ryan

I’m writing from a 1960s era bungalow in Cossack in the Northern Territory, although for all intents and purposes I’m in Katherine, the biggest town for hours in all directions. 

This is the first time I’ve been to the Northern Territory. It has the predictably uncanny quality of seeming familiar, unmistakably Australia, while being a totally new world. The bungalow I’m in is dwarfed by the surrounding garden - hemmed in by a ring of towering coconut palms, and a thicket of gum trees, ferns, bright pink bougainvillea and mint-green succulents in hanging baskets. Plump geckos scurry constantly across the ceiling of the verandah, where the dog - Dook - likes to snooze, or watch trucks groan along the highway in the distance. A lone cane toad loiters in the backyard, not far from the petrol drum used to burn empty pizza boxes, left over from the Katherine film society’s monthly gathering. The house is a twenty-minute bike ride from town, so it’s undisturbed by the noise of civic activity. During the day, it is still and quiet. The soft hiss of breeze in the palm fronds, a rooster somewhere, the occasional car passing, Dook whimpering to be let inside or out.  

Three days ago I flew north from Perth. The Virgin flight offered the best snacks I’ve ever received on a plane. I wasn’t hungry but I ate them emphatically, out of a sense of cosmic obligation. Out the window, the almost cloudless sky below revealed the angular plots and rocky contours of the land. Lemon yellow rectangles (canola fields) giving way to mottled green-brown plains and rippling silver-terracotta land expanses I couldn’t begin to comprehend. 

Arriving in Darwin, I walked along the disembarking tunnel, in which no less than sixteen large posters announce that Dôme is now open. Taking a left turn at the gate, I see Dôme. It is huge, a single room as big as the house I grew up in. It is open twenty-four hours a day, all year round. A ceaseless, dizzying carousel of jet-lag lattés and freddo-froggacinos. 

Darwin is an unknown quantity in my mind. The unusually casual shuttle bus leads us into town, past banana fronds, frangipani boughs, concrete apartments and a young boy kicking his footy up a staircase. The streets are lined with tough, blocky buildings - stark grey brutalism and pastel-coloured panels weathered by years of monsoonal squalls. My hostel is on Mitchell Street - one of the main drags in town, dense with backpackers, pubs and unassuming restaurants. I slide my things into a dorm room cupboard, and set out to explore.

There’s the esplanade, a winding path overlooking semi-submerged trees (the mangroves) and outcrops of porcellanite, the tough ancient rock upon which (and from which) much of Darwin is built. Here, I watch the sun set, a ferocious gold-pink enveloping the bay. I wander past a row of gently glowing hotel lobbies, past Gaming Rooms and a central reptile aquarium called Crocosaurus Cove where you can enjoy a pleasant-sounding attraction called the Cage of Death. 

At another corner of the city centre I find a park encircled by festoon lights and caravans selling beer and food. This is the Darwin Festival Park. There’s a central ad-hoc enclosure called the Lighthouse: Peter Helliar’s voice is ringing out, making topical dad jokes about Netflix, Pokémon Go and activated almonds. I sip an ale in the garden of a playhouse, outside a place called Happy Yess that I’ve been told I should go to. I will, when I’m back in town. 

Looking at a Darwin Festival programme I suddenly realize I’ve arrived on the night of the NIMAs - the National Indigenous Music Awards. It’s already underway but, heck, it’s not every day you’re in Darwin for the NIMAs so I decide to make the half-hour walk to the Darwin Amphitheatre, in amongst the Botanical Gardens. This all sounds very scenic but I can’t confirm ‘cause I’m walking there in the dark, and can only see my boots on the footpath, and silhouettes of trees and buildings. Anyway, I know I’m heading in the right direction because every now and then a Larrakia man will walk past and say something like “going the the concert?” or “enjoy the show brother!” and I grin at the welcoming voices and the navigational reassurance. 

When I get to the amphitheatre I can hear clapping sticks and guitar and voices echoing across the hill; can see lights and vans and tall fences and grand, drooping trees. I buy my entry ticket from the box office donga. Suddenly, a group of first nations women are asking if I’d be kind enough to buy them tickets. I tell them honestly that I’ve just used the last of my cash, and won’t have enough coin in my bank account until tomorrow - still, it makes me wonder how far my generosity would have stretched, and pricks me with a reality check. Me, a whitefella from Perth - I get to enjoy the festivities of the National Indigenous Music Awards while local women with a more meaningful connection to these expressions are stuck outside. Should I have given one of these women my ticket? Maybe, probably, but if so then whom - or is that question just a cop-out anyway? I dunno. But that’s what happened. I said sorry I couldn’t help, the ladies expressed no hard feelings, and with a chest full of ambivalence I went inside.

Inside, the demographic does seem to reflect the culture the event’s celebrating, which is cool, if perhaps to be expected. I perch myself on a grassy knoll. Up in the dome is Stanley “Gawurra” Gaykamangu, who’s had a big year - in fact, he took out “Album of the Year” and “New Talent of the Year,” as well as best film clip and cover art, tonight. His music’s immediately carved out a singular position, with a sweeping tenor and sweet melodics driving at a distinctive intersection of traditional and contemporary styles (check out ‘Ratja Yaliyali’ for a case in point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZn9qjZep8U). Gawurra is soon joined by Chris Tamwoy, aka Magic Fingers, who brings his distinctive horizontal guitar technique to the fold - delivering a memorable, crystalline solo.

Soon there’s Shellie Morris, who can only be described as an Australian music legend, having played with everyone from Yothu Yindi and Warmup Band to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, John Cale, Ricki Lee Jones and Gilberto Gil. Tonight she puts her talents towards a rendition of Warumpi Band’s “My Island Home” (made famous in my childhood by Christine Anu), performed in Gumatj language. We hear from David Spry, whose reggae-informed, pristine-vocal driven songsmithy rings out clear, minimal and bold in the evening air. He’s joined by Morris in a rousing version of Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds are Burning,’ which elicits a dense chorus of voices singing along. 

As proceedings near their end, The Lonely Boys deliver a spritely and heavy version of reconciliatory classic ‘Blackfella, Whitefella,’ and the crowd is abuzz. 

The night’s not all celebration and party - indeed, the theme of this year’s NIMAs is ‘Protest.’ At various points throughout the night we’re reminded of words like shame, genocide, and the ongoing atrocities - particularly in the prison system - that sadly aren’t limited to the Don Dale detention facility. There’s even a protest outside the festival itself, arguing that a particular tribute award should not have been removed.  

So it is that I wend my way back to my hostel bunk with mixed feelings of inspiration and melancholy, but ultimately warmed by the night’s fiery spirit of resilience and creativity. I sleep in patches, woken routinely by the DJ spinning bangers on the balcony over the road. In the morning, I wander the streets some more before jumping in a ute and rolling down the Stuart Highway to Katherine. More soon. 

LONG BODY - 'HI VIBE' EP (GOOD COMPANY RECORDS)

Andrew Ryan

A friend on the internet recently asked the hivemind about words we use to describe the “essential but obscured aspect of something.” This sounds esoteric but it’s not; words like “essence,” “gist,” “thrust” “tone” and “mood” are commonplace to reference what’s at the heart of the thing, even if it’s not obvious on the surface. But I feel like there’s no word in English that quite does the same job as “vibe,” which is this kind of new-agey way of alluding to the fundamental quality of (and feeling instilled by) a thing. In 1893, during the western occult revival, Frank Earl Ormsby advised us to “receive all of the good vibrations that spirits can give” and in 1966 the Beach Boys assured us that an unnamed female was giving them good vibrations, too. We’ve internalised the idea of “the vibe,” to the point where it’s acceptable in an Australian court of law. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJuXIq7OazQ 

Perth duo Long Body (comprising Deni and Tim from Mental Powers) profess a ‘Hi Vibe’ when it comes to their debut EP. Does this mean the vibe is “high” as in, very positive? Or is it the vibe of a greeting - “Hi (hello), we’re Long Body” - or is it a reference to the Hi-Vibe fruit juice juicery in Chicago? All seem perfectly likely and not incompatible. In any case, there’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek embrace of that new agey vagueness, a sense of good-natured humour that infuses the EP and gives it its distinctive, er, “essential but obscured aspect.” And just like the EP’s physical release, this review comes later than it ought to, but the ‘Hi Vibe’ seems to be all about a leisurely world far away from deadlines, so I figure I’m reviewing it in the spirit that was intended.

Opener ‘On a Big Trip,’ is an undulating house number characterised by its fluffy hi-hats, its gooey bass notes, its languorous synth-piano and a staircase-shaped whistling melody line. Unashamedly cheery and wilfully summery, it’s a kind of beachside cruise made up of all synthetic sounds, so as to become a kind of hardware-heavy, studio simulacra of outdoorsy joy. Dusk begins in the final 30 seconds, as mangrove birds commence their evening warble and the jet ski is laid to rest.

