The following opinion piece is published on Xpressmag.com.au, Perths local guide to arts and music, on their websites the Arts and Lifestyle section.
September 14, 2017 at 11:26
As an estimated 50,000 people celebrated Nevada festival Burning Man‘s signature burning ceremony last Saturday night, a man flung himself into the flames in a horrifying metamorphose of the giant totem from which Burning Man takes its name. CAT DONNELLY explores how the ethereal ideas of a 1986 gathering has been misplaced by our 21st century drug culture.
While the fur boots, glitter bras and dust-masks may have been dusted off and stored away for another year, the family and wife of Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, are still grieving the loss of a man they remembered as happy and healthy. With the toxicology report still pending, the only logical answer to this bizarre tragedy is suicide. However, questions have arisen on whether the spiritually-augmented ideologies of its founders, which set Burning Man apart from the Coachella’s of this world, are unbefitting to mass crowds as the festival has plunged into the mainstream.
Love it or hate it, Burning Man has always stood on a more moral chaste to today’s regular music festivals. The original idea of founders Larry Harvey and Jerry James was to celebrate the summer solstice with a bonfire ritual in 1986, where a 9 foot wooden man was burned in a symbol of spiritual rebirth, has now grown to be a celebrity studded and instagram-documented event for crowds of 50,000 people in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
Despite the masses, the organisers still pride themselves on maintaining the true meaning of the festival. Co-Founder Marian Goodell describes Burning Man as a “facilitator of culture”, with no corporate sponsorship and no cell service available. With the stunning desert sunset one of the headline acts, and an epic display of communally made artwork of both sculpture and body, one can easily justify the reference to Burning man as more an ‘experience’ rather than an event. However, the promises of cosmic and spiritually awakening experiences do not exempt Burning Man from the drug use that happens at music festivals worldwide.
Parallel to the bizarre events witnessed last Saturday night, on paper the drug culture of Burning Man is comparably petty considering the 272 drug-related arrests made at this year’s Tomorrowland. Pershing County Law Enforcement made a mere 40 arrests for both possession and trafficking of controlled substances, mostly psychedelics like LSD.
However, these numbers do not coincide with the undeniable popularity of drug-taking at the event, seen by the thousands of drug-trip blogs which pervade the internet annually, including a growing list of answers for search bar questions like, “What should you think about before trying LSD at Burning Man” on discussion website Quora. Evidently, targeting drug use is more of a feat than a duty for the Pershing County law authorities, among the 50,000 people sprawled over a seven mile desert sandstorm.
While the festival itself promotes its revered principles of self-reliance, participation, care for one another and the act of gifting, the reality of this in an environment of people with countless narcotics, providing a safe environment for punters has become unrealistic for Burning Man organisers.
It is not to say the tragic actions that led to Mr Mitchell taking his own life were within the hands of the festival and not himself, but County Sheriff Jack Allen said it was not the first time attendees have attempted to break down security in pursuit of the flames. It’s a problem organisers have worked to contain, and Mr Allen stated his rangers do the best they can with a human chain to prevent fatalities like Mr Mitchell’s.
It is also not to say that Burning Man created this drug dependability itself. Founder Larry Harvey created the festival on the ground of culture, connection, and self-expression, and in a speech made to the crowd at the 1998 Burning Man, he praised the celebration’s power in being the “final connecting point, that seems to connect you to yourself, connects you to the people around you, and ultimately connects you with the earth and the heavens.”
Perhaps these ideas worked for Harvey and his circle of 250 friends on a San Francisco beach in the late 1980’s, but the tragic actions of Aaron Joel Mitchell against the backdrop of intoxicated strangers deem such ideas of connection and community sadly obsolete.
The following music news pieces are published on Xpressmag.com.au, Perth’s local guide to arts and music, to which I am a current contributor.
September 21, 2017 at 02:38
Two-time Grammy nominated singer, songwriter and musician Nai Palm is ready to stun her Perth fans on the local leg of her Australian tour, debuting her first solo record Needle Paw with two WA shows, at the Rosemount Hotel on Friday, December 15 and Mojos Bar on Saturday, December 16.
With her live band project Hiatus Kaiyote reaching number 11 on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 2014 as well as being sampled on Drake’s project More Life, and Kendrick Lamar’s album Damn in 2017, it’s safe to say lead singer Naomi ‘Nai Palm’ Saalfeild’s debut solo record is in hot demand.
Needle Paw is set to release on October 20, with the artist relaying her honest dream-like composure of guitar and vocal arrangements to “remind people that there are humans behind the music”.
Needle Paw is out October 20. Nai Palm plays the Rosemount Hotel on Friday, December 15 and Mojos Bar on Saturday, December 16.
September 21, 2017 at 3.08
The Australian Burlesque Festival will unite both performers and fans from around the country this spring for its 2017 tour, Tropical Tease. Part of a month long national tour, Saturday, October 7 is the date that Perth’s Astor Theatre will fill with the theatrical neo-burlesque performances and the avant-garde glamour of local headliners Penelope Pop, Les Sataniques, and the Tipsy Twosome.
