Bearing up to a weekend in Melbourne

At the weekend we went to Melbourne.

Feathered polar bear installation You started it ... I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV

You started it … I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV


We saw, at the National Gallery of Victoria, a stunning collection of artwork by William Blake. He made his own process for printing words and pictures together. He had to write backwards — maybe that was why, as my wife pointed out, he had i before e after c. We went to Dante’s hell with Blake and it was a free ride. Next door was a video installation, part of which involved jiggled bellies, swaying branches, a tilting table, body parts being covered in dye and washed off. In the foyer, THERE WERE BEARS. Polar bears covered in feathers. No touching. Kirstyn was jumping out of her skin, wanting to hug these life-size, brightly coloured sculptures. The sheer delight these statues brought, not just to children but adults too …

Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

Also for free at NGV was a whole floor of funky furniture and glassware, a Warhol or two, and an alien hanging in disassembled (or reassembling) pieces. Here and there amongst the art were little placards, part of the self-guided Art As Therapy tour, that directed the viewer to consider the work, perhaps in a different way to what it, at first sight, suggested; at the very least, the placards pointed out symbolism and meaning for the viewer to ponder and appreciate.

We went to the Willy Lit Fest. It’s a literary festival held annually in Williamstown, on the bay. Kirstyn was on a panel with Lucy Sussex and moderator Dmetri Kakmi talking about the Gothic and horror, and then we had lunch with friends. Or rather, we ordered lunch with friends, who ate theirs and went to the next panel, while we waited for ours, and ate it, and took the ferry back to the city. I love seeing a city from the water. I especially like the cranes, not to be confused with the cormorants, and the low bridges the ferry slips under, vaguely reminiscent of Venice’s waterways, and the high bridges it goes under, which I usually see from the other side.

Westgate Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

Westgate Bridge

Cranes seen from Williamstown Ferry

Cranes

Bolte Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

Bolte Bridge

Williamstown Ferry approaching Melbourne

Williamstown Ferry


We saw Gary Numan perform his Splinter concert, rocking the Hi-Fi bar for 90 minutes and never a non-lyric word said, but an awesome grin at the encore that said it all really. The Red Paintings were the support, two kimono ladies doing wonderful things to violin and bass while a man called Trash with a sloth on his back sang about a failed revolution, and painters painted, one on canvas, one on a dancer not quite game to go-go in her underwear and carnival bobble head. The sound was far more crisp for them than for Numan, where volume won out, but everyone played their hearts out.

On the Saturday night, walking up the street, we saw a water feature, a wall with water running down it, and people were making patterns and words from autumn leaves, stuck to the surface. Seasonal art, flowing naturally.

We ate Japanese one night, at our favourite city Japanese restaurant, Edoya, and it did not disappoint. The next night we picked a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho & Co, at random and ordered up a storm of share dishes. The service was slick and the food was quick to arrive and sensational. We also scored a breakfast table at hole-in-the-wall Aix creperie: awesome way to start the day.

We watched a movie we hadn’t heard of but the poster looked so very cool: The Babadook. It’s Australian. It’s incredibly good. Someone — I suspect the writer/director, Jennifer Kent — had a good, hard think about horror movies and mental illness, and the resulting metaphors were brilliantly drawn. All the way through to the end. At the panel at the Willy Lit Fest both Kirstyn and Lucy said how horror can be used to approach difficult subjects, how symbolism can help us be touched by something we’d otherwise shy from: this was, Kirstyn said, the perfect example. I agree.

We stayed at the Citiclub Hotel on Queen St. The website we booked through mentioned the competitive price and the comfy room and the convenient location, but skipped the fact the hotel contains a nightclub. I intend never to stay there again.

Melbourne: so much to do, but be careful where you lay your head.

