Total Control & Friends dominate the Opera House for Vivid Live 2018
I like to think I’m pretty into post-punk, especially that of the Australian variety. I’m always going to dingy shows held in bowling clubs to stoically nod my head to weird, dissonant music – hell, I’m even IN a shitty post-punk band. So it’s pretty embarrassing to admit that I hadn’t actually listened to TOTAL CONTROL, probably the biggest post-punk/synth-punk/punk-punk bands to come out of Australia since the glory days of the 80s. I’m pretty much a living example of the ‘don’t say you listen to x if you haven’t heard of y’ meme, but I can thankfully after their show at the Sydney Opera House for Vivid Live, alongside DJ YONI, GRETA NOW and THE NATIVE CATS, I’ve been fully converted.
As a warm up (and also between sets), DJ Yoni spun a variety of left-field dance tunes to keep the blood pumping. His warmup set consisted of downtempo ambient tunes, full of warped sampled vocals and a notable lack of percussion. His music in between sets, however, was pounding and incessant, a mix of weird disco, house and everything in between. It was the perfect background music to keep everybody psyched between sets.
Greta Now‘s performance was something truly special. Sounding like a mix between Alan Vega performing children’s nursery rhymes and if New Order did an album exclusively of elevator music, Greta‘s set was the perfect balance of catchy music and bizarre spectacle. Most of the songs – taken from her self titled LP from 2017 – consisted of her pressing play on a laptop and standing in the centre of the stage, singing along as though disinterested. Sometimes she asked the crowd to sing along to the songs, at one point stating, “This is a little intimidating.” For one song she simply sat on the floor for two straight minutes while dissonant bloops filled the air. Towards the end she left the stage and returned in a long, flowing dress and a pink wig, flanked by smoke, yet her no wave style continued for the rest of the set. Greta Now‘s set was a case of “I don’t know what I’m seeing but I’m loving every second” and the dissonance of watching such a spectacle in a venue as sacred as the Opera House was a true delight.
The Native Cats set was the perfect example of ‘less is more’. Armed with just a drum machine, bass, vocals and what looked like a Nintendo DS based synth, Chloe Escott and Julian Teakle powered through songs from John Sharp Toro, their LP from last year, as well as some older material. The basslines were simple but raw, mixing with the pounding drum machine loops and Chloe‘s raw vocals and evocative lyrics. It sort of sounded like if LCD Soundsystem were a Talking Heads cover band with only two members, and were also extremely angry, and it was sublime. Chloe‘s DS synth added some flair to the spectacle as she set up weird and warm loops or harsh affectations to the songs in all the right places. Their stage presence was friendly and light, though – at one point Chloe joked about the drum machine’s tempo button being broken, stating, “If a song sounds faster, that’s why.”
By the time Total Control took to the stage the venue was filled, and for good reason. The Melbourne quintet were backed by a small orchestra consisting of a violin, clarinet and two saxophones, whose sound was instrumental in boosting the already cacophonous sound of the group. Playing in front of what looked like a bootleg Total Control CD being microwaved, the group rocked for over 70 minutes, barely stopping to thank the crowd. They switched between short bursts of punk, long-form krautrock-esque dirges, and dissonant bouts of synth-punk fuelled by thumping drum machine loops. I quickly figured out exactly why Total Control has the reputation that precedes them – they are bloody good at what they do. By their last track everyone was standing up and dancing as though entranced, and the applause that followed the band’s departure from the stage summed up everyone’s feelings – they absolutely rocked.
It’s rare for me to have adored every single act on a lineup, yet here we are. The Total Control & Friends show displayed everything I love about Australia’s underground music – it’s fucking weird and not ashamed of it, but it’s also full of talented and hard-working people who support each other. The love shared between the bands was evident, and the love of the crowd directed to every artist that played was even greater. In a roundabout way, I think the show neatly encompassed what Vivid is supposed to be about – bringing people together to celebrate where we live.
WORDS BY MAX LEWIS