(By a person whose sixteen notes are still 'uneven at best')
Words: Axel Carrington
If I have learned anything from the previous article, is that there are too many people to cover and such little precious time to cover them; that is, until a cancelled rehearsal gifts you sweet, sweet minutes to wax lyrical about Perth's Guitar community. The past few months have been a whirlwind of shows, not only my own but also of many, many others and the sheer spread of talent, style and grace is one to behold. The six you will read about are culled from dozens of people I've encountered, thought about and spoken too; for if given a certain amount of beers (many), I will forget all anxiety and careen bull-headed into the magical place that is: Guitar talk. Pedal talk. String talk. Sometimes even the dreaded Instrument Lead talk or Plectrum Talk. So thank you to anybody who plays not just the guitar in Perth but any instrument – if I knew more about any other vocation or craft, I would write about them. Alas, you're stuck with a guitarist, writing about the people and the instrument he loves best.
Brendan Biddiss (Yokohomos, Axe Girl)
Every time I watch Brendan play, I'm struck by the way he approaches the guitar more like a painter. Full disclosure: I have no idea about visual art. The point remains though that in both Yokos and more recently Axe Girl that Brendan splashes his guitar around, using his board like an easel and seeing what happens – it's so fucking good to listen to and watch. One time at a Yokos gig at the Bird, he pulled the most ridiculous flanger/overdrive combo that it tore my head clean off, I still have marks to prove it. Most would be intimidated or put off by experimenting in such a way, but its this sheer consistency in his discovery that really pulls me in.
More than this though, it's also the willingness to lay back when necessary, to let the paint dry and let others showcase their wares that is also one of Brendan's greatest qualities. The last time I saw Axe Girl at the Rosie, he would alternate between these huge rainbow canvasses of stabbed staccato strikes, lush open chords and big time BIG riff machines, while also letting the band do their thing: we know that Addison can rip shit up too, after all. When you hear Brendan play, it sounds like natural curiosity and openness to everything and everybody, what a marvel.
Ellen Oosterbaan (Catbrush, Oosterbanger)
I always thought of Ellen as the anchor of that swampy, swaying, spectacular ship that is Catbrush: while Ben would drift off with the wind and Anetta kept driving a spire into a rail road track by floor tom alone, Ellen would buzzsaw with enough precision and sure footing that could sometimes unnerve me to my core. On reflection though, she would extend the form: using a bangle as a slide was also such a good move, as was the whole 'using your guitar as a microphone' thing, which are not exactly techniques usually used by the captain, most of the time. It's a testament to her ability and talent that she can pull this off, time and time again.
But then: you fucking owe yourself to see her in her new guise as Oosterbanger. Solo, unadorned by rhythm, an anchor without a harbour - she now puts this beaten up old Japanese Teisco through its paces and for the life of me, the textures and sonic maelstrom Ellen conjures through that thing leaves one breathless. The last few times I've caught sets of hers she's continued to raise the bar higher, using a looper like a machine gun, a well-timed scrape like a punch to the face, all in the service of these new songs that are delving into her deepest darkness’s and crevices – I am in awe. With a group it has the potential to become even more, but for now, pencil in any Oosterbanger set you can muster because you will leave with a greater appreciation of what these planks of wood with wires in the guts can do.
Jeremy Holmes (Doctopus)
Style for miles, this fella. Jeremy's also probably the one person outta everybody on this list who is gonna hate me writing about him – humble, softly spoken, telling me to get fucked. Talk about holding the fort! While Mr. Bellair is indulging in the most hedonistic distortion trip you'd wanna be a part of and John rolls from floor to snare and back again, Jeremy turns his barefooted self towards his amp, always within reach and chomps on chord after chord. No distortion, no bullshit, just straight up guitar. It's always been a treasure to listen to but it’s taken me years to realise that the way he approaches his playing is a science unto itself.
