Sunday, 23 December 2012

Interview with Yolanda Be Cool

You may have heard of Yolanda Be Cool from a fairly well known track of theirs scattered with cheeky trumpets, Latino verses and general dance-floor swashing. The pair has just issued a product recall claiming that “the beats are no longer fresh” and that the song has taken over their entire image – just in time for the release of their album Ladies and Mentalmen. We got speaking to one half of the Sydney-based dance duo, Johnson “Durango Slim” Peterson, on the creation of the album and freaky fan interpretations.

“I think there are a billion, to be honest. I mean some funny ones are like seeing a group of Arabian men in their gear, dancing to the songs – it’s kind of funny. There’s definitely a few.”

If you haven’t checked out the press conference – basically we’re urged to destroy any digital or analog version (“if anyone still has a CD player! – Johnson questions) of the infamous track. Two years on, despite the international craze Yolanda Be Cool has surpassed the fame of that one hit. “I’d like to think an album establishes you in some way or another past ‘emerging’. A good two years of our lives have gone into that.”

Ladies and Mentalmen has only been purchasable for a week or so, but it seems that so far the reception has been positive. “The people that have been telling us they love it have been saying they love that it’s not what they expected. We listen to new music everyday so it’s sort of inspired by all of the new and old music around. I think people are definitely vibing on the fact that it’s really eclectic and offers something for everyone.”

Everyone - is not far from correct- with the boys already having harnessed fans from all corners of the globe. This year touring locations included Tokyo, Budapest, Paris, Johannesburg and summer staple Ibiza. For Johnson, it’s hard to remember off the top of his head since they’ve covered so much ground. “We’ve definitely seen some cool places but it’s equally exciting to be home, we’re really happy about that.”

Maybe they’re so happy because they have escaped their Swiss lovers.

“I think the weirdest thing was when we played in Switzerland once we had these two old guys, I’m sure they weren’t really fans because they just didn’t seem like people that were into music. They printed out big A4 posters of ourselves and were waiting in our hotel but they wanted us to sign that and they were probably hoping that one day it would become valuable. So I guess they’re still waiting for that day but it was kind of weird at the time, like how do you know we’re staying here?”

Back home, Johnson agrees that it’s a great time to be in the Australian dance scene with 2012 bringing less commercial acts to the surface. In terms of artists to watch – he rattles off a list: Playmo (definitely), Casino (really exciting, we’re loving it), Indian Summer and What So Not as well as Ajax, Danny T. and Parachute Youth. “We’ve been back for a few weeks and seeing all the parties that are springing up, it seems that the commercial scene is taking a back step to cool, good parties.”

And at these cool, good parties where the two perform, it’s usually formal on top and party on the bottom. Johnson says that the tendency to suit up! references the vibe of the song recalled. “It’s how do you distinguish yourself from every other DJ wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans. There’s nothing wrong with looking good! We don’t wear suits to an office so we may as well suits to the club from time to time.”

When asked about the dynamics of working in a duo, Johnson finds expression from Ajax: “We always use his quote, something like ‘sex is pretty good by yourself but it’s better with someone else.’ It applies especially when we do spend a lot of time on the road. God, I’d hate to be that guy in the airport queue by himself for two hours. Whereas, with Sylvester, we’re just constantly talking shit or making plans or going over stuff but it’s definitely a lot more fun with someone else. And in terms of the writing process, it’s quite comforting because we know we’re going to get an honest opinion.”

Ladies and Mentalmen sees many a music guest ranging from funk/soul veteran Betty Wright to dance diva Crystal Waters. Johnson said that it wasn’t really a case of having a wish list as many of the collaborations came about from being in the right place at the right time. When the boys were working in a studio in Miami, some top-notch voices heard their beats, enjoyed, and ended up recording for their album.  

“We didn’t have anything written for her but we played her some tracks and she listened, chose one, and then in one take she did a perfect recording of what became ‘Paper Girl’. So that was all pure chance.”

Never mind working with American artists - YBC also looked closer to home for talent, featuring indigenous artist Gurrumul on ‘A Baru in New York’. Johnson said that it’s their next single to be released and in the near future will be working on a music video…hopefully on Gurrumul’s island. Taking into consideration the fact that he has previously rejected collaborations with Elton John, and Sting, it’s no surprise that everyone went quiet when he accepted.  

Johnson hopes that the variety in atmosphere makes its way to listeners. Traditionally Yolanda Be Cool tunes are for the club but Johnson said that in envisioning the album, the pair was keen to create something which could exist on its own and not just as singles.

“We kept going back to groups like Groove Armada, Basement Jaxx – artists that can write club bangers but then they’ll also write a ballad or a trip-hop track. Their albums are like real experiences that take across different genres and that was sort of our reference point.”

“We’ve programmed the album so it can be listened to as a whole rather than track by track - so it does sort of have its peaks and troughs, the slower tracks lead into the faster tracks, and vice versa and you know emotional followed by party.”

If you want to catch the guys in their hometown, YBC will be playing at the NYE Pacha Party at the Ivy in Sydney. There are also NYD performance plans in the making which Johnson can’t quite tell us about yet…

Meanwhile…some advice from the album intro:  Stay cool motherfuckers y’all know the rules! Stay cool!

