Make It Up Club with Menstruation Sisters, Clare Cooper, Hextape and Sorcha Wilcox

Make it up club has been killing it for nearly two decades now, corralling the best in local artists and commissioning new collaborations at Bar Open on a Tuesday night where once a week the band room becomes a forum for musicians to test new ideas and to flex their skills of improvisation.  They’ve had countless musicians on this lineup, and the curation has always been admirably agnostic.  From live techno jams to post-rock and solo instrumentation with a broad cultural brush, the only unifying factor is that all the music is fugitive.  As MC Lloyd Honeybrook rhapsodises, we’ll never hear these sounds again.  On this night in particular his words seemed all the more convincing.  

Before I get tucked in I should disclose that I regrettably missed the opening act Hextape and Sorcha Wilcox.  I could, for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the the review, bluff my way through their set knowing nothing about what either act plays (“Hextape and Sorcha Wilcox kicked things off with an admirable marriage of contentious styles, forming what could only be described as music”).  But I have to fess up, I’m a working man with darts to draft.  Plus I’ve got no one to answer to so there’s no heads to roll.  Just one to hang in shame. 

I did, thankfully, make it for Clare Cooper.  She was a last minute replacement for Terminal Infant but from the strength of the performance the haste of the substitution could have fooled us all.  Cooper plays the Đàn bầu, a Vietnamese stringed instrument I’ve never encountered and as we all know every unfamiliar instrument is a smile from a beautiful stranger. 

As I’m not abreast of my Đàn bầu I can’t authenticate how true or errant Cooper’s playing style was to the traditional canon, but I can confirm she wielded it with talent and restraint.  The whole set was a showcase of different techniques, like watching a carpenter as all their efforts to saw, sand and paint produces a fine piece of woodwork.  Playing it with both bow and drumsticks, the Đàn bầu articulates in two parts, the twang of the string and the sinister metallic resonance of its oscillation, and Cooper was keenly attuned to the tension created by the sound.  From sharp aggressive bursts to a muted warble, Cooper executed the silences well and the pin drop crowd were all ears.

I’ve been a big Oren Ambarchi fan for a while now but I’m not up to scratch with Menstruation Sisters, one of his most enduring projects with guitarists Brendan Walls and Nik Kamvissis.  What I admire most about Ambarchi is his ability to straddle the hideous and the sublime – Menstruation Sisters, on the other hand, aren’t so enamoured with duality.  In fact, they are hell bent on shitting in you ears with as much mangled guitar strings molasses and gunshot snare fills as they can muster (and mustered they did last night with the PA’s under some very audible duress). 

Lead vocalist Kamvissis is your definitive renaissance punk – guitarist, vocal artist, visual artist – and there’s a continuum between his visual and musical expression.  His paintings recall the works of the COBRA movement: conveying the submerged trauma of a Billy Pilgrim-esque figure through primitive, childlike abstraction.   Similarly, Kamvissis’ vocals, mumbled and wretched under the surge of feedback, is like primal scream therapy from the centre of the earth.  By the end of the set the whole band had joined in, stopping to howl before breaking into another fractured groove.  It looked like they were having a blast and it was one of those great sets where everyone stands around dumbstruck afterwards, reluctant to break the silence with anything less than momentous. 

It was a privilege to experience such unique ephemeral music in such an intimate setting. But, more importantly, it’s vital to any strong musical culture that we maintain institutions like these where more challenging ideas can flourish.  The lineups rotate too freely to champion your favourite genre but give it a crack one week and I’m sure at least one of the artists will really hit the spot. 

You can check out future lineups for Make it Up club here.

Sadly there’s only room for one Clare Cooper on Facebook.

ZOND/Taipan Tiger Girls/No Sister/Jenny McK at the Tote

I recently returned from a month in Berlin where I subjected myself to every unpleasant sound this world has to offer at nauseating volumes so I was a moth to the flame for this lineup.  The Tote’s quadruple threat of a billing was always set to be a coma-inducing shitstorm of noise but when the sound desk was already up pushing it up to 11 for Jenny’s solo set I knew it was gonna be one for the ages. 