A similar mood imbues ‘Fuzzy Logic,’ though it comes in lighter on the low-end, drifting at a downtempo pace, but still with that kind of vacationer aesthetic. A canned-sunshine soundtrack for a getaway that may or may not have ever happened. ‘Stay Vacation’ snorkels even deeper into the quirks of soft-rock / exotic house escapism, with finger clicks, funky guitar, incensed ambience and synth-vox burbling over a fat gated snare. Reflective closer ‘Endless Going’ pits a pseudo-gamelan rhythmic cycle against a sparse ascending bass line and warm, rounded percussion - a silvery shimmer on the horizon. 

As a listener I can sit back and just enjoy the beauty of this aurally lovely, well-crafted EP. As a writer I’m impelled to wonder about the duo’s conceptual agenda. Do Long Body simply want us to feel the carefree joys of a tropical holiday? Or - by foregrounding the electronic artifice of the way the mood’s been evoked - are they inviting us to question the implications of middle-class pina colada utopia? Fitting perhaps that in amongst the holiday-centric titles is ‘Fuzzy Logic,’ describing a system dealing with ‘degrees of truth,’ speaking to the way in which these breezy jams exist in a dialectic of sincerity and play, rather than being strictly earnest or jokey in their affect. Gone are the days of naivety when it comes to channeling international musics, or embracing globalism and travel as a kind of unifying dream. But “balearic” beat music seems to boast a singular appeal here and now, either because, or in spite of, its surface-level sunny simplicity. With 'Hi Vibe,' Long Body investigate this strange situation in a way that’s open-ended, artful, and incredibly fun.  

 

 

MILD HIGH CLUB - "SKIPTRACING" (Single)

Andrew Ryan

“Mild” isn’t an adjective that contemporary musicians typically aspire to, but there’s something in the zeitgeist that seems to be drawing us towards the smooth and moderate. You can detect it in the recent subcultural penchant for silken hip hop and r’n’b (see: Blood Orange, The Weeknd, Anderson Paak, Drake); buttery ambience and synth melodics (András, Sui Zhen, most vaporwave); and gently degraded, smooth-sailing indie rock that plumbs dad’s record collection (Mac Demarco, Real Estate, Kurt Vile, a million others). Esteemed homeboys Tame Impala kind of sit at the nexus of those distinct tendencies, moving ever further from their proto-metal-riffing origins towards lush and frictionless ear candy. 

You have to wonder why, since independent youth-oriented music post rock-and-roll has usually favoured the extreme, energetic and bombastic. Maybe as information overload reaches a fever pitch, music’s purpose shifts: towards offering a sense of calm, quietude, a return to innocence and straightforward pleasure. It’s worth noting that most of the artists I just cited are male, so maybe it’s got something to do with a cultural reassessment of masculinity and its presumed aggression, drawing on the sensitive stylistics of Prince, Michael Jackson and AM-radio soft rock. Female artists cresting parallel waves in the underground/mainstream junction - from Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna to FKA Twigs, Grimes, Pharmakon, Holly Herndon - have perhaps been more inclined toward the experimental, dissonant and fiendishly eclectic. Of course, these are massive generalisations and possibly totally wrong. I’m thinking out loud. I digress.

The point is that there’s a new single out from Alexander Brettin & his band of mellow men, collectively known as Mild High Club, based in Chicago and/or LA. Like Melbourne’s Totally Mild, they wear their easy-listening credentials as a badge of honour. That’s fine by me, and it’s nothing if not accurate - their music literally gives you a mild high. The song is called ‘Skiptracing,’ and it’s the title track from an album that’s coming out next month on Stones Throw Records. You might know Stones Throw as a hip hop/funky beats label, but with a slew of eclectic compilations, releases on the psychey ‘Circle Star’ imprint and collaborations with Leaving Records, their scope is constantly expanding. And why not? The common emphasis remains on fascination, fun, and soul. 

‘Skiptracing’ pretty much does skip, all the way through three-and-a-half minutes of retro-pop sleekness. It exudes a summery languor, with latin percussion overheard from the next street, gently warbling synth and smoothly harmonising guitar floating over a pleasantly jazzy progression. If you’ve ever listened to Steely Dan on a worn-out op-shop cassette while smoking a pipe in hammock, you’ve probably felt this feeling before. I’ve never done that, although I want to, but for now I’ve got Mild High Club, and it’ll tide me over nicely. 
 

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

Andrew Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

A CHAT WITH STREET ROLLER HOCKEY LEAGUE FOUNDER EAMONN LOUREY

Andrew Ryan

You’ve probably heard of the Street Roller Hockey League – Perth’s most unique, well-populated and funniest grass roots sports organisation. Certain disgruntled Bayswater residents have certainly heard of them – they’ve heard the sound of hockey sticks clacking at their Bayswater Bowls Club headquarters, and lodged complaints that have now left the league without a home. In light of recent developments, and to get a handle on the bigger picture, I sat down with SRHLfounder and tireless boss dog Eamonn Lourey.

Lyndon Blue: I guess first up I was hoping to get a bit more background on the SRHL, because from my point of view it just kind of appeared one day, but I’m sure there’s quite story in the origins. It’s pretty unique as far as sports leagues go, even as an organisation generally… Were there projects abroad that inspired you? Did the idea emerge fully-formed?

Eamonn Lourey: It’s interesting you say that – a lot of people mention that they had never heard of the league and then boom one day it’s all they can see in their newsfeed. It might be something to do with a Facebook algorithm but it’s likely just organic word of mouth through someone in one of your outer friendship circles rather than someone you are super tight with. I suppose it’s a pretty Perth thing in that sense. Looking back I wish I mapped which people or teams influenced the most people to join for further seasons. Would be interesting reading.

From day one, I’ve just tried to ensure everyone is having as much fun as possible. And then harnessing this energy and allowing everyone to become a walking billboard for the league.

But anyway the origin story goes like this.

In 2013 I was in my last year of Physiotherapy at uni. This year was all practical based in hospitals and rural towns. By the time I got to my final year I absolutely despised physio and I was looking for a distraction. The Street Roller Hockey League was that distraction.

I used to frequent a couple of op shops a week on the way home from these hospitals and/or rural towns. One day in May I found an ice hockey stick in Balcatta. It was only $5 so I purchased it for no reason other than it would be stupid not to buy it.

That weekend I went to Luna and watched Spring Breakers with my friend Craig. We got chatting pre-film and we found out we both had bought ice hockey sticks from op shops that week. We decided we should at least try to play a game. We told our mates and they were keen to join in. That turned into the Original 4 teams – the Dalkeith Ducks, Mosman Park Murderers, Cottesloe Street Sharks and Hamersley Rangers.

We then put it on Facebook, wrote a little spiel on SixThousand and another 6 teams joined in time for our first season. I like to thing drinking cheap wine and watching Spring Breakers on that wintry night in Leederville has influenced the league.

My main inspiration was my friends who had all quit sport after finishing school. They turned 18, got into uni, discovered Clubba and part-time jobs and organised sport was the first thing that fell away.

I personally think organised sport doesn’t work for Generation Y and Z. Our generation doesn’t want to commit to 2 trainings + 1 game at a scheduled time every week. If you choose to commit to organised sport you have to schedule your life around sport/recreation rather than sport/recreation around your life.

Loose/social/pickup sports like basketball or frisbee will continue to flourish in the future. Sports that are social and loose also tend to be non-competitive. Competitive sports are a drain once you hit a certain mindset. I believe encourages people to feel like they are part of a community.

Community has always been a major ethos in our league. For generation’s Y, Z and beyond, our main community is now in the virtual realm. But people still want the physical connection too.

I suppose the SRHL is either weird or groundbreaking in linking sport and the virtual community together. Currently there are 117 teams and you only get to play 12 of them per season. Despite only getting the chance to play 10% of teams in a season, people still feel a sense of connection with other players that they haven’t had the opportunity to play yet. I suppose it’s the online community that drives the entire organisations ‘culture’ for lack of a better word. When people meet up in the physical realm whether at a social event or at a game, they already feel connected to that person.

Other inspirations include the films The Warriors (the themed gangs repping their turf); Semi Pro (Will Ferrell as a owner/coach/captain/equipment manager/entertainment manager); Mighty Ducks trilogy (max 90s nostalgia). Another main inspiration of mine in all aspects of my life has been to do try and do things the complete opposite way society expects them to be done. This is true of the Street Roller Hockey League. I actively try to avoid making decisions that dinosaur traditional sporting organisations make.

