Electric Fields and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall, Thursday July 7, 2022.
All images by Laura Manariti.

As Electric Fields, vocalist Zaachariaha Fielding and keys player/producer Michael Ross create the kind of soul-combing electro-pop which becomes a cloudbusting phenomenon with the might of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (led by the adroit hand of conductor Aaron Wyatt) behind it. It seems these brothers-in-arms can clasp the stars and hand them straight down to us.

At this special NAIDOC Week performance at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, Fielding is a bare-foot vision in a silver lamé one-shouldered dress and his signature hair-wrap. And though the eastern Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara musician (and accomplished visual artist) is the star of this presentation – singing in Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and English, and dedicating songs “to all the beautiful women here tonight, and all of the beautiful men… that come from women” – there truly couldn’t be anyone next to him except Ross, a man so visibly thrilled and present that he’s practically vibrating.

Electric Fields at Hamer Hall, with conductor Aaron Wyatt and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Moving through their small but muscular catalogue of tracks – from 2016 EP Inma, their singles of last year Gold Energy and Must be Love (with Tsuba) and more – the entire orchestra receives a work-out with gorgeous solos from trumpet and violin, plus heroes on timpani and climactic cymbal.

We eventually come to 2019 single Glorious, a collab with Blue Mountains electro duo Hermitude. The breath of Fielding’s vocals and the breath of the brass players – not just their notes, but their actual respiration – join into a stunning rhythm of inhalation and exhalation, sprinkled with glockenspiel and shivering strings. The track reaches Who Am I? levels of drama, Ross basking in this undulating sonic ocean.

Fielding builds Ornament into layered in-language textures, and Ross’s deep piano chords are a concurrent kite and anchor. We’re introduced to Fielding’s brother and two sisters, who have travelled from their home in NT to perform a selection of backing vocals tonight.

During the band’s rendition of From Little Things Big Things Grow – which appears on the 2020 tribute to Indigenous musician and Oz icon Kev Carmody’s songs, Cannot Buy My Soul – Fielding’s in-language second verse is scintillating, while the English sections make us hear Vincent Lingiari’s story anew – and on the final “grow”, the orchestra swells in massive, interstellar unison, violins weeping.

When a punter yells out “How are you feeling?”, Fielding immediately responds with, “I’m feeling ‘pukulpa’”, encouraging us to repeat the word. “You just said you’re feeling happy in one of Australia’s oldest languages,” he grins, and then panthers across the stage, flinging his lamé around with feline precision as this industrial-electro belter (Pukulpa) unfolds.

The song that should’ve earned the pair a spot representing Australia at Eurovision – 2019’s 2000 and Whatever – begins with magnificent pizzicato strings, the horns rising dangerously. Fielding’s yelps are mirrored by the crowd, and Ross lunges down so he’s on eye-level with his keys, like a chef inspecting a dish. Primal screams erupt from the audience spontaneously, as the spirit strikes.

For recent single Catastrophe, the brass section again prove they provide a gravitas that synth alone cannot, and Fielding’s voice is like a complete Greek tragedy chorus all on its own. Upon concluding this thumping gem, Fielding and Ross share a private moment of triumph when the latter subtly blows a kiss to the former across the stage.

As the opening chords of Don’t You Worry soar through the Hall, the audience finally can’t take this sitting jag any longer, and suddenly we’re at church; at its conclusion, Fielding requests that we remain standing for the final number, “even though it’s not a dancing song”. As Wyatt conducts the orchestra, we can see the complexity of this manikay made visually manifest: he moves between 4/4, 3/4 and 2/4, sometimes emphasising each singular beat of a bar. It feels as if we’re honouring a new national anthem as we sway to this glittering piece.

Our encore is Don’t You Worry, which we’re more than elated to writhe around to for the second time in one night. Everyone appears to have taken Fielding’s final comments to heart: “If you came here with any worries, you need to dismiss them. Now, are you ready to dance?”

Two years ago on a perfectly sticky afternoon in Fortitude Valley, my colleague Bryget Chrisfield and I believed we’d done the impossible: we had seen the best band present at BIGSOUND, on the first day, at our first showcase, as the first act. That band was Electric Fields, and in the years since that performance, this pair of uncannily aligned musicians have leapt forward in lock-step. When the album finally drops, you can be assured: it’s gonna be utterly scene-transforming.

The Melbourne Arts Centre’s NAIDOC program includes upcoming shows with Felix Riebl’s Spinifex Gum; get all the details here.