Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Ghoul, Collarbones, Absolute Boys at the Northcote Social Club (05/05/2011)

Forthcoming in Inpress magazine:

According to the Northcote Social Club’s website, tonight’s headliners Ghoul, along with the likes of Seekae and Pikelet, are amongst ‘the crème of Australia’s experimental underground.’ For what it’s worth, they’re some of my own personal favourites too. But as I settle in for what turns out to be a thoroughly pleasant Sunday evening in the inner north, I find myself wondering about this word ‘underground’.

Because the fact is that the underground just doesn’t feel very underground any more. There’s no atmosphere of danger, or wildness, no sense that something illicit or threatening is taking place. This is a development that UK critic Simon Reynolds noted in a recent article on the LA buzz-label Not Not Fun. It’s not that Reynolds is particularly enamored of rowdiness or violence, of course. But what he is worried about is the possibility that the change signals a lack of urgency, of risk-taking in music, and, most importantly, a lack of oppositionality to the insipid ‘overground’ or mainstream. Sure, the digital revolution’s been amazing in terms of the accessibility of alternative musics, but it’s also meant that it’s no longer necessary for the underground to define itself against the mainstream. It’s perfectly possible to exist alongside it.

Tonight, the music’s great, but it’s hard not to see Reynold’s point. It’s all a bit quirky, to be sure. But fundamentally, it’s nice; safe: this feels like a Sunday night.

Openers Absolute Boys clearly still have room to grow, but their bass driven and reverb bathed grooves are already very likeable. Sydney’s Collarbones, similarly, are a little on the raw side of things. Their unusual brand of glitchy electro-meets-witchhouse-meets-RnB has moments when it works like a charm, but both their sound and their live act could do with some refinement. It’ll come though, I’m sure. They’re certainly not lacking in either potential or exuberance.

Finally, Ghoul, whose bass player has been replaced tonight by a little black box of tricks, are excellent. Lead singer Ivan Vizintin, as always, holds the key to the band’s appeal. His voice is rich and grainful. It has a gravitas and a soul that one rarely comes across in experimental electronic music of this kind. The set kicks off with a live rendition of 3 Mark from their recent EP Dunks which is totally different to the recorded version, but just as good. And the new material showcased towards the end of the set sounds really promising. Overall, the show’s a resounding success.

What it’s not, though, is particularly edgy. Collarbones did a cover of Jenny From the Block for God’s sake! And their myspace has a version of Justin Bieber's One Time. As far as Reynolds is concerned, this de-oppositionalisation of the underground is clearly a ‘bad thing’. It amounts to a depoliticisation, a backing down to corporate interests and the Simon Cowells of the world. For my part, I’m not sure we have to think of it like that. What would an ‘authentic’ underground even be like in 2011? How could it possibly avoid being ironic or meta, nothing but a lame pastiche of its rave, punk or rock predecessors? Perhaps it’s better to let the underground, along with our desire for it, simply wither and die, and be content with a form of radicalism as pluralism which works slowly but surely alongside and within the mainstream instead?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not one to reply to a review, but I should say the whole 'experimental' or 'underground' label being given to someone like Ghoul or us is pretty ridiculous to me and more just the result of publicists getting carried away with the rhetoric in indie band press releases. Collarbones is pretty much my pure pop outlet!