The gothic, blood-red Dark Mofo has up and left Hobart for another year. You’d be hard pressed to have found a single street in the city which didn’t seem to participate, from banners adorning light poles, to the international tourists, or simply a red light shining through a window. Spanning two weeks in June, Hobart becomes an entirely different city once a year.
You can read our review of Dark Mofo’s first week here, and below for our recap of its final days.
Hymns To The Dead
The first gig we attended after the long weekend was Hymns to the Dead, a raucous six hour, five band heavy metal assault. Though it sounds like nothing short of a recipe for beer-soaked tinnitus, it was about as diverse a night as you can get when the mean volume is above 120 dB (earplugs were certainly a must). Mournful Congregation kicked off the funerary procedures with sombre, trembling doom that could be heard – nay, felt – at least a street away. The Adelaide group are well into their third decade as a band, and though their temperate tempo made for a perfect overture, they left a lasting impression and in my opinion, were one of the best bands of the night.
The literal pace picked up with New Zealand-via-Scotland black metal band Barshasketh, all hazy distortion and haunting melodies. The set was dynamic and powerful, with a heavy focus on double pedalling and sadistic growls. I love how much the band looked like they were having a great time on stage – you don’t see that all too often in black metal. Grave Miasma came next, and if I’m being completely honest, they left me bored as hell. I couldn’t find anything original or engaging about their music; they looked like a metal band and they certainly sounded like one, but I couldn’t help feeling like they spent far more time brushing their long, luscious hair and practising head-banging than writing interesting riffs. They put on a cool show and wore lots of spiky things on their arms, but I have no interest in ever seeing these guys again. Ho-hum.
The same cannot be said for Anaal Nathrakh, extreme metal legends who were undoubtedly the highlight of the night. Less than a year since releasing their blistering ninth LP The Whole Of The Law, the Birmingham duo and their touring band delivered one of the most high-energy sets I’ve ever heard. While Norwegian black metallers Taake headlined the night shortly after, there was no way they were going to live up to the sheer force that Anaal Nathrakh had attacked the crowd with prior. The gig may as well have ended there.
Hours and hours of metal is usually too difficult to swallow, but the diversity and energy of such a varied group of bands made it easy to enjoy. That MONA founder and all ’round Tasmanian devil David Walsh was in attendance the entire night, only made it that much sweeter. – LZ
Let me preface this by saying Ulver were far and away my favourite set of Dark Mofo 2017. I’ll also admit I’ve been late to the table on Ulver; I was introduced to the boundary-less Norwegian group only last year, but have since developed a deep love for their immeasurably diverse discography.
There aren’t many bands who begin their career with three of the greatest Scandinavian black metal records of all time, only to then move on to everything from theremin-laced ambience to fully orchestral compositions (they also performed their orchestral album Messe I.X-VI.X with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchetsra later in the week), and pounding post-rock.
Their brand new album The Assassination of Julius Caesar can only be described as new wave for metalheads, all pounding synths, resounding percussion and dramatic vocals. Their performance this evening not only showed off the band’s sheer musicianship (each member played at least four instruments), but it was probably the the greatest light-and-laser show I have ever seen at a concert.
It’s hard to quantify just how stunning it looked; there were at least five laser projectors around the stage, with a long row of mirrors at the back to reflect and double up on the projections again. Bizarre, imaginative imagery was also projected behind the band – there was so much going on it was hard to know where to look. Still, in spite of the sensory overdose, it somehow fell together perfectly, all in all culminating in one of the coolest and most memorable concerts in a long, long time. – LZ
I was curious about what this show would turn out to be. I’d heard a bit of the West Berlin industrial band before, but I was hardly well-versed on their catalogue. What I did know, however, was that they were loud, eclectic and highly experimental. Seeing them step out with the conventional guitars, drums and sheet metal may have looked rather normal, but the sounds they produced were anything but.
It seems as if the band has mellowed with age; those around me told tales of insanely loud gigs, where your eardrums were constantly assaulted to no end. This evening, the group delivered something quieter, more contemplative. Beginning with The Garden, Blixa Bargeld captivated us with his haunting voice, calling us to meet him amongst the foliage. The song was a nice and relaxing beginning to the night, with slow and languid music washing over the audience.
That’s not to say that the set lacked power – quite the opposite. There was constant sonic tension, like the band was trying to break free of their own pace. This was all performed with remarkable unity and collectedness, dynamic yet well-rehearsed energy. It’s not easy task deliver a performance like that, where the power is implicit rather than blasted at the audience. This is a band who are playing purely by choice, not out of necessity for promotion. They wanted to be there, and so did you.
Their industrial sounds never devolved into gimmick or cheap showman’s tactic. Conventional percussion was often embellished by large pipes, or a sheet of steel, or dropping bars of metal from the top of a ladder. It was both fun to watch and amazing to hear.
