THE ESCALATORS at Melbourne Recital Centre

GIG — July 30, 2010

DJ Element
DJ Element with the Escalators

Kynan Robinson (artistic director/composer) on trombone
Marc Hannaford on piano
Joe Talia on drums
Michael Meagher on bass
Lawrence Folvig on guitar
Pat Thiel on trumpet
DJ Element on turntables and samples

TOUGH day at work with a longer day to follow, cold Friday night, early concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre, but in the Salon, so the centre’s escalators were not necessary for access. Much more light in the room than when I last heard The Escalators live at Northcote Uniting Church in April, also on a Friday night. And this time DJ Element (Edryan Hakim) was veiled in an elegant, domed cubicle lightly clad with muslin, so that his movements — required to adjust some audio equipment at floor level — were less obvious. Though the domed structure seemed more appropriate to a wedding party than a DJ, I recalled how DJ Element’s busy activity had been a little distracting at Northcote.

The Escalators
The Escalators

It was a long set, running from shortly after 6.30pm until almost 8pm. The Escalators played the pieces from the album Wrapped In Plastic in order, beginning with Log Lady (about 25 minutes) and segueing into the brief Uncle Bob, then Blue Fire, James Boy On A Motorcycle, The Great Northern and the brief finale, Josie. Most, if not all, of these titles are references to filmmaker David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, though composer Robinson has said he did not mean the music to be specifically related to Lynch’s work. Rather, he “sought to imply concepts such as an investigation into normality as well as an application of dual narratives involving both the ideas of reality and fantasy into the sometimes beautiful, sometimes unsettling music played by the Escalators”.

To complete the scene, which was created by visual artists Kiron and Michelle Robinson (is there a Swiss family reference here?) and lighting designer Annabelle Warmington, images were projected on to a main screen above DJ Element’s enclosure, on to the surface of Talia’s kick drum and on to the right-hand side wall. These were repeated during the performance, so it was easy to catch them if you could see the screens. I always find that a passing glance at the images is enough for me, because it seems unnecessarily restrictive to try to relate an image or image sequence directly to the music, and I often want to close my eyes and just let myself become totally immersed in it. That also applies in situations in which I am not immediately aware of how a sound is being created. I’d rather not let my mind wander to wonder about that.

Lawrence Folvig
Lawrence Folvig

So, what was it like? Kynan’s description of “an investigation into normality” or his dual narratives involving reality and fantasy would not be how I’d put it, of course, but those ideas don’t jar with what I heard. I thought all sorts of things during the playing and I think that’s part of what it’s about. Log Lady is totally absorbing and it takes you on a journey that could easily be like a David Lynch film. The music creates a world that suggests strangeness and mystery, with the hint of events unfolding. I found that my awareness of each musician’s contributions shifted throughout, so that I would become aware of my awareness of Joe Talia’s amazingly even and unwavering rhythm for a while, then have my attention grabbed by a sharp burst from DJ Element, then notice the stillness of Hannaford at the piano, then a few notes from him, then a delicate intervention from Folvig on guitar.

Marc Hannaford
Marc Hannaford

I also noticed how I began to look for those brief and simple horn interventions, which added a sense of space and of reverence. I came to depend on them arriving and passing at intervals, and I thought about how easily the mind can be led into such expectations and carried along by patterns, even if the intervals between repeated themes are quite long.

DJ Element’s contributions were sharper and a little louder than in the album mix, but they always seemed to mesh with what the others played. I’m not sure where the samples were from, though possibly from Twin Peaks, but it did not seem to matter. I don’t think we were meant to look for some sort of hidden meaning in the snippets or in the glimpses of visual imagery. To me, the benefit of this Escalators concert lay in its ability to carry us away into our own landscapes of the mind, and its ability to free us from any requirement to find any specific meanings.

Joe Talia and Kynan Robinson with The Escalators

I am not doing any sort of job here of describing the processes going on in terms of changes to rhythm, tempo, chord changes, dynamics or harmonies. But I don’t think that is needed. Each musician played their parts. I appreciated in particular the horn interventions, including some free work by Pat Thiel, the standout drum work by Joe Talia, the DJ obviously in his element, and Lawrence Folvig’s exquisitely delicate guitar work.

Was I wrapped in plastic? Well, I was rapt and the gig was fantastic.

To make it more like a review, I have to say that I did feel the compelling tension was lost a little during part of The Great Northern. Perhaps it was just me, or maybe the performance was a little long in one sitting.

I will be posting some more images from the concert.


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