Category Archives: Music

“Asexuality” Concept EP is Here!

This conceptual music project looks at the difficulties of being an asexual* person, while also breaking the conventions currently prevalent in asexual creative culture. I drew heavily from my own experiences to inform my lyrics, rather than relying on the usual clichés about things like cake, and stubbornly defied the paradoxical difficulty of talking about asexuality without having to mention sex. I also did this in my own sonic style, influenced by my background in industrial and heavy metal music, genres usually untouched by explicitly asexual music and musicians.

However, the EP was important to me for more than just its exploration of this one aspect of my life. It also came about after a long period of depression, so deep and dark that I hadn’t been able to make any music in that time, and which resulted in the ongoing hiatus of my previous band Rainbow Death Ray. Being able to come out of that depression and return to my music as a soloist, even performing on stage, has done so much to restore my confidence in myself as a creative artist.

The EP is available for download on Bandcamp.

*Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others.

See below for live performance clips, filmed by my cousin Anna Watanabe.

Performing at Chicks With Picks May, The Townie, 20/5/18

This time it was my turn to hit the stage! Playing at Chicks With Picks May last Sunday was the first of two performances I’m doing as part of my capstone project. On this occasion, I played four of my five new songs written about my experience as an asexual person. And I was quite nervous! This was my first performance in two years, first performance as a soloist, and first time performing as DestroyerMariko. But it was great fun, with such a supportive audience. I was definitely the odd one out as the only electronic/industrial musician and growler, but I think the crowd enjoyed seeing something a bit different and I was flattered by their cheers when I told them I’d be back on the 30th! And I got so much good feedback afterwards, ranging from people liking my musical style, my dancing, my professionalism, my outfit, all the way through to very particular details like my clear diction. I handed out a couple of business cards and may have made a handful of new fans!

But there are also some things I definitely want to improve on for the next show and the future.

For one thing, my hair was really annoying! It kept getting in my face even more than it did in rehearsal and was driving me nuts, as cool as it is for the headbanging side of things. I had to keep pushing it out of my face, because in rehearsal I’d found that if I didn’t, I risked inhaling it and gagging! And it’s such a strange problem to have, but on the other hand, this is the first time I’ve performed without dreads in ages, so I’m really not used to how the natural stuff operates as I jump around. I miss my dreads so much. At some point, I’ll have to get new ones installed again. In the short term though, I’m not entirely sure what to do, but either I tie some of it back, or I try and tame my hair with some product. I don’t know much about hair though, so I’m not sure what’s the best option!

I also think I really need to wear contacts. We did discuss in class afterwards how “me” the glasses are, and how it shows that I don’t care about convention, and I do love that idea… but unfortunately, it’s not really practical. After all this time, I’d forgotten what it’s like dancing around under lights, and hadn’t accounted for the sweat. Towards the end of my set, in the most active, final song, my glasses actually threatened to be thrown from my face as I danced, and so I had to hold them in place, but was then so distracted that I messed up the next line. If I wear contacts, then I shouldn’t have this problem. So I’ve found my stash, and they don’t expire for another two years, I probably just need to do a couple trial runs to make sure I’m comfortable with them, and if all is well, then that’s what I’ll do for my next performance. Otherwise… maybe if I put the most active song first, it’ll be less of a problem because I hopefully won’t be sweating too much that early?

The one other thing I’d like to try changing up is my costume. This wasn’t a negative at all – in fact a lot of people commented on how much they liked my outfit. However, I would like to try different things just to see what I feel works best. For this performance, I avoided cutesy cat stuff, because my goal was to avoid asexual stereotypes such as the lonely cat lady appearance. But I also didn’t want to go too far in the opposite direction because I don’t want people to see me and just think sexy. However, it turns out that people interpret my dancing as sexy anyway, and I can’t help that, it’s just how I dance. And it’s also been pointed out to me that maybe that’s not a terrible thing, seeing as it overturns the stereotypes of asexuals being bland, boring, unpassionate beings. So I haven’t decided yet how I might change things up, I mean I do like the somewhat gender non-conforming goth-punk vibe, but it’s worth trying different things. Perhaps this time though, my main restrictions will actually have to do with my health and the weather. I seem to have caught a cold and there’s a chance of rain next Wednesday, so that may just force me to wear the same sort of sensible-but-gothic clothing that best allows me to keep warm.

