This was a pretty exciting gig for me, so many music friends I haven’t seen in ages, both on stage and in the crowd! It was very much about reconnecting with my old scene, and after talking to some of my old friends, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one to have stopped going out so much. For me, I always felt it was mostly about depression, but for everyone else, it seems that the closure of Venom left Sydney’s heavy music scene without a really stable home. That was also the last gig my old band Rainbow Death Ray played at the Valve/Agincourt, and the last time I saw a lot of the regulars, so it was good to finally catch up with so many people on Saturday! I just wish I could’ve stayed for Red Sea, I don’t actually remember if I’ve seen them perform since they were known as Domino. But it was good to at least catch up with them in the crowd.
The first band on was Vodvile, an industrial metal act, and at first I was a bit concerned because the sound was very bass heavy which made it seem a little emptier than I remembered them being. I wondered if it had something to do with my ongoing observations of excessive bass in the mix at the Stag. But it turns out that it was actually because they were having to play this one without all their synths! And that makes a huge difference, because obviously they’ve set aside those frequencies to allow the synth sounds to cut through the rest of the instruments. But despite this, they still put on an epic show. There was only one song they stumbled over due to the lack of synths, otherwise I might not have realised that they were missing!
Another setback they had was that the vocalist actually has the flu at the moment, and he mentioned on his personal Facebook that every note was really quite painful to sing. But you wouldn’t really know otherwise, his screams were still really well done! I guess maybe he wasn’t moving a lot on stage, but I think that’s actually part of the style of this music, though I haven’t seen them in so long that I can’t say for sure what they’re usually like. Even with him sick and not moving, they’ve improved so much since I last saw them! Another thing I really enjoyed about his performance is that he mostly avoided cupping the mic! Except towards the end, which was a shame because I could definitely hear how it degraded the sound. Otherwise, it really was great, and they kept playing just fine even when all the lights suddenly cut out, so they had heaps of setbacks but still put on a really well polished show.
As for reconnecting with old music friends, it was great to see Rhys on guitar again, shown above with the hair flying! I’ve known him since I was at the Australian Institute of Music, and I’ve seen him play in a few different bands now. His performance on Saturday was fantastic, the most rocking member of the band that night. Which brings me to another observation – Vodvile put its most active and eye-catching members in the centre, which gave them a nice symmetry and worked really well. It allowed me to focus on the vocalist, the drummer, and Rhys, and really held my attention so that my eyes really didn’t wander all that much around the stage. This is something I didn’t really expect, especially since I tend to have a bias towards focusing on the female members of heavy bands due to their rarity on the scene and my sense of camaraderie. So that’s something interesting I might have to think about if I end up performing in bands again at some point.
Back for another round at the Stag, I got to see Mechanical Embrace again, and this is where I really noticed a lot of improvement! I think the main thing to make the difference was that this time, the bass at the venue was much better controlled, and having seen these guys play there so recently, the change was like night and day. Everything from the cymbals on the electronic drums through to the backing track was in much better balance this time, so it made for a much better listening experience. The only thing I couldn’t hear so well was the guitar solos, but that didn’t stop the crowd from gathering, which grew so much bigger than it did when I saw them three weeks ago. Good sound is just so important, because these guys have skill, it just needs to be heard!
And the improvement in the sound also showed in the way they performed, probably in part because they could hear themselves better as well. Being able to hear yourself sounding good is really important for confidence, in my opinion. So their action on stage, particularly from Marty on rhythm guitar and James on bass, was much more animated and coordinated this time, clearly they were having a lot more fun! My favourite part was when the pair did their synchronised jumping later in the set, that sort of thing really makes you want to join in! The vocalist also seemed more confident this time, and the backing vocals from James and Aaron cut through a lot better which I also loved. So both sonically and visually, they really put on a much more entertaining show, it was great!
As for my personal connection to the band, I wrote about that last time I saw them, but in short, I met James and Aaron when they were considering a female vocalist along the lines of The Agonist, and they’re really nice, chill guys. It just seemed to me like their music better suited male vocals, a position I still hold now that they have one. As for Brad, I knew him from a lot of other local bands, so when they were looking for a drummer, I suggested him. He’s also a really cool, chill guy. And I’ve now met their other guitarist, Marty, who remembered me from their last Stag gig! So yeah, cool music and cool people, and I really am enjoying watching their progress.
I honestly can’t remember when I met James, the vocalist, or when I first bumped into Noveaux. They’ve been around for longer than I was paying attention to the local scene. But they’ve also been through some pretty big changes, so it almost felt like I was watching them for the first time again, as they now have four live members instead of six. They still have the face paint though, and I really like that because it helps them stand out from the rest, a lot of bands really underestimate the value of their visuals. But what I probably enjoyed the most was the way they handled their electronics in the absence of a dedicated synth player – the entire set was programmed into the computer to allow the songs to run seamlessly into each other, with time built in to allow for guitar changes, and I’m increasingly convinced that this is something I need to work out how to do with my own music in future. I also really enjoyed how James handled the switch between growls and vocoder vocals, some of which I captured in this next video:
Here, he has two microphones, one going to the PA as normal, but the other going into the computer to be processed by the vocoder, and what really puzzled me is how he managed to have the microphones so close to each other while still being able to control which one the sound went into! Because in the above video, you can only hear one microphone going at a time, but in another, he intentionally uses both for an epic effect. I was able to figure out the vocoder, since that only triggers if there’s actually a MIDI note programmed into the computer, but I could not figure out the other mic. He later explained to me that he actually has a kill switch on the floor to turn off the regular vocals before it gets to the PA, and it works really well! Apparently he had to sort out a lot of technical issues to get it working so well though, so if I want to introduce vocoders into my music, I think I’d only go through that if it became a really key part of my act, otherwise it’d be simpler to just prerecord it into the backing track. In the past with Rainbow Death Ray, we only ever used it in one song, and that was when the keytarist was on vocals for a change.
I can’t finish this blog without mentioning Matthew Stoja though! He’s one of my favourite bassists in the local scene, and like Rhys of Vodville, he’s been in quite a few decent bands. I can’t remember when I met him either, but you can’t miss him on stage. He is always rocking out to the max, and it’s fantastic, some of the best hair windmills in Sydney. He also plays a six-string bass, which usually seems like overkill, but he is one of the few bassists I have seen who can completely justify the choice of instrument because he actually does use its full range, I love it! Musicians who can rock out like this are really great fun to watch, and when they also have great technical skills, it’s the perfect combination! I hope when I perform solo next month that I can be even half as entertaining as the Stoja.
Note: This blog was originally written for a class, which you can read about here at the start of the entry.