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Review I Made about 7 years ago

Melbourne-based film production chaps Matt Richards and Jeremy Rouse spent four years documenting the independent Australian music scene on Super 8 film, thus the Super 8 Diaries. Feeling themselves to be witnessing a rash of creativity, the duo started turning up to Melbourne shows with old cameras and assembling a trove of performance footage. This ad hoc archive captures something of the scene at a very particular point: bands they went at with their lenses include My Disco, Colditz Glider, Baseball, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Tucker Bs, Aleks and the Ramps, Mukaizake and The Tigers. So it’s Melbourne via Perth and back again.

The band footage here is universally rewarding – the aesthetics of these old cameras and the ragged, gritty tones they bring often match up well with the tonalities of the bands and venues. The slightly dicky sound of the earlier performances is slowly corrected, the whole Super 8 team becoming more proficient at conveying the experience of a live set. My Disco is captured in its pre-LP days, sounding almost sloppy compared with their current precision-focused sets. Aleks and the Ramps are both gentle and violent, as is their wont. Colditz Glider edge, as they always did, close to the point of being utterly ridiculous my-time-signature’s-better-than-yours macho nonsense. Eddy Current and Mukaizake are the ‘straightest’ bands; Current with their infectious 4/4 antics, Mukaizake with their wonderful, sturdy take on mid-’90s US college rock (Archers of Loaf etc). All of this standing as, yes, a document of an era – although a question remains whether all of it is universally worth remembering.

More interesting/baffling/frustrating is the framework on which all this is hung. All the bands involved are interviewed, each contributing, perhaps unwittingly, to the self-mythologisation of Melbourne/Perth circa 2005. Matt and Jeremy also outline their motives in a to-camera interview on the disc. Precisely how much of their banter is after-the-fact analysis of what was initially a for-the-hell-of-it exercise is unclear, but it’s all presented in a fairly defensive manner. This is nowhere more evident than in consistent/persistent/insistent references to Australian Idol, the whole DVD thereby posited in some AusIdol-versus-AusIndie binary where bands, who are invariably asked to comment on the series, are expected to hang shit on the TV show. A number – most clearly My Disco and Love of Diagrams – refuse this bait. Others take it. Similarly, some bands are asked about the virtues of analogue against digital. While the very choice of the Super 8 – fetishised in the booklet via listings of equipment and film stock – suggests a decaying, besieged, harried community, buffeted by forces (Australian Idol, digital cameras) somewhere beyond the community itself.

Letting the music speak for itself might have been the wiser choice here. With the handy aid of the DVD menu, the viewer can skip all such jibber-jabber and go straight to the performance footage. It’s here that we see the worth of the entire project, freezing on celluloid (or DVD, whatever) a representative snapshot of this indie music thing in a particular time and place.

Review I Made about 7 years ago

“Well, here they all are – the bird, the bear, the rat, the rabbit and the man. All wide-eyed, all looking into the stormy sky…” So begins the spoken narrative interweaved through Death, Grand Salvo’s latest disc. The many humans in attendance tonight – three groups of them, downstairs, upstairs and onstage – are just as wide-eyed, just as diverse. All mature-like, seated in rows and holding glasses of wine and tea. (Very Sunday night. Very middle-class.) The old, the young, the weak, the weary and the beardy. Here they all are to hear Death played back to them in running order by Mr. Paddy Mann, usual harmonising sidekick Zoe Randell and a veritable supergroup of others – a sizable string section (including Biddy Connor on viola), Evelyn Morris on percussion, Laura Jean on backing vocals and some percussive help, Pete Cohen on double bass and Paddy’s brother Oliver on percussion, vocal and conducting duties. Paddy and Oliver’s dad is on narration, the gentle voice of storytelling authority, reading to us all in a bedside manner.

Paddy stands at front of stage, more by tradition than desire – he turns toward his chamber orchestra whenever vocals are not needed. It’s a well-delivered performance, self-effacing in Paddy’s usual way, his face obscured by his lustrous beard. It’s only at the end when he returns during an extended round of applause – to gratifyingly draw to a close an album many years in the making, one leapfrogged by The Temporal Wheel in 2005 – that his evident emotion for the turnout and quiet attention is revealed.