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Six months of music


 
Christmas already, and there have been a few additions to the music collection since mid-year’s round-up. Certainly enough to get through the summer!


black snake by wendy ruleThe latest album from Melbourne’s Wendy Rule was funded through Pozible and is now available. It’s well worth the listen, harking back as it does to her World Within Worlds album — meditative and moody, mixing pagan themes and love songs and not being shy about topping the five-minute mark. Plucked guitar, steel guitar, cello, flute set the scenes, with occasional tribal percussion breakouts such as on ‘Black Snake’ and ‘After the Storm’, and electro carnival on ‘From the Great Above to the Great Below’. ‘Home’ is another standout for its sheer yearning for a place that’s ‘more than a suitcase, a room’; Rewind wishes to undo the mistakes of the past ‘when I was fucked up and blind’; and ‘Ereshkigal’ — almost nine glorious minutes of it — shows entrancing layered vocals with tribal influences. Ideal for a winter’s night in or a lethargic summer’s arvo.

gary numan splinterBy contrast, Gary Numan‘s Splinter: Songs from a Broken Mind (Machine Music, 2013) is a full electro-industrial assault, harking back to the brilliant Jagged album. ‘I Am Dust’ opens in winning fashion while ‘Here in the Black’ brings in orchestral elements worthy of a soundtrack, a space explorer alone in the black, or perhaps drifting through their own inner void. Thematically, the album offers the usual touchstones: love gone awry, aloneness, lost faith. ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ is an EBM standout, while Numan varies the terrain with Arabesque elements on ‘Splinte’r, gorgeous percussion on ‘Where I Can Never Be’, piano on farewell tune ‘My Last Day’. As with Black Snake, there’s familiar material here, an artist playing to their strengths, but engaging highpoints making it a worthy of addition to the collection.

mona mur and en esch 120 tageMona Mur and En Esch swagger with menace on 120 Tage: The Fine Art of Beauty and Violence (Pale Music, 2009), a switchblade-packing duo stalking the city alleys and nightclubs in knee highs and combat boots. Half sung in German, half in English, the songs range from dance fuzz joy of ‘Visions and Lies’ to the grungy back-street feel of ‘The Thin Red Line’ to poppy ‘120 Tage’, all headlined by Mur’s cabaret sex-and-dare vocals. A touch of oom pah pah (‘Mon Amour’), elsewhere circus (‘Der Song von Mandelay’), some spoken word (eight-minute story of ‘Surabaya Johnny’), add texture — and introduce three Bertholdt Brecht/Kurt Weill covers as well. ‘I want to crawl in the mud with you and drag you underground,’ Mur sings on opener ‘Candy Cane’ — it’s an offer hard to resist, with the rest of the album dragging the listener down into a world of, as promised, beauty and violence. On ‘Eintagsfliegen’, ‘this is my rifle, this is my gun, one is for killing, the other is for fun’ gives the idea. ‘Snake’ is a sultry winner. The only annoyance is three minutes of noise tacked onto the end of chugging closing track ‘The Wound’. If this was a nightclub, it’d have a warning sign on the front door.

Mentioned previously, but must be mentioned again, just how superb is the latest Nine Inch Nails album, Hesitation Marks. Welcome to middle-age doubt, with all the studio genius Trent Reznor has to offer. Such superb songcraft …

Also on the playlist:

  • Tycho Brahe finish 2013 on a high with a new EP, Triplex Part 1. Cracking synth pop with ‘Castaway’, funky dancefloor bass on ‘Loveless’, instrumental ‘Arizona’ and, on ‘Lullaby’, a less characteristic touch of gloomier, moodier music.
  • Adalita, All Day Venus (Liberation, 2013): Second solo album from the Aussie rocker, delivers plenty of guitar-driven heartbreak and lonely nights. Highlight: ‘Warm Like You’, on which she sings ‘I was born cold, I’ll never be warm like you’. Adalita also plays bass on the enticing EP Let Yourself Be Free, by duo Dark Fair; the b-side is rockin’, too.
  • Finally got around to snaffling albums The Birthing Pyre and Somewhere Under the Rainbow by the Jane Austen Argument, another Aussie duo with a winning way with tunes set against an emotional, hip urban landscape. Tom’s high range — see ‘Bad Wine and Lemon Cake‘ — is worth the price of admission.