And I’m also influenced by that Nick Allbrook article on Perth 2 years or so ago.

LB: I’m fascinated by how much it’s evidently grown. 117 teams is a hell of a lot, even if – as you say – they don’t all play each other. How surprised were you by the popularity? Do you think the decoupling of competition and routine with social sport is the main thing that’s drawn so many people in?

EL: To be honest, when I started the league I didn’t see it lasting more than a year before I moved onto my next project. Of the 10 first season teams, I knew 8 of them from various social and existing sporting circles. Our second season started in March of 2014. We had 27 teams sign up. The majority of these new teams were people I hadn’t met before. But often our circles were connected through various mutual friends who they had discovered the league through. It seems Perth only really needs the first two steps in the six degrees of separation theory.
So when random people started joining and becoming personally invested in the organisation I knew it had potential to thrive into the future. There are a number of reasons I think registrations have boomed.
First of all roller hockey is actually really fun to play. 95% of players have never played ice or inline hockey prior to joining the SRHL. It was a sport that was foreign to so many of us. Australian’s knowledge of hockey primarily relies on playing Bali copies of NHL games on our mod chip Playstation and the Mighty Ducks.
We all started at square one together i.e. no one really had a clue what they were doing. People brought their little prior knowledge on hockey and coupled it with loose tactics from other team based sports. And what resulted was sport in its rawest form. Everyone picked up the sport together but learnt how to play in a trial-and-error method.
It’s rare for people to pick up a sport as adults. It’s even rarer for adults to pick up a sport, have fun doing it and not get blown out of the water by experienced players.
Decoupling competition and routine are a major reason behind the league resonating with so many people. Other reasons that differ between the SRHL and other organised sports are…firstly, DIY team creation. For most sports in Australia, you sign up to an existing club. The club likely existed before you joined and will continue to exist after you retire. You have no control over your team name, jersey colours, song, branding, social media etc etc. Our model borrows from other social sports like mixed netball, where groups of friends start their own team. Starting aSRHL team requires both creativity and a DIY attitude. Teams base themselves in a suburb or locality of Perth and incorporate that suburb into an interesting team name. Teams often choose clever wordplay (Fremantle Cappuccino Strippers, Applecross Dressers, Innaloominati) or represent a local ‘tourist attraction’ (Wembley Food Courts, Swanbourne Nudists). Teams also design their own logo, jersey and backstory behind their franchise.The overarching idea behind this was to facilitate an increase in suburban identity – to get people interested in their neighbourhood and community again.
Secondly, structured skill development. A lot of people get disenfranchised with organised sport when there is exterior pressure on them to achieve a certain skill level to be able to play.In the SRHL, we place no emphasis on structured skill development. 96% of the SRHL have never played ice or inline hockey prior to joining. Player’s skill levels tend to progress at their own rate. The more hockey they play, the more confident they are and the better they get.
Third, tiered competition. Due to the loose nature of the league (teams can exist for 6 months to 3+ years), the SRHL doesn’t have divisions with relegation and promotion. As we are catering for a number of different skill levels, teams are pitted against competitors at or around their skill level. This ensures each and every game is safe, enjoyable and a tight contest between two evenly matched teams. Reducing one-sided scorelines also ensures maximum enjoyment.
Fourth, affordability. We charge $55 a season per player. This is remarkably cheaper than registration fees for any other sport. This fresh model of cheap, accessible and flexible sport has really resonated with Generation Y.

LB: Nice, makes sense, those points certainly resonate with me. I’ve always been pretty rubbish at sports but I love the camaraderie, the drama, the strategy and everything – plus those aesthetic things you mention like uniforms, songs, names and all. So the idea of giving people more autonomy over that stuff, and cultivating more emotional investment in one’s locale, is really appealing.
Speaking of location, though, it’s now well-known that you’ve encountered some road blocks lately. My understanding is that residential noise complaints – and a subsequent council decision – have led to the shutting down of your DIY concrete rink headquarters at Bayswater Bowls Club. Is there still hope of using that venue? How’s the search for alternative spaces going? I’m also wondering whether you see these recent development as a gloomy forecast re: support from the extended community.

EL: Yeah so originally the league started off by playing on underutilised and unloved public basketball courts and carparks. There seems to be a bit of taboo about rollerblading on basketball courts and we got kicked off some spots. It was ok as in the first few seasons there was only 10-20 games per weekend and we got find another spot. As the rego’s kept growing we were getting booted from 1 spot a weekend. We decided we would need our own facility or the league would die.
We spent a year and a half fundraising for our own rink. We raised $60K and laid a concrete slab on a disused bowls green at the Bayswater Bowls Club. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. The Bowls Club only had 48 bowlers and we had nowhere to call home. We gave them increased bar trade and a massive boost in membership and they gave us a purpose built spot to play.
We are the first street hockey league in Australia. So when we built the rink we went in blind. We had no prior Australian example or national sporting body to provide us advice on what to do. The international outdoor rink builders didn’t get back to us.
We received informal noise complaints early on and we attempted to mitigate them. Then the complaints were formalised and the council had to investigate. We breached the acceptable background limits of the Health Act 1977 4 times over 6 months. The Councillors called a special meeting 2 weeks ago now and hastily voted to shut us down until we can guarantee we could comply.
It was pretty disappointing as we tried as hard as possible to get the noise under control. The infringing noises were the sticks hitting the concrete, the stick hitting another stick when the puck is in contention and the puck hitting the boards. Verbal communication and cheering are exempt from the Noise Act.
We put conveyor belt and core flute on the outer surface of our rink, which reduced the puck on board noise. The other two noises are harder to modify as they are part of the everyday playing of the sport. We have hired a sound engineer to come up with some recommendations but it is likely that we will need to install a sound proof wall near the rink.

LB: As a final thought – any visions for the future of the league? Or future projects in general? Strikes me you’ve got the kind of brain where things are always brewing…

EL: Future visions for the league are an interesting one.

Long term our goal is to control our own venue. I’d like to theme it similar to a traditional bowls club but with sports and activities more in line with contemporary Australia. This could be hard to achieve though because councils don’t give land out willy nilly these days (as they did with bowls clubs back in the day). Every recreation facility has to be multi-purpose nowadays too.

In the short term, we are making plans to get more street hockey specific rinks dotted around Perth. Our soon to be legit strategic plan is to have 4 purpose built rinks that service their local community of both hockey players and general society. These 4 rinks would be based in the NE, NW, SE and SW corridors of Perth.

Depending on the week I spend between 20-40 hours on the admin side of theSRHL. At the moment this is all unpaid so between hockey and my actual job I don’t have much time to work on other projects.

My mind is definitely always brewing though. Most of my ideas are just silly puns for potential food trucks.

The scheme that has stuck with me since I turned 18 was opening a bar (who doesn’t have that dream though). If I was gifted a milli I would start an alt sports/music bar in Chinatown called Willy Chow Chow’s.

Wally Koochew was the the first VFL player of Asian descent. His father was Chinese and his mother was Norwegian. He was born and bred in Melbourne and turned out to be good at footy. The Carlton Football Club signed him up for about two seasons in the early 1900s. Apparently some Carlton FC members handed back their memberships as playing an Asian footballer was a blow to the White Australia Policy at the time.

As you can imagine he suffered a heap of racial taunts at games. Apparently one of his nicknames from other teams was Willy Chow Chow. Name a bar after him so we can remember our fucked past.

Someone should start an Australian history podcast (like The Dollop). Stories like these need to be told haha.

DAN O'CONNOR - IN/EX LP (TONE LIST)

Andrew Ryan

DAN O’CONNOR – IN/EX LP (TONE LIST)

There’s a new DIY record label for weird music in town, which is very good news, because they are pretty few and far between these days. This might be a reflection of the perceived dispensability of labels in the age of Bandcamp et al. But labels had already long since ceased to be a necessity when we had local leftfield music coming out on the likes of Grave New World, Meupe, Badminton Bandit. The beauty of small, artistic labels is that they foster a kind of sound-world; a curated trail of work (some familiar, some not) that you can follow or reliably return to. Though it’s early days, this is my expectation for TONE LIST – run by a small group of young composers and performers who’ve emerged from WAAPA’s experimental underbelly.

Notably, mind you, they omit that particular word – experimental – from their mission statement, instead professing a focus on “exploratory” music. It’s a subtle, but wise differentiation – the former term has all but ossified into a set of signifiers and brings to mind a particular aesthetic, which is self-defeating. Exploratory music could still be anything: and while any kind of arcane tinkering with uncertainty can pass as an experiment, exploration implies a wilful journey into the unknown, a concerted lunge at the blurry edges of the map.

