Performance review: HTRK, Sydney Festival

The cult Melbourne duo's hallucinogenic music is dreamy and melancholic.

HTRK play a hypnagogic, gorgeous set, influenced heavily by artists such as Mazzy Star, Portishead and Cowboy Junkies, yet unfortunately, given the standing-room-only bar venue, unless you are right up the front it will be hard to maintain the groove due to the chatter of the crowd.

HTRK needs a tiered, or seated venue, if not beanbags on the floor. Melbourne duo Nigel Yang and Jonnine Standish deliver a performance that often sounds like Max Richter’s exquisite Sleep – his eight-and-a-half-hour concept album – and being able to actually see them physically play, which they do masterfully, is crucial to enjoying the experience.

Standish’s vocals are rich and honeyed, but she makes little effort to engage the crowd or make the usual small talk while tuning or switching instruments between songs. It’s a style suited to the vibe of depressing shoegaze but, without the pace variation and the commitment to a relentlessly unchanging bpm, it becomes somewhat soporific. The loop pedal brings a little life to what is a heavily acoustic set, and the beats reverb around The Weary Traveller venue like a much-needed defibrillator, replacing the percussive contribution from Standish’s maraca/shaker.

There could be more of a narrative arc to the show, but there’s little differentiation to the songs – it’s ballad after ballad. The highlights are when they waver slightly out of character, such as ‘Kiss Kiss and Rhinestones’, ‘Real Headf**k’, and the superb ‘Mentions,’ where Standish’s soul-puncturing poeticism shines.  

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The music itself is so dreamily beautiful – lyrical without pretension, melancholic and sensitive without narcissism. HTRK progress through their canon from their classic Psychic 9-5 Club to last year’s Death is a Dream. They are a committed act and clearly accomplished musicians, rather than show(wo)men, rightfully known and accoladed around the world, and they don’t give a flying about your expectations. If you are in the mood to sway in the dark, this is your band. Or queue it on your Spotify sex playlist. It’s a dark permeating energy that could have reached exquisite heights (or lows) in the right venue. Take me forever with ‘Renaissance’.  

Sydney Festival 
The Weary Traveller

Tickets: $49
HTRK will be performing until 19 January 2023.

Anna Westbrook is an interdisciplinary queer feminist storyteller, critic, creative producer, poet, and freelance educator, currently working on her second novel and a collection of essays. She has a PhD in writing from the University of New South Wales and is the author of Dark Fires Shall Burn.