Distant Murmurs 2017: An Experiential Review In 3 Acts
“What kind of music do you listen to?”
I absolutely dread this question. Even though I’ve been asked this so many times in countless social interactions – I never have a good answer for it.
“Oh, you know, just a bit of everything.” I’d lie, after a pause that goes on for a little too long.
Ask me what is my favourite movie about music, though, you’d get an instantaneous, consistent answer from me: Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece, Almost Famous (2000).
As the resident Film and TV editor here at Isolated Nation, I pride myself on being the go-to guy for some of my friends. Ask me if you should watch the latest sequel of a franchise, and I will talk your ear off about the behind-the-scenes production issues they’ve been plagued with prior to the release. Talk to me about Lost and I will explain to you in detail about what you didn’t “get” about the ending.
Okay, I’m just now realising how annoying of a human being I am. But that’s beside the point. The point is - music has never been my forte. Sure, of course I appreciate music, but to butcher/repurpose an iconic line from Almost Famous (spoken by immortal Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character Lester Bangs); when it comes to music tastes, I am decidedly “uncool”.
My favourite radio channel is Curtin FM. My favourite band of all time is Weezer, my favourite Weezer song being the critically reviled “Beverly Hills” – You get the gist. I’m open to all kinds of music, but my enjoyment usually comes with one caveat: “Can I picture this music as a soundtrack for a movie?” If the answer is yes, then I’m already 80% on board.
So I have no idea what I was thinking when I put my hand up to cover RTRFM’s local music festival, Distant Murmurs.
Here’s my impression of RTR prior to this:
1. It’s the radio station that all my “cool” friends have been getting into in the past few years
2. I’ve heard some cool hip-hop mixtapes on that station on occasion
3. Sometimes it’s just weird, haunting noises, kind of like transmissions from the afterlife.
But, knowing that it will be a showcase of many up-and-coming local acts, I was interested in checking it out. This was my chance to get back into the fold, and maybe finally have a good answer to that first question.
In traditional cinema, the story structure of a movie is divided into 3 acts: 1) The Inciting Incident, 2) The Conflict, and 3) The Resolution. This is how I will review my Distant Murmur experience.
ACT ONE: The Case of The Arancini Balls
INT. THE ROSEMOUNT HOTEL – EVENING.
Due to some unforeseen last-minute crisis management with my mate Joe (something to do with a very expensive jumper and a suspected internet scam – a story for another time), I am already late (my sincere apologies to The Whipcracker and Candy Guts, both amazing-sounding names that I was bummed to have missed).
I am also very, very, hungry. After we arrived, I was convinced by the Rosemount bar staff that their Arancini balls were the way to go, and boy, were they right. While usually sold as 6 golfball-sized snacks to be shared, they actually make a decent dinner for one! I’m single.
As I munched off those heavenly deep-fried rice balls and hesitantly offered some to my friends (they saw right through me and politely rejected), Perth-based electronica producer Parnell March, began his set on the Beer Garden stage. Immediately grabbing my attention, March’s wonderfully dreamy set was the perfect start to my Distant Murmurs experience. Echoing some of (what I feel to be) Brian Eno’s best work, March’s particular brand of ethereal instrumentality bursts with beautiful contradictions: it’s calming yet energetic; it’s subtle yet moving; it blends seamlessly into the background, while also being utterly transfixing. So transfixing, in fact, that a lady started grooving to his dreamy tunes (much to her partner’s chagrin), garnering some amused looks.
Parnell March’s dream-chill music would make a great soundtrack to a slow-paced, contemplative indie film, like James Pondsoldt’s The End of The Tour (which features Eno’s “The Big Ship”), or Paul Greengrass’s Prince Avalanche.
Here’s my favourite track, New Science, from his latest EP “Dragon”:
A couple of Perth Locals (which seemed to be advertising hard at The Rosemount that day – hey, it worked!) later, we decided to check out the openers for the Main Stage:
You know that saying, “It takes one to know one”? It’s commonly used as a sick burn/counter-insult, but I think it also applies here, in a neutral way. I haven’t had much experience covering live music events, and I could smell that same P-Plater/”I’m new at this!” stench from the Freo-based Bluenade boys as soon as they started playing. From the wooden body gestures to the staring-contest some of them seemed to be having with the ground – the (I’m bad at identifying genres) indie rock band seem to give off a “hey this is no big deal” stage presence, which was jarring at first, but I quickly warmed up to halfway through their first song.
But I will say this now: Out of all the bands and acts I saw at Distant Murmurs, Bluenade is the one I felt most excited to Bandcamp-search leaving the festival. From the balance of playfulness and sincerity in their lyrics, to their “throwback to 90s alt-rock” sound, Bluenade somehow evokes in me a nostalgia for white picket fences, skate park hangs with the boys, and cheerios for breakfast – all of which are Hollywood-imagined “white-suburban” experiences I never had.
