Being the odd one out at a gig is highly sought after, by some. Actually by many, as people strive to outdo existing farrrshion and social trends to be on the coal face, the trail blazer. The one that everyone looks at and chucks them dirties, whilst internally bitching about where they got the idea to put that piece of op shop glam with those skater boy denim cut offs. Whether or not you subscribe to this current social ‘convention’ is ultimately moot, as you would be lying to yourself, and to me, if you pretended like you didn’t know what I was rambling about. Well last week I had an experience that possessed this phenomenon in two different ways.
Firstly I went to a gig. That isn’t the shocking part, so if that blew you away, strap yourself in. It was the reclusive man of alternative melodic folk pop Whitley. The genius who has been hiding away in various European and American capitals for the last couple of years has risen again, and this time with a new record. But that has nothing to do with the differentiation principle (as I have now dubbed it). The gig was at a Surry Hills arts and creative hub, which meant it was effectively a clever name for a crack den. For those that don’t know Sydney that well, Surry Hills is pretty much the epicenter of ‘hipsters’. It’s all fixies, long hair, beanies and beards. It is those that consider themselves to be cutting their own individual niche, whilst at the same time unintentionally conforming to the differentiation principle. So in order for this intimate album launch to be intriguing and alluring to these ‘individual’ clones, it obviously had to be different. And the team at Dew Process Records didn’t let them down.
The gig was on the second floor, tucked away in a corner room. And in order to get up there guests either had to climb a stair case that is littered with creative off cuts. Pieces of ‘doodling’ from those creative souls that inhabit this building of intrigue. Or to take the lift, which itself was worth taking your own life in your hands by climbing into the rickety enclosed box. It is a piece of some bitchin street art, with tag and character painted and stuck upon satirical social comment upon reference to long dead philosophers - and a gratuitous reference to the beleaguered Essendon Football Club. If this journey down my own ‘rabbit hole’ wasn’t enough, once actually locating the reformed crack den, I couldn’t help but think that the differentiation principle had found its anomaly. It was beautiful and confronting, warm and neglected, something totally unique. It was a venue that Vice would have been proud of. It was festooned with candelabras and fairy lights - which themselves sounds incongruous, but seemed to work. It gave the impression of being a gothic castle meeting a Transylvanian bordello squashed into some otherworldly frat house. It was a room that stood out. It was different. It was what the crowd wanted to be, but weren’t. And it was perfectly fitting for Whitley to impart stories and vocalize some beautiful moments.
You may be thinking that I have become consumed with my social analysis and forgotten what I was really there to do. In some way these two things go hand in hand, and the craving of the audience to be different only further enhanced the unique set up and performance of Whitley. Oh and I promised that there were two examples of the differentiation principle, the other was, well me. I arrived in a suit. It is a professional hazard and is currently unavoidable. More importantly I was the only person in the room in anything resembling business attire, and I stood out. When I walked in the hipsters looked at me like I had personally offended them. I was the antithesis to their differentiation principle. I stood out, and fucking hated it. The desire to stand out at a gig was embodied in those that were a part of the crowd, and the one that would happily have blended in stood out more than a fully clothed Amanda Bynes selfie.
But back to the music. Whitley has still got it. He is still the unique performer he was when he released The Submarine, and Go Forth, Find Mammoth. Except now he distinguishes himself further by incorporating an organ. Yep, a classical organ that wouldn’t be out of place in a fervent religious gathering. He completes this with a double kit, one of which is an electronic set up and probably the most technologically advanced piece of equipment onstage. The dude digs retro and complements his guitars with old school amps and a sweet reverb on the vocals. Despite not having played a live gig in three years, he still has it, the self deprecating narcissistic wit remains, no matter how he continues to evolve and become an entity known only as Whitley.
The differentiation principle may apply virtually as a blanket rule to those that attended the gig, but Whitley distinguishes himself almost effortlessly. His music and his individual approach to construction and performance of it are inimitable. And ultimately he seems happy to be who he is. Make his own music. And to be the anomaly to the differentiation principle. Even if he isn’t wearing a suit.