When a band gets a residency it’s usually in some dodgy pub out west with shit sound and nothing really going for it other than the warm Carlton Draught on tap only costs $3.50. You can imagine then how pleased I was to hear that Arkestra were going to be taking over the gallery bar in Oxford Art Factory for four weeks, and not only that but that they had put together four amazing line-ups to match their own sublime selves.
Before I go on I should make it clear that this is not really a review of one particular night but rather a conglomeration of my experiences over the past four weeks due to the fact that I was so drunk at these shows I can’t really remember enough about any one of them to fill out a whole review.
Anyway, my alcohol crippled memory and lack of professionalism aside, this residency was amazing, with each night offering a challenging mix of genres and styles. For the first night I was only able to catch Disco Club. Made up of video artist Joel Rhys Burrows on sound manipulation and visuals along with Louis Saxondale Rocketeer from Whipped Cream Chargers and Warhorse on guitar and pedals, the duo do not make music for the faint of heart or narrow of mind. Exploring a different genre at every show, matching the music to live visuals, this time around it was drone noise, with the two strapping young lads sitting facing the crowd and manipulating a series of mind boggling sonic toys and generating at times blissful, and at other doom laden, walls of noise.
While hardly the most engaging band around, their approach is interesting due to the very improvised nature of how they choose to play. Probably better suited to an art gallery than a club, the melding of noise and visuals was breathtaking at times and I am very interested to see what genre they tackle next.
Check out this video to get an idea of what I mean:
Cut to the second week and Sydney’s own cosmic-techno pioneers Domeyko/Gonzalez had the honour of opening proceedings, doing so with a confidence and cohesion that can sometimes be lacking from their shows. With something like twenty pedals and toys between them, there is a very large margin for error with this band as they depend so heavily on looping and sampling. On this night though, the duo were in the zone, especially guitarist James Domeyko (also from Arkestra) who delivered some truly eargasmic solos over Jaie Gonzalez’s dreamy ambient loops and hip hop beats, before the set dissipated into a frenzied bout of enormous noise.
Another band that try to include plenty of improvisation in their performances, D/G on a good day are one of the most interesting bands playing locally, as you always have the feeling that it could all come crashing apart at any moment. This element of danger is something I believe is sorely lacking from the majority of bands playing in Sydney at the moment, and while far be it from me to say that a well practised and considered performance is worse than one that features improvisation, they are usually less exciting.
Following D/G were Old Men Of Moss Mountain, the most challenging Aussie hip hop band in the country if you don’t mind me being so bold. Subverting the genre many times over, Old Men, as they are affectionately known, incorporate elements of psychedelic rock, shoegaze, pop choruses and even tribal chanting into their twisted understanding of hip hop, with west coast synths often butting up against acoustic guitars or cheesy 90s piano lines. Made up of MCs Rollo ‘Polyphics’ Anderson (i like cats), Marc ‘Maatsi’ Silvers and Max ‘Mr Whisper’ Rapley along with drummer Bill Johnston (i like cats), bassist and synth player Jaie Gonzalez (i like cats, Danimals, Domeyko/Gonzalez) and Martin Peralta (otherwise know as electronica artist Ghost) on drum machines and programming, the band obviously has quite a pedigree, and when you listen to the other associated projects it’s easy to see why the OMoMM sound is so varied and unique.
Considering this was their first live performance ever, the band pulled off an amazing show, getting the well dressed wolves that ran rampant through the Oxford Art Factory to pay attention and nod their damn heads. While the show needs a bit of work in terms of ensuring the vocals can be heard over the stunning instrumentals and just generally finding more confidence in performing live and engaging the crowd, the band have a knack for catchy lyrics and hooks. Choruses like “we’re entering the woods now, with our hoods down, preparing to battle werewolves and clowns” explode in a live forum, showcasing the skill of the MCs when it comes to crafting engaging and immediate lyrics that at the same time still hold a degree of mystery and challenge to them, never wandering into the realm of the suburban or BBQ rap.
Now I figure it’s time I talk about Arkestra, keeping in mind that this is a sort of amalgamation of their performances I will be describing, mainly taken from the final night.
The band are difficult to do justice to in words. With a brooding intensity and somewhat dark and slow moving atmosphere to all their songs, the band have been likened to Portishead most accurately, with Massive Attack also getting thrown around a bit. But I don’t think either of these comparisons are fair, as Arkestra seem to hold a sort of world-weary innocence in their sound whereas the aforementioned bands tend to cross the line into full-bodied bleakness. I think it’s almost entirely due to singer/pianist Aleesha Dibbs’ charming and angelic voice, which matched with the raspy cries of singer/keyboardist/beatmaster Jasper Clifford Smith (Warhorse, White Ox), lend the band this unsettling mix of optimism and doom.
If Jasper and Dibbsy are the two key features of the band though, guitarist James Domeyko is the glue. Having seen them play some shows where the sound wasn’t well looked after; I can confidently say that without James’ guitar work the band doesn’t make sense. Not only does he hold such great talent at filling shows with echoing and cavernous textures, but he also has a knack for melody that allows him to sort of build a bridge between the rest of the band, forming the middle ground from which the other members can extrapolate, while at the same time filling in the outer space around them. Really though, it’s impossible to single out one member as a stand out as they all compliment each other so perfectly it’s often difficult to figure out who is responsible for what sounds anyway.
In terms of their live show, as you can imagine two keyboards on stage as well as a laptop doesn’t exactly provide space for too much movement of dynamic stage presence. Rather than try and rock out though, Arkestra tend to escalate the intensity of their playing, at times dissolving into dissonant piano passages and walls of noise, yet always staying in control enough to bring the songs back from the brink of their insane improvisation. Seriously one of the best bands in Sydney right now, it was a blessing to see them as many times as I did, and I wish I could have seen more.
Last but not least on this shambolic list is Piano Is Drunk. Opening their set with a frenetic cover of Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’, this pretty much set the tone for the rest of their show as Solomon Barbar (The Walk On By) and Jamie Lumb manipulated a series of different pedals and gadgets, churning out furious synth punk rife with guitar noise and screamed Kyuss-esque vocals. Taking to the stage dressed all in black and wearing the sort of masks you’d put on to go to an orgy, the duo lived up to their ominous image, delivering a powerful set including Solomon nearly destroying his bass as he threw it around the stage, pumping out waves of feedback that had me welling up in tears of awesomeness.
Closing with their trademark strobe light freak-out, they may have cleared a few people out of the room, but those who were left eagerly grabbed up all the copies of the band’s limited edition single ‘Ravin Rabbit’, released on the night.
Anyway, all in all the residency was a resounding success, despite the Hoodoo Guru’s fucking shit up on the third week when they refused to let anyone else play while they were on stage. Arkestra have proved that they not only have the balls and talent to tackle such a task, but that there are a wealth of relatively undiscovered bands in Sydney waiting to burst through into our consciousness; I just wish I could have been there to see them and review them all like I should have.
Even though I didn’t see them play though, let me just say that The Whipped Cream Chargers fucking rock, I’m gutted I missed them, and apparently The Preachers are fucking rad as well. Thank you Arkestra, as well as all the other bands, and Jim Shirlaw for putting on such a good night; all we need now is a venue worthy of such gloriousness.