Am I a weird guy? Maybe. But will I be keeping an eye out for their next show? Definitely.
My favourite song off the EP, which they performed in the set: “Wishy Washy”, which is loaded with references to Jack Gaby of local bands Dream Rimmy and Spaceman. I guess the song is about how he’s “in every single band in town”? Sure, why not. It’s fun.
Downing yet another Perth Local - which is the perfect beer of the summer (Perth Local reps please email me for sponsorship opportunities, you can have this one for free), I moved back outside to catch:
As Melbourne dream-pop band Flower Drums started playing, the following conversation took place:
Loving this. You know which movie these guys remind me off?
I can’t remember the name right now. You know, the one with the clay jar? And Whoopi Goldberg? That iconic scene where a couple was making this clay jar? And the guy was a ghost?
Aren’t I fun to be around? But bear with me here. Flower Drums has this kind of spacey musical style that cleverly reuses (what I assume to be) “80s pop” sound in a contemporary context. Their 80s-but-not-quite feel makes it the perfect soundtrack for a movie like Ghost, which you’d be forgiven for thinking its an 80s flick, but actually came out in 1990.
Seriously, start playing their song, “Idle Time” during the scene where Whoopi Goldberg slides a coin under Demi Moore’s door to prove to her that Ghost Patrick Swayze is for realsies. It’s delicious, chilling, moving stuff. Go ahead, I'll wait:
More Ghost connections: The way lead vocalist Leigh Craft performs is mesmerizing: He shuts his eyes, looks up to the sky, and at one point climbs the fence-wall behind him, almost as if he is trying to listen to Ghost Patrick Sawyze warn him that “You in danger, girl”.
Looking above the beer garden stage, I see a familiar face at the DJ stand:
Presenter of Wednesday's "The Mag" segment at RTR FM (and occasional DJ) Tanya Bunter was in charge of playing tunes in between bands at the beer garden. We've met at a party of a mutual friend, and I wasn't sure if she'd remember me. Thankfully, she did. And I asked her which act she was most excited to see on the Distant Murmurs line-up.
I'm very excited to see FOAM, because back in the day, when I was a "journalist", they were one of the first bands I saw as a youngin' - I was about 18 years old - and they were also one of the first bands that I interviewed. All of that just sort of combined into a shared history when I think about where we are now, with me being a presenter at RTRFM, and now DJ-ing here today I guess. Everything is just interlinked, you know? Like the rest of Perth.
Yes, I did know.
ACT 2: Alone Together
We've all experienced this moment at least once in our live event-attending careers: It's the part when, either by cause or by chance, you turn around and realise that you've been separated from your friends. I found myself going at it alone at the main stage:
Em Burrows and the Bearded Rainbow:
On paper, Em Burrows and the Bearded Rainbow were playing music that I would be enthusiastic about: With two alternating female vocalists, egg-shakers, and trumpets: they are just the kind of electro-psychedelic-funk (that's a real genre, right?) that I would happily bob my head to. And bob my head I did - but at the (relatively) lowest point of my night, the dissonance between what I should be feeling and what I was actually feeling was evident. Everything is suddenly in slow motion. When you're in a crowd on your own, suddenly it's clear to you that everyone else isn't.
By the end of the Em Burrows set, I was getting out of my own funk. And as I walked out of the main stage, I noticed the crowd forming in the sound emanating from Bar 459:
On their bandcamp page, there's a tagline "90s style indie punk will make you a better person", and I just might agree with that. Performing to an enthusiastic crowd, Lionizer's high-energy angst-powered rock-out was enough to kick me back into gear. I'm not sure whether they will take it as a compliment or insult, but the pop-infused melodic punk of Lionizer definitely reminds me of an "edgier" version of early (pre-Twilight soundtrack?) Paramore. In-between songs were also some top-notch stage banter. For some reason, I jotted down some phrases I heard in my notes: "Baby walks into a club", and "trans-misogynist". Catch their next gig for more details.
I had no idea what to expect from a band named after a delicious Indian bean/cuisine. Mung Dahl turned out to be energetic performers, churning out fun, catchy garage rock with some serious stage presence. They deserved a much larger turn out than they got that night - but maybe that resulted in a much better experience for those who showed up. While I can definitely envision Mung Dahl playing very well with bigger crowds, there was a certain intimate quality to their music that I loved, where you feel like you're just watching your friends having a jam session in their parents' garage. I can definitely picture them on the soundtrack of a Freaks and Geeks-esque coming-of-age film, like Whip It.
Also, in between songs, they finally asked the question we were all thinking, with the female keyboardist asking "Can someone tell me what does Distant Murmurs actually mean? Anyone? Any RTR members here?" If any RTRFM person reads this, please email Mung Dahl the answer and CC: me at [email protected]
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Matthew at RTR for letting us know that Distant Murmurs was the name of a defunct Australian music show on RTR around the 90’s / early 2000’s.
