MONA FOMA mini reviews: stiborg, astronautilus, the sun ra arkestra
When attending festivals of any sort, I find it’s always important to remind yourself to keep high expectations in check. It’s really easy to fall into hyper-criticality when you’ve payed a lot of money or travelled a long way to attend a curated event. This is especially when that event is MONA FOMA, which is famed for its excesses and experimental wizardry. I think this might be the problem that befell my companions when we watched Striborg on Saturday night. He was the last act of the night, and as he was also the only act scheduled to be held really far from the action on the grounds of MONA, it implied that his was going to be a show worth going out of your way in a $50 round cab fare for. My friends were far from impressed by the show, but I couldn’t help but feel that this was mostly due to the language used to describe Striborg in the catalogue, plus the afore mentioned money and travel . ‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here’ is a pretty big byline to live up to by any standards.
However, I really enjoyed it. I love black metal, and I especially loved watching it in pitch darkness next to Wim Delvoye’s site specific chapel, as smoke spewed out from the interior. Unfortunately, no real devils were in attendance. Neither did a portal to Hell open up and swallow us all (but really, you can’t have everything).
It was a full moon, the night had just turned icy cold, and the River Derwent – to which the performance was dedicated – softly murmured in the background. The theatrics of the event, in true black metal fashion were understated – four black hooded figures tautly played wind instruments with nary a smile in sight, while dramatic lighting burned behind them, creating a bit of the ‘old terrifying silhouette on the horizon’ kind of feel. I absolutely love this sort of thing, so I was more than pleased to drink in the visuals and get swept away by the melodically shifting sounds that went with it.
My friends bemoaned that it wasn’t enough of a spectacle to warrant the trip out there. Possibly they were right, but then again, our standards may be getting a little too high these days. We watched five dudes in creepy cloaks, in the middle of the night play music while smoke spewed out of a church. Not exactly your everyday walk in the park. However, I have the feeling that if you didn’t already enjoy this type of droning aggressive sound, the visuals alone certainly wouldn’t have been enough to get you to change your tune.
This little red-headed wonder was a charmer. White hip hop artists always make me nervous, as too often they can be terribly self-conscious in a way that seems like an awkward homage bordering on disrespectful emulation, rather than bringing something fresh to the table. Thankfully, this couldn’t be further from the truth with Astronautilus, aka Andy Bothwell. Everything about this guy seemed genuine and personal, from his excitement at playing his biggest crowd ever to his boundless energy and massive smiles. He oozed gratitude for the crowd and the feeling was infectious. My friend and I were giggling like schoolgirls from the get go and it only got more pronounced as the gig progressed.
Hailing from Florida, his tales of life growing up there with whiskey, tattooing and stealing (because you could) added a lot of colour to his character. Like many Southerners from the States, Bothwell didn’t mince words and is obviously proud of where he comes from. He was wild and polite in equal measure, as well as charmingly self-effacing and loveable, with this interesting dichotomy making its way directly into the music.
The rhymes reflected real world scenarios, a welcome change from the capitalist rhetoric of guzzling champagne and dripping diamonds that many hip hop artists wax lyrical about. After introducing a song about shooting rifles at hurricanes, realising bullets won’t help things much and finding love on the beach just in case they ‘don’t make it’, he cheekily admitted to his lyrical muse: ‘you are my one true love for today’.
Gotta admit, I felt a little bit the same way.
The Sun Ra Arkestra
The Sun Ra Arkestra made me feel as though I am wasting my youth. The saxophonist is 89 years young and still going strong, and the rest of the band didn’t seem all that far behind him. They still brought their A-game and were vibrant and fun to watch. Although many tried, no one could top the Arkestra’s wild outfits. They wore sequins in individual colours and matching hats, creating a look that very much revolved around glitter. Perhaps it was the cosmic stardust they’ve been collecting all these years, but as I watched their long flowing gowns shimmer, I swear they shone like the sun.
I’d been waiting to see these guys for a long time, and they were as wonderful as I had hoped they’d be, with big energy and an even bigger sound. You always know when you’re watching seasoned professionals, as they radiate calm confidence that can only come from years on the road.
There wasn’t a need for much banter, they let the music speak for them. The Arkestra flowed between tracks seamlessly, taking an intergalactic magical journey that had us all floating up to the heavens with them.