How did the Single Leg development go?
Shot by David Molloy. Edited by Luke ‘it’s his blog too’ McGrath. The whole thing happened with assistance from Arts ACT and Performance Space.
How did the Single Leg development go?
Shot by David Molloy. Edited by Luke ‘it’s his blog too’ McGrath. The whole thing happened with assistance from Arts ACT and Performance Space.
Quoted from Facebook:
‘Hi everyone, Chris here.
In recent years, people have realised that the community-minded, strongly independent, inter-disciplinary, terminally overcommitted, fun-having life-loving and vaguely eastern-European inner-north living divorced-parent having artist Nick Delatovic and I seem to have a bit in common. This growing chorus of as many as six people recently culminated in Little Dove Director Chenoeh Miller approaching us both with the idea of creating a band to play at the Hurly Burley Winter Fair.
A calmly panicked feed of texts kicked around some names and earnestly-held opinions that lay the groundwork for what could be the first ‘one-show only’ Canberra band to actually retire after one show*
The name HOT & POWERFUL made us both feel sick and is as such is the perfect home for a musical exchange of niche opinions that are earned only through a trail of errors and some combination of unease, abdication, ownership and ignorance of the very specific spaces we both inhabit.
All celebrated and explored through the only means we both know: brash showmanship and upbeat original pop music, played inexpertly.
8.45, CMC Stages.
*Also might not be who knows.’
I know what you’re saying, ‘Nick, six weeks to create a band and set of songs from scratch, my only shock is that this wasn’t your idea’ and yeah you’re right but I was still daunted and stressed by the undertaking. Chris (Of Paint On Paint, Withdrawl Method, In Canberra Tonight, Fun Machine and more recently CanbEurovision fame) and I had had a wonderful time working on Superior Man together but I was concerned that the almost self-defeatingly high-concept way I approach bands might clash with what I perceived to be his more present and emotionally direct style.
In the end it was so nice to spend time with him on this that I have little critical distance on the final result, but I genuinely love the songs we wrote together (hyper-minimalist drone pop opinion-core) and the show we put together (see above). I feel like the shared trait which defined our work together is our speed to wholly commit to a foolhardy premise and our disinterest in defining something as either a joke or as serious. He and I are agreed that it’s the perfect band to play a few gigs with and then record the set.
LUKE :Nick wrote about his leap of faith sign-ons to any proposal Chenoeh dreams up. He and I have a similar relationship. Artistically both of us have confidence to spare, but Nick has outpaced me of late in doggedly pursuing multiple ambitious gambits at once. As he will tell you, some of this is the gods laughing – he applied for a string of arts grants and was as shocked as anyone when most were funded.
It’s a good relationship – we’ve trusted each other’s instincts for nearly two decades, ever since co-writing our first song. It’s my experience the best art comes not from compromise, but from seeing eye-to-eye – we generally both do what we want and most times, it works out damn fine.
Sure, I’ll say, put me down to direct 12 music videos in three days. Or, no worries, happy to do a gig aboard a lake cruise. It’s not that I don’t believe these things will come to fruition (they always do in some shape or other), it’s just Nick tosses out these ideas with such casual regularity that my saying ‘sounds great’ feels less like a commitment and more general approval of the concept.
Which brings us to Merry Christmas (Let’s Conquer Death). Nick had pitched Art Not Apart the idea of Babyfreeze doing a charity single launch, with as many Canberra musicians joining in as possible. Nick had the song written, but the production and arrangement fell entirely to me. The song has the simplicity of a folk tune, and as such could be adapted to any number of styles. Of course, I reached back to the ur-source:
What struck me listening – for the first time with a critical ear – is how sparse it is. It’s mostly airy synths and occasional fills, ample space reserved for the melisma-thon vocalising.
I couldn’t help embellishing on this template, throwing in saxophone, bells, skronk guitar, and marching drum fills (in fact, A LOT of skittering percussion). I sneakily snuck in a hook of my own as well – the first voice you hear on the track is actually me, singing in falsetto and pitched up an octave. It’s my homage to Sebastian Field, who sung with us on the day (albeit in a vastly different style).
