SYN Goes To SYN Approved (ScotDrakula, Rayon Moon, The Shards) – 18/03/2012
I first came into contact with ScotDrakula last November when I interviewed them for a music show on Channel 31 called 1700. Over the six months or so hosting the show, we interviewed dozens of bands, from those unsigned to those on major international labels, but ScotDrakula stand out as the highlight of the lot of ’em. Leading up to the interview I found myself listening to their debut EP, CRACKSTRENGTH, dozens of times, again and again and again, so we had lots to talk about. As lead singer-man Matt Neumann waxed erudite about “lo-fi” and garage-rock, I felt the innate warmth of excitement and relief that accompanies the discovery of a promising new musical obsession.
In the ensuing months I clicked ‘Attending’ to multiple ScotDrakula gigs and made it to none of them, because in an absurd cosmic coincidence I’d always get sick right before the show. Tonight is no exception. I’m drowning in phlegm and my back pockets are stuffed with tissues and off-brand cough lozenges. Like every other time, I’m sick, but in accordance with the idea that humanity succeeded in developing a society which allowed our species to thrive by suppressing our natural instincts, I thwarted my pitiful body’s best efforts and got out of bed to see them anyway, because in the lyrics of Neumann, “I don’t care if you been up for days ready to faint just like a goat / All I really care about is getting you to shake your bones!” So here I am.
First on the bill are The Shards, who I catch for a song but have to skip over for a burger because I can barely stand. Sorry, The Shards. I can at least say that if their set was as animated as their dancing towards the end of the night, they deserve more than a look. Next, then, are Rayon Moon. Rayon Moon play with a sort of howling, gothic ferocity that evokes the early days of Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster and the trash-cacophony of The Birthday Party, and front-Moon Gene Ulmer’s arrhythmic delivery is saturated with so much desperation it appears to be leaking out of his pores. This thick film of sweat accompanied by his gnarled, agonized emoting gives him the appearance of someone wracked by the throes of a voodoo curse. Several of the morally fibrous among the crowd murmur sympathetic inquiries about Ulmer’s ability to finish the set without dissolving into a fleshy gelatin but I’m too busy having a cathartic experience, watching somebody as ill as I am suffering in front of me, thinking “Yeah, we’re all in this together.” It’s a communal experience. After their set I approach Ulmer ready to throw my wallet at him for a copy of Rayon Moon II, and as we shake hands our ailments combine to form a new super flu which sweeps China, killing millions. Better close them borders, Madagascar.
To serve as a pre-post-script: On Friday night I’ll see ScotDrakula again, playing VCA’s 40th Anniversary Street Party, during which, in the span of one song (“Buy A Shovel.”) Matt Neumann will lose a pick, break a string, and have his guitar switch off, and nobody except the guy obsequiously sitting at the front of the stage will notice because he’ll seamlessly recover. I say this not to emphasise some notion of exciting chaos but to demonstrate the band’s consummate professionalism, which seems like an important factor in determining a band’s future success.
For tonight, though, things proceed without a hitch. Neumann, the curly-locked Dove Bailey and his bass, and Evi Camille and her drums draw an energised crowd and fill out their set with post-CRACKSTRENGTH jams which I’m told are in the process of being collected into a soon-to-be-released new album called Burner. Named after the most rockin’-and-rollin’est of the new tracks, Burner sounds poised to commit to record that which those who’ve seen them live have already discovered: ScotDrakula are no flash-in-the-pan garage band but a group of fucking artisans who – not to overpromise – seem highly invested in the progression of their craft. The new tracks still thump with the same triumphant house party vibe as the cuts from CRACKSTRENGTH, although with less of the cavernous, Jesus & Mary Chain atmosphere. Neumann’s electrified visage is infectious and it’s hard not to share a smile (though why wouldn’t you?) but as entertaining as they are, their presence is upstaged by the rowdy members of Rayon Moon and The Shards spasmodically dancing to the side of the bar. Everyone who knows the words shouts along to “Kick Out The AmberLamps”, making a pact to run like hell should the police arrive, and once that’s over I duck out to the bathroom to commit the very rock’n’roll act of blowing my nose before “Shake Ya Bones”. Except when I get back, the band is packing up, some people citing the curfew and some people citing broken equipment (maybe not without a hitch, then.)
It’s easy to fall into the trap of doomsaying Melbourne’s live music scene when it seems impossible to go a month in this town without hearing news of another hallowed venue being despoiled by wealthy developers or noise complaints, however to do so is to lose sight of what really matters: the bands themselves. And so it’s not just comforting but downright encouraging that neat-looking kids like ScotDrakula are still finding stages upon which to inflict their “sweaty music for sweaty people,” and that folks like the fine ones behind SYN Approved are setting up those stages to spotlight some of the best bands in Melbourne. After the show, Neumann tells me they’ll be taking up residency at The Evelyn soon and I promise to make it down there at least once. For good or for bad, in sickness or in health.
by Jake Cleland