• Postscripts from the Edge

last modified August 17, 2012 by strypey

by Danyl Strype

10pm, Saturday 2 October
Carnegie Dance Studio

Having slept through all the daytime street performances by Stickboy and the Motley Two due to a dose of the lurgi, I was determined to catch their debut on the Dunner-vegas evening revue circuit. Having taken some air, accomplished the complex orienteering exercise of finding the venue and negotiated the monkey on the door (all due apologies to monkeys for this comparison ;) I found I was a little late.

Fortunately not too late to enjoy the introductory spiel of the incomparable (to anything as evolved as a monkey) Sly Rodney. Rodney, fresh from his utter routing of no opposition for the title of world's best "tape-hop DJ," proceeded to confuse the good-natured weekend crowd with a series of sound FX-enhanced mimes he called "crap art" and then introduced further confusion in the form of the one and only Stickboy aka Mark Nice Young Man.

Stickboy buzzed around the stage like an elastic bumblebee, sprinting at break-neck speed and with no concern for his own safety through a series of gags and tricks including balloon modelling, juggling, putting a needle through a balloon and a balloon through his nostrils - not recommended for dinner-time entertainment. Mark knows how to play a crowd, babbling through the quiet bits and carrying on a one-man sport radio commentary on his performance, "third time lucky, fourth time boring!"

While Stickboy retreated backstage to have his springs rewound, Sly Rodney returned to the stage and demonstrated his DJ prowess by playing the wrong intro music for the Motley Two who executed a hilarious reworking of the Spanish Inquisition bit from Monty Python, "I'm sorry, I'll come in again...." When they finally gained the stage to the stirring strains of Aerosmith, Mulletman launched into a manic cabaret of diabolical diablo dare-devilry while Ladderman pranced around behind him, miming his routine, "I feel like the lone ranger sir!" After much swearing and toilet humour the Two arrived at their grand finale - the now legendary knife-throwing trick where Ladderman has someone throw a very solid and metallic looking knife at his head, which he catches between his hands like some kind of sweat-beaded gimp version of Neo from the Matrix.

Carn-Iggy-Haul was a refreshing cocktail of circus and comedy infused with the engaging banter of the street performer and the unique flavour of Otautahi's Circo-Arts course and Liquid Lounge open performance nights. I laughed, I cried - I had to leave early to dash away to catch the last performance of the Locking Cycle at Arc and missed the second half of the show. Womble on guys!

Locking Cycle
11pm, Saturday 2 October
Arc Cafe

Locking Cycle are an electro-rock band from Christchurch who recently toured with Disaster Radio and the Fanatics on the A Low Hum tour. They sound roughly like what might happen if Björk collaborated with Dark Tower in Trent Reznor's studio with Tricky mixing the cocktails. An oddity in a music scene dominated by pop, rock, punk and metal guitar bands and back room drum'n'bass hackers.

The audience for their last gig at Arc Café was appreciative but pitifully small probably due to most people either suffering from Fringe fatigue or being at the private Fringe crew party which started at 10pm. With only a laptop for rhythm the live dynamics are provided by keyboard, bass, guitar and especially the voices, which were beautifully used and segued through a surprising range of styles. The guitarist's spoken word reminded me of Chris Matthews of the Headless Chickens and the haunting, funereal female vocals of the keyboard player was like Fiona McDonald in darker Chickens moments à la 'George'. Having watched Kill Bill the previous night I couldn't help grinning ironically at the school girl outfit ;)

At times the group seemed in need of the driving force of live percussion although their energy levels could well have been affected by the lack of a crowd and the same fatigue that kept it away. As they warmed up they seemed to loosen up and start enjoying the coziness of the venue and their performance picked up steam. While sequenced and synthesised beats at their best are powerfully dynamic, the beats here suffered a bit from sudden, jolting transitions that lacked the spacing necessary to carry the listener along. I recommend the laptop jockey has a listen to Kog crossover act Avator or Asphalt and eMu from the excellent Monkey Records for some inspiration for the dark dub/ trip-hop atmosphere he seems to be aiming for.

The Locking Cycle sound is impressively unique and to their credit they have their own sound engineer travelling with the group. With time to hone their stage presence, reduce the impression of knob twiddling and increase their confidence in projecting their performance right to the back of whatever audience they end up in front of they have the potential to be one of Aotearoa's most stylistically original and technically innovative live acts.

