Up Top is one of Melbournes more laid-back cocktail bars, where live bands (usually jazz-oriented) and dancing are a regular feature. As a venue for an evening billed as "live minimal electronica" it presented a surpising change of pace, but its casually hip atmosphere made a pleasant alternative to the usual earnest art-spaces or grungy pubs experimental sounds are often relegated to in town.
Early punters had their expectations confounded by a disarmingly eclectic collage of sounds from DJ Synaesthesia that irreverently roamed the fringes of music, from the haunting to the ridiculous. In a strange way (the music that followed being very different in character) this set the tone for the evening: music that was different, but never straining to be freakish or overtly profound.
The live music that followed, from the groups Parmentier and Minit, kept up the unobtrusive, non-theatrical presence of the DJ: each hunched over their deskbound equipment, rapt in concentration, with no expressive gestures. This presence was appropriate to the music, which was ambient throughout; ambient in the original sense described by Brian Eno, of permitting a range of levels of listening attention.
This was not another run-through of the two prevalent fashions in experimental electronic music-The Bass Drone That Ate The World and/or Death By 1000 Effects Pedals. Parmentier, a NZ duo formed from the remains of Thela, cannily employed the opposite of the bass drone, a high tintinnabulation that fluttered over a shifting field of deeper textures.
Some old Thela fans bemoaned the demise of the bands trademark sounds of shimmering webs of guitars, but Parmentier builds upon this legacy and points it in a new direction. The celebrated flexibility of guitars can only extend so far, to the point that purely electronic sounds take over. Following this line of sonic development into electronics presents a large range of unexplored potential, without the cultural baggage (or logistical difficulties).
Minit-another duo, this time from Sydney-played a set that continued the ambient feel created by Parmentier, but further flouted notions of minimalist purity in electronica. Amidst their drones and washes of sound drifted bright melodic patterns and lively rhythms, enough to encourage some late-arriving blow-ins to attempt to dance to it for a while.
In his 1974 essay on "The Future of Music", John Cage wrote, "Though the doors will always remain open for the musical expression of personal feelings, what will more and more come through is the expression of the pleasures of conviviality a being together of sounds and people". This evening at the Up Top Bar provided such an instance. Most people I saw in the bar spent their time alternating between being drawn into the subtleties of the music and being drawn into conversations with their neighbours. It was part of a pleasant (I think) trend in some recent music performances, where one wasnt obliged to rivet ones attention to the stage, yet movement and talk in the space did not unduly detract from the performance. It was music that didnt demand attention, but certainly rewarded it, and broke down the distinction between music and life.
The evening also marked the launch of a New Zealand label, Sigma Editions, whose first three releases are CDs by Parmentier, Minit, and a solo recording by Parmentiers Rosie Parlaine.