I guess we’ll see. I just think that for all these things I could change this time, it’s worth giving it a go to help me decide what works well and what might be less helpful.

Anyway! My next performance is:

May 30th: Free Entry Open Mic
7pm – I’m on first!
The Townie (next to Newtown Station)
326 King St, Newtown
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/freeentryshowcase/

And now I’ll leave you with some more pictures from the night. Unfortunately I don’t have a whole lot to say about them this time, as I was either way too nervous before my performance, or full of adrenaline afterwards, to really analyse their sets, but I suppose the photos give you an idea of what the night was like and how different the other performers were to myself. There are also some I didn’t take photos of, as I ended up talking to a lot of friends and fans after I played. Overall though, it was a good night as usual for Chicks With Picks. Many thanks to them for having me!

Leah Randall

Imogen Hales (also playing on the 30th of May, 7:30pm at the Townie, right after me)

Maryann

Olga Solar

Bre

M’leigh

Sister Ursuline

How exciting to be on the same show as Sister Ursuline! Was great to see her again!

FIZZ #6 Darque – A Live Electronic Musicians of Sydney Event, 11/5/18


This week I got back into the music and went to see an event focusing on dark electronic musicians. This felt particularly relevant to me right now because that’s the direction my solo project has been going. It was also cool to go to a venue I’d never been to before, The Record Crate in Glebe. I’d walked past it a few times but I think I assumed it was an actual record shop rather than a bar and small venue!

And small is right – it’s a very intimate setting, with the stage at floor level, right next to the entrance so that you feel like you’re entering the place from side stage. They also kept the door open despite the cold, so you could see people passing by outside as you were watching the bands. It’s a very different way of doing things! But it had a very friendly vibe, and a cozy musical atmosphere with posters on one side and vinyl cover art on the other. For musicians, it’s a bit cramped, but they’d managed to fit nearly all their gear on the back ledge of the stage, with the more complicated electronic gear already on stands ready to be moved into place for each band. I just felt it was a little bit too dark once they dimmed the lights – fine atmosphere for a dark electronic show, but difficult for my camera to film, and probably made it a bit harder for the musicians to see what they were doing both during the set, and during pack up when it took a while to get the lights back on. If performing there, might help to have a torch just in case!

Galraedia

First up was the duo Galraedia, older, goth-type musicians. The vocals were that old school speech-like style, and they had a lot of Korgs and other tech! I spotted three keyboards, a computer, mixer, pedals, even a headset for the vocoder. The music was very much reminiscent of older, 80’s style goth, with an uncluttered electronic sound.

Costume-wise, they had a black vs white aesthetic going on, which was a cool nod to the whole duality idea. They didn’t move much on stage though, so there wasn’t a whole lot to look at, though with both of them using keyboards, it’s hard to say what could really be done. In any case, I was surprised to find I didn’t mind this – their music actually evoked a lot of images of old music videos, such that you could really imagine that sort of production.

All up, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed Galraedia’s set. I haven’t listened to a lot of goth music, and mostly I’ve felt a bit indifferent to it. But something about the way this duo has put together their old school goth and electronic music just held my attention. I can’t tell if this might be signalling a shift in my musical tastes or not, but it might be nice to try and draw some influences from this sort of genre in my future music.

Z(Cluster)

The other band I was able to stay for was Z(Cluster), my friend Sai’s band again! This was the main reason I braved Friday’s cold and windy night, and it was great to be able to see them play again. But given that the stage was right next to that cold, open door, I thought it was crazy that Sai wore the same outfit – that’s some dedication to the image. I guess dancing around does warm you up, but still, it was freezing in there!

