Hard to believe another year has swung round in time for another test at Monster Valley’s The Experiment. Including the likes of Imugi 이무기, Bobandii and Keith, the all-nighter festival last Friday night at Auckland's Studio the venue presented a “melting pot of alternative acts.”
Last year I found it to be a true cluster f****** experience so I hypothesise that this "night of debauchery where the best of New Zealand’s alternative art and music” will also provide some positive results. Read my review of The Experiment in 2018 here.
Moving from Whammy Bar and The Wine Cellar the methodology steered away from the underground, cob-webbed labyrinth vibe of St. Kevin's Arcade and into a more open-planned, multi-levelled, somewhat swanky feel as their site of experimentation (difficult to stay away from those experiment puns!).
The focus was on the 5 different music stages: The Passage, The Loft, The Control Room, The Observation Deck and The Chamber.
Strolling up K’road, smoke bellowed from Studio’s entrance to greet the first round of participants arriving in their Ubers and Olas – it looked cool... like something mysterious and spooky was going down inside... a tactic that was sure to attract some randoms looking for a good time.
Radio 13's music photographer and radio DJ Bad Monkey was already inside, ahead of me to catch the first wave of The Experiment.
Kiwi synth-rock 3-piece band Star Control was the first to welcome patrons with red overhead laser beams and their new wave atmospheric sounds as doors opened promptly at 7pm.
Armour Amour filled the hazy Control Room with driving beats as the first of many daring punters got ready to experience The Naked Dinner.
A special booth was set up by The Black & White Box in front of the main stage (The Chamber) to take portraits with film. Copies of the images will be available at The Black & White Box Facebook page.
Heavy Chest was the first band to play at the Observation Deck which had a beautifully decorated overhead bar with exhibits by Jed Richardson, Connor & Diva and Aimee Bartlett.
NZ band MajikPixieJuice led by Hellcat Anderssen turned The Chamber into blood red and other violent colours with their brand of hard folk-rock and deals with the Devil.
I personally cruised into the venue and was immediately engulfed in smoke, greeted with lasers and a video stream showing people partying at Melbourne’s Section 8 in real-time.
After deciphering the timetable, I had my line up for the night starting with Boat at 8:30 in The Passage. And it really was a passage through the venue to the main stage tucked next to the bar. The two-piece found space with relative ease playing an intense set of an industrial, distorted mess of fuzzy, effect heavy guitar leads by Simon Bowdon fighting the ricochetal mania that was Steve Cournane’s drumming. Playing last year as well, their sound belting down through the passage to the entrance was a great way to snap an audience into gear for the night.
Carrying on through for Bobandii at 9, I found The Chamber roughly half-full. Seeing him a few times since the release of his new album Running Handshake/B.L.U.E (now on wax!), this dude knows how to put on a show. Bobbing and bouncing in his Chippy outfit to thick, saturated synth lines the solo act flipped from singing and rap effortlessly, engaging the crowd into the first real boogies of the night.
Playing a slew of songs, mostly from his latest, he was later joined by Keith. to add another layered instrumental groove that the group is known for.
I love Keith. the middle-aged man with a moustache. Staying on for their set at 9:30, I have seen these dudes play four or five times now over the last couple of years, watching them go from Lowtide’s pseudo house band into becoming one of Auckland’s most anticipated alternative hip-hop/funk/jazz/rap/everything group. On the back of supporting Avantdale Bowling Club for their anniversary gig a few weeks ago, they were, like every time I have seen them, on top form. Dressed like last year’s experiment, the group got out their spacesuit outfits to perform a refined improvisational thread of their album Planet Keith and, of course, was joined by L.B for the crowd-pleasing banger that is Comin' & Goin'.
The band were joined by a live art creation onstage which saw artists envision their work with abstract drawings that added another spice to what was an out-of-this-world set.
Taking a moment to explore the venue it did have its share of backends, weaving corridors and staircases leading to unexpected audio-visual delights. I bumped into a Christchurch local who stumbled into the gig thinking it looked cool – guess those smoke machines worked! He told me you “would never get this sort of thing in Christchurch,” and I believed him.
After a slight delay, Layers started up their set at The Loft while rap duo Clickbait kicked up a storm at The Passage.
