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22 Dec The 100 Best Australian Tracks 2016



2016 has been a great year for our expanding breadth of artists within the Australian music scene. To accommodate (and celebrate), we have decided to limit our annual Australian Top 100 Tracks list to only one song per artist, and even then some artists we unfortunately couldn’t fit into the list. But after two months of chiselling away at this list, we feel like it best represents what’s happening over here, as we move into 2017. The list doesn’t just feature a diverse range of sub-genres unique to Australia, both old and new, but it is rightfully made up of many people of colour, women, LGBTQIA and non-binary artists. We’re delighted to see such a spectrum of artists receiving the attention they deserve!

Hopefully, this list will help do its little part in pushing the Australian music scene forward into new, exciting and intriguing directions, as it creates timeless tracks that we and the next generation will still enjoy in 20 years. We have put the list into Spotify and SoundCloud playlists, because that’s what’s best to use in 2016 (hello 2036).

Big thanks to everyone who emailed nice compliments, submitted music, liked, shared, retweeted or @tagged at us this year. It means a lot to the whole Ripe team. Let’s do it all again in 2017!

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100. Statue – ‘Entrance’

99. Saatsuma – ‘Floating’

98. Alice Ivy ft. Georgia Van Etten – ‘Touch’

97. Take Your Time – ‘Sleep In’

96. HTMLflowers – ‘Fast Car (Mom, Don’t Listen 2 This)’

95. Hi-Tec Emotions – ‘Look Around’

94. András – ‘Poets Day’

93. Smile – ‘Central Business Dickheads’

92. Dan White – ‘Tribla’

91. Body Type – ‘Ludlow’

90. Tyrannamen – ‘You Should Leave Him’

89. Mall Grab – ‘Sun Ra’

88. Lower Plenty – ‘Glory Rats’

87. Major Leagues – ‘Better Off’

86. Cut Copy – ‘January Tape Part 3’

85. Albrecht Labrooy – ‘Hospital Road’

84. Courtney Barnett – ‘Three Packs A Day’

83. Arthur Miles – ‘Jessica’s Place’

82. Sunset Dreams – ‘What’s On Your Mind’

81. The Goods ft. Unkle H – ‘Only One’

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20 Feb Trading Tunes with Le Pie

Le Pie is an emerging multi-instrumentalist and singer from Sydney, who creates music that sounds like Joni Mitchell fronting a ’90s grunge band or just the Dum Dum Girls. Well at least her impressive EP And He Said Honey, You Look So Fine last year sounded along those lines. However her latest single ‘Up All Night‘ finds her sound moving into Sleater-Kinney or Ex Hex territory. It’s confident, assertive and full of memorable lyrics.

While we wait for the next EP or album, that may just explode her on to the national scene in 2016. She’s sent us five tunes she’s been listening to lately. You can catch Le Pie performing at the University of Wollongong on the 27th of February with another new favourite of ours Phantastic Ferniture (ticket link).


Phantastic Ferniture – ‘Gap Year’

“I’ll be honest and say I am just a little bit obsessed with this new Sydney act right now! I stumbled across them last year with their debut release Fuckin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ which is also a great track but I must admit I have their latest offering, ‘Gap Year’, on repeat most days. Beautiful indie pop guitars, a driving bass line and Stevie Nicks like vocals effortlessly floating over the top. What’s not to love about that combo?”


Morning TV – ‘Golden’

“I’ve only just come across this band recently, as far as I know they are a young, all female act from Sydney with just the one release. This track instantly reminded me of The Breeders which is probably why I’m digging it so hard. Can’t wait to see what else these ladies have up their sleeves.”


Pop Cult – ‘ Gotta Keep Lovin”

“If you love the Dandy Warhols you are going to dig this track. Fuzzy guitars, too cool for school nonchalant vocals and a clip that harks back to that early 20’s wasteland we can all relate to, or maybe that’s just me?”


Ross Henry – ‘Blue Horizon’

“Just stumbled across this guy, instantly grabbed my attention at the beginning of the track with the dripping water sound effects. Super dreamy with beautiful vocals.”


