Online label New Weird Australia likes to hold its gigs at the plusher end of the Sydney warehouse spectrum. The previous show was at Marrickville’s luscious Red Rattler and tonight is at the well-appointed St Petersburg in St Peters. This is a good thing. I enjoy concrete bunkers with crumbling stairwells and a light dusting of asbestos as much as the next music fan but sometimes it’s nice not to slum it.
NWA founder Stuart Buchanan is doing door and co-founder Danny Jumpertz is doing sound. Younger musicians on the NWA compilations have gotta love being under their wing, however temporarily. They’re older and experienced yet clearly enthusiastic about the bands they’re barracking for, like supportive uncles on the sideline who also happen to know the umpire.
When we arrive, Karoshi are playing their melodic downtempo folk-tronica fused with Berlin influenced glitch-techno. Yes, that’s from the publicity sheet but it’s bang-on. Karoshi wraps up with ‘Re-animate Me’, the track featured on NWA Volume Two, and St Petersburg swells with the pretty, Aphex Twin-inspired xylophone concoction.
A scrum of fans shuffles to the front for Caught Ship. Since there’s ample viewing room elsewhere, I can only assume they’re friends of the band – vaguely impressive since Caught Ship are from Melbourne. The band starts and I rummage for earplugs to take the edge off a particularly screechy thread of feedback. While rummaging, Caught Ship find their feet so I give up and just enjoy the noise. The reverb/feedback wall of sound formula elevates into something more gripping, influenced by melodic noise bands like Fuck Buttons. An urgent sound throbs in the sonic undergrowth (an air raid siren perhaps?). Encouraged, the singer begins to roam the crowd and, like a coin has been jiggled into the slot, the front few rows suddenly begin to dance. I love watching people dance to noise bands. It’s theatre of the purest kind especially when twirling, dervish moves ensue. Encouraged, the singer hands out bells (What stroke of random genius, this?) and through the sound-squall he demands, “Shake! Shake!” The fella to my right is chosen and, to his credit, he shakes the damn bell obediently for the next five minutes. The dancers dance. Everyone has a fine old time.
Love or hate him, Alps can sure bring the weather. Tonight’s mood has been on a steady incline upwards but Alps leaps straight off his end of the seesaw and plonks us all in the mud. Admittedly, down low is where we’re best positioned to appreciate his clouded headspace. It’s something to respect: manipulating people’s mood is harder than it sounds. I saw him do it in December under tough circumstances at a gig at Akemi in Blackheath on the Great Western Highway. Trucks doing long haul farted in decompression just outside the door; headlights streaked across the ceiling; a dog scratched its mangy balls in the corner, grew bored and padded past Alps, crouched on the carpet over a lone loop pedal, doin’ his thing. On that occasion, he managed to merge the prosaic distractions of the room into his own universe of melancholy, yet tonight is the best I’ve seen him. The sounds he wrenches from the keyboard are deeply sad in tone and texture and his voice is ragged and distorted. I think, somewhere in there, it’s clear he can actually sing? Alps is a paradox – for music with such muted warmth, it’s terribly aloof. He seems to be inviting us to join him in a gloomy landscape that’s leached of colour yet insisting we walk alone.
Frankly, I usually angle towards music that’s a little more brutal and a lot less fruity than Hobart two-piece Paint Your Golden Face. A first listen to their eponymously titled debut LP left me darned cold. Their idiosyncratic compositions feature the unrefined hollering of singer Jonathon McCarthy laid over Jordan Marson’s insistent drums and a choir of friends. Simply put, there’s lots of yelling but no guitar – a novel combination. The dominance of chants, looped voice and choir is the record’s most striking flavour. And it’s a right grower. Hovering on listen number four the day of the gig, I make a staunch turnaround and decide their creepy campfire chants are bloody wonderful. Tracks such as ‘We Keep Cutting Each Others Throats’, which drifts off into a droning chorus halfway through, are especially good.
The choir, however, is not in attendance tonight but their voices are here, fed through from an iPod into the PA. It’s spooky, all those disembodied voices running the show, especially with portentous lyrics such as, “I think this band is the one and I think the front man will shoot himself into his face/I want you to sing it like a man who has seen sunsets, lost loves, broke hearts, punched faces.”
Thankfully, McCarthy has enough stage presence of his own to rival all those voices. ‘Submarine’ is a highlight, possibly because the lyrics are less obscure and more emotionally resonant than the others: “You’ve been living on a sinking ship for 18 months/And you’re trying to tell me/It’s a submarine.”
It’s been a long night but PYGF aren’t afraid to jam it out with something long and droney. Apropos of nothing a guy in front of me does one of those exhausted little backward staggers that happens when you’ve stood still for too long. They wrap up soon after. Fruity it may be but consider me a fan of fruit. PYGF is doing something genuinely inventive. They’ve turned the traditional idea of back-up singers on its head and dragged it centre stage yet somehow managed to create a great live show without any back-up singers at all.
Mess+Noise version here.