The day itself was frenzied – we set up and rehearsed at the NFSA, the same room as our infamous Champagne Breakfast. A gaggle of friends and Canberra luminaries joined us, including Fun Machine and Coolio Desgracias and House Mouse. Most exciting was being reunited with Chris Finnigan (aka Fossil Rabbit), only hours after he returned from his Scottish sabbatical. Nick did his best to run the unruly group through a few takes of the track, while cinematic wunderkids Dom Northcott and William He captured the chaos.
Dom and Will also shot interviews with everyone involved – in fact, between this and their video of our performance, we have a surplus of great footage now. The gag on the day was the film crew were there specifically to film me, now ‘Hollywood’ Handsome Luke, the breakout star continually threatening to leave the parochial confines of the group behind. It’s a fun bit of world-building that requires little effort on my part – Nick does the heavy expository lifting on stage and all I have to do is throw in the occasional glib aside.
Rehearsal over, we quickly unpacked and hauled gear across to the stage set up just out front of the Shine Dome. There were a few Babyfreeze diehards in the crowd, but it felt like most people were seeing us for the first time. It’s threatening to become meaningless how frequently I say this, but it was again (AGAIN!) one of the best gigs we’ve played – this band is just becoming more and more fun. It was also the live debut of our Valentines Day surprise drop Creation. I love this track – it’s a tight melding of the hip-hop I’ve been listening to with my ingrained need for prominent melody. Which upon reflection, is exactly what Nick brought to the track as well.
I’ll let Nick talk about the actual performance of Let’s Conquer Death, but it was everything I could have hoped for.
NICK: I’m used to Luke approving of my ideas and what I do, which creates a monster when it comes to approaching others artists for stuff like this. Most of our on-stage guests were super-into the premise of Doing A Live Aid and lived their roles brilliantly, but I have to say my favourite part of the day was seeing my close friend and noted Serious Music Fan Sebastian Field yelling his way through the sweet vocal hook that Luke wrote for him, his contempt for the entire bit on display for all. Why did he still agree to do it? Maybe because we’re friends? I don’t really care, he was perfect.
The stage was outside with no cover and it was HOT, which ramped up the intensity of the dozen of us crowding around four mics and singing into each others mouths. Particular credit to Warm Death (my original collaborator on the earlier version of the song) who didn’t even take her hood down. As far as the rest of the set, Luke and I made liberal use of the dangerously steep drop off the front of the stage and like Luke said, having Fossil Rabbit back on guitar made us feel like the unstoppable stadium band we’re increasingly describing ourselves as.
This feels like it might be the logical conclusion of our series of Babyfreeze Celebrity Fan Experience Shows. Like, what’s more that thing than doing a charity single? But at the same time the character bits that have emerged (‘Hollywood’ Handsome Luke and his burgeoning success, Handsome Luke and Trendoid’s free jazz side project constantly trying to take over the set, Babyfreeze’s constant jealously/obsession with courting the favour of the eminently well-adjusted Fossil Rabbit) feel like they’re only just gaining speed. At the same time as we become more and more a cabaret act the songwriting for the band only becomes more earnestly done and felt. Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object and we can’t bring ourselves to blink or slow down from either end.
Let’s Conquer Death as an actual song is a prime example. The name suggests that we’ve finally relaxed into just doing a Joke Song but nothing could be further from the truth. I’m genuinely enraged and terrified by the fact of mortality to the point that it’s the subject of every other song I write now. It’s bad enough that we haven’t just Sorted It Out, the fact that so many people want to venerate death as the thing that makes life have value is downright sickening. An anti-death charity movement couldn’t be a more absurd idea and I couldn’t mean it more. Musically, it’s a studious encapsulation of bloated pop excess and also our best effort at writing a genuinely good song. And that’s the thing with Babyfreeze.
