As the sun began to set on Saturday the 27th of January, Melbournians began emerging from their airconditioned burrows as the sweltering 35-degree heat had hit the city hard. A lucky few thousand were making their way towards the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, to witness an event that saw the stars align and the wind change direction, as the most unlikely pair in the history of music had teamed up for one night only. The king of 90’s house music Armand Van Helden, and the classical stylings of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, with an equally impressive support act Harvey Sutherland and Bermuda. The evening drew a crowd consisting of youngsters who find themselves within the clutch of the 90s dance music revival, the middle-aged demographic who were fortunate enough to be of prime age during said decade, and the mature aged attendees who were open to the sophisticated taste of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with an opposing genre. We united as one and strolled over the hill of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to witness euphonic magic, sprinkled with some dirty basslines of course.
Harvey Sutherland the Melbourne based self-taught piano prodigy, and his band Bermuda warmed up the evening. They dazzled the crowd with favourites such as ‘Coast 2 Coast’ and ‘Why Look Back’ both tracks from their latest album Expectations which was released in early 2017 and received critical acclaim. The three-piece who wore white stood out from the orchestra who formed a sea dressed in black. Sutherland aka. Mike Katz had the usual barrier of keys surrounding him and absolutely rocked out on stage (a lot of head banging and foot tapping involved), taking up a lot of audible space with his distinctive Rhodes and Juno sounds. This was complemented by the cello and double bass’ of the orchestra which added a fatness to the songs that are hard to replicate in a studio context. Graeme Pogson of Bermuda dominated the percussive elements of their originals, only to have intricate phrases enhanced by the band. Electric violinist Tamil Rogeon was left a lot of headroom to improvise over certain passages, as the strings and woodwind section were the backbone of most of their tracks. A cheeky cover of The Style Councils‘ ‘Shout To The Top’ was warmly received by the crowd, and with a swift thankyou, the stage was cleared, and the crown began inching forward in anticipation for the main event.
After the entire orchestra once again took their position and began with a symphonic swell that got a wave of screams from the crowd, one Armand Van Helden strolled onto the stage clad in a shirt resembling Neopolitan Ice-Cream and welcomed the eruption of cheers in the most humble fashion. “Hello Melbourne, I am Armand Van Helden, please welcome the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and thank you so much for having me here at this one time only event. Enjoy.” Wow. He just oozes cool.
Breaking out with fan favourites ‘My My My’ and ‘I Want Your Soul’, it was clear straight away that the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was able to beautifully translate these dance floor anthems into a more traditional context while maintaining the charm that propelled Van Helden‘s work during his emergence. Van Helden describes himself as “not a musician“, teaching himself how to DJ from a young age after being introduced to house music by a friend. “A lot of these songs I made in my apartment in New York; it was like, ‘aha, put this together, slap that down, out the door and let’s see what happens’. I can’t play an instrument, apart from a keyboard, and I’m like a child, but for some reason, we are talking so it must have worked for me somewhere”.
The Grammy award-winning artist began his career when he quit his legal-review job and scored a residency at the infamous nightclub ‘The Loft’ in 1991. His remix of Tori Amos’ ‘Professional Widow’ saw him hit the Billboard charts, and opened the door to working with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Katy Perry, and Daft Punk. Van Helden now has 12 alias’ including Deep Creed, Wizzards of Wax, and Duck Sauce, and has released 8 studio albums. The set was interspersed with old-school classics that had everyone feeling a bit nostalgic, but also included songs that reminded us just how popular and diverse Van Heldens‘ style is, including ‘Bonkers’, the recognisable track featuring Dizzee Rascal, and ‘Barbara Streisand’ the 2014 track which was released by Duck Sauce, which Van Helden makes up half of. The songs were enhanced by the strings which added a cinematic feel to the tracks, and the cello/double bass portion of the symphony danced elegantly around the bassline that Van Helden was playing at the top of the stage, highlighted by a neon spotlight.
By this point every single audience member was on their feet, and just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were gifted some dreamy covers of tracks such as ‘The Music Sounds Better With You’ by Stardust, and ‘If This Aint Love’ by Groovejet. The climatic ending left attendees confused as we didn’t get to hear arguably the most popular track ‘You Don’t Even Know Me’….. until we did. Van Helden returned to the stage after a quick hug from the conductor and performed this final track. The horn and brass section of the orchestra repeating the riff that we all know and love, the percussion adding depth to the organic house beat that Van Helden had produced, and the strings floating an octave above the rest of the music adding a dreamy feel to the piece as a whole. It was a truly. Epic. Finale. A huge sigh waved through the crowd, both in awe of what we just witnessed, and disappointed we couldn’t get tickets to a second show. I guess at the end of it all, you can’t be sad that it’s over, just really really glad that it happened.