     

  • Konqistador amps up world music with Suada

    This is the promo video for the new album by Konqistador, late of Melbourne and North America, now of Istanbul, and it’s the barest taste of the thoroughly entertaining Suada.Fortunately, they’ve kindly made audio tracks of the album available at YouTube so you can indulge before you buy (have a listen, name your price, download away at bandcamp).

    I’ve been thrashing it lately — four days of writing have been conducted largely to this, Kidneythieves and Android Lust; Gary Numan’s Jagged can’t be far off — so here’s a guided tour:

    Suada is an intriguing album. Emotional, transportative, at times meditative, others stirring, a real sine wave of sparse and dense.

    courage riot of konqistador‘Harcanan Kotu’ opens with a chop and change of percussion, bass and fuzz, borrowing a riff from ‘Evil Gotten Evil Spent’ on Konqistador’s ‘Courage Riot album which showed strong Middle Eastern influences.

    There follows three tracks that are more obviously rock tunes: ‘Albastru’, gothic and seductive with a delicious hint of menace; ‘Suada’, showcasing the world music and electronic elements with a jaunty beat; and ‘Brancovan’, offering hints of poppy hair metal, a wonderful anthem that leaps from the speakers and demands attention.

    There follows a more scenic second stretch, introduced by the low noise of ‘Izul’ that suggests a mysterious, perhaps spooky journey ahead. Wind noise and muted arabesque vocals further suggest a lost time or remoteness, slowly giving way to electro, almost SF, effects evoking the weird, the Gothic and the haunted. A superb introduction, it probably doesn’t stand alone as well as other pieces here.

    This lends the album a feeling of being a collection of mini-landscapes, an anthology rather than a novel, and what an enjoyable journey it is.

    Izul is followed by ‘With Eyes Shut’, a sweeping choral opening complemented by belly dance jangle and whispered lyrics, industrial sounds contrasting with the drums giving way to electric guitar-led cruise and some bursts of subdued electronica to provide some light and shade.

    This is where I was most likely to drift off – not necessarily a bad thing – and ‘Rafqa’ pulled me back after the fade.
    ‘Rafqa’ bustles with percussion and vocals. It stands out for being a relatively straightforward song amidst the more atmospheric offerings of this section – a transition or perhaps demarcation between the more instrumental works?

    The album jumps to ‘From the Ruins’, a comparatively sparse Greek guitar-and-synth instrumental that drops us back into a more desolate, though relatively pacific, landscape.

    suada by konqistadorDreamy ‘Keykubat’ is much more lush; it brings percussion to the fore, with ethereal vocals, synths and a gradual building of tension. It wouldn’t have been out of place on Trent Reznor’s soundtrack to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It hits a lot of my buttons thanks to the vocals and synth textures.

    ‘Huzun’ offers a quiet fall away to keyboard/electronic instrumental with choir, an interlude that gives way to percussion and then changes gear with swelling requiem organ under a driving percussive beat and then into fade.

    And finally we have the closer ‘O Yar Katit Darom’, resetting yet again with its quiet start. The vocals add to its meld of Arabia and India; quite a contrast to ‘Huzun’. It’s a particularly long piece at 13 minutes, caught in its percussive groove before again we have the swell, reminiscent of Ministry’s ‘Khyber Pass‘. The SF effects add contrast, a flying saucer landing in the middle of a bazaar, perhaps with a windstorm in effect, indicating the end of a musical wander through varied yet complementary sonic terrain.

    spaceships and dreamers (part one) by christopher antonIF something more retro is your style — say, ’80s dancey and all Depeche Mode-y / Human League-y — have a taste of Christopher Anton’s Spaceships and Dreamers (Part One). You have permission to boogie.

    Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle electrifies Melbourne

    pleasure principle album by gary numan

    Gary Numan: synth pioneer and resurrected man. And loving it.

    Numan rose to fame at the head of the 1970s electronic music wave, then fell from grace as grunge and rock and other stuff took centre stage. And then the power of the synth was reharnessed and Numan rose again: heavier, darker and — if a packed house at Melbourne’s Forum is anything to judge by — once more hugely popular.

