Sunday, 5 January 2014

Gig Review - Nova Heart

Nova Heart
 Live @ Rics Bar, Brisbane (02/01/14)
Supported by Michelle Xen and The Neon Wild
Words by Jo Michelmore and Nayt Housman
Pics by Nayt Housman

Nayt: One of my faves of the local music scene and fresh off their stint at Woodford, Michelle Xen and The Neon Wild packed the usual punch of bright colourful costumes, high energy antics and sexy dark tunes from the last two EPs including a couple of new ones introduced with the On For You launch show. The perfect support act to get everyone in a dancing mood for the sensory assault we were about to receive from Nova Heart.

Jo: Nayt has probably said all there is to say already about Michelle Xen over the last few months, so I won't say much more, for now. I will however, say this. I've seen Michelle and her Neon Wild play twice now and both times I have been pleasantly surprised, her live performance is full of energy and sparkle, she brings a spirit to her songs that isn't completely realised in her recordings. Her band are a delight to watch, the stage is full of life, costumes, bouncing and juice. 

However, there is a reason the band is called Michelle Xen and The Neon Wild. Michelle is the star and watching her performance I'm impressed and intrigued to see what she can come up with next. To see a Michelle Xen gig is to experience a performance, her costuming, her props all create a feeling, it's like a Lady Gaga gig without the pyrotechnics and big screens. The millions of ideas in Michelle's mind are clearly bubbling away under the surface and under a budget and I can only hope an artist like her and her band get to really show more than just Brisbane audiences what they're capable of, because I'm sure they're capable of so much more fabulous than I've already seen in two tiny venues on the Valley Mall.  

Nayt: 'Nova' - A cataclysmic nuclear explosion in a White Dwarf Star that ejects a cloud of material which causes it to brighten immensely.

'Heart' - The organ at the centre of a circulatory system that contracts and dilates rhythmically to pump blood through a body.

- The emotional centre of human feelings.

'Nova Heart' - A cataclysmic explosion of the emotional heart, causing light and joy to pulse, dilating and contracting rhythmically, exploding from the body through interpretive movement induced by sound.

- A natural high capable of bringing sweaty strangers together in a writhing mass of musical appreciation.

This is Nova Heart.

Jo: If you google Nova Heart, you come up with a bunch of things. Links to band pages, definitions, a song from the 80s that some Canadian band released and an online card game. The band I saw on Thursday night with my fabulous friend and fellow blogger Nayt were nothing like an online card game, unless you play drunk and to a loud rock soundtrack.

So this is my Nova Heart.  

Nayt: A four piece band hailing from Beijing fronted by the enigmatic and charismatic Helen Feng, the diminutive yet adorable and powerful Shi Lu Atom on drums, Wang Hui caressing the guitar and on bass, the trance inducing Bo Xuan. China Witch Disco is their self-described genre and though it may not make sense reading this, once you've experienced them live you will understand why. Subliminal spells are cast and charisma oozes from the pores of this musical coven and bystanders are left bewitched, hypnotised and inevitably turned on.

Jo: There are details about every band, but I'm going to leave those to Nayt, for once you know Nova Heart, the details are fairly unimportant. I proved this on Thursday night by doing something I like to experiment with every now and then, before heading to Ric’s Bar. I said I’d go and knew absolutely nothing about the band I was going to see. I didn’t google, I didn’t ask anyone about them. Nothing. Not a thing. I could have been walking into a punk rock gig, a DJ and a dubstep set, a rapper with a bad attitude, an introspective indie pop gig. How interesting that I walked into none of those things, and all of them at the same time.

Nayt: I wandered into Brisbane's Ric's Bar, on one hand expecting big things from what I'd been told of Nova Heart and on the other hand expecting nothing. I didn't want to be disappointed as I already loved what I'd heard from their repertoire though remained cautiously optimistic. Their set started fairly casually with Shi and Wang busting out a rhythmic instrumental piece. I noticed the crowd’s interest piqued quickly but wondered where Helen was. HA! SHE WAS SITTING NEXT TO ME! I had one of those "omg omg omg there's a somewhat to barely famous person next to me. I hope I get to meet them" moments and felt the fangirl in me rousing.

Jo: Two people made their way onto the stage; one a teeny girl who sat behind the drum kit and the other a guy in a classic rock basic black t-shirt and holding a guitar, while the person I thought was the singer sat next to Nayt in a black shirt, black jeans and white sneakers (an unusual footwear choice, admittedly) and I thought "Great! Punk rock gig!" While it wasn't a punk rock gig, it had the energy that all punk rock gigs should have. Once drummer Shi Lu Atom and guitarist Wang Hui started playing a laid back chilled piece I thought "Great! It's been a long day, chilling could be nice" but it wasn't a laid back gig. It was a combination of the two.

