SoundOut 2013

Column: Gig Reviews   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 26 February 13   |   Author: Dan Bigna   |   4 years, 4 months ago

@ Theatre 3, Sat-Sun February 2-3


SoundOut has rapidly become a world-class improvised music event and Canberra is fortunate to be its host. Organiser Richard Johnson puts in the hard yards throughout the year to bring together performers who reflect current movements in improvised music across the globe and the line-up this year was superb.

For the past two years, SoundOut has taken place in the intimate confines of Theatre 3 tucked away behind the ANU School of Art and I have increasingly found it a comfortable and stimulating environment. Inside the theatre you can settle into a space with good acoustics and focus on the music free from distraction. Outside, you can sit in a pleasant courtyard with a cold beer and interact with audience members and performers alike. This is the kind of thing that draws me to improvised music. It is creative democracy in action; a free exchange of sounds, ideas and concepts that happen in the blink of an eye. Such exchanges stimulated the senses at SoundOut 2013.

The music on offer across the two days of the festival was mostly outstanding and I will note some of the highlights here. However, I will firstly mention that the audience should have been larger. For those who easily tire of the same old crap like I know I do, there was really no excuse for not checking out bursts of absorbing musical creativity erupting from small and large groupings from diverse cultural backgrounds. One highlight in this respect was the Brazilian Abaetetuba Collective, which utilised percussion, bass, guitar and the plucked stringed instrument Shamisen. This group conjured crystallised freeform tonalities that hit cacophonous peaks when the sounds began to heat up.

Abaetetuba were fantastic, but only one part of the story. It was great to see percussionist Tony Buck paired up with pianists Magda Mayas and Hermione Johnson for two Saturday sets. Buck likes to decorate his kit with an assortment of objects, which, when struck, stroked or rubbed in the right way, produce shimmering washes of sound, metallic sparks or splintering polyrhythms. Buck is a master of his chosen instrument and in combination with two brilliant, highly energetic pianists, the results were right on.

But there are two performances in particular that deserve mention for giving Canberra something unique. On the Saturday evening, composer and violinist Jon Rose brought out a loosely structured score for 27 performers where every instrument involved was given a starring role. The music washed over the audience in great waves with smaller fragments darting from the stage in myriad directions. Indicative of a healthy creative democracy, all performers slotted in with each other to ensure that the sounds ebbed, flowed and, at times, exploded according to a strangely conceivable logic. This was comprised of three parts universal consciousness and one part subtle conducting from Rose, who guided a series of movements through to their conclusion. When combined with abstract visuals from Louise Curham and cubist dance movements from Canberran Alison Plevey, this performance was magical to watch.

This could also be said of the raucous, roof-raising set on Sunday afternoon, which featured Jon Rose leading a smaller ensemble made up of sax, electronics, violin, guitar and bass. At times, the sound approached the ear shattering levels of John Zorn’s earliest Naked City recordings and there was something very downtown New York about this intensely frenetic performance. The louder it got, the better it sounded, and when the crashing sheets of noise came to an abrupt halt I was going to quietly ask them to do it all again.


[Photos by Vicky Shrukuroglou.]



Feelings, Bruges:

@ Transit Bar, Saturday February 9


A few years ago, I never noticed teenage girls. Now, suddenly, they’re everywhere. They gang together like little lemmings, all coiffed quiffs and combat boots and misplaced ‘90s nostalgia. Worst of all, they’ve discovered Transit Bar. When we entered Transit to see local boys Bruges and Simon Berkfinger’s new project, Feelings, there they were, congregating in corners with their perfect hair and unmoving expressions, reminding us that it is too late, our time has passed, and we never learnt the secret of cool.

Fortunately, it turns out even the stoniest teen queen can be transformed into a dancing dickhead by some sweet, sweet beats.

Canberra band Bruges kickstarted the night with their potent mix of indie pop and grunge rock. Formed in early 2012, Bruges have already made a name for themselves as a local name to watch. Comprised of former members of Activate Jetpack, The Magic Hands and Clay Pigeons, Bruges is a band with experience and without pretension; they create great sounding pop rock and genuinely enjoy doing it. Their upbeat energy (helped along by the happy cheers of their posse) was contagious and, before long, the pretty little things of Transit Bar shook away a few inhibitions. Slowly but surely, feet began to shuffle.

Bruges left the stage to be replaced by Feelings, and the horde of teen dreams promptly lost their shit over a miniature, middle-aged man with a moustache and a mic.

