The Forum is bristling with bodies. We are congregated to see seminal Krautrockers Faust, as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Forty years since releasing their debut record, this is also Faust’s first appearance in Melbourne.
On stage behind a drum kit sits Zappi (Werner Diermaier) wearing a fuschia floral hat and silver and turquoise necklace, and he drums with peripatetic freedom and precision. On the other side of stage is Jean-Hervé Péron, who with his long silver hair exudes Swedish hippie of the 70s, contradicted only by his silver grey suit that gives him a dapper edge.
On an elevated platform behind Peron stood the elfin and accomplished Geraldine Swayne on keyboard and vocals, and James Johnston with his Bryan-Ferry-suave on guitar, but things were soon to evolve – with the use of cement mixers, chainsaws and drills carving through steel adding to the brilliant layers of sound and texture that Faust seemed to quite organically create on stage.
Jean-Herve Péron tells the crowd that we are the people who castrate words, while Zappi, his hat removed, looks like a beautiful cross between a polar bear and a shark.
Watching this incredible conversation occur on stage, which at its climax saw Geraldine paint on a canvas while Péron carved the word LOVE into a sheet of corrugated metal beside her, felt like an honour and a privilege of epic proportions. The kind of show where you find yourself looking at your companion and saying oh my fucking god, this is actually happening.
Far from being twee or clichéd – watching Geraldine paint while the chainsaw screams and Péron and Zappi roam around hitting things and collaborating with each other – it feels instead like we are witness to the instigator, the originator of so many copies; art performance pieces that will always pale before the true energy and creative substance of performers like Faust.
The crowd are ecstatic – during the spontaneous painting/saw performance, a woman screams in a high pitched and seemingly unending stream – collaborating in her way with what is occurring on stage.
One older man is so moved that he claps and stabs sharply with his hand in the air as if admonishing the players, seemingly slapping and smacking, but out of passionate enjoyment; feasting on Faust as it were.
They played ‘Listen to the Fish’ off 1994’s Rien and Péron’s mesmerising command, somehow imbued with meaning and relevance, grabbed your imagination and set it off in directions both at odds and intricately in sync with the music.
At some point it verged on overwhelming: with sparks of drill-studded metal grinding pouring into the air and onto the crowd in a flood of orange hot fire, the industrial workshop delivering incongruous sounds of unholy beauty, a dirty realism and brutal cool.
We experienced the smell of burnt metal, observing luminous clouds of dust as they fell in spent exhaustion; a kind of synaesthesia perhaps, or at least a sensory fusion of simultaneous proportions.
Far from inaccessible, Faust are able to deliver great bedroom rock riffs, with Jack Johnston up against the amp on his knees; or Geraldine Swayne’s elysian vocals that lull you into sweet realms; alongside the awe-inspiring chomp and clunk of the cement mixer, or the dentist drill screech of power tools upon steel that become the most liberating expression of all.
Attending a talk organised by The Wheeler Centre the next day where Jean-Herve Péron and Zappi spoke about their music and inspiration, Péron revealed that while they were somewhat surprised to be asked to play as part of the jazz festival, ultimately jazz music was about joy, and therefore in some way it did fit for Faust to play within this spectrum. Apparently the organisers were very sensitive to Faust’s requirements; “They asked if we needed some kind of special tuner for the cement mixer,” he laughed.
Faust’s performance and their new album Something Dirty proves undoubtedly that they are entirely relevant, spontaneous, unique, awe-inspiring and just as groundbreaking as ever.
– Anaya Latter