So it was fun to see how far these guys had come in just over a month. They definitely both seemed much more comfortable in their performances, which might be a combination of the venue as well as practice. Sai’s use of height was perhaps less effective for people up the back of the room, given that there was no elevated stage that would allow them to see him, but on the other hand, he was able to actually walk into the crowd, and even came and sat and sung to me at the front table at one point. He even made good use of that side stage door, offering a newcomer a sip of his drink mid-set, reflecting his overall confidence in audience interaction and use of humour.

As for INfest8, he was also so much more entertaining to watch this time around. You could really see he was getting into the songs, even with all the gear he was managing. He was singing along, feeling the music, showing a lot of passion, particularly later into their set, it was great to see! And the interaction between the two of them was also much better this time, showing that these two will continue to improve as they evolve. I guess this is something I need to remember for myself – it gets easier as you keep going, becoming more confident and developing your act. I’m still nervous about my upcoming performance, my first in two years, and first as a soloist. But if I keep it up, I’ll improve, just like Z(Cluster)!

Chicks With Picks April at The Townie, 15/4/18


Hurrah! I made it to this month’s Chicks With Picks! CWP is a monthly open mic event putting the spotlight on women in music. Much to my delight, Sister Ursuline was a last minute addition to the performer schedule, opening the night, so I headed out early to catch her performance and was not disappointed!
I just love her whole act! I admire anyone who can sing and play an instrument at the same time, but to see anyone even attempt this on cello is incredibly rare. I loved watching her build up her layers live using the loop pedal as well, it creates such a hypnotic feel. I also very much enjoyed her storytelling mode of vocals, and she even used some less common cello techniques to create sounds reminiscent of dolphin calls, as well as rhythmic beats. Very cool and very creative.

What I didn’t expect was that she actually recognised me in the crowd! Turns out we both went to the Australian Institute of Music, with our mutual friend Alysoun who’s a fantastic metal guitarist. So that was pretty exciting! Small world.

Up next was sooze, singing her originals with an acoustic guitar. It was very much what you would expect, but she also played one called “The Anxiety Song” which I thought was great, it really conveyed the struggle with that emotion.

After that was Allie on the 8-string ukulele, who seemed to be more of a casual performer than the others, pausing mid song to quickly swipe up on her phone to see more lyrics (turns out the Townie has music stands in the cupboard, good to know!). But she was very good at picking it back up once she had. She also had a great sense of humour, such as when she paused to have a drink but found a fly had fallen into her wine, prompting her to tell a joke. It was also kinda cute when she suddenly noticed herself on the screen over by the pool table and seemed to be excited. And to be honest, I’d had no idea they could put performers on that screen! So I learned something new about the venue.
The last performers I could stay for was a trio, featuring two guitarists, and Lauren on a strange percussive box instrument.

I have to admit I have a serious weak spot for weird novel instruments! What this appears to be is a hollow box, and she uses a modified kick pedal for the main beat. Inside the top of the box, it sounds like a sort of tambourine setup, and there is an output jack on the side which indicates that there might be some kind of small microphone built in. As she taps the top of the box with her hands, you get both the tambourine jingling, as well as the sound of her hands on the box surface. Finally, I suspect the back of this contraption has a sound hole, after seeing Sally (the engineer) setting up a kick drum mic at the rear. There are some knobs on the front as well, which Lauren periodically adjusted during the performance, but I have no idea what their function was.

And these ladies attracted quite a crowd! It especially picked up once they began to do 90’s covers, with “Stop” by the Spice Girls being a notable crowd-pleaser. It was especially fun because Bec put away her guitar to be able to do the dance moves, and at one point the other guitar stopped as well in a sort of breakdown section, so Hayley did the moves as well, with much of the audience dancing along.

So overall, it was great to finally make it back to Chicks With Picks! I’m nervous about playing there next month, but just picking up the vibe again was good for me I think. My music is going to be a bit out of place, but they’re very open, and the theme of my project suits it. I’ve just got a lot of work still to do to be ready in time! I feel a bit stressed by that, but I do tend to get overly anxious, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Support Acts for Red Sea at the Bald Faced Stag, 7/4/18


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.