We know about 'less is more', which in the realm of the guitar applies only sparingly, but Jeremy is a wizard at it. Take something like 'Wobbegong’ for example – wide open spaces of major chords, awash in Charles Hotel booze and reverb, a perfect sound for a perfect tune. When Stephen starts riffin' Jeremy stays put – don't move unless you have too. Don't exert unless it's necessary. It's like watching a Zen master at work, time and time again, except their temple is The Bird and their meditating involves copious rounds of NBA 2K. Sorry Jeremy, but people have to know that your style is wild: so book me.
Jamie MacDougall (French Rockets)
There is no doubt within my mind that I am losing my hearing – partially because of my refusal to wear earplugs, out of a childish stupidity that I will not let up (also, watching French Rockets). I don't really mind though because this band is always an event to witness. I admire their musical courage of their convictions and the way they deliver their sonic message. Apologies for that last sentence. Jamie is wild, totally fucking wild to listen to and watch. Surrounded by mountains of gear, both guitar and synth based, he beats his fucking Jazzmaster until it collapses in a heap on stage, his mop untamed and fiery. While I love Carl's playing, especially his monster riff excursions, my heart will always be taken by any person who remembers that guitars are not fragile, delicate creatures, they're bloody bastards, just a mess of shit and they sound better when they're teetering on the edge of exhaustion and breaking.
Every time I hear them play Pulling Metal live, I almost bleed out my fucking brain (it’s so good). Wave after wave of sound, rattling my entire being until I surrender totally and yet it's always Jamie; writhing around, stomping on pedals like they're skulls lining the battlefield, always pushing ever upward, that makes me swoon like the first time I saw Gareth Liddiard on SBS literally punch his Jaguar, or watching a grainy vid of RSH change the pitch of his screeching feedback by a skip to the left or a hop to the right. Any person in that lineage is worth your time and in the context of the loudest, most enveloping band in town: Jamie is a godsend.
Sam Rocchi (Mung Dahl, The Kramers, The Fruity Whites, Bleach Boys)
One thing I've noticed about writing these few articles is I really appreciate it when the guitar, for all its worth and faults, sounds not like a 'guitar', but a reflection of another instrument. Sam has a wonderful, clear bell of a voice – his guitar is like an extension of this. When his human voice lifts and soars, his guitar swerves and dances, moving in between the cracks and never setting still – and what then, when your song starts to weak and wilt? That slightly modulated, pink noise steps in, taking the reins and steering you into places you've never visited, but once there…never want to leave.
Regrettably, I've only seen Mung Dahl play a handful of times, but was so taken aback by their set at this very publication's 1st birthday party that I could barely stand up straight (definitely the sound doing that). It was because rarely do you hear such a combination of vocal and string that it was like listening to two crystals rumble and tumble together. Now, I await each set with baited breath, for that same feeling to return. Thanks Sam: you're a gem.
Jane Azzopardi (Childsaint)
Childsaint are a band with such a grasp on form and intent that I initially found it difficult to discern individual parts and sounds from each member – it was just a full hit, one that overtook me and left me numb. Only extremely recently, in the depths of the State Theatre here in Perth I realised, in a song which I cannot fully remember, that Jane played this melodic line that seemed lifted from the pipes of St. Peter and, well, it got me. Jane's strengths do not lie just in weaving and interacting with Chloe's guitar parts, but also seemingly providing the group with a little grit, a little upturned smirk, that really shows what angels shouldn't fear to tread: the mud and the dirt.
That Jazzmaster floats, above the deluge it creates, just by switching from major to minor and back again. Those turns are so effective and hypnotic, lulling you into a narcotic dream unhindered by the outside world. It's kinda a strange experience at a gig to constantly achieve this state, but Childsaint do it every time, in no short order thanks to Jane's guitar lightly pummelling you into this submission.
Again, there are so many more to mention, but no more words, for now. Continue to go to gigs and tell people how much you love their music, their craft, their selves. People should know how good they are at what they do and that what they do results in such feelings of love and gratitude – my one hope is that this article inspires you to think the same about any other creative endeavours.