He needn’t be so surprised. He’s held in reverence, at least in Melbourne. And tonight he held a couple of hundred people in his hand, not only his acolytes, all through the sheer beauty of his songwriting vision. For such a performance is the best way to hear his latest work. Pieced together again, all its romanticism welling and fading in shared space, seated audience looking into the stormy sky.

Death is a children’s story, by genre. Which only means it’s an allegory involving animals. It has all the solemnity and dark humour of Paddy’s other songwriting, just channelled into the comforting narrative of those familiar picture-book co-ordinates. This is a particularly sad tale – I won’t ruin the ending, but to say people near me were emotionally drawn at the close of tonight’s story and music.


Review I Made about 7 years ago

As if aiming to blast away preconceptions, Melbourne’s Qua went straight for the big beats in his fresh Golden Plains set. Not ‘big beat’ per se – more DJ Shadow and Four Tet than Fatboy Slim – but comparatively large beats for this genius of the microtone and the deliciously delivered stuttering computer error. There were recognisable samples of actual drums and the addition of a drummer paddling an electronic drum kit. All of which Qua has toyed with before, but never to this extent. A set of largely new material, previewing his new record out later this year, it was recognisably Qua, but headed in a different direction.

The trademark Qua denseness is still there. He strings melodies along unexpected lines, pushing them longer and longer before letting them double back over. His rhythms cross one another with dizzying regularity – he’s never going to lay-down the straight 4/4 beat end-to-end, as some in the audience would’ve liked.

This was an ambitious slot for him, second act on – the audience still easing drinks into the cup-holders of their Campmaster chairs – and some weren’t quite ready for the glowing mesh of sounds. But, any time of day, it’s a wonderful thing Qua has going. It just takes patience and the inclination to navigate through the thicket of ideas and sounds.

Jane Badler & Sir

Review I Made about 7 years ago

Context is everything. Perhaps this semi-serious union of Jane Badler’s vamping, sex-obsessed chanteuse and Sir's gliding ballader backing makes sense in the right nightime surroundings. Perhaps. At a Golden Plains fairly baking in midday sun, all the rollicking seemed a little embarrassing, a little too much play acting, and, mostly, a little too heavy on the sexual innuendo; standard-issue sex metaphors were mixed and tangled to no effect. This is also the site, after all, of a yearly co-ed nude race. There be no inhibitions here. Your titillating taboo breaking carries no shock here, verily a place of ogling, boozing and danceflooring.

Where Sir have long had the waft of low-down sex and sleaze, the relentless assault of adultery tales and sub-Gainsbourg, sub-Hayes naughtiness of the new deal felt a little too obvious, a little too un-coy. What's more, playing the coquette at the second day of a festival – which had already hosted the much more successful soul-funk experience of Sharon Jones and her wonderful band – felt a touch, well, lame. The sly fnar fnar charge of the whole ruse was diffused by the heat, sun and the fact Jones had already unblocked sexual neuroses the night before, the whole tented place much less uptight than when festival gates had opened. One representative section of duet repartee about a saucy dress and being held captive was about as erotic as a boiled cabbage. This lack of spark between the male and female co-leads made the thing largely unconvincing.

The pairing, bemusing on paper, of a moderately successful US actor and a moderately successful Australian indie band was either going to elevate both participants, or not. Subsequent appearances may prove otherwise, but this first flush was a disappointment. The appendageless Sir cut a finer figure.

The Vines

Review I Made about 7 years ago

The Vines fittingly ended their set at Golden Plains with a song called 'Fuck the World'. Laced with some intention of a vulgar political anarchism – fuck the government, fuck the police and fuck war, the sentiments went – its central refrain (“fuck the world”) disavowed any positive political program to, instead, highlight Craig Nicholls' utter alienation. This compelling, sad spectacle of ongoing angst seems the only magnet for the crowd: the rest of the set treaded the same alienated territory, in either lyrical content or general disposition.

