SOFT CENTRE @ Carriageworks, June 11th 2023


Last week Cyclic previewed VIVID Sydney’s satellite experimental and DIY arts and music festival SOFT CENTRE; this week we follow-up with a review of the event itself.

​Visitors to the Sydney’s Carriageworks for the  SOFT CENTRE festival Sunday evening could be forgiven for wondering if an offering at Hells Gate was part of proceedings. The contingent of artists, those who stacked the latter portion of the evening line-up leant in as orchestrators of​ melodic noise, nu and death metal genres. They effused ​creative expression ​characterized by tropes of darkness and sacrificial loss.

Take Japan’s Violent Magic Orchestra (including members of experimental noise collective: Vampillia) ​with elevated frontwoman the ‘growl heavy’ ZASTAR. She ​unleashed ​her​ brutalist ​vocals backed by sped-up ​industrial, ​glitchy techno. Occasionally, amidst the pulsating back-beats screeching could be heard and punctuated from the deep cockles of this rather petite lady, roars too.​ ​The rage​ and ‘nrg​’ exchanged between the​ ​ ensemble ​was so intense that mid set, their symphonic appeared to short-circuit the PA​. With silence befalling them from the anti-climatic confusion emerged a​ gruff​ yell of​ “Fuck you” ​directed at the crowd by one of the more vocal members of the four-piece​.
​Moments later they regained power and returned to ​the​ darkest state of invoking their place on this, mortal coil​ we call earth. The visual effects ​from brainchild Kezzardrix​ featuring ​out-of-this-world demonic creatures populating the 22-metre screen behind the musicians underscored the interplanetary journey VMO were taking us on with swift momentum.​

In fact, it was the clever collaboration with selected AV visual artists that accompanied many of the musicians in BAY 17 that helped overall in delivering these ​multi-dimensional, sensory-occupied, musical message​s​. Some, like festival opener Lydian Dunbar ​offered moments of shimmer and glimmer. His gentle caress of audio invited us to bask in the transience of our being as he glided through tracks from his debut album: “Blue Sleep”. The album yields a story of slumber and waking on a Ballina beach and was brilliantly aided by the lo-fi cinematic eye of Queer resourceful cinema artist: Garden Reflexxx​, whose own interpretation of Lydian’s musings created an opportunity for ​​​the emergence of a modern-day mermaid leaving the ocean and travel from sea to air​. ​

Or​, perhaps it was​ the introverted contemplation triggered by the pairing of Tarik Barri’s mesmerizing visual accompaniment to Iranian artist Sote’s “Majestic Noise Made in Beautiful Rotten Iran”, itself a treatise on compassion, destruction, and the gamut of an emotional field in between, that prompted space for levity and pause​.​

Violent Magic Orchestra

Sote and Tarik Barri

Australian Art Orchestra – Hand to Earth

According to Jemma Cole, one of the co-directors of SOFT CENTRE, the discovery of new artists lies at the heart of the success of this festival. And to that point ​for this observer, one extra special moment ​took place early in the afternoon. It occurred in BAY 17 amidst a luminous and often ​drenching backdrop of hues of ​burnt orange and deep red​ colour-blocked​ presumably for the indigenous artists: Hand to Earth to showcase the starkness and richness of our earth. ​The captivating contrast of Korean songbird Sunny Kim married alongside the Yolgnu songman Daniel Wilfred also offered richness in vocal harmonies. Daniel narrated the chapters of storytelling ​with assistance from his percussive​ playing partners. The musical ​accompaniments exquisite in their own right featured clarinet virtuoso Aviva Endean, and Yidaki player David Wilfred, ​drawn together through maestro Peter Knight. This set ​allowed space for cultural symbiosis. The ​arrangements were ​structured on the value of nature’s elements​. Wind, sea, flight of birds, and ​the power of ​fire​ were familiar metaphors that helped​ convey ​’​connection to country​’​ and perhaps Vivid’s own theme: ‘naturally’. To the receptive, it offered an unexpected discourse and evaluation that the distinct landscape of two prominent subcultures to our national makeup present while cohabitating in peaceful and dynamic union.

Other highlights of the 10-hour strong assault to the senses came in the​ auspicious and heralded​ DJ​ set​ variety. Dutch mistress of the decks, Mad Marin threw her signature ‘vibes’ to the adoring crowd and it was easy to understand her popularity ​and star-on-the-rise persona built ​via Boiler Room set releases as this one she served felt pretty eclectic and electrifying at times.

​Add to that the local pairing of Wings of D’Sire (Maria Wang (D Grade) and Liam Taylor (Wingnut)) who revived us​ from our naval gazing induced by artists before them: Cutting Room. Yes, this innovative duo was​ the impactful standout amidst the​ heady​ ​​haze ​and throw-down ​of dubstep, breakcore, and electro mashings that fuelled the dance floor of BAY 20.

Wings of D’Sire receive a further tip of the hat for providing an apt closing statement. It was via the on-trend ‘sped-up’ style remix of “Teardrops” by Womack and Womack which not only signalled a strong sayonara to the audience below them and helps to cement their position as a force du jour for festival circuits worldwide.

All in all, SOFT CENTRE delivered a smorgasbord of deep listening aural ailment for the near-capacity crowd. And after experiencing the curation ebb and flow of this dynamic team of founders’ they also seem destined to continue, casting an indelible mark that must surely now feel permanently etched on the evening landscape of Sydney’s darkest underground.


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