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MINISTRY OF SOUND ORCHESTRATED @ Kings Park gets 8.5/10

Ministry of Sound Orchestrated @ Kings Park and Botanic Garden
Saturday, March 24, 2018

8.5/10

There’s nothing quite like a live orchestra in full flight. Something about the layered tapestry of many instruments in sync, all combining to create a huge sound. The rising strings, the bassy drone of brass, the intricate percussion and delicate melodies dancing over the top. Add to that some keyboards, live vocalists and the heavy beat of some classic dance music anthems, combined with a balmy night under the stars in the lush surrounds of Kings Park, together with 4000 ‘up for it’ aging ravers reliving their misspent youth and a liberal splash of wine, and you’ve got a winning recipe.

Still, there was one lacking ingredient that would have truly taken this concert to the next level. VOLUME! No doubt due once again to Perth’s notorious reputation for anal noise restrictions and hosting the quietest gigs in the world. The sound was well mixed and a decent volume, but really could have used a bit more oomph, especially in the bottom end.

In any case, on with the show! Leading the charge was Ministry of Sound label mainstay, and Australian dance music veteran Groove Terminator (GT). As Creative Director, he worked closely with the Perth Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Jessica Gethin) and Music Director Adam Sofo to bring this vision to life.

It was an ambitious undertaking, this Ministry orchestrating, but overall, the result was exhilarating. Judging by the crowd’s response and rapture, this classical take on the classics was a grand success. The legendary MoS label used to be a dominant force around the world, with their famous double CD mix compilations of the hottest dancefloor hits. Tonight featured some of the most memorable tracks from those heady days. Rearranged. Remixed. Reimagined.

The dance music + orchestra thing seems to be hot at the moment, with many superstar DJs putting together live sets featuring orchestras or ensembles, from Armin Van Buuren to Sasha. Following more in the tradition of the BBC Proms that UK DJ legend Pete Tong has been performing with the Heritage Orchestra – this was our own home grown production, and there was certainly no skimping.

There has always been an analogy between classical and dance music, especially the more epic house and trance. If Mozart was around these days, he’d probably be a DJ. A modern electronic producer is the equivalent of a classical composer – a talented individual who envisions a song in his head, slaving away in solitude, writing all the parts, and arranging many different instruments to create a complete composition. While a conductor is much like a DJ – with all the pieces and instruments at their disposal, taking them in and out of the mix, blending sounds together at just the right level, before dropping the bass and kicking in the full gamut of sound.

Warming up the vibe early on was Sam Birmingham, followed by Perth old school rave legend Greg Packer, who’s been playing around town again of late, under his new alias Dr Packer, that sees him spinning more laidback, funky grooves and custom edits. The supports tonight were really just providing background music, from Hall & Oates to Michael Jackson, it was easy listening grooves for the punters as they picnicked.

It was around 7.45pm when things went a little quiet, and some cheers went up as the many members of the Perth Symphony Orchestra took their positions on stage – they could have benefitted from a multi-level tiered stage. GT was positioned high up the back on a podium, emblazoned with a giant, glowing MoS logo. Four backing vocalists were positioned front-left, accompanied by guest vocalists Daniel Merriweather, Alison Limerick and Ilan Kidron of The Potbelleez, who featured on certain tracks. Conductor Jessica Gethin stood on a platform front-right, back to the crowd, with the orchestra in the palm of her hand, wearing sneakers and tight, black leather pants. This was not your average orchestra.

Dramatic, rising strings signified the start, and had people running to their spots as the orchestra warmed up, the organic sound unfurling into the night air, slowly building to a crescendo, before GT got on the mic to welcome everyone and hyped things up before they kicked things off well and truly with Eric Prydz’ Pjanoo.

From there on followed an amazing selection of instantly recognisable hits, chosen to highlight their orchestral components, or tracks that lent themselves well to the full big band treatment.

The Shapeshifter’s 2004 hit Lola’s Theme sounded great with the live fanfare of horns and some big vocals from one of the backing vocalist divas. But the first track to really get things fired up was Daft Punk’s One More Time.

Moloko’s ’98 hit Sing It Back saw special UK guest vocalist Alison Limerick take the stage. Her smooth, soulful delivery was the perfect match for the track. Next was Spiller’s big tune Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) that made a star of vocalist Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

The oft remixed Calabria by Rune with its familiar sax riff sounded great with the orchestra reinterpreting it, and segued briefly into another legendary sax-soaked track, Laurent Garnier’s The Man With The Red Face, before reverting back.

Ilan Kidron made his appearance on Underworld’s Two Months Off, doing his best Karl Hyde impression and bringing the light in. The euphoric staccato riff sounded brilliant with the full horns and strings backing.

Daniel Merriweather’s ultra-smooth vocals were perfect for Armand Van Helden’s You Don’t Know Me. And a surprise, but very welcome addition, was Eurhythmic’s Sweet Dreams, while Limerick returned for a wonderful version of Kings of Tomorrow’s classic Finally. And that was just the end of part one.

After a break, they returned to the stage, starting on a more chilled note with Moby’s magnificent Porcelain and Massive Attack’s Unfinished Symphony, which naturally sounded amazing.

They picked things up big time with Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now and kept it driving hard with a wicked version of Starsailor’s massive tune Four To The Floor.

Another brilliant selection was all-time seminal house tune Strings of Life by Rhythim Is Rhythim aka Derrick May. Originally released in 1987, it’s stood the test of time.

The vibe in the air was truly electric. The crowd was one of the best ever at a King’s Park gig. Smiling, happy people of all ages were dancing all around, not just on the dancefloor in front of the stage, but everywhere. Even all over the hill in the generally sedate picnic blanket area, people jumped to their feet, unable to resist the urge to get up and have a boogie.

Possibly the highlight of the whole night was the spinetingling, goosebump inducing version of William Orbit’s majestic Adagio For Strings, which itself was a version of the famous classical piece by Samuel Barber. With the stage bathed in blue light, it started with just sparse strings; then as the synth kicked in, strobing red lights had everyone reaching for the stars, and when the drums hit, it was a truly emotional, ‘hands in the air’ moment that saw the crowd erupt in unison.

Limerick returned to deliver her own classic 1990 house anthem Where Love Lives, before they took it home triumphantly with one we were all hoping for, one of the biggest anthems of all time, Delerium’s Silence featuring Sarah McLachlan. As the breakdown came, the layers and instruments peeled away to almost silence, delivering an impressive, faithful performance of the stunning vocal. People sang along, couples embraced, there were even some tears. A fitting climax to a wonderful performance.

GT thanked the orchestra who all took a well-deserved bow, before he stated “I think we’ve got one more in us!” much to the audience’s delight, and the orchestra led us through an encore of Florence and the Machine’s You’ve Got The Love. Or was it You Got the Love, the original 1986 version by Candi Staton, as remixed and re-released by The Source in 1991?

There was definitely a lot of love in the air. The crowd didn’t want it to end, but despite huge cheers, that was it. It took time for the smiling, shell-shocked people to disperse, still basking in the glory of a very special, memorable performance – one that really tugged at the heart strings and evoked a lot of memories. Bravo!

ALFRED GORMAN

Photos by Jenny Gaunt

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