Between song banter included an uncomfortable number of spiteful references to playing their breakthrough single 'Get Free', a plug for the album “because the record company told me to” and a baffling story about throwing bottles of water at homeless people. Nicholls' accent throughout all this veered violently from continent to continent. We also got the expected, obligatory guitar smashing antics during the closing song. A section of hardcore fans moshed and crowd surfed through the set, but a far larger ring of people outside of that looked on bemused/amused from their deckchairs and assorted drinking positions. Most were probably trying to understand the band’s place on the line-up – perhaps holding out for some new direction.

And yet the new material seemed of a piece with earlier stuff – sub-Oasis “psychedelic” ballads ("Vision Valley") alternating with trashy, boxy grunge. There were guitar tones here unheard since some of the finest Smashing Pumpkins covers were last bashed out – through music room Peavey amps, no less – at high schools across the land. Nicholls played along in his cartoonish rock star fashion, all bratty swagger and insouciance. The band, unrecognisable from previous appearances, came dressed in a pre-packaged set of Los Angeles ensembles (tailoring by Slash) – a Hendrix-style bandana, purple velvet and leather jackets, top hats etc. The light show was from the Las Vegas school. There was a lot going on – and the audience got its expected trainwreck from Nicholls – but none of it was to do with the music.

Review I Made about 7 years ago

Mess+Noise’s favourite sons blithely wandered onto the BDO’s main stage, the outsize logo and spreadeagle backdrop belying such humble hometown airs. They were fixed, today, with a mid-afternoon slot in which to offer up their synthy melodrama. Similar to their Meredith appearance in timing and role as genre-jumbler (i.e. breaking up the rock), they seemed rather more torn today about who they wanted to be: acceptable outcrop of 2005’s fading dance-rock fusion or 80s-rock mining balladeers. Playing to this many skate-shoed and Cronulla-caped audience members, they lent heavily on the rock in the first half before settling into some dancier material later on. One particularly windy synth section – and not as in woodwind – echoed something from the more troubling, less subtle end of the 80s soundtrack oeuvre. Any future marriage along these lines could be truly horrifying.

Their dual tendency to rock and/or dance, coming at this juncture, suggests an impending decision about their future direction. It’s a fine line between irony and unsmirking embrace – this, like fellow crossover hipster Muscles, is an act that started as something of a lark, after all. But where Muscles gives it his all – up to, and including, the point of sounding like gravel-throated grunge never went away – Jugs, at least vocally, hold back. On a day when the weepy vocal tones of The Cure’s Robert Smith continued to ring out (see Cut Off Your Hands, Faker etc), the somewhat cold vocal delivery of the Juggernauts was one of their stronger links to their house-rock past. That aside, the Big Day Out set, in front of thousands of people, felt more like an embrace; the vocals, too, belying some growing ambitions.

It was a set unfortunately marred by some odd acoustics – depending on where you stood, the set variously sounded like a fudge-coated bassfeast or a glass chandelier breaking on your head. Such are the perils of the main stage.

Review I Made about 7 years ago

Oh, this is tough. A good eleven hours before or after they’d like to be playing, Dunedin (that’s in New Zealand) residents Die! Die! Die! take to the stage at 11am. That’s first on. The sun’s searing a scattered ring of reserved early comers, storing energy and applause for later. The PA, too, is just warming up, its kinks being ironed out as the art-punk set presses on, inexorably.

Battling such contingencies, Die! Die! Die! plunge unabashedly into their songs – and the audience. Following this Kiwi trio are apocryphal stories of booze battered sets at small clubs, band members roaming through the reverential crowd. At the Big Day Out, an unusually high stage and a mosh barrier don’t deter them from this pursuit and/or gimmick.

Try as they might – indeed, must – in the face of an audience easing into the day like grandpa into slippers, these barrier excursions don’t quite cover the musical gap. It’s as if, like a schizophrenic losing track of what’s reality and what’s metaphor, they figure they must confront the audience physically rather than aesthetically, lyrically, rhetorically or musically.