Peppermint Cloud Club – ‘Young Lovers’

“Omg I loooove the production on this track, it’s so dreamy and effortless, feels like I’m floating through a summer haze (can you see a pattern forming here with my musical taste? What can I say, I’m a dreamer!) I was hooked on this track the first listen, the guitars are fucking amazing and I’m especially loving the keys that now and then tap into a little Supertramp vibe. Get caught up 🙌🏼”


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18 Feb Premiere: Ciggie Witch – ‘Meet Me In The Middle’

 

Ciggie Witch are a constant in the unpredictable Melbourne guitar pop scene. The drawl of Mitch Clemens has you hanging off the lyrics, from the mundane through to the Carly Rae Jepsen references, while the slide guitar holds a presence that no doubt separates them from the pack.

Meet Me In The Middle’ carries a melancholic tone. The kind of Monday morning blues feeling. The sort where you’re sitting there watching bullshit day time soaps, mumbling inaudible insults at yourself for your actions on the weekend past.

The tone does in fact mirror the lyrical content, as Mitch reflects on his time as a state level racing cyclist at 15 or 16, never drinking. the reflection was brought on by a friend’s party, located on a road he used to ride down. The song is set five years following these rides, at the party. The party was a mess; Clemens wound up making a fool of himself and calling some girl who still had feelings for her ex – hence the tone.

In the context of the track, Clemens stated that “people often talk about feeling they have been somewhere before, but I more often get the feeling that I will be back in a place again, so the verses convey that feeling, as well as self- and Carly Rae Jepsen-referencing.” In keeping with this thought train, the video was shot at Fairfield Boat House, a spot his dad used to bring he and his sister to when he was younger. The return visit captured this feeling, while the simplicity of the ducks and the drab, wintery essence of the footage incorporate the mundane melancholia of ‘Meet Me In The Middle’.

As a package, ‘Meet Me In The Middle’ is a brilliant representation of Melbourne guitar pop, touching upon issues of a non-geographic nature, while offering what is an undeniably Aussie skew to the sound and delivery.

 

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17 Feb St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is filling the space left by the Big Day Out

 

In 2014, one of the co-founders of the Big Day Out music festival, Vivian Lees, stated during an interview with Triple J that “Big Day Out set the high benchmark which is not going to be succeeded by a one-day festival in the near future, for sure.” That near future is now.

Stereosonic attendance numbers are far higher than those of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, but Stereosonic is only a place for electronic dance music, while this year’s Laneway lineup was dominated by bands with guitars like those seen for years at Big Day Out. Laneway also covers the five major Australian cities and New Zealand in a similar fashion.

 

 

BDO tried a few Laneway tricks in its final years by booking non-guitar acts who you could easily see playing a Laneway slot, such as Girl Talk, Röyksopp, Das Racist, Animal Collective, Crystal Castles, Death Grips, Flume and Toro Y Moi. But these bookings were too few and far between, or past that perfectly-timed point of peak interest, something Laneway Festival has nailed every year since it started in 2005 (except this year, which I’ll get to later). So why does Laneway’s formula work for them, while BDO faltered? The appeal of a one day festival will always draw a young crowd, yet only Laneway actually provides new and young artists, while BDO continued to target old and theoretically nostalgic ones – which made sense, before the advent of the internet.

2005 was the year that online music behemoth Pitchfork held their first festival in Chicago, and was also the year Arctic Monkeys exploded on to the scene via MySpace. It would take another eight years for Big Day Out to realise the power of the internet, whereas it has always played a big role in the Laneway formula. It’s no secret that they’ve been following Pitchfork very carefully for years, providing similar line-ups to the latter’s festivals in Chicago and Paris, and snagging new artists with popular releases out in the last year and a half, as opposed to the last decade. For the most part it’s worked, but it can backfire slightly when those new, truly exciting artists don’t arrive in any given year. This year was kind of one of those years.

 

 

One outside factor that’s come into the equation in recent years is the Sugar Mountain festival, which has become increasingly similar to Laneway, pinching international acts such as Shabazz Palaces, Tune-Yards, John Maus, Julianna Barwick, Kelela, Le1f, Empress Of, Ariel Pink, Swans, How To Dress Well and Iceage. Laneway still managed to bring together some exciting talent in the form of Grimes, The Internet, Vince Staples, Thundercat, DIIV, Royal Headache, Blank Realm, Shamir and Majical Cloudz, all of whom performed brilliant sets, but some of the other artists on the lineup felt a little bit long in the tooth when compared to previous years.