Published on Purple Sneakers.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Tame Impala at the Enmore Theatre

Tame Impala have done their fair share of live performances - at festivals, concert halls and even television studios - but it never seems that the band is sick of playing their music live. For a group with only two albums worth of songs, it doesn't leave much room for changing the set list. However, Tame Impala's performance at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney re-created the distinct nostalgic yet contemporary atmosphere which characterises their music.

Kevin Parker and his band appeared in the darkness as silhouettes, outlined by the vivid back lighting among a haze of smoke on stage. It was a dramatic opening, and didn't seem to bother the crowd who was clearly happy enough to listen to the music without worrying too much about what was going on on stage.

There was a welcome mix of tracks from their latest album Lonerism, 2009 debut Innerspeaker and even pre-album days with 'Half Full Glass of Wine' closing the set in an extended outro. Despite the fact that most of the lyrics were lost in the instrumentals and reverb, there were plenty of sing-a-long moments (especially 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards'). It seems that the Tame Impala music does well in a dark, enclosed space although it can't begin to feel any spacier after a few of their psychedelic tracks.

After a string of live performances in the second half of 2012, it's clear that the band has become a very cohesive unit with a seamless show and energetic impro at parts. Their music existing on the album is very produced and so it's great to be able to see the band emulate the deep, sonic feeling of the recorded version. What is great about a live show is the jamming in-between tracks - Parker knew how to keep his audience on the hook with jazzed-up breaks in the middle of hits such as 'Lucidity' and 'Elephant' showcasing the experimental scope of a live Tame Impala.

After a few rambunctious moments in the crowd - stage-diving and circling in a pit - Kevin tried to calm everyone down and most people got back to either swaying along with the hypnotic tunes or dancing frenetically immersed in  bass-driven jams. Although their music is something utterly unique in the Australian scene, it would have been nice for the band to leave some space in between tracks but it's clear that they're not out there to promote a personality or chat up the audience. Never mind the bass player and hair-thrashing drummer keeping to themselves. Let it be.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Australian Ballet's 'Swan Lake'

In an era of hyper-stimulation, short attention spans and fast-forward entertainment, it can seem that the ballet has no place in the commercial arts scene. However, a sold-out season of Swan Lake at the Sydney Opera House as put on by the Australian Ballet indicates a public craving quality performance and remarkably only small changes were made to the classic ballet which resonates despite a shift in audience tastes.

In some ways, it was more of a minimalist production with the dancers occupying the entire stage - free of heavy props or set. Stephen Baynes, choreographer, allowed the artists to showcase their skill while leaving space to tell the story. No words were spoken, but the expression shone through the emotionally complex characters and their choices.

For a classical ballet, Swan Lake relies heavily on the company to support the principal duo. At times there were a few slip-ups among the group but overall the cast executed the choreography in time, sensitively and honestly. Tchaikovsky's monumental score is essential to the production and chief conducter Nicolette Fraillon lead a fine orchestra through the key moments, both dramatic and more lighthearted.

It is impossible to overlook the artistry of the principal dancers, with Adam Bull as Prince Seigfreid displaying a perceptive and expressive performance, navigating the dynamics of the Prince's journey and communicating the awe-inspiring love which marks the ballet. Amber Scott, as the main swan, appears so fragile and innocent, that her strength in lifts and leaps seems illusory. At first, in the establishing ballroom scenes, those unfamiliar with the story will feel lost and disconcerted, especially due to the little dancing but the following act blooms into a powerful piece.

When Amber Scott returns to the stage donned in all black, as Odile, she suddenly emulates the wicked yet seductive famed character of the ballet. The solos of the second act are astounding - the ballerinas, both male and female, let loose and dance with the utmost passion and technique. Stephen Baynes allows each dancer his or her space between the plot-driven moments and it seems neither over-the-top nor over-performed.

There are some modern tricks with lighting and background which create even more of a spooky atmosphere than established by the cast. The hand-painted moonlit sets are a complementary and romantic backdrop to the action. It really is a case of all elements of the performance coming together in a meaningful way.

The final scene of the ballet reaches the height of haunting with the company flooding the stage around the two estranged lovers. Unlike most interpretations, there is no visual death or suicide, yet it is still such a moving scene without any words. The orchestra draws on the high tension and the effect visually, of all the swan dancers fluttering about in an organised chaos, is something special.

The Australian Ballet 2012 summer Swan Lake performances certainly serve justice to the original and interpret it in a fresh yet romantic manner. A must-see for ballet fans and new audiences alike.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Album Review - "The Rubens" by the Rubens

The Rubens (2012)              ★  

As far as a rock band’s debut release, a self-titled album has usually been the safe bet (Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Stone Roses) but never usually produces anything outstanding to the band’s credit. However, the eponymous release from Menagle 4-piece The Rubens is all at once emotional and musically sentimental yet at the same time intense and theatrical. It is both a haven for rambling blues-rock narrative and single tracks which stand well alone.

For a group which formed a little under two years ago, the sound is particularly cohesive and the proof a professionally produced album (David Kahne – also worked with Regina Spektor, Paul McCartney, Lana Del Rey) is a declaration that a lack of experience does not necessarily mean a lack of quality.

