20 Apr 2005

My psychedelic lightshow

In 1973 there were two kinds of lighting. Stage Lighting in the Theatre (say it with a prim and proper English accent like this: Thea-a-tRe) or psychedelic lighting. Neither camp spoke with the other. The latter attracted me.

The first time I went to a venue and saw a band it was at a place called The Arts Factory, run by Johnny Allen. He went on to run the Aquarius Festival. The Arts Factory was a hippy gig, a warehouse in Sydney’s Goulburn street – a few blocks up from Chequers Nightclub.

Most seminal bands from the era played at ‘the Factory’ – Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Bakery, Madder Lake, Company Cain (get it?), Tully, Taman Shud, the 69’ers (really!), the La De Da’s, Spectrum, SCRA, Harvest, the Battersea Heroes, Captain Matchbox Whoopie Band, Chain … the list goes on.


Lucky me, I ingratiated myself with Eddie VanDerMadden – the leader in the lighting collective. Actually, Eddie wasn’t the leader by name. No one was. Everything at the Arts Factory was run on contemporary hippy principles. Things were airily debated with lot’s of ‘maaan’, ‘cool’, and ‘kosmic’ punctuation. Hippies were called ‘heads’ back then.

The whole alternative head nation worked on the premise of lots of talk and no real physical action. The Arts Factory was really the embodiment of an alternative movement which was about 5 years behind San Francisco and London.

The lighting system at the Factory comprised 1 x Patt 23 profile spot for the stage, 12 x 4′ UV tubes for the crowd, and a cyc with lots of projected things.


Projection was everything.

From a scaffold tower at the rear of the warehouse, at least three and sometimes five overhead projectors were operated by serious heads. Two Pyrex dishes were used, one slightly larger than the other. Liquid dies, one oil based, one water based, were poured into the first dish, filling it one third full.

The second dish was held in both hands and lowered into the first. At the appropriate depth, it would squish the dies, and being different in origin, they would not combine. Moving the dish produced mesmerising swirling patterns, projected onto the cyc.

After a while, the colours got dull or the combination got boring, so the liquid was thrown into a bucket. Being a collective, no one was empowered to empty them. Sometimes a whole bucket load would be kicked over, and dribble through the floor onto the stoned hippies underneath.

Eddie wasn’t terribly interested in the overhead projectors. Other hippies would operate these, fuelled by lengthy spliffs of Acapulco Gold or best of all, Brown Acid. Maybe both.

Eddie was an inventor. His projections were from ‘De Machines’ as he called them, which he made in his squalid rooms in a boarding house. Some of Eddie’s machines were very simple. He removed the heat filter from a slide projector, and let it slowly melt a hand coloured slide.

Another simple idea: Eddie made a disc out of Polariod plastic. Then he put a static slide of Polaroid into the gate of the slide projector. The slide was covered in random bits of clear standard sticky tape. When the Polaroid disk was rotated through the gate, just in front of the static slide, it made for this weird polarising rainbow hued effect.

The machines got more complex, Eddie had 3 Prisms on a turntable in front of some projectors. They threw twisted, distorted images through the venue. Presumably the hippies and heads, who were usually reclined on pillows on old ratty Persian carpets, changed the dose of whatever they were on to coincide with the lightshow.

Hugh and Bani McSpeddon had a similar lightshow operation in Melbourne, at the T. F. Much More Ballroom. I never did find out who or what the T. F. was.

I guess the most impressive thing about the lightshow at the Factory was how the band were just a part of the whole experience. Doug Parkinson or Billy Thorpe or anyone famous at the time would just do the gig, lit with the one feeble spot, while the weirdness was projected on the screen and even all over the band.

When the Factory was closed, Eddie wandered off and wasn’t seen again. If anyone knows of him, please drop me a line.




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