Live Review: E^ST + Bel + MANE – Fat Controller, Adelaide (09.12.16)

Unless you’ve been living in a secluded cave far, far away from anything good you will know that this past year has been an absolute celebration of female musicians making their mark. From the stadium-ready Ngaiire to punk-rock heroes Camp Cope, we’ve been watching in awe the rapid rise of female talent take to the spotlight. One needs only to whisper “Montaigne”, “Tash Sultana” or “Tkay Maidza” to get a communional slow-nod of recognition to the chicks that have crushed it in 2016.

Friday night in the seediest basement to rule them all, Fat Controller, a party was held that featured a trifecta of female talent that oozed innovation, excitement, and most importantly, confidence.

First off the bat was local favourite, MANE. As far as successes go, Paige Renee Court has had a year brimming with them. From releasing her killer debut EP House Of Horror last June to winning ‘Most Popular Pop Artist’ and ‘Best Female Artist’ at the South Australian Music Awards in November, this gal and her boy band of four have become a household name here in Adelaide, and for good reason. MANE creates an elegant sound dipping into a curious brand of indie pop, led by Court’s unwavering, soulful vocals. Although front-rowers’ were relaxed enough to sit down, the mood in the room remained engaging and bold. Court and her band rolled through slinky tracks from House Of Horror like “Valley Of Doubt” and “Bitter”,  showcasing their knack for mesmerizing, blues-tinged pop.

Next up and making her international debut was Melbourne-based singer/songwriter, Bel. Accompanied by another two band members, we took a swift dive into the alluring and sometimes unsettling world of Isabelle Rich. As the 20-year-old hunched and heaved over her instruments, she appeared to be well and truly in another world. That seemed a recurrent theme of the set; other-worldliness. Beautifully brooding tracks like “Dazed” and “Own Home” took us to a dark, stripped back soundscape allowing plenty of space for Bel’s piercing (and incredibly well-developed) vocals. Unreleased track “Dangerous” sealed her enigmatic Adelaide debut and promised more sultry dark-pop lined up for the near future.

Playing her final show for the Get Money! EP tour was the Central Coast-bred experimental-pop queen, E^ST (a.k.a Melisa Bester). Off the back of a bunch of festival appearances (The Plot, VANFEST in Forbes, Spilt Milk) and a cheeky tour with Japanese Wallpaper, the last twelve months have seen E^ST shift from the 17-year-old enigma from Triple J Unearthed to a developed, boundary-pushing muso with a voice of gold.

Despite there being a lot of empty space on the stretching Fat Controller stage where E^ST resided with a single band member, her energy and genuine excitement was infectious and made the room feel full and static. Opening with the dark and swelling title track from her 2015 EP The Alley, E^ST’s tender vocals followed unconventional pop styles, jumping from deep, brooding breaths to soaring crescendos when you least expected it. This style of experimentation with E^ST’s biggest asset, her voice, translated to an absorbing, unpredictable live performance.

Throwing it back to her breakout track, “Old Age”, E^ST made sure no one was left motionless as she made use of all the space and visibly exerted herself to keep the energy in the room at full capacity. In short, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a single artist put that much into a performance.

Sonically, E^ST’s brand of pop borders on dark and experimental, spattered with unexpected highs and exploding peaks. Tracks from her Get Money! EP explored waves of synth, filthy beats and addictive hooks- it was everything good about pop music, but with a fresh, E^ST shine. Shifting gears to an unreleased acoustic number titled “Bad Choices”, we saw E^ST stripped back for a moment between just her and a guitar. Despite her modesty, she played the soulful, low-key track with effortless calm and restraint.

Deftones‘ “Sextape” got an electro-pop revamp that had front-rowers frothing before we were treated to E^ST classics, “Your Ghost” and the title track from the Get Money! EP. With a minimal set up and restrained instrumentals, E^ST’s set put her vocals (and bounding stage presence) front and center. As she continues to make waves with those pipes be sure to watch her continue to develop her sound on a broader spectrum, because after all, this is only the beginning of E^ST.

Photo from The Plot in Sydney, by Belinda Dipalo.