This piece was originally published on Ripe: http://www.ripemusic.com.au/a-night-at-the-museum-nocturnal-x-our-golden-friend-040518/
Held on the first Friday of every month, Melbourne Museum’s Nocturnal has established itself as a highlight of Melbourne’s live music and cultural scenes. On Friday 4 May, guests were treated to a special offering hosted by the Museum in collaboration with independent record label and management collective Our Golden Friend. The artists on display included Jade Imagine, RVG, Jess Ribeiro and Totally Mild, each of which is managed by Our Golden Friend. The ensemble recently concluded a tour across the United States in March, giving Nocturnal the feel of a happy family reunion which happened to feature some of the most unique and promising talents in Australian music.
Before recapping the performances, it’s worth reflecting on how extraordinary Nocturnal is as an interactive venue and immersive experience. Located in the Edenic Carlton Gardens, the postmodern Melbourne Museum is transformed into an otherworldly “adult playground” with an impressive array of bars and other dining options. The exhibits are open to the public for exploration, including the stunning Vikings: Beyond the Legend, Te Vainui O Pasifika, and Dinosaur Walk. We are encouraged to re-experience the childlike sense of wonderment, awe and discovery that children have when they step into a museum.
Walking through the exhibitions while sipping a glass of red, we marvel at the graceful beauty of a Blue Whale skeleton suspended in mid-air; we are humbled by fully reconstructed dinosaur skeletons from hundreds of millions of years ago; and we are baffled and filled with existential dread at the sight of an Australian moth, which, having spent months gestating in its cocoon, emerges into the full splendour of its adulthood without ‘any functioning mouth parts’, according to one of the Museum’s scientists present at Nocturnal. Denied all culinary pleasures, the moth’s sole purpose in life is to enjoy a brief autumnal period of fornication to reproduce its species (which is more than I can hope for).
With summer in the rear-view mirror and Melburnians now bracing for a bitter winter, cultural offerings such as these have never been more important. They represent little oases of colour, pleasure, and abundance that sustain us through the desert of the working week. Melbourne Museum and Our Golden Friend should be congratulated for this outstanding event.
Keeping the themes of discovery and contemplation of the sublime in mind, patrons flocked to the main stage at 7:30pm to see Melbourne indie staples Jade Imagine take the stage. Resplendent in her pink power suit, black RM Williams boots, and orange polka-dot socks, lead singer Jade McInally (Teeth & Tongue) created an ethereal aesthetic and atmosphere which suited Nocturnal perfectly. She was brilliantly supported by guitarist Tim Harvey, his brother James Harvey on drums, and bassist Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell. With their dream-pop, low-fi and folksy sound evoking The Shins, Simon & Garfunkel, and Sibylle Baier, Jade Imagine were spellbinding to watch live.
As an ensemble, Jade Imagine have gone through many incarnations, but this line up of performers feels just right. Patrons enjoyed much-loved staples such as Walkin’ Around, Stay Awake and Esteem. Each band member also performs as a vocalist, which Jade Imagine used to great effect on stage through harmonization to create a dreamy wall of sound, which feels like they’re wrapping you up in a big hug. Their musical style supports the band’s deeply evocative and poetic lyrics, which sometimes border on magical realism.
One of the most anticipated acts of Nocturnal was RVG at 9pm, led by the sensational frontwoman Romy Vager. Despite Romy battling through sickness, RVG put on an electric and rollicking performance which had the crowd in raptures. Having released their debut album A Quality of Mercy (Our Golden Friend/Island Records) in August 2017, the band has already picked up a suite of awards including four nominations each for The Age Music Victoria Awards and the AIR Music Awards.
One is struck by the sense that RVG is on the brink of a very special career, spearheaded by Romy’s unforgettable and deeply moving voice, which transcends genres and eludes definition. Punters revelled in the power, goth and glam of the performance, which recalled the brooding and melancholic stylings of Joy Division’s Ian Smith. Romy’s lyrics are pared-down, hardboiled and often monosyllabic, which lets the profundity of the words hit you in the chest like a hammer: “I used to love you / but now I don’t / and I don’t feel bad / we’re just not the same any more / we’re just not the same”. *dies*.
The enigmatic Jess Ribeiro took the stage at 10pm. Patrons were enveloped by the smoky texture of lead-singer Jess’s voice, which is informed by the diverse hinterland of her travels and musical background. It’s been a remarkable personal and creative journey for the talented frontwoman, ranging from the outback and tropics of the Northern Territory to the urban wintriness of Melbourne. Along the way Jess has found critical acclaim in with My Little River (2012), which won the ABC Radio National Album of the Year and Best Country Album (AIR). This dusky country feel came through at the Museum, where the band performed tracks such as “Hurry Back to Love”, “Slip The Leash” and “Strange Game”.
Jess Ribeiro is getting ready to release their next record in 2018. Jess has worked with some impressive producers in her career, most notably Mick Harvey (The Bad Seeds) who helped Jess rediscover her muse after a three-year hiatus to produce the critically-acclaimed Kill It Yourself (Barely Dressed Records, 2015). She’s recently spent a lot of time in New Zealand collaborating with producer Ben Edwards, who has worked with other emerging Antipodean sensations such as Marlon Williams, Julia Jacklin, and Aldous Harding. One has the feeling that big things are on the horizon for Jess Ribeiro as a collective, and I also suspect that lead-singer Jess will one day make a brilliant producer herself.
Rounding out the evening was Melbourne lush quartet Totally Mild, who took to the stage at 11pm. Frontwoman Elizabeth Mitchell was sublime and at her charming and magnetic best. Her angelic and versatile voice enchanted the crowd, and one could feel the influence of her choral background coursing through her. She was brilliantly supported by the intricate sounds of guitarist Zachary Schneider, the subtle indie drumming of Dylan Young, and rolling bass of Lehmann Smith. Totally Mild make for disorienting performers. You’re so beguiled by the heady, atmospheric sweetness of their musical stylings and by the band’s extroverted stage presence that you miss the dark and brooding nature of their lyrics, best exemplified by their Christa. I think this makes their music more impactful and compelling, as it enables Mitchell to speak about highly-sensitive topics such as depression and loneliness in subtle, disarming ways.
It was fitting that the night closed with Totally Mild, who released their second record Her in February. It’s a thoughtful and complex meditation on the experience of being a woman in the 21st century, which was a powerful acknowledgement of the fact that Nocturnal was headlined by four bands which each featured creatively confident, highly-intelligent, and empathic frontwomen at a time when the Australian music industry is being criticised for inadequate representation of female artists at music festivals. Speaking with Elizabeth over the phone, she informed me that Her “speaks to the tension between independence and the sense of having unlimited potential as a young woman, but also still being bound by structural oppression and other personal limitations, such as mental health and other social roles”.
Nick Fabbri is a Melbourne-based dilettante, flâneur and occasional writer. You can follow him on Instagram @nafabbri