Tuesday, November 27, 2012



Any thoughts you might have to 'come inside for a drink in the historic Argus Building' as the sign outside Where?House states (“ooh lovely, I’ll bring mum!” says one), are banished swiftly by the  abrasive sounds jarring off the concrete walls echoing from inside and the hundreds of joyous punters, many released from exams and contemplating summer.

So much care has gone into this Where?House, it's provisions, it’s events and the lineup, that this is more like a ten-day festival than a mere temporary venue.

The juvenile percussion-fest of No Zu is at once colourful, danceable and full of gestures to Afro, Caribbean and funk. Their use of delay and copious bongo is reminiscent of pop’s first embrace of ‘world’ music in the early 80s, and they get the crowd moving in no time. Wild timbale and synth jams are anchored by some of the tightest basslines since Gang of Four’s Entertainment! Songs feature everything and the kitchen sink from beginning to end, hampering some of the intricacies, no one cares and everyone dances.

Without any warning at all, and before a crowd that must be nudging 800, Lost Animal bassist Shags Chamberlain walks on stage wearing a vinyl jacket, a grubby Bruce Lee t-shirt, a pair of jocks and a devil-may-care attitude. Though the raw, animal sensuality exuding from this hirsute beanpole of a man is almost palpable; somehow, the music becomes the focus of attention. Opening with Don’t Litter, singer Jarred Quarrell is instantly fired up. Not just because that’s his usual state when spitting and sneering his way through a set, but also because this concrete bunker is geared up more for the bass thud of a rave rather than the complex combination of synth percussion, programmed drums and melody lines. Between every song he barks instructions to the sound engineer. Regardless, the crowd is hooked. New song Do the Jerk sounds even more tense and misanthropic than its more famous counterparts, while formidable closer Lose the Baby has lost none of its power.

From such aggression and incisive intellect we move to the equally fascinating Oliver Tank, a bashful bedroom sonic electro wizard who creates tiny universes of warm intimate and reversed compressed clicks. Based in Sydney though sounding like he lives in the attic of a house shared by The Postal Service, múm and a rampant pothead, Tank knows a lot about making a mood. The dry ice and projections against the concrete roof is reminiscent of a rave in slow motion. Almost all of his songs are about dreams and rely on repeated motifs and cyclical lyrics, bar the burst of Drop it Like It’s Hot, which sends arms in the air, girls on the shoulders of boyfriends and everyone nuts. The whole gig feels like a movement as songs segue into each other, but, amazingly, for music this gentle and intimate, the crowd react like it’s a Big Day Out, once or twice even bringing a smile from behind Tank’s dangling fringe.

Friday, November 23, 2012


North Melbourne Town Hall

Twenty years in any industry is an achievement. Twenty years in the Australian music industry is Herculean. That it's been done by focusing on defiantly uncommercial music speaks to the passion Chapter Music honchos Guy Blackman and Ben O'Connor have for music that is both distinctly Australian, and yet ignored by most of Australia. Whatever it is that they look for in an act is amply displayed today in a celebration that encompasses ten hours, two stages, a small cinema and a large merch table.

Kicking things off in a formidably distinctive style are nineties legends Clag. Inadvertent inventors of their own genre 'kindergarten pop' though as much in debt to the Brisbane grindcore scene as they are to Mr Men books, the six-piece sound like they're struggling with their instruments as much today as they were fifteen years ago when they released the legendary Manufacturing Resent EP. To a near-capacity room of sharply-dressed thirty-somethings and their transfixed children, Clag hammer out a set that features Goldfish complete with gargling solo, Broken Brain, Fresh and finishes with a spectacular Chips and Gravy. It's hard to think how a band this accidentally brilliant could exist again. 

Battling a misbehaving sound system, Beaches are on resolutely arresting form. Featuring several new songs, the band's capacity to issue pulverising waves of riff has only been hardened by their time away from the gig circuit. What they lack in dynamic shifts and brevity, they more than compensate for in the nuances that reward close attention. The fluidity of Gill Tucker's bass, Antonia Sellbach's spidery lead lines and the sheer force of their combined vocals, as on killer track He Doesn't Know is enough to show there is far more going on here than the reductionist rock that a cursory listen suggests. Final track Good Comet Returns is both new and a highlight.

