MELBOURNE SYNTH FESTIVAL 2018
Report: Jason Hearn
Traditionally the voice of those wielding ‘real instruments’ as their axe, Australian Musician (in association with the Australian Music Association), hosted the first instalment of the Melbourne Synth Festival providing a fitting finale to Melbourne Music Week.
Over three days, Melbourne’s synth alumni descended upon Meat Market, curating a safe-space for those subscribing to the cult of synthesis. Musicians of diverse persuasions buzzed around a cornucopia of exhibitor stands, tutorial workshops and live performances. Being a traditionally community-driven group, enthusiasts also embraced the social opportunity to shoot the breeze with fellow devotees, free to passionately discuss the merits of their latest Eurorack addition without fear of judgement or blank stares. The event promised to be an opportunity to tweak-n-prod the latest and greatest in synthesisers and have some hands-on time with legendary vintage synths and it certainly delivered.
The exhibitor hall bristled with an immense display of the latest and greatest of today’s synths and drum machines along with a few surprise blasts from the past (such as the rarely seen Yamaha DX1). Rather than the usual trade-show domination by the ‘holy trio’ of mainstream synths, it was refreshing to see equal-footing offered to other key players such as Waldorf, Novation, Clavia, Dave Smith Instruments, Elektron, Arturia, Buchla, Pittsburg, among others. Waldorf’s Quantum in particular seemed to engage visitors for extended periods as did Chris Stellar’s in-depth workshops putting the unit through its paces in the context of exploring different synthesis types.
Without a doubt, the Moog One was the star of the show. Having an opportunity for one-on-one time with this premium synthesiser was a highlight of my visit equalled only by Ehsan Gelsi’s electrifying workshops and demo performances on the unit which had even the most jaded of tongues talking. Throwing convention to the wind, David Haberfeld’s (aka Honeysmack) pure-hardware performances of improvised techno were particularly spectacular! Within minutes, he dispelled the myth that live performances with modular synths are unstructured soundscape journeys.
While synthesizers and drum machines were the focus, paying homage to the ubiquitous link between synths and dance music, top-tier DJ brands were well represented. For those seeking a taste of the top-end, Pioneer’s high-end Tour series was on display, complete with legendary DJ and long-term Pioneer collaborator, Phil K, on hand for personalised walkthroughs. For the Traktor faithful, the latest generation of motorised-platter equipped controllers were also available for hands-on evaluation.
Adjacent to Meat Market, the highly-acclaimed MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio), rolled out the welcome-mat to non-members, running tours for attendees that provided a hands-on opportunity to explore their vast inventory of vintage synthesisers.
Although foot traffic was quiet at times, there was a undeniable excitement from those whom attended and I’ve no doubt traffic will grow to have the attendance of more established events such as the Guitar Show in years to come. For those thinking YouTube demo videos and online communities provide a substitute for the IRL experience of getting your hands on these instruments and networking with luminaries over a few beers at the neighbouring pub, you are sorely mistaken!