Vodvile

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.

Mechanical Embrace

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.

Noveaux

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.

Free Entry Open Mic at The Townie, 4/4/18

For my Capstone* major project, I’ll be performing some of my new music at The Townie in May, first at Chicks With Picks on the 20th, then at the Free Entry Open Mic night on the 30th. While I’ve been to Chicks With Picks a number of times, I’d never been to the Wednesday open mic, so last night I decided to check it out. It gave me a really good feel for how things run and what to expect. I didn’t film this time though, because I wasn’t sure what kinds of musicians I’d be seeing and what their level of confidence might be. I also only stayed for the solo/duo performances, but that’s more relevant for me at the moment, and I’ve seen plenty of bands at the Townie before.

Caitlin DC


First up was Caitlin, a singer-songwriter, with a standard guitar-and-vocals style (though it turns out she also plays keyboard). I got the impression that she might be relatively new to performing, as I could hear her mention to the engineer (Sally) that the mic felt a bit too close, and Sally reassuring her that it was necessary to get the best sound. But she is a decent musician, and she revealed later that she’d actually taken a 7 year break from playing, so I guess she is actually in a similar position to me, rediscovering our music practices. That was reassuring, to find someone in the same boat. We are in very different genres though, so I was actually quite surprised when both she and the rest of the audience asked Sally to turn her up after the first song. At first I wondered if it was maybe because I was wearing earplugs – it may be a softer style than I’m used to but it was still loud enough to concern me – but then I remembered that pop and other mainstream music styles tend to be very vocal-focused, and they do prefer vocals to be much louder than the instruments, even though our ears are so well-tuned to be able to hear the human voice. This sort of thing is why it is actually interesting to listen outside my genre every now and then, I find it fascinating.

But probably the main thing I got from Caitlin’s performance was just how easy and casual the audience vibe was. There were a few moments where she stumbled and apologised, before quickly picking the song back up, and it was totally okay, I didn’t sense any negativity from the audience at all. She also started one of the songs a bit too fast, and simply restarted it at the proper tempo, no dramas. So I now feel a lot safer about coming in to play here, because I know I’ll probably stumble as well, since I won’t have as much time to rehearse as I usually prefer, thanks to the Capstone deadline. I also found it helpful to discover one of her songs is so new that it didn’t even have a name yet, so it seems to me that this open mic is a good place to test out new material and I’m now thinking about another project I’ve been working on that might be able to get a start here. It’s pretty cool! But maybe one thing I should remember is to try to ignore the players at the pool table – one of the moments where Caitlin stumbled was actually when they suddenly cried out about something, and I think I’d find that distracting too if I wasn’t expecting it.

Louise and Jake


Next up was a duo! I can’t find any websites for them but they did well enough that I’d be surprised if they weren’t trying to promote somewhere. Unfortunately, they have no band name, just “Louise and Jake”, which is hard to search. There was a bit less for me to learn from these guys. The vocalist just made some usual beginner type errors, like not planning ahead to take the mic off the stand so the cable was still tangled around it, and then not knowing how to properly clip the mic back on. There was also one moment where the guitarist messed something up, but I wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t leaned into his mic to say sorry. Otherwise they were really quite good, she has a really cool deep voice that I don’t hear much in my genres, and they interacted really well, with a lot of energy. They also made great use of the guitar, combining it with a loop pedal, which allowed them to do all sorts of fun stuff. By tapping on the guitar, they created a drum beat, then by adding strumming layers they could build up the sound, and this even allowed the guitarist to seamlessly switch his capo mid song.

