Café Glocksee, Hannover/Germany, 6/23/01, Concert Review

Love it or hate it, the Australian didjeridu has spread beyond the boundaries of its Aboriginal roots and generated maximum interest from around the globe. Despite the instruments current wave of popularity however, few people outside Aboriginal culture have been able to grasp the tremendous breadth of innovative and complex playing techniques developed by indigenous musicians over tens of thousands of years.

In the hands of the uninformed, non-musical, or downright ‘didj-dodgey’, the previously exotic instrument and icon of outback Australia has garnered a somewhat controversial reputation abroad.
Until recently, my own impressions of the didj, formed during many years of globetrotting, were somewhat negative. Visions of self-appointed 'guru-healers' dribbling predictable new-age mutterings, or even more intolerable, the dis-rhythmic monotone and strained grunting presented as street music by 'ferals' and 'crusties', (who should know better than to annoy a hung-over yours truly) tended to spring to mind.
Flying in the face of such cliche (or more to the point, hacking it to death with the zealous passion of a hot-blooded serial killer) is Aussie didjeridu player Phil Conyngham. For over a decade he has continued his musical crusade with the aim of bringing the didj to international prominence, not merely as a novelty or ethnic curiosity, but as an essential component of contemporary music. Collaborating on various projects around the world, Conyngham has helped establish the didj as both an experimental and driving force in electronic club-land, as well as establishing its versatility amidst the usually smug world of acoustic virtuoso instrumentalists.

I managed to catch one of Phil's concerts, advertised in the gig guide as "Music for Didjeridu, Irish Horn and Sound System", while on a recent visit to Germany. Persuaded by my friends to accompany them and see some "gut" Australian music (as if perhaps I didn't get enough back home in Melbourne), I was hauled off to Cafe Glocksee located in downtown Hannover.
Periodically hosting several antipodean artists of renowned cult status (Hugo Race and 'Foetus' a.k.a. Jim Thirwell were also scheduled to play there), the former tram depot contains several bars and a main concert area, all exuding a definite bohemian vibe.

Staring at what appeared to be space-ship junk sculptures suspended above the audience and savouring yet another German beer, I became aware of the lights dimming, music getting louder, and finally the man himself hittin' the stage. Beginning with some very focused solo instrumental pieces, Conyngham was quick to establish his formidable skills in several pumping tunes which at times made me forget that only one person was up there. Earlier in the evening, I had tuned in to a radio interview held with Phil during which he announced "to expect the unexpected". I realised now that he wasn't kidding.
Switching to play an instrument called 'Dord Ard' (from the Irish Bronze Age, dating around 800 BC), a rather stunning interplay of overtone melody and harmonics emerged morphing into hard layered driving rhythms. The tune then cross-faded into 'acoustic-electronic frequency generating' mayhem as the 'Almighty' sound System added dub-wise attitude that threatened to lift the roof.

Typically cool Glocksee punters were now in Phil's hands as he went into overdrive, manually programming and fading loops on an ancient Casio drum machine whilst somehow managing to play infectious rhythms on the didj that kept everyone moving.The sheer variety of sounds that he achieved on his arsenal of didjes had us all gob-smacked for the duration of the gig. The audience heaved and twisted to the Philth's pounding grooves that were delivered to a now sweaty, beer soaked dance-floor.
Behind the high energy and intensity of his music, Conyngham presents a rather a laid back and friendly demeanour. Armed with a wit drier than the Simpson Desert, he has fun with his European fans and relates to them as casually as if they were a bunch of mates at a typical Aussie backyard 'barby'.
When he announced the last number for the evening I found it hard to believe, glancing at my mobile, that nearly two hours had elapsed. After building up to a work-out of aural pyrotechnics, Phil produced his final hat trick; a return to a purer didj sound (albeit at high volume), featuring polyrhythmic virtuosity that I would have thought unachievable on a solo wind instrument.

Leaving the stage briefly to "have a quick breather and do the encore shit", a wringing wet and visibly exhausted Philth dragged himself back to an enraptured audience that wanted to go on partying. Slamming into the noisy 'Didj 'n bass' tune Surfin', featuring a distorted fully rockin' didj sound, he sent the punters mental. As they screamed, stomped, and clapped for more, it was time for the 'Almighty Sound System' to finish the show with some live sampling madness. After creating a bunch of sound bytes, Conyngham unexpectedly jumped down from the stage and crossed through the audience to reach the mixing desk. The loops still blasting from the PA were tweaked to build a syncopated crescendo and a veritable wall of sound, as he joined his sound engineer 'Almighty' behind a towering column of cables and black boxes.
A remarkable transition from stage to studio, from acoustic to electronic had been made...and all in the funkiest way possible.

Later as we fell out of the Glocksee, I asked my companions to comment on the gig: "He's a freak..." "He really rocked zee house!"


Concert 23.06.01
Cafe Glocksee
Glocksee Str 35.
30169 Hannover
www.cafe-glocksee.de

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