Alter Boy aligns queer, deaf and hard of hearing experiences with music in stunning Vivid show

Lead singer of Alter Boy, Molly/Aaron Priest, signs while performing. Photo: Jacquie Manning/supplied.

Review: Alter Boy, Carriageworks, presented as part of Vivid Sydney – Thursday, 2 June, 2022. Reviewed by arts and entertainment editor Tahli Blackman

★★★★

From the immersive use of lighting to the chaotic head banging, this live performance by Perth band Alter Boy at Carriageworks was an unmissable visual and aural experience, and perfectly fitting for Vivid Sydney.

Opening for Alter Boy was Yirinda, a collaborative partnership between Butchulla artist Fred Leone and experimental double bassist Samuel Pankhurst. Yirinda uses their music as a way of conveying language and stories of Butchulla country, aiming to abolish the conventions of traditional Western music.

The combination of the traditionally classical instrument with the Indigenous didgeridoo worked incredibly well. The songs played like a cultural battle of the bands. Two instruments that wouldn’t normally be paired together created incredibly dynamic compositions that inspired much thought and appreciation.

Fred Leone and Samuel Pankhurst, who form Yirinda, play their instruments while opening for Alter Boy. Photo: Jacquie Manning/supplied.

Alter Boy started their show with an Acknowledgement of Country and a salute to Yirinda. The group is a self-described “queerlectro” pop collective fronted by trans and hard of hearing vocalist Molly/Aaron Priest. It comprises six members, each with their own unique individuality, which makes them compelling to watch.

Jack Meakins and Laura Bullock are the Auslan signers of the group. All of Alter Boy’s songs are performed in Australian Sign Language, with the group aiming to represent the many ways in which deaf and hard of hearing audience members can feel and see their music.

Josh Ellis is on drums, Josh Terlick is the bassist and synth player, while Andrew Wright takes care of the keys and is also the band’s producer.

On the night of this performance, regular band signers Bullock and Meakins could not be present. Fortunately, Auslan signer Luke Eastman filled in and really looked like he was a part of the group, connecting so well to their music and their passion on stage. You could not take your eyes off him.

Auslan interpreter Luke Eastman signs in front of Alter Boy as they play their instruments. Photo: Flora Cann/supplied.

Alter Boy’s music is a layering of electronic beats, dissonant melodies and powerful symphonic tones. A strong pulsing beat is the core focus of each song to provide a feeling experience for the deaf and hard of hearing audience, accompanied with Molly/Aaron’s soft and fragile vocals. These softer vocals juxtapose the dominance of the music.

With a majestic light show designed by Dean Gratwick of Beatmatch Design, the band was able to connect more with the mood and atmosphere of each song. During their performance of ‘Slay King’, all band members were lit up under red spotlights and paused their instruments to sign together during moments of the chorus. This part of the show was very powerful, reflecting the authenticity and strong relationships within the band.

The world of Alter boy is so empowering and refreshingly different from what any other band does. They achieve something so profound in aligning the beauty of deaf communication with a celebration of the queer community. This is truly the group that validates the experiences of marginalised communities through music.

Josh Terlick plays bass for the band Alter Boy during their performance at Carriageworks for Vivid Sydney. Photo: Jacquie Manning/supplied.

Alter Boy’s song ‘Bad Dream Break In’ is one of my personal favourites of theirs; it was compelling to watch live, performed in sign language. The lyrics in this song tell the story of a deaf person being caught in a dark dream that they’re finding hard to wake up from. You could feel the emotion pour out onto the stage as Molly/Aaron sung this one.

Believe it or not, Alter Boy’s music draws creative inspiration from God and Christianity. Their most popular song, ‘Act of God’, references holy redemption and reckoning with condemnation. Alter Boy rejects the religious world that privileges hearing and cisgender people, redefining what God and devotion are.

While listening to the enchanting sounds of Molly/Aaron’s voice was extraordinary, the audience also got to hear a little bit of bass player Josh Terlick’s deep and captivating singing voice on the night. This sound was something I wanted to hear more of.

Dean Gratwick’s lighting design for Alter Boy adds to their otherworldly performance. Photo: Jacquie Manning/supplied.

Carriageworks, one of the largest multi-arts centres in Australia, was the perfect venue for this performance. The venue supports artists to develop new creative works and reflects the diverse communities of urban Sydney. The location’s open concrete floorplan really added to the dramatic effect of the lighting and almighty sounds of Alter Boy.

Their music is danceable, which is why I was confused when most people in the audience were sitting down. It felt wrong to be so relaxed on the floor when there was clear rage coming from the stage. However, this could be interpreted as a sign of the audience’s comfortability with the band in such a safe space.

This show offered a rare experience that drew attention to the need for more accessibility to live music for the deaf community. Having never been to a concert with an interpreter before, I found it truly mesmerising.

Alter Boy is not a band – it’s a collectively awakening experience.

For tickets and information on further Vivid Sydney events at Carriageworks, visit https://carriageworks.com.au/events/vivid-sydney-22/.

Tahli Blackman is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

For further news, features, reviews, interviews, opinion, podcasts and more, visit https://sydneysentinel.com.au. You can also like/follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.