As we queue in the bottom level of Geddes Lane Ballroom awaiting admission to the upstairs bandroom, a stripper pole and this venue’s general bordello vibes get us in the mood for the Melbourne launch of HTRK’s fourth album, Venus In Leo (out Aug 30 via Mistletone).
Upstairs, Moopie mans the decks, supplying stylish, idiosyncratic, skittish beats to warm up this hip crowd that appears to be mainly comprised of university students (probably Arts majors). You know that coolsie fashion label P.A.M.? We spy their threads on a few bods this evening.
The stage is decorated with three aluminium ladders: one positioned at the end of the catwalk – decorated with vases of kale and broken roses – and the other two placed on either side of the stage, one draped with chains and the other decorated with empty wine bottles placed artistically on its steps.
Punters gradually edge closer to the front of the stage as HTRK’s showtime approaches. Just after 11pm, smoke machines puff a thick blanket of fog out onto the stage. Jonnine Standish materialises, cradling a cup with the teabag’s paper label dangling over the side while Nigel Yang sets up behind his console. Audience members shush those who continue to chat. We envy Standish’s effortless style, especially her loose-fitting long black pants tucked into knee-high white sports socks with black stripes around the calf, and white slip-on plimsolls. Lighting design utilises a pastel colour palette, with peach and lilac washes filtering through the smoke and scattered fluorescent straight tubes of pale pink highlighting specific sections of the stage.
Essentially dealing subtle shifts in mood, HTRK live are utterly captivating. From their very first note, this duo hypnotises all assembled. Crisp instrumental flourishes such as wood block percussion pop from these arrangements, as Yang demonstrates his guitar wizardry over electronic beats. Standish croons in somnambulant fashion.
The tragic loss of their bassist Sean Stewart (who died by suicide) and close friend/collaborator Rowland S Howard – Standish features in Howard’s 2009 track (I Know A Girl Called) Jonny – cast a heavy shadow over HTRK. Experiencing this outfit’s remaining two members performing live allows us to get completely lost in thought, processing our own long-forgotten hurt feelings and emotional turmoil.
The duo’s latest single New Year’s Day features conversational guitar lines that prop up Standish’s lyrical reflections. The woozy chorus throughout Mentions (also on their upcoming record), which addresses the vacuous nature social media, offsets Yang’s effervescent guitar melodies – it’s as if this instrument provides comfort for the song’s protagonist. Set highlight Skinny is laidback and sexy, Standish droning a string of questions (“What you think about breakup?/ What you think about dubstep?”) over Yang’s scattershot distorted riffs.
HTRK supply meditative soundscapes with Portishead gravitas (see: You Know How To Make Me Happy). Time seems suspended while they play. There’s no banter – that would break the spell.
And HTRK are way too cool for encores, which we totally respect.
Venus In Leo by HTRK is out August 30 via Mistletone.