BORIS x MERZBOW at the melbourne art centre 29/02/2020
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Merzbow has been no stranger to Australia of late. His three tours in as many years including 2019’s tour of Melbourne and Sydney, 2018’s headline slot of Dark Mofo’s Borderlands event and now his collaboration with Boris is a trajectory that is in no way becoming tired. While Boris’s visits have been less recent, their 2012 tour, 2013 Dark Mofo performance and 2017 Pink tour still remain recent enough memories for some of us to remember. But even with the probable scarcity of uninitiated in attendance, this event was incapable of having its significance diminished.
Under the meticulous, curatorial direction of Lawrence English, the noticeable trend of Merzbow’s pairing with ambient electronica was again employed with Corin’s opening performance. The experimental synth project powered through waves of ambience which fervently morphed into bass heavy throbs and bumps. At times relaxing, but having a high sense of danceability at others, the entire journey was aided by an enthralling visual narrative. Disused historical sites, Blade Runner esque cityscapes and a faux computer meltdown were restless in their commanding of attention away from the impressive synth work and sounds of the performance. While lost in the rolling visuals, one can’t help but be redirected back to Brian Eno’s quote on ambient music that “it should be as interesting as it is ignorable”. The ascendency and sensory overload of Corin’s sounds and visuals leaving Eno’s benchmark feeling within an arm’s reach.
If Corin’s mid-level volume aroused concerns over the Arts Centre’s capacity for maximum volume, this was quickly quelled with Boris’s first note. Boris and Merzbow’s collaborations, both with each other and further afield, are well-documented and relatively widely toured. Though aside from Boris’s collaborative tour with Sunn O))) in 2007 for Altar, Australia has, unsurprisingly, been left out of the rotation, with the lion’s share going to Japan and Europe. With this slightly inflated importance of the collaboration, both acts were eager to peacock their sonic range, with the opening functioning as a sonic display of tectonic power. As Merzbow’s utterly sharp, yet sustained sirens of noise layered itself against Boris’s thick, droning doom, the two spilled forth volume at near equal levels for one of the only times of the night.
Oversized magnitudes of sound continued, maintaining its density into Boris-esque shoegaze territory. As vocals found their way into the set, it was apparent from early on that Takeshi was keeping it clean for the evening, with no intention to reach the growls and manic-freakouts of say, Amplifier Workshop. Sharing vocal duties across the band, Atsuo’s brief cameo from behind the drum kit enjoyed a much less measured, more neurotic presence than Takeshi’s or Wata’s clean, ethereal track.
With dynamism at the core of Boris’s values, ebb and flow is a natural component of the Boris experience, with the only surprise being the evening’s emphasis on the ebb. The middle section’s period of lighter, more atmospheric tracks being interrupted by the dirty sludge cover of Boris, the Melvins's track to which the band are of course named after. The incredibly obvious (though admittedly unexpected) inclusion of the long, drawn out swamp of a track was not only a highlight, but gave Merzbow more space to expand on his gargling static that had been more prone to dipping in and out throughout the set’s quieter moments.
Despite his artistic independence and fierce stoicism, Masami Akita also strikes as being refreshingly free from ego. As appreciated as this nonchalant demeanour is, his pacifistic tendency can translate into his input being less-pronounced with certain collaborations (Full Of Hell + Merzbow being one such example). As this set lent large sections of itself toward Boris’s more atmospheric work, Merzbow’s usually uncompromising sound wasn’t given the space necessary to be quite so. But despite murmurings to the contrary, this kind of an approach is totally OK and completely logical. Merzbow’s table of pedals and junk guitar is unable to command centre stage against a full band, and importantly, doesn’t need to (I'd imagine Merzbow isn't phased about handing the limelight over either). Missing the multi-layered airless void of a typical full analog solo performance, Merzbow instead provided a fundamental layering against the already textured rumbles and atmospheres of Boris, all with no huge compromise to his synonymous volume.
This unique ability of noise-driven elevation was on full display for the encore of Pink and Farewell. The wandering, melancholic opening of Farewell being treated to streams of high pitched, machine like squeals. Merzbow’s surging noise not being distracting, but being, dare I say it, harmonising with the track’s moving shoegaze aesthetic. Eagerly accepting Atsuo’s invitation to stand for the encore, the audience enjoyed a small sense of the ‘rock ’n roll abandon’ that gets lost in a seated venue, and left most people content with the sonic purge and indisputable force of these two titans of sound.