I had less prior knowledge about Welcome Stranger than any other aspect of Dark Mofo. A bizarre and beautiful creation, the only information that we were given in advance was a point of entry (there were three three areas spread around two blocks of the Hobart inner city), a password (mine was Typical Mermaid), and a list of some of the artists playing – no set times though. I arrived at the Welcome Stranger Hotel (my entry point) at about 9pm, received a wristband and a map and waltzed inside. Inside was an eerie sight of switched off poker machines in and arcade games through a dimly lit entrance. Further in was a larger room with a DJ spinning ’80s vinyl hits, and a slot car table. There was a cool retro feel, with a karaoke bar upstairs that had a line spiralling down the staircase.
I moved to the Hobart Real Tennis Centre next (Real Tennis is a kind of indoor variation of tennis). Outside was a little courtyard and bar with dance music overhead, but inside was where the magic was happening. On court two players were giving people demonstrations, while a growing crowd were cheering and heckling the players. Next door, in a disused church, were more live DJs. Walking into the church was a great surprise, as it was a small but beautiful space, never usually open to the public. The music sounded great as well, as the grand arching ceiling gave the room brilliant acoustics. It was lit up fantastically, with yellow lighting positioned perfectly to give it a tangible sense of size and grandiosity.
Next, I headed to the third and final area, a short walk around to a nice hall at Legacy House. Walking down the small alley and into the building, you could hear brilliant jazz, who turned out to be the Senegambian Jazz Band, one of the funkiest bands I’ve ever encountered. They crowd were moving and shaking from start to end.
Around the corner from Legacy was a room bathed in violet light and soothing music. Lining the room were a number of mattresses surrounded with laced curtains. Art porn was being projected onto a wall, while Dark Mofo staff were walking around handing out similarly NSFW magazines. Donning the glasses I’d been given, which turned all the lights around the room into hearts, I ordered a drink and explored the markedly relaxing room. A smaller enclave held a room covered with salt and featuring a massage table, which was in full use.
At around 1am I headed back to the Welcome Stranger Hotel, and managed to catch the tail end of Pussy Riot’s DJ set. That’s the downside of the whole “you’ll see what you find” aspect of Welcome Stranger; you’re never sure where or when a particular act is playing due to the total lack of set times, so you’ll probably miss a lot. Nevertheless, when I left at 3am, I was extremely satisfied with what Welcome Stranger had to offer.
The only aspect of Dark Mofo that I honestly could’ve done without was Transliminal, run by Red Bull Music Academy in conjunction with Dark Mofo. A quick walk from Welcome Stranger to City Hall was enough to clear my head, and when I arrived I was ready for a dance, and to check out the lasers and lights inside.
Stepping in, I was instead greeting with, well, nothing special. It was a typical nightclub scene in a much larger space and with terrible acoustics. There was little fun to be had. The lights were nice to look at for a while, but it was hardly enough to carry a night. The music was too loud to actually discern, and walking around the space, my shoes stuck to the floor. I’m sure it was set up well, and may have been fun earlier that evening, but it was a mess. I left after 30 minutes.
Xiu Xiu Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks
I love both Twin Peaks and Xiu Xiu, and could barely contain my excitement for what would be my final show of the festival. Extremely tired after a night at Welcome Stranger, I was relived to see a sign announcing, “This is a seated show.” I rounded the corner to find rows on rows of chairs laid out facing the stage, which was packed with various synths. It was to be a relaxed show, the layout seemed to suggest.
And it kind of was. Coming out on stage, Xiu Xiu barely acknowledged that we were there. There’s not a lot to say about the show itself really, as they played their entire album start to finish, with absolutely zero interaction with the crowd until the final bow. The Odeon was a brilliant venue for it, as the near constant red lighting that bathed the stage added to the old theatre atmosphere. The tracks utilising guitar were especially brilliant, as the noise added an intensity only availed to a live show. Playing behind the band were ambient scenes from the 90’s hit show, but it never took attention away from the stage.
One of my favourite art installations throughout Dark Mofo was Ogoh Ogoh, a massive, demonic, tiger-like tribal installation at the back of Dark Park. Throughout the festival, attendees were given little pieces of paper to write down secrets, fears and anything they wished they could get rid of from their lives. I wrote something different down every day that Dark Park was open. You’d slip the pieces of paper inside the demon, via a little slot on its side.
On the final night of Dark Park, Ogoh-Ogoh was lit on fire and ceremoniously cremated to the sound of rumbling drums, symbolically taking your fears and secrets along with it. A beautiful ritual and a cleansing winter solstice sendoff. – LZ
So there you have it. Dark Mofo is over for another year. A world of its own, there’s absolutely nothing like it. Hobart will now return to its normal state for another year – quiet, cold, but with a blood red glimmer in its eye. The most brilliantly unique, captivating and downright weird cultural event in Australia, it’ll make you want to stay forever. We’re already counting down the days until Dark Mofo 2018.