A Weekend: Shaun Tenzenmen
A Weekend is a new (regular?) feature we're going to run on Polaroids Of PublishMoreRoids, featuring a diary-like entry of an ordinary weekend in the life of someone just like you. Except instead of just watching Seinfeld re-runs, eating nachos and drinking cheap whiskey they're out there living. Not living like a million bucks, but just grabbing life by it's Everything, twisting it hard to the left and seeing what comes out.
Shaun has been running local DIY label, Tenzenmen, since 2004. In that time he's put out a stack of fantastic local releases — Intentions, Dead Farmers, The Thaw, Nikko etc etc — as well as establishing himself as the go-to guy for Chinese hardcore and weird-as-fuck Indonesia Improvisation. He emailed us a few days ago with the following life excerpt, a documentation of his weekend in Sydney. More than that, however, his detailed journal provides a wonderful explanation of just a small slither of what the Sydney DIY scene has to offer, as well as forming as the perfect epilogue for that economical SLAM-dance article we published last week.
Friday, February 24: Dirty Shirlows, Marrickville - Haunts, Thomas William Vs Scissor Lock, Making, Simo Soo
Dirty Shirlows has struggled along as an alternative venue for a few years now. At times kept quiet by too many visits from the police or council this great space seems to be enjoying some toleration by the authorities, at least for now. Probably best known for many great late night, early morning breakcore dance parties, the 2011 SMAC award winning collective is starting to focus more on band nights and with more regularity - the logistics probably being a lot easier to deal with, with people tending to arrive and leave purely around the band show times and not just partying on until the sun comes up.
Tonight's show was organised by Greg from Underlapper/Haunts and the line up was inspirationally diverse. He choose Dirty Shirlows for a couple of reasons. Firstly he felt like this was a venue that he actually wanted to organise a show in, the ethos and community spirit of the collective being a draw card. Secondly he knew that this line up would be unlikely to be accepted by a more regular venue due to the diversity factor and the almost necessary requirement for a reasonable number of punters to be buying enough drinks over the bar. This last point being of particular note as it seems that expectations from some venues are becoming higher and higher, with many of them now just refusing to host shows that they don't think will bring out at least 150 to 200 people.
As a venue, Dirty Shirlows has transformed itself from an often cold and uninviting iron clad warehouse into a fabulously graffitied and artistically decorated lounge with what is regarded, by many who play there, as one of the the better PA systems in Sydney. With the stage area slightly separated from the lounge area fans get the full force of the sound system with a crystal clear sound at reasonable volumes. I'm sure it can be pumped but the levels tonight were perfect. Lighting wise things were quite restrained tonight, just some nice projections purely on the bass amps creating an interesting distraction between sets.
A reasonable crowd of approximately 100 people made it to the show. Some old warehouse hands, others visiting for the first time. Some paying undivided attention to every act and others taking in the atmosphere of the graf-lounge or playing foosball.
First up were Haunts, who were an unknown act for me so I was curious to see how they fit with the rest of the line up. A three-piece featuring the aforementioned Greg from Underlapper, as well as one of his cohorts doing various things electronic and Peter Hollo adding effect laden cello. For only their second show they seemed in total control, with their (still mostly unnamed) songs generating some nice beats mixed with soundscapes, Godspeed-type spoken word passages and occasional vocal lines. I enjoyed this much more than I would've expected from that description and perhaps that's a testament to artists having perfected their craft.
Marcus Whale and I go back a little way to when he was a quiet, shy 16 year old attending and occasionally performing at the legendary Pitz. We agreed that tonight's line up reminded us of those shows and even more so as Thomas William Vs Scissor Lock (aka Marcus) quickly set up off stage to get up close and personal with their audience. Three long tracks, with the first being a highlight; long droning electronic sounds generated by devices eventually forming into some gentle laid back struggling rhythms that drove the piece forward into heavily treated vocals. Marcus, no longer the shy boy, and obviously quite pleased with himself, experimented further with the effect between the songs. The next two tracks following the same lines but failed to find any rhythm; nice experimental noise that prompted one the Shirlows crew to wonder if they had had a fire alarm installed recently. The audience, quite absorbed were mostly seated by this point, sucking in the vibrations through the floor and up into they backbones.
