Like all the best bands, Architecture In Helsinki appear to have parachuted
into this world from another, far freakier dimension. They claim to
have met at a Tupperware party in Melbourne and looking at the eight
of them as they mess about with rubber hands and trombones and assorted
bits and pieces presumably lifted from their favourite charity shop,
you can just about believe them. If the cult Aussie soap "The Secret
Life Of Us" had been set in a St Kilda squat populated with art
school drop outs, hip hop stoners, literary slackers and the kids from
the local cake shop, then it might have been half of what we're presented
For the most part, exactly what they're up to is a mystery. The show
starts with a darkened stage and a tolling bell, giving way to a serene
yet otherworldly "Star Trek" theme-style female vocal. The
band themselves have been hiding under their keyboards and slowly stand
to add trombone and tuba to a series of melodramatic crashes and surges.
Then a sweet tinkly piano takes over with singer Cameron Bird trilling
about "walking on the moon with your stalker" as the band
ring bells, hit cowbells, shake things and general make a rag bag of
noise. Then a frantic beat kicks in and the two front girls scream riot
grrl yelps about something or other. Then it's back to tentative oddity.
Then more yelping. Then more nonsense. Ad lib to fade.
That this is clearly one huge in-joke is obvious from the start. The
band never fail to make each other laugh while they're arsing about
in the name of music, going "haaa!" in the mic one by one
or popping their fingers into their mouths. And it's hard to escape
the notion that the best place to see AIH would be at a basement party
back at that squat in St Kilda, songs being stopped halfway through
so someone can get a drink or skin up. But, crucially, it's also an
in-joke that you feel in on, a private party that you've been invited
to, even if you didn't quite realise that it was fancy dress and you
showed up in your work clothes.
At times they resemble The Go! Team, if they tried to knock together
their Supreme Team Sampledelia without having access to any samples.
Songs like "Do The Whirlwind" and "Wishbone" draw
on the same core sources, blending 80s NYC electro and hip hop with
K Records indie pop, but favour a host of offbeat meanderings and tangents
instead of simple, dancefloor euphoria. Often it feels like the band
have taken the pop song apart to see how it works and are having trouble
putting it back together, tunes heading off in unexpected directions
and Bird getting extremely worked up over something utterly incomprehensible.
You'll either find this all wildly endearing or hugely irritating. Not
for nothing do they sometimes resemble The Sugarcubes or an outtake
from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". But I'm smitten, not
least when they finish off with a cover of Roxy Music's "Love Is
The Drug" that buzzes with youthful exuberance and the sheer, unhinged
confidence of true originality. As someone far wiser once said: "Lumber
up, limbo down, the locked embrace, the stumble round, I say go, she
say yes, dim the lights, you can guess the rest." If only you could.