The bandroom on Little Collins Street hasn’t changed all that much in its transition from infamous late-night spot Pony to infamous late-night spot Boney. I have mixed memories of the venue’s former, dingier incarnation, with its sloppy 2.00 a.m. shows, sticky floorboards and kicked-in toilet doors. The space has now had a paint job and a new sound system’s been installed. It also has excellent new booking agents, who have so far secured acts like Darren Sylvester, Andras Fox and Rainbow Chan. For this event, they’ve teamed up with underground promoters Kakkle Tapes – which seems to have a bit of a thing for Hippos in Tanks, recently bringing out D’Eon, Sleep Over and Dean Blunt amongst others – to nab Laurel Halo (Brooklyn via Michigan artist Laurel Anne Chartow)
When I arrived at Boney, a few minutes early, the room was already about two-thirds full. The crowd was gathered in a semicircle around the stage, granting wide berth to a young gentleman with a long coat and birds-nest hair, who was offering an expansive dance interpretation of the dubbed-out afrobeat coming over the PA. Conrad Standish of Standish/Carlyon wandered to and from the stage a little nervously, eyes roaming for a missing cable or perhaps just waiting for the right moment to start proceedings.
They soon opened the night with cuts from their adult electro pop debut, Deleted Scenes. They’re an impressive looking pair: tall, handsome, nonchalant and making liberal use of the venue’s smoke machine. And, of course, for Melbourne fans they carry the aura of their ties, however tenuous, to the fabled 70s post-punk scene that was based between St Kilda, London and Berlin. Standish seems to have been permanently in character since the album’s release, appearing tonight in the leather cap and neat moustache from the promo pictures, which makes him look like a member of New York’s 1980s leather and disco set.
Standish/Carlyon’s live sound is as doped up as it is on the album, but it has more aggression – a partially buried suggestion of sexual violence. Carlyon feeds his guitar through a complicated sequence of pedals, causing the music to swell and mutate. Harsh effects – approximating at one point the grind of a buzz saw and at another the staccato jolt of an automatic weapon – cut across the haze, providing a welcome dynamic to their Madonna-on-heroin chic. In the dense atmosphere they created, interpretive-dance guy worked his way fully to the floor and lay down for a while.
I was keen to see Laurel Halo’s set this evening as in a way it would be a preview of her upcoming album, Chance of Rain, which is basically a series of extrapolations on some live jams. I was expecting to hear cold, fast-paced techno in the style of her more recent output, and what we got was certainly frenetic – propelled by harsh rhythms that underscored a shifting, continually disrupted surface. But for the most part the songs consisted of analogue textures reminiscent of Chartow’s 2011 album Hour Logic. There was a lightness to the sound, a fluidity, and little of the claustrophobia and abstraction of breakthrough record Quarantine (not to mention no singing). The first song she played whirred and bounced satisfyingly, punctuated by a sample that sounded like a bird call. But the high hats were vicious, whipping the harmonic undertones in an unsettling crosscurrent. In my efforts to reach the edge of the stage I’d become cornered beneath the right-hand speaker (I would hear ocean noises in my head for the next several hours), and I could see the vibrations pulsing through Chartow’s drink.
Chartow herself drifted from right to left over her equipment, nodding vigorously but never glancing up at the tightly packed audience. The only noticeable change in her demeanour came near the end of the performance, when she hit on a powerful tension – wielding percussive stabs of noise and the distorted roar of a chorus against one another – and grinned.
The show was running an hour over time when she finished around 2.15 a.m., and the venue emptied out somewhat before Objekt could start his DJ set. I have to say, it was a bit of a relief: although the bandroom at Boney is upstairs, the rounded ceiling and black paint make it feel like a dungeon, and with all those bodies it was hot in there. A slight demographic change occurred as crowd waned and the late-night gurners began to arrive; there were some white polo shirts scattered around, grinding with the fake tans.
Objekt is Oxford-raised Berlin resident TJ Hertz. He’s probably in his mid-twenties, but with his green, zip-up jacket and floppy hair he looked very young. He does have a reputation as something of a prodigy; though he’s currently on sabbatical, Hertz works as a DSP developer at Native Instruments, and his sound design and production skills are second to none. He’s only got about four singles and a handful of remixes to his name (with a new 12″ single due out in November on his own label), but his impact has been huge and those who waited to see him play were enthusiastic to say the least. He opened with a dramatic synth flourish, the stained glass windows framing his silhouette, but the set soon resolved into something closer to the meticulous, driving techno he’s known for. I was danced off my feet by 3.00 a.m., but sat a while longer, pulled in by the constant flux of Hertz’s set.
Despite its reputation as something of a live music mecca, Melbourne has surprisingly few places to see cutting edge dance music. I’m hopeful that Boney might step in to help meet that demand. Promisingly, Kakkle Tapes has already announced that Laurel Halo plans to tour Australia again in 2014.