Chris, guitarist for Making, commented about the commitment of the sound guys to ensuring a grand audio experience for the event and compared this to the sometimes lackadaisical efforts at other venues and spaces. It certainly serves as a good advertisement for your venue if the house engineer is working with the band and not just someone who rocks up and being paid to 'do their job'. Making certainly benefited from the attention as this was the best I've ever heard them, their tight math rock perfectly suiting the sound system. Bass man Peter certainly appreciated the big vibrating booms from his cab, trembling through the floor and blowing his arm hairs forward as the band melted song into song with some glorious feedback. Despite limited lyrics and little interaction they kept the audience rooted to the spot for their entire set and dropped in many nice subtleties in their last two songs.
As with Marcus, I've known Simo Soo since the Pitz days when he would perform with Call The Medic, Call The Nurse. Since unrestrained from the confines of those punk parameters Simo challenged himself (and often his long suffering house mates) to making mad electronic music with blindingly funny and self aware lyrics. It had been 4 years since I'd seen him last so I was curious to see how he had developed. I remembered an unconfident, gangly, awkward youth just jumping around like crazy to some crappy rhythms. Fun for a few minutes but nothing of substance. And tonight was a great example of how he has grown, no longer afraid of the awkwardness, and sometimes embracing it as a device, he started tonight by simply playing a remix from his laptop and just bouncing around the stage with a huge smile. Where he really shines though is with his own songs and there's plenty of opportunity for crowd sing-a-longs. I've discussed with Simo previously how I value his contribution to what I consider to be 'punk' much more than some of his compadres who sometimes wallow in the mire of that musical genre - this is the aesthetic of 'punk' and I champion him for it. Earlier we were discussing the line up for the evening and how whilst we enjoyed it, often audiences would just come for the band they wanted to see and then leave again. Simo thought that perhaps this was changing now as kids seem to be growing without the genre boundaries that we'd somehow imposed on ourselves in our own youth. Let's hope.
The Shirlows collective, the bands and organisers, all are essentially volunteers, donating their services, their space or their art and tonight showed that in what some naysayers insist is a failing Sydney scene, there is plenty of life left in the underground.
Saturday, February 25: Black Wire, Annandale - SoundDave
Featuring: Chambers, Milhouse, Palisades, Nathan Martin, thedowngoing Vs Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt (Grind Vs Grind), Nick Van Breda, Berkshire Hunting Club, Perspectives, Union Pacific, Surprise Wasp, Epics
I wasn't too worried about running around 20 minutes late and trying to make the supposed midday kick off for this event. But, much to my surprise,things were on schedule and I missed Chambers. I did notice they were also organised enough to have t-shirts available, though I'm not sure if they sold any. I heard no reports about them either way so can't really comment.
I'm not sure of the motivation for today's spectacular — beyond the great timing of the pun — but this mini-fest hosted by Dave Drayton and record store/venue Black Wire was truly an alternative to the huge attraction of the following day's SoundWave festival. Probably not an alternative option for folks wanting to attend SoundWave but an alternative for folks wanting a fun filled 8 hours or so of interesting variations of punk rock for a fraction of the price.
When considering venues for the show, Black Wire instantly came to mind as a supportive space. Easy to work with and having lower overheads, Dave felt that a regular pub venue wouldn't want to take a risk on such an event as this. Factoring in that though he seems to have been around for years and years, Dave is still only 22 years old and making this event all-ages was also a major consideration - something which is not always easy to organise in a pub venue where beer sales are the main revenue. (Dave also writes the All Ages column in Drum Media - the local street press).
Not to miss a trick, one of Dave's bands played next. Milhouse are a three piece that didn't impress me much last time I saw them, but today their happy bouncy melodic punk was well suited to an early afternoon slot and they got helped rev up those in attendance.
Next up was Melbourne's Palisades on their second visit to Sydney, having chosen Black Wire to play the first time round too. Bass player Matt (a Sydney ex-pat) loves the open mindedness of the venue and the people who attend in general. He also commented that these things go in cycles but noticed that Sydney is once again going through a flush period of having alternative spaces to play. Palisades brought a little lazy afternoon mosh action with their brand of screamo hardcore with some clean guitar sound that brought to mind old favourites Eucalypt. A great roar that made myself and many others very happy and juxtaposed nicely with what was to follow.
