TGTF Does ARIA Week 2012: Universal Showcase at Oxford Art Factory featuring Bertie Blackman, The Art of Sleeping, The Preatures and Harts – 26th November 2012

By on Monday, 3rd December 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

I was so very chuffed when us here at TGTF were invited to participate in the inaugural ARIA Week that took place the last week of November in Sydney, Australia. This was the first year that showcases, the first-ever Electronic Music Conference (EMC) 2012 (the largest dance conference for the Asian-Pacific region), and parties provided the lead-up to the absolute pinnacle of the Australian music industry, the 26th ARIA Awards (the Aussie equivalent to the UK’sBRITs and America’s Grammys). After a full day spent at the Rock Lily nightclub within the Star City Casino in the Pyrmont area of the city for the first-ever ARIA Masterclass for industry, it was time to get stuck in to Sydney nightlife.

As the editor of this Web site, I’ve seen the Australian tour dates of so many of my favourite bands and invariably, the one place everyone seems to play is the Oxford Art Factory. Its location can’t be beat: it’s within walking distance of the central business district (CBD) where most tourists make a beeline for. As should be predicted, it lives on Oxford Street, though it bears little resemblance to the one in London that we are all more familiar with. For one, the street, along with all of the Sydney I saw, was incredibly clean and there’s something to be said about walking around in a city in late November with the sun blazing down. It just brightens your whole day – and night – and makes covering a gig feel like less work.

The first ARIA Week showcase I caught was the Universal Australia Monday night, with an evening chock full of bands. Looks are very deceiving: it looks like a massive place, but our friends from the AU Review said it only held 600. It looked way bigger than Washington’s Black Cat. Our friends also told us the first spots to go at the OAF are always the ones on the balcony; I’ve never been stood at the balcony of the 9:30 because you just aren’t close enough to be able to see the bands; at OAF, this isn’t a problem, with the venue feeling equally grand in size, while maintaining an intimate feel. And the sound system? Simply amazing. I daren’t even consider how many great bands we could reel into Washington if the Black Cat’s system were as good.

First up was Harts, which at first glance looked like a rock quartet. This was quickly explained away by the lead singer / guitarist, who must have said, “I am Harts, and I am from Melbourne” at least three times during their set. So I guess he is a solo artiste but comes out on tour with three backing musician, none of which were ever introduced and/or thanked by Harts himself, so my guess is he’s a multi-instrumentalist who needs touring band members to truly bring his masterpieces to life onstage.

It seems overkill to have not one but two synthesiser players onstage at one time, though I can appreciate that some of Harts’ tunes have a disco bent (therefore at least one synthesiser player makes sense). What was more apparent was his penchant for employing Prince-type guitar solos as well as the Purple One’s wails, such as in the song ‘All Too Real’. The wailing was something quirky, as was the checkered kerchief around the top of his microphone, which I guessed was a homemade pop shield. (Aren’t pop shields only ever employed in recording situations? Or maybe I’m being a total anorak, I dunno…)

Sydney band The Preatures were on next. (Where possible, I’ll be including the cities all the bands I saw are from, as it should be of note that unlike the UK and more like America, cities are very far apart and except of course the Sydney-based ones, most of them had to travel long distances in order to participate in ARIA Week.) This group handily won the best dressed award for the night for their chaps in smart suits and female singer Isabella Manfredi in Outback chic, sporting a leather fringe vest and drapey scarf.

With male and female lead singers, there was a definite Fleetwood Mac vibe to them, in that when their vocals were paired, they worked perfectly together; Gideon Bensen’s style of singing reminded of the Rascals’ Eddie Brigati, every time he opened his mouth, it looked like it took tonnes of effort, as it opened with alarming wideness. (If that makes sense at all…) They offered up ‘Drive Away’, “a brand new song that’s only been played a couple of times”. While I enjoyed the vocals, I wasn’t blown away by their songs.

Second on the bill, The Art of Sleeping from Brisbane, was the band I was most eager to see. Imagine long-haired and beardy blokes like Fleet Foxes, but ones that rock out just a bit harder, as well as ones who have the instinctive ability to write anthemic tunes similar to the Temper Trap, and you get some sense of their musical style. Beautiful harmonies and great guitar work are a hallmark of this group.

They recently released an EP, ‘Like a Thief’, and most of their set consisted of songs from this EP, including the overly gorgeous ‘Empty Hands’ (see video below). They also played new song ‘Voodoo’ as well. It was an all too short set for me. Seeing how quickly both the UK and America took to the beard-sporting Seattle folk rockers, with the right promotion, The Art of Sleeping have a chance to do very well in both markets.

The headliner was Universal Australia success story Bertie Blackman, who despite what you might initially think looking at the first name, it’s a she, not a he. Sydney-born Blackman has sold numerous albums in her home country, and I have to wonder why she doesn’t have a UK contract yet, and I’ll tell you why. In my preliminary research of the bands I might see at ARIA Week, there were many I couldn’t find on the American version of Spotify because of region copyright issues, and although I’d heard some of Blackman’s songs, the image that stuck with me was her looking like a goth punk on the covers of her albums. I was thinking, ok, maybe ‘90s-era Liz Phair before she went pop?

So imagine my surprise when she comes out in a red muu-muu (Phyllis Diller vibes?) with a white camo design on it and starts beating frantically on a drum like her life depended on it, just as her fans screamed their devotion to her. Later, Blackman took to her guitars, which she played with gusto while singing her brand of emotion in a wide-eyed Grace Slick kind of emphatic way. The whole package, borderline subversive, reminded me of a featherless Patrick Wolf, and she pleasantly surprised me. She might not be a star overnight in Britain, but I can totally see a fan base ready and waiting for her.

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One Response

4:04 pm
3rd December 2012

RT @tgtf: New post: TGTF Does ARIA Week 2012: Universal Showcase at Oxford Art Factory – 26th November 2012: http://t.co/0eoYq3bl

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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