My favourite part was when they switched to playing originals, written by Jake, and making even more use of the loop pedal with a drum sample and more guitar work, and also what seemed like a flange pedal. (I think the previous songs were covers but I don’t listen to that kind of music so I’m not sure.) Vocally it was also really interesting, Jake sung a bit for the verses, and then Louise came in with the chorus, and much to my surprise it turned out they’d rigged things so that they could also loop the vocals and build that into some awesome harmony layers! They did have to restart one song because Louise accidentally spoke into the loop mic at the wrong moment, but it was a really cool effect and I was kinda sad about them erasing it! I’m not sure how early they are in their music, but it was good fun.

Maybe one thing that was relevant to me was how they handled the end of the set. After playing one of the songs, Jake asked Sally how much time was left, and they did have time for one more short song. But as Jake was choosing a song, I could hear Louise expressing doubt about knowing the lyrics, so after a quick false start, they decided not to continue. So I guess the point to note here is that you can do that and it’s perfectly fine in this open mic context.

Ryan


So I can’t find out if Ryan has any websites either, but he seemed to have the biggest group of friends out to see him, judging by some of the audience interaction. And he was pretty good with the audience interaction thing. He had one song about mums, so he asked if anyone in the audience was a mother, so he could dedicate his song to them. One lady spoke up, which led to a humorous exchange between him, her, and what appeared to be his group of friends, it was great fun! He also talked to the audience as he re-tuned, which helped keep things moving nicely.

Compared to the other performers though, his music was a bit more subdued, despite the electric guitar, and I noticed he moved less and also tended to sing with his eyes closed if he wasn’t playing the guitar at the same time. But like Louise and Jake, he was also using a loop pedal, and he actually started a loop and then introduced himself, which I thought was cool, helped to set the atmosphere. The loop pedal seems like a neat solution for a soloist, as it allowed him to bring a lot more complexity to his songs, such as guitar soloing, and that made him quite different to an artist like Caitlin despite the similar instrumentation. Looping can get repetitive, but he did a decent job differentiating sections using additional guitar bits and his vocals, and he even had one song with a pre-programmed beat.

It’s hard for me to say what I learned from Ryan though, because I’ll be using a backing track rather than loop pedals. But if I come back with another project, I did notice that the acoustic guitars went straight into the PA, whereas his electric went into the amp. He also performed a song he’d just finished writing, similar to Caitlin with her unnamed song, so that’s further evidence of testing new material being quite a normal thing at this sort of event. I also got to see how things go when you play slightly overtime, as Sally had to give him the signal that time was up, and she’s really nice about it too so I have less anxiety about that now as well.

So that was my first experience of the Townie’s open mic night!

As I was leaving, I did see a band setting up, but I had to go. Maybe my only final thing to note was that there wasn’t much toilet paper in the ladies room! I get pretty nervous before I go on stage, which usually means going to the bathroom a lot, so maybe just in case, I should consider that when my turn comes around haha.

*Capstone is the name of the class for my final Master of Art project. This blog was originally written for another class, which you can read about here at the start of the entry.

Spotlight on Singers (with my usual excessive ramblings), 24/3/18


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).

Enough to Escape

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!

Problems:

  • 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.

Z(Cluster)

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.

SNVFF

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.

A Gig I Wish I Hadn’t Missed

On Sunday 18th, I had planned to go see Chicks With Picks in Newtown, but I was feeling unwell and had to miss it… and I am full of regret! I came across this video on Facebook of one of the performers playing cello using a loop pedal, and it’s great! Not something I’ve seen a lot a lot around here.

The other reason I wanted to go is because I’ve booked a slot to play Chicks With Picks on May 20th, as one of my Capstone* performances. I’ll also be playing the same venue on May 30th, on their open mic night, also for Capstone. So I really want to see more gigs at the Townie, and get familiar with the place again.

Lucky for me, there’s a really cool electronic/industrial event on there tomorrow… well actually tonight I guess, since it’s already past midnight…! I’m still a bit sick but starting to feel better, so hopefully I can catch the show. I also have friends in Snvff and Z(Cluster) who I haven’t seen in ages. If I time things right, I might also be able to catch one of my old music school teachers who I’ve kept in touch with, playing at another show nearby… Gosh, there’s so much on right now!

