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.