Monday, 25 May 2015

Sufjan Stevens at the Sydney Opera House

Photo: Daniel Boud

It’s the hardest part of being an artist – letting go of your work – and Sufjan Stevens lets go all the way. In the first of his performances for Vivid 2015, he transformed the Concert Hall into a mesmerising montage of his life’s narrative. First thought when the lights came on is that it had to be this venue – such a large sound compared to the record and the seating meant that most of the crowd didn’t hold up their smartphones for the entire show.

One by one, his band members came to the stage in a theatrical mode and incrementally brought Carrie & Lowell to life. It is strange to hear the same lyrics uttered live when listening to the record feels like intruding into a private therapy session. And especially when a large part of the vocals are in Stevens whispered, almost spoken style.

The lighting was violent and in true Vivid fashion, it worked with the audio behind it. From heavenly blue light washing over the band singing multi-part harmonies in “Death With Dignity”, to harsh red strobes in “Drawn To The Blood”, the playful-sombre dynamic of Stevens’ music was realised in full form. And I’m left wondering how cathartic this experience is for Stevens himself. At least he seemed to be wiping his eyes throughout the show - from tears or sweat, we’ll never know. But it is hard not to feel something when he stares into the crowd singing, “What did I do to deserve this?”

Stevens and his band pulled out a whole different collection of instruments – box guitar, ukelele, chimes and banjos. All of which gave the show a rich sound that comes across as slightly coarser than the record – it’s by no means easy listening. In his live rendition of “Fourth of July”, he stretches out the final line, “We’re all going to die”, into a violent thrashing crescendo that definitely clears up misconceptions that Sufjan mainly writes from his imagination.

He’s no stranger to preaching on stage and surprisingly didn’t speak for nearly the first hour. But once he did, Stevens dove into topics difficult and divine, from grief to prayer (And he put on what looked like a kid’s cap to do so). At times, it sounded like a Matthew McConaughey script, “We all come from dust and we return to dust.” But he did express his grasp on mortality in a poetic way: “In grief, we forget that we are capable of illumination.” It’s a shame that most of the audience was laughing - I don’t think it was meaningless audience chitchat that he was going for.

The Concert Hall lighting panels were given a church window cutout and wavered during the show between old-school home videos and landscapes. Most of us were familiar with the subject matter of his latest record – his troubled relationship with his mother, who passed away in 2012 – but the home videos flickering in the back of his performance made it all feel very exposed. And while the band performed instrumental jams in between tracks, the lighting got frantic and it felt like we were opened up to Stevens’ raw frustrations and painful deliberations – or perhaps what his dreams are like.

But then Stevens pars it down to the bare essentials – when he performed solo with an acoustic guitar on “Eugene” and “The Only Thing.” I won’t lie – when he repeated, “Should I tear my eyes out now?” in a hushed sense of defeat, it did make me well up.

We heard plenty of old tracks after the Carrie & Lowell performances, such as 2010’s “Futile Devices,” 2004’s “To Be Alone With You” and an especially big cheer for 2005’s “Chicago.” And then, what came as most unexpected was an extended light show that could be a Vivid exhibition in itself, with disco balls, flashing panels and strobes over a (very loud) instrumental jam. Stevens received multiple standing ovations, standing humbly with his band and thanking us for letting him return to our weird and wonderful country. And one lasting legacy: “That’s my prayer – look alive, be alive.”

Published on theAUReview.

Interview with Anth Wendt from Oisima

We recently caught up with Oisima, who has just released his long-awaited Nicaragua Nights LP and will be touring it later in the year. He talked the album creation process, Adelaide warehouse parties and why he chose to put a Rihanna sample into one of his singles.

Okay, I’m going to jump straight into it. We first got word of Nicaragua Nights a few years ago, so when did the album idea start to form in your head?
Well I guess I started writing the skeleton of it pretty much straight after Goddess (his 2012 debut EP) was released a few years ago. And it just took along with that definition.

So Vivid Live just started in Sydney, I have the light shows in my head. What are you envisaging for your live tour of this album?
Yeah, I’m pretty much working on the album release at the moment. And the tour is going to be around the end of June, early July. So yeah it’s just putting it all together, I have no idea right now how I’m going to do it. It’s going to be different and special and I’ll have some good guest artists coming with me on the tour so it should be a lot of fun.

Will those guest artists be the same as those who you collaborated with on Nicaragua Nights?
Potentially, yes. I don’t want to say too much yet.

So I have to ask this, have you been to Nicaragua?
No, no I haven’t. It might be happening at the end of this year. I have no idea how it all came along – I think it was when I was watching a documentary and I fell in love with the vibe that I got through the TV and what I thought it would be like.

I’ve been listening to Lapalux’s Lustmore recently and I saw you posted his track “Closure” on your Facebook page. I’m sure you get over-asked about your influences, but what other artists or albums are you digging at the moment?
At the moment I’ve been thrashing the new Hiatus Kaiyote record, I’m a huge fan of those guys, just loving that. I love Bonobo The North Borders (2013) which kind of came out during the process of making the record, so it had a big influence. A lot of Lapalux. I don’t listen to heaps and heap s of electronic stuff, it’s kind of a bit more like jazz and afrobeat.