Leading single ‘The Best We Got’ heralds back to retro blues-rock, soaked in soulful arrangements that demonstrate the traditional rock band setup still stands. Sam Margin’s unique raspy but technical vocals make a memorable impression from the start. ‘My Gun’ harnesses the youthful male strength of the band expressed simultaneously through steady percussion, dynamic electric guitar and a dash of Bond-esque drama. 

Among the recognised singles, there are new songs, which capture the biting mixture of spite, mourning and nostalgia spawned from heartbreak. ‘The Day You Went Away’ showcases the ambitious yet controlled passion of the group and ‘Never Be The Same’ is almost an updated lyrical Augie March in its swaying dynamic structure and anchored lyrics: “It took something bad, to show me what I had/ It took something sad, to remember who I am.”

The album navigates through a scene of misery, newfound love and tragic relations so it is not exactly an easy listen. Nevertheless, the nostalgic tone is endearing and there is regality to their sound – appearing effortless yet complex in its design, it is exciting to imagine what the band will create in the future.

It’s true that The Rubens are celebrated for their clear-cut influences harking back to the golden days of blues, rock and soul but what is really refreshing is the return of skilled guitarists, writers and performers to the electro-dominated scene of Western music.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Tame Impala studio sessions

When you’re listening to a Tame Impala track, it kind of feels like magic – each piece exploding into textured layering wrapping up the sentimental vocals – seeming all a bit surreal.  The latest in Modular’s ongoing Studio Sessions series is a chance to see how it’s all put together. Recorded in the local Perth basement of Fremantle’s Norfolk Hotel, the boys are barefoot, back home and performing three favourites off their freshly released album Lonerism: ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Elephant’.

Director Kiku Ohe backs the performance with technicolour responsive lighting, just as we would have wanted – and giving us a taste of what’s to come with their upcoming national tour. It kicks off in full force with ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, while we’re perched over Jay Watson’s shoulder on keys. Band members are in their own moment but the music is at once organic and perfectly timed.

‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ follows and maintains the classic spacey psychedelic Tame Impala ambience. Overall, the sound is not too different from the record but it’s not a radio recording – the studio sessions keep the raw scratchy electric guitar and unpolished vocals. That being said, it almost feels like Kevin Parker could be whispering in your ear, it’s that immediate. This recording of ‘Elephant’ lacks some of the power in the original bass but it’s still an awesome jam to witness.

The intimacy of a studio session suits Tame Impala’s music, enhancing what already exists as a personal listening experience and drawing it out up close and personal.

Published on Purple Sneakers.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Beni Stereosonic mix

Once again, Beni orchestrates a smooth transition of tracks to the point where you can be singing along to glam female vocals at one point and the next, bouncing along to hip-hop. The Sydney-based DJ and producer has released a special downloadable mix for fans to get pumped in time for his Stereosonic sets.

It’s a journey across space and time, covering 3 decades of house and electronica. You can sense those 90s trance build-ups, modern playful synth and vocal-heavy 2000s dance tunes. They hype travels smoothly up and down but the vitality never disappears – Beni sure doesn’t want you to take a break!

Fresh from his much-praised debut album release ‘House of Beni’, his Stereo mix explores a global spectrum of house music. That’s 48 minutes of hip hop beats, jazzy sax and smooth lounge grooves, futuristic techno, euroclub trumpets, trembling strings, electronica blips and whatever else you can imagine in his sound bubble.

It’s not as distilled and dance-worthy as his ‘House of Beni’ tracks but it’s a good one to leave on during pre-celebration. The middle section blends together, wearing out at times but it’s the minimalistic structure keeps the beat and bass going. The most irritating track is probably (Lazer Beams) with out-of-place high-pitched (that’s right) lasers.  Don’t fret – it’s followed by Beni’s own sweet tune ‘High Off Your Love’.

Remixes from other notable artists including DJ Sneak and Harvard Bass grace the mix, as well as a fun signoff from rap Le1f’s  ‘Wut’ to leave you in the mood to party. It’s a bit intense to listen to all in one go but it’s a great mix to get psyched for the summer festival season.

Published on Purple Sneakers.

Monday, 29 October 2012

'Death of a Salesman' at Theatre Royal

Death of a Salesman tells the story of a man a little too old to continue his demanding work and a little too young to leave it all together. Willy Loman and his wife Linda are struggling to pay off their mortgage and the stress shows when Willy starts to lose his concentration on the road. We meet the scene when drop-kick son Biff moves home after years of drifting, and past regrets rise to the surface.

It’s a sincere examination on what has changed and what has stayed the same in contemporary Western society. Does a ranch still cost a few thousand dollars? No. Do families still experience job disruption and personal stress?  Yes, of course. It was apparent how close to home some sections of the play resounded when an according laugh broke out of the audience - especially when Loman talks about the relief of paying off a house, only to have everyone moved out. Death of a Salesman is the classic twentieth century play, driven by dialogue, exempt from elaborate sets and performances – and the Belvoir production is just as raw, confronting and real. Director Simon Stone opts for a minimalist set and maximum power from the actors and stays true to Arthur Miller’s script.