I’ve been sent Tone List’s first ever release – Dan O’Connor’s “In/Ex” – to review. It’s the middle of the night, I’m eating some Cadbury Roses I was given yesterday, wondering how to appraise exploration. Is the traversal of unfamiliar territory an ends in itself? Novelty has its appeal, definitely, but it’s not a measure of success. A recording of my socks in a blender would be novel but so far I’ve had no bites from labels re: my Sock Destruction 3: Shredded Threads mixtape. So; here I am, sucking on a Hazelnut Whirl, feeling endlessly fascinated by music that flouts all convention – but wondering how assessment happens when that yardstick blows away in the wind. At the very least, it seems exploratory music works best when clarity of concept coincides with a genuinely interesting sonic outcome. Yeah, the “interest” can arise from formal novelty (against the backdrop of the musical canon) but also from the immanent aesthetics of the thing: the contours of timbre and pitch, the primal and/or cerebral attraction of rhythms, the eloquence of melody and harmony.

IN/EX boasts a magnificently simple, intriguing and clever unifying concept: each track is a trumpet improvisation performed with a single breath. As with most good concept-driven art, extraneous frills are forgone – so instead of titles per se, each track is just a number, “one” through “seventeen.” The scene is set – the tantalising question is, what will Dan do with his seventeen breaths?

“One” presents a rapid-fire collage of noise gossamer, air rushing at varying speeds and intensities through the brass, the occasional nip of tongue dampening the polychrome parade. “Two” begins with a pure, golden tone – a single note like a ray of sun – but eventually begins to crackle and splutter like a fading radio as you drive out past the hills. If you want you can read these tracks less as music and more as performance art, an intimate document of O’Connor’s strain as he desperately empties his lungs. But this would be to dismiss the qualities of the sounds in themselves, which I think would be a shame.

Listen closely and you begin to uncover an incredibly rich variation of tones, frequencies and, it seems, sentiments being exhaled from this one mouth into this one trumpet. That’s the bonzer thing about minimalism, I guess – and this is, at least, minimalistic in its orchestration – a chance to dig into the minutiae. I’m on my fourth listen through the 12-minute album and only now is it really starting to open up: pops, filtered sucks and blows, valve taps and slippery scales. Ghosts of tunes and the happy reclamation of performative detritus.

Most of these tracks are noise-oriented, eschewing melodic improvisation, and I’d like to hear more of the latter given that the note-oriented breaths – like “eleven” and “twelve” – are among the most fascinating. Mouth noise isn’t inherently more intriguing than notes, I don’t think, once you really get stuck in. Having said that, O’Connor is really good at creating compelling mouth noise, so – why not?

A few listens deep, and I feel remarkably connected to my senses. To my ears, and to the vibrations nearby. Am I going to crank Dan O’Connor’s “IN/EX” every morning while I cook my eggs? No; am I going to listen to it in the bath, or while jogging? You never know, but probably not. This is an album for dedicated listening, close attention, per an artwork in a gallery. Some people might suggest it’s not really music, mainly because there’s a tendency to romanticise the concept. “Music,” we’re told, is the soundtrack to our youth, our romances, our parties, that stuff we sing along to or that makes us want to do windmills with our hair. But music has also always been the close study of sound, an opportunity to get proximate with the raw materials that make up our heard landscape. It’s a chance to find out what our lungs and brain and fingers can do with a single breath, and to see what others may make of the irregular Rorscach blot that emerges. Here, seventeen unique and unrepeatable moments, crystal clear and bone-bare for your indefinite perusal.


IN/EX is coming out on June 14, 2016, in a limited edition of 100 CD-Rs with a 6-panel card gatefold sleeve with artwork by O’Connor.

http://www.tonelist.com.au/ 
https://tonelist.bandcamp.com/

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS @ RED HILL AUDITORIUM, WEDNESDAY MARCH 6

Andrew Ryan

My jaw dropped when I got the message. It really did drop, leaving my mouth wide open. I suspect an audible yelp escaped from it too. It said I could go see Nick Cave, provided I could write some words about it afterwards. Tickets I’d been coveting for months, unable to afford them, now falling squarely in my lap like a golden snowflake. The feeling was not too different from receiving one of those scam emails where the freshly orphaned prince of Ghana casually offers you a cut of $30 million. When something seems too good to be true, I guess it usually is. But this time I didn’t think twice, just pinched myself, ironed a shirt and started rolling North-East toward Red Hill.

‘Twenty minutes to half-an-hour’s drive from the CBD,’ the website had said. Two hours after setting off and with only the red glow of a hundred brake lights to look upon, I wondered if my luck hadn’t evaporated in a flash of mean irony. Was I getting a golden ticket only to burn it in a static procession of Suburus? The blue dot on the GPS sat still like a dead fly. I breathed deep and hoped for the best.

It took centuries, but the bottleneck cleared, dispersing blissfully, a headache after codeine. Home stretch. A big, freestanding LED sign – the sort the use to sign roadworks – read simply NICK CAVE, with a luminous arrow. Imagine being the sort of person who gets your name put on a roadworks sign. It’s crazy. We crawled up Red Hill, the dark slope festooned with eucalypts and punters.

From the top, the view is magic, a panorama of speckled orange light on a black plateau, a shy huddle of skyscrapers somewhere on the horizon. We tear our eyes away and spring towards the amphitheatre. Minutes later, the crowd’s chatter swells to a roar as members of The Bad Seeds filter into view.

Cave appears, cleanshaven, impeccably suited as is usual. He growls nonchalantly, cheekily, about photographers and things, before they slip unceremoniously into “We No Who U R” from this year’s ‘Push The Sky Away,’ released less than a month ago. It’s a contemplative, quietly chugging track with hints of contemporary electronic pop adorning vintage Cave balladry. This leads into the majestic “Jubilee Street” off the same record, a fantastic song about a prostitute written from the perspective of a distressed former John, flaunting lines like “these days I go down town in my tie and tails / I got a fetus on a leash.” As the song approaches its heady climax, Warren Ellis flings his guitar to the ground and begins to saw at his violin like a madman, his hair flailing like strands of smoke in a storm. More new efforts follow (“Wide Lovely Eyes” and the spectacular, slow-burn, Miley Cyrus-referencing “Higgs Boson Blues”) and it’s a good tactic, an early reminder that Cave’s songwriting prowess and the Bad Seeds’ gift for evocative accompaniment haven’t dwindled. I really think the “Push The Sky Away” songs are as good as any in the Bad Seeds’ catalogue, but inevitably the howls are louder when the set veers towards old favourites: “From Her To Eternity” is perfectly ferocious, loud, choking superbly on its own venom. Ghost-trainy spook anthem “Red Right Hand” is rendered flawlessly, bells and all, which is interesting, as most songs tonight get delivered with a degree of creative license or rustic, reckless approximation. This one is note-for-note reproduced from the record, and its thick pastiche-factor is all the better for it. It ends heavy, sending sparks into the air. But no relief just yet: the brooding, simmering “Stranger Than Kindness” (“That’s my favourite Bad Seeds song” announces Cave) the intense “Jack The Ripper” and psycho-garage hedonism of “Deanna” all follow in quick succession, enveloping the throng in a seething world of deviousness, violence, misery and adrenaline. Cave is ever-composed, audacious (clutching the hand of a audience-shoulder-mounted teenage girl for a whole song), with an austere swagger and faultless delivery. Ellis is all guts and wild abandon, while mainstays Ed Kuepper, Martyn Casey (“From Perth,” Cave reminds us), Barry Adamson, Conway Savage, Thomas Wylder and Jim Slavunos hold it down in that beautifully imperfect, intuitive, chameleon way as only the Bad Seeds can.

Piano-soaked slowness enters the equation (“Love Letter” and “Your Funeral, My Trial”) before the night’s opening act (traffic jam casualty), the legendary Mark Lanegan, joins Cave at the mic for “The Weeping Song.” Equally distressing classic, the Johnny-Cash endorsed “The Mercy Seat” provides an immense faux-closer, but they return: here comes the violent, vulgar, mythic “Stagger Lee,” and the simple, naked “Push The Sky Away” where uncharacteristically broad and vernacular lyrics float in a hazy pool of organ before disappearing over the horizon. Cave thanks the crowd with the grace of a gentleman, but doesn’t hang around to lap up the applause. The tireless musician, singer, songwriter and whatever-else is away, unseen, along with his brilliant, painterly, intoxicating band of unique and skewed geniuses. While numerous groups who’ve enjoyed decades of success refuse to rest on their laurels and keep recording and touring, few do it with the skill, the elegance, the vigour and the relevancy of The Bad Seeds. I feel I can say without fear of hyperbole that this is perhaps Australia’s greatest ever band; they’ve had the odd misstep, but their career as a whole snowballs into something magical and near-perfect. I’d never seen these guys before. I was prepared to be disappointed as a bunch of my musical heroes went through the motions. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I got one of the most accomplished yet human, thoughtful yet visceral rock shows I’ve ever seen. Sometimes things seem too good to be true, but they’re true anyway. This band’s steadfastness is unbelievable. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds will be with us ‘til kingdom come.