It’s not even a pun, is it? Whatever it is, Canbeurovision spread like wildfire. What was conceived as a mid-week Smiths slot-filler swiftly snowballed into three heats and a final that had to move venues (twice!) to accommodate the fevered appetites of a city bursting with talent and self-deprecation. Full credit to visionary Chris Endrey, who was unflappable in coordinating an ever expanding logistical nightmare. In anyone else’s hands, it would have remained a one-off, but Endrey’s foresight and organisational acumen was superhuman – he even found time to order promotional mugs! And as always, props to Bevan Noble – ‘sound guy’ is too casual a term for him – I’m going with Sonic Titan from now on.
When I saw the callout for Canbeurovision – simply a Eurovision style song contest for Canberra suburbs – I knew I had to represent my beloved Queanbeyan (the joke is that Canbeurovision allowed Queanbeyan to enter the same way Eurovision allowed Australia and Israel).
Being indolent-orientated, I didn’t want to have to put together a band for it, or even, you know, write a new song. I reached back to a song I already had – a whimsical techno number overlaid with free samples of Heems talking about cheese. I mean, what could be more perfect for a Eurovision-style contest than a song literally about cheese?
The song in place, I had to think of how to present it – thank Catherine, ’cause after two years of Cell Block dance-offs, synchronised dance is now a go-to in my skillset. I asked Nick (natch), and Krewdbits to help out – I love Krewdbits and have been waiting for an excuse to work with them. Ink Bits was unavailable, but Bambi was an immediate yes, and we had a crew.
Leaning into the cheese theme, we all dressed in yellow and threw cheese sticks out to the crowd in the closing moments. I paired our performance with a deliberately basic karaoke-style video – the lyrics were accompanied by a a handful of Google-sourced photos of Queanbeyan, cheese, and lots of star wipes.
Nick and Bambi wrote the brilliant choreography, with limited direction from me on the structure. I knew from past experience that me – fat bloke least likely to have moves – bursting into synchronised dance towards the end of a routine was an absolute winner, and the cheers from the audience both times we performed confirmed this.
That’s right, we performed this twice – making it through our heat and to the final. We levelled up for the final by adding Zev as a fourth dancer, chiefly because they already had an entire yellow ensemble. Unsurprisingly, they crushed it.
The brief was slight, and most people went a different direction than myself, writing or adapting songs specifically to speak to their chosen suburb. Which was great, but a Canberran spin, as Eurovision acts don’t sing about their home country. I set out wanting our act to be the strangest and well, mission accomplished.
The other acts were all incredible – seriously, I want a compilation CD/DVD. The concept seemingly brought the best out of everyone. It’s hard to pick favourites, but Sophie Chapman’s song about Isabella Plains is still stuck in my head.
The final was a recklessly good time. I was buzzing off it for days afterwards – the amount of love and positive energy in the room was palpable – if you don’t believe me, check out the all-group singalong for winners Dickson. Bless.
Photos by Marin Ollman and Richard Tuffin.
Oh wow, I found a 2016 blog entry I wrote but forget to post! This concerns the EP In A Day 3 sequence, which ultimately became the grant-winning, NFSA-showcasing (and increasingly ambitious) This Band Will Self-Destruct.
Presented below for your immediate pleasure:
I said to Nick the other day – half-joking – these sessions have started to feel like The Five Obstructions, except we are now onto obstructions 13 through 20. There’s only so many ways to make a music video out of an in-studio band performance. To counter this, we’ve spent more time ahead of filming generating ideas to differentiate each song. In the first Ep In A Day, all the songs were filmed with an identical camera set-up; the challenge was making each unique via editing and post-production tricks. In EP In A Day 2, I went in with specific ideas about filming/framing each song differently – for instance, I knew I wanted to film only close-ups of each performer’s face in My Own Little Girl, and I wanted a single take for Song To Be Played In The Event Of My Death.
For EP In A Day 2, the point of difference is wardrobe, set design and lighting. Nick engaged the services of Imogen Keen, one of Canberra’s best and most in-demand stage designers. I came in with some strong ideas, and over several meetings between the three of us, we hashed out four different set-ups.
