Art by Justine Landis-Hanley.
It’s 8pm on a Wednesday night when we walk up to Darlinghurst’s Oxford Art Factory. For a place that has been named-dropped to me by local Sydney-siders as many times as it has since I’ve moved to this city, I am somewhat perplexed when we are greeted by a line of closed, blacked-out doors. But almost like magic, a line of people drift together and we are suddenly being siphoned, one-by-one, into the dark belly of the space: a warm club, dimly lit by the glow from strings of baby light bulbs. It’s essentially a glorified basement, reminiscent of one I would have spent my many after-school evenings practicing with my punk-fusion lady-band, had my friends and I been able to play guitar or had a basement in the first place. Murals depicting melancholic faces and two leather couches decorate the sunken lounge area, which is lined by a small stage and a bar serving cocktails by the name of ‘The Dude’. There is nowhere to sit, but I guess that is because you aren’t supposed to. It’s the kind of venue for people who want to appreciate their music up close, personal and with sore feet.
As we enter someone stamps my hand with the phrase ‘#hipster’, proving that despite the growing audience of beards, topknots and duffle jackets (oh my) and the deep musk of incense that permeates the air, this place doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is built on purity, not pretense.
It’s the perfect venue for someone like No. 1 Dads, which is probably why the band will be here every night for the rest of the week on their sold out Australian tour. No. 1 Dads is the creative side-project of producer Tom Iansek, who also performs as Tom Scary in ‘Big Scary’. They started out back in 2011 as simply ‘Dads’ before realizing that there was a ‘Dads’ band in America. “We had to make sure that we were the number 1 Dads” Tom Scary explains in between songs during the evening’s set.
Fair enough. Having mixed the sounds of some of our nation’s best fringe artists, including Montgomery, Step-Panther, Banff, and Art of Sleeping, producer Tom Scary has proved he knows how to create beautiful and cohesive sounds, being able to draw out the best from a number of diverse artists. And in a way, that is what he aims to carry forth with No. 1 Dads, pulling talent from various individuals in what really is a collaborative ‘project’ as he calls it (on the band’s website, which is cutely named ‘http://musicyourdadsmake.com’). He pulled Tom Snowdon (of Lowlakes) to create the track ‘Return To’, and his own artist Ainslee for the very popular ‘So Soldier’ and ‘God Can Promise’. His swift skill in inducing collaborative genius is reflected in the fact that their touring album, About Face, was nominated for a J award. Its also reflected in the fact that I can barely move around the mass of people that pressed against each other in the Oxford Art Factory, cheering as Tom plays the starting cord of ‘My Rush. “Welcome to Dadsfest” he announces after the first song comes to a close.
No. 1 Dads delivers a hauntingly beautiful vocal set that pays respect to their carefully curated album of angsty, melancholic pop. Their sound is tender and stumbles around with a hyped-up awkwardness that hovers anticipatorily on the verge of letting go completely. But it doesn’t: It’s careful. It’s controlled. It’s pointed. It’s the kind of music that you want to lose your virginity to.
Each song is delivered with a sunken, relaxed casualness, so you feel more like you actually are in some basement listening to a local band play during a night of stolen drinks and kisses, as opposed to standing in a makeshift mosh pit with a couple of hundred other sweaty bodies sculling down overpriced drinks. But Iansek is hardly negligent in his delivery, and beautifully accompanied by Gus Rigby. His vocals range from soft and warm to piercingly crisp at all the right moments. Dare I say it; he is like the Aussie throwback to Bon Iver, but with a rawer undertone that doesn’t shy away from imperfection. He changes things up a bit from the album, tackling ‘My Rush’ with a newfound grunge energy (aided with emphasis on the electric guitar), and ultimately delivers a level of musicality on each level that just isn’t communicated on the synthesized digital recordings. New layers are introduced throughout the setlist, including the ballad ‘Nominal’, though its unclear whether this was intentional. Rigby pipes up that he hasn’t got the set-list, so he doesn’t know whether he even grabbed the right instrument. “Fuck it, I’m playing this next song with this,” he resolves, slapping the acoustic guitar he is wearing as he does so. The whole thing is just one big jam sesh between bros, and to tell you the truth, it’s pretty satisfying to witness.
Iansek and Rigby prove that they are indeed as kind and awkward as Michael Cera with their between-song banter. Early on in the show, Iansek apologises for starting five-minutes late, saying that at No. 1 Dads they like punctuality, curfews and being in bed at a reasonable hour. Lame dad jokes and muttered inside stories exchange between the two for most of the show as Iansek fiddles with different instruments and setups for each number.
A shout-out must also go to the immensely talented Ainslee and Tom Snowdon for their guest appearances throughout the show. Rigby breaks away from his accompanying role to deliver a melting saxophone solo in Camberwell that cuts through the entire room. It must be said that Tom Snowdon is something of a musical prophet. It’s as if his deep, mulled vocals flows from a place deep inside in the way that it overtakes his whole body. It’s a sight you truly have to see live to be able to appreciate. Sadly, it may be the end of #1 Dads, at least for a while, with Iansac is “putting the project to rest” for the time being as he returns to working on the upcoming Big Scary album.
At its heart, #1 Dads is a team effort. It fuses together talent, aesthetic and experience to create an all-inclusive and immersive show. This is attested to with the response to their closing number: a collaborative cover with Ainslee, Tom Snowdon and Gus Rigby of FKA Twigs ‘Two Weeks’ (which they debuted on Triple J’s ‘Like a Version’ earlier this year). This is what the people came here in the hopes of seeing live. They spend most of the show crying out ‘Twigs’ at broken intervals. But even so, it is rare at a concert for the audience to literally fall into a ‘shhhh’ war with one another in demanding absolute silence to hear the harmonies of a song, but it happens as Snowdon and Ainslee walk back on stage for what we know is the final number.
It delivers. The whole show does.