I’m extremely cynical about science-themed musical performances. There’s something about AsapSCIENCE-like songs that take me back to late high school or freshman year in a shocking, unsentimental way. I can’t help but grind my teeth. That Live from the Lab (LFTL) has remained far removed from these dark memories is a testament to its vision and execution.
For those unfamiliar, LFTL began in 2020 as a collaboration between FBi Radio and the Nanosonic Stories team – an interdisciplinary team based at the University of Sydney. The project connects researchers with local artists for a 90-minute consultation to produce a song inspired by science themes and motivations. Because artists are not required to compose music to the tune of scientific specificity, they have great creative freedom in their approach. This year, there were four performances scheduled after a cancellation due to COVID-19.
So how was this year’s performance?
The evening opened with singer-songwriter Luke Davis. Throughout the first set, we were treated to an impressive vocal range, energetic strumming and plenty of banter. Going first is always tough, but Luke Davis took the blame well, tossing CDs at random to those brave enough to hit the dance floor first, saying, “I’m in a lab coat, c ‘is authorized ! Having just finished our shift teaching in the chemistry labs, my compatriots noticed that his PPE was ill-fitting but still worked better than that of some of our students.
Next up was Western Sydney-based R&B singer Gemma Navarrete. In my opinion, 90% of the dancers of the evening were seduced by this set. With luscious under-bass, a familiar lo-fi crunch, 808 beats and an engaging lyrical flow, it was easy to see why. In his discussion with researchers working on vision restoration, Navarrete developed the track titled “Visible to Me,” appropriately R&B titled. Her performance got me off the tables taking notes for this review on the DF. What else can I say?
Of the four acts, Romaeo presented the most variety but did the least for me personally. I enjoyed the experimentation in his work and the attention to detail in the lighting department. Songs like “Good to Look At” were frantic with aggressive, jarring strobe vocals. It felt like she embraced punk sensibilities without embracing the punk sound. On the other hand, “mourning” made me want to have a drink and watch the ice melt while reflecting on my most regrettable life decisions (but in a good way). The song that stood out was the science-inspired song “Nausea.” Romaeo described it as being “about depression” and “dancing but not dancing”. Inspired by research into the placebo and nocebo effects, the song chronicles the experience of having depression and convincing yourself that you feel like crap based on rumination rather than reality. Clever, I think.
Finally, there was Mega Fäuna, an “all-female Sydney 5-person three-person play”. They delivered everything I expect from an Australian rock band: a celebration of this country’s beautiful landscapes, restrained use of our unique (screaming, but) accent and a strong sense of affection for the everyday. Everything about the act was tight; seeing the band take to the stage, I couldn’t help but tell my mates that they “looked like a band”, pointing to their outfits. The insects’ ambient sounds punctuated each song, bringing their auditory aesthetic together, and their composition allowed each band member to shine at different points. If you haven’t already been won over, then the science-inspired one was sure to. Made in collaboration with entomologist Tanya Latty and dedicated in memory of their friend Rick, the song was upbeat and playful rather than dark – just like their “nature boy” friend Rick.
Although we couldn’t see Baby Beef perform due to COVID, they gave us an offbeat music video inspired by psychedelic neuroscience backed by post-punk songwriting. Honestly, if this is where music and science collide, I’m on it.
Guess I’ll just have to wait for LFTL 2023 to see more. If you enjoy a wide variety of live music presented over the span of three hours, then maybe I’ll see you there too.