TIMOTHY NELSON INTERVIEW @ THE OXFORD HOTEL, LEEDERVILLE

Andrew Ryan

It’s Monday evening and the moon – round and golden – is hovering near the horizon. I forgot how long Oxford Street is. Finally, past cinemas, continental grocers and date palms I spy the hotel that shares the street’s name.

Inside, there’s a ginger fuzz bobbing in the middle distance that immediately betrays TIMOTHY NELSON’s whereabouts. The barman fetches us drinks: for Tim, an Irish cream ale, for me, an Italian pale lager. Looking for a spot to seat ourselves, Tim nods towards a winding staircase that leads to a sort of beshadowed conversation pit. “I like the darkness,” he offers cryptically. We head down into the pub-dungeon, and Tim starts telling me about a generic-coversongs-guy he saw at this very pub who brought a fiercely elaborate merch table, behind which was the singer’s name, stylised, emblazoned on an enormous banner.

[The following, not insubstantial transcript is abridged from an actual dialogue about five times as long; Tim likes to talk, and apparently I like to say “Yeah, yeah, cool” a whole lot].

Lyndon Blue: Do you have a banner?

Timothy Nelson: No, I’ve always wanted one though. That would be fucking awesome. I don’t think I’d bring out a banner for anything that wasn’t like, the Big Day Out.

LB: Any festival slots coming up?

TN: No.yeah, no.

LB: You kind of just have to be invited to those things don’t you – you can’t really orchestrate it.

TN: You can’t! Well, you can try, and you can think you’re orchestrating it. everyone’s like “yeah, we’re trying to get on the Big Day Out.” but everyone I’ve met whose played [that sort of show] has been like: yeah, we just kind of got an email.

LB: All very casual at that end.

TN: It is. I dunno. There’s like, two kinds of ‘leader of the band’ you can be. you can be “hot headed careerist,” like, we’ve gotta get this support, we’ve gotta go down that road. And you go through that phase, but then there’s the other one which is like: well, let’s try and make some cool music.

LB: Mellow out a bit and allow whatever happens to happen.

TN: And those two types of people, they hate each other. Cause when you’re the hot-headed guy, you hate bands that don’t knuckle down like you think you are. And when you’re the band that’s like, hey this is fun, you hate the people that are like, “ooh my career.”

LB: And now you’re the latter – you’ve mellowed out?

TN: At the moment. It depends. I think I did the hot headed thing, where I got more focused more on what gigs we were playing than the music we were playing.

LB: What have you got coming up?

TN: What have we got. we’re playing at the [WAM Song of the Year] Awards night. And doing a record with my new band, High Horse. Well, newish band. We’ve been around a couple of years now but we’re not on the internet which apparently means we don’t exist.

LB: Yep, it’s like a “Facebook relationship,” it makes it official.

TN: We’ve had reviewers come up to us at shows and say, “Who are you guys? We’ve tried to find you on Facebook and we can’t and it’s really fucking annoying! Do you have a website?” “No!” “Well then what am I supposed to – “ “I dunno, write about the gig?” I mean fuck! It’s like, the minute you pick up a guitar now: we need a Facebook page! And it’s.no! Because how many bands appear and shove their “brand” down your throat…? And then you finally see them in two years, and they’re shit, because they’ve spent two years on Facebook.

LB: It’s kind of the same as that “careerist” thing – always trying to promote, never writing a song.

TN: Yeah. It’s the guys in the band that taught me. When we first got together I was like, “I wanna have an album out in six months, and I wanna have a website, and I wanna have an ARIA.” Nah, I didn’t say that. But [since then] I figured I’m 22, I can be in as many bands as I want and they can all be different. people talk about being too young to settle down, I think that also counts for music. There’s people who say you should be in one band: “It sounds like you’re fucking around, you gotta focus.” I don’t want to do that! The other reason why High Horse has no online presence is because, to be honest, we still haven’t really. figured out our sound. We sort of wanted to do that gradually, without people paying attention.

LB: You were in New York recently, right? What were you doing there?

TN: Just bumming around.

LB: Bumming around?

TN: I’d never travelled before, I decided it was time to travel. I wanted to play shows, and then I got lazy, and didn’t book any shows.

LB: Yeah, I was under the impression it was a musical venture.

TN: Well I wrote some songs, while I was there, I mean everything’s a musical venture in some regard. It did get a bit weird not playing shows.

LB: How long did you go not playing a show?

TN: Well I mean I did an open mic while I was there.

LB: That’s enough: you’ve “played in New York”.

TN: And I played the piano. impulsively. to accompany a comedian. in LA. He’s in the Hangover movies? He’s not Zach Gilifinakis but he’s, he’s like the cop or whatever, he plays the small roles in all those movies. His routine is not really joke based, more about how he’s affiliated with Hollywood but on such a minor level. His jokes are really bizarre. He had these plants in the audience – like, a former child star, I forget who he was, got up with his missus on the stage and just started walking around talking with each other just to “throw him off” – and this woman behind us started yelling about eggplants. We’d seen fourteen acts that night with no break, so our brains were about to explode, and we were like “is this really happening?” ‘Cause we didn’t know they were plants. And he started singing half his jokes, just randomly, and there was a piano there, so I went up to it and did this cabaret theatrical thing and followed his jokes. We found out later that the other people were plants; I just did it because I thought that was “the thing.”

[Tim now tells me about travelling with fellow Infidel Luke Dux and wanting to kill him after four days, visiting Ardent Studios in Memphis and getting a tour by Jody Stephens of Big Star, and lots more stuff. It won’t all fit in here, but ask him about it and I’m sure he’ll fill you in. Tim’s bandmates from High Horse are upstairs, drinking pints and ordering pizza].

LB: So you guys [High Horse] are rehearsing up to record an. EP? Album?

TN: Not sure. We’ve got 15 or so songs – we’re just going to record everything, spend two days tracking every song we have. We’ll take that away and do overdubs and stuff over the summer. I kind of feel like there’s going to be at least two different sounding bands that come out of all that.

LB: Within the High Horse sessions? You could do a double album, a Speakerboxxx/Love Below kind of affair.

TN: Could do – well we’re considering doing an Infidels double album as well! We’ve also got two totally different new directions; simultaneously, with ten songs each.

LB: What would you say those directions are?

TN: One’s more earthy, more Jayhawks/Wilco/guitar-based. there’s even like, a You Am I flavour in there. the other one’s more piano: Supertramp, Elton John. with some kind of Beck vibe in there.

LB: Wow.

TN: All the bands!

LB: So Infidels recording coming up as well?

TN: Yeah, we’ve got a tour for a single in December, so we’re gonna record the single in late October. Then we’ve got three days at Poon’s Head in that little gooch between Christmas and New Years, so we’ll do some demos then.

LB: You’re playing the WAM Song of the Year show. You’ve been involved in quite a few song competitions, haven’t you?

TN: Yeah, I can’t resist them. They’re pretty cheap to enter.

LB: You seem to have a knack for winning them. Do you enjoy the competitive thrill?

TN: There’s not any competitive thrill! You press a button, you enter this competition, three months later you hear back. I dunno, I like the idea of. winning things [Laughs]. Music should never be a competition, but, seeing as it is, you might as well win it.

LB: Ha!

TN: I mean. it doesn’t mean anything, I haven’t got any massive hits, I’m not a big hit on the radio, the phone’s not exactly going off the hook. But competitions amongst it are a fun thing to. make me think I’m doing something?

LB: It’s nice to be recognised, by people who know what they’re talking about.

TN: Yeah, this “Unsigned Only” thing I got. I mean they wouldn’t tell me who judged my category, but they had all these celebrity judges, like Robert Smith, the Mountain Goats… Kenny Rodgers. who’s the bald chick who moans about the pope? Sinead O’Connor. Part of me likes to think maybe Robert Smith heard my song and said: “You know what?” [slams fist on table] – “life isn’t that bad.”

LB: Wipes off the lipstick and opens the blinds –

TN: “I’ve seen the ginger light!” [Both laugh]. I dunno, when you’re trying to get your band on radio, and you don’t, that’s the only feedback you get. But this is separate to all of that – not hype based, it’s just on what the songs are, and if someone decides your song is better than all those other songs – that’s awesome. Because whether it’s very deliberate or subconscious, when you write songs, you want someone to like your stuff. It’s not something you can pretend not to care about. The WAM one was the best because there was actually prizes involved [laughs].