The sun shining and the vegan BBQ on in earnest it was natural for everyone to head out to the backyard but the music didn't stop as Sweet Teeth guitarist Nathan Martin picked up his acoustic and amused one and all with tales of drunken nights and mistaken identities. Despite his drinking ability he makes note that he loves Black Wire because music is the main reason that people are there, it's a relaxed environment with a community spirit and people are polite. A statement perhaps born out of too many dud shows with an audience more intent on drinking at the bar than enjoying a night of musical entertainment, a point echoed by many other artists playing today.
Back inside, folks have been busy preparing for Grind Vs Grind — two drum kits and two guitar amps ready for thedowngoing and Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt to trade song for song with the humour of a bad (good) wrestling match. It's fascinatingly fast entertainment as they each blast out 30 seconds or so before goading the other to better them. Everyone seems to agree on a draw at the end of it all and ideas are bandied around about future 3 way grind to death events. Chris Fat Guy (looking thinner each time) is loving today's mixed bill and feels like it's a big egoless house party.
After this intensity the backyard is even more packed as Nick Van Breda plays some quiet noodly acoustic tunes with sad tales of destiny and chance. He has everyone captivated. I missed it but heard there was some banjo action later on too. I was busy talking with Tom, the man behind the venue, behind on rent, rates and bills and generally in debt to quite a few of his friends, most of whom let it slide for now in order to help keep the space operating.
Tom's mantra is based upon his preference for smaller intimate shows. Stay small, stay local, stay punk. When quizzed to clarify his definition of 'punk' he veers away from a musical identity and he laughingly describes a collection of weirdos, misfits and outcasts, but who are highly ethical and supportive of each other. His preference for dealing directly with band members, often denying responses to enquiries from managers and agents, can sometimes lead to problems with disorganised artists, but often an event will pull together with the sheer will power of the community involved. Also most bands wishing to hold an event here are well aware of the working aesthetic of the venue.
Berkshire Hunting Club are another new Sydney band that impressed me with a loud, noisy post hardcore sound that was both subtle and aggressive and made all the more interesting by some post punk guitar effects that reminded me of Siouxsie and the Banshees. A grand discovery, they only suffered a little with their time slot as folks were still soaking up the sun and tofu wraps out the back.
Whilst there isn't normally a BBQ going on at events at Black Wire there is usually a food option as Elise bakes and supplies vegan pies which people can grab in the kitchen for a few dollars each. Besides her connection with a punk ideal she feels this is another small way to help support Black Wire because she appreciates what Tom and the space offers, investing back into the music community. She's actually the first person to state that it's in a good location, which is interesting in relation to some people's thoughts on the Annandale Hotel, only a couple of blocks away, being in a difficult location.
Another person you're likely to encounter at most Black Wire shows is Kevin. Still only 17 he's been involving himself here almost since the beginning, often manning the door or running an errand for someone. I've watched him grow from an awkward teenager where he's talked about having trouble fitting in at school to a confident young man, able to make friends quickly with almost anyone who walks through the door. This is testament to the acceptance into the supportive community around him and he willingly gives back as much as he can.
Talking of youngsters, Perspectives are a 5 piece from the northern beaches all aged around 17 or 18. This is their first time playing at Black Wire though I'm sure a couple of them have been here in attendance previously. They play a typical shout along hardcore that I really shouldn't like but for some reason these kids do it well and I find it very enjoyable. They're stoked to be playing here despite constant guitar amp issues, something which many of the other musicians playing today quickly gather together to try and find a fix for — another indicator of the willingness of everyone to pull together to make for a great event.
A tired crowd head back inside to enjoy Melbourne pop punk band The Union Pacific who bang out a constant set of melodies that everyone seems to enjoy though it does little for me and I take a rest in a quieter corner to talk with others for a while. I am interested to check out Surprise Wasp though who play competent high energy punk rock a la the Hives, singer Dean making for some good photo opportunities mid song as he knocks out plenty of dance moves.
Though it's only early evening this big long day is rounded off by Epics whose chief song writer Jimmy writes a tune to match any catchy early Black Flag material. He also loves to play and it shows in his wild antics on stage. Well, of course, there is no stage but you get my drift. Vocalist Nick does his best to keep up and ventures into the crowd to encourage some participation. It's definitely part of the community feeling he enjoys about the venue along with it being easy to book without having to worry too much about how big a crowd can be pulled. Epics throw in a Black Flag cover which they could probably do without as their own material is just as good. Then it's over. Everyone tired and sweaty.
Whilst everything went off without a hitch, 150-or-so people having