Colin Friels holds a strong stage presence as Willy Loman, from his soft mad utterings to the loud, alarming outbursts of frustration. He concentrates on the power of the human voice and although reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s 1985 film performance, bared on stage Friels is almost frightening. His poetic reflections on work, life and the point of it are close to a modern truth. 

Patrick Brammall brings a sad sensitivity to Biff, the eldest Loman son, lost in the modern world where business means lying and the charismatic one always wins. Younger son Hap, played by Hamish Michael, counteracts Biff’s despondency with the chirpy tune of a young New York City slicker living the life of bars, business and ladies.

The Belvoir actors speak in an Australian twang and it’s true that this story could take place anywhere but Stone sets the piece by New York. It is a bit bizarre hearing an Australian talk about lumber and pounds. Death of a Salesman is a heavy watch, there’s no comic relief or musical interludes here, and that’s what makes it so powerful as a play. The performance demands a mature audience. For the words of 63 years ago are still meaningful and the Belvoir production articulates just that in a compelling, uninhibited interpretation.  

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Album Review - "Lonerism" by Tame Impala

Lonerism (2012)              ★  

It's been a long wait since 2009's Innerspeaker but Tame Impala are back with their distinct psychedelic tunes and sweeping melodies. There is even less of a pop structure to these tracks, the band's certainly not heading in the indie pop direction. Even so, it's hard not to appreciate the fragile vocals strung above a rhythmic bass, surging chorus and heavy electric guitar pulling together all the best parts of each genre of music: rock 'n' roll, acid rock, pop, folk and electronica.

Kevin Parker (frontman) thinks like an electronic producer and writes like an artist. Lonerism is deeply rooted in heavy instrumental tracks with a concealed seamlessness between tracks. The layering and textural elements are off the roof, developing the classic Tame Impala sound into a deeper swirling vortex. It's easy to get lost in the sonic sound but there's an apparent influence from classic psychedelics and the Beatles here. 'Mind Mischief' is reminiscent of Revolver with its group harmonies and loopy poetic lyrics. Tame Impala harness the spirit of 60s pop and 70s rock groove without emulating the same sound, they create one all their own.

From the get go the lyrics are introspective, thoughtful and enigmatic: “Are you too terrified to try your best/ Just to end up with an educated guess?” Single 'Apocalypse Dreams' was the first released off the album in July to great success but doesn't quite represent the complexity of Lonerism in full. There are melodies which rise and fall naturally in synch with instrumental and vocal components. It is a shame that most of the lyrics are lost in the overwhelming surreal sound but it's an album to delve discover as you go along, to listen to at different times and in different moods. 

Tame Impala bring in the new age synth and keyboard in 'Music to Walk Home By' and futuristic effects in a bubbly energetic 'Why Won't They Talk To Me' - which seems to be the 'Solitude is Bliss' of the second album. In any one track you can find slow acoustic moments, pulsating bass, retro harmonies and heavy electric guitar - each song exploring differing dynamics. It can feel like you're stuck in a time warp but then again Lonerism is so utterly contemporary and different to anything coming out of Australia right now. One for the masses? Highly doubt it. One to purchase for vinyl lovers, dance fans and anything else in between? Sure thing.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Film Review - "Looper" by Rian Johnson

Looper (2012)               1/2

Rian Johnson’s Looper is like 2010’s Inception with the gore of Die Hard – a sci-fi action film that doesn’t shy away from physical violence or the abstract complexity of a fabricated existence. It’s lucky then that the leading men of these two films, Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, play the main characters (or character, if you’re getting technical about it).

Time travel has been invented by the year 2074 but is immediately outlawed, sending organised crime flying and making urban violence a daily affair. Futuristic tracking devices make it impossible for assassins to dispose of bodies secretly, and so future city slickers take it upon themselves to develop the strategy of ‘loopers’, those who deal with victims of assassination, in the past. They live the classy life – showgirls, nightclubs, flashy cars and drugs – but it all changes when looper Joe (played by Gordon-Levitt) encounters his future self (played by Willis), who has been sent back to 2044.

The urban scenes of 2044 are confronting – a dirty, disorganised, unrecognisable place high in crime and social disarray. It has the bustle of an Indian city with the dangerous alleyways of a Detroit or Chicago. Up against the messy futuristic lifestyle, the vast sweeping Kansan plains have survived – and they are Joe’s location for securing victims. The special effects are impressive and the dramatic images look great on the big screen. We’re left sitting in suspense for most of the film.

Emily Blunt’s character, Sara, is introduced halfway through although she plays a key part. (It’s a bit bizarre to hear a drawling southern accent in place of her usual British articulation.) It does take time for the film to set up but once it makes sense how the system works, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and get lost in the film. Pierce Gagnon as Cid, Sara’s child, is surprisingly mature. He delivers his lines with aggression and clarity, which makes the scenes a little uneasy considering he’s only 10 years old. In fact, there’s both a wickedness and likeability to almost all of the characters, a tempting mix.