At a You Are Here meeting a couple of years ago, someone said they always throw out their first idea because it’s invariably terrible or lazy. I could not disagree more. To me, a primary idea is undoubtably stronger than a secondary one, and I remain a firm advocate in the adage ‘first thought, best thought’. Lightbulbs is testament – literally, I had Nick hold a lightbulb. It’s not without precedent – I love concert footage of Tom Waits with a similar apparatus to what we used.
The remaining band is filmed (and lit) by a roving spotlight attached to the camera. The song is lyric-heavy, and Imogen struck upon the idea to highlight the words – these hang in cut-up segments strung above the performer’s heads – a point of interest in the inky darkness. The band is in white, providing a unity and simplicity to the set-up – it also helps them stand out against the background.
My one concern at the outset was length – at nearly eight minutes, I worried the lighting gambit wouldn’t be enough. Thankfully, Nick is an increasingly magnetic screen presence – the clip leans on his ability to deliver the song direct to camera.
My Captain Obvious tendencies also resulted in a warmer/brighter light each time Nick sung ‘sun’ (get it?). Aside from the lyrical connection, it gave needed variation to the palette. Some makeshift strobe lighting at the end complemented the rhythmic change in the outro, serving as a adrenaline hit (and recalling the lighting in numerous metal videos).
When coming up with ideas for music videos, my process is to listen to the song a few times, writing ideas as they come. Most are junk, but rough diamonds always emerge. Typically, I get one strong visual, and then build outwards. In Lightbulbs, it was Nick holding the bulb to his face. In this case, I saw the band looking towards a camera above, spinning as if in a Busby Berkeley sequence.
It didn’t make it into the clip, but something Technicolor and Busby Berkeley inspired (albeit on a Playschool budget) was the genesis for this bright and camp video. The set design is an abstraction on an under-the-water theme – the blue balloons are the ocean, the green netting is seaweed, the pink metallic streamers are… I don’t know, coral? I don’t know if it’s because the song is the most up-tempo of the group, or if it’s because it was the last performance of the day, but the excitement and energy of the band is palpable. The last things we filmed were the band goofing around – this included everyone swapping instruments and miming along. A special shout-out to drummer/bandleader Grahame Thompson for his fully committed lead singer performance – probably the funniest moment in a day full of them. One day the footage of that incendiary performance will emerge (slash be leaked by me) and leave all lesser front-persons running for their mothers.
My other idea for this clip – and one of my favourite things I’ve filmed – is a mimed story about a relationship played out through the studio window. I still can’t believe how well this worked out – in most art-making you aim bigger than you need, knowing you will fall short. This is the rare occurrence where reality exceeded my expectations – all credit should go to the performers Aaron Kirby and Fiona McLeod (and to Nick for casting them). I explained the concept to Aaron and Fi and then they invented their own routine, far funnier and personal than what I envisioned. It’s a mid-video Easter Egg and I love how it is not referenced or explained in any way – just a slice of vaudeville sandwiched into a live performance.
Talking with Imogen and Nick in our pre-production meetings, our most elaborate ideas were reserved for this clip. I remember looking over my notes and having a panic attack – if we’d proceeded with what we had in mind, this clip would have taken all day to shoot.
Essentially, our raft of visual ideas needed set-up and filming independent of the actual song recording. In many ways, this is the natural progression for the series (the closer the sessions move to full-blown music videos, the happier I am – it’s more my wheelhouse than documenting live performance). In other ways, it’s a digression (and a distraction) from the central premise of the project.
However, removed from these philosophical concerns, it remained unfeasible to add more set-ups to what would already be our longest and most exhausting EP In A Day yet. We did keep the coolest one though – the idea of opening on a wound bleeding through a shirt. Imogen came up with the apparatus (and brought the blood) – however, in testing we used up two of our three white t-shirts. We got the shot on our third and last try, but I think our second attempt looked better on film. Unfortunately, the second attempt was with cameraman/stand-in Shane Parsons wearing the shirt – this meant I couldn’t use it for the opening, but I did end up using it (reversed) in the closing of the clip.
