‘The energy across both spaces was tremendous’: The AAO is back with another banger-filled show at Section 8

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‘The energy across both spaces was tremendous’: The AAO is back with another banger-filled show at Section 8

Australian Art Orchestra
Credit: Jo Redfearn
Words by Juliette Salom

Experimental art music in a club? The Australian Art Orchestra might have just struck gold as they gear up to return to Section 8 for another night of innovation, dance and a chock-full venue.

The Australian Art Orchestra are back for another instalment of their experimental music series Straight Up and Down, hosted by none other than Melbourne/Naarm’s favourite container bar Section 8.

After the tremendous success of their first show in March, it’s no surprise that the AAO is returning with another night of musical innovation and community-connecting creativity on Friday, June 28, with a new commission from guitarist and composer Yusuke Akai.

Australian Art Orchestra at Section 8

  • Friday, June 28, 6pm to late
  • Free entry
  • 27-29 Tattersalls Lane

Keep up with the latest music news, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

Whatever trepidation existed before the first show about bringing experimental art music to the shipping container dancefloors of Section 8 proved wildly unwarranted.

A fully packed venue, with patrons spilling into the laneway to get a glimpse and a listen to the saintly-sent tunes coming from the band at hand, Artistic Director of the AAO Aaron Choulai knew almost straight away that what they’d found between Section 8 and the AAO was a match made in heaven. 

“After the first 4 bars of music, the ensemble and audience locked in straight away and we were together for all the twists and turns throughout the concert,” he says. “The venue was at capacity, so the laneway was full, and the energy across both spaces was tremendous. It warms my heart to see audiences embrace new things.”

It should be hardly a surprise that music as creative and original as the AAO’s is received so well at Section 8 – a venue that prides itself on pushing the boundaries and deepening dimensions in musical diversity.

But Choulai himself was even taken aback by how “overwhelmingly successful” the first edition of Straight Up and Down was, saying that “The AAO typically plays at concert halls and Arts Precincts around the country, so this type of engagement isn’t usual for us.” 

And that is exactly what Choulai as the Artistic Director is out to change for the way experimental art music is interacted with in this country. Growing up in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in the ’80s, Choulai has as much of one foot in the hip-hop community as he does in the classical music community, and so when it comes to connecting people with music, Choulai wants there to be as little obstacles in the way as possible.

No Better Venue


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“As Artistic Director, it’s important to me that part of AAO’s annual program is accessible to those who might not feel comfortable in a concert hall or might not be able to afford a ticket,” he says.

“I also think it’s important to demonstrate that creative music and improvisation are fundamentally connective for anybody willing to listen. Less division, more inclusion, all the time.”

For this instalment of Straight Up and Down at Section 8, Yusuke Akai will be premiering a new commission featuring an ensemble of AAO improvisers. Choulai himself is more than just a little excited for what Akai, who Choulai says is “one of the most unique and exciting musicians in Australia”, has in store for the upcoming show.

“Yusuke’s music is so true to who he is as an artist and a person – unconventional, deep in substance and low on theatrics, and utterly captivating,” Choulai says. “I have heard short snippets of his new compositions and, at this point using that as an indicator, I can say that it’s going to be an amazing night of music.”

A Heavenly Lineup

With big shoes to fill after the roaring success of the first Section 8 show, Choulai is sure they’ve got the right artist for the job. “To me, [Akai’s music is] fundamentally jazz in the sense that he’s striving to find previously unexplored areas of creativity, but it’s so much more than that too,” he says. “It’s grungy, it’s experimental and aggressive, but at the same time it’s deeply connective, logical and beautiful.”

Akai will be joined by a team of the AAO, and Choulai says that having the chance to play alongside this ensemble of world-class musicians never gets old. “Even though I lead the company, I look forward to any opportunity I get to play with the AAO. It’s still surreal for me.” 

With the 30th anniversary of the AAO coming up this year, there’s never been a better time – or a better place than Section 8 – to dip your toe into the pool of original and innovative musical experimentation. Watch out – you might just dive headfirst into this limitless world of creative genius.

You can check out Straight Up and Down at Section 8 here.