*Capstone is the name of the class for my final Master of Art project. This blog was originally written for another class, which you can read about here at the start of the entry.

Crystal Ignite, Kvlts of Vice, and Mechanical Embrace at the Bald Faced Stag, 16/3/18

This blog was written for one of my uni assignments. See my previous blog entry for details. Without further ado…

Last night I returned to the Stag, for another round of heavy, guitar-based music. My main motivation for going was to see Mechanical Embrace. A while back, they’d been thinking about getting a female singer-growler like me on to complete the band, along the lines of something like The Agonist, and so I’d met up with them to talk about possibly auditioning. Only thing was, after listening to their demos, the producer in me became convinced that what they really needed was a male vocalist.
The other thing about this band, is that when they were looking for a drummer, I immediately suggested my friend Brad, who’s previously played in… more bands than I can recall, but my favourites being the now folded Acid Nymph and Foundry Road. So being friends already with the drummer, bassist, and one of the guitarists meant I was able to get some cool insights about why they made certain choices, the most notable on the night being the use of electronic drums (which I’m still a bit dubious about, to be honest).

So it was really cool to see the evolution of this band, having followed them from such an early stage, through to tonight’s performance. It’ll be interesting to see them continue. There are of course some kinks that need ironing out, as is the case for all emerging bands finding their feet, but the foundations are pretty damn solid. I won’t go into the exact details of what they could improve, but in general the notes I took related to the handling of audio type issues, and a couple of minor points relating to confidence. Other than that, it’s a tight performance. Not even a slipped guitar strap is gonna get in the way.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to see them again in another three weeks time, alongside some other bands I was following before depression stopped me going out. It’s not a lot of time for things to change much, but it is the same venue, and I imagine familiarity with the space will help. And I mention that, because one thing I’ve noticed about the Bald Faced Stag both this time and last time, is that the bass frequencies get out of control really fast. A band like Mechanical Embrace appears to be disadvantaged by the sound of this venue, because they use a low, drop A tuning, with two growly guitars. Contrast that with the next band, Kvlts of Vice:
These guys are an entertaining bunch! They’re well rehearsed, with a good sense of humour, they rock out on stage, and even though they’re not really my style, I found their set quite enjoyable. Can we just admire this synchronised headbanging for a moment?

And of the three bands that played last night, they easily had the best sound. At first I thought the contrast might be because they had acoustic drums, which did make a big impact, but I soon realised it was probably more to do with the bass frequencies being much more under control. (Sorry that the videos don’t properly show this, my phone decided it didn’t want to record bass frequencies anymore.) Some of this would be the bassist having his amp at a more reasonable level on stage, but it also helps that he was playing what appeared to be a standard 4-string, in a genre which does not rely so heavily on the lowest string. I did notice that the guitar sounded a bit more bassy than I thought it should, but with there being only one of him, and not so downtuned, it didn’t seem to affect the sound.
Contrast that with the final band, headliners Crystal Ignite. Compared to Mechanical Embrace, these guys are more hard rock than heavy metal, so I’m pretty certain they aren’t using the super low-tuned guitars, and yet they had possibly the worst bass problems of the night. This was particularly the case for the song they played just before I had to leave, about 40mins into their set, when the bass cut out and needed a quick rejig, returning with such a vengeance that I was not upset about having to escape to the bus. But what’s most interesting to me about that incident is that in the brief moments without that bass, the mix was absolutely fantastic! Still excessively loud, even with Class 5 earplugs, but balanced almost to perfection.

And it just made me remember a lot of my previous studies both in my composition degree, and my further studies into audio engineering. I couldn’t help but wonder about which factors were contributing the most to the problems I was noticing. It’s undoubtedly going to be a combination of factors, but apart from the previously mentioned possibilities about downtuning, number of guitars, and errors with amp settings, other factors could be sound engineer issues, venue equipment problems (someone was telling me they have subs under the stage now), and even the shape of the room. The room possibility interests me a lot – it’s a very box shaped room, with a height that seems similar to the width, and if it is a bit too square shaped, that could be causing issues for standing waves. I certainly noticed that moving around the room changed my listening experience a great deal. Although the face full of bass I received when approaching the barrier was more to do with speaker and amp placement than room shape.

