Live Review: Desire Marea, Debby Friday and Ayebatonye

10 June 2023 | 9:01 am | Guido Farnell

Desire Marea got down and dirty with weird demon-esque vocals and hectic free jazz on 'Banzi'.

Desire Marea at @ RISING

Desire Marea at @ RISING (Credit: Izzie Austin)

The 2023 edition of Melbourne’s RISING festival kicks off this week with a stellar line-up of artists to entice people out from the cosy warmth of their homes and out into this old town’s winter.

Ayebatonye gets the night's proceedings started by deejaying up a set of gentle but insistent house and tech grooves flecked with 303 acid, jazz and ethnic influences. The insistent four-on-the-floor beats have the right amount of thud to warm the crowd up with a nice and easy vibe that just feels good.

Canadian but originally from Nigeria, Debby Friday made her presence felt before she even stepped on stage with a plethora of goods available for sale at the merch stall. Ms Friday cut a striking figure and presented on stage in a lacy white body stocking and white thong bikini, all of which seemed to glow. Her outfit complimented her lithe figure and suggested party girl attitude but Friday and her accompanist on synths unleashed a maelstrom of electro-punk noise on a grand almost industrial scale.

The setlist featured songs off her debut album Good Luck, which came out on Sub Pop earlier this year. Friday rapped and rhymed in a sweet almost innocent voice but with a deranged and fierce intensity about relationships that have mainly gone to hell. The bass was brutal, and Friday seemingly channelled her inner dominatrix to stomp this set out.

She didn’t come across as particularly bitter or angry about anything. Like many artists before her, these songs present a kaleidoscope of lived experiences that reach from the physicality of carnal desire and pleasure to the hurt of broken relationships on the road to finding love which itself can be a spiritual experience. Friday’s lyrics are sex-positive, and she isn’t afraid to go there but at times the application of a veneer of sleaze meant that a couple of pole dancers on either side of the stage would not have been out of place.

Friday’s set is an interesting prelude for a man who treads similar themes in his music and goes by the name of Desire, but their approach could not be any more different.

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Desire Marea looks swashbuckling in a black jacket with over-the-top puffy sleeves, black leather trousers, golden earrings and a huge grin on his face. Despite being enshrouded with copious amounts of smoke machine smoke throughout the set, watching Marea perform removes some of his mystique and what we know of him from those wild music videos not only from his solo career but also time with the FAKA collective. He showcased tunes from his ambitious second album On The Romance of Being which came out on Mute earlier this year. As the title of this album suggests Marea embraces a more voluptuous kind of romance and sensuality in his songs.

Unlike Friday’s more punishing approach, Marea is far more playful. There is great joy in his vocals as he and his band blow delightful bubbles of experimental soul, jazz and kosmische music into our collective faces. Marea seems to be genuinely thrilled to be playing for us. The set started with Ezulwini, which features the chant, "I want to see you levitate". His deep and resonant tones come across as strong and powerfully soulful. He commands the audience’s complete attention. The dreamy Makhukhu soon followed. The crowd may not be completely aware of it, but they are flying with Marea after the first few tunes of this set.

Playing with a five-piece band means that some of the subtle details of what we remember from recorded versions have been swept away, but their power has not been eroded. Most of these songs are sung in his KwaZulu-Natal native tongue, but you do not need to see a translation to understand the heartfelt language of love he’s singing. Fans are treated to the angular jazz vibes of the unreleased If You Know ahead of a spectacular extended version of Tavern Kween that has the room pulsating to the beat. He got down and dirty with weird demon-esque vocals and hectic free jazz on Banzi. 

Disappointingly, the place was not packed out, but this offered Marea’s fans the opportunity to enjoy a very entertaining intimate show.