The solo acoustic set, a staple of the rock dogs of yesteryear (St Kilda class of 2001), can often induce the response of ‘so this is where the festival’s budget dried up’.  Not so for first opener Jenny McK, who continues to be a class act even without her Cable Ties and without the acoustic.  Coming from a band that’s so groove-oriented it’s great to hear the tunes behind the motorik, and fuck they are tuneful.  A few tracks in particular (unreleased, sadly can’t name) really shone in the solo context and, with none of that rawk to distract you, the songs assume a greater emotional resonance.   As with all good folk acts Jenny’s rich dynamic voice is the perfect storyteller, but if you do like a bee in your bonnet, she’s plugged in so there’s still plenty of rock to dig. 

I’d never heard of No Sister until they took the stage but, with drumsticks and screwdrivers haphazardly skewered between strings and the fretboard, you immediately get a sense of this band’s manifesto: fast and loud, then louder (then faster etc).  They looked young but had the proficient air of a band well and truly embedded in the circuit and the set exuded the kind of chemistry you can only get from ceaseless jams at sickening volumes. The slabs of textural noise, pinched harmonics dual male/female vocals invite knee jerk comparisons to Sonic Youth but these guys take even more liberties with their noise breaks.  Plus there’s an Aussie hilt to the vocals that never fails to please.  Well worth watching and one to watch. 

Now at this point the band-to-band increase in volume felt less like a mercurial rise and more like a strong man demolishing a strength tester.  Who better then to test the waters than local legends Taipan Tiger Girls, who’s set started pretty much how it ended: in a dense dirge of feedback, with the drums – unsolicited by any rhythmic suggestions from the band mates – swinging free like a broken arm after a skiing accident.  Synth player Ollie Olsen plays the conductor, his synth run through a minefield of pedals and a 100 watt bass amp that lights the joint on fucking fire, using loopy oscillations to lend a playful edge to the offensive.  I’m a first timer to the TTG party and thus enlightened to the disservice I’ve being doing myself, so don’t do the same.

Finally, Zond took the stage and I think it was about at this time that some of even the hardier Tote regulars were scrambling for cover (though, remarkably, there was one girl an inch away from using the speaker as a pillow).  These guys have been kicking around since 2006, and it shows.  The sound is expansive enough to constitute post-rock but somehow the band masterfully plunge it into this thick rhythmic refrain, casting tears in the fabric of the universe with each despotic stroke.  With the devilish groove of post-punk and the exacting solemnity of industrial, Zond sit at the pricklier end of the intersection of the two – but if there’s any real comparative experience, it’s to the thrill of a sensory overload you get with a great power electronics show.  

With an immaculate balance of local institutions and promising newcomers this was a bloody ripper of a night and one that cements the Tote’s incredible form of late as a home run.  Highly recommend all acts involved, so follow them on Facebook for prosperity:

ZOND

Taipan Tiger Girls

No Sister

Jenny McK (Cable Ties’ page)

Is There a Hotline at Aeso Studio

While their new album admirably captures the essence of an Is There a Hotline show, the best way to experience the band is in the room.  The Jens are active performers and while Tait nimbly navigates the garden of instruments arranged in front of her like a master chef, Calloway isn’t afraid to terrorise the audience.

At Aeso gallery on Brunswick st, which had been hosting a number of musicians every night of the week in conjunction with a new exhibition, Calloway at one point donned a pair of wooden boards and started clopping mechanically into the baffled crowd.  What at first attracted a few nervous laughs from the crowd soon assumed a nightmarish quality, as Calloway stared each audience member down behind a lattice of hair – daring us to find the display anything less than terrifying.  Where most audience interaction feels like tedious grandstanding, ISTH impose their presence thoughtfully.