 

 

Unfortunately, Laneway is also becoming a little bit like BDO in another respect: the crowd. It just doesn’t feel like the music lover’s festival it once was, with more and more people keen on chatting and getting cooked rather than taking in the acts onstage. This also feeds back into the main issue that the Melbourne location still needs to address (outside of physically moving buildings out of the way to prevent bottleneck crowds): the lack of shade. It’s rather appalling given the festival’s current budget and the reasonably narrow stage areas. One day of Laneway in the sun is more fatiguing than four days at Rainbow Serpent, simply because the latter covers every stage area with shade.

Laneway certainly isn’t the only well-run festival yet to fix this problem, with Meredith, Falls, and Beyond the Valley all forcing their crowds to suffer to various extents, but those festivals have to deal with wide open stage areas. While the Mistletone stage on the grass hill might be a hard ask for Laneway to cover, they could certainly be doing more.

 

 

Shade and comfort play a massive part in the atmosphere of a festival; aside from being dangerous, day-long heat leads to an irritated crowd and some stupid decisions. Young punters especially, who are potentially heading to their first day festival, are likely to dismiss sunscreen and water in favour of over-indulgence in alcohol and other substances. While people ultimately need to be responsible for their own safety, Laneway (and other festivals) need to appreciate that it’s also their responsibility to make sure the next generation’s first festival experiences are positive ones. Every other aspect of the festival was run immaculately well, both from a punter’s perspective as well as in the media room, but as Laneway grows to fill the space left by the Big Day Out, I’d love for it to set the standard for the festival crowd experience.

For the record, the entrancing guitar waves of DIIV were unsurprisingly the best on ground. This tour represented their first shows in Australia after their BDO ’13 appearances were cancelled due to the arrest of band leader Zachary Cole, and it was immensely satisfying to finally see them on Australian soil.

 

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16 Feb Ripe’s Australian Chart (16/2/16)

 

Ripe’s Australian Chart is back for 2016. Once again we’ll be posting an update each week on our top tracks recently uploaded by Australian artists, ranked all the way to #1. You’ll find our chart below, and a weekly playlist on the Ripe SoundCloud.

We start at #30 with ‘Baker‘ by Robert Muinos from Melbounre. ‘Baker’ is the third track on his latest EP titled You Are Alone. Robert channels the quiet sorrow of Elliot Smith with life observing lyrics you’d hear from Sun Kil Moon or Father John Misty. At #27 Diet from Melbourne are back with a follow up to their highly addictive first single ‘Your House‘. You’d likely slide ‘The Rip‘ into the surf rock genre, but it’s not the sunny surf rock kind, more the rainy and wearing a bodysuit kind.

Up in Sydney; Marcus Whale from Collarbones dropped his first official single that’s not a demo. ‘My Captain‘ finds itself at #23 with its industrial pop sounds. I can now see where Marcus Whale is trying to take his sound, and there’s definitely an interesting market for it. Back in Melbourne at #20 with the trio The Sanctuary, who pushed past that post-Flume sound with their first single ‘Miss You‘. The vocals carry a defeated and vulnerable tone that Oscar Key Sung routinely pulls off effectively.

The most moving track of the week goes to Hayden Calnin at #18 with ‘Cut Love‘. Hayden sets a very bleak landscape via Sigur Rós with Bon Iver vocals. It’s a combination I’ve heard many times before, but he sells the emotion well when he sings “cut love!”. The next producer is a little mysterious; I only know that Nolan House is based in Melbourne. At #15, ‘On The Wall‘ pops with ear-grabbing sounds that carefully get pushed and then released. It’s meticulous without sounding robotic.

We jump up to #8 with the Melbourne duo Back Back Forward Punch, whose name always reminds me BadBadNotGood. They’re back with the most addictive song of the week called ‘Machine Believing‘. It’s vintage Miami Horror with a deep house bassline. Not the most complex recipe, but good luck not wanting to dance immediately. The Vacant Smiles are next up. At #5, ‘Drenched‘ jumps out at you like early Surfer Blood or even The Strokes without the classic guitar hooks, but instead with a smooth and sneaky slow down change up one minute in. If you dig ‘Drenched’, I suggest giving the whole new album You’re Not Really Here a listen.