    Last night’s gig showcased the past and the present. It opened with a playing of tracks from the album The Pleasure Principle, released in 1979 and the first by Numan as a solo artist. Numan took the centre console last night with two others also on keys plus a drummer and bass, and it was the rhythm section who underpinned the evening with their massive, um, rhythm. Add three or more layers of synth bass and soundscape over that and there were times when it felt as if the music was reaching inside to rip out lungs. Having a fake night sky arcing over the Forum’s faux ruins with Greek gods in attendance just made some of the tracks all the more surreal as the synths soared and the drum-bass combo thundered.

    The album was put to bed with its hit single, ‘Cars’. A quick transition and two keyboards have been put to bed: Numan had the mic and there was an electric guitar and a gorgeously heavy rendition of ‘Down in the Park’ indicated a change of gear. That was then, this is now: great blasts of modern-day Numan, heavy on the Jagged album, brought the crowd and the gig alive as nostalgia was blown out the windows. Almost. The last tune of the main set was ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and oh, the answer had to be yes, or at least, at this point in the night, electrified. A three-song encore finished it off nicely.

    Numan was in fine fettle: clad in black, mop of black hair over his pale face, and an artist at the top of his game. At the top of his game and loving it. He paid homage to late bassist Paul Gardiner who played with Numan on Pleasure Principle and in Numan’s preceding band Tubeway Army but otherwise had little to say other than ‘thanks for coming’. Sometimes a chat is nice, but sometimes it just as enjoyable to be able to sink into the music and let it do the talking, and last night was like that: the set flowed and enervated and enthralled, the band were energetic, the lighting superb, the crowd totally into it. And Numan, smiling, whether crouched over the keyboard or playing guitar or prowling with just the microphone, was the consummate performer. The pleasure principal.

    Click here for a 2008 interview with Numan, ahead of his ’09 Australian tour.

    Gary Numan blasts Brisbane

    Unfortunately, Gary Numan’s triumphant return to Australia, playing Brisbane’s Tivoli on March 2, coincided with my losing net access, hence the late post.

    Suffice to say, Numan was superb. Brilliant light show; deep, timber-rattling bass that didn’t make the ears ring; hot young dudes on guitar, bass, keys and synths; and Gary, ah Gary, turning 51 next week, so clearly enjoying his renaissance since making such a profound impact with his Tubeway Army back in the late 70s (when he last toured Oz).

    The two-hour gig concentrated on his most recent album, Jagged, recently released as a two-CD remix called Jagged Edge. But the crowd — and it was a pleasingly but not uncomfortably large crowd — also thrilled to the early hits including Cars and Are Friends Electric?. A blue-washed rendition of Down in the Park went over a treat.

    The gig really did showcase how far electronic music has come, and Numan’s role in it.

    The set unfolded almost continuously, and there wasn’t much chitchat from the man. Which was a pity. But Numan was a charismatic presence, stalking, sometimes a little meandering, and flashing a grin during those older tracks as the crowd responded.

    It was a sign of a great gig that I had his Haunted running through my head the next day.

    Flashback: my interview with Numan is here.

    Gary Numan

    gary numan album jagged

    gary numan album jagged


    Electronic music pioneer Gary Numan is coming to Australia for only the second time in his 30-year career. Yep, we’re excited 🙂 Readers of a certain vintage or particularly astute young’uns might know him from hits Cars and Are Friends Electric?. Numan’s enjoyed a resurgence of interest in his catalogue in recent years, thanks in part to some dark, heavy albums.

    I had the good fortune to talk with Numan about his return to popularity, but here’s a choice quote about the appeal of electronic music that didn’t make the cut:

    “I’m a massive fan of guitars and drums and use them on my albums, but with technology it’s about the very sound itself. I can spend days and days just making the sound. It’s another level of music most people don’t go into. Sound creation is the most rewarding and most exciting thing I do. It’s a great sense of pride for me … to make an album with 40-50 sounds that no one’s ever heard before is very exciting. I could listen to sound effects tapes all day. I think if I wasn’t making music I could work as a sound effects engineeer.”

    Numan plays Brisbane’s gorgeous Tivoli on March 2.