They are also, from what I can gather, constantly experimenting with new ideas.  The sense I get is that anything goes – instruments, performances, band members.  At Aeso they invited a young girl on to the stage to jam along for their first movement, who with a keyboard and triangle displayed a precocious ear for expression and restraint far beyond her years.  A promising new voice in the avant garde for sure and, coming from a Pablo Cruise household, I can say for sure I’m envious of her early education.

If you get the opportunity to see this essential Melbourne band, don’t waste your 5 bucks elsewhere.

There’s no dates currently listed but you can follow the band’s Facebook for updates.

I also highly recommend keeping tabs on what’s going down at Aeso studio.  They’ve got great exhibitions and frequently open their doors to experimental musicians.  Sound Tsunami is on this Saturday the 15th of October, featuring Japanese noisenik Go Tsushima (of Psychadelic Desert).  

Laraaji at Musikbrauerei Prenzlauer Berg

After the 5-day drone fest that was the spectacularly bleak Berlin Atonal, I was a bit reluctant to enter the void once more with an appearance from drone-royalty Laraaji.  But that’s how I found myself one Sunday evening – the most drone-appropriate day of the week – at Prenzlauerberg’s ‘Musickbrauerei’, where I was surprised to find a brewery with music in it.  Laraaji would be joined by frequent collaborator Arjhiroula “Arji” Cakouros with Moscow pianist Dmitry Evgrafov opening.

Beginning solo on a gorgeous old grand, Evgrafov didn’t quite transcend the intrinsic beauty of his instrument.  He was later joined by an accompaniment on MIDI keyboard with the player carefully examining her cues on a laptop mounted on the piano.  But while the textures offered by the tape delay gave the set some much needed colour, the synth strings blurred into the slightly myopic beauty of Evgrafov’s compositions.  He is a nice player but i found the intersection of the digital and the acoustic (a la Nils Frahm) a little underdeveloped.

After Evgrafov we ducked into the adjacent room where the crowd milled around an upright piano.  Despite the clear strong presence of musicians among the audience, it was only after the room had cleared of all but the most fastidious pot-smokers that someone plucked the courage to have a tinkle – in the spirit of competition or just ‘in the spirit of’ I couldn’t ascertain.

Now a lot of opening acts complain (justifiably) that the volume goes up for the headlining act, making them appear more forceful by comparison.  But I can’t say I’ve been to a gig where the headliner had the benefit of better seating, and by the time we returned to the concert hall the venue had rolled out a bunch of foam pews.  The pews set the scene pretty perfectly, and as Laraaji began playing the eminently sinkable pillows felt like canoes down the river Hades.

Starting with the gong, Laraaji nimbly cast chasmic resonances to the idle caress of chimes played by Arji.  At this point all I knew about Laraaji was that he had the Brian Eno sign of approval and that he played the zither.  After wrestling with the cognitive dissonance of seeing him play what was clearly a gong and nearly forcing the conclusion that maybe I had no idea what a zither actually was, Laraaji started playing the zither.  Greeting his instrument of choice with a soft patter, Laraaji revealed yet another trick up his sleeve by supplying some gorgeous, aching vocal harmonies.

But before the room could come to terms with the immaculate control Laraaji displayed over everything he touched, the ruminative sparseness was swallowed up the growing momentum of the zither.  Suddenly the performance had gained a sense of playfulness, with the two performers conversing in psychedelic non-sequitur and the exaggerated laughter of a Greek chorus.  As the man said himself ‘”In the beginning was sound, words are our interpretation of.’  And so the two went, weaving words and expressions into the fabric of their sound collage.

Not music and words, just pure sound.  And, as a student of sound and its relationship with meditative practices for half a century, Laraaji reveals himself to be a master.  After the performers took their bow they were driven back to the stage by a very enthusiastic crowd.  “I could do this all night” said Laraaji, breaking out another bouncy zither number before pulling out the harmonica, yet another trick in the piece.  And indeed we all wanted him to.  What a treat.

Don’t see him coming down our way anytime soon, but get around this short doco where Laraaji reflects on his change of vocation from comedian to musician, working with Brian Eno and spirituality.