There’s always something in the air at an Espionage gig. An unrelenting, mysterious energy that sets the pulse of Melbourne’s underground music scene racing to the latest forward thinking sounds from across the world. With their cult-like following (including a tag that reads the founder Jerry Poon is Jesus in girl’s toilets across the city) and events that host the best of hip-hop, electronic and drum n’ bass artists in various dark and grimy locations around Melbourne, an Espionage meets Melbourne Music Week night is always going to be of epic proportions. With this year’s LA to London spanning line-up of Floating Points, Alexander Nut, Fatima, Teebs, Prefuse 73, Beat Spacek and the Operative crew promising to be an unforgettable night, I was expecting the assault to cost me my shoes.
After last year’s Espionage offensive on Melbourne Music Week I had to dry my misguided high heels out of a window at the office I worked in the next morning. In a flooded Kubik venue Gaslamp Killer’s energy and hair raged until the early hours with the brave ticket holders raving in ponchos surrounded by glowing cubes of water set off in time to the music… it was incredible. But upon entering the dilapidated office block that was temporarily filled with art installations and gourmet burgers, with a slight chance of rain, the kaleidoscopically lighted WHERE?HOUSE lived up to all expectations. Missing a bit of roof and with its sheer raw size, it was a throw back to the illegal warehouse parties of the 80’s and 90’s. All that was missing was breaking in through a window rather than being ID’ed by polite bouncers.
While at 6pm it was beaming sunshine and cider for the rest of Melbourne inside the transformed Argus Building it was 2am around the clock. Dark, dank and starting off with Florida-born Guillermo Scott Herron, known amongst other aliases as Prefuse 73 was playing all things weird and Warp Records, before jetting off early to play at Land of Giants in Sydney. After already playing at NSW-border based Strawberry Fields the night before, his energetic and off-kilter music must keep him going as much as his crowds.
Local Operatives Nam and Ed Fisher kept the crowd buzzing until the multi-talented artist Mtendere Mandowa, known as Teebs, stepped up to the decks. A painter, skater and signed to Brainfeeder, he’s the modern day triple-threat-renaissance-man whose stunningly beautiful street art is now on display in Greville Street in Prahran. Mixing his varied collection of samples with his own music that embodies his spiralling artwork, he started off with a nod to Flying Lotus by slowing down the Nikki Randa featured track Getting There and then submerging Bullion’s Are You The One? into a jazz-track that I can’t even name, layered over a driving hip-hop bounce. Rinsing out his set to Kendrick Lamar’s Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, he hit the mic to call it the album of the year.
Operatives founder Jerry Poon, the beat-welding JPS partied alongside Teebs for a moment before testing out the bass in the massive hall of the WHERE?HOUSE. His eclectic set saw to it that even the conga-line queue to the bar was partying. Next was Steve Beat Spacek who once again was playing in Bond-villain shades, a combination of UK funky timed with perfect percussion.
At this point I took a break from the dance floor to explore the monstrous building. With suspended stairways and first aid tents the venue had a feeling of a beautiful, rotted decadence. In the smoker’s section cigarettes barley disguised an underlying smell of weed, alongside a lot of the Operatives’ regular crowd I took a moment to reel in the music-loving community we are lucky enough to envelope in Melbourne, and how much passion must go into organising a event on this sheer scale, then I put my cigarette out on already trashed shoes and returned to the party.
Eglo Record’s director and one of London’s finest DJs, Alexander Nut, had the crowd soaked in samba beats and fused his set into dubstep and dancehall and back, before being joined by soul-singer Fatima who danced across the stage wearing black adorned by a bright pink scrunchy and gold earrings, she sand her track produced by Dam-Funk, Warm Eyes with a shiveringly soulful voice. With Alex Nut spinning Floating Point’s track Mind the crowd soared on its infectious rhythm as fragmented lights were projected around the stage that somehow captured each darting beat. It was one of those musical moments that give you goosebumps, even when you’ve been dancing for hours.
At midnight, Floating Points hit the stage with a massive crate of vinyl. Playing a set that captured the essence of his inspirations – from African field recordings to Brazilian records to 70’s jazz band The Pharaohs to sounds of the London Underground, Sam Shepherd looked completed at ease switching between them. A classically trained piano player and perhaps a genius scientist, his track choices were timed by a perfectionist’s beat. Definitely one of the most artful set’s I’ve ever seen live featuring the whole of the nine minute long ARP3, the epic from his latest EP Shadows. The track is hard to capture, with the stripped back warm synth lines and drum beats echoes, it is a sound that you sink into. Smouldering basslines and jazz melodies lit up the room despite the flickering illumination and while the set grew darker and moodier Floating Points finished on an all smiling high to a seriously elusive record of 70’s Brazilian singer Célia – Para Lennon e McCartney.
Filing out of the building in a crowd of hundreds, I looked down on the raw concrete floor, covered with mud, wristbands and cigarette butts – this year’s shoes better keep going for the after party.