Fascinator is the alter ego and latest of (Children Collide frontman) Johnny Mackay's side projects. A recent relocation from Melbourne to New York, following the simultaneous release of Children Collide's third album and the departure of their longest-serving drummer, has indeed yielded some strange fruit. Teamed with one of the members of Brisbane slacker punk band Dune Rats, Mackay has turned up with a bizarrely psychedelic collection of jungle drum and bass tracks. Complete with weird outfits, vocal manipulation tools and guitar noodling, Fascinator's opening set was the strangest performance I have seen all year. Mackay himself stood resplendent in a long gold wizard robe (think 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' meets the Orient), warbling from beneath a black cap sporting large googly eyes and a veil, while his sonic concoctions throbbed around him. An additional cohort of oddly-dressed companions littered the stage in various loose tableaus, barely twitching between sporadic dance breaks and flashy light-up hoola-hoop displays. If all this sounds incongruous, the greatest shock was that it actually worked. While I can imagine strained reactions from many, there was a bizarre delight to be found here, and I happily walked away at the end of the night with a new LP and a googly-eyed hat of my own.
One of the most intriguing and addictive artists I have come across in a while, Kirin J Callinan's debut record 'Embracism' has been a 2013 standout release. Following on from Fascinator's trippy synth-fest, Callinan emerged tall, lean and dressed like he should be running a jazzercise class in sleeveless black shirt and baggy Adidas tracksuit pants tucked into jelly sandals and socks. He even donned a tin foil skirt at one point that make for some effective but frequently blinding lighting situations. Attire aside, this guy meant business. Deafeningly loud and with a palette of sonic textures that were as thrilling as they were abrasive, Callinan tore through a set of choice cuts from 'Embracism' to a slowly massing crowd (Midnight Juggernauts had the venue sold out). Opening with 'Halo' and the record's infectious title track, Callinan proved a magnetic performer. Wielding his guitar above a plethora of loopers and delay pedals like a weapon, he hunched over the microphone to deliver his snarling twisted sermons amidst thundering industrial electronica. It was hard to take your eyes off him. Although Callinan often appears as a solo performer, tonight's accompaniment sported matching turtlenecks with the apparently uniform jelly sandals, and did their best nonchalant-80s-backing-band impressions. It's clear that Callinan is capable of appearing in a number of guises and incarnations while maintaining a powerful musical identity and signature sound that colours and enriches whatever he touches. This can be evidenced notably through his work with Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders on the stunning 2011 LP 'Hurtsville'. Rather like the late Roland S Howard, Callinan represents an important breed of Australian performer and should be recognised for his unique, daring and DIY approach to music.
The whole evening developed in a distinctly Boosh-like direction and by the time the headliners appeared at ten past eleven, I was having so much fun that it didn't really matter what happened. Kirin J Callinan and Fascinator are certainly not for everyone, but they represent an enticing alternative to the mainstream alternative. Highly recommended if you're after something a little different or if you still secretly hope the 80s never died.