When a trio of successful and well respected female Melbourne musicians team up for a one off gig as Like Running Water to “deconstruct pop music”, it’s hard not to be intrigued, especially when it’s set within the hushed and carved confines of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall.
A super talented and versatile VCA graduate who has lent her gorgeous vocals to the likes of soul group The Bamboos, electronic duo GL, garage rockers Dorsal Fins and her own solo album, Ella Thompson has already forged a prominent musical career at the tender age of 27. Sui Zhen has a big fan base for her part in tribal rockers No Zu and her solo electro pop act, and emotive pianist Clio Renner has been lauded by Tim Rogers as “a star who’s intelligence runs bewitchingly with her powers”.
Looking so coy and nervous like it’s a first date, the trio present a carefully constructed set of dreamy synth pop – backed by the lush sounds of a string quartet in the first half, then pared back to just the trio with keys and computer programming in the second half. It’s easy to hear the different influences each bring to the music – Thompson her wistful soul, Sui Zhen with a dash of sassy electro and Renner bringing the classical singer/songwriter element.
Adding to the feminine dreaminess are visuals from Prue Stent and Honey Long, local Melbourne artists who in the past year have shot to international fame working in fashion, and it’s easy to see why. Their work celebrates beauty, youth and femininity but also warps it into a surreal, fascinating grotesquery. But none of their usual edginess is present in the video pieces chosen for Like Running Water, it’s just naked female bodies, billowing material and water in various forms which unfortunately just presents as cliched and trite.
Taken from longtime jams between best friends and transposed onto the stage thanks to funding from Melbourne Festival, Like Running Water’s music was sweet and ephemeral but, apart from a few catchy songs, failed to make a lasting impression. And there was no real deconstruction of pop music, as the promo material claimed.
Melbourne Festival’s contemporary music programming has been lacking for years – in a city which has the best live music scene in the country, when are they going to pick up the slack?
2017 Melbourne Festival
Like Running Water
Ella Thompson, Clio Renner and Sui Zhen
Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Hall | Melbourne Recital Centre VIC
Dates: 20 Oct 2017