There’s a sound, it’s brass, but it’s more than just brass, it’s the low end. It doesn’t just hit you, it goes right through you. It’s tuba, and it’s funky as hell. You might even say it swings. To find it you need to go several hundred km North East of Bucharest in Romania to the village of Zece Prajini. It’s hard to find because it’s not on any map, nor is there a sign. There’s not even a train station. Luckily for the locals the train stops for a couple of minutes so you can jump off there if you choose. It’s here that you can find the most amazing gypsy band on the planet. A German, Henry Ernst stumbled across them in 1996 after 15 odd years of traveling aimlessly through Romania. On his return to Germany he sold everything he owned and toured them through Europe. For them it was a chance to escape ‘this misery,’ to Ernst it was a revelation. He formed the label Asphalt Tango and continues to put out their music and that of a slew of other Balkan artists to this day.
The band is Fanfare Ciocarlia and they’ve just relased Live (Asphalt Tango/ Planet Company), 16 dangerous breakneck slabs of gypsy brass recorded live in Berlin in 2004, with an accompanying DVD of the same concert, as well as their previously released Brass on Fire feature, which shows the band rehearsing in their wet muddy and very cold looking home. The music is of course high energy, swirling, invigorating, intensely sad at times, at others nothing short of life affirming. It’s music steeped in tradition, yet they play with the speed and potency of punk rock. ‘Do you like it?’ they scream in halting English during the concert and the audience just erupts. It’s truly amazing that these 12 balding middle aged Romanian men could be responsible for such joyous feats of musicianship and beauty. In the film we see them in their village and it becomes clear that they’ve decided to build a church. Running low on money they tell the priest that they’ll just have to tour again so they can finish it off. So they did. They even came to Melbourne earlier this year as part of Gypsy Kings and Queens tour with Indian, flamenco, and Macedonian musicians and the results were nothing short of incredible. If you like music with soul and energy you need to track these guys down. If the speed and agility of the music doesn’t get you the tubas certainly will.
So you may be aware that the What is Music Festival is back again after a low key room full of noisy musicians last year. Tonight they’ve got the experimental night from Horse Bazaar Stutter programming and we see experimental legend Jon Rose, famous for playing outback fences, some improvised music from Clayton Thomas (double bass) and Claire Cooper (Chinese Harp), some kind of weird electronic stuff from Japans Hercel, and Poland’s Anna Zaradny who has a very stranage installation going on under some stairs on youtube, but who knows what will happen live. Thursday features a bit of laptop noise from the USA’s John Wiese, who they suggest will ‘obliterate your very being,’ alongside various local noise merchants. Though saturday is where the weird turn pro. 50/50 at the Iwaki Auditorium Southbank features 50 bands playing in 50 minutes, one minute each, no breaks. We’ve got everyone from Curse Ov Dialect, to Rank Sinatra, to Agents of Abhorrence, Candlesnuffer, you name it, there’s experimental, jazz, noise, rock, metal. It should be amazing, or shit, or both. Check http://www.whatismusic.com for full program details.
Finally Melbourne multi media Philip Brophy’s fetish for anime has been widely documented by, well, him, in his book 100 Anime. He’s just released Beautiful Cyborg 2 (Soundpunch), an ongoing series of musical portraits for key Japanese anime figures. The music is hysterically twee and artificial, quite electronic, an exploration of what he describes as ‘that gleaming white plastic heart at the centre of Japanese pop culture.’ It coincides with three other releases from Brophy including a new scores to experimental films and an easy listening muzak work comissioned by the Melbourne Planetarium.