Live Review: MONA FOMA, part two
Chloe Mayne concludes her two-part review of Tasmania-based festival, MONA FOMA:
I became somewhat nocturnal and culinarily confused over the ensuing days of MONA FOMA. I developed a habit of eating my breakfast before I went to bed, and then, creeping like a skink, emerged later in the day to bask in the afternoon sun, reapply rhinestones to my face and indulge in night after night of musical delights, ears ringing constant loops of supersonic spirals and leftover feedback into my brain chasms.
On Friday evening, Chris Tille played an intricate set of folky-bluegrass harmonies that tiptoed across heads in the main hall like a silk sheet, while over in the second shed Conrad Shawcross‘ The ADA Project weaved a wand of light across darkened walls to minimalist electronica and soaring operatics (pictured, below). Stroking its own frame like a cat’s tongue and then reaching slowly for the roof beams, it was both confusing and beautiful to find the movements of a mechanical device so sensual. We then bunched ourselves together in the back room for HIVE, a performance art piece by Battles‘ founding member Tyondai Braxton. It consisted of six musicians in a line atop glowing, iridescent ‘hives’ that shifted colour and pulsed to the music. Sitting cross-legged on the floor and gazing earnestly upwards at them, our chests shook with the timpani roar and heads rolled to odd labyrinthine rhythms that defied any time signature I know. Afterwards we compared mental magic-carpet rides through jungles, beneath oceans and between bedsheets, surprised and excited to find matches between our images. Argentinian twelve-piece Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro, overflowing with three accordions, played dark flamenco that swooped and dove like a bullfighter’s cape.
Then I found myself at Faux Mo again, sinking into the place as though it were my favourite old sofa. It had creepily become a sort of second home, and I probably did spend more time there than in my own house over the five days. Glitter levels had increased substantially, as had crowd numbers. There were the same old tune-spinners taking up residence across various locations (one of whom called himself, I’ll be cheeky enough to join the dots, DJ Same Old Shit), but upstairs in the Drill Hall something magical was unfolding – a special sideshow from Sun Ra Arkestra, announced just a handful of hours before the evening kicked off. It was all red curtains and shiny streamers and disco balls as the thirteen musicians jigsaw-puzzled themselves together on the tiny stage and erupted with yet another two-hour extravaganza. The intimacy suited them, and they worked the room into a sauna-steamy lather with excellent precision. My second intergalactic excursion in as many days meant that I couldn’t tackle the line into the Schoolhouse to see local ruffians The Harrison Forward get naked and (so I’ve heard) very, very sweaty in a classroom furnished with bunk beds. Ah, if only.
On Saturday, The Bombay Royale (pictured, top) jumpstarted the evening with a wacky mix of traditional instruments, Bollywood charm and spunky Tarantino guitar licks. An Indian Ricky Martin paraded back and forth in a gold jacket like a karaoke champion, and then gently bowed to us between songs. Outside in the courtyard, the Blacksmiths were creating an elaborate sculpture, working metal with giant mallets and then looping and reworking the commotion into a fascinating performance piece which continued all night long.
Then, The Julie Ruin were handed the musical baton and painted it pastel pink. Their songs, written by underground Riot Grrrl goddess Kathleen Hanna while on a break from Bikini Kill over a decade ago, seemed excited to be finally unleashed on our ears. Despite health struggles in recent years (see The Punk Singer documentary), Hanna was sassy, intelligent and full of gusto. It sounded like a mellowed-out, honey-sweetened Le Tigre, but was just as danceable. I noticed that the boogie pit was almost entirely female, tattooed arms and candy-coloured hair bobbing about to neo-feminist dance hits such as “Girls Like Us”. Sara Landeau broke a string towards the end of the set, but nobody noticed – especially not Hanna, with her signature off-pitch vocals. They even came back for an encore, and afterwards I couldn’t help feeling like dying my hair turquoise and gnashing a packet of bubblegum between my teeth.
