The entrance to the micro-nightclub is a child’s slide, and when I popped out at the bottom, I found myself in a crowded laundry with a drag queen and a midget singing Rock the Casbah. Women bopped along perched on top of washing machines as glitter balls cast a colourful hue on the driers. One thought crossed my mind as we rocked our casbah: how the hell do you get out of here?
It’s just before 1am this morning and I’m at Faux Mo, the after-party of Hobart music and art festival MOFO, the popular annual side project from the wild minds behind the art museum MONA. The nightclub is an extravagant affair with an outdoor DJ playing video mash-ups, an upstairs pop-trash dance floor, the laundry, an art installation of a combi with beer cans, and an illuminated plane which punters can sit in.
Staging an experimental music festival with few (if any) popular names in Tasmania might seem like a gamble but it’s paid off for the MONA crew. The festival is packed and the punters — from hipsters to scientists in polafleece vests — are right into it.
“We are just trying to be a fantastic and mind-bogglingly diverse music festival,” MOFO curator and Violent Femmes bass guitarist Brian Ritchie told Crikey. “We’re towards the cutting-edge … there’s just a freedom there. I love that it’s the general public going in for specialist stuff.”
One of the hits from last night was certainly out there. Indonesian punk-rock outfit Punkasila (pictured above) — who were inspired by Crikey‘s foreign affairs commenter Damien Kingsbury — teamed up with Melbourne art collective Slave Pianos to perform a “science fiction space rock opera”. The show tells the story of an alien moth invasion (the moths colonise the planet via inter-species reproduction, FYI).
The story started as a comic which was beamed up behind the musicians. The show was a curious mix of beautiful piano solos and inspired shout-rock from six Indonesians in silver space suits, who indulged in old-school stunts like leaping up on the amp and busting out the double-necked guitar. A soprano trilled throughout and there were strains of automated Gamelan (traditional Indonesian arrangements). It was sung in Indonesian.
Yes, it was a little gimmicky, but it was also 45 solid minutes of surprises. The gig had an unusual pace — veering between slow and frenetic — and the crowd of a few thousand loved it, screaming for more in the tarted-up old Macquarie Wharf shed on the Hobart waterfront.
Most of MOFO is at Macquarie Wharf, a superb indoor/outdoor site with Mount Wellington at its back and the harbour alongside. The mothership MONA gallery, bankrolled by gambler David Walsh, is a little north of town and doesn’t host MOFO events.
Last night’s sunset gig — played in 20 degrees, which may appeal to Adelaide and Melbourne readers — went to Mick Harvey, a long-time collaborator with PJ Harvey and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Harvey interpreted the songs of the late French musician, provocateur and womaniser Serge Gainsbourg. It’s a familiar theme for Harvey, who released a couple of albums covering Gainsbourg in the ’90s. The original sang mainly in French but Harvey does most of his versions in English.
Harvey’s music connections showed — his band was top-notch. The man himself sang and played acoustic and electric guitar with some drums thrown in. Sharply dressed in crisp grey pants and a black shirt, Harvey was smooth and serious as he worked his way through Gainsbourg’s hits. We only got one verse of Je t’aime … moi non plus — too sexy for a Hobart crowd? — but there were full versions of Initials BB (originally dedicated to one-time Gainsbourg lover Brigitte Bardot) and Le Poinconneur des Lilas, about a metro conductor who gets so sick of punching holes in tickets he wants to kill someone.
Harvey was joined by a succession of beautiful young women who sang with him, which I think we can all agree is what Gainsbourg would have wanted. “I don’t need anyone on my Harley Davidson … I don’t care if I die on my Harley Davidson,” one of them trilled solo as she gazed intently above the audience’s heads.
The gig had a ’60s/’70s feel, when Gainsbourg was at his peak. It was a world of telegrams and sexual revolution, a mix of boldness and wide-eyed discovery, captured by an Australian rock veteran for a new (and old) crowd. The nosebleed section at the front was dominated by grey-haired women dancing away while softer fans sprawled on MOFO’s pink beanbags in the setting sun.
MOFO has installations as well as performances. Sydney-based artist Melanie Herbert’s It Called Out features various speakers set up in a large, dark room. I almost collided with a speaker which looked like Ned Kelly’s armour in the gloom, which was startling.
The speakers run through their own tracks — mechanical whirrings and groanings, rain, clicks, etc — on loops of different lengths. Visitors sit or lie on the floor. An entirely aural artwork was a new experience for me; the dynamic interplay of the speakers was quite absorbing. Did I nap? Sure I did, but I had to save some energy for the laundry.