Photos by David Harris
The night was at its best when collaborator Saint Sinner appeared on stage.
When did chillwave become a dirty word? It was always a ridiculous genre descriptor – thanks Hipster Runoff – but the music itself was a staple for mushroom pickers and bong cleaners everywhere and it’s sad the kids are now taking their horse down the old town road instead. In a way it makes sense, the progenitors of the scene, high school friends Toro y Moi and Washed Out don’t bliss out like they used to ten years ago and sadly everyone has tried to forget that summer we spent pretending we were all in a Corona advertisement.
And yet straight out of his Delorean comes the Captain of the High School Water Polo team, Scott Hansen. And you know what? He just seems like the nicest guy ever. Early into his Splendour in the Grass sideshow he recounts to a muted, rain-soaked crowd his memory of driving past The Forum seven years ago on his way to play the Hi-Fi Bar and remarking to his bandmates how beautiful it was and his desire to play there someday. It was a moment of rare interaction from the vintage synth warbler, but one that showed the humbleness of a man who up until this year had mostly spoken to his audience through instrumental compositions.
His fifth album ‘Weather’ was released earlier this month and marks his first release on the lauded English indie label Ninja Tune. Not coincidently it seems, the release also signals a seismic shift in Tycho’s career by ostensibly including vocalist Saint Sinner on five of the album’s eight tracks. This dramatic shift from ambient electronica to pop-dance is a welcome progression, adding breadth to his catalogue and crucially in a live performance environment, adding some humanity to the gilded warm treble of Tycho’s signature sound.
It’s here, sand between our toes, sitting under the palm tree with waves crashing in the distance, Corona in hand, that the band begin their performance with their 2011 commercial breakthrough ‘A Walk’. Though after spending the first 20 minutes traversing earlier material from Past Is Prologue and Awake it was obvious the crowd was growing restless. Playing instrumental music is one thing, playing instrumental music that was released almost a decade ago which probably only connects to a fraction of the audience is another.
Thankfully, just as it seems Hansen and co. are on the verge of losing everyone, he introduces his newfound vocalist Saint Sinner on stage and the dynamic is instantly transformed. Immediately launching into their earworm ‘Japan’, Sinner’s breathy vocals are so perfect you’d swear she was miming, but her ad-libs prove otherwise and it acts as a welcome Australian introduction for the Arizona-native. With this change in pace, Saint Sinner morphs Tycho from a dreamy cousin of Boards of Canada into a boppy brother of Flight Facilities and they’re better for it.
After several slices of dream pop, Saint Sinner departs the stage and Tycho returns to tracks from his ambient trilogy of Dive, Awake and Epoch. And with the crowd snugly fitting in the palm of his hand, he focuses on the latter instalment, which layers synths upon synths like an electronic Explosions In The Sky. ‘Horizon’ glimmers as Rory O’Connor provides a stellar performance on drums and Hansen showcases his own designs as the set backdrop. He’s as talented a visual artist as he is a composer (see album covers) and aesthetically he is heavily influenced by Japanese iconography; with the rising sun a consistent theme.
Predictably and thankfully, Saint Sinner re-appears to close the set with the band. ‘Skate’ is only two weeks old and already has the crowd singing along and seems destined to be a favourite. Hansen again affirms his graciousness to be playing in Australia and leaves the stage staking his claim as the nicest guy in electronic music.
Highlight: ‘Pink & Blue’ is a low-key contender for track of the year.
Lowlight: A badly timed storm just before the gig that dampened spirits literally and figuratively.
Crowd favourite: ‘Epoch’ still could be the best thing they’ve done.