26 December 2016

Artist In Focus: Magic Rob and Magic Rob Universe

| Nathan Gubler
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Magic Rob

When I sat my girlfriend down to watch Magic Rob’s latest rockumentary, Prepare for Take-off, a fly-on-the-wall insight into the making of the Magic Rob Universe debut Journey to the Hereafter, there was one dominate question on her mind: who is this guy with the cape?

Magic Rob has been a constant presence in the Canberra music scene for more than a decade, having released something like four solo albums, one best of, a novel, two rockumentaries and another album with his band Magic Rob Universe.

Bucking such current trends as sporting rural beards or vaporwave, Magic Rob’s obsessions are strictly fantastical, cooing about magic potions, soul battles in heaven and glassy domes under the sea populated by mysterious beings.

Prior to the emergence of Magic Rob Universe – which consists of a few friends of his who wanted to help realise his vision of having a rock band behind him – his solo work has been a series of albums distilling his alchemical fusions of science fiction and Medieval fascinations into shimmering, kaleidoscopic tunes. This output of colourfully twee and mythologically-infused ballads have been a strictly DIY effort – every synthesised tone and mystic lyric bares the trademark of someone determined to bring their visions to life without the red tape of additional people or studios. With each successive album the mythological world of Magic Rob expands, from the carnival, druggy folk songs of Cellophane Worlds, to the keyboard-laden space opera Voyage.

Since performing with the Universe the band has been inseparable, though their performances are notoriously sporadic. Which was why when a performance was announced last Monday, my girlfriend and I were sold.

It’s an experience every regular goer of the Canberra music scene should have had by now; watching this strange, tall man in a cape take you through his fairytales of good and evil, unusual creatures and the Age of Aquarius. He manages to get everyone dancing as well, surely an unheard-of phenomenon for a folk musician. This is thanks to the Universe, which have over the years faithfully plunged the archives of Magic Rob’s solo efforts and interpreted them with the classic three-piece rock group sound. Thanks to Magic Nath’s inconceivable ability on electric guitar, Visit to Hell is transformed from a slow-throbbing synthesised sermon into a biblical epic with passages of guitar garbling like demons, as Magic Rob slowly unravels his tale of temptation and evil.

I say tales, but the strength of Magic Rob’s lyrics lie more in their sense of setting. A track like Domes Under The Sea, a crowd favourite, dwells more in world-building than adventure. It is one of those unfortunate realities of live performances that quite often the lyric is lost to the roaring sounds of everything else, which is particularly unfortunate in Magic Rob’s case.

It’s also a shame that perhaps our grip on the classic myths may be starting to loosen. When Magic Rob announced he would next be singing a song about Isis, some bozos in the audience raised alarm that Rob may be about to launch into a patriot anthem saluting the Islamic State. Needless to say, it was the song Sun Queen, a tribute to the Queen of the Silver Sun crooned over a glam-infused rhythm and an absolute killer live. It is a relief that in a world that is slowly losing its grip to distorted and toxic myths, that an artist like Magic Rob can still draw sustenance from the great myths of old.

Prepare for Take-Off, Journey to the Hereafter, and Magic Rob’s latest album Sun are all available for purchase at Magic Rob and Magic Rob Universe shows.

View Magic Rob Universe facebook page for details about upcoming events.

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