In any case, I guess what I’m learning/relearning here is that the venue can totally influence your sound. Because it also reminded me of when I went to see Amelia Arsenic play at Hermann’s (Sydney Uni). I’ve never been a fan of that venue, but I came to understand why when Amelia brought a guitarist on board to play with her. To be blunt, it kinda destroyed her mix for me. I still enjoyed the show, but the sound just wasn’t what it should’ve been. This was made even more obvious when Snvff played later in the night, featuring only vocals, electronics, and drums. To my surprise, their sound was flawless. And that’s when I realised that every other time I’d been there, I’d seen bands with guitars, and for whatever reason, that venue just didn’t play nicely with them. Hopefully it’s changed (or my memory of past experiences could be wrong), but I realise now that the only way I’m going to know is if I go back and see more shows there. Anywhere I plan to play a gig someday, I should go experience being in the audience, so that I know what to expect, and can hopefully learn to make the best sonic decisions to work with the space.

Back to Crystal Ignite though…
Hurrah, finally one of the bands last night had a female member! And as the front person! And she seems incredibly passionate, particularly in her rant song about the environment, though I did scratch my head over a couple of comments she made in that speech… Anyway, as excited as I am to see talented women getting up there and doing their thing in the midst of this male-dominated subculture, I can’t help but linger on a few things that bothered me, other than the bass problems.

1. As I mentioned last time, I really do feel that bands should have a bit of consistency in their on-stage outfits. Sadly, this band is lacking that. They were also less unified in their on-stage action, compared to Kvlts.

2. As event organisers, I felt they shouldn’t have kept pushing the start times back in the hopes of more people turning up (particularly given the venue is probably experiencing boycotts after the promoter scandal). Mechanical Embrace had already started 15 mins late. And then the changeover time between Kvlts and Crystal felt excessively long. Audiences don’t wanna have to stand around waiting. Indeed, I had to leave in time to get my two buses home, and by pushing back the times, I wasn’t able to enjoy as much music as I could have.

3. It was distressing to see mic cupping even outside the growlier genres where it’s an established but unfortunate stereotype. Her general mic technique was also a bit strange, pulling away on certain notes so that they disappeared into the mix. I suspect that with her incredible background as the singer of Bellusira, she may have learned that for a particular kind of stage, given they played some very big gigs when they were active. But in the comparatively smaller space of the Stag it seemed unnecessary, and at times, detrimental. She was also the only singer to seem to have a lot of feedback problems, whether that’s to do with her technique, or the mic just being far too loud.

4. It may also have had to do with her use of in ear monitors, which in this size of venue are also kinda unnecessary and another layer of things that can (and did) go wrong.

5. I was not impressed with the way they handled talking to the sound and lighting engineer. Of course, if things aren’t right, you need to say something, but don’t call the engineer “buddy” (unless you already have that relationship), try to learn their name before you go on, and don’t sound like you’re blaming them. In the case of the in ear monitors, she made it sound like it was the engineer’s fault, only to have an audience member point out that her end had become unplugged during her energetic dancing – no apology given to the engineer. Add in the calls to have an audience member take over the lights, and I was just mortified. You’ve gotta have some respect for the technical staff who are making your performance possible, no matter how big a star you think you are. Having been on both ends of this relationship, it’s one of those things that really gives me an eye twitch.

To end on a positive note, however, one thing I did like that I didn’t see other bands doing was running the end of one song into another. Sometimes you do need to pause between songs to allow for guitar tuning changes and so on, but if you can keep the flow going, it really helps to keep up the energy. That’s especially true for singers like me who are never sure what to say between songs! And it also helps stop you from having to resort to the stereotypes that get mocked in YouTube videos…