escVelocity Cafe & Gallery, Featherston
New Zealand Fringe Festival 2018
Saturday 10 March 2018
Reviewed by David Famularo
I don’t know why The Electricka Zoo call themselves that, but it could because of the menagerie of genres that make up their music.
However, rather than keeping them penned up behind bars , band members the Digitator from Wellington and Dave Black from Featherston, allow these different and sometimes inimical species to roam free with inevitable unpredictability for the listener.
But this is no gauche attempt to fuse incompatible styles of music as has happened more often than not with world music.
Instead, the foundation of the music is the two musicians’ own natural instincts which tend to stray into different genres as the fancy takes them.
It is this improvisation where The Electricka Zoo owe their greatest debt to jazz, but it would be a mistake to see their music as lacking structure, as there was always a high level of discipline in their performance.
That said, there is a definite anarchic spirit. Sometimes they go to the brink of the precipice, but just manage to not tip over it, and that is part of the excitement of watching them play.
Percussion is provided by the Digitator who used to play real drums back in New Plymouth where he grew up, before changing to digital percussion and more recently adding keyboards which has allowed him to contribute to the harmonic structure of the band’s songs, although The Electricka Zoo never get too chordally complex and can make a meal out of just one chord for an entire song.
Black on electric guitar and electric base provides the greater part of the melodies, with a talent for some creating sonic layers of sound as well as some very sweet licks.
Nominally an electronica band The Electricka Zoo eschew the worst faults of that genre such as drawn out intros and predictable beats.
There is a certain charm about the manic physicality of their performance on stage, the Digitator seemingly convulsed by unpredictable charges of electric currents, while Black maintains a passive/aggressive stance like a friendly bear in a Hawaiian shirt with a late seventies punk edge.
There’s a strong pungency of punk and heavy metal in some of their playing, and an even stronger whiff of early eighties New Wave. I’d even throw in a touch of mid-seventies Kiwi prog rock. But then they switch to a “Balkan” feel that isn’t quite like any traditional Balkan music I have ever heard.
A lot of their songs are more expressions of moods and inner spaces narrative which suits the free spirit of their music.
Notwithstanding their experimentalism, some of The Electricka Zoo’s songs have a very pop-friendly character to them.
You could easily take just three or four elements from one song and you would have enough hooks for a real ear worm.
The Fringe Festival’s only foray into the Wairarapa, The Electricka Zoo and escVelocity have opened the door for more such events in Featherston.