Review + Snaps: Ta-Ku | Sydney Opera House

Written By Sean Singh on 06/04/2016

Ta-Ku is an icon of the internet producer generation, and it’s not hard to see why. Making his solo live debut at Sydney’s Vivid Festival, the show’s marketing bills him as “an online phenomenon from Perth with millions of plays”—so how does his music translate IRL?  

Opening 15 minutes late, the performance began with a false start, as the visuals kicked off with no sound. A blushing Ta-Ku took the technical issue in stride, promising to be back in a moment as he excused himself from stage, returning five minutes later to kick things off with audio.

The opener is Songs to Break Up To’s I Miss You, and Sydney R&B talent Thandi Phoenix enters with no fanfare, falling into the Willow Smith vocal sample with little attention. The first thing that becomes apparent is the show’s mediocre sound. Levelled at awkward positions, the high tones jar with every strike of the string quartet’s instruments; the sound quality is baffling coming from the polished combination of Future Classic and Intel.

Ta-Ku plays up his reputation for emotion by asking, “How’s everyone’s feels? Are everyone’s feelings intact?” before kicking off into the Jhené Aiko-sampling We Were in Love. Although it’s a sit-down concert at the Opera House, his fans are still club kids, cat-calling, whistling and heckling throughout the duration of the performance.

He’s nervous, that’s very clear. Maybe it’s the bewilderment of performing in such an iconic venue as the Opera House—an impressive level at which to play a debut. As he’s about to begin singing, he brushes his vocals off as an ‘attempt’, audibly clearing his throat before b eginning. Ta-Ku is an artist of incredible talent, and his vocals are as heart strung as his production, so the show of modesty was humanising, if unnecessary.

The real show stealer of the night was Wafia. She shone when she took the stage, with the evening’s peak coming early in her performance of the first track from their forthcoming collaborative EP, duet Treading Water. The Intel-designed visuals for the EP’s lead single Meet in the Middle were impressive too, taking away from the static lack of movement on stage.

Contributing a show to Vivid is about more than just the music, it’s about the experience. The lights, the sounds, the metaphorical taste—a veritable orgy of creativity, a la Bon Iver’s Cercle. But music aside, this show fell short. Whilst the visuals were designed impressively, they weren’t engaging. The show rested on the performance, but it was a debut—and one that didn’t feel complete. It was an amazing concept that required more creative commitment. Really, this was an elaborate listening party for Ta-Ku and an opportunity to showcase his new EP, with the only real interest coming from the visuals, an overabundance of sharpies and a brief flash of atomics that only revealed themselves in the penultimate track. The show had no defined beginning and it wasn’t engineered to build a climax, nor even end with anything more than a quiet, “Thank you Sydney, I love you.”

Ta-Ku is personable. His humble talent shines as he runs commentary between tracks, cracking safe jokes at his own expense and explaining the story behind each song. But all-in-all, there was just something flat. It’s tough to pinpoint what it was—was it Oscar Key Sung’s clear want but inability to move? The awkward unnamed third vocalist with his hands in his pockets? The lack of engaging visual content in the heart of a technologically creative festival? The fact that Ta-Ku never really felt like part of his own show?—but Ta-Ku live just wasn’t the polished product I entered expecting. Mind you, the music is incredible, and guests Wafia, Thandi Phoenix and Oscar Key Sung made up one the most talented vocal lineups to grace a stage in recent memory.

Ta-Ku’s music will have a place in the hearts of all reading this, and his live show will no doubt be as rare as his DJ sets have been. I’m excited to see where he goes with it—but for now, I’ll be content buying tickets to Wafia’s next show.

All photos by Ben Cvoro.