Everything sounds better en Fraicais.
French-English indie pioneers Stereolab reformed in 2019 (after a 10 year hiatus) and have been hitting the festival circuit over the last 12 months, visiting Australia for Golden Plains. A bucketlist band for many 90s grownups, it was welcome news that Perth did not get left of the sideshow circuit.
Stereolab have been touted as founders of the post-rock and avant-pop movements. Genre defining – or defying – describing their art is something that requires a bit of imagination. Inspired by 60s groovy lounge and psychedelic cabaret, their synth and guitar-laden sound crosses over into the noisy experimental realm, with a dash of dreamy percussion for balance.
To start the night off, musical collaboration of Grecian George Xylouris and Australian Jim White, introduced themselves: “We are Xylouris White,” said Xylouris; “You are not,” chimed in White from the drum stool. The duo fuse the traditional Greek sounds of the long-necked lute (Laouto) with droning, dusty drums, reminiscent of White’s contributions to legendary Oz post-rock outfit The Dirty Three.
In a bit of a treat, Xylouris announced that they were playing their most recent, fourth, record The Sisypheans all the way through. From traditional opener Tree Song, to the big, military post-rock anthem of Telephone Song, the pair sounded fuller and deeper than on the recording. The cacophony of sound that was able to be produced by just these two instruments was, at times, deafening.
Closing with a climatic rock out, Ascnesion, Xylouris’ playing was so hard and fast he broke a string and was visibly vibrating; while White remained stoic and focused, except for a line of sweat down his cheek, the expert drummer never missing a beat.
The second surprise of the evening came in the opening track of Stereolab’s set. Doing away with the more familiar Anamorphose as an opener, as per recent set lists, the band opened with Come and Play in the Milky Night. Unfortunately, this led to a rusty start as it was clear the track was less rehearsed, made worse by some harsh mixing, seeming more like a sound-check than the big intro to the show that was expected.
But this was quickly redeemed. The band went hard on the hits and favourites early on; just three songs in, frontwoman Laetita Sadier announcing, “and now it is time to French Disko in Fremantle”, to which the dancing commenced. This was a common theme throughout the night as Sadier encouraged “dancing shoes everyone” for Miss Modular and asking for the house lights to be turned on, with “dancing for meditation” recommended on Metronomic Underground, getting deep into the funk. Again, it was at this point sound issues distracted from the music, with some background feedback making it uncomfortable listening, even for the post-rock crowd.
All this dancing started to heat up the shed that is Freo.Social, even Sadier joking that “people pay to sweat, you’re getting both”. And it didn’t stop there. The closing tracks of the main set started off with a very welcome rendition of Ping Pong, so popular the audience repeatedly called out for it again and again, and Perculator, before launching into the cacophonous onslaught of Crest and Lo Boob Oscilator, the later a dedication to all the women in the world.
Living up to their name, the closing track “Lo Boob” was presented as a laboratory of sound on stage, showcasing the opportunity for an individual solo from each of the band members. With lots of freaky synth and noisy guitars, the ebbs and builds were masterfully executed, pausing and tapering off in that disjointed 90s indie style, then rising back up into robotic digital beats, testing the boundaries of stereo. Lo Boob really was the highlight of the show.
Unfortunately, after this mind-blowing experience, the encore fell a bit flat. Perth missed out on the programmed encore opener Double Rocker – maybe due to drummer Andy Ramsey not being able to restring a guitar quick enough – and we were left with Blue Milk and Contronatura to close, which ended abruptly and out of time.
All up though, few could complain. The fact that Perth even got to experience Stereolab in this decade was a rarity not to be missed. Who knows when, or whether, this opportunity will present itself again. In the age of coronavirus, all those who dared to step outside will relish the memories for a long time to come. Voila!
Photos by Dana Jolieffe