Looper is one big chase and a question of who will win: the criminals, the authorities or the targeted. The plot weaves well together in its final moments with a poignant look at human relationships. It’s true that, although technology will forever be updated and crises aplenty, the nature of human beings doesn’t really change. I have to admit it’s a little bit of a tearjerker ending.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Eugène Atget "Old Paris" at the Art Gallery of NSW

Coin de la Rue Valette et Pantheon (1925)

The photography of Eugène Atget opens up an entirely distinctive perception of Paris that is quite separate from what we have seen before. The hauntingly quiet streets, deteriorating apartment buildings and overgrown parks enrich the strong visual history of one of the world's favourite cities. The Art Gallery of NSW's exhibition "Old Paris"captures a pre-Haussmann Paris through a sepia lens in astonishing reality. In an age of retouching and digital enhancements, it is refreshing to notice the original art of photography and its ability to represent and articulate in its own way. A few street characters grace the collection but there is an overwhelming majority of urban landscapes - empty streets, parks and never-ending staircases.

"Old Paris" works chronologically through Atget's work while also separating thematically into his favourite subject matters. No print is enlarged and so it's an exhibition to take the time and look closely at the works. Atget captured the flavour of each arrondissement, from Montmatre's popular Place du Tetre to the serene grandiosity of the fifth and sixth quarters. The Eiffel Tower does not make an appearance, and other famous sites seem to peek out behind anonymous buildings, providing us with an authenticity which inspired documentary photographers to follow.

The intimate nature of the exhibition allows us to see the physical remnants of Atget's work - a scribbled number on a negative, clamp marks, naturel vignetting. "Old Paris" is indeed an ode to the monumental city but also an illustration of city life in the 18th century. The imagery seems at once both surreal and archival. It is the first time that Atget's work has been shown in Australia due to the fragile nature of the prints. The exhibition is attractive to both avid photographers and curious newcomers and one not to be missed by French fans.

Old Paris is at the Art Gallery of NSW until November 4.

Rue de l'Hôtel de Ville (1921)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Interview with Alexander Gow from Oh Mercy

Since we last spoke with OH MERCY, the band has played South by Southwest, added another member to the existing quartet, released their latest album Deep Heat to great acclaim and are about to head on a massive national tour. We had a chat with frontman Alexander Gow on performing in America, reading the classics and filming a music video.

The first thing we noticed about the Deep Heat album is of course the semi-nude woman on the cover, a follow-up from the Ken Done nude on their last album Great Barrier Grief. The striking shot of a carnival scene in Brazil was snapped by the late photographer Rennie Ellis and Gow relates this to an historical practice.

“Well, there’s a great tradition of having provocative photos and images of people, women, that have nothing to do with a particular making of an album on album covers and it started in the late 50s and through the 60s,” he says.

“It’s just something I’ve always admired and from the word go I wanted to keep that up in my music, I think it’s a point of interest and it’s putting feminine beauty on a platform, and I think it’s fun as well.”

And back to the music – Deep Heat is something entirely different for the band. There is no acoustic guitar rhythm or chord changes applied by piano. With more of a glam rock flavour and homage to music of the late 70s and 80s, Gow attributes this to a switch-up of instruments.

“I knew it was going to be a groove-based record and to do that you work from the bottom up, so there’s bass and drums and then the vocals and everything else is just, you know, bits and pieces,” he says.
“I suppose the main difference is the execution. I’ve always written in a similar way, whether it be on the guitar or the piano, I have a certain ‘song-writing style’ – I guess you could call it. The difference being this time that I decided to execute it differently in terms of instrumentation and arrangement.”

Before the release of Deep Heat, OH MERCY toured the states around the same time as some other Australian bands including Big Scary, DZ Deathrays and Dead Letter Circus. Performing at SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas provided the opportunity to catch some international acts but also see their Australian counterparts perform in-between.

“The idea of going to somewhere like America is really charming because of the extent of people that are always going to be an audience that will appreciate what we are doing,” Gow says.

“Austin itself is a really unique and beautiful part of the world and so basically when we go and tour in America it feels like one big holiday and we’re really lucky.”

For this new album, Alexander Gow actually taught himself how to play the piano. After four consecutive tours, he had a problem with one of his arms from playing the guitar so often but it didn’t hurt while playing the piano. “It actually wasn’t as romantic as it sounds,” he says, “I didn’t have to get very good at the piano to write music. For instance, I was not very good at the guitar either, I learnt a handful of chords, just enough to get by to write a song, so I’m no aficionado on the piano but I got by.”

A prominent influence which appears on Deep Heat, particularly track ‘Europa’, is that of classical literature- no, not even Jane Austen, think earlier, a millennium earlier. Gow spent some time reading the ancient myths and stories and was fascinated by the concepts. He cited Roman writer Ovid as a favourite for his sense of humour. “Lots of the concepts come from these stories, stories that are super perverse in terms of their sexuality and the violence – really, really out-there kind of things, things that would make most people quite squeamish and yet they write things that are generally considered taboo these days, and I found it really enticing and inspiring.”

Two months ago, OH MERCY released their debut music video off the Deep Heat record for single ‘Drums’. Alexander Gow also has a firm control over these elements of the band, making conscious decisions on aesthetics. (Check up our write-up of ‘Drums’ video here). “I knew for the first clip of the new album which was entirely different to anything else we’ve done, I didn’t want to make a narrative-based clip nor did I want to make a performance-based clip.” The actual production of the video was fairly homemade- inviting over the band’s friends for party time.