That description reminds me of this trip hop band I saw in France last year – Chinese Man – they mix sampling with live jazz instruments.
I’ll have to check them out.

This probably won’t apply to our readers, but what can you say to convert the last acoustic snobs to electronic music?
I love particular straight electronic acts. I guess the way I put it together this album – I was pretty conscious on this new record of making it sound very live and a lot of the elements, the majority of the elements, are recorded with actual instruments. I don’t know, there’s an art form to being an electronic producer with no instruments, and to not master an instrument, but I don’t think they’re any different really.

Why did you originally put down your guitar to work on production?
I have no idea. I never had any intention of doing any of this kind of this stuff. I just met two guys down here in Adelaide, Slamagotchi and a guy called How Green, and we literally just sat in my studio, the three of us, and kind of fooled around for the best part of a year. That’s where I met Sebastian (Slamagotchi.) I’d never actually seen an audio program or anything like that.

I feel like that is part of a bigger Australian narrative in the electronic music scene – experimental artists now rising in popularity. Maybe if we heard your album 10 years ago, it would have been received differently.
Yeah I reckon so, for sure. With my latest one, during the creation process, I was really conscious of writing it to be able to be performed without any electronic instruments. I got some big plans of having lots of people on stage and doing all live versions of my music. As much as I loved when I started making electronic music, like with bass stuff, I guess I’ve kind of grown more towards song-writing, like guys like Bonobo. That’s kind of what’s become more interesting to me.

Sydney and Melbourne seem to get all the press – tell me about the Adelaide music scene. What’s happening down there that we wouldn’t know about?
Adelaide’s crazy. It’s full of extremely amazing, amazing artists, from everything – from jazz, we’ve just got an insane amount of incredible jazz musicians like Ross McHenry. Our house and techno scene has Luke Million and all that kind of stuff. There’s so much going on down here. Over February to end of March we’ve got the Fringe Festival down here and WOMA Adelaide and lots of warehouse parties. I guess it’s slowly getting exposed to the rest of the country, but a lot of it is kept here. But it’s an exciting place to be – it’s very understated.

You’ve played the Red Bull Music Academy stage at Splendour, so how do you change your set from an intimate gig to a festival?
I do enjoy when I play a clear difference between the record and music I perform live. I end up making my live shows completely different to my record. In that sense, my live sets are very mixed up and upbeat. When you start playing bigger rooms and bigger festivals, you don’t want everyone just standing still.

Well from my side, it seems like you’re already getting a lot of praise for the record.
Yeah it’s been crazy. It’s always hard to put it out there and to be judged.

That sounds like Chet Faker talking about Built On Glass, when he scrapped a whole album in the process.
Totally, I mean every artist knows that the hardest part of what we do is actually letting things go. Once it’s out in the world and on the Google machine, you can’t change anything and get it back.

So what would you say to someone aspiring to make electronic music, to the wannabe amateurs who are reading this?
Don’t just try and make it to triple J – keep being expressive. With the electronic thing at the moment I find that there are a lot of bands who are kind of creating for that rather than something that they really want to express. I feel like that is getting caught in the hype that is “my song playing on the radio.” But it would be nice for people to express themselves and being okay to make something a weird.

Well I did actually hear “Take Your Time” today on triple j, but it’s not a particularly commercial track.
Yeah no it’s not. It wasn’t a conscious decision. A lot of the tracks have been played on the radio, which has been really nice, and especially with “Take Your Time.” Yeah, it is very strange because my stuff doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.

Ok what was the thinking behind putting the Rihanna (“Russian Roulette”) sample on “Take Your Time?”
The thing was, when I was making that stuff I was literally just making it with a shitty vocal sample that I had on my computer. I just pitched that particular one down and I was actually just going to leave it as a reference and I was going to go back and record it and sing it myself or get someone else to sing it. It just kind of ended up staying. It’s so weird – I didn’t think people were going to pick what it was but so many people have. So it’s a bit embarrassing.

It’s kind of cool, like Cyril Hahn “Say My Name” – you would not think of Destiny’s Child on deep house.
Yeah but there’s something about the acapellas from a lot of R&B music that especially in electronic music it just kind of fits. And it’s really funny listening to a vocal like that in a completely different context. And then trying to make it work, it’s fun.

What are you looking forward to in 2015?
I have been waiting to put this album out, it was meant to come out at so many different points in the past and that changed. And I’ve got a tour at the end of June/early July in Australia and New Zealand and then trying to get over to the States later in the year and give that a crack. I’ll start writing for the next record which takes up a lot of time and writing the music for Annabel’s (Weston) solo. And yeah, I’ll be taking it as it comes.

Published on AdamNOTEve. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Tyler, The Creator - "Cherry Bomb"

Tyler is the mischief maker of our time, that’s for sure. But on his new record Cherry Bomb he takes the back seat on telling kids to “burn shit” and starts talking riches and diamonds. This release has a different feel from where he started but the production dynamics are amped up and Tyler ditches straight hip-hop for genre-breaking tracks.

