Decoder Ring – Sydney – Sydney Metro, Australia – 2002-01-10

Decoder Ring
Where: Sydney – Sydney Metro, Australia.

When: 2002-01-10

You know you’re getting too old for this rock and roll malarky when you arrive at a gig at 8 pm and the doors don’t open for a least another half an hour. You also know you’re getting too old when you groan audibly when told the main act won’t take the stage until at least midnight. Nevertheless, a quick squirt of caffeine directly into the eye socket, and your roving reporter was ready to rock. Or post-rock, as the evening demanded.

Decoder Ring kicked off the night’s affairs, a five-piece band augmented by five movie projectors and a man whirling like a dervish amongst them. The effort to synchronise was well worth it, the visuals joining in as simple melodies built up to Spector-esque wall of sound crescendos. Eeking out all they could through a variety of instruments, Decoder Ring seemed as if they recognised their blend of space prog-rock demanded a more visually enticing background and they succeeded at a professional show that highlighted their ability. It’s a pity that members of the band proceeded to chat amicably amongst themselves right next to me all the way through Pan American’s act – next time a bit of respect would go a long way.

Especially when it’s Mark Nelson, dub man extraodinaire, who worked his way slowly, exploratory through around half an hour of throbbing low-down beats that slowly pitter-pattered into keyboard notes, dripping off into the sultry summer air. Nelson’s hypnotic loops reverbed back off the rattle of the air conditioner, eventually rising to a white noise riot that faded into the ticking of a metronome. When a cash register at the bar chimed away, it reminded me of the seeming incongruity between what is essentially ambient-exploratory themes and the click-crash-ching of the alcohol-fuelled night club settings.

This incongruity was brought to the forefront with Sydney’s Ukiyoie – and don’t even ask me how to pronounce it. The five-piece excelled at their art, tapping drums almost out-of-time yet bringing the soft rattles and dangling guitars together into a travelling soundscape evoking passing scenes glimpsed through a grimy bus window, the pleasure in the journey, meandering, and not in the ultimate destination. However, everyone on stage seemed painfully shy, as if there wasn’t any other place they wouldn’t rather be, and the shyness stripped the music of its balls necessary to do it justice. Picture a band you wish you could plug a headphone jack into and drift away in the sonic cocoon – this was Ukiyoie with their rhythms rising and falling like lover’s breath on a Sunday morning. Gentle, delicate, yet sometimes brutal, but so not designed for a Saturday night drinking parlour.

When Nelson, Brown, and Donne – aka Labradford – took the stage to a loud cheer, it’s almost 12:20 pm and I’m tiring quickly. The looping of soft drum beats that lift up only to drop back aren’t helping, but it’s the squall of a jackhammer that jolts me into consciousness. I’m enthralled, wondering how the fuck Nelson makes his guitar sound like that, only to be dismayed by the flurry of worried glances … it’s a sonic fuckup, possibly one that happens in post-rock all the time, leaving the audience to debate the intention or otherwise of the music’s creators. A roadie wanders around on stage as the song (a loosely-used noun for this style) progresses, and after 15 minutes something stronger beings to surge, repeated guitar plucks drift up on a background of synth-a-phonic strings, and the speaker squalls glitch and groan beneath the weight. The audience is bemused / confused / enthralled / enwrapped in what they’re seeing, but by 12.40 the tune has drifted off into a slow stumble, a tumbleweed of tones beyond redemption. Do we clap?

Next up begins with either Brown or Donne bashing their way out on a wind-up instrument, sounding like a kid’s toy on acid and ending with what sounds like a dishwasher orgasming. Again the jackhammer sound appears, this time softer, rounding the sound off as cassette tape spooling sounds drift in and out, like an emphesemic drawing his last breath. There’s a Cage-like claustrophobia in this minimalism, reducing as well as emphasising the space in which Labradford’s sounds work. I’m reluctant to leave but by 1:15, but I have to in order to make the last train home, leaving a band drifting, occasionally jackhammering their way through what was to be the last song.

A friend who went to both concerts assured me that the following night’s gig was more coherent and substantially weightier, without the jackhammer guitar though, confirming our suspicions of a technical fuckup. But it’s this fuck-up that stood out, that asked the most questions of what and how post-rock dub and ambient work, and what it demands of audiences, performers and space alike. Essentially vocal-less, Labradford’s sonics open up possibilities rather than answer the questions. It’s those possibilities that should inspire us all.