LB: That’s recording, and money and –

TN: Recording, cash, you get a publishing deal, you get flown to Sydney to go to a conference which is like you and 10,000 other wankers talking about songwriting. it was called the Song Summit, the APRA Song Summit. It was really cool, Imogen Heap did a guest appearance. She was awesome. I love her.

LB: I was going to ask you about subject matter. you seem to gravitate towards the ‘love song’ thing.

TN: Well, I did [for debut album “I Know This Now.”] It’s hard not to because, to be honest, if you’re the kind of person that is inspired to write a song because you’re in love (which is kind of how it started), nothing else feels that.inspiring. Because it’s a big thing – even if it’s not a big thing, like who cares if that guy over there fell in love with that girl there – we don’t care but to them it’s a big thing. And people are like “aw you should write about.a sandwich! Or the state of the word!” You’re like, aw yeah, but you try to observe that and it’s not coming as naturally, whereas when I was writing those songs it just spilled, like I had to write that songs for my own. I dunno. just being a dickhead. Anyway, with that need to write those songs, the record was quite cohesive, all of that kind of ilk. Now anything goes, I’m writing about other stuff.

LB: What are you writing about, other than the love songs?

TN: Just life in general; figuring out what’s your place in the world.

LB: Travelling has an influence on that, I suppose?

TN: I actually wrote a song about New York before I went there, because I got really cynical about the idea that I would go to New York and get inspired. I came back from New York still liking the song, so I play it now – it’s called “New York You’ll Never Be Mine.” That’s all about feeling like you’re going through the motions of growing up, how your process of becoming a fully worked out person, everyone already knows what that process is. It’s not like you’re going through some unique way of growing up, you’re just ticking boxes everyone else has done, and when you know that, it’s kind of annoying. But. articulating what your song’s about, you always get it wrong. In interviews, it’s like “what’s this song about?” and “fuck, I didn’t plan for that.” I thought writing the song was me saying ‘that’ [points at an imaginary song] on the matter, y’know? It’s weird, I’m a better writer than a speaker, that’s for sure, I get myself in all sorts of trouble when I try to talk.

I like these in-person interviews better, though. When you’re typing you get all wankery, and you feel like it’s gotta be full of zingers, like quotes, like you have to sound like Leonard Cohen AND Bob Dylan. And then you read this wankery fucking thing and you’re like “well you just released a demo at the Norfolk! Why are you talking like that?”

The WAM Song Of The Year awards ceremony happens at the Fly By Night club on October 11. Performers include Timothy Nelson & The Infidels, Boom! Bap! Pow!, Yabu Band and KUčKA.

Timothy Nelson & The Infidels’ “I Know This Now” is out now.

ANTELOPE & ZEKS @ THE BIRD, SUNDAY SEPT 23

Andrew Ryan

The jungle of steel and brick rises high and steadies itself. All around, lights of pearly white and brash colour cling like barnacles to thick, dark pillars with chilly, winking spires. On the ground, where gravity prevails, people are weaving, scurrying, lazing, smoking, eating, laughing, complaining, flirting. A bloated television sends a twitchy glow through an amphitheatre. A jazz band slaps and toots in a grotto. I slip through, hunter’s hat askew, stalking something new.

I’m endlessly fond of this town, its streets, people, bands, eateries, grassy knolls, spritely birds, flowery hillside nooks. Yet for all its merits (not to mention its sprawl) the city remains small: tight-knit, incestuous, sometimes parochial. With few places to play and a non-abundance of heads devoted to any one weird pursuit, the same faces appear in the same places, week to week. This is no real predicament: familiarity becomes a home-town. Still, it does make discovering totally unfamiliar local soundmakers a rarity, compared to larger, denser metropolises where multiple scenes sprout and develop in discrete pockets.

Thus: my excitement upon encountering Perth musical acts for the first time. Acts I’ve not seen or even really heard – not because I’ve been disinterested, but because fate has hitherto opted to keep us apart. And now I ply the savanna, my boots kicking dust into the night’s first moonbeams, my goal in the middle-distance. “Ave!” bellows the feathery head, its beak opening wide, beckoning. I tumble in. Pronged horns float through the dark. I strike a match and follow.

Here is ANTELOPE, five legs moving swiftly and efficiently in tandem, or else, decisive counterpoint. Its overall gait mechanical and crisp, almost robotic, with every step carefully measured and placed; the precision, meanwhile, is dressed in a faint haze, a never overwhelming glow (the sort that flanks a candle’s flame, or spills through a cinema). As I near the beast, the cogs and pistons each take corporeal form: surprisingly, young men, clutching guitars, drum sticks, a sampler-box. No-one sings, but occasionally there is an uncharacteristically brusque burst of speech: “We’re Antelope, how the fuck are ya?”

Like most post-rock and math-rock bands, Antelope aren’t really a post-rock or math-rock band. They’re shooting for neither the atmospheric, quasi-orchestral style of the most assuredly “post” outfits, nor the neuron-slapping complexity and rhythmic volatility of those who warrant the “math” prefix. There are moments that err towards each, certainly; generally, though, this is an instrumental rock band that’s rooted in agile, taut and terse drumming, upon which “angular” guitar and bass formations are layered. Melodically, some tunes fall victim to a certain blandness, but towards the end of the set the whole game is lifted: focused riffs, muscular jigsaw rhythms, fierce dynamics. ANTELOPE are already great, and with time they will be awe-inspiring.

Further down the bird-gullet is a whirl of horse’s hair, venom and smoke. Distorted steel-string spikes clip along over tight, stark, protean beats. A violin bow chugs zealously. Lyrics are alternately barked, howled and coldly intoned. The aggregate grooves are heavy, but buoyant, and expertly delivered. This is ZEKS.

Zeks are clearly a punk band, in the true sense of the word. Sound-aesthetic aside, (it’s seething, but more “art rock” than “three-chord snot”) they make no secrets of their distaste for on-stage propriety, or of their political inclinations. Amid sticker slogans bluntly decrying capitalism and tattoos bemoaning cops come (generally) more nuanced lyrics; ones that vehemently recount and rail against injustices and corruptions. The themes (whether you subscribe to Zeks’ political angles or not) lend a sense of gravitas and urgency to the already arresting arrangements, which are brilliantly underpinned and driven by the immense drum-work of Katie Malajczuk. The admixture of intricate rhythm changes, heavy guitars and bleak vocals recalls early My Disco, or The Nation Blue; with the addition of violin, Baseball comes to mind. Ultimately, though, Zeks have forged quite a special little sonic niche for themselves – one that’s rich enough to keep quality songs flowing for a while yet, I’d venture. The flurry ends with a disco-punk throb, invoking hip and knee spasms throughout the room: appreciation relayed physically.

Back in dark damp world, the lingering echoes die away, traded for the squeak and sigh of train hydraulics. If tonight has a lesson, it’s to leave no stone unturned – so often, it seems, does a gem lay in wait underneath.

SEPTEMBER 2012 VIDEO CLIP REVIEWS

Andrew Ryan

The paths of live concert reviewing and audio-disk assessment are well trodden. The world of the video clip is one that’s constantly visited in our Youtube-centric times; and yet, it feels less often discussed. Is it? Is that just me? In any case, this week we turn our eyes and ears towards that medium that very consciously aims to tickle both.

KUCKA – “REWIND”
Director: Julia Ngeow
Producer: Steven Hughes
Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9TjgRlOEmg
I’ll be impressed if you’ve managed not to see this video to in the month or so it’s been circulating; such is its fiendish shareability. And when I say “impressed,” It’s more like confused disappointment. But not really. No judging here. But you should watch it. Definitely.

You enter Kucka’s wild world through a haze of smoke. Then you get your bearings: you’re in a graveyard, hemmed in by forest, lit by a fluorescent moon. The set’s charmingly hokey – echoes of Ed Wood films – but with great production values. Throw in some 2D cutouts and keenly choreographed weirdness and there’s a hint of that Mighty Boosh aesthetic at play – though the mood’s decidedly less farcical and more downright creepy. Key Kucka-ite Laura Lowther oscillates between glittery goth-doll and the ghost of sugar binges past (a harajuku cupcake figure adorned with icing, sprinkles, ice cream cones; especial credit must go to Zoe Trotman, costume designer). Jake Steele, meanwhile, is by turns a knitwear-clad clown and a dapper serenader with a steak for a face (yep). Percussionists Katie Campbell and Rosie Taylor become metallic cat-suited animé characters, oversized cartoon eyed frozen still. To what extent this imagery reflects the song’s lyrical content, I couldn’t say – any symbolism or narrative is, at best, obscure – it’s more of a visual flurry, a brain-unhinging array of oddities.

