Five Bands To Watch: Perth
Hard to believe, but a lot of great music happens beyond Melbourne and Sydney. As part of a continuing series, Perth musician and identity PREDRAG DELIBASICH (aka Pex) tells us what bands we should be listening to from the “most isolated city in Australia”.
Almost 20 years ago I moved to Australia, landed in Perth and stayed here for good. Partly in search of better life and partly eager to hear more of the amazing Aussie music I was into at the time. I embraced this city, “The most isolated capital city in the world”, as it was known by losers then and now. I started getting involved in local music right away – as a spectator first, then later as musician and show organiser.
Back in 1993 almost every band here sounded like Metallica, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers or Stone Roses. It took years for Perth to develop some really good local acts. Or perhaps it was only in 2001 – the year I started playing music – when I opened my eyes and ears? In any case, 2006 seemed to be the moment when the Perth music scene peaked. As far as I’m concerned, we’re still riding that wave.
In 2006 it finally became okay for lots of people to see what once would’ve been considered “difficult listening” bands such as Abe Sada, Cease, Bamodi, Okioki and Mink Mussell Creek, who later developed into Tame Impala, Pond and Taco Leg.
The shows were everywhere – from small house parties to 100-odd capacity rooms that are no longer there, to major venues frequented by touring bands. Around this time, every band and its dog started using the internet to its full potential and shat on the old saying from the first paragraph. The physical distance was no longer an issue and you could’ve posted your musical “minutes” after it was recorded for the world to hear it. Also, it was (and still is, more or less) relatively easy to get shows in Perth and get paid for it. It was not until very recently that venues charged for hiring the room or for a sound person, meaning the bands could have their music out there and get some money along the way.
However, being good in Perth does not mean anybody around Australia would care about you. To get your name out there you either need money, luck or a good manager; and most of the time, all three. Here are four bands and a solo performer who I find real interesting and who deserve national worship. For these five acts there are at least another five equally as good, but these ones make my heart jump with joy.
A bastard son of Kitaro and Andreas Vollenweider, Crag McElhinney abandoned green fields of Scotland for the scorched plains of Western Australia years ago. Craig spent some time playing in post-whatever local band Eleventh He Reaches London and had guts to leave them when they were about to “make it”. He wanted something different and different it got when he decided he is better off as one man show. His debut album You and Me are Young and Brutal is one of the best debut solo albums ever released in Perth, Australia or anywhere else. Since then McElhinney got hyper-productive and released several equally great albums on different labels and in different formats.
Craig’s live performances see him use a 12-string acoustic guitar, sampler and whatever noise making gadgets he can get his hands on. Give him a Jew harp and tambourine and he will even make that sound amazing. I witnessed him playing and electric toy harp once and he made it weep gently.
Mental Powers are four young gentlemen in search of a perfect sound. As always, the result is equally important as the search itself; it’s the way they explore their musical abilities and possibilities that makes them stand out. None of them is a virtuoso, and yet they do sound mature, complex and hard to reproduce.
Mental Powers spent their early years getting to know each other, and during that time they had hit-and-miss performances. But ever since they released their first CD, and even more after the second album (the vinyl-only release HOMOH), they firmly established themselves as the ultimate party band for both body and mind. Often repetitive in a Kraut rock way and ritualistic in a non-hippy fashion, Mental Powers write and perform songs that to many may sound like improvised pieces, but are anything but. Their music is well-conceived, structured and executed to perfection, and there is only a little room for improvisation left. They are currently working on a new album.
This three-piece have already put out a self-titled album (2008), a split CD with Bariken from Japan, and have played Sydney and Melbourne several times. What makes them still exciting is that a year ago they changed their line-up (gone is the author of this article, replaced by a younger, more handsome shredding bassist William Hooper, a nephew of Brian Henry Hooper) and lifted their game. Considered by many a “noise punk band”, Bamodi are in reality a rock’n’roll act that make songs in the usual rock’n’roll way. What Minutemen would sound like in 2012 if they had Melt Banana’s Yasuko Onuki on vocals.
Speaking of vocals, singer Kenta McGrath has been described as “an angry cat”, “a menopausal Asian woman” and (personal favourite) a “Koran reading day at a special school”. But don’t let that fool you. McGrath’s voice is something to behold and it perfectly complements Bamodi’s music. Look out for new album, as well as split release/tour with Mekare Kare from Japan later in the year.
Astral Travel started around the same time as Bamodi and Mental Powers. They immediately acquired a cult status, but never went above it. The reasons could be many, but it may have something to do with the band members not taking their “career” seriously. They released an atrociously sounding 7” single a couple of years ago, and nothing since then. The rumour is that they will have a vinyl release before end of this year and surely it will serve the justice to this amazing band, and make them a household name in Australia.
It’s beautiful and complex pop music full of great hooks, vocal lines and often melancholic melodies. I’ve seen them perform live at least 10 times and almost always they were superb. They know how to work the arrangements to their advantage and make their songs sound extraordinary.
Loud and slow doom/drone has been done before in Perth by bands such as Abe Sada, Cease and Australia, but not as commercially successfully until Drowning Horse hit the stage a couple of years ago. Formed by a bunch of guys who replaced speed with smack and velocity with volume, these guys immediately took the throne for the loudest local band.
A cassette, split single and a couple of Melbourne shows later, Drowning Horse are about to release a massive sounding double vinyl LP on Heartless Robot sometimes in August. It was recently recorded at legendary local studios Bergerk and contains four dark, depressing and ominous songs. How this was created in happy and sunny Perth remains a mystery.
Recently my band (smRts) played a two-stage fundriser for local community radio. While we were setting up, Drowning Horse were playing on the stage next to ours. My two-year-old boy was with me and I wondered what his reaction to their music would be. They started loud and slow, but then the vocal from the darkest depths of hell kicked in. I reached for earmuffs, but could not find them. He was hypnotised and did not want to move away. I wonder if he will ever grow up to be a normal, tender and loving person or was his soul corrupted forever?
FIVE BANDS TO WATCH: Hobart
FIVE BANDS TO WATCH: Adelaide