"Performing in the round, [John Maus] stalks the stage, staring us down and releasing the most visceral screams."
Supersense has adventurous crowds moving through the labyrinthine State Theatre complex, backstage corridors leading to mysterious performance spaces seemingly set up for tonight’s line-up. Supersense, billing itself as the Festival Of The Ecstatic, provide a truly eclectic selection of artists, each in search of intense, transcendent moments. The Native Cats' frontwoman Chloe Alison Escott prosaically sums the evening up when she chuckles during their set, "Looks like the rockers and art school kids crashed the Brownlows in here tonight."
We arrive in time to catch Philadelphia’s Moor Mother, aka Camae Ayewa, dealing a post-apocalyptic stream of consciousness. Accompanied by a thin digital industrial noise, Ayewa seethes with rage about the end of the world and Australia’s history as a prison island. Tonight, her spoken word flow seems loose, free form and a touch repetitive. Interestingly Ayewa has also been recruited into the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, where her spoken work seems more focused and loaded with intent.
It’s intense stuff but it’s a three-ring circus in here tonight and on another stage on the other side of the complex, Hobart’s The Native Cats are breaking out their inner-city post-punk. Julian Teakle plays bass like he’s auditioning for The Fall while Alison Escott folds a range of electronic sounds into the mix and imbues her songs with all the conviction she can muster. Meanwhile, New Zealand sister act Purple Pilgrims perform tracks from their latest album Perfumed Earth, a charmer that’s just been released on the legendary Flying Nun label. Their dreamy, synth-heavy cosmic folk - and somewhat elfin appearance - leaves you feeling as though they've just arrived via spaceship from a field of wildflowers in Hobbiton.
Setabuhan seem to have set the main stage on fire with their electrifying take on Indonesian tribal music. Drummers Ramberto Agozalie and Caesarking smash out interlocking beats with exacting precision. They create a muscular groove that puts a modern spin on tribal beats, while Rully Shabara adds vocals and synths to mesmerising effect. Loud and insistent, Setabuhan, complete with an exposition of martial arts, unleash chaos in the room. They are largely the reason why Liars’ Angus Andrew fails to draw a large crowd for his short set of freaky electro-pop.
Elsewhere, Lucy Cliché is hosting a '90s-style rave-up. Cliché delivers a classic acid and techno sound that always feels good. To her credit, Cliché isn’t DJing, or dropping a laptop set. She goes it DAW-less with a small but superb collection of synths that bounce to a solid four-on-the-floor beat.
All of this has been a lot of fun, but everyone, it seems, is here to see John Maus. A technical glitch false-starts the set. Travelling without a band, Maus gets his karaoke on to instrumental backing tracks that could have been playing off his iPhone. Nonetheless, Maus delivers a 'greatest hits' set with astonishing intensity to satisfy fans. It looks like he’s having one major panic attack on stage and simultaneously suffering violent tics that cause him to punch himself in the head and chest. Performing in the round, he stalks the stage, staring us down and releasing the most visceral screams. The crowd scream back and sing along to the distinctive gravel of Maus’ baritone. There is something so incredibly imperfect and human about Maus’ performance. It contrasts with his arrangements of sparkly synths, which shine with simulated ethereal intent like a million stars projected above an '80s electro-pop dancefloor. It's so easy to lose yourself in this music, so it is disappointing that the lads right next to us tried starting a punch-up and started smashing cans of beer on the stage.
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More than just the sum of its parts, Supersense MAXIMAL gets off on some strange vibrations and proves that there are many roads to musical transcendence.