Does it work? This is an impressive clip by anyone’s standards. Its unsettling vibe compliments the eerie track nicely, and – what’s more – it sets Kucka apart from her contemporaries; there are virtually no ‘hip’ signifiers here, no fashions per se, more an expulsion of unique creative energies and nightmarish fabulations. It does well not to seem too forced in its generously applied quirk, but the impact of weirditude alone can’t sustain itself for a full five-and-a-half minutes, suggesting some narrative – or a slower unfurling of ideas – might have packed more punch.

FRANK OCEAN – “Pyramids”
Director: Nabil
Producer: Tara Navazi
Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s26qTrH2atA
Most of us met Frank Ocean as an enigmatic component of the OFWGKTA collective, a group of rappers and beatmakers whose respective talents were – for a long while – muffled by deafening roars of “SWAG!” and “GOLF WANG!” by teenagers in Supreme caps and satanic cat t-shirts. Not that the band have anyone but themselves to blame; the hype was solicited and a clear part of the Odd Future game plan. Still, all members have done well to stay on task, pushing themselves to explore new avenues in their respective careers. Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” is a case in point, and the video for ambitious ten-minute single “Pyramids” is a case-in-point-in-point.

As far as I can tell there’s been a small resurgence in the auteur-style, grandiose video clip lately, the sort that features an extended pre-song intro sequence and in its zealousness threatens to usurp the tune it accompanies (g’day Kanye, Grimes). “Pyramids” errs that way, with a moody introduction depicting Ocean guzzling absinthe and getting trigger happy a bar, between fragments of bleak NTSC colour screens. The ‘clip proper’ is a slow-burn, heady delirium of desert panoramas, slo-mo strip club sleaze, neon dizziness and general excess of Hunter S. Thompson proportions. The excess is musical, too – behold, an impromptu guitar solo by John Mayer who appears, phantasm-like, before a flickering sign. Or the outro, which audaciously interpolates another track (“End”) from Ocean’s album.

Yet the clip manages to completely sidestep the expected feelings of pretence and bombast. Maybe it’s the imagery’s ability to remain uncanny and oblique without dissolving into nonsense. Maybe it’s the sparse, desperate sound of the song itself, lending a deep melancholy to every shot. Maybe it’s the earnestness – never does Ocean seem smug about the grand production he’s partaking in, and even the unorthodox Mayer interlude is tasteful, restrained, honest. On top of all this, Ocean’s personal life – notably, his recent coming out – lends gravity to the sentiment, and lets the video’s ambivalent gender politics feel not-so-cheap.

But ultimately, what’s striking is that the “Pyramids” video never feels like MTV striving to be something more sophisticated. It simply feels like cinema or, dare I say it, ART. It doesn’t have to convince you that it’s worth your time and attention, and therein lies the key to its success. Meanwhile, it’s an odd video, almost a gruelling one, that reveals Ocean’s profound ambitions but offers no hints as to what he’ll do next. Intrigue is the word.

STILLWATER GIANTS – “Not Like the Others”
Director/Producer: Tay Kaka & Stillwater Giants
Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2sadnPO2Jo
With “Not Like the Others,” Perth beach-pop/indie-rock ensemble Stillwater Giants present a video that further establishes their penchant for cute, gently ‘alt’ girls in summery settings. Far be it from me to disparage such a preoccupation. This time, the gang are cruising through the desert in a rather magnificent aquamarine Ford E58 when they come across the hitch-hiker, portrayed by Una Alagic. Now – the anonymous, denim-cutoffs-wearing blonde eagerly jumping in the cool-ass car with the sunnies-wearing band could – in the wrong hands – be the a recipe for a hopelessly arrogant video concept, but thankfully, Stillwater Giants proceed with bountiful self-awareness and self-deprecation. Soon, we bear witness to each band member’s outrageous fantasy – in which our hitch-hiker reluctantly assumes the position of golf caddy, drunken prank victim, (more enthusiastically) fawned-over love interest, and finally, dominatrix. The BDSM scene, late in the piece, tips the scales towards “totally ridiculous,” and it’s a great moment. Fittingly, no guy gets the girl – but the girl gets the car, and MAN it really is a nice car.

The clip’s aesthetic has that instagrammy faux-vintage patina and inoffensive coastal vibe that will allow it to sneak into the “Recently Watched” playlist of youthful, Vitamin-D adoring hipsters. However, the cheekster aspect, the decidedly Australian lean towards dorky self-satire, counterposes that aesthetic nicely. In a climate where every second indie band thinks it’s the culmination of high-brow artistry, it’s nice to see this quartet not take itself too seriously.

DIRTY PROJECTORS – “Hi Custodian”
Director: David Longstreth
Producers: Mariko Munro & Devra Sari Zabot
Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vncbG-QJlng
As my friends and musical coworkers have inevitably discovered, I am a Dirty Projectors fanboy. I stubbornly wear the t-shirt I bought despite its undeniably nasty green colour. I rabidly defend against conversational claims that “Bitte Orca” might have been “too busy” or what-have-you. The point of telling you this is not to assert any kind of aficionado/expert status on the subject, but rather to lay bare my bias: I’m naturally inclined to give Dave Longstreth the benefit of the doubt, despite his indulgences, because the tunes have long since won me over as a loyalist.

So, of course, I was pretty excited in the lead-up to “Hi Custodian,” the Longstreth directed/conceived “short film” that forms a kind of audiovisual adjunct to recently released album “Swing Lo Magellan.” A short film, showcasing the unbridled artsy caprices of Dave Longstreth, whose many imaginings I’ve so keenly enjoyed, and showcasing new songs (often in slightly altered forms), which are among the best the group’s so far.

Maybe the high expectations underscored my eventual disappointment. But I can’t help feeling that “Hi Custodian” essentially misses the mark.

It misses “the mark” because, like Nic Naitanui in a field full of thousands of rapidly descending Sherrins, it doesn’t know which mark it’s actually going for. It’s not a “film” per se; the visuals are, without a doubt, accessory to the song-snippets. Unlike (for example) Animal Collective’s AV effort ODDSAC (2010), the visual and sound components weren’t created concurrently, so it plays out in music-video style. Meanwhile, it fails to fulfil the function of a good video clip (or string of video clips). The songs trip over each other and cut each other short, preventing you, the viewer, from ever really getting into a rhythm, or enjoying the songs (and these are very song-y songs) AS songs. In fact, if we must approximate its genre: the twenty-minute feature feels more like an extended trailer for an audio-visual album than anything else.

Before I get too bummed out, the positive aspects deserve a mention: Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography is stunning, the scenery is often sublime, the costumes, sets and makeup are commendable. The ideas – despite feeling disjointed – do kind of flow together in an awkward, “dream-like” sort of way (which is apparently what Longstreth was after) – and many of the scenarios (baroque bedrooms, futuristic waste dumps) have their own, often tongue-in-cheek charm. It’s also interesting to hear some of the tunes’ individual recorded tracks – like synth lines, or backing vocal harmony swells – in isolation. Sadly, all these excellent aspects just fuel the overall sense of wasted opportunity. A more rigorous approach, with a strong thematic thread, or a simple embracing of the video-clip format, could have made “Hi Custodian” something very special. Do I hate it? No, it’s an enjoyable curio. The real shame is that it could have been so much more.

JOE McKEE FAREWELL TO PERTH SHOW @ ELLINGTON JAZZ CLUB, MONDAY SEPTEMBER 10

Andrew Ryan

Through night buses, liquor stores and veggie patches, I snake towards the jazz club, the dark crisp edifice hemmed in by leaves and golden arches. The front door guides me into an unlit recess, black but for a square aperture to my right with a woman’s face in it. She looks up from her books and admits through the next door, where wooden tables loiter, little fire-tongues tasting the saxophone-laden air. The man in the waistcoat pours me a pint that seems bigger than a pint, and another man in another waistcoat proffers a plate of warm bread, gently steaming and edged with trimmings. Duke Ellington winks down at me from the adjacent wall.