“Musically is probably the most carefree song on the record, so I just wanted to put on a party for my friends and I just wanted to dress up and have a bit of fun and see if we could capture that on film and we did just that. We even filmed for a couple of hours and the party went on for a fair few more!”
Gow hopes that this sort of atmosphere seeps into the music. What situation best complements OH MERCY? “I guess I’d like to think that it would be one to be played after a dinner party after a few too many wines or something like that when the table gets cleared out of the lounge room and that kind of vibe.”

Heading on the Deep Heat tour with OH MERCY will be Brisbane’s Millions. As far as being the support act goes, Gow thinks it’s a crucial part of breaking into the industry. OH MERCY themselves gained fans from supporting for the likes of Sparkadia, The Panics and Crowded House. He says, “Being the support act is the almost wonderful is that you can turn up to a venue and not have to worry about how full or how empty it’s gonna be – you can play to a ready-made audience and ideally you can win new fans. So that’s a really carefree, wonderful way to go about it.”

From this tour we can expect classic OH MERCY with a bit of a change in roles. “I’m not playing the guitar anymore so I’m having to take on that front role kind of front-man role and that’s different. I’ve got a gold jacket, that’s different. I won’t parachuting in from a helicopter or anything like that.” (phew!)
I know my band so intimately that I know the way that they express their joy or dismay. I can tell when everyone’s having a good time and it’s contagious and a really wonderful thing when it happens.”

In the near future we’ll be looking out for a music video for ‘My Man’ which OH MERCY worked on last weekend. “That was Saturday and Sunday, like a 2 14-hr suit and hopefully that’s ready in like a week or two. It was really ambitious and lot’s of fun to make.”

How has the music been received so far? It’s too early to tell but fans are already catching on to the mood. Gow says, “I’m yet to be tucked away in a dark corner of a club when they’re playing it and watching people but I look forward to that day and I know people kind of get that and appreciate the change in direction.”

Published on Purple Sneakers.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Album Review - "Observator" by the Raveonettes

Observator (2012)               1/2

The new record from Danish duo The Raveonettes, Observator is the voice of the disillusioned youth splashed with Everly Brothers inspired harmonies and an enveloping liberal electronic sound. The experimental structure and deviation from clear pop arrangement lets us sink into the work, tossing and turning in the lyrics and bathing in the resonant cosmic sound. The subject matter articulates troubled thoughts in a seamless story, with a clear mellow take on love, relationships and life which unfortunately loses its compelling edge towards the second half of the album.

Observator begins with a striking opening track ‘Young and Cold’ which is at once both melancholy and lively. In classic Raveonnettes style, the track focuses on loneliness, regret and feeling unloved, with an acoustic guitar overlaying fuzzy electro. The lyrics are poignant: “I get a shiver from broken hearts.  I like the sun when it don’t shine. /I make it hard on anyone.” Sune Rose Wagner’s dejected low vocals generate discord among Sharin Foo’s cries above. Following track ‘Observations’ is reminiscent of an electrified Velvet Underground, with subdued vocals, layered sound and consistent percussion. The sincerity of the lyrics is buried under the peaceful harmonious delivery but after a few listens, the meaning becomes more apparent and successfully captures a youthful artistic spirit.

It is easy to get swept away in Observations, the filtered sound and delicate hurt vocals make for perfect background music as well as internal headphone listening. The seamlessness between tracks is a romantic throwback to a time long before digital releases and the reign of singles. It would be interesting to see what sort of music videos come out of this album. ‘Curse the Night’ is one of the most mournful songs on the album, with soft closed vocals and free guitar strumming conveying the torment – this could be about any sort of breakup, ending, ‘night’.  Sharin Foo’s fragile delivery makes for an endearing piece: “I cry my day, I travel your sea/I wanted you, you didn’t want me.”

As the album progresses it delves into more anchored work, channelling the likes of the dejected Irish band The Cranberries and possibly even the cheekiness of The Smiths, with a less haziness and distortion. ‘The Enemy’ is strong and spiteful: “I tossed and turn/killing time with myself” with a pop twist in the surging chorus. The twangy guitar solo backed by hippie tambourine evokes a retro sound supported by contemporary poetry in the lyrics. Again, the album becomes less mysterious, in a way, towards the end with the narratives centering around troublesome girls, old lovers and past memories. ‘Sinking with the Sun’ begins with a healthy energy, sounding more like their previous electronic works. 'She Owns The Streets' provides  thought-provoking circumstances: “If they catch you and commit me/ they’ll never know what this life is about.”

Observator has quite an existential mood, each song presents a situation acting as a small fragment of life's journey. The dozy vocals appear calm but on further inspection are convicted and compelling. ‘Till the End’ is a suitable ending to the stirring album, one of the most assertive and dramatic tracks, celebrating devotion and commitment. ‘Slow down, don’t go, /for the moment I belong to you’

Are all words which encompass what this album is about. In a way, it could be about anything, really.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Interview with Sam from Last Dinosaurs

Bassist of Last Dinosaurs Sam Gethin-Jones with frontman Sean Caskey.

The classic story of the short-lived high school band ends with the group parting ways to find a real job, maybe study some more and packing the guitar away for weekend jams- but LAST DINOSAURS did not stop at school.  Since the start of 2012, they have released their first album, performed with Bloc Party and played a killer set at Splendour. They’re also soon to head over back to tour the UK. Bassist Sam Gethin-Jones spoke about annoying girlfriends, the Brisbane music scene and quoting the English version of The Office, in England.