However the track of the week at #3 goes to Ara Koufax with ‘Makers‘. The confidence is glowing in the Melbourne duo right now. ‘Makers’ sounds like they’re just toying with us, that’s how effortless it sounds. When you feel like an artist is both teasing you and pleasing you at the time, you know the creative juices are flowing. The best part is that it’s hard to directly trace the influences behind ‘Makers’. Ara Koufax are coming into their own in 2016.

 


30. Robert Muinos- ‘Mum’

Uploaded: January 31st


29. Flume – ‘Smoke And Retribution’ feat. Vince Staples & Kučka

Uploaded: January 30th | Last Week: #25


28. River Yarra – ‘Song For Tan’

Uploaded: January 29th | Last Week: #24


27. Diet- ‘The Rip’

Uploaded: February 11th


26. Spookyland – ‘God’s Eyes’

Uploaded: January 20th | Last Week: #23


25. Banoffee – ‘With Her (Roland Tings Remix)’

Uploaded: January 27th | Last Week: #22


24. Esese – ‘For Nuria (Lo-Fi)’

Uploaded: January 23rd | Last Week: #19


23. Marcus Whale – ‘My Captain’

Uploaded: February 8th


22. Letran – ‘71221325-02’

Uploaded: January 13th | Last Week: #18


21. Smile – ‘Holiday’

Uploaded: January 13th | Last Week: #17


20. The Sanctuary – ‘Miss You’

Uploaded: February 3rd


19. Blake Gilray – ‘Coolabah’

Uploaded: January 25th | Last Week: #16


18. Hayden Calnin – ‘Cut Love’

Uploaded: February 9th


17. S M Jenkins – ‘Mikrowave’

Uploaded: January 11th | Last Week: #15


16. Alice Ivy – ‘Touch’ feat. Georgia Van Etten

Uploaded: January 27th | Last Week: #14


15. Nolan House – ‘On The Wall’

Uploaded: January 29th


14. Chook Race – ‘At Your Door’

Uploaded: January 29th | Last Week: #12


13. Mangelwurzel – ‘I.O.U.’

Uploaded: January 12th | Last Week: #11


12. The Drones – ‘To Think That I Once Loved You’

Uploaded: January 20th | Last Week: #10


11. Courtney Barnett – ‘Three Packs A Day’

Uploaded: January 11th | Last Week: #9


10. Liluzu – ‘Gunko’

Uploaded: January 19th | Last Week: #8


9. Hoodlem – ‘Kintsugi’

Uploaded: January 29th | Last Week: #7


8. Back Back Forward Punch – ‘Machine Believing’

Uploaded: February 4th


7. Le Pie – ‘Up All Night’

Uploaded: January 19th | Last Week: #6


6. Cale Sexton – ‘Open Minded Meltdown’

Uploaded: January 26th | Last Week: #5


5. The Vacant Smiles – ‘Drenched’

Uploaded: January 11th


4. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – ‘Wither With You’

Uploaded: January 13th | Last Week: #4


3. Ara Koufax – ‘Makers’

Uploaded: February 8th


2. No Zu – ‘Spirit Beat’

Uploaded: January 13th | Last Week: #3


1. Good Morning – ‘To Be Won’

Uploaded: January 21st | Last Week: #2


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15 Feb Purity Ring live at The Forum (11/2/16)

 

After seeing their live show at Splendour in the Grass 2015, this humble photographer was very excited to see the incredible Canadian duo Purity Ring once again (but this time in her home-town and not covered in mud – thank you for the mud-smeared memories Splendour).

Upon entering The Forum Theatre in Melbourne, the beautiful majesty of the venue is always enough to build suspense on its own. With smoke furling from the stage and hints of the stage craft we’d be seeing, the anticipation was palpable from the audience as the venue quickly filled up.

 

 

Of course anything ‘live’ is not without its hiccups, and unfortunately (albeit to the crowds amusement) a stage hand went sliding across the stage whilst prepping for the start of the show (…he’d done so well all night). This caused some frantic floor-scrubbing in the hope of saving the performers from the same fate, and luckily no slipping and sliding occurred during the show. Well done guys, 10 points.

Perhaps it was the hand of fate that tripped him up…? Spooky/exciting moment.