After Party
Sometime after midnight

From the Arc we wandered across town to the 'end of festival' party for the artist and crew. On entry we were asked for our artist passes and then our "asses passes" by a couple of punters who were clearly taking advantage of the free wine. We missed the awards ceremony and pizza but were in time for a free drink and and beautiful singing to some mellow electro-music by the dreaded Hannah whose 3-track CD of original reggae songs is making a splash around Aotearoa.

A screen erected on one side of the room was used to show highlights from a show I missed called 'Ghost Train' which was both gory and brilliant by all accounts.The party was a chance to shmooze with friends old and new, one of whom told me some interesting news about the Opera House Trust which owns the old freak house we visited on the way into Dunedin and some of the land around it. Apparently they are planning some major renovations and eco-development. More details and photos in a later article perhaps.

The Raskolnikovs
3pm, Sunday 3 October
Botanic Gardens

After a night's sleep, another visit to the None Gallery and a nostalgic walk through the campus of Otago University, along the Waters of Leith and through burnt-couch littered scarfie habitat of North Dunedin, I arrived at the Sunday matinee show. Families with picnics and fire dancers with day poi and staffs were gathered around the sound shell at Dunedin's beautiful botanic gardens, a relaxed and happy sunshine slurping crowd.

The Raskolnikovs were in a prime position to win over the massive with their unique blend of Eastern European influenced gypsy rock'n'roll. The variety of instruments provided a refreshing change from the standard 4-piece rock scene; accordian, mandolin and flute blending with bass, guitar and some lively and unconventional drumming.

I enjoyed the masterful way the musicians brought these diverse sounds together and the impressive range of styles and paces their set combined. By the end of their performance they had much of the crowd on their feet raving away as the last song built, faster and faster, to a thundering crescendo.

Exhausted by the pace, Sugra, Brent and I sought refuge on the summit of nearby Signal Hill where we could survey the whole of Dunedin from the monument which was the venue for a wicked if wind-blown trance rave at the last Fringe two years ago. Returning to this spot in the daytime and the warming sun was a nice way to round out our festival experience and prepare ourselves for the final show we planned to see before we returned to Otautahi - the flat city - later that night.

A few hours, a hot chocolate and a meal later we wandered into the Playhouse Theatre, for us this was to be the last show of the festival. The car was packed and waiting outside the Governor's Café around the corner ready for our trip north. We took our seats and munched happily on apples offered by one of the fire dancers we'd been hanging out with in the gardens. The lights dimmed and the show began...

Fakamanwa: Heart Shapes
8pm, Sunday 3 October
Playhouse Theatre

A screen on the back wall of the stage comes alive with the shapes of ferns and spirals. The sounds of traditional Maori instruments created a haunting atmosphere as the first dancer appears on stage. Her performance is fluid and surreal, reminiscent of some of the later Tool videos.

Another piece of dance involves a performer who makes me think of the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings. The dancing hobbit transforms herself into an angelic character who then becomes entombed within the filmed backdrop. This playful use of multimedia elements complemented the live elements of the show rather than distracting from them as they can do when used carelessly. The use of subtitles without pronouns in the film work was a nice touch and appropriate to the universal themes the performance aimed to encapsulate.

The female singer/ MC appears. Throughout the show, against a nicely selected range of rootsy musical backdrops from drum'n'bass and hip-hop rhythms to reggae one-drop and more soulful downbeat and ambient pieces, her powerful yet sensual voice belts out a positive message of inner strength and personal growth .

This is the thematic thread that runs through the piece summed up by this quote from the program, "This power isn't one of domination but one of self-belief, the belief that one can."

It's heartening to see a piece of experimental theatre which has the courage to tackle such an important and challenging theme and expresses it with sincerity and dignity, avoiding the cheesy clichés and happy-clappy cheer-leading that so often accompanies them.

The show is broken into a number of segments. During the short drink breaks the good-sized and supportive audience are carried through by recordings of the skanking goodness of Wellington's legendary live dub band Fat Freddy's Drop, another nice selection and a lovely exit music after the show is over.

I thoroughly enjoyed Fakamanwa and took a lot away with me from the inspiring lyrics and images. I did feel that some spoken word could have added a sense of continuity to the pieces but that's probably my bias as a wordsmith. The biggest criticism I could make of this performance is that it was too short! I could have easily sat through twice as much.

The trip back to Otautahi (Christchurch) was pleasant but uneventful and I crashed into bed as soon as we arrived. Big thanks to Sugra for driving there and back again and Brent for his stimulating 'outside eye' commentary on the cultural canvas of Fringespace. Can't wait for the next festival!


Originally published in Boheme Magazine (December, 2004)


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