Selfless Orchestra Great Barrier launch @ The Naval Store
w/ Filth Goddess, Dead Jerk, Elsewhere/Rebecca
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Selfless Orchestra’s 11 members congregated like an army at The Naval Base. Stageless, positioned under a vast screen, the compelling visuals that accompany debut album Great Barrier narrated the set, as if a 12th member.
Their 12-18 month introductory period culminated on Saturday. It has at turns seen a painstakingly put together AV show, a Fringe season, supports for post rock royalty such as Japan’s Mono, and now a grand debut of a record, and leaves no doubt they are Australia’s answer to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. A supergroup of distinguished individuals melding strings, voices, guitars, didge, drums and their egos down into one selfless whole. Saturday was a celebration of everything to date, as well as what is to come next for one of WA’s most exciting bands.
An early kick off clashing with the AFL’s first night grand final made for a late start for this reviewer, struggling to get to Freo in time for Elsewhere/Rebecca, before upcoming post-rock beast Dead Jerk‘s two-drummer attack combined with bass and keys pummelled their way into the memory of the uninitiated. Something of a supergroup themselves, there’s plenty of reason for the hype around this band, whose memorable Yardstock performance this year still lives in the minds of those who were present.
Filth Goddess took on an altered form with help from tranXista, adding an extra layer to the harmonium drone. The multitude of electronics and serious equipment didn’t overlook the AV element as they projected weirdness suited to their dark, deranged and foreboding set. Seated on the ground in front of the stage, they were the perfect warm up for the main event.
Selfless Orchestra‘s unassuming arrival was hard to miss due to the sheer number of players onstage, as bandleader Steven Alyian’s chiming arpeggios rang out against Madeleine Antoine’s soaring violin. It was a sign of what was to come as the two performers were among the standouts on the night, layering texture, melody and intensity atop a mix of sounds in which the accompanying vocalists were more akin to backing instruments. Sure, a lot of post-rock is largely instrumental, but Selfless Orchestra’s ability to tell a story with their music, let alone the powerful visuals depicting the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, makes them a world class live act. The fact they’ve captured that so beautifully on the Great Barrier album is largely down to the fact it is recorded live.
The plucked strings of False Bodies Pt 1 (Innocence) introduced us to some of best “found footage” of the night, as tourists in the 80s boarded planes to the coast of Queensland, and were soon seen playing with coral much in the way seemingly innocent members of their generation climbed Uluru or touched dolphins at Monkey Mia. We know better now – or do we?
What followed was a damning indictment of mining giant Adani – monster highlight Beyond All Illusion Pt 1 (Fuck Adani) the night’s centrepoint as Antoine’s exquisite melodies soundtracked “Stop” and “Block Adani” signage and protests. At this point and for much of the night to come, the video footage took a documentary slant, revealing real protests and even the faces of some band members on the frontline (they walk the talk too – proceeds for the night were donated to Fossilfreeculture, Reef Restoration Foundation and Fossilfreefringe among other causes, while their activist label Stock Records is run by the same crew that bring us the backyard anarchy of Yardstock).
It is a show fans would happily watch time and again, but it was made all the sweeter by a pair of encore songs and new video clips giving us a glimpse into the future of Selfless. Evocative footage of saltbush and grass trees juxtaposed against logging of forests. “No Nukes” signs and a message to “Respect existence or expect resistance,” is surely the ultimate activist cry, if ever there was one.
They left with a parting note to Woodside and Chevron, as if to say, “you’re next.” Powerful stuff.
Photos by Alan Holbrook