Moving on from the pre-performance anecdotes (of which there are always a few) and once the R’n’B music had died away, the crowd cheered loudly as what was a night of grand visual elements and futuristic-dream-pop began.

 

 

As Corin Roddick and Megan James came on stage to loud cheers and opening with ‘stranger than earth’, their stage welcomed them. The curtain of lights begun to glow and Roddick’s ‘lamp-like’ percussion and synthesiser ‘instrument’ came to life.

The entire evening was a sensational journey through Purity Ring’s highly acclaimed debut album Shrines and their second studio album another eternity. James’ voice when interacting with her audience is soft and meek – but when it comes to her singing it’s a unique and encapsulating voice that is Purity Ring’s instantly recognisable sound. With a touch of reverb and building momentum, James’ voice carried across The Forum well throughout the entire evening.

Roddick moved between songs with ease and at times with creative interludes that kept the crowd moving. ‘push pull’ arrived with a roar from the crowd, followed by an electronic dance introduction to ‘Belispeak’ which was matched with almost haunting reverb from James and fluid dance movements.

 

 

James joined Roddick for parts of ‘Crawlersout’, the crowd’s growing anticipation was met with ‘bodyache’ and ‘heartsigh’; then the mood changed to this enthralling eyes-closed, head-swaying type of moment for ‘sea castle’. That song will give anyone that kind of arm-hair raising type of thrill.

Halfway through ‘dust hymn’ James headed to the back of the stage to beat on the giant circle drum that I previously thought was just another light…so a particularly great surprise there. Next came ‘flood on the floor’ which if you haven’t listened to before… go. Now. Go. It’s this soundscape with just the right amount of dainty lyrics then high crescendos and momentum building electronic backing.

Ending on one of their most well-known tracks ‘begin again’, I have nothing but praise for Purity Ring and I could honestly go on for days about this show. (Of course I HAVE to mention the light contraption that James showed us throughout ‘stillness in woe’ – it was a mirror-gloved-sensor-light-sensation).

 

 

The whole performance was well orchestrated and felt like a true experience – what I mean by that is you can tell from them both that they love what they do, and they do it well. Between James’ fantastic wardrobe, the complementary coloured lighting, that face-wobbling bass and James letting the crowd know in her sweet way ‘We don’t do encores, we think it’s weird…we love you and this is for you!’ just made it all the more perfect. They’re very ‘real’ performers – way to set the bar guys. I’m very excited to see what they will release in future, and perhaps the progression of their live show along with new tracks.

 

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09 Feb Album Review: ‘Glory’ by Good Morning – They may not even be aware of their own potential

Overproducing an album can often be a sign of perfectionism, but just like any food manufacturing process, it can result in a loss of natural goodness. Many musicians love to write music, but they just aren’t natural songwriters and need to overproduce in order to achieve anything substantial. Then there’s Stefan Blair and Liam Parsons of Good Morning who, just like the titular character in the movie Good Will Hunting, are so naturally gifted and yet may not even be aware of their own potential.

Even other respected Australian songwriters such as Courtney Barnett or Marty Frawley (Twerps) may appear to write songs straight from a pure stream of thought, but even they need to chisel away at their craft in the studio. Stefan Blair and Liam Parsons often sound like they’ve just woken up, written a song, nailed it, and then recorded it straight away. The EP’s first track is even titled ‘Overslept‘, where they sing, “What in the world should I say?” They’ve recorded the song before they’ve even realised it’s recorded.

This isn’t to say that the duo are stumbling buffoons who keep getting lucky. They’re clearly talented guitarists who, by the end of ‘The Great Start‘, had me convinced that they had travelled from the future with an arsenal of stolen guitar parts. Then there’s the endless amount of memorable melodies that would make Mac DeMarco jealous because they sound far less formulated than Mac’s. That dreamy, soft, Brooklyn lo-fi period between 2008-2012 is definitely an influence on the duo, but whereas many of those bands were style over substance, Good Morning are substance over style.

You can’t often clearly hear what they’re saying outside of song titles, but it works as an exclamation point, in the same way you might think to yourself before making a statement out loud. When the band could just ride the assertive guitar hook in ‘Cab Deg‘ to carry the song, they pull off a catchy duo harmony in a way only conjoined twins should be able to pull it off. If you’ve seen their stage banter, which consists of regularly making fun of each other without any possible threat of truly insulting each other, you’d think they were brothers.

