Glacial pop; rediscovered and reworked Japanese masterpieces; legendary synthesisers; and obscure instruments will grace Melbourne’s music venues in August.
Anna of the North
People can throw shit on Aqua all they want but Turn Back Time fucking rules. What is it with those Scandinavians? They consistently push out meticulous, gleaming pop music. They had Abba in the ’70s and Roxette in the ’80s. And Ace of Base and the Cardigans in the ’90s. Annie made heartbeats skip in the mid 00s, closely followed by Robyn. Max Martin – let’s not even go there. Frequently their songs include the warm chug of a disco bassline.
Although slowed to a gurgle, you can still hear that under the mirrored tiles that make up Anna of the North’s singles Oslo and Someone.
Anna Lotterud was born in Norway but began her work as Anna of the North in Melbourne, where she studied graphic design. That makes this show something of a homecoming. She only has a handful of singles out, but don’t let the appalling Chainsmokers remix sitting at the top of her Spotify page dissuade you – her debut album drops later in the year. This is the best kind of pop music. For Australians, it’s the closest you’ll get to cresting a fjord anytime soon.
Akira (1988), directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, is a landmark work in animation. The film follows Kaneda, the leader of a local biker gang as he attempts to stop the newly unlocked superpowers of his best friend from not only warping his friend’s minds, but also destroying Tokyo in the process.
Animators reportedly used a record 327 colours in the film’s palette to create the dystopian, cyber-punk Tokyo we see in the film. In Kaneda’s world, complex layers of darkness and smog are punctuated by helicopter spotlights and fluorescent skyscrapers. In a similar way, Black Cab’s music mines both the light and dark of night; laser-sharp synths cut through the exhaust of the band’s motoric drums and bass.
Black Cab’s new album, 明 (translation – a “Akira”) pays homage to Japanese anime soundtracks, in particular Geinōh Yamashirogumi’s soundtrack to the aforementioned film, in which clinking wood blocks dance over thundering drums. On the night of the show, Japanese musician Toshinori Sakamoto will play live taiko drums alongside the band. Adventurous musical pairings like this are difficult to execute live and don’t come along often.
The Bombay Royale
Indulging what was considered exotic in the ’60s and ’70s is a dangerous game. Those who do it are more likely than not to end up looking like insensitive twits. Thankfully, when it comes to the Bombay Royale, Sikhs everywhere can let out a sigh of relief knowing the band’s wild costumes are glittery-turban free.
Any fun being poked is of the loving kind and is directed at the more ludicrous aspects of the 1970s – think B-grade sci-fi or James Bond –than at India’s Bollywood film soundtracks, which serve as the band’s primary sonic influence.
The band’s vocalists, Parvyn Kaur Singh and Shourov Bhattacharya, may be Indian, and the songs may feature sitar and tabla, but at their heart, the 11-strong group are a great surf-rock band (who aren’t afraid to spin the disco ball).
Access to obscure music is one of the truly remarkable gifts of the digital age. It has allowed music previously considered esoteric to be appreciated by vast numbers of music fans. Japanese artist Midori Takada is a case in point.
Her album Through the Looking Glass (1983) was for many years available only to serious vinyl collectors and cost hundreds of dollars on the second-hand market. Due to a quirk in YouTube’s autoplay algorithms, the album found its way to fans of Terry Riley’s minimal compositions and experimental electronic music.
Despite the album’s delicacy, it’s hard to say whether you’re being invited into Takada’s world or held at a distance from something dangerous and sublime. The record’s swirling xylophone, wood block and gong work can be tense and disorientating – relief comes when a rain forest grows around the listener with whistling birdcalls and flutes. Film director Werner Herzog’s description of the jungle might go a bit far, but it goes some way to describing the complexity of the world Takada has created on the record.
You can hear a pin drop at the Melbourne Recital Centre. There is no better venue in Melbourne (or Australia?) to hear this intricate and endlessly captivating music. This is a rare chance to hear a forgotten genius in a room worthy of her talents.
Les Craythorn Plays Synthi 100
For decades, uninformed rock dogs have insisted that synthesised electronic music is made by robots – devoid of passion and a human touch.
Tell that to Les Claythorn, who spent more than 200 hours restoring a rare Synthi 100 modular synthesiser, an instrument he first encountered in 1975 when it was delivered to the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Interest in early electronic music has grown in recent times. Look no further than hit series Stranger Things, which references German musicians Tangerine Dream in its widely lauded score. For a reference most will get, the Synthi 100 is responsible for sounds in the Doctor Who theme song.
Craythorn will shred on his fun box and debut a number of original compositions backed by live instrumentation.