This year features also homegrown talent such as festival co-founder and director Dolores Daiquiri, Honey B. Goode, Miss Bettie Bombshell and Ruby Slippers, plus international acts La Viola Vixen (Berlin), Andromeda Circus (Spain), and Burlesque Noumea Troupe (Noumea) to name a few.
Reaching its eighth consecutive year touring, the Australian Burlesque Festival is renowned internationally for both its enticing showcases and educational workshops, giving local fans the opportunity to take home the tricks of the tease from the best international and local stars of the industry.
Originally established in 2009 by early co-founders Chaz Royal, Sapphira and Rosy Rabbit, the show debuted in 2010 to sold out audiences across the country, with 2017 anticipated to be no different. The Australian Burlesque Festival is now the biggest celebration of the art form in the southern hemisphere.
The Australian Burlesque Festival’s Tropical Tease hits the Astor Theatre on Saturday, October 7. This show is 18+ event, and may contain nudity.
September 20, 2017 at 15:02
The Western Australian leg of Sex on Toast‘s national tour is set to introduce fans to the latest in their Rough/Ready EP series. Catch them this weekend, at Jack Rabbit Slims on Friday, September 22, Mojos Bar on Saturday, September 23, and Wave Rock Weekender on Sunday, September 24.
The band first rose to success in 2014, with the release of their self-titled album which featured lead singles Takin’ Over and Hold My Love, helping them sell out their first east coast tour. The live show is set to include a rendition of the band’s latest single 4U, released this winter.
With an altered line-up, featuring some of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne’s hottest musicians, and with a few little surprises up their sleeve, it’s going to be slow jams, new jack swing, choreography, laughter, tears and sexuality.
Sex on Toast at Jack Rabbit Slims on Saturday, September 22, Mojos Bar on Sunday, September 23 and Wave Rock Weekender on September 24.
September 20, 2017 at 16:34
In their enduring support for local, live music, Mojos Bar are excited to host heat #1 of their new band competition Mojo Rising tonight, Wednesday, September 20.
With tonight’s first heat featuring local sounds from indie rock bands J.F.K (pictured), JOYS andSealamb, and folk singer-songwriters Mark Turner and Fox Scully, the competition hopes to launch these WA artists into a network of valuable contacts and industry guidance which organisers deem equally favourable to a cash prize for growing artists.
The winning band will receive a recording and mastering package through Blackbird Sound Studio with Dave Parkin, and Forensic Audio with Simon Struthers. Second prize winners will walk out with a 6 month Cool Perth Nights booking prioritisation, as well as a photoshoot with one of Perth’s best music photographers.
Above all, the Mojo Rising competition will allow artists the chance create their own network of contacts with like-minded artists and industry contacts, through the sudden visibility of the heats.
Heat #2 is set to rock Mojos with more local talent next Wednesday, September 27, featuring the likes of Dariia, Wooly Mammoth, Timbo Roberts, Kat Wilson Trio and Steve Hensby Band.
Mojo Rising kicks off tonight, Wednesday, September 20. Heats will run every Wednesday at Mojos Bar throughout Spring, with the Grand final being held Saturday, December 2. Doors open at 8pm, entry $5.
September 26, 2017 at 00:58
Sydney’s 90s indie-rock legends The Clouds are treating their fans again, adding to the excitement surrounding their unexpected return to releasing records this year. The band have not only announced the release date for their latest single Beautiful Nothingness on October 16, but also the dates to the local leg of their upcoming national tour in November.
Extra excitement comes with news that they’ll be supported by their old touring buddies from the 90s, fellow Australian alt-rock band Falling Joys. Catch them together at the local leg on November 10 at Metropolis Fremantle.
Starting the year right with the release of their EP Zaffre in Feburary, their first in almost two decades, the four-piece went on to be the prime support acts for Blondie and Cyndi Lauper’stour in April.
May saw frontwomen Jodi Phillis and Patricia ‘Trish’ Young feature at this years Sydney Writers Festival, with winter seeing the pair guest programmers on Rage in June, and the July artists in residence for radio station Double J. This saw Double J remember a number of The Clouds 90s hits with live versions of Say It, 4pm and House of the Sun.
The Clouds’s old guitarist Dave Easton and drummer Raphael Whittingham will also be on board for this tour.
The Clouds and Falling Joys play Metropolis Fremantle on November 10.
September 26, 2017 at 15:27
A new basement venue is set to bring live music back to the heart of the city. The Sewing Roomwill open its doors in the coming weeks, offering music fans an exciting new alternative to their other favourite venues typically in Northbridge or Fremantle.