These boys sure can wail and summon up some bluster, but I’m not quite sure what any of it means. On a day when leftist politics is virtually unavoidable at the festival – Anti-Flag, Billy Bragg, Brotha Black, Nightwatchmen, Rage Against the Machine, Dizzee Rascal, Bjork’s dedication of “Declare Independence” to our long suffering indigenous community, even Arcade Fire’s fumbled attempts at political commentary – the purported radical edge of Die! Die! Die! seems either wilfully obscured or just missing in action. “Don’t rub your eyes/Don’t rub your eyes” is the only couplet that stuck.

Review I Made about 7 years ago

This dependable Melbourne duo – keyboards/synth/laptop/tambourine and drums – filled the Boiler Room’s brunch slot, a time set aside for nominally dancey acts with subtler qualities. It’s the same slot and role that people like Decoder Ring have filled before. In this case, with Mountains, the Boiler dwellers get psychedelic and IDM melodies riding over a rhythmic strut of live big beat, breakbeat and hip hop drumming.

Their virtue in this setting is that they favour bold beats and heavy drum tones, putting them in the orbit of the day’s predominantly rock & roll sounds; it works for the same reason DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, say, was such a crossover favourite. Nevertheless, they’re dealing with a seated audience today, their strong performance garnering periodic breakouts of shoulder dancing and nodding heads. The big beat payoffs are usually brief – hence why they’re on early rather than late – and their tendency to drift through merely pretty, if excellently produced, sections is more of an asset than curse in this relaxed setting.

The visuals today – big screens with cameras catching the action usually hidden by a stack of keyboards – also make their set more engaging than it can be in indie clubs. Even though they have no trouble holding an audience, they’re still missing the hook of a killer song.

Review I Made about 7 years ago

Melbourne’s Little Red accrued a large following through a residency at the Tote earlier this year – a following influential enough to land them this lunchtime Meredith slot. Given the task, by implication, of putting the crowd in a jovial mood for the afternoon to come, this bunch of joyful youngsters burst onto stage with enviable, knock-kneed enthusiasm. Mining the 1960s for some of its signature sounds, Little Red find inspiration in the past and offer their audiences a portal to some mythical simpler times – the lyrics reference being ‘down on the block’ and tell of the electric jolt of hand-holding at a dance. Made up in op-shop suits and clambering somewhat awkwardly around each other – all gangly limbs and here-we-are zest – they make it their earnest task to let all comers have a good time. They largely succeeded, impressing many who had never even heard of them.

None embody this feelgood task more than their beaming drummer; he acted like he’d found the audience’s stash of happy pills, ingested them all and radiated the effects back to them in an unending smile. This was of some concern (“how does one man stay so resolutely happy?” “what’s he hiding?” etc), but partly of a piece with their bubblegum soul and Merseybeat inspiration. Of more concern was his choose-your-own-adventure approach to rhythm – kick patterns were on shuffle, snare hits fell whenever it seemed roundabout time for one. This gave their set a slightly sloppy feel despite impeccable harmonies and a generally impressive suite of retrofitted songs. Their genial presence and consequent audience goodwill can carry them far, but the addition of tight playing will carry them much, much further.

Review I Made about 7 years ago

Sleazy and slinky in the diffused Saturday morning light, The Devastations were surprisingly well suited to the allotted pre-midday Meredith slot. Their brand of humid melodrama – and their signature morning-after celebrations, commiserations and commemorations of the night before – perfectly fitted the grey and sodden weather.

‘Black Ice’ veritably shook the remnant sleepers from their tents, the lot of them bursting zips and rolling down the hill as the bass line writhed up the amphitheatre. With phenomenal volume, the rockers ‘Rosa’ and ‘Mistakes’ pitted weary coffee-line heads against screaming guitar sections, and tom-pounding against camping-chair complacency. ‘Pest’ lifted the crowd from their eucalypt-lined setting, replanting them in the Hungarian capital, locating them among the “lower ranks” wandering the Danube and mumbling promises that “things will be different from now on.” Likewise, Devastations are a different band to the one that left these shores pre-Yes, U. They’re a better band, finding their own sound – sultry, assured – in the process of their European transplantation.


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