REVIEW | Jeff Mills, Derrick May and The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at The Sidney Myer Music Bowl


Fusion has always been a word I’ve avoided when it comes to the creative field. Call me small minded, but the idea of putting contrasting ideas together (oil and water if you will), has never been a necessity in putting forth a new dimension to any evolving art form. Detroit techno in particular is still, a respectfully mere, 30 years old music genre and in the grand scheme of things (with this show in particular), that’s fairly young. Classic music on the other hand, one of the oldest forms of expression in this day and age, is rarely understood by the general public, outside of film scores, would seem like an incomprehensible support. Hearing the announcement of Jeff Mills, Derrick May and The Melbourne Symphony together in the same field, didn’t send my ears dashing towards the event in the initially, despite being an ultra fan of ‘The Wizard’ in particular. I was quite happy to wait for the inevitable night of DJ sets, featuring the two Detroit native’s signature walls of sound. Despite all of this, I couldn’t allow myself to let this rare opportunity escape me again and sucked it up and headed over the Myer Music Bowl with intrigue in the air.

The night was divided into 3 musical sections, opening with an hour-long presentation from the bashful Mr. Mills. Arriving about 20 minutes before show time, I parked myself smack bang in the middle of proceedings (in the “cheap seats” of the lawn) and awaiting the Detroit techno maestro to arrive. Conducting from his signature Roland 909, the set was an incredible display of musical fusion, unlike anything I had seen before. I never really sold on the fusion of orchestral tones laid over the rolling 4 to 4 beats, but as Mills and co. started their set, those kinds of thoughts were eventually swept away thanks to the unmistakable connection found throughout. Everyone on stage was so in sync with the display that it seemingly fell out of place one point, only to be instantly re-arranged and put back on course within seconds, a true mark of skills from the duel of conductors. Fans of Mr. Mills will no doubt see the man vs. machine messages found throughout his discography, one that has been fruitful in the relationship between Detroit artists, their city and this expression. But as the ensembles within the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra intertwined with the acid-laid squiggles and unstoppable drum patterns of Detroit, a magnetic connection was found, due to the mechanically skilled constructions found between the artists on stage.

Of the two artists featured on the night, Derrick Mays body of work was inclined to connect with the orchestra the most. His genre jumping alter ego, Rhythm is Rhythm, has an intergalactic load of orchestral tones throughout its relatively short tenor. So it may come as no surprise to find that the hour long showing was just as good as the one put forth by the man who helped bring us The Underground Resistance. While Mills showcased his orchestral digital showmanship, May cemented himself as a musician and conductor, the core of any great DJ and producer. Through a mixture of both organic and digital sources, the second hour of this event saw a heightened volume and atmosphere surrounding ‘The Bowl’. Moments before the monumental ‘Strings of Life’ started it’s extended opening, a more profound purpose for this rarely shared fusion settled in. Any time spent researching the foundation of the twin cities sound would no doubt find mechanical, racial, digital and astronomical connections found between the influences and par-takers of electronic music. Much like photography, film and other forms of music, these intangible moments can only be carried through its own presentation and display, not unlike the one shown on Saturday night. And as songs like ‘The Bells’ and ‘Strings of Life’ sang their own chords, with the guided assistants from their makers, Dzijan Emin and The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra seemingly connected the dots between our past and on going future. Much like the pharaohs leaving the pyramids or indigenous tribes using the skies for folklore and direction, classical and Detroit techno music also shares its own history, be that of triumph, the stars or protest. And as the entire collective shared the stage for one last send off, this was as clear as the night’s sky. Two contrasting timelines merged to present a connection between time and space for revellers and ongoing generations to collect.

Anybody who has escaped the perceptions (placed by the likes of Ibiza and Burning Man have) put forth on electronic music would realise that it hasn’t always been about a spiritual awakening found after 3 days of partying and boat load of ‘enhancers’. For the most part, it is music without words, much like its Saturday night companion, it is an open voice, allowing the listener to explore a myriad of possibilities through the fusion art, visuals and even, other music.

Jeff Mills and Derrick May will be teaming up with Secret Cinema, at The Bottom End this Friday for a special show full of predictably great DJ sets.  Click here for more info on the show.