By: Gilbert Potts
Vampillia | website | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |
When Mike Solo of Bird’s Robe Records asked me if I wanted to check out Japan’s Vampillia, I wasn’t sure because some of what I’d listened to had been hard going – a bit too avant garde for me. But Solkyri were playing, who I love, and I was keen to check out Troldhaugen. They were playing two nights and I picked the first.
Solkyiri is a four piece post-rock band from Sydney on the verge of releasing their second full-length and I try to see them whenever they’re in town. Until recently they had one less guitar ,and the addition supports the view that you can never have too many. Playing a support slot as a post-rock band often means three songs, but tonight we’re treated to three new tracks from the new record, two from first album “Are You My Brother” and This Can’t Wait from their debut EP. Opening with their new single Yes I’m Breathing they showed off their new sound perfectly. It’s fast, joyful and dynamic and led the way to a set full of dynamic crescendocore post-rock.
Like a lot of pub bandroom setups, the sound at The Tote is not best suited to tunes like Hunter, and again it didn’t cope well with some of the guitar, but it was offset by the abundance of airdrumming opportunities to be had in that song. Solkyri have always taken their song choice and setlist really seriously. They start and finish strongly and are constantly and successfully working on ways to minimize the awkward silence between songs common in the genre, as pedal settings and tuning is changed. It all makes for an engaging performance – one that they are about to take to Europe as they tour with Perth band Tangled Thoughts of Leaving. Never a disappointment.
With a name like Troldhaugen, you know a band doesn’t take itself too seriously. At the top of the setlist that I liftedfrom the stage is written “Ooh! Yeah alright! Take your pants off! Yeah!”. You won’t find that written on a Bon Ivor set list. Singer, Reventusk, dances, mimes and gesticulates to the music and lyrics exactly how I would if I wasn’t worried about the stern frown society would cast upon me for having too much fun in a public place . The clothes, the antics, the inflatable pink flamingo with mic cord wrapped around its neck, the Gigantic Keyboard Playmat – they all spell fun with a capital fuck yeah.
Beneath the surface though, lies seriously complex and fascinating music that throws together anything within a mile of folk and metal, a shovel full of funk, a cup of dub and loads more. The comparison to Finntroll is obvious, but they are far from being a copy, reminding me of Toehider for some reason. They play well – it sounds tight and accurate and the crowd’s as happy as a flock of flamingos in a lagoon full of shrimp. Viva Loa Vegas gets a great response having had some airplay on TripleJ, and the set is solid with most of their recent album and a cover of a song from “one of the world’s darkest metal bands, from up north”, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (a troll after midnight). I can enthusiastically say that you should grab any chance you get to go and see them on their journey to reappropriate the word “troll” one gig at a time.
Vampillia start with some comedic slapstick from bass player Micci the Mistake, alone on stage as he dances to a little Justin Bieber. Importantly it’s not without pathos and so sets up an environment of contrasting emotions – sadness and happiness, tragedy and comedy. He’s soon joined by two guitarists, violinist , synth/laptop/singer, pianist and drummer. The set opens with the beautiful and sad strains of REI miyaoto’s violin, and sparse piano of Ms. Yamamoto with Some Nightmares Take You Aurora Rainbow Darkness hooking the crowd instantly and pulling us slowly into the flow. The song slowly gathers the other instruments, but not before I was covered in goose bumps and my eyes started to well. Tremolo guitar signals a post-rock feel and the whole set could have easily continued like this and been entirely engaging and enjoyable. But that’s not what this band is about, and it’s not long before things start to get mighty loud with synth player Velladon breaking in to her intense operatic vocals and the sound levels getting well into earplug territory.
Suddenly a stooped figure charges through the crowd to the stage. Dressed in a ghillie suit, singer Muscle Mongoloid cuts a confronting figure as he leaps onto the stage, then leans out in the low lighting as he prepares to sing the next song (he soon sheds this costume and one layer of clothing after another at various stages of the set). Although his screamed vocals are unclear, they build on the emotion introduced at the very start of the set. At times there’s explosive anger and aggression, at others it’s intense emotional pain, and then there’s the heavily clipped gibberish of complete withdrawn despair. While he becomes the visual and physical focal point, it’s the other seven who keep everything going, controlling the pace and atmosphere with chaotic precision.
While violin is the chief solo instrument there are moments where others steal your attention, and the contrast with the head-banging noise–punk sections is stark. Piano is always in your peripheral either twinkling delicately or slamming out chords. Tornado shows restraint on drums with measured flamboyance, and guitar is either quiet, wall of sound, or somewhere in between. Although many have described this as metal, it feels more experimental rock with a mix of punk, noise and post with some bounce and a dash of metal’s heaviness.
To say you’ve seen a singer engage with an audience without ever having seen Vampillia is akin to thinking you’ve had a cold night without having spent one in a Siberian winter. Muscle Mongoloid engages with the crowd off stage on the floor, involving him manhandling punters into doing what he needed – a chess master moving us around like giant manikins with moveable arms. When he beckoned everyone to come in closer to the stage, he soon resorted to jumping down and physically moving people closer. When he wanted us to spin, arms up like ballerinas in a music box, he didn’t ask or demonstrate, he just grabbed everyone one after another and made us do it. When he wanted to remove yet another layer of clothing or make one of his excursions he would simply thrust the mic into someone’s hand to hold until he was ready to take it back. When he fled the bandroom and returned with an aluminium ladder, set it up amongst the crowd, and scrambled up to the top rung, people instinctively grabbed it to prevent certain disaster. And on his command he was carried out on the bended backs of a couple of punters to the strains of the closing song, Endless Summer.
The wonderful thing about the interaction was the fact that it became physical, tactile, without verbal communication. No one went there that night thinking they would be holding a ladder steady and that this was what music can be about. The singer is in your hands. He’s shaking and moving and he’s gonna fall if you let go. The whole show is now in your hands. If you don’t spin around the show won’t work. If you don’t grab the mic it all ends there. All of a sudden you share the anxiety, the thrill of performing because you are part of the performance. The emotion is carried from the stage and thrust into your physical presence. It’s not just the incredible emotion of the sound of the music, you are now hard-wired into the beast, sharing something you just don’t get to share any other time. Yes I know singers crowd surf and fans sometimes run up on stage, and you can’t describe a mosh pit as anything other than physical, but this was different, It merged the two worlds in a more complete way.
Next day I told some friends at work about what happened when Vampillia took to the stage and I relied heavily on many physical demonstrations and getting rather loud , and I realised that this physical and dynamic aspect of the show was something I could take home with me and share easily with others. I didn’t have to write about it and I certainly couldn’t reproduce the music.
So having gone to the show uncertain how much I’d enjoy it, I couldn’t stop going on about it the next day, wanting to share the incredible experience I’d had, to the extent that my wife eventually pushed me out of the door at 9:00pm “suggesting”, as she closed the door, that I should go back and see them again. I did, and it was even better.