The beat began before the people arrived.
A disembodied lifeless pulse throbbing into an empty cavern.
A ‘preset and forget’ cycle of electronically reconstituted bass drum sound that relentlessly punches into the vacuum of the Thebby cavern, only to be absorbed by the black curtain across the back of the hall disguising the empty seats that suggested ticket sales had not been spectacular.
Soon, Melbourne’s ‘ritual noise’ duo, Kult Kyss, appear and hit the drum program on their foil wrapped computer console and synchronise themselves with the unabating pulse and take up the aural airspace for the next half an hour.
Their songs are of aural and lyrical inconsequence, neither engaging nor repellant, but the telling factor in their performance was that the most interesting moment did not emanate from their music. Interest was only really piqued when, what first appeared to be, shower loofahs strapped to the performer’s heads actually turned out to be technicoloured LED masquerade masks which hypnotically rolled through the colour spectrum in irregular sequences and rhythms, counterpointing the pedestrian rhythmic palpitations of their songs.
To a continued soundtrack of the one dominant beat, the road crew soon readied the starkly empty stage for the second act – Roland Tings – and a drum kit and a guitar rig were set in place.
Starting with a prog-rockish guitar noodle, which offered an illusionary moment of respite from the one continuous conscious-dominating rhythmic thump, the band soon locked into the unholy throb making the use of an actual drummer redundant. Every moment was certainly not a diamond, despite what their latest release may tell you.
What they served up was little more than elevator music played to a growing crowd of Easter Island-esque static statues, not yet ready to submit to the relentless pounding.
With some notable exceptions – apologies to Depeche Mode and Devo – electronic music does not lend itself to being a visual spectacle. More often than not, watching immobile shoe gazers stare at their knobs does not prove to be a riveting experience.
This a musical genre for hedonists. The crowd are the main focus – they want to be seen, and they want to watch others reacting to them – and, unfortunately, this band are not making it happen.
My reviewer’s resolve weakened, and I found myself bar bound, thinking I would come back and catch the latter part of their set should the rhythm finally change and resuscitate interest.
Through the floor of the bar and the foyer, however, the vibrations continued unrepentantly – defiantly unchanging.
The set seemed to go on longer than expected, necessitating a slow walk back into the main auditorium to see whether the crowd had finally succumbed to reanimation.
Surprisingly, The ‘Tings’ had long finished their set, and the sound was, in fact, just the PA taking up the challenge to keep the aural blows smacking into the ear drums of the latest arrivals upon the dance floor as they took up their positions in readiness for the main act.
The stage area had been pumped full of smoke in readiness for The Presets to paint the air with their hyperactive strobes and lasers, and so it proved to be as they soon rapped us with their Knuckles – the opening soundscape from their latest album, Hi Viz.
The new album title is ironic, as Julian and Kim are anything but highly visible on stage – they are, for the most part, rendered dark silhouettes only briefly emerging from the smoke throughout their set, as they stand in front of a busy backdrop of explosive lights and impressionistic photographic patterns and projections.
Their new record has some clear highlights that work well in a live environment, and the crowd – as if someone had flicked a switch – soon became passionately engaged in dancing rabidly and singing along raucously to the likes of the infectious Do What You Want, Martini, and later in the show, 14U+14ME, suggesting that the new record has been embraced as warmly as their breakthrough album, Apocalypso, had been a decade ago.
The duo perform some songs from their relatively more sedate Pacifica album as well, with the highlight being a terrific rendition of Ghosts, which provided just a fleeting moment of musical subtlety in a sea of full-on percussive abandon.
The Thebby floor quickly became awash in a sea of spilled alcohol as optimistic bar-runs inevitably ended badly in collisions with the flailing arms of the afflicted, predictably knocking plastic cups of much needed liquid revivifier to the ground.
It was soon a case of every man, woman and child for themselves – and there was at least one ear-muffed babe in arms bouncing in its mother’s arms amongst the throng – as the St. Vitus Dance took hold en masse.
The greatest roars of approval, amongst many throughout the night, accompanied the opening notes of songs from Apocalypso, and none were louder than when the first strains of My People boomed out and mayhem ensued.
I had to concede that my least favourite Presets tune, Together – a lazy piece of musical composition, I reckon – actually sounded pretty good in this context and it duly received another over-the-top response from this assembled mob of dance fanatics from ‘Adders’, as the band affectionately called us.
The Presets may not have drawn a capacity crowd of their people to this gig, but they certainly made sure that those who did make the effort to get to the show were rewarded with a generous selection of tunes to work out to.
Tellingly, when the PA finally shut the beat down, my footfalls as I left the theatre and made my way along Henley Beach Road to the car could not break from the now firmly entrenched incessant rhythm of the night.
And once I got to the car, in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, I subsequently jammed Apocalypso into the CD player and made my way home without missing a beat…
The Presets’ ‘Hi Viz Tour’ was performed at the Thebarton Theatre on Friday June 15, 2018.