School of Seven Bells @ The Hi Fi, Melbourne 21/6/12
The School of Seven Bells returned to Australia for the third time in four years – coming to Melbourne’s Hi Fi bar as part of a spate of east-coast gigs. Since the departure of fellow member (and fellow twin), Claudia Deheza, the trio-come-duo came back to Oz showcasing the tracks off their latest release, Ghostory.
Described as a ‘career defining’ release, by the pundits at the Hi Fi, my expectations were simmering as support acts The Townhouses scintillated my eardrums as their glitchy, warped sounds ignited my fondness for electronica. Although sample-heavy, the duo reminded me of other Australian acts that have enjoyed success. Think of Ghoul or Oscar + Martin, and that should place you in shooting range of where their sound’s at.
Next up was Little Scout, a Brisbane indie-pop outfit that largely brought summery vibes to an otherwise cold, and grumpy Melbourne audience. This band re-enforced stereotypes of Australian indie-pop, with breathy vocals and generically bright melodies making no considerable mark on me. They seemed a right fit for Triple J, but just like the multitude of other similar acts which garner airplay then fade into the J-branded abyss.
Now, for the School of Seven Bells. Other than ‘Lafaye’, there was only a minute range of tracks from their repertoire that deviated from a rather homogenous sound palate throughout this gig. The use of phasers, reverb, and overdone 80’s influenced synths do nothing other than re-enforce the fact that the SVIIB reeks of a half-cooked American emulation of The xx (both musically and visually).
Their musicianship was something I couldn’t necessarily criticise – they were cohesive. But I actually wanted to engage with their music. There was nothing beyond their myriad of electronics. It seemed like Melbourne was just another stop on a PR-driven tour.
The obligatory gratitude, while most earnest, didn’t deviate from the usual: “You guys have been great.” ”Really?” – went the inner monologue in my mind. The Hi Fi I would say was running at about a quarter of its usual capacity. There was just something definitely off about this gig. And it wasn’t the School of Seven Bells’ fault – it’s just that the fit was all wrong.
The crowd was patchy, it was clear that ticket sales expectations weren’t met, along with the fact that a sizable portion of the crowd bunched up the back of the Hi Fi. So I don’t see how the crowd could have been ‘electric’, or giving off some sort of unparalleled energy that phrases like – “you’ve been great” – allude to.
I guess the night was summed up best by lead, Alejandra Deheza’s, line mid-way through the show:
“Wow. It’s hard to move when you guys are so awesome.”
The layers of irony in that were too much to bear, well for me anyway. Seriously, the crowd was apathetic. It was cold. Melbourne just came out of an ‘earthquake’. The balcony was closed, so you had the introverts put into a space where they had no other choice but to interact – but it didn’t happen. This bred disinterest – or at the least, this appeared to be so.
However, in spite of the venue, I just didn’t feel any connection with their sound. While it’s all well and good for a band to build some kind of mystique, theirs wasn’t something original. The overarching ‘glam’ narrative that pervades Ghostory, is something that’s been done by a number of American indie/alt acts. They’ve hit the j’s a few times, but I don’t think they’ve translated to the Australian scene as well as some other acts of the same calibre.
Having said that, it’s quite a skill to have craft an image, seeing as it’s quite clear that the School of Seven Bells now could easily fall into a niche marque – they could definitely form a ‘scene’ of some sort. However, I felt like there was nothing beyond that. For a majority of my time with School of Seven Bells, a lot of it was regrettably, smoke and mirrors.
My biggest bugbear was their levels. Alejandra’s vocals were drowned out by the sheer blanketing of the electronics that the band so duly relied upon. Sure, while it’s ok to show off the wizardry of your phasers, there was a point to which I wanted some melody. Ok, it’s shoegaze, so a sense of ambiguous electronic fuzz would have been expected, but it dominated all. There was no readable contrast between tracks. Only fleeting electronic flurries seemed to form the backbone of their live set.
And I think this was the biggest problem for the SVIIB. Their utter reliance on electronic elements was an impediment to their ability to establish a point of difference. If their latest release was labelled as ‘career defining’, that certainly wasn’t so.
Thus, the gig was largely mediocre for me anyway. The “conceptual” aspects to their sound take cues from other styles in a muddle which amounts to nothing particularly notable. There’s a bit of Europop, indie-dance, and massive cues from the lo-fi world. While Alejandra’s vocals did have their high points – especially on ‘Lafaye’ – that wasn’t enough to pierce through the mediocrity of the show.