First thoughts when I press play on first track ‘Deathcamp’: this is super upbeat…electric guitar?? What is going on? And whose voice is this?” But then Tyler, The Creator sets the tone for his critique on “the big ol’ lights,” and our destructive obsession with fame. He knows he’s changed: “I bought me a mansion, /that brought some attention.”

While Tyler feels slightly absent from this album, his presence is strong in ways that are not so blatant as raising his voice. He cheekily quotes Kanye on ‘Cherry Bomb’ (“I am a god”) and updates his commentary on mainstream culture on ‘Smuckers’, “fuck your snapchat.” (Kanye actually has a verse on the former track.)

Parts of the record are super slow and lyrically driven but then others are chaotic and fuzzy, this is not for background listening. Sometimes Tyler’s rapping fights to be heard behind asymmetric dance beats. Who would have expected looping piano chords and space synth on a Tyler track? Or jazz sax?

But there’s also a sense of nostalgia to this album, especially with the spoken interludes and faux radio broadcasts. Its variety is perplexing: from double-time husky rapping on ‘Run’ to what might be the most we’ve seen of Tyler showing his romantic side on ‘Okaga, Ca.’ Yes it’s chaotic, yes it clashes and he still brings the Odd Future spirit to Cherry Bomb but it feels a little more refined.

Published on AdamNOTEve.

Peace at Oxford Art Factory, pt. II

As soon as Peace took to the stage in Sydney's underground Oxford Art Factory, the space took off with an intensity of sound that made it seem like an outdoor festival. I saw Peace play the same venue two years ago and their confidence levels are now even higher, it felt like a seasoned rock band was performing, instead of a new indie collective.

Singer Harry Koisser swayed around in a kimono over a t-shirt, guitarist Doug Castle bent down and played his guitar to the crowd. Peace played their two-album’s worth of songs with extra energy and elongated instrumental breaks. I moved around three times during the night and heard English accents all around, I think the boys had a lot of home supporters present but alongside plenty of young Aussies keen to see some music on Friday night played not from a DJ deck, but from real live instruments.

"Oh it's Friday, on Friday I do my thing!" Harry kept his comic composure going throughout the gig but didn’t speak too much. Besides, anything he said elicited screams (female and male) from the audience. Peace have truly garnered a reputation as an exciting live act. Back to back performances of old and new tracks got the crowd excited, especially "Lovesick" into "I'm A Girl." Their sophomore album Happy People was only released a few months ago, but the fans are all over it and even the bartenders were clapping along by the end.

Despite the festival-like energy they created in volume and pace, Peace were just as capable to slow down their set and indulge in some of their more sentimental tracks. "Perfect Skin" is one of my favourites off Happy People and probably one of the most vulnerable in terms of lyrics alongside "I'm A Girl", which we also heard. Staring down at their instruments in utter focus like young musos in a bedroom rehearsal, the band almost lent a frenetic frustration to the lyrics, "And if I had perfect skin/ Would I feel pure within?"

The crowd was clapping of their own accord throughout and singing along just like at their last Sydney show. Dominic played an epic drum solo when introduced to the crowd and the rest of the band joined in afterwards with pedal-heavy jam. And of course they came back on for an encore performance, In Love’s "Float Forever" into Happy People’s "World Pleasure." "We would come back in three weeks if we could!" Harry announced as finished up their encore, leaving the audience very satisfied.

Published on theAUReview

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Album Review: Say Lou Lou "Lucid Dreaming"

Let’s be honest: we’ve moved on from categorising music into specific genres and poking at technical faults which would otherwise be a simple jab at creative expression. Lucid Dreaming isn’t just a pop or electronic creation but an album which celebrates the whimsical and meditates on human passion.

If you haven’t heard of them yet, (check out their 2014 collab with Chet Faker or cover of Tame Impala) Say Lou Lou are Elektra and Miranda Kilby, an Australian-Swedish sister duo. They’ve been previously featured on French label Kitsuné and are gaining a presence with a playful approach to heartbreak that can just as smoothly evolve into a slow moody burn.

‘Julian’ carries something of a Lana Del Rey sentimentality, (“once we get across the border”) –the wild spirit on an American road-trip – but isn’t as heavy in melodramatics. Then the duo slow it down for ‘Angels (Above Me)’ with what seem to be the most endearing vocals married to the gradual sentiment of vulnerability on the album: “Are we really who we pretend to be/ I don’t know you and you don’t know me.”

Lucid Dreaming is slightly short of hooks, but it seems to be more about a general spirit than an arrangement of sound. Previously released single ‘Nothing But A Heartbeat’ is still strong and catchy. There’s an energy to their songs which will translate well into a live context, especially at a festival.

For fans of MS MR, the slow, climactic choruses – which verge slightly away from a pop structure – will appeal. Also, Clean Bandit rings a bell with a similar mood of “featherweight pop.” But who am I to pull out references, genre-free and flowing, Lucid Dreaming could be the soundtrack to stretched-out sleepless nights in restless thoughts.