Words by Camilla Astrid Strand
The Brisbane Powerhouse is one of Brisbane’s cultural mecca’s, a converted power-station situated on the banks of the Brisbane River. This industrial building is the perfect setting for the uniquely creative evening to come. Once in the foyer I noticed the Brisbane Portrait Prize exhibit which was awesome to peruse while waiting for the doors to open.
K Mak is a classical cellist turned synth-pop songstress. The brainchild of Brisbane based multi-instrumentalist, Kathryn McKee, it is an innovative project where she blends classical, alternative and electro-pop music. Tonight, K Mak is performing her self-titled debut album. The stage is bathed in blue light with K Mak on keys, soundscapes and vocals, and she brought to the stage a violinist, a cellist, a drummer and a bassist to support.
K Mak opens with Stroops and the sound is instantly emotive, with the strings bringing a reflective kind of atmosphere and a mechanical swirling soundscape in the background creating a futuristic feel. The music is quirky and charming, with out-of-the-box thinking that K Mak embodies. This is further demonstrated by the choice merchandise for K Mak being badminton sets and frisbees. K Mak continues her set with the third song off the album, It’s You. It’s You is highly romantic, the kind of song that I can easily imagine being played at the end of a Hollywood romance film. Its luscious strings pulling at the part of my heart that wants to believe in love.
The fifth song Play with Me was an absolute treat, not only sonically but as an experience. I noticed deep into the song some operatic vocals in the mix and my first assumption was that this is coming from the laptop. That is until I noticed other people’s heads moving about and so I gazed upwards and there on each side of the theatre high up in the mezzanine were opera singers! This is what separates K Mak from the rest, this innovative and creative imagining of what live performance can be. K Mak has been compared to Björk & French dream-pop project M83, but I also hear the quirkiness of Architecture in Helsinki and the originality of Karin Dreijer.
The set continues with Look at Me!, an atmospheric and contemplative track that made me feel like as though I was swimming under water as a child, until the strings kick in and break through not only the surface of the ocean, but through time, bringing me pack to the present. K Mak’s music does that, cutting through time and space, gently cradling me as I pass through sophisticated yet playful sonic dimensions. I highly recommend the music video too, as its beyond gorgeous.
K Mak continues with Swimming Song featuring crunchy bells, distorted noise and chilled beats. The calmness of this track was contrasted by the second play, with the drummer kicking into a dance beat that was unlike anything else so far, which K Mak revealed was actually a remix of Swimming Song by Melbourne producer Youthfire. At one point in the evening K Mak also did a giveaway via frisbee, throwing a frisbee into the crowd that contained a download code, reaffirming the unique thought process that goes into K Mak. Her masterfully skilled combination of strings, beats and synths creates vivid and emotional electropop soundscapes that delves deep into the matters of the heart.
Sharing the bill tonight is DeepBlue, an ingenious orchestra project that was created after research performed in 2005 that showed audiences are wanting a deeper connection, and so DeepBlue was born. Combining classical strings section with guitar and electronic elements, alongside choreography. Yes, you read right, if it wasn’t hard enough to play a classical instrument, throw in choreographed dance moves and the end result is an edge of your seat show that captivates you from start to finish.
Before the performance had even begun, a QR code was projected onto the stage that enabled me or anyone else in the audience to access an ESP – Event Stream Processing technology. Basically, it’s a website and DeepBlue ask you questions and you can answer them, and the resulting answers are projected up on the screen as the performance is happening. It is genuine interactivity that creates connection and was really fascinating.
Watch the Full Live Stream of Event 22nd October
DeepBlue starts off their set with the powerful composition Can You Feel the Sun by Zinia Chan. I have no idea what to expect when I see that the majority of the string section is sitting on the ground. There is no time to consider their comfort as I’m swept away in the beauty of it all. The comments projected on the background of the performance intensified the experience and all I can say is, the research project worked.
Next is a classical cover of Dance Monkey by Aussie singer-songwriter Tones and I. The musicians start dancing while playing and the skill level required to co-ordinate is impressive beyond belief. As a mere mortal audience member, the performance is captivating. Next up is a composition by Phil Wilson called Wave Motion, and the choreography is half robotic, half military, but 100% awesome.
The pace is then slowed down yet intensified by a deeply moving rendition of Iain Grandage’s Flying Dream, a piece that was commissioned by the Powerhouse in 2004, with Emma Hales front and centre on the cello. Emma Hales is of particular note this evening, having played cello with K Mak, and continuing on with the double bass, bass guitar and cello with DeepBlue.
The next composition was penned by one of the violinists in DeepBlue, Haven by Evan Setiawan. The song elicits both the feelings of comfort and excitement at once, as it breaks out into a violin solo by the composer that is simply superb. Electronic beats buffer the background and modernise this track. Things then take a heavier turn when DeepBlue cover Californian heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold’s track Welcome to the Family.
A stand out for me personally was the cover of Our House by British ska and pop band Madness (If you want to see what I mean, go to 40:13 of the linked live stream). Sometimes in life you don’t know what you need until you get it. Turns out I really needed a group of classical musicians doing choreographed dancing to a classic track from 1982. This performance brought tears to my eyes. The sweetness of the song combined with the clear joy being had by the performers of DeepBlue creates a wonderous experience that goes beyond language. One of the values of DeepBlue is creating long lasting, meaningful experiences, and this is the track that did that for me.
Next was a super fun medley of music from Australia, featuring the likes of Gotye through to John Farnham, before a visit from the One Voice Brisbane choir to perform Party by Christine Anu. During this song, cellist Wayne Jennings and violinist Evan Setiawan performed whilst walking around on stilts. The circus elements of DeepBlue serve to increase both the tension and the enjoyment of the performance, as I’m absolutely certain I have never seen anything like this before. The audience vote for the last track came in via the ESP, and Deep Blue performed the famous surf rock song by Dick Dale, Miserlou.
This evening’s performances by DeepBlue + K Mak are a loud statement from the creative community of Brisbane. It shouts out that we are modern, we are innovative, we are different, we are special. The music broke barriers of genre, style, connection and imagination. That we have such world class creativity was an ultra-special experience and a sight, and sound, to behold.
FOLLOW K MAK
FOLLOW DEEP BLUE ORCHESTRA
With thanks to Footstomp Music + Brisbane Powerhouse