A piano, a guitar, a microphone are reclining on a riser, basking in a tepid incandescence. They’re nonchalant; still quietly they hum with promise. After an uncertain, flaneuristic duration, RACHEL DEASE slides up like a specter and seats herself with an omnichord – a sort of lo-fi electronic autoharp – on her lap. She’s just returned from New York, a town lucky enough to bear witness to her ‘City of Shadows’ show; a song-cycle with string quartet based on 1940s crime scene photos from Sydney and Perth. Tonight peels away the embellishments and leaves Dease with only her analog gadget for company. It’s good company though. The omnichord leaks surprisingly rich 8-bit chords and exhales dusty drum machine patterns, and when its touch-plate is “strummed” it releases gilded, unfurling clouds of celestial pseudo-harp. Such is the minimal but compelling palette that backdrops Dease’s somber tunes: murder ballads, existential night terrors, surreal travelogues, wine-stained lovesick strains, including the Dease-penned theme to recent State Theatre show “It’s Cold Outside.” Fans of Beach House will appreciate the cocktail of steadfast drum machine, organ-seep and distant, almost pained, “masculine” vocals, though the tone here is far more Gothic and enigmatic. Amid the finely tuned originals come some well-placed covers: Band of Horses’ “The Funeral” (a version that exceeds the original, I’d venture, though props to horse-dudes for writing the thing) and a ‘mash-up’ rendering of 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love” and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Runaway.” For one person to command a room’s attention and imagination for the best part of an hour with a lone instrument and a voice is always impressive; what’s more, I find myself supposing I could listen to a recording of this set over and over. Luckily, Dease has a solo record in the works. I will be lining up eagerly when it arrives.

Rachael dissolves in a haze of smoke and loop-layered harmony, leaving the svelte and irreverent JOE MCKEE in her stead. There is no separating Joe’s personality from his musicality. He is a charmer – you can see it in the way he greets his friends, the way he orders a beer – and a mystery (which you can’t see, that’s why it’s a mystery). The man is composed and self-assured, but with a penchant for music’s capacity to unstitch wounds and expose maundering psychological chaos. My mind clicks and rewinds to 2006 – I was in high school – I bought Snowman’s debut, self-titled album from 78s. On the same day I watched the band play. I went on to listen to the record on an almost daily basis. It opened with a track called “The Black Tide” which, even then, felt more “Joe” than “Snowman” – languid strings billowed spookily over muddy guitar notes and distant horror movie dissonances, but the defining feature was Joe’s rich, haunting baritone, smoking itself through a 50s-crooner type melody. This aesthetic, albeit tempered by time, experience and refinement, his carried through to his solo album ‘Burning Boy’ – dense with unnerving beauty and blurry, filmic arrangements. Gently jazzy chords – major 7s and 6s, the odd 13, meet 60s folk fingerpicking patterns to evoke sepia water-lilies, but steely echo and stormy layered reverberations suggest they’re viewed in some kind of sinister slide projector scenario. Tonight Joe conjures all this with just Gretsch and looper, which is an impressive feat given the lush, orchestral quality of the textures on the album – it’s not a matter of simply looping riffs and harmony notes, but creating silvery strands of sound that seamlessly intermingle. All the while, Joe’s deep, breathy voice intones cryptic poetry that nevertheless recalls familiar, identifiable scenes (“Darling Hills […] I dream of your burning skin / from a foreign place”). His stage presence – which involves plenty of *off*stage presence and personal-space invasion, is by his own admission a little “surly” – but it creates a visual dynamic, a use of physical space, often lacking in solo performances. It pays off particularly when Joe finds his way to the Ellington’s piano in his final song and almost haphazardly tinkles out a beautiful counterpoint to a precarious, looping guitar motif; he then experiments with beating some nearby drum skins before returning to cut off the soundscape and say fare-thee-well. Farewell for the night, and for the next while – from here, he sets off again around the world, touring Europe and the USA. Joe McKee is an understated songwriter, who has never shown an interest in forging pop hits or immediate hooks. Tonight’s set, as well as his album, feel very much like a rich and nuanced “slow burn” – one that is sure to endure for years, slowly opening up, one treasure at a time.

We unglue our eyes and ears and bodies, spill out onto the footpath, and disperse. Tonight has been all about subtlety, quietude and space, but its continuous statement has been loud and profound: Rachael Dease and Joe McKee are two Perth performers who we can quite comfortably say are world class, be it with an ensemble or alone – and as they travel the world with their songs in tow, so the world begins to agree.

"ELVIS IN MY PELVIS" @ MOJOS BAR, SATURDAY SEPT 1

Andrew Ryan

Once upon a time, Elvis Aaron Presley ruled the world. Before The Beatles, it was Elvis, and before Elvis… that sort of pop pandemonium just didn’t exist. Television arrived just in time to broadcast this guy’s hips to the world: magical beacons of gyrating, erotic luminosity in glorious black and white. His voice was a treacle cascade influenced by gospel, blues, R&B (and far less hammy than decades of impersonators have led us to recall). And, unusually, here was a singer, front and centre, who was thrashing a guitar – iconifying the whole reckless rock ‘n’ roll THING. 2012 is a funny time, when those kinds of revolutions feel too recent to be ancient history, too distant to be palpably with us. And while some innovators (Brian Eno, Miles Davis, etceteraaaah) have totally maintained or even boosted their street cred as the years have worn on, Elvis has been increasingly perceived as a caricature of himself: a rear-view mirror dangler, a sequined costume option, a warbling husk with a towering mound of wax-black quiff. True, Elvis did himself no favours in this department; his countless films set him up as less musician, more all-round take-home commodity; his 70s jumpsuit might has well have been a sign dangling awkwardly from his neck reading “Hey guys! I’m now irrelevant!” (He needn’t have been). In any case, we tend to remember Elvis as a figure/figurine, a symbol of a zeitgeist, a little set of images. The really cool thing about tonight then, I guess, as I roll up on Mojos doorstep, is that there’s a gig happening that’s neither hallowed tribute nor silly spoof, but a mere nod to a man and his songs. This evening, bands and soloists are playing at the friendly Fremantle venue performing original sets spattered with Elvis covers.

“The King” is of course not only a symbol of red-blooded rock but also of his homeland, and fittingly, the night commences with a performer from the US of A. JEAN MARIE is from San Francisco, though there’s nothing parochial about her sound – it’s a pretty universal kind of subdued guitar-and-vocal affair, recalling at times, interestingly, Scottish songman Donovan Leitch. There are some beautiful hushed/soaring vocal moments, exposed and earnest, interspersed with some shakier ones – overall it’s a beguiling kind of unpretentious bedroom folk. There’s not much to vary it texturally, until a set of floor-bound, tuned bells played with the feet enter the equation (cool)! Marie dons a pair of ludicrous sunglasses and renders Presley’s “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” in her decidedly pared back style. Which, essentially, reveals the bare bones of the song in all their glimmering loveliness – it’s not a remarkable song in any technical sense, but the intensity of the sentiment, the bittersweet chord progression, remain totally potent.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the DIANAS in recent times, yet no amount of my describing them to you will ever really do them justice. The premise is pretty simple: 3-piece surf punk/garage pop, nodding vigorously and consistently at the 60s, with vocal harmonies all around. But in the wrong hands, that formula could be totally underwhelming. Meanwhile, the collective hand of these three has got some bona fide Midas shit going on. The songs are magnificently crafted; the playing is deft, though pleasantly rough around the edges. The harmonies are stellar, too, which is something sticks to your brain like glitter glue long after the set has ceased. And all of the above are lovingly translated into their Elvis cover (Devil in Disguise). Though bearing little stylistic resemblance to the original, Dianas do manage to conjure up the essence of the man – raucous flair and ice-cool abandon, with attention to detail and lashings of musical proficiency.

And as far as musical proficiency is concerned, few Perth bands have it in such spades as JAMES TEAGUE and his superbly rehearsed/dressed ensemble; even fewer balance it so well with tasteful arranging and adventurous tonal aesthetics. Also, James’ hair is incredible tonight. A nice wink at King-dom without getting naff. Very dainty. Good job lad. The band is utterly slick and slips almost inevitably through their abundance of quality songs, including the recently video-clipped “Strange Birds” and “Valley of Restraint” (in which Jake Chaloner manages to make his guitar sound like a whip cracking, somehow, speaking of lashings of musical proficiency. BOOM!)
They reinvent Elvis’ tunes with a keen ear: “Suspicious Minds” here falls effortlessly into the country-shuffle genre, while “All Shook Up” gets a similar treatment; “Love Me Tender” is reproduced as vintage solo-teague. Not wanting to neglect the true sound of Mr. Presley, however, Teague’s band spring a traditionally upbeat rockabilly version of “All Shook Up” on him at the set’s conclusion, which makes excellent jiving material and satiates the more purist punters in the room.

Purism is fun, but not exactly what the night’s all about. These songs, self-evident in their high level of quality, endure but don’t need to be accompanied by any kinds of sublime, pop-royalty auras. Elvis was plenty of things, some great, some downright gross, but too often do we ignore his downright excellent tunes and ultimately humble additions to the shape of modern music, in exchange for parody-type recollections of Elvis the Personality.™ This evening’s free from grandiose vibes, dense with gentle admiration and fun. Elvis may no longer rule the world of pop music, but plenty of the philosophies he made music by have visible and invisible legacies that follow us around, in entirely cool ways. Pelvic movements optional.