I’ve seen them cover the Victory Curtains & Blinds jingle at Paradise Festival, but it’s not all fun and games. They sing, “I’ve been drinking / It doesn’t change how I feel” in ‘Give Me Something To Do‘. ‘To Be Won‘ paints of the picture of a sorrowful person, staring out of a window while it rains outside, an image that actually featured on their first EP cover. There’s a longing for something more in the distance. The young band already travelled to NYC last year to perform. The ambition is there. The songwriting is there. The talent is there. Just exactly what Good Morning want to be is still a work in progress. The two main influences I keep hearing, Broken Dreams Club EP by Girls and Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter, are positive steps in an interesting direction. I’ve even seen the guys attend several electronic events in Melbourne, which would bring another dimension altogether to Good Morning.

Glory isn’t the album that’s going to make them a household name just yet. Maybe if they had condensed the 17 tracks they’ve released in the past 14 months into one album, that album would’ve made a bigger statement. However, the subtle diversity of Glory confirms that Good Morning aren’t restricted by parameters. Their only restriction is themselves. Once they start taking risks and the vocals become slightly more prominent, they’ll find themselves up the top with Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett.

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08 Feb Girlpool’s authenticity brings everyone into the fold

Julian Casablancas was wearing a leather jacket. So the next day I bought a leather jacket.

The power of a couple of songs on an impressionable mind is surreal. My obsession with ol’ Julesy has (mostly) dissipated, however my fascination of the concept of idols lives on.

Girlpool write music so bare, it feels almost uncomfortable, and yet forever enthralling. This rawness starts at the musical notation and ends with a lyrical presence that fills the room with the static of silence. Naturally, as a cisgender male of privileged upbringing, this discomfort is often spurned from the lyrics, and this is not something I am embarrassed to admit. Cleo and Harmony use their canvas to speak of their own real-life issues, and further demonstrate the power of friendship between two girls. It is from here that I feel like an outsider looking in.

But that does’t mean I don’t idolise Cleo and Harmony at a similar level to that of Julian.

The Rev’ was brimming with the most diverse of crowds possible. Having never stepped foot in the venue, it took me ten or so minutes to realise that the band room was out the back. Standard form.

The duo shuffled on stage, both boasting the same wry smile. Without a word, they strolled into ‘Ideal World‘. From my position, front right, two clicks back, I could see so many silently mimicking the pair, word for word. If adoration was defined by the number of crowd members singing along, then you’d have to look far and wide to find an artist currently pulling the same response.

Girlpool’s live performance extends to their onstage mannerisms. See, Julian was all suave and sexy, full of all the cliches and seemingly capable of doing whatever he pleased. Meanwhile, Cleo and Harmony giggled their way through their early tracks, showing signs of apprehension, articulating their backyard nonsensical shit while talking to a crowd of strangers. However, as time wore on, the stories came together in a more coherent, absurdist-humour way. Conversation covered today’s hard-hitting issues, from Lizzie McGuire to the Olsen twins, all the while tuning their guitars and scrunching their noses at one another.

Their material was primarily pulled from the latest album, Before The World Was Big. It feels so poignant, so engrossing. They made a name for themselves with a bunch of two-minute hits of abrasion; ‘Chinatown’ would have seemed so jarring on that first EP. Today, their music still holds a similar bite, however such a bite masquerades as warm, gentle guitar pop. It is a more refined release, and that is reflected in its live translation. The lack of instrumentation allows the lyrical prowess of the duo to truly break through, in a manner that is so sorely missing in contemporary music.

On the note of lyrics, there was one particular comment made by the friend standing one spot in front. “They changed the lyrics to ‘Paint Me Colours’ and didn’t play ‘American Beauty’ or ‘Jane’. What does this say about their feelings towards the EP?”

The specific line was: “I will never understand / What it’s like to be a man / Who is white ’cause / He never has to fight.” The alteration? “I will never understand / What it’s like to be anyone else.” The reason? “I didn’t want to speak for anyone other than myself – I just woke up one day and didn’t feel comfortable with singing that line.” Perhaps this is a sign more of musical expression than personal preference; however, from an outsider’s perspective, it seems as if Girlpool have slowly slinked away from the force of their debut, and are leaning towards a more well-constructed, ponderous path.