Another high-minded idea was an overarching throughline across all four videos. Eyelash opens the sequence with the band waking up, beginning in a seated/static position, and with a desaturated palette. Deadly Game Of Cat & Mouse is the last video – thus we start with the least animated and conclude with the most animated (emphasis on animated, DGOC&M being the most cartoonish). We don’t integrate this throughline as successfully in the other videos but I like that we were thinking of these things, and it’s something I want to explore further in other sessions (and other projects).
When I heard we had a set designer, this was one of the first ideas I had – to dress two different spaces and have Nick perform in one and the band in the other, only revealing at the end they are performing next to each other. The rest built from ideas Nick and Imogen had about making one space warm and earthy, the other cool and silvery. Nick performs a series of costume changes while singing the song, which also must have come from him or Imogen – while Nick always rises to these challenges, it’s a big ask for a performer and not one I’d be inclined to suggest.
On the day, camera maverick Shane Parsons had the idea to film Nick’s section in portrait. It’s a novel (and cool) idea which also serves to further differentiate the two segments. Filmmakers rarely monkey with aspect ratios and split-screens (especially during a piece) – I think part of this is that it dates a film to a specific era. Knowing this, and still using it for aesthetic effect, is increasingly in vogue – Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the recent (and most successful) examples. More and more music videos are tinkering with framing (particularly portrait vs. landscape, noting their audience use smartphones to watch their content). Recent great videos from Chance The Rapper, Pusha T, and Charli XCX all shirk from using the entire widescreen/landscape frame available to them. For Going Home, I wanted to treat the frame similarly – to not feel obliged to fill it up entirely and to mess with people’s expectations around size and spatial relationships.
I describe Chenoeh Miller’s Sound and Fury parties as the sort of parties that a classic Bond Villain would throw. Lurid colours, pockets of performance firing off in every corner of the space, in and around the crowd, and an abiding sense that you’ve stumbled into a scene from some larger, life-and-death sequence in the lives of the performers.
I’ve been performing in the Sound and Fury Ensemble for I guess three years now. For me it’s a mix of out-of-the-comfort-zone (being part of full-blown production-number dance items alongside a group of actual highly-trained dancers) and fantasy self-indulgence (straight up pop ballad singing in an array of garish outfits). Chen and the rest of the ensemble are among my favourite people I’ve ever worked with, and the busyness of all our lives means that the normally once-a-quarter instances of Sound and Fury tend to rush by in a blitz of last minute rehearsals and frantically-rigged sound cues.
That was until a few weeks ago, when S@F did more nights of performance in the space of a week than we normally do in a year. Five nights at New Zealand Fringe, comprising four 3-hour parties and one 5-hour party. My first tour as a performer in an ensemble rather than as a performer/writer/Producer and yes it was straight up my fantasy of Performance Art Sleep-Away Camp come true.
I got to sing some of my favourite ever weepie anthems- Nothing Compares To You, It’s A Heartache, Heart-Shaped Box- and leap around like a madman to our resident DJ/best DJ living Dead DJ Joke. I got to have my first experience of roving performance/space filling performance that I could actually enjoy (it’s not my skill set but being part of the shock and awe factor of a 10-person ensemble is defs the way to do it). Most of all I got to indulge my love doing of Long, Extended, Physical performances. Like seriously, doing physically challenging stuff for ages in front of an audience is so my thing. So so my thing.
When Mayor Of The Canberra Arts Scene Venus Mantrap invites you to be her second banana for a 2-hour performance at the National Gallery of Australia, launching and taking aesthetic cues from the David Hockney exhibition, you say ‘How High?’.
Lip-synching, even just back-up lip-synching, alongside Canberra’s greatest drag performer was a daunting challenge, but the fact that every song Venus programmed is one etched into the fibres of my heart (yes there was more than one B-52s track) made it easy to dive right in.
It was so so fun learning into the sidekick/bit-of-stuff-on-the-side role, and if I do say so myself Venus and I had an easy chemistry that the crowd loved. I really really want to do it again.