Music

Why punk and metal are Australia’s last great musical “tribes”

LACHLAN MARKS digs into the heart of one of music’s last “tribes” speaking to King Parrot frontman Matt Young, acclaimed music photographer Kane Hibberd and Luke Logemann, Head of UNFD Records to get a better understanding about why heavy music is so vital in Australia, what makes it great and what is keeping it a live. 

In 2015, the way music is distributed and consumed has become such a casual affair that the once passionate cliques of proud music fans seem to have dissipated to a degree, resulting in more and more people you meet at the pub that’ll tell you “oh I like a bit of everything, really”. Your friend from the office is just as comfortable with a touch of gangster rap as they are with a solid lashing of indie rock. What they’re probably not comfortable with however is blast of grindcore, metalcore or straight up punk rock before lunchtime

The last musical genre that still makes people uncomfortable is that of genuinely heavy guitar-driven music, which for the most part is cleared from our airwaves until the late hours of the evening on community radio and the likes of triple j’s The Racket and Short.Fast.Loud, save for a few regular high-charting artists.

Those that revel in the tougher-edged tunes are also the most vocal (and physical) about it. While moshpits swirl with flailing arms at local shows, social media flame wars rage around the clock as fans passionately defend their opinion as to who should be playing on what show and why a new band is or isn’t “metal” or “punk”. Entire circles of friends are built around a love of a particular sound and atmosphere that can only be found from the moshpit, or very close by.

Australia boasts one of the healthiest heavy music scenes in the world that has seen bands carve out international careers despite no support from mainstream media. Non-stop touring, fan interaction and a level of technical proficiency keep the punters coming back and again. With bands like Northlane, Bring Me The Horizon and Parkway Drive topping the ARIA charts in 2016, it’s clear that Aussie heavy music fans are the unspoken heroes of the industry right now. They buy records, merchandise and concert tickets with a fervour unseen outside of the single-of-the week reality tv model, and find their favourite artists through a network of fans and websites that existing mostly outside the mainstream. In terms of hard dollar value, just how much of the Australian music industry in now driven by this tribe of devoted music lovers? The answer, simply, is: a lot.

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Photo credit: Stevie Bowden for FL

It’s friendly, or at least friend-forming

 MATT YOUNG: Some of the best and strongest friendships I have ever made have been a result of a love for this type of music, and I think that is awesome.

LUKE LOGEMANN: I rarely listen to anything that isn’t loosely defined as Hardcore, Metal or Punk, and I don’t really have any friends who I haven’t met through this community. It’s a huge part of who I am.

There’s a uniquely Australia edge to it

KANE HIBBERD: In Australia because of the size of the scene and the lack of places to tour, I think it’s really based on a grass roots fan base. You do really need those fans to support the band through merch and ticket sales to make it possible to tour. So making sure they connecting with fans right down to each individual fan is very important.

LL: I think [Australian bands] are just way more real with their audience, and put themselves on a similar level, which is way more refreshing and engaging than the lead singer selfie-fest that a lot of bands put out there in the name of connecting with their fans.

MY: Showmanship and entertainment is sometimes lost on metal heads overseas, over musicianship which is fair enough too, each to their own. At the end of the day people want to be entertained, and I think it’s important to try and bring both musicianship and entertainment to the table and Aussie bands do this really well.

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Photo credit: Kristen Ashton for FL

Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked

LL: When I was about 14 I got into hardcore, and became instantly obsessed with it. It was mostly fast hardcore – Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Floorpunch and bands like that. I made a zine and wrote letters to people all across the world, and I started putting on shows in Northern Sydney. To be honest, I think I might have been hooked right there and then. I never wanted to be in a band, so I used my skill set instead and starting booking tours, putting on shows and putting out DIY records for my friends’ bands. That snowball effect has been running for nearly 20 years now, and in that time I have never really thought of doing anything else.

MY: I recall being about 16 years old and walking past the infamous Tote Hotel in Collingwood and peering through the windows and wishing I could go in there. I think from that moment I knew I would always play in bands.

People work really hard to keep it alive

KH: I think Poison City are great at what they do with the bands they support and release on their label, as well as the shows they put on, but still keeping to their DIY ethics. It all goes back into the scene in different ways supporting venues such as The Reverence as well as local bands, artists and suppliers. UNFD have also done similar work, more within the metal, metal core community, opening up the world stage to Australian bands such as The Amity Affliction and Northlane. And let’s not forget Resist records who forged the way for labels like UNFD and Poison city. Without Graham some of these scenes might not exist.

“This scene wouldn’t be experiencing the amazing success it is currently having without the people who took risks”

MY: For me it’s the people that do it for the love of the music. Whether they are musicians themselves, promoters, industry people, or the fans. When there is a genuine love for the music, I think that can be seen from a mile away and always outweighs any financially influenced stuff.

LL: This scene wouldn’t be experiencing the amazing success it is currently having without the people who took risks and got the community organised early on. Graham Nixon from Resist Records, Stu Harvey (ex Short Fast Loud / Shock and now at Cooking Vinyl) and AJ Maddah from Soundwave all had completely different approaches to nurturing growth for heavy music in Australia, and they all continue to work their ass off down here. I think they deserve respect for their vision and hard work. Plenty of other people are working hard and achieving a lot, but we wouldn’t be here without them.

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Photo credit: Stevie Bowden for FL

It’s as good as it ever was

 LL: I’m older now but I still get a kick out of watching kids circle pit and hang out and be themselves.

MY: There’s something about the energy of a live show that I just love and it has had me hooked since I was a kid. I’m glad it doesn’t seem to have changed too much and I’m glad its part of our culture that still appeals to people.

KH: It could be the counter culture of the punk / metal scene to get out to shows and see people face-to-face rather than online.

Bands need their fans and fans need their bands

 LL: I love how the fans adore it all, and how aware they are of the importance of buying music, merch and tickets to support their favourite bands.

MY: I see a much greater sense of community, and a brotherhood/sisterhood that doesn’t seem to exist with other genres. For the most part, punks and metal heads like to help each other out, support each other’s bands, and see each other do well. There’s a sense of connection and belonging to something that is bigger than the bands and the individuals that make it up. That’s a strong, powerful thing that is appealing to a lot of us.

It ain’t easy

LL: One thing that concerns me is how badly U18 and AA shows are doing compared to 18+. I can see how in 2016, we might not end up doing anything that is specifically catering for the kids. All our artists and tours are losing a small fortune to try and do these shows, and between the constant lack of venues and the poor ticket sales, it feels like its just not viable for the medium to bigger sized bands to play for the kids anymore.

MY: There seems to be so many international bands touring out here and taking a big place in the market, it’s probably harder than its ever been for Aussie bands to get recognized in their own country. On the flip side, it helps bands rise to the challenge and gives them a better idea of what’s involved to get out their name out there.

And it ain’t cool

KH: It’s not a scene that is created from people being a part of something because it’s perceived as cool. The music comes first.

But it’s a legit business

LL: From PCYC shows to 200 people, to seeing Amity play to 12,000 people at Rod Laver Arena is a pretty epic change!

KH: I still don’t think ARIA understand how important heavy music is the Australian Music Industry. Especially from a dollar value, it’s an industry that needs to generate money and considering most metal bands are selling more tickets and albums than a lot of Australia’s pop artists, heavy music is contributing a lot more than the media ARIA gives it. They don’t even televise the heavy music category.

Screenwriter, songwriter, journalist, complainer and exaggerator. He tweets at @LachlanMarks

Lead image credit: Rebecca Houlden for FL.

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 Photo credit: Stevie Bowden for FL