The international arts and music festival was brought to both Auckland and Melbourne by Monster Valley, a free event showcasing "bands, painters, performers, installation artists, and a plethora of other freaks will test you physically and mentally, while live-streaming between two venues across the ditch for one cluster-f*** of an Experiment."
An array of visual art/workshops/installations stationed around 3 stages, with a set-list that drove the hours into the early morning, the experiment presented an eclectic melting-pot of audio-visual delights.
However, our focus here is the music. Not all of which we have time for.
Fresh off the boat of Auckland’s growing alternative musical culture, ranging from concealed death metal group Long Distance Runner, industrial electric duo Dual, to self-heckling rock band Shaun's B'day, this experiment certainly was a cluster-f***.
Reviewing this live-streamed festival within the dusty 20th century corridors of St Kevin's Arcade felt like stepping backwards into the future – I am sure the Gothic-Monster-Dracula theme also helped.
Upon entering ‘The Courtyard’ I was greeted with a recognisable Wine Cellar vibe and layout, but the music was actually being performed in Melbourne’s Section 8 – that’s cool. Why not?
‘The Graveyard’ changed things. Plunged into darkness the floor plan became rather helpful (cobwebs represent stages and the key situates visual art). Separated by just a wall, ‘The Master Bedroom’ (run by Lowtide) and ‘The Ballroom’ (by A Label Called Success) stages also became the gateway into ‘The Crypt’ (by Monster Valley).
First up in 'The Master Bedroom' was Keith. Becoming somewhat of a house band for independent art and music label/studio Lowtide, this name and genre morphing group incorporated Michael (bass), Connor (guitar), Ezra (drums) and Akshay (keys). They seemed perfectly comfortable then in Lowtide’s bedroom, sprawled amongst pillows, mirrors, clouds and an impressive speaker set-up.
Breaking the boundary between audience and performer, Keith Makes a Beat with anyone who was willing to pick up the mic. Encouraged by the likes of organiser Benji and guest rapper Albert (pictured), Keith masterfully wrapped their flexible hip-hoppy/jazzy/downtempo playing style around all kinds of tastes and styles.
Midway through the set, the floor parted to make way for elongated humanoid insects that performed a beautifully strange choreographed dance that matched Keith's grooves.
And they were real f****** groovy. Alluding to the likes of Yussef Kamaal, and more local funk band Round Buddah, anticipation for which of the many directions this group might take next is high.
Later Keith, for their stand alone set, with keyboardist in a full-fledged homemade space suit, was joined by female singer Native B. Gliding her way through the audience in a kind of pray mantis style dress, she took stage with grace. Her haunting and rather abstract vocal lines filled the bedroom with ease, luring the audience closer with hypnotic effect. The projector, displaying a kind of pray mantis porn, lit the audience under a green glow that stained the retinas.
The sound and light technicians job here was executed flawlessly. Wireless mixing controller in hand, he stood in the centre of the floor melding her voice into the mix – it looked and sounded great.
Now these guys I was not expecting...
With set that incorporated covers from The Last Chieftain by Christian Scott and Skip Step by Nate Smith, this supergroup of jazz performance students created a virtuosic set. Members of the Rhohil Kishore Experience Daniel (Tenor Saxophone), Jack (Trumpet), Michael (Guitar) Jimmy (Bass), led by Rhohil Kishore (Drums), raised the bar of sheer musicianship.
With a feel akin to psychedelia group Khruangbin, each of instrumentalists had their time to shine. Under a somewhat of a bass heavy mix, the guitar still boosted through, the saxophone wailed out but wasn't too overpowering, and the trumpet’s higher notes still raised the ceiling. Mumbled from increasingly bouncing crowd included murmurs of “so sick” and “that’s mean.” Look forward to hearing more (hopefully original) works from these guys.
Equipped with abundance of aluminium foil and fluorescent lights, 'The Ballroom' next door was pumping with variety of electronic flavours - that did, at points, slip over into 'The Master Bedroom.'
Psych-dance duo Dual started to a rather placid crowd. Reminiscent of Jagwar MA, The Stone Roses, or Nine Inch Nails, the group incorporated live punchy guitar riffs and swooning vocal lines to heavy industrialised beats. Recently playing both at Rhythm and Vines and Splore, you can tell these two know how to get a crowd going – and they did. By the time their new single STUCK hit the floor, a growing audience went from tapping their feet to hopping ecstatically.
On the back of a brand new single Slow Breeze, Prince Purple turned a dead crowd into a boogying mass of all shapes and sizes. Smiles and cheers broke out as the two piece presented live percussion with a heavy house beat and a snare that whipt the eardrums.
Heading into 'The Crypt' Sharnar and her band prepared to take stage. After a round of gigs in China this year, the group was at the top of their game. Despite the occasional crackle from the speakers, the singer did well to lend confidence to a barely swaying crowd. Wrapping some context around her lyrics was a nice addition, talking about her personal feelings and how she transposed that into her writing.
As part of NZ On Air‘s NewTracks, the single Breathe On Your Own is emblematic of the groups RnB/pop style. She cites artists like 6lack, Jhené Aiko, Jorja Smith, Kehlani, and Rihanna as her inspiration.
The crowd pleasers of the night were Shaun's B'day. Having their friend Dan take stage to heckle at their own performance caused many in the crowd to go into fits of laughter. With deep reference to millennial NZ culture in their lyrics, these guys were a hard, fast, and funny alternative rock/punk band. The 80s synth played on a step ladder was the cherry on top.
As morning drew closer The Experiment was in full flight, packed with an audience from all creeds. Two locals I meet actually managed to get lost in the venue, having their favourite bar turned into a labyrinth of audio-visual art.
A shout out to the organisers is needed, both to everyone at Monster Valley, Lowtide, A Label Called Success, those on the ground who moderated the stages and kept the smokers in the smoking area, along with an army of sound and light technicians.
Was this an experiment worth testing? Very much so, and being in its 5th year is a testament to this. A truly holistic audio-visual cluster-f*** that I hope, along with a growing number of others, to see back next year.