On Saturday (24/3/18) I managed to pop in to two Newtown venues to see friends from three bands perform. I’m so glad free gigs exist haha! And as I watched them, wondering what I was learning this time, I found myself focusing in on each of their singers – all of them, passionate performers. As a vocalist myself, and particularly one contemplating a shift from band to soloist, this is something I really need to pay attention to. Of course I need to perform my best when fronting a band, but if I’m going to hold an entire stage by myself, I need to learn how to go all out. Singers will always attract the most attention from the general, non-musician public, but if there’s nothing else on stage to look at, the pressure is that much higher. None of the bands I saw on Saturday was a soloist, but their vocalists commanded my attention enough that they are my main focus for today’s post (but of course, I can’t help but ramble on a few extra points).
Back when I was studying at the Australian Institute of Music, I took ensemble classes (basically a band class) with Michael Quigley, now the drummer of Enough to Escape. We’ve kept in touch, and that’s how I ended up at the Hideaway Bar. Enough to Escape is an unusual metal band – the instrumentalists are all Sydney-based, but their singer lives in Nagoya, Japan. He flew in for two performances only, and the band so far has no more gigs planned, though they are working on a recorded release. It’s a very strange arrangement!
Anyway, so I gather they haven’t had many rehearsals with the singer in person, and when I saw him setting up a music stand, presumably to read lyrics from, I had a little eyebrow raise. More so as I watched him drape black fabric from the mic stand down to the music stand in what seemed to be an effort to hide it. You can see this effort in the black diamond on the left side of the video and image above. I do suppose that if you needed the lyrics on stage, this would be a good way to do it, but it did mean that it interfered with my ability to see the entire band on an already tiny stage. This was my best attempt at finding another angle without that stand setup in the way, ducking down under the sound desk:
But this oddity aside, I have to say, once he started up, you could really see how connected he was to the music. That surprised me, because after spending years watching student vocalists sing off a lyric sheet, or musicians play off a chord chart, I had come to the expectation that if you hadn’t memorised your part, it would negatively affect your performance. Turns out that’s not necessarily true! From his movements to his facial expressions, he was rocking out like nothing else mattered, and as someone who gets kinda nervous and shy, that’s something I really want to be able to emulate. I mean personally, I would’ve dressed up more and maybe gone for a bit more energy, but then again this was one of the darker, slower paced forms of metal compared to what I’m used to, so my preferences probably aren’t quite appropriate!
Other cool things:
- They tied the songs together! I am really loving this sorta thing. While the guitarists were tuning, the drummer kept a light beat going, and the vocalist made trebly air whoosh type sounds, gave it an interesting atmospheric vibe. This worked particularly well for their genre.
- The mixing desk was off to the side, not a great mixing position, but I noticed that he frequently came out into the audience to check what we were hearing. I always love it when the sound engineer is doing their job right.
- There were lyrics in Japanese! You don’t hear that much in Sydney!
- The stage at the Hideaway is reeeallly small. The bassist had to stand beside it. Meanwhile, people kept walking past, presumably to the bathroom, or occasionally musicians going out back to where the instruments were kept. I found that rather distracting.
- Strange mic technique and handling, including cupping. This always makes me sad.
- It was strange seeing the guitarist in the middle with the white business-y shirt while everyone else was in black. On the upside though, they put him in the middle and avoided unbalancing the visual aspects of the stage.
- Lighting at the venue wasn’t great either, if the vocalist went too far forward, he’d disappear into the dark, without ever leaving the stage.
That’s all that I saw at the Hideaway. After Enough to Escape, I moved on to the Townie.
So I’ve known Sai for a while now, but when we met, he was operating under a different name, and was the frontman for The Abyss Collective. Back then, he was singing with a guitar strapped to his chest, so I never really saw him do the full-on performance that he’s doing now. He also never dressed how he does in his current persona, so the whole thing was quite a surprise for me! But I guess it shouldn’t have been, given the difficulties I’ve found myself, trying to be both a singer and violinist back in Rainbow Death Ray and Wintergaunt. Watching him perform at the Townie on Saturday really drove home the point to me, about just how restrictive it can be to perform as a singer tied to an instrument. Now that he’s been freed from guitar duties, he really is so much more entertaining to watch!