Nayt: With a few flashed smiles and a quick chat to the audience, Helen had joined the two of her band that were with her and kicked into the next tune. A blend of delirious and beautiful synth bubbled from within the inevitable Mac Book (with its glowing apple) at the back of the stage, over the synth was the rumbling and rhythmic guitar that quivered at Wang's finger tips and at the top Feng and Atom battled between velvet lined, resonating vocals and percussion like a robot trapped in a human heart pounding its way out.

Jo: As singer Helen Feng made her way to the stage, she opened by explaining some things. This was not going to be a set of chatter, she said, it would be music, but it would be music she wanted to touch the audience in a way like no other. She wanted people to dance, to move, she wanted all sorts of interpretative moves and all of Ric's to "lose their shit". I'm going to admit something here. This is the point I started trying to figure out how I could make my way to the door without losing my handbag and bothering anyone. Interpretative dance? That wasn't on the list of things I had thought of when I wondered what Nova Heart could be. With little escape, I took the only option possible. A breath in and a sentence; "open heart, open mind".

Nayt: I could feel the excitement, as Helen brimmed with nerve free energy and before we knew it she was in in the midst of the crowd like it was her party and she could do whatever the fuck she wanted. People were dragged on stage, danced interpretively, swooned, writhed, laughed and were generally in awe of what was unfolding before them.

Jo: As Helen started singing, Ric's started moving and the uneasiness I felt at having to witness interpretive dancing disappeared. Interpretive dancing? Nah Helen, you just needed to tell everyone to dance like they normally do at a drunk night at Ric's. There were arms in the air, elbows in faces, arms in other places. There was bouncing and bending and not a lot of rhythm, I felt completely at home observing the intoxication. She dragged people on stage and while the big bald guy was amusing, it was the nerdy (not in a ;hipster cool' way but in a 'nerdy nerd' way), the very, very drunk guy nearby who amused me the most. While I'm not sure he would remember much of what happened the next day, for a couple of minutes there, his world was complete. A smile from ear to ear and a bunch of jealous friends, this was his moment to shine and shine he did.


Nayt: When a singer can perform on the shoulders of a large man with a shiny head and not bugger everything up, then they own my respect. When a performer can command an audience and interact with it recklessly yet symbiotically whilst showering them in the most beautiful trance inducing music they have a fan for life. Feng has a powerful presence, a big silky smooth voice and MAN is she bold. With the magnetism of her fellow band members Nova Heart have something unique that needs to be shared and it's an experience that makes me want to tell their story TO EVERYONE.

Jo: The performance of Nova Heart was one that was so unexpected, I spent so much time being lost in the physicality of it all, the music got lost somewhere in there amongst it all. A little electronic, a little rock, sometimes introverted, sometimes in your face, the talented musicians of this band provided a soundtrack to an experience that I won't be forgetting in a long time. Someone said to Nayt before the gig that their music was nothing compared to their performance, which concerned me, but is probably an accurate description. The performance is nothing without the music, the music is nothing without the performance and it's a delicate balance Nova Heart strike between the two.  

Nayt: They sound something like the Blondie and the Human League on valium at dance party with Kraftwerk. It's a deliciously smooth pop rock sound at its roots but grows into dancey territory as the synth and drum'n'bass elements take hold. They play a delicate balancing act where you could either be chilling out on the back deck in a hammock with their Beautiful Boys EP playing in the background or you could be losing control like a fool on hot coals in some dark indie dance club.

You have a heart right? You've felt your pulse right? Have you ever stared at the stars in awe? Nova Heart feel as natural as your own heart beat but like an out of body experience induced by the breadth of the universe, insanity, drugs, a near death experience or any combination of these; they make the ordinary extraordinary. Like a vampire that sparkles in the sunlight or a teenager who can talk to snakes and has a magic wand these kids from Beijing have the power to inject a little magic into your life. So let them.

Jo: There is a thing about musical performance that is fascinating. Some people stand on a stage and expect the stage to do the work for them, others, like Helen Feng, seem to have an understanding that the stage is just a place and what is done with it is completely up to the performer and sometimes the audience. She writhed, she fell, she danced, she screamed, she made the entire room her stage to a Blondie/Pink Floyd/Lady Gaga/Flaming Lips soundtrack, without costume, without props, without anything but herself and her energy. There's something really special about that and while I entered the room knowing nothing, I left with a smile and a thought that I must know more.

Nayt: Get the 'Beautiful Boys' EP on bandcamp and seek out their next live gig from their facebook page. Disappointment isn't their style. Smashing expectations to pieces is.

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