Counting Chaos: Doing Math at BluJaz
E = Music . Chaos2
It is the evening of 20th Jan, in a small comfortable space on the third level of BluJaz Cafe. It is dimly lit with warm lights. Ottoman chandeliers hang from the ceiling. A small crowd has formed; the air buzzes with their devotion to the coming music. Byzantium angels decorate the walls. They wait eagerly with the audience for the first sound of the snares. The stage is a shrine charged with mathematical energy. But for now, the instruments set up.
Tonight, LivePod has organised for three math rock acts to perform under the banner of Crossing Seas. For the uninitiated, math rock has its songs infused with a touch of chaos and mathematics, as each song feels like an ordered movement of segmented complex equations. As its name suggests, the formulaic structure of the music is the birth child of arithmetic and rock, and, judging by the performance of the three bands of the night, was gleefully experimented and wantonly revelled in.
Local band Sphaeras kicked off the night with sweet mellow licks from their opening number, “Människa”. The band quickly gains momentum and explodes in force, forming a mass of energy that drives through Same Decaying Matter and Albert Fish. This energy soon proves to be difficult to control as the band’s sounds clash with each other in dissonance and the drums at times overpower everything else.
The band’s musical direction is one of a structural mess aimed at hitting the crowd with unrelenting strength. This, they achieve well, as guitars twine together and the bass fingers fret about, members of the crowd find themselves head-banging to the time signature.
Great use of delay and feedback effects, which adds to the lingering ringing in the ears after every song, alongside drummer Zakhran’s aggression at the cymbals makes damn sure that you’re left shell-shocked but pumped for the next hit.
After given time to recover from what we were slammed with, three-man-band NAO took the stage. This band is all about juxtaposition, with the irony of politically-charged titles and lyricless songs; their burlesque licks are contrasted against noir moments to create complex ideological songs.
With groovy bass lines and critical guitars, NAO’s “Goodbye Najib” is self aware of its satirical quality. What begins like an invitation to a circus act quickly gives way to aggressive staccato bass lines that attack its comicality.
“Pink Politician” juxtaposes a siesta sounding bass line with serious subject matter and blurs the line between the two, muddling satire and truth. Though devoid of lyrics, one still gets the sense that the band is making a strong ideological statement.
Overall, the marching cadence of the band’s music conscripts you into a position of dilemma. To treat their songs as mere farce would do them grave injustice. To take them too seriously however is itself a comic endeavour.
NAO ends their act with a poignant note, announcing their hiatus. We sure are waiting for their next equation as at the end of “I Had Enough Time To Be Disappointed Again”, one is left dazed in awe after witnessing the band and their superb technical handling of equipment.
The last act of the evening, Elephant Gym, took to the stage to be greeted by an anticipating and pumped up crowd.
Elephant Gym’s music is mellowness imbued with elephantine brawn. Smooth groove licks bloom into full-blown rock and Tif Chang’s bob cut swishes side to side. The bass is played with gusto and the other instruments seek to create an envelope to complement the complex and full sound.
Finger starts out with bass notes that are flavoured with lightly sprinkled drums and a constant rhythm from the electric guitar. The crowd soon finds itself head-banging in unison as the song moves into an explosion of movement.
Tonight, the band introduced the crowd to 新歌 (“New Song”), a new song that has not been released in their previous albums. It is an unmistakably Elephant Gym number, an ongoing groove machine that smoothly melts and pans out.
Bassist Tif Chang is not shy about her imperfect worded sentences as she entertains the audience in between songs by making quips about her brother’s bachelorhood. Humour = doing it right.
We were pleasantly surprised when Enno of Chocolate Tiger joined the band as guest singer for a couple of numbers, adding a soulful layer to the band’s sound, particularly in the band’s cover of 小事 (“Little Things”), a popular Taiwanese song with folk elements.
Alas, it may also be one of the last performances for the night’s last act, as guitarist Tell Chang will soon replace his guitar with a rifle to serve his national service in the Taiwanese military.
For an evening, three bands attacked their instruments and worked on complex equations of mathematical import. Heads were banged, cheers were hollered and as we slowly filed out of the cafe into the night, we perhaps understood calculus a little better.
Featured image courtesy of Donald Soh