LAST DINOSAURS are about to embark on their national Satellites tour after the rousing success of March release In A Million Years. Sam wasn’t sure about how the album would be received earlier this year, but with an average 5/5 rating on both Triple J Unearthed (where these guys started out) and iTunes, there don’t seem to be any haters.

When it comes to playing at a festival, Sam says that the band is sometimes anxious about how new fans will receive their music.“Obviously when you go to your own shows, it’s a different sort of anticipation leading up to the show because you know that people are there to see your songs and they appreciate your music,” he says, “so in some ways I probably prefer the build-up to our own shows."

“But then you do something like Splendour and you’ve got, I don’t know, 9000 people out there and it’s such an overwhelming experience just that sheer amount of people watching you.”

LAST DINOSAURS are now taking their tunes over to the UK for a tour. A recording opportunity with an overseas label has materialised for the group - recently signing with Fiction Label, who looks after the likes of Crystal Castles and Kaiser Chiefs and it seems to working well so far. Dan and Sam have found friends in their office: “They really get us, they’re an awesome label. One of the people is a massive fan of Ricky Gervais and The Office and me and Dan both know every word to every episode so he’s been so much fun just to quote The Office to. Everyone there, their heads aren’t up their arses like a lot of people in the music industry.”

DINOS tunes are comparable to sound from The Kooks and The Arctic Monkeys so should fit into the British indie scene. Their single ‘Zoom’ is going to radio as they head over but Sam thinks that this will be a gradual process: “I think it’s going to take a while before we really make an impact, if at all, but we’re definitely keen to put in the hard work.”

With a heavy amount of airplay, DINOS create super catchy choruses, crazy riffs and sentimental melodies. Standout tracks include ‘Honolulu’, last summer’s tune (released previously as a single), or ‘Used To Be Mine’ with Julian Casablancas-style vocals and surging echoed electric guitar. But according to Sam the song that gets every crowd going is ‘Zoom’.

“We release it at the end and that always gets a stupid reaction,” Sam says. “People seem to pick up the lyrics really fast so in the chorus there’s a section where we all stop and Sean’s meant to sing “I don’t want to be just another…” and you can’t usually hear him because the crowd sings it back and that always feels really good.”

The crowd has spread from their hometown in Brisbane, reaching foreign shores, and the band’s excited to be in the scene at the moment: “I think Brisbane right now is providing some of the most exciting music in Australia and I think it’s just awesome to be part of the movement.”

Last Dinosaurs performing at Splendour in the Grass, July 2012.
It’s hard to ignore the recent sensations of Brisbane groups, with bands such as The Cairos, The Jungle Giants and Dune Rats reaching national success in the past year. DINO’s Sam actually went to school with Millions and the ‘awesome two guys’ from Gung Ho, who he played drums with for their early gigs. We’re not quite sure why this has all happened together, what they’re eating, or the sun? “I mean the whole thing is extremely close, we’re all seeing each other more than once a week, just hanging out.”

“There’s definitely a little bit of healthy competition, I think we push each other because you know someone comes out with, Dune Rats have had that song ‘Fuck It’ and I think everyone’s feeling the pressure because that was such an awesome song and whenever bands come out with a great song you’re like that song’s too good, I have to try to write something as good or better.”

The hard work and instrumental skills that Sam told us about have been noticed on the album, with a surprisingly mature element to their work. “We all try and excel as musicians, so we try and challenge ourselves, so we always write quite technical music and for some reason it all kinds of comes out sounding pretty happy, with the exception of a few songs,” he says.  Despite the catchy indie pop sound, some of Sean’s (lead vocalist) writing ventures into darker themes.

“I quite like how it’s combating ideas, the poppy music and the deeper lyrics,” Sam says. “When we’re doing the instruments together, I suppose, we’re usually in a pretty good mood. And then the lyrics align so you’ve got more time to mull things over and be a bit deeper,” he says. 

Sam has always dreamed of music, literally playing with ‘pots and pans’ as a little kid and picking up music at primary school, playing drums and piano. He picked up bass with LAST DINOSAURS, trying it out at their first few gigs and eventually sticking with it (kind of like Paul McCartney). In the alternate universe, if he weren’t in a band, bassist Sam thinks that he would probably end up in something like investment banking. This week he’s back to uni, via correspondence while the band is travelling, to study finance!

“I find myself, I’m really motivated right now, so, I think in terms of the age that we are right now as a band, it’s sort of now’s the time to give everything you’ve got because this is where you decide what you’re going to be doing in your future. In my downtime I just figure I want to get a degree and keep my brain active,” Sam says.

As for his own listening experience, he’s sticking to R&B on the ipod. “I’m listening to the new Rick Ross album recently and there’s a song on there called ‘Sixteen’ and it’s got Andre 3000 from Outkast. It’s the best song I’ve heard this year, it’s like unbelievable.”

 And when’s the ideal time to listen to LAST DINOSAURS? “I think most people would probably say when the sun’s out because it’s ‘summery pop music’ but I don’t really listen to our music at all so I can’t really tell you,” he says. “A girl I was seeing used to play it to annoy me because she knew she’d get a reaction out of me if she danced around my room to my own music.”

