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Melbourne’s absolutely miserable weather might have accounted for the relatively thin crowd that congregated for what was a strong and diverse line-up of local and interstate noisemakers. The only other reason could have been the reputation The Empress still has as a venue that does not tolerate the kind of extremes of volume associated with tonight’s artists, or the Sabbatical record label that brought them together. It’s not their fault, of course. They’ve been struggling with noise complaints for years now.
Eko Eko Azarak eased listeners into the evening with a deceptive calm. Clad in her trademark black velvet hooded cape, Emma Albury explored the mantra-like repetition of devotional music. With a very minimal choice of instruments, effects pedals and vocal chants she created droning loops that conjured the ceremonial music of several denominations, without being too specific in her references. As she layered voice, flute and bowed saw over the top, the trance-like swirl gradually mutated. The effect was one of time slowing down and thought ceasing. Whether this blankness of mind leads to the bliss of nirvana or a glass of poisoned Kool-Aid was a question deliberately left open.
Evolving ever onward, David Coen has expanded his Ivens project to include a bass player. The pair played a fast-paced and brutal mix of hip-hop and hardcore that quickly brought worried bar staff running, db-meter in hand. The stage could not contain the performers, and the two faced off on the floor, gladiator style. Harsh beats, glitchy electronics and rapid-fire raps blended with jerky, precise string-pummelling bass riffs, that occasionally recalled the full-frontal attack of Big Black’s Dave Riley at his pulverising best.
True Radical Miracle had their work cut out to up the ante after this. Having laid waste to the Melbourne Town Hall at the Overground festival in May, the band seemed revitalised and ready to pounce. On this occasion they benefited from a sympathetic mix by Sabbatical’s house engineer Marcus Cook, who kept the volume acceptable to the local wowsers, without sacrificing the force that TRM are notorious for. As Evelyn Morris beat the bejesus out of her drums, guitarist Scott O’Hara and bassist Leith Thomas lurched around the stage like gravediggers with St Vitus’ Dance. Towering above, mild-mannered art teacher Mark Groves transformed into a psychotic fundamentalist preacher straight out of a Flannery O’Connor novel. Only, he wasn’t selling salvation, but berating the audience with tales of suburban nihilism.
The dystopian vibe was brought to a head with Cured Pink. This was solo performer Andrew McLellan’s first show in Melbourne in support of his new cassette on Sabbatical. Hailing from Brisbane, he stems from the same scene that has produced such dark and powerful acts as AXXONN and No Anchor. Lean and clad in a disintegrating grey t-shirt and engineer’s boots, McLellan stomped on large rusty pieces of sheet metal for percussion, or hit them with the head of his three-stringed bass. Over this pounding industrial chaos – amplified and fed through a number of effects pedals – he yelled indecipherable lyrics that conveyed bleakness and angst.
Metal bolts taped to the soles of his boots intensified the clanking din, as did another piece of metal shoved between the strings and pick-ups of his instrument. The cheap bass guitar kept visibly disintegrating under this punishment. A tuning peg flew across the stage, but McLellan was oblivious, caught in the moment of creation. The set was cut short, but in a way it only enhanced the impact. As Cured Pink’s set varies from gig to gig – depending on collaborators, equipment and mood – his future shows are unmissable for serious noise fiends.
by René Schaefer
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