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In one of the most quotable lines of punk discourse this year, Deerhunter frontman Bradfox Cox told journalist Larry Fitzmaurice, “My idea of punk is not being interested in what other people think of punk.”
There’s a self-confidence behind this notion of punk’s malleable self-definition, which grew increasingly apparent after the release of Deerhunter’s purposefully rough sixth album Monomania in May this year. To play with the realities of sound and not be afraid of the consequences – that was the core aim.
Last night, donning a surfer-blonde wig almost covering his eyes, Cox echoed the Connie Lungpin character which became part of the iconography surrounding Monomania. Supported by timid yet enjoyable Sydney band Day Ravies, and free-spirited and self-referentially comical laptop duo Collarbones, Deerhunter sat somewhere between the two on this spectrum of stage presence.
They played in a sonic haze, but with often vacant expressions and a tendency to stare at their guitars. Guitarist Lockett Pundt spent most of the show with his back to the Sydney crowd. This introspection was only cut by Cox’s twisting movements, intermittent screams and cutting glares.
Most of his band’s lengthy two-hour set was derived from Monomania and 2010's stunning Halcyon Digest, but tracks were often lengthened into ambient bedroom jams – and we’re talking jams of considerable length. Nothing Ever Happened even morphs – perfectly – into a partial-cover of Patti Smith’s Horses.
Deerhunter’s power lies in how their sound hits you in waves. Tracks like Earthquake and Helicopter seemed to hover near the venue’s ceiling, their full effect only sweeping down to smack you with every snare drum beat. There’s something hypnotic about the wave sensation their sound produces, even if it can be extended for longer than is aurally comfortable.
Throughout this international tour, Deerhunter’s setlists have remained pretty consistent. Cox was a little bored when it came time for his Sydney encore, though. Changing the plan, he asked the crowd “what era” they wanted to hear, and the overwhelming response — after a few moments of ‘are we allowed to just demand anything?’ — was an accented chorus of “CRYP-TO-GRAMS!” Cox did not disappoint.
It’s still clear just how much Deerhunter needs him as both a creative and charismatic anchor, but more importantly as an injection of that enthusiastic punk self-confidence.