And this is where my idolising sits, minding its own business, yet simply not shifting somewhere else.

Because it isn’t the rockstar complex that draws me to Girlpool. It’s their normality. They talk and act like my mates, and they make everyone feel like they’re in on the joke.

A large part of the Casablancas allure was how cool and popular he seemed. With Girlpool, it is simply their authenticity, a trait that runs all the way from their music to the way they scrunch up their noses at each other.

No bullshit, no pretending, and a duo as worthy of idolisation as any that I’ve ever come across.

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08 Feb Grimes’ pop ascendancy isn’t fully realised – yet

 

Grimes’ progression towards demonic pop star may not have reached its pinnacle on Wednesday, but it sure as hell ain’t too far off. With dancers by her side, she grafted her way through an eventful, and at times highly pleasing, set of progressive pop. However, in a manner that mirrors her latest offering Art Angels, the performance felt at times too jarring, and overall left an unwanted comparison at the forefront of my mind.

2013 Grimes is of course a completely altered beast musically to that of 2015/16, but it was noted that through the stronger electronic basis from which Visions climbed from, Boucher was able to weave a more fluid set. On this point Art Angels leaves her behind slightly, with such a wide variety of tracks, ranging from howling Taiwanese hip hop to flat-track EDM. So while Boucher’s Russian rendition of  ‘Scream’ was forceful and felt as if it held great purpose, ‘Butterflies’ really hindered the set’s ability to gather any true fluidity. That being said, to see her open with ‘Flesh Without Blood’ into ‘Realiti’ was a welcome surprise, the former being arguably one of the strongest pop releases of 2015.

 

 

While it could be suggested that Boucher has lost some flow in her music, her stage presence has certainly grown to a point where it matches the music being performed. No longer does she cut a hunched, solo silhouette. Now, bold and brazen and backed by dancers and multi-instrumentalists, Boucher has an undeniable stage presence, one that mirrors her transcendence from low-fi beats to more refined, unique pop. This is not to disregard her musical competency, however. Grimes does more on stage in one show than Katy Perry has done live in her life. She may not be twirling from the ceiling in silk gowns like Pink, but she is still showing many how authentic-not-synthetic pop can be in 2016.

Her stage banter, too, was very much in keeping with the show’s aesthetic. Flicking between the gushing and the maniacal, she certainly had me holding out for what she may say or do between songs. Uttering the standard shy-slogan “I don’t know what to say between songs”, she would then proceed to fill our ears with pleasantries such as “I need to pee and burp, and it’s a really weird feeling”. Her cover of ‘Ave Maria’ included said burp, and also, at its climactic moments, succeeded in giving me a slight case of the shivers.

 

 

But the clunk. Perhaps this is just a sign of the occasional deadwood that comes with a musical shift, but it is interesting to note nevertheless. Moreover, and maddeningly so, the clear lack of reaction to her earlier releases, such as ‘Phone Sex’ and ‘Be A Body’, had me wondering just how sharply the Canadian performers demographic had shifted. Is this possible shift caused by her supporting Lana Del Rey in America?

Maybe I am still hung up on Visions. Maybe that’s what it is.

Simply put, I am a high brow wanker with very little regard for an artist I feel so strongly towards shifting their sound in a direction that may not necessarily interest me as much. I’m a dickhead. But saying that doesn’t make seeing this shift in person any easier.

I thoroughly enjoyed large parts of Wednesday’s show, and closing with ‘Kill V. Maim’ was a near perfect conclusion. I just wish someone else in the weird world of interesting pop took it upon themselves to break the boundaries between mainstream and underground.

I just want another Visions, okay?

 

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04 Feb MSO x Jeff Mills & Derrick May: Can a symphony orchestra play techno?

 

I’m not going to lie, I was very apprehensive to be writing about a gig that featured the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Derrick May and Jeff Mills. Not because I disliked any of those names, nor did I have anything better to do on Saturday night (seeing two innovators like May and Mills has been on my bucket list for a long time now). Rather, it was because I would have to comment on two of the most prolific artist in techno – arguably the grandfathers of the music that I love – and if I put a single foot wrong, I’m sure the chinstrokers out there would crucify me.