Of the three performances I saw on Saturday, Sai’s was also the closest to that situation of being a solo performer. Z(Cluster) is a duo, however its other half, known as INfest8, spent the entirety of the performance hidden behind an electronic setup that was so dominating I could barely even see his guitarwork. Combining that with his much more subdued style of dress, and all-business-no-play performance style, he seemed much more like technician than performer. So of course, it was Sai’s flamboyance which completely stole the show. And in my opinion, it’s lucky Sai does have that performance ability to balance things out. While I can understand the desire of some musicians, particularly in the electronic genres, to seem more “authentic” by producing the sounds live and to avoid accusations of “you just press play”, what I found puzzling in this duo is that INfest8 insisted on fiddling with all that gear given he did have a guitar. When it comes to this issue of a duo mixing electronic noises with heavy guitars, I tend to prefer the Viral Millennium approach: let the backing track play, and bring that guitar out into the open. The interesting thing about that band is that the guitarist didn’t even need to rock out much either – his costume and imposing posture was enough to create the interest INfest8 lacked, while still allowing the singer full range to jump around the stage. By not hiding behind a wall of electronics and instead embracing the guitar, I do feel they had better results, and it is something I do feel Z(Cluster) ought to emulate in their own style.
That said, it’s not a huge concern, particularly at the level they’re currently at. INfest8 may even prefer to be more in the shadows. The important thing is that Sai was able to pull off his role so effectively. He made good use of the stage, walking across it, coming forward to the audience, varying his height and movements. Some aspects of his style are a little too sexual for me to take on board, he is after all very much within the fetish aesthetic… but it was both entertaining and educational for me nonetheless. And given the band’s context, I also enjoyed his use of androgyny, having a little giggle as I overheard conversation wondering about his gender. While he does still identify as male (though somewhat fluid), he occasionally hits these lovely falsetto/head voice tones that you probably could mistake for a female voice if you happened to walk in at that point. Messing with the audience’s expectations is another one of those things that I love to see on stage. I am also stunned by his mastery of high heels. I tried them once. I stick to platforms now.
Until recently known as SNUFF, this band is the most established out of the ones I saw on Saturday. They’re also the band I have the most connections to – I went to the Australian Institute of Music with the Tormentor, who handles the electronics on stage, and I’ve taken a couple of singing lessons with Alicia to help develop my clean vocals. The band is originally a duo, but they now perform with a drummer as well, which sometimes feels unnecessary, but does give a real kick to some of the songs, especially following a band without drums like Z(Cluster). And after saying so much about INfest8 not being much to look at on stage, I need to quickly point out how the Tormentor, who doesn’t play guitar, handles his electronic rig so much better – I have seen him CLIMB TO THE CEILING on his custom setup! And he is always rocking out, regardless of whether or not he’s actually twiddling a knob. He was doing this even when he was performing solo, and I just love it!
But back to my focus on vocalists, there’s Alicia. I remember a long time ago watching one of SNVFF’s early shows at the Agincourt, and oh my gosh, she has come such a long way in every aspect of her performance. She’s always had an amazing voice, but she now commands the stage with ease and has much more confident interactions with the audience. Her level of professionalism is also such that when she lost an earplug, it didn’t even phase her, and I soon saw the tiny thing crushed as she continued her dance upon the stage. Like Sai, her style is sometimes a bit too on the sexual side for me to emulate, but as a female, I did find more that I could relate to with the way my own body works, and hopefully took enough mental notes to find more things I could try incorporating into my own routines.
In all honesty though, once I’d taken my photos and filmed my video, I was too busy having fun rocking out. The difficult thing about attending these gigs and trying to take notes about what I learn is that I don’t get to enjoy the show quite as much. For SNVFF though, I actually know their songs, and I also somehow found myself front and centre in the audience, with no one jostling me for that prime position. You don’t just take that spot and not dance your heart out! I also found that if I headbanged in the direction of a drunk girl who kept flinging her hand in my face, she would actually back off… so now my neck still has a teeny bit of lingering pain, but it was worth it! I got the most exercise I’ve had in ages. I also find myself wanting to get dreads again, I don’t think I’ve actually headbanged without them before, so it was an odd experience, though I guess the photographers navigating around me were probably glad not to have tiny whips flying in their direction!
The Townie Has Changed!
The last thing I want to note from the night was how much the Townie has changed! I hadn’t realised they’d renovated, but the stage has now been turned 90° and expanded, giving more room for both performers and audience members. It’s great! And I’m so glad I went in to have a look, given I have two Capstone performances coming up there in May. I now have a much better idea of what to expect. I did try to take photos of the actual stage, but it was hard to get an angle with the number of people and the limits of my phone.
I also feel like the sound is working really well in there too, but it’s hard for me to say exactly how much it’s changed given I haven’t really been there since early 2016. Also, Sally has always been really great with the sound engineering, so from my experience, she’s always made the place sound as good as it can really get. The problems I’ve noticed tend to come from the performers. So yeah, I really think the Townie is a great little venue, and even better having done the renovations. I’m looking forward to performing there even more now! But I do think I’ll pop in a few more times to really get familiar with it.
Note: This blog was originally written for a class, which you can read about here at the start of the entry.