St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival has been parading around Australia’s sunny coastline for eleven years now; always hosting an eclectic mix of established and up-and-coming artists from scuzzy skate rock to pulsing dance music. With such a high calibre of performers gracing the 2016 line-up, sideshows became a crucial point for punters who wanted to taste a bit of everything without the need to run from stage to stage on the day, those unlucky few who couldn’t make it to the festival, or those who simply wanted to relive the highlights. Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory had the pleasure of hosting American noisemakers HEALTH on Monday night for a show that was dynamic in performance and blinding in every visual way possible.
The venue, although intimate to begin with, took a while to fill up as most people sauntered in after the first act had finished. That act was James Crooks whose tribal inspired synth beats went down extremely well, despite the lingering awkwardness of a sceptical audience who didn’t quite know how to take his unabashed stage banter. By the time Marcus Whale took to the stage, the crowd had doubled in size and surrendered to his ambient samples, controlled vocals and slow building reverb.
HEALTH is a fairly indescribable band whose music demands to be felt, rather than heard, in a live setting. Unlike other stock standard works, this LA outfit has created a discography spanning three full-length studio releases (along with a string of collaborative works) that blurs any pre-existing boundaries between pop, rock, metal and disco. Pioneering a sound so unique and undeniably to the left of popular music is no easy feat, but with an army of dedicated fans hanging off their every riff, I’m sure mainstream success is the last thing on their minds.
The underground nature of Oxford Art Factory was more than appropriate for a band like HEALTH whose exhilarating tracks were barely contained from the moment the outfit stepped on stage. Screeching riffs, thunderous drums and throbbing electronic configurations made up most of the set, accompanied by the entrancing vocals of Jacob Duzsik. Duzsik’s voice ambled on with a nonchalant strength, particularly during one of the band’s more recent singles: Stonefist. Fans sunk into a rhythmic head bob with each pulse, never missing a beat as “remember, love’s not in our hearts” blared. Through the glaring orange haze, the continuous head-banging of bassist John Famiglietti could be seen – a movement echoed by the audience.
HEALTH’s hour long set was an explosion of stadium pop crammed into a tight, sweaty, strobe-filled room. Other standouts included No Coke and Die Slow, both accompanied by an electric light show matching each experimental throb in harmony. The heaviness of the guitar tones and breakdowns throughout the show, paired with lighter pop hooks, generated a sense of uneasiness but in a way that was entirely captivating. Something is not right about this combination of sounds that swell together into a brooding melting pot of light and shade. However, it’s these exact qualities that make the band so intriguing.
HEALTH tore through past hits and material from their latest album Death Magic like a well-oiled machine, proving to be one of the tightest live bands circulating now. The only downside is that with the trance-like performances of Duzsik and co. comes a slight disconnection from the audience. Whilst each song invoked some kind of response in fans – whether it be head banging or dancing – the pauses in between songs fell flat and the end of the show felt abrupt. These moments, however, were far and few between with majority of the set highlighting HEALTH’s strong stage presence, clever industrial pop sound and incredible visual setting.