That being said, I’ll give it my best and try to do the performance justice in my words.

 

 

Arriving at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl nice and early to set up the picnic, I could hear the clipped accent of Mills chatting with May about the show. Derrick commented that “I hope people brought their kids tonight” and, looking around at the families, I realised I was probably one of the younger members of the audience. There were a lot of people who would’ve grown up listening to techno music being moulded by the artists on stage. I respect Mills and May hugely but struggle to understand what it must’ve been like to hear the futuristic songs back in the late ’80s.

Feeling very sophisticated with a quarter wheel of dauphinoise cheese and some red, it was time for the show to start.

Jeff Mills was stage right, a silent maestro, while conductor Dzijan Emin was centre, gradually stirring the orchestra into fruition with gentle chimes and slowly-building strings. Beginning as a purely orchestral piece, the introduction set the tone for Mills’ contribution. Techno here was second chair to the classical music, and this suited the performance to a T.

It was not until later that Mills’ drum machine came in, what sounded like the familiar sounds of a Roland TR-909. Its sporadic kicks punctuated the theatrical violins and, like any good techno song, the buildup was teased out to perfection. Not until the steady thump of the kick came in did the show shift into a more techno mode. The visceral beat of ‘The March’ coupled with the full body of orchestra eased the classical side of the crowd into it.

 

 

A personal highlight of the show would definitely have to be ‘The Bells’. Lit up by a single spotlight in the percussion section, the tubular bells rang out amongst the waiting audience. This might sound just a little obvious but being able to see a full orchestra and each instrument being played as part of a whole is really something else, especially on such a huge scale. Especially when it comes to a classical interpretation of techno music, one can only imagine how difficult it must be for each player to keep time and loop their section as opposed to simply letting a computer do all the work.

‘Sonic Destroyer’ and ‘Utopia’ were other high points; the sci-fi influence of Mills’ youth, now realised in a much more theatrical setting courtesy of the timpani and horns that accompanied him. Hearing the squirming sounds of a Roland 303 being expertly manipulated by Mills’ dexterous hands certainly proved his title as “The Wiz”. Without a doubt it was the drum machine kick that garnered the most applause and got people up on their feet.

Another quick wine and cheese break and it was now Derrick May who was among the orchestra, right behind the conductor. The Derrick May side of the show really teased out the theatrical aspect of performance.

With a stunning backdrop of abstract natural visuals, May worked the piano a lot more in his songs. His use of the orchestra was a lot more flowing, as opposed to Mills’ where the demarcation between songs was a lot clearer. While most of the crowd had now gotten up for a dance, with young and old having a bit of a rave, it was ‘Strings of Life’ that had everyone up and about.

 

 

A track like ‘Strings of Life’ feels like it was made for an orchestra, the obvious namesake aside. The challenges of having the whole orchestra working not just in perfect timing but also to have them simply keep playing that same piece must be quite foreign to classical musicians, but the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra seemed ready for the task.

The finale featured both Mills and May working together on a piece titled ‘Music is Music’, a throwback to May’s moniker Rhythim is Rhythim under which he released ‘Strings of Life’. In what was almost a Noah’s Ark of sound, each classical introduction (say, the emergence of the French horn) was accompanied by an electronic partner, such as the roll of the acid synth.

What made the final track even better was the rain that began to pour and distort the colorful visuals. What started as slight trickle turned to a full downpour soaking the jubilant faces. The flood of rain could almost have been perfectly orchestrated; it worked seamlessly with the final movement of the night.

It’s quite hard to fault any of the performances. Both Mills and May proved an exceptional knowledge of their own genre, while demonstrating they are more than able to translate it into a full orchestra without it feeling tokenistic or gimmicky.

However, both Jeff Mills and Derrick May’s music was born out of Detroit. Both were founding members of a crew quite literally called Underground Resistance. I wonder, if you had asked either of them in the ’80s if they had planned to play their music with a full orchestra in an open air setting, what Mills or May would have said.

Certainly, the two artists have come a long way from the rebellion and anti-establishment aesthetic. However, performing in front of thousands with a world-class orchestra is a testament to Mills and May’s success, and such quasi-idealistic problems are ultimately overshadowed by what was a once in a lifetime show.

Words by Sam Chesbrough / Photos by Michelle He

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