There’s no doubt LAST DINOSAURS have been super busy the first half of this year, with national and international touring, releasing A Million Years and even playing with Bloc Party at a gig in Brisbane! Nevertheless, there’s still time for more song writing in downtime which lucky gig attendees will get a taste of. “We’ve got a few new songs kicking around- I think the plan is that we’re going to debut some of them in October around the Australian tour, so it will be really good to gauge fan’s reactions because it sounds quite different.”

And just like the lyrics of ‘Honolulu’, for LAST DINOSAURS, “The story only just, it just began, and surely it should never ever end.” 

Last Dinosaurs: Dan Koyama, Sam Gethin-Jones, Lachlan Caskey, Sean Caskey.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Film Review - "Moonrise Kingdom" by Wes Anderson

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)                      ★★★☆

Existential qualms already trouble Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) when she discovers a pamphlet in her family kitchen: “Coping With A Troubled Child”.  The new indie flick from director Wes Anderson combines the infinite imagination of the young with his classic commentary on the fragility of family relations.

Suzy has been keeping in touch with her penpal (how quaint), 12-year-old boy-scout and orphan, Sam Shakusky (played by Jared Gilman) after the pair met at a school play. Their correspondences eventuate into a plan to flee the unremarkable town and a disorderly search party follows.

The stylised cinematography portrays (Shakespeare-style) a place imagined yet realistic—New Penzance Island. The film captures the spirit of 1965 with the ‘Wes Anderson aesthetic’ recreating subdued sepia tones, individualistic costumes and existential dialogue: “Does it concern you that your daughter has just run away from home?” “That’s a loaded question.”

We begin with three young boys listening to Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” on a retro portable record player. Anderson’s swift camera movement from room to room draws attention to the fact that we’re indulging in a story. There’s something both innocent and considered in the young serious characters who don’t say more than they need to.

A light-hearted touch comes from the eccentric narration (by Bob Balaban), an old man in a beanie placed sporadically in various locations around the island. It’s these sorts of disruptions that put Anderson’s work somewhere between a film and a play. It’s a pleasant viewing experience. Filmed mostly on Rhode Island we’re exposed in wide shots of picturesque untouched nature and dollhouse buildings.

I was reminded of Peter Pan, not only from the mirroring escapade to exotic island, but by Suzy’s character, especially when she reads a story to the scouts perched around her, fascinated, à la Wendy and the Lost Boys. Her use of binoculars is her interpretation of a ‘magic power’, an endearing thought. She’s a disturbed quiet young girl, not unlike Margot Tenenbaum, from Anderson’s 2001 film.

My favourite scene is when the kids set up camp by an enclosed pebble-lined beach, a Chickasaw sacred site. They strip to their retro underwear, put on Francoise Hardy’s dreamy “Le Temps de L’amour” and dance. And learn to kiss. And feel each other up. It’s a bit awkward considering their pre-pubescent age but it’s sweet in a way.

Kudos to Bruce Willis- playing policeman Captain Shark, yet far from the usual tough guy act, as a sad vulnerable man. Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are included – Murray as Suzy’s strict yet disillusioned father and Schwartzman a Cousin Ben, quirky scout leader. Tilda Swinton also makes an appearance, as uptight suited ‘Social Services’ bringing hilarity to a serious issue, in her own style.

The great part about centering a story on two kids is that for just under two hours we can suspend disbelief and escape with them. Fictional yet realistic, Moonrise Kingdom’s fantastical take on the world asks the simplest yet most important questions.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Bill Bailey at the Capitol Theatre

Bill Bailey began Qualmpeddler by bounding on stage with the youthful frivolity of a comedian receiving his first big audience. The cheeky comic’s inexhaustible exuberance belies his cynicism, making for a pleasant tour through the existential anxieties of contemporary life.

Bailey, who these days looks more like a big-time comic than an over-confident roadie, relates personal anecdotes about Australian adventures, but he’s also notably boned up on Aussie current affairs and pop culture. He quickly gets his audience on side with jabs at “famous-for-no-reason” Lara Bingle and by stirring the crowd into a collective jazz jam, making his stage presence feel like a night spent with your favourite dinner party companion. The political commentary was biting without gloom: he pulls references from shameless US campaigning, British government antics and even the Gillard chronicles, and his light-hearted touch was often as simple as comparing conservatives to porridge.

As expected, a big part of the show featured his trademark musical mash-ups, deconstruction of language and pop-culture throwbacks. At times it felt like Bailey was playing songs for the sake of it, but the exotic instruments – like a saz-bouzouki and a foghorn – definitely added a sense of playfulness. It’s hard to go past his trance remix of a church organ song or his reggae/dub step interpretation of Downtown Abbey’s ‘My Mother Is An Ox’. Bailey has charm and intellect with a circumlocutory element that makes any rambling observation a hilarious spoof, the main victims being Australian
accents and the internet generation.

Although relying largely on the spoken word, Bailey’s physicality is well timed: he jumps, crouches, shakes his fist and points at the crowd like a medieval jester. The show lasted for just under two hours, and was definitely worth the cost, particularly if you’re already a fan.

Published in The Brag Magazine.