Experimental theatre; peculiar music; outre themes; uncomfortable ideas; puzzling artistic decisions; and the occasional mainstream surprise. Phrases that could apply to either the sprawling Melbourne Fringe Festival or the more tightly curated Melbourne Festival that follows. There’s only one sure way to tell them apart: the budget.
Still, as we sat down at The Edge auditorium in Federation Square, it was immediately obvious which of the Festivals we were at. Six huge drum set-ups were ranged around the hard wooden planes and huge windows of The Edge, and the show, The Black of the Star, was only on for three performances.
The performance, by Speak Percussion and SIAL Sound Studios, was an hour long percussive interpretation of the signals emitted by the Vela pulsar. It’s hard to describe, except in opposing mash-ups – an unmusical musicality; arhythmic rhythms; unnatural naturalism. Huge drums, narrow planks of wood, gongs, cymbals, little bells, bows dragged along metal rims, sudden silences and crashing interuptions. It’s easy to see why, on first hearing the sounds of pulsars, scientists wondered if sentient life was behind them.
Sentient life was certainly behind this collection of tone and beat, and through the tall windows we had a view of the Yarra, the city, the sky and stars above. It may not be hip-hop, but it’s a stimulating and fascinating interpretation of the rhythms of the natural world, and pretty impressive.
What I wasn’t expecting the next night was British India at the Hi Fi Bar. I like British India and all power to them, but I guess I expect something much weirder at a Festival Show. They were terrific, and terrifically loud, and I didn’t stay till the end because I am a poor excuse for a rager.
Having said that, their second support act, Sydney band She Rex, was a revelation. Kickass rock/hop-hop (ah, there’s the hip-hop!) with lead singer Nikkita Rast growling and singing her way through a set of songs both powerful and danceable.Tash Adams behind the drums was a dynamo to behold, and Sarah Julienne and Darcie Irwin-Simpson on synth and guitar respectively rounded off the fuck-they’re-good band. I’m off to iTunes to get their entire back catalogue.
Weird percussion and a whole new band to love? Definitely a successful Festival for me so far!
Both of those shows are over, but the Melbourne Festival continue until 27 October. Check their site for other shows.