One of the most popular bands playing at Bar 459, the crowd packed the small and narrow space like sardines, just to catch the proto-punk in action. Squeezing in right at the back, I was not tall enough to actually see them. But here's what I could make out of Last Quokka: There is something very aggressive and in-your-face about their music, even in their softer, less screamy segments; as if they are trying to confront you with the cold, unjust, and scary truths of life. I looked around at everyone around who were obviously connecting with their show, and I wondered what was it about Last Quokka's particular brand of punk rock that feels unsettling to me. Was it the mostly politically-charged lyrics? Was it the "I'm going to punch you in the face!" vocals? I wasn't sure.
Needing a change of pace, I moved back to the beer garden:
Empty with Strings
And boy, was it a change of pace. As I watched local hip hop artist Empty set up the stage with a string quartet behind him, I knew I was in for something special. Empty raps and sing with such effortless skill, but his set is made more delicious by his instrumental collaborators. There's something so satisfying about hearing different string instruments blend seamlessly together for the perfect harmony, dancing with Empty's skilfully-crafted words towards a sweet crescendo. With references to Roe 8, and other Australian-specific social issues in his lyrics, Empty exudes a "rapper with social conscious" vibe. While this particular brand of political hip hop, the kind where the social commentary is explicitly laid-out for you, is not usually my favourite; Empty's set definitely caught my intrigue due to the unique sound of his music. Another thing that caught my intrigue: He is currently filming a documentary on freestyle rap in Brooklyn, so keep your eyes peeled for that, along with a new album due in a few months.
ACT 3: The Resolution
If this were a movie - the low-budget, self-contained, "takes place in one night" Sundance kind, this part would be the climax, where I finally beat that obstacle, or confront my fears, and subsequently learn more about myself. But let's face it - I'm a total quirky supporting-character type. And supporting characters rarely get to beat their obstacles. Instead, I catch the last 10 minutes of:
I'd brought a film camera with me - more of a side hobby than a professional inclination, but it turned out to be a useful prop to make me seem more "official". But I wonder about the photographers are paid to cover these events. Do they like every band they have to take photos of? How does it feel like to have to be so close to music they hate? Luckily, they probably didn't have that problem with Old Blood. The minute I joined the tail-end of their set, I instantly felt a deep resentment towards whoever that programmed the lineup for overlapping Empty with Old Blood. Both acts would have made the perfect double-billing, had they performed one after another. Old Blood is the kind of crowd-pleasing blues-infused rock act that was perfect for people who were itching to get their groove on. That lady who danced to the Parnell March set in the beginning would have fit in very well here. I really hope she was in there somewhere, finally around people who didn't look at her funny as she danced her night away.
I shuffled to the front of Bar 459 (god I hate the name of this room - why include numbers in your name?! I bet you no one has ever remembered the name without having to double-check if they got it right - I've done it every single time in this article) , and was greeted by the sight of Hip Priest taking their pants off, revealing their branded boxer shorts. They looked fantastic. In an attempt to test his popularity/affability as a local lo-fi pop-punk (just guessing here) personality, half-naked guitarist Axel kept asking the audience if they would get him a beer - to which he got a jovial (I assume) "Get it yourself!" and "Fuck off!" from crowd, before someone caved in and actually got him one. Usually I would roll my eyes at something like this, but when they started playing, I can't help but be completely won over by their charm. The tongue-in-cheek nature of Hip Priest, as hinted at between songs, reverberated throughout their entire set: There was literally a song about their favourite pizza topping. Their Weezer vibes were off-the-charts.
At long last, the finale of the night, the only band I've actually heard of prior to this event: FOAM. Surprising to no one, FOAM is dependably solid, good ol' fashioned garage rock that is the perfect closer for the night. Recently, I've been listening to Wave of Mutilation: Best of Pixies album, so it was very exciting to watch a Pixie-esque sounding band live. Instantly, I could imagine FOAM to be the perfect stand-in for hardcore punk band The Ain't Rights, the main characters in one of the best thriller/slasher flicks of recent times, Green Room. Except, you know, with an even slimmer chance for survival.
In a previous interview with us, FOAM front man Joel Martin stated that he felt the Perth music scene has continued to "grow stronger and diversify as time goes on", that "there’s been a steady revolving door of places to play". As evident from the quality of acts packed into Distant Murmurs alone, The Rosemount is clearly one of those places. He even when on to thank RTRFM: "We’re all boned if you get axed, fingers crossed our new government is kind to you."
And with this solid showcase of the undeniable talent in the Perth local music scene, I sure hope the government is kind to RTRFM as well, or else all these good things we've been getting will simply become, well, distant murmurs.
...I'll show myself out.