The brainchild of moustachioed former Philadelphia Grand Jury frontman, Simon Berkfinger, Feelings is a high-octane band with rabid pop sensibilities. Following the demise of the short-lived but brilliant Philly Jays, Berkfinger began producing records for bands such as Velociraptor, Dune Rats and Deep Sea Arcade. Thankfully, the man is back to making music, returning to Australian shores with a new all-star band and the same old hyperactive charm. While the exact circumstances behind the breakup of the Philly Jays remain mired in secrecy, it’s been suggested that the split was a traumatic one. Fortunately, Berkfinger has used the implosion as a platform for developing sound that is more intensely idiosyncratic and eccentric than his prior work. Clear, concise and full-blooded, Berkfinger’s latest offering plays with the ideas of survival, the end of the world, and the ridiculous affection human beings insist on lavishing upon inanimate objects.

With the aid of his bandmates and compadres (Art vs. Science’s Dan Sweat and Dappled Cities’ Dave Rennick), Berkfinger created the ultimate party environment within seconds of taking the stage. Although Feelings hooked the crowd by throwing in a couple of Philly Jay hits, including a dance-crazed rendition of Going to the Casino (Tomorrow Night), the trio effortlessly kept Transit’s attention with their new material. Of particular note was the closing rendition of their current single, One in a Million, which saw Berkfinger step from the stage to wiggle through the thronging mess of wild kids, pushing his mic stand before him like a whipping stick. Surprising and solid, Feelings are an incredible live act. If you get the chance to see them, do it.

Shit got a bit wild after that. We played pool with two toothless teenagers, got girl crushes on an Asian cowgirl and danced to Kendrick Lamar with a flame-bearded colonial woodcutter. And possibly broke into a pool.

Long live the teen scene. I’m going to sleep for a week.



Thee Oh Sees, The Fighting League, TV Colours:

@ Transit, Monday February 11


Canberra was lucky to score a sideshow from garage rockers Thee Oh Sees while they were in the country for an appearance at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Due to a late change in the line-up, two Canberran acts had the honour of warming up proceedings on what is usually, being a Monday, a quiet night for gigs. All the bands had rocked up early, spilling drums and instrument cases into the pool room space.

Local four-piece TV Colours kicked off with The Kids Are All Grown Up, very fast and very short. Crossing the rock/indie pop divide, they showed off some great tunes boosted by their multi-vocal delivery. They closed with Heavy Metal Sleeve Skins, fast-paced with a sustained jam session and a strong shouted chorus. The set was great but the punters were still getting the beers in and the band could only get one bloke up and dancing.

TV Colours guitarist/vocalist Carey stayed on stage to play with The Fighting League, whose popularity was demonstrated as the floor by the stage quickly filled. Frontman Dominic Death, Canberra’s own Johnny Rotten, wowed them all. He managed to project an attitude of remaining coolly detached from it all, while still immersing himself in his onstage persona as he postured, spat and tweaked his nipples. His commentary, with a liberal dose of current events, was as entertaining as the songs which were delivered with The Fighting League’s characteristic quirkiness. Songs included What a Way early in the set and Guys Who Want to Be as the closer.

Thee Oh Sees were returning to Canberra after their previous triumphant appearance at a packed-to-the-rafters Phoenix Bar. Frontman John Dwyer looked very rock ‘n’ roll, with hair like a toupee on backwards and covered in tatts that projected themselves through his spit-through shirt. Not bothering with a setlist, the band relied on Dwyer to call each following song. The set included a good sprinkling from the band’s fertile discology, including a taste of the new album Floating Coffin due out this April. The gig was everything the crowd could have hoped for, blistering and crazy from the opener The Dream. Guitars rejoiced in sounds varying from a melting pot of riveting licks and psychedelica, to unrestrained buzz-saw. Each song contained its own maze of melodies but instead of anarchic it all sounded so orchestrated and bizarrely catchy.

Dwyer’s high-pitched vocals covered everything from piercing yips to croaks. I had hoped to see his famed gig trick of singing with the mic partly thrust into his mouth, but I didn’t catch it (perhaps the eager punters obscured the trick as the mosh pit turned into a seething, throbbing mass). One song was just an excuse for a long solo from drummer Mike Shoun. Peter Dammit’s bass that is not a bass (he uses secret electronic wizardry to make an ordinary guitar produce bass sounds) sent out pulses of jungle rhythms, clashing with the screeching guitar of Dwyer. All this energy was ramped up by an undercurrent of hypnotic keyboard patterns from Brigid Dawson. Meanwhile, the crowd had been infected by the frenzied performance, elevating a lone crowd surfer who sent a Transit antique-style lamp swinging. The band ended with a ten-minute burst of schizophrenic punk energy. To play such long, wildly varying songs elegantly required an astonishing tightness between the musicians. Enthralled, the punters yelled for an encore. Nice try, but no banana!





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