Shooing the kids horsing around by the stage, Marty Frawley leads a tight and brilliant Twerps through a blinder of a set. Unfolding song after song of loose music played tightly, they sound sadder and angrier than on record. New song On My Shoulder allows Frawley to wield a 12-string as Julia MacFarlane (one of the finest guitarists anywhere right now) steps up to the mic to reveal yet another weapon in the band's arsenal.

Another act going from strength to strength are Pikelet who today generate more positive word of mouth than any Pitchfork review could engender. Highlighting songs from their forthcoming album (tentatively titled Calluses), defying genre and making old synths seem like something beamed back from the future, there is something entirely 'next level' about the set tonight. Singer Evelyn Morris and synth maestro Shags Chamberlain have mastered the art of combining arresting sounds without ever swamping the song or distracting from the deft rhythm section. Tracks Pressure Cooker, Forward Motion and closing Fleeting amaze with their capacity to get the crowd dancing and responding as though they've known the songs for years.

"Are you ready for some folk music?" asks a relaxed and affable Laura Jean. We are. Wielding guitar, autoharp and keyboard-stroking Guy Blackman to powerful effect, Laura Jean tells us story after story of cold winter, trapped miners, sorry marriages, Smooth FM and reluctant love. She's spellbinding, humble, funny and never anything but wholly honest, and we respond loudly and warmly.

Meanwhile downstairs, lurk DJs and an acoustic stage on which Dick Diver, pulling out all manner of jangly dourness and sporadic hilarity. Songwriting skills shine on new songs like Water Damage from their forthcoming album and it's these that really impress. As does latest Chapter Music signing Johnny Telafone, a prolific bedroom composer who seemingly lives trapped between copulating robots. Electro explosions anchor songs like Broken Hearts Are Hard To Fix, Make Your Pussy Cum and comparatively chipper single Spirit Man, though it's Telafone's stage presence that truly impresses.

Whatever it is that unites these artists in the eyes of Chapter Music, if you were anywhere else Saturday night, you missed out on something wholly remarkable.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


The Gasometer

Before a half-full room of shoegaze fans wrapped up against the unseasonal cold, Tonto amble on, set up and silence the gentle chatter. Playing over evocative projections that veer from sketching patterns and monochromatic kaleidoscopic collisions (courtesy of artist Josh T), the sextet feed off each other beautifully. Their lineup consists of saxophone, violin, viola, guitar, drums and keyboards and occasional wordless vocal contributions from violinist Rowena Wise, so the potential for atmospherics is great. However, still only several months into their existence, there is clearly some nervousness, and at present the band seem to be waiting for a charisma injection, or at least a live scoring project. Though the organic sounds themselves are well played and varied, songs often rely on the same repeated notes and melodies, resulting in shallowness. Still, for an early show, great potential is hinted at.
Sleep Decade have devolved into a wonderfully atmospheric prospect from the more conventional song-oriented fare they played last year. Casey Hartnett proves to be a stronger frontman than ever and the band subtler and smarter with the twists and turns their vaguely post-rock rambles take. Soon to be launching their debut album Into Spinning Lights, the tracks Bicycle and closing opus Mexico stand out as impressive examples of their muscular brand of dream pop.
Though energy levels have been low both on stage and in the crowd (music of this nature rarely results in external exuberance), Lowtide take that lethargy (somewhat alleviated by the setting up of a tepee on the balcony above the stage from which excited occupants sporadically scamper) and transport us to a brighter, better place. Anchored by the drums of Anton Jakovljevic, the effulgent guitar work of Gabe Lewis is as stunning as ever. Few moments in music history involving one man, one guitar, three amplifiers and a dozen effects pedals can have sounded as good as this. The dual bass and vocals of Giles Simon and Lucy Buckeridge swoop and soar and together, setting faces into expressions of serene elevation. The holy trinity of Lowtide recordings (No Horizon – recorded when they were still known as Three Month Sunset, and last year’s Underneath Tonight / Memory No. 7 single) get the loudest receptions, though highlights from their forthcoming album sound equally as exciting. It can’t come soon enough. Not just a great shoegaze band, as international blogs increasingly note, but a truly great band.