Hidden among the many exhibitions, art installations, theatre, film, dance and classical music that comprises most of the 2013 Melbourne Festival program was British India’s homecoming show at the Hi Fi Bar. You’d be forgiven for missing it entirely as, on paper, it doesn’t seem to fit with some of the other festival events on offer. However it does speak to the festival’s tremendous diversity that a scruffy garage rock quartet from Melbourne could from somehow sneak in alongside an evening of Wagner.
The four members of British India carry the kind of musicianship that only comes with many years on the road, playing countless shows and festivals and supporting local and international bands (from The Living End to Stereophonics to The Cult.) I first saw British India open for The Living End at the Palace in St. Kilda and then again two years later at the 2008 Big Day Out where they opened the small stage. Since then, the trio from Melbourne have honed their live set and have found time to release four albums (three of which have reached the top 10 in the ARIA charts.) Their latest record is ‘Controller’ which came out in March.
Stylistically, British India are a little difficult to categorize. Live, they’re raw, tight and energetic (evident in ‘Safari,’ ‘Avalanche’ and even surprise Blink-182 cover ‘Dammit’) favouring catchy choruses and pop hooks (see single ‘Blinded’ and fan-favourites ‘Tie Up My Hands’ and ‘I Said I’m Sorry.’) But perhaps the band’s most striking feature is that they’re danceable, often going four-on-the-floor rather than balls-to-the-wall. Don’t worry though as although this is one of the band’s strengths, singer Declan Melia remains adamant that ‘this ain’t no fucking disco!’ inciting a rousing call and response with the near capacity crowd. Melia’s voice has certainly matured and now carries the right blend of grunge screams and upper-register melodic restraint. Armed with a tight rhythm section, it’s fair to say, British India have proved themselves to be a formidable live force.
Sydney’s She Rex opened proceedings and it was no surprise that the all-female quartet looked stoked to be up onstage. Midway through the set, singer/rapper Nikkita Rast paused to announce that her band almost didn’t make the show tonight. The members of She Rex spent the day driving to the show from Sydney and this was their first time in Melbourne. It certainly speaks to their passion that they would come this far to perform a 40-minute set to a largely disinterested crowd but the girls certainly delivered. Think M.I.A. meets Rage Against the Machine with maybe a little Salt-N-Pepa thrown in, She Rex, led by the hip-shaking Rast, put on an impressive display of funky rap-rock rich in reverb and attitude. Their ‘break-glass-in-case-of-emergency’ trump card was their cover of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name,’ which got a few middle fingers in the air towards the end of their set.
Alongside bands like Children Collide and Calling All Cars, British India have formed a wave of Australian garage acts who are now facing the challenges of moving into a ‘big-time headliner’ space. While these great bands are still yet to reach the heights of Oz rock royalty, they have each worked hard to forge an important position within the ever-competitive Australian live music scene.