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ESSENDON AIRPORT’s Musical Concorde Takes off at Hope St Radio

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What looks like the heritage building of the Collingwood Technical School actually houses a sprawling artist district neatly tucked away on Johnston Street. Entering the towering structure at an early evening hour led to a courtyard with plenty of bustling activity, especially for a weeknight, was how I discovered the Collingwood Yards—repurposed from the former tech school to foster cultural and artistic production. Outdoor fire pits warmed up aged concertgoers, some blokes were having a ciggy after clocking off from the neighbouring record store next to Hope St Radio (a bar and radio station with its walls covered in scribbles alluding to creative liberty), which is where Essendon Airport, the piloting stars of the night, were ready for take-off.

 

Essendon Airport are an important but overlooked group in the history of Melbourne’s rock music scene. Forming in 1978, founding members David Chesworth (keys) and Robert Goodge (guitar) created music deliberately different to the polished, commercialised rock dominating the airwaves and engaged in more experimental genres, such as the no wave scene emerging in New York. During their initial five-year tenure with several lineup changes, they created a distinct oeuvre covering post-punk, minimal wave and avant-garde funk across their EPs and sole studio album, 1982’s Palimpsest, until disbanding in 1983. Since the 2000s, there has been a renewed interest in the group, leading to their reformation and sporadic touring, as is evident with their recent stint at Hope St Radio this past Wednesday 19 June. Returning with a five-piece lineup that has never played before (Paul Fletcher on electronic percussion, Barbara Hogarth on bass and Graham Lee on pedal steel) and openers Bridget Small (DJ) and Alexander Garsden, the night was wondrously enjoyable.

Small played a variety of esoteric and alternative tunes to ease us into the artsy atmosphere until Garsden brought the multicoloured venue to dead silence with his folky guitar improvisation. With his strings ringing off-kilter (but stunningly so), Garsden’s propulsive fingerpicking was a breathtaking and appropriate choice to prepare listeners’ attentive ears for Essendon Airport’s entrancing voyage. The band soon made their way to the stage and what ensued was a walkthrough of their softer pastoral material: songs from 1980’s minimalist Sonic Investigations of the Trivial EP.

 

What first drew me to Essendon Airport was their funky, post-punk sound that is their most revered, like the sax-laden primitive dance-punk of ‘I Feel a Song Coming On’ which has clocked up over 40,000 streams on Spotify. The Instagram account Beautiful Noise documents and celebrates Melbourne’s local gig posters and bands themselves—Essendon Airport’s flyer, designed by Paul Fletcher, appeared in my feed playing ‘I Feel a Song Coming On’ and my interest was immediately piqued. You can then imagine my astonishment after discovering it was over 40 years old and not a new song. After hearing it, I had to catch them live and bring my friends along too, of course.

So, obviously, none of that spontaneous, loose art punk was heard. In-between songs, Chesworth mentioned that the band’s original saxophonist, Ian Cox, gracefully hung up his sax—the glaring omission of the instrument should’ve made it clear that we were in for something different. The crowd seemed tame until a heckler shouted “Boring!” after the first song, to which Chesworth cheekily quipped, “That was the original intention.”

 

The night proved to be beautifully tranquil and the entire audience was absorbed by the simple, repetitive rhythms that carefully unfolded, filling up Hope St’s interior. Watching the band engage with serene minimalistic music in real time was extremely centring; the threat of any external stressors dissolved as they played. It became all the more thrilling when Chesworth hinted at new material: New songs with titles ‘Malibu’ and ‘Concord’—the latter a tongue-in-cheek tribute to George Benson’s label—showcase the band being eager to keep their creative aircraft airborne.

 

“We come from the time of the fade-out,” Chesworth also noted as these long, calming instrumentals petered out very gradually. The sparse electronic harmonies on display by much of the original lineup were such a joy to witness in a venue so fervently passionate for the arts. Even my friends, similarly surprised by the bare sound palette, were greatly satisfied.

 

The band has since hinted at their funky material making a full return to the stage, so keep your eyes peeled for when and where they play next because the prolific Essendon Airport are not to be missed.

 

 

You can keep up to date with all things Essendon Airport over on their Instagram.

 
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