Coming on at 10:30 was the much loved Auckland duo Imugi. Clearing the stage of gear made the two-piece look rather lonely but had a sound that filled The Chamber with ease. Playing from their latest, they comfortably got feet tapping and hips swaying to tracks Be Here Soon and Greensmoke.
Sway is the right word. Their ethereal sound is grounded with drum machined loops provided by Carl Ruwhiu that tunnel the mix into eclectic synth-pop rhythms where swooning pads wash among Yery Cho's fluid vocal lines and humming bass tones whipping on kicks. With groovy bunny-eared and cannabis leafed glasses to match, their sound did well to get everyone a little higher as the experiment proceeded.
Imugi were later joined on stage by Carlos Barnett to play guitar for the same track that he co-produced with Carl and Daniel Waterson titled be here soon.
Making my upstairs again I found Kramer, The Immortal spitting some dance(ish) beats to a small crowd in The Control Room. Neon galore, art installations were strewn about the room, with lasers and light shows shooting around to his thumping kick-heavy drums and dirty organic bass lines along with some guest appearances taking up the mic – people were having a blast.
Popping downstairs to catch local Ratso, the five-piece managed to squeeze into The Passage to bring some anarchy to the table with their manic punkish head-spinning set. Attracting a healthy mix of creeds they thrashed and jolted to their garage punk sound that rattled your insides. At the same time, the Bad Monkey also caught Mixed Vege at The Loft.
Bounding back up to The Observation Deck I had to catch New Farben at 23:30. This 3-piece of Julien Dyne, Jonathan Crawford and Chris O'Connor (Phoenix Foundation) pulls together a crazy groove of nonstop percussion woven through by dank synth lines executed on the classic Prophet synthesiser. This is when things really started getting freaky... a good kind of freaky!
Dancers including a few Rabbit-headed ones joined the groove to the cheers of a funky crowd who danced shoulder to shoulder. Dyne led the backbone of each rhythmic escapade into intense, frantic delights that jarred the legs one way and tugged the arms another. Beautiful flailed dance moves spread throughout the packed crowd which now spiralled up the stairs on either side to the bar. This whole session was in fact presented by a collective called Strange and Public, run by Laura López López. The dancers were Julian Chote, Shanni Dickens, Sofia MacIntyre and Lizbeth Strohmeyer. The meteorite sculptures next to the stage were created by Julien Dyne and flowers along the stairway made from recycled plastic was by Lara Thomas. It was easy to see why this particular part of the night was a favourite amongst many!
Headed down to The Chamber Water were finishing off their set. This all-boys outfit fronted by Oscar Davies-kay jibed and wobbled to an alternative/indie repertoire with Hawaiian shirts to match. A little funky and a little rocky, they played from their latest Supa album, leaving the crowd with beaming smiles.
Careering along the banister of The Chamber I made my way to The Loft to see Lucky Boy^. I really like this group, not only is their sound heart-warming but the look and feel makes you want to hug your neighbour. Not espousing to be virtuoso by any means, frontman Simeon Kavanagh-Vincent sings tentatively to an all-women band that saw its member lounging on couches with their instruments. After pronouncing having a bad week and doing three things for himself and others to raise his 4/10 to 10/10, they oozed the audience with their lo-fi chillin' comforts. However, in moments between songs, the overspill from The Chamber was just a little too much and did distract the bands dynamic.
Taking a moment to go check out a burning car amongst a patterned grid world, I took a cheeky go on the VR headsets at The Escape Pod, one of the art installations. It was cool being in a virtual world at a gig, the sounds of bands and people yarning as a strolled in a completely different setting – got me thinking about seeing gigs in the comfort of your own living room, transporting you to, say, Glastonbury Festival in real-time.
Indie-rock band Ounce came on at The Chamber at midnight. These guys were heavy, like two drummers heavy. The floor was sparsely populated but many heads were bobbing up and down to the group’s pounding riffs that often launched into a more psychedelic stoner metal vibe like a saturated distortion sandwich.
Many factors make up The Experiment and that’s why it is so darn debauching. To approach the idea of multiple stages and installations with all manner of bands, artists and futuristic technologies offer a much-needed push for the potential of gig-going into this weird and wonderful future.