What Happened At Altavista

So this Saturday, what can you say? Here’s a roundabout way of saying, What Happened At Altavista, as best as I can talk about it.

So on Friday we were cooking dinner at Campos with the Fulbrighters, aka a flock (do you call it a flock?) of North Americans down in Colombia for a year teaching English, and we’d been hanging out all day at Santa Elena dancing in the rain and getting hit on by 70 year old drunk dames, and then suddenly mid-dinner we were surprised by the arrival of Gustavo and his crew from La Mantana que Pience, which is a gallery in Medellin, and so Chris and I played a short set in our downstairs studio and at the end of it Gustavo invited us to play a couple of tunes at a ‘social event’ the next day, which we all kind of forgot about because we were all suddenly employed in trying to rescue Marlon’s taxi, so 13 of us pushing the cab up a steep hill in the rain, slipping in the mud and Andres passing a box of wine, and when we finally got them free and were taking photos on the road it was all too late and everything was forgotten about and lost

until around 3pm the next day when Andres told us Gustavo had called and we were on for that evening, playing a gig at 6. So Chris and I jumped in a taxi with our gear and rolled down to La Placita, which was our rendezvous point – at Placita we realised we had no idea where we were or what we were doing, but just then Gustavo arrived to pick us up and drove us through the city, east I think, across the valley over the river and into the outskirts, finally up into a tiny village community called Altavista up in the hills – like everywhere in Medellin up in the hills – and at the gates of a rescued animal park we met Fulbrighters Michelle, Ryan and Justyn who had decided to join us –  such a grand sight, seeing Justyn’s shape from a distance, white dude in a polo shirt looking so distinct in that setting – and such a fucking rad thing, these three americans we’d met like 30 hours earlier joining us for a second adventure –

so we scrambled up a grassy hill to this outdoor stage and joined about 30 kids trying to assemble this outdoor marquis, then Michelle and Ryan and Justyn chatting with the kids and Chris and I setting up onstage but half-dazzled by this extraordinary sight behind us, the sun going down and twilight over the hills, the most Colombian sight you could imagine, and flashes of lightning, and then we were set up and soundchecking and then with 70 or so people bunkering down on the hillside above us we started playing

we played move to canberra, and the surreal sight of seeing several people in the crowd mouthing the lyrics back to me – ‘I do it for you, you do it for me’ – and of course it was a couple of cats from Gustavo’s crew who’d been at Campos the night before, and it was the strangest and loveliest thing – and then when we finished, Michelle was pressganged into getting up onstage and being our spanish liaison/MC, introduced us – los hermanos finnigan – and read the spanish translation of Because to the ground, which was awesome and properly lovely, and as much a surprise to her as to anyone I think, meanwhile ryan and justyn both roped into filming and recording stuff for us because they are lovely and we have no shame,

and then with the sky darkening above us and the microphone sparking terrifying electric shocks every time I got too close to it and with more humans filling up the hillside we played fireflies in the dark, feed it medicine and then christmas is the time, which is a joy just to watch the confusion on the audience’s face when we suddenly start yelling ‘navidad blanco!’ and ‘arbol de navidad!’ and then two princes, getting it all out of my system the way that song does, and they clapped and the MC said in english ‘Thank you, you have made us… very happy.’

and then crashing on the benches to watch a community theatre group bust out an extraordinarily tight and terrifyingly intense piece called ‘Seven Lives of the Cat’ or similar with the most hardcore abortion scene I’ve ever seen performed for four-year-olds, and then an abstract political parable about latin american politics performed by three bums with a shopping trolley, and then the next band was setting up but we were all falling down the hill, stumbling into cars, and gustavo driving us back into the city singing ‘papa noel papa noel’ and me laughing and watching the young couples in the streets and a late night bakery selling wedding cakes –

who is buying wedding cakes at 10pm on saturday night? and then back on the bus up to santa elena, winding streets up the hillside and partying kids giving way to families sitting outside their houses giving way to trees and mud and at last the waterfall and then walking down the hill to the farmhouse thinking I don’t know how this happened, I don’t know how this happened, I don’t know how this happened but I’m grateful

Finnigan and Brother: being in Colombia, this is what is happening

This is the month where Finnigan and Brother (aka the duo of my brother Chris and my self) travel to Medellin, Colombia, to work at the Campos de Gutierrez artist residency space on a series of new compositions.Medellin is the second biggest city in Colombia, set in the foothills of the Andes, and in case you were wondering, it is rad. Pretty badly hit by drug crime and internal violence over the last couple of decades, it’s now become a really exciting slice of the 21st century. Mad arts scene, cool friendly people, thriving metropolis etc, and it’s beautiful. I’m writing this right now from a balcony looking down through the hills and valleys to where the city lights spark and flare and the clouds are great blue mountains in the twilight and there are fireflies flickering in the dark.

So we’re at Campos de Gutierrez, which is an artist space, curated by Andres Monzon. It’s a gorgeous 19th century farmhouse that was previously a coffee plantation, now converted into a residency space complete with rooms, studios and (soon) a kiln. Andres selected us to be part of the 2012 June-August season, which is the second – the space opened in 2011, and Chris and I are the 11th and 12th residents here ever. So there’s all kinds of work still happening, and the room which we’ve co-opted as our studio was still having brick floorboards laid when we arrived – which is all really exciting. We’re in the thick of a raft of cool residents as well, so heaps of fascinating projects are unfurling on all sides.

Our project is essentially to create new material, which for Finnigan and Brother entails Chris’ guitar, loops and FX and my words. We’ve written and recorded demos of 17 new songs since we’ve been here, most of which aren’t very good, but there are a few we’re really proud of. The writing process has been great, with Chris and I synching better than ever before (which probably has something to do with spending 22 hours a day together) and it’s been all kinds of fun. Some highlights:
move to canberra (an advertisement for our home town)
feed it medicine (a song about our cat! our ex-cat)
anyone can play a christian music festival (a guide to doing just that)
christmas is the time (our obligatory cumbia tune. felice navidad! duendesitos! duendesitos means ‘little goblins’, because the spanish don’t have a specific word for hobgoblins vs regular goblins – but that’s okay, because I’m not sure that either kind of goblin actually has anything to do with christmas)

On Saturday we played a gig in Medellin at a gallery called Plazartes as part of a sound art evening coordinated by Miguel Iseza. This was heaps of fun, and Plazartes have invited us back for a solo Finnigan and Brother set on Thursday 9 August. We might also be doing a gig at another gallery in Medellin, we shall see.

Upon our return to Australia, we’ll be recording all this new material with the inestimable Nick McCorriston in Melbourne, and performing twice in Canberra – at Bad! Slam! No! Biscuit! at the Phoenix Pub on Wednesday 15 August, and at Scissors Paper Pen’s Something Else at Smiths Bookshop on Wednesday 22 August.

And then, the next thing, whatever that is.