Sydney Festival Review: Gotye’s Tribute to Jean-Jacques Perrey is a love letter to an electro music pioneer

The name Jean-Jacques Perrey could mean everything and absolutely nothing to different people. Perrey was a musical chameleon and the first and only virtuoso of the Ondioline, a rare French electronic musical instrument and precursor to the modern synthesiser. Perrey’s work has been sampled by rap artists, played on South Park and garnered the likes of the Beastie Boys and Stereolab as fans. At Sydney Festival, another devotee of Perrey’s named Wally De Backer (AKA Gotye) played tribute to the late French artist in a show that was quirky, sprawling and the practical equivalent of painting sonic rainbows of colour.

Most fans of Gotye’s will be familiar with his hits like “Somebody That I Used To Know,” “Heart’s A Mess” and “Learnalilgivinanlovin.” At this Sydney Festival show, Gotye played none of his own original songs, instead playing a full concert of fully recreated Perrey originals and collaborations. Some eagle-eyed fans of Gotye’s could hear the influence that Perrey – a man that Gotye eventually met and now lovingly refers to as his spiritual grandfather – in the former’s own layered and melodic tracks.

This homage to Jean-Jacques Perrey was not a traditional concert. Instead, Gotye guided us through the evening like a charming host. He described some of the instrument’s history- it was invented by Georges Jenny for example. Perrey was not only a composer and musician, but also like a travelling salesman spruiking and introducing this machine to audiences in the 1940s, 1950s and beyond.

Gotye also gave us some instructions about the technical aspects of the quirky Ondioline. We learn that it is a very expressive and versatile instrument. There are samples in it that have been programmed to mimic different musical instruments and other samples that are other-worldly in sound. The instrument also contains various buttons and levers that can be manipulated to make whistling sounds and even great vibrato (that warbling sound more typically associated with a stringed instrument.) It is obvious that De Backer is a passionate and ardent fan of the Ondioline and this late French composer. His enthusiasm is palpable and he looks mighty chuffed as he goes on with his bandmates in the Ondioline Orchestra to lovingly recreate Perrey’s songs note-for-note.

This concert at Carriageworks sees Gotye seated in the round but he also invites fans to come and sit closer to the action if they wish. Rob Schwimmer plays the Ondioline, Theremin, Moogs and samples while Psychedelic Furs’ Joe McGinty plays Moogs and Organs. There is Sean Dixon on drums and percussion, Ben Edgar on guitar and percussion and Jordan Scannella on bass. Gideon Brazil also guests on a handful of tracks playing clarinet and flute. These accomplished artists are illuminated by a cluster of simple lightbulbs and the casual atmosphere means it feels like you could be sitting in someone’s lounge room- save for the fact that you’re surrounded by some great musicians, lots of gear and one of the most passionate speakers about the subject.

But what to say of the songs? These are difficult to summarise because they are all so different from one another. It’s like a sonic magician concocted spells crafting so many different textures, feelings and emotions in mere minutes. You get quite soulful and bopping sixties melodies in “Swan’s Splashdown” and scattering walls of sound that would make even Phil Spector cry because they’re so darned pure in “Spooks In Space.”

“Mod Ghost” brims with so many different elements it could probably be used to score a silent film and provide a full Technicolor spectrum of different emotions. “L’âme des Poètes (The Soul Of The Poets” meanwhile, sees De Backer singing beautifully in French while “Flight of the Bumblebee” is mesmerising when you consider that Perrey had to sample so many bee hives to create this painstaking work. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly, “E.V.A.” with its warbling Hendrix-like guitar and shimmering, pretty notes that bubbled like Coca-Cola in effervescent glory.

Gotye Presents A Tribute To Jean-Jacques Perrey was a show encapsulating so many different emotions. At turns beguiling, self-indulgent, weird and wonderful, it was an exhibition of Perrey’s swirling, chaotic and chameleon works. Gotye and co. put on a fitting tribute to one gifted man’s colourful, complex and quirky music. And if it were at all possible for a handful of artists to produce rainbows indoors then this was certainly it.

Gotye has two more Sydney Festival performances, tonight at 6pm and 9pm. For tickets and more details head HERE.

Photos by Stuart Armitt for Sydney Festival. Used with permission. The reviewer attended the performance on January 16.


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