D.D Dumbo is doing something very different to what’s already floating around on the scene. Bringing notes of African and Oriental music to the forefront, the project’s mastermind Oliver Hugh Perry melds his influences in a way that allows appreciation of world music anew.
On the surface the songs are consistently serene, paying homage to the wild and organic. But hidden between the stratified sounds are these subtle and highly unsettling noises that remind you why D.D Dumbo commands attention; there’s something not quite right in the world of his music.
‘Utopia Defeated’ behaves as a concept album, and the body of work performed on Saturday night took me on a tour of the off-kilter utopia Perry has envisaged.
In the opening track his lyrics are few, with the vocals kept mostly to beautifully enunciated notes. Percussion from all corners of the plane fill out between tracks – the myriad sources of sound are dazzling. With the accompaniment of three musicians, D.D Dumbo’s performance is a swift string of swapping between a plethora of musical instruments. The sound is rich and never misses a beat as the musicians carry the weight for each other, while switching between, for instance a flute and a trumpet.
While outsourcing some help for his onstage realisation of ‘Utopia Defeated’, Perry is one uber-multi-instrumentalist, still taking charge of the 12-string guitar, flute, clarinet, trumpet, recorder, and wind chimes during this tour. His voice alone is something to behold. Effortlessly rich, it fills a space uniformly, amplifying without losing any of the timbre.
The rhythm is on no certain track, and can change direction at any point with the sudden introduction of yet another instrument or a completely new aspect to the music.
Within a year of starting D.D Dumbo, Perry shot straight to SXSW to be signed to music label 4AD. By this point, he had already supported Warpaint, tUnE-yArDs, Jungle and St. Vincent across Europe. It’s just three years since ∫’s birth, and its creator now holds the coveted APRA ‘Song of the Year’ for ‘Satan’ as well as the 2016 J Award for ‘Utopia Defeated’.
As a body of work, ‘Utopia Defeated’ has consistent references to a strong, yet vague theme. The solemnly eccentric videos for ‘Tropical Oceans’ and ‘Satan’ repeat planetary imagery, frequently featuring wide, open and sparsely populated spaces. With eerily cult-like imagery in ‘Satan’, the concept videos suggest existential questions in a playfully humorous way.
The album and performance of it are each a journey of sublimely peaceful dips and waves, with occasional muffled screams thrown in to remind us of the music’s deviant themes.
Despite the gravity often present amongst the sounds in his music, Perry is upbeat and endearingly unassuming. He introduced his band, describing his drummer as “someone we just met today who’s doing all this stuff for us!” He’s also cheerfully self-deprecating, noting at one point, “we’re gonna take it down a notch now, and make it a bit more ‘car commercial.'” This segues into ‘In The Water’, a track that sounds like it could easily fit into The Lion King.
Beneath the hangar of The Triffid, the green, orange, and magenta spotlights play off the emerald subway tiles. Spotlights bounce between the band and off an exposed brick wall behind the stage as the band plays ‘King Franco Picasso’, using clarinet at just the right times to bring a brooding layer to the torn tune. The sound here is tight, and the best quality live music I’ve heard in quite some time.
Perry has a touching candour mixed with the sheepishness of having been caught out at something. Endearing the audience with a jaunty little outro, he jokes in a bright, crystal-clear voice “just when you thought we were cool! No, you didn’t think we were cool. We’ll just play the song…”
The charm of D.D Dumbo as a whole is in the human-ness of their work. Perry is totally natural and easily charismatic without even trying – just like his music.
While his vocals and guitar lead strongly, Perry always allows for his accompanists’ parts to do themselves justice. ‘Cortisol’, with its oriental, Indonesian sounds is contrasted directly with the country-flavoured ‘Toxic City’, offering a twist on the genre with a signature bout of clarinet.
In ‘Alihukwe’, which featured on the initial D.D Dumbo EP and now acts as a centrepiece on ‘Utopia Deafeated’, we can really see the origins of the project’s unique sound. It’s clear that Perry is now experiencing no limitation as to where he can take his music. As he discussed on air with ABC, the difference brought about by touring with a band has afforded him further space to stretch the sound. While he’s the genius behind the kooky melange of sounds, you can see how well his band is carrying out the different components for him.
While a Spotify search suggests that D.D Dumbo occupies the same bracket as Dope Lemon and Slum Sociable, there’s not a lot he actually shares with those acts – purely for the reason that there’s not a lot he shares with any outfit.
Faulting Perry and the band on their performance would be a stretch, so clearly are they each in the precise zone they need to be in. Faulting the music full-stop comes at a stretch, and yet despite the meticulousness with which it’s been crafted, there’s something worth mentioning. So deep has Perry immersed himself in creating this unique, inherently dynamic sound that listening to ‘Utopia Defeated’ can conjure a feeling of a lack of distinction between tracks.
That being said, D.D Dumbo’s inventiveness is on point. It’s almost a given that the project’s next album will put a whole new spin on things, and yet again redefine the un-trekked corners which Australian music explores.
I arrive at The Triffid just in time to catch the last few tracks of Jonti, who proved to be one of those support acts you feel genuinely grateful to have stumbled upon while waiting to see the gig you came for.
Exhibiting a similar strength in melding sounds from different ends of the influence spectrum, Jonti is a clear choice of support for D.D Dumbo. Peaceful folksiness, at times nodding to Simon and Garfunkel, is mixed with electronic in a way that’s mutually beneficial to each homage.
Jonti is a touring member of The Avalanches, which explains the multi-influential make-up of his music. He’s surprisingly prolific, with two full length albums to his name as well as a few accompanying singles.
As he plays on synthesizer and guitar, I can hear strong likeness with Baths, Animal Collective, and at other times, early Toro Y Moi.
Exhibiting a really beautiful range of sounds, from ukulele through to tinkering chimes, Jonti’s music is also laced with the cartoon sounds characteristic of Todd Terje’s ‘It’s Album Time’. It’ll be interesting to see where he takes his sound next.