Matmos played a set of intelligent dance music – a low-key and fascinating duo, collaborators with both Bjork and Marshall Allen, who have recorded an EP about telepathy and attribute their experimental sourcings to things like freshly cut hair and the neural activity of crayfish. They were humble yet spot on, and met with an enthusiastic crowd. Berlin-based DJ Roland Tings amped things up and unleashed a party creature that I think you’d usually find inhabiting the depths of the Berghain. It was a little premature for me, and I ushered myself out into the chill of the night, making the pilgrimage back across to Faux Mo for a final orbit. A gold-turbanned priestess pressed a barley sugar into my cold hands and bestowed a few words of wisdom upon me before dissolving into the darkness. I ordered myself a double-shot gin and tonic and approached each room with eager arms but sadly, the music just wasn’t as interesting as the elaborate constructions designed to house them. I soon underwent the transformation from red dwarf to black hole and curled up inside myself, cocooning into bed just before the sun could catch up and greet me.
You’d think that things would’ve slowed right down on Sunday. I thought so, too – a nippy sea breeze snaked through the hall doors, scarves were hugged into neck nooks and the famous pink MONA beanbags were laden with bodies sipping wine and nibbling paella. Colin Stetson, an alto and bass saxophonist known for his work with the likes of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, literally blew us away with a guttural solo set, looping and working back over himself like a snake lashing and releasing its prey.
Over in the back shed, my childhood Willy Wonka dream was finally realised as MONA’s Vince Trim showed us how to make an edible magic garden with liquid nitrogen, sugar, an artist’s palette of food dye, and more sugar. Occupational Health and Safety rules were tossed out of the factory window as he stepped back and, like Wonka opening the door to the Chocolate Room and ushering us through with the flick of a purple top hat, let us demolish his creation. A hundred grubby hands grasped and snatched at green grassy sugar noodles and raspberry-jam macaroons; one young woman heaved a giant slab of red toffee from the middle as though shifting a gravestone. Attendees of the garden party were quickly separated from the rest of the festival-goers by the stained black teeth and purple tongues that emerged from their sugar-high grins. Interestingly, there was barely a child in sight, elbowed out of the way by their excited, frenzy-eyed elders.
The Hobart Improv Collective were a mystery to me before they mounted the stage. The bass made the floor rattle, amplifiers jittering about the stage like pebbles on a dashboard. They were seamless and ever-changing – warbled theremin-esque frequencies and slow back-and forth synth creating an eerie, otherwordly ambience. At one point we were being driven into such an ominous void that I felt as though I were standing on a frozen lake in the dead of night, watching the headlights of a truck penetrate the fog as it drove straight over me; then, it was the rumbling of a ship’s guts from the bottom deck. Then it was noise, overwhelming noise. “You’re a genius!” yelled a woman from the front row, a little aggressively – perhaps because they were both injuring and emancipating us, imploding our ears and shaking us by the shoulders with one of the loudest sets of the festival. All I could describe it with afterwards was ecstatic swearing and hand gestures – in other words, it was wonderful.
American singer-songwriter John Grant played an eclectic series of pop songs that struggled to stir me, and then Russell Haswell beamed rods of light at us to a disorienting yet exhilarating soundtrack of melted rubber and firecrackers. The night was steadily building up speed, and the beanbags were hastily dragged from the room by a team of insistent security guards. Client Liason emerged from a cloud of smoke, Harvey Miller looking like a breed-in between the Mighty Boosh‘s Vince Noir and Stop Making Sense-era David Byrne in an oversized white suit and a glossy eighties hairdo. It was a Prince kickback with plenty of pizzazz, and a great tacky airline-inspired backing video to match.
Legendary ambient house pioneers The Orb and last-minute lineup addition Mylo saw the evening safely into morning, drawing limbs to a satisfying flail and summoning the last beads of sweat from dehydrated, mildly sunburnt foreheads. The marathon had been run. We crept back to our houses on the hill in the drizzling rain as, shining through the mist down on the wharf like a lighthouse, the big old MOFO grandfather clock wound slowly to a halt.