The arrival of the Melbourne International Arts Festival in October will again welcome a host of the world’s most accomplished musicians, thanks to the continued good work of Brett Sheehy, who took his position as Artistic Director in 2009. Let’s face it, it can’t be an easy job going up against the Sydney Festival, which is held at a time of year in which many musicians are all too happy to escape cold northern winters.
Well, Sheehy’s been doing his job, in a big way, managing to lure a host of accomplished names to this year’s Melbourne Festival, from Okkervil River leading man Will Sheff and Japanese post-rock behemoth Mono to the list of those taking part in Notes From The Hard Road And Beyond, a follow-up to last year’s standout Songs To Leave Behind event. On the bill are Joss Stone, Mavis Staples, Rickie Lee Jones, Paul Dempsey and Sudanese rapper and once child-soldier Emmanuel Jal in collaboration with Australian Indigenous collective The Black Arm Band.
But one of the greatest benefits of any festival is discovering lesser-known performers and having experiences outside our knowledge or comfort zone. This is the precise shtick of China’s Salumi, who creates trance-like journeys for smoke-hazed dance floors, using a mix of gaming equipment and his laptop as his tools of trade. Salumi, who performs at The Toff in Town on Sunday October 9, started out on the guitar before switching to electronic forms at the tail end of the 90s and is often lumped in with those exclusively concerned with 8-bit video game sounds. In reality, he incorporates 4-bit and 16-bit sounds into his compositions and, less technically, makes blippy, erratic and fast-paced anthems straight out of the underground clubs of Beijing.
Joining Salumi at The Toff will be Melbourne’s own Qua, the project of production wizard Cornel Wilczek, whose 2009 album Q&A saw his intricate, minimalist sound scapes morph into brighter, pop-flecked electronic explosions. Wilczek’s penchant for flipping between feverish runs and washy, hypnotic grooves makes every performance seem like a snapshot of his current psyche. It’s not always pretty, but hey, the best things often aren’t.
Syrian-American rapper Omar Offendum will be first on stage at the Forum show headlined by hip-hop iconoclast Aaesop Rock and former Moldy Peaches member Kimya Dawson on Saturday October 15, but the rapper has a history of his own well worth exploring. Raised in Washington DC and based in Los Angeles, Offendum has utilised his bilingual rap smarts and the internet to bridge the gap between American and Middle Eastern cultures. He was instrumental in organising the internationally collaborative track #Jan25 earlier this year, inspired by the Egypt protests, which quickly went viral and helped shine a light on the impact of music on protests and social change.
Outside the Melbourne Festival’s contemporary music program, The Manganiyar Seduction – a production by South Indian-born director Roysten Abel – features a massive wall of 50 Manganiyar musicians positioned in a curving grid framed in lights. Abel studied at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London before moving back to India to start the Indian Shakespeare Company, then in 1999, began to produce original works. The Manganiyar are a Muslim community from India’s Thar Desert, known for their passed-down folk song-tales. They are also the focus of Abel’s next production, The Manganiyar Longing, which will open in 2012. The Manganiyar Seduction is on at the Arts Centre’s State Theatre from Thursday October 6 to Sunday October 9.
Back at The Toff in Town on Wednesday October 19 is New Zealand synth-songwriter Bachelorette, who released her self-titled third album through boutique local label Mistletone in May. Writing while touring the US and UK, Bachelorette’s Annabel Alpers stepped out of introspective mode and into something closer to forlorn disco on this new record, layering her crocheted vocals over jolting beats. With it came the promise of a large-scale live production and so her place at the Melbourne Festival is a thrilling prospect.
Joining Bachelorette will be Melbourne’s Rat Vs Possum, who recently gave us the first track from their upcoming second LP, which will be released through Sensory Projects in September. The track, Fat Monk, also hints at the band’s new awareness of dance floors, adding geometric keys and structured melodies to their formerly jammed out psych-pop.
The Melbourne International Arts Festival takes place over multiple venues from October 6–22.