The venue, on the corner of Wolf Lane and Murray Street had not been touched since the 1950’s, but co-owner Martin Black‘s vision to transform the space is finally on the cusp of becoming a reality. He describes the 500 square metre space as an underground basement of “multiple personalities”, and is looking forward to being able to utilise it in a way that has something for everyone. “It will be different from other nightclubs due to the versatility of the music and the crowd and an overarching focus on being a friendly venue for all lovers of music” he said.
Music fans can look forward to relaxed live music in the evenings accompanied by their in-house Steinway piano, popular bands rocking their state of the art sound and lighting system until 5am, 6 nights a week. The venue will also be the first to operate under Perth’s new seven-day nightclub license in more than 20 years.
Black describes the space as “pretty grungy,” and was ideal for creating an underground rave space complete with a Krug champagne vault and a hip sewing machine installation. The Sewing Room will have more scope to keep the good times going right through the night, as the CBD location means it was not limited by the noise concerns of venues closer to residential areas. Even so, Black assures the venue has “taken a number of steps to minimize any noise at street level with things like double doors, sound insulation and acoustic treatments, bricking in windows.”
The venue’s first event launches the new album of Perth’s own Helta Skelta on Saturday, October 14, supported by Melbourne ‘death funk’ act Product with local artists Nerve Quakes and Debbie Downers. The Sewing Room basement was also chosen as part of the 19+ venues that will exhibit the best of WA’s local talent as part of this years WAMfest on Saturday, November 4.
September 28, 2017 at 12:44
Just over a year after the success of their 2016 album Every Night the Same Dream, which reached #3 on the ARIA Charts, five-piece Brissie favourites Ball Park Music are already back to treat fans with the release of new single Exactly How You Are.
Shortly after Every Night‘s release, frontman Sam Cromack hit a little purple patch of writing – unsure where it would lead, he decided to roll with it anyway.
Crockman has relayed the inspiration for the song as being a love letter about seeing someone, accepting them, and loving them for who they are.”It’s a big love song really,” he says. “It’s totally sincere.”
In a reflection of Crockman’s words, the single’s music video is a DIY-style, vintage compilation of band members Jennifer Boyce, Paul Furness, and twins Dean Hanson and Daniel Hanson backyard jamming and road tripping.
Since debuting their EP Rolling On The Floor, Laughing Ourselves To Sleep in April 2009, the band have released four studio albums and done nine headline tours, as well as supporting American rock legends Weezer on their 2013 Australian tour.
Exactly How You Are is out now.
The following is an original album review I constructed for Xpress Magazine, who published it on November 9, 2017.
Scream Above the Sounds
Twenty years since the release of their debut album Word Gets Around, Welsh rock legends Stereophonics were concrete in their rejection of focusing too much on former glories. With the release of their 10th studio LP Scream Above the Sounds, the Kelly Jones-led quartet have kept to their promise of new instrumental stylings, and the responses so far have found some people wishing they hadn’t.
While an album lacking in melodic variety can lose the attention of listeners quick-fast, an album with too much of an assortment can simply confuse them. The unmatched, unequivocally Brit-rock sound of Stereophonics, which defined the auditory of their 20 year career of chart-royalty, is no longer a base ingredient so much as it is a simple seasoning. It is sprinkled over tracks like Crying in your Beer, Geronimo, and Chances Are in a multi-genre experiment of skittering rhythms, Motown horns and anomalous guitars solos.
As regular tenants of the place known as the UK number one, some musical exploration should of course be granted to Stereophonics. However Scream Above the Soundsseems to lack the common instrumental semblance the band are famous for, and often criticised for, maintaining. Cohesion across tracks lost is somewhere between the melancholic synthesisers of Breaking Dawn and the feel-good lyrics and upbeat mandolins of Elevator.
While the repetitive melody lines and the power chords the production combo of Jones and studio partner Jim Lowe have increasingly been a fallback over the years to the point of frustration for fans and critics alike, one cannot deny it moulded each album, from its ballads to its anthems, into a reflective, wise, and occasionally brooding character that simply made sense.
That is not to say Scream Above the Sounds has disposed of it altogether. Boy on a Bike and Before Anyone Knew Our Name are lyrically stunning odes to the past. The latter is a particular highlight, a stripped back piano allowing the true heartbreak of Jones’ lyrics to shine through, remembering their late drummer Stuart Cable, and a time before four boys from The Cynon Valley found fame. “We build this thing from a dead end street/ And now I’m looking around for you to see/ I miss you man,” Jones sings.
Additionally, Jones’ acute storytelling style lights up Scream Above the Sounds in a powerful reminder of what the boys do best, amplified by it’s first single, All In One Night. Chronologically relaying an hour by hour account of a man whose life takes a dramatic turn across the span of one night, the repeating wistful guitar riffs and the song’s ethereal chorus-line are a credit to the band’s songwriting dexterity.
Ultimately, tracks such as Caught By the Wind and Drive a Thousand Miles team up together to hush the critics by showcasing the wonder that remains in Jones’ exceptional voice, an anchor to Stereophonics’ longevity that will last throughout any experimental ventures, or musical misgivings, they encounter.