Red Bull gives you wings. And if you live in Perth, Red Bull also gives you Sunday evening with Taylor McFerrin.
The night kicked off with Future Classic DJs Andrew Sinclair and Ben Taafe playing easy-going sets before Mei Saraswati hit the stage. She captured the crowd with delicate vocals and hilarious anecdotes. Both her voice and jungly production shared similarities with British indie-pop duo AlunaGeorge.
Saraswati admitted that since becoming single, she has been committed to 30 second planks everyday in the attempt to achieve a ripped body. A dorky/loveable fact that made her instantly endearing.
The Red Bull Music Academy has long been known for getting the early scoop on upcoming acts and showing them to the world for free. Despite being a free gig, McFerrin set out to ensure the fifty-odd electronica enthusiasts who filed into The Bird would get a show worthy of an admission fee.
McFerrin is the true definition of a multi-instrumentalist; boasting profiles as a producer, pianist, DJ, beatboxer and vocalist. He entered with ethereal soundscapes awash with wave sound effects and reverb, appearing unhurried and dwelling over a single loop until the audience were aching for it flourish into something more.
He completely did away with a setlist, playing improvised beats and interpretations off his 2014 debut LP Early Riser, depending on where the mood and the moment took him.
So absorbed in the performance, he only looked up from his controllers occasionally to thank everyone for coming out – delivered with a shy, wry smile. The set was stacked with free form jazz, Bonobo-like electronic swirls and hip-hop breaks, which makes him impossible to pigeonhole into any one genre.
One of the few common criticisms his album drew was that it was too dreamlike, and that no single track stood out from the next. McFerrin, however, used that wafting endless quality to his advantage on stage. Rather than fading away into nothing, each melody crept up on the listener, until suddenly, they found themselves completely absorbed in the sound.
At one point McFerrin announced “I’m going to do this thing with the Emily King track, I’ll see where I go with it”, before re-emerging ten minutes later with something completely new.
There were two equally brilliant highlights from the night. The first was his neo-funk, bass-oozing hit treat ‘Florasia’, (which apart from the occasional scat) was one of the few times he sang live all night.
The other was a beatbox interlude, which is difficult to describe, other than saying he hit his chest to create a rhythm while he used his voice for the melody. The way McFerrin experiments as a vocalist is a trait he definitely inherited from his father – well-known composer Bobby McFerrin – who sang the 1988 hit ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’.
He asked if there were any emcee’s in the building that fancied free-styling over an improvised beat. After a few moments of hesitation, a greasy haired kid by the name of Henley put his hand up. He stood out of the spotlight while McFerrin crafted his beat, before fighting his way through to spit out three hefty verses. It didn’t really fit with the relaxed ambience the rest of the night had constructed, but at the same time, it was impossible to look away.
Sunday night’s show made the case that electronic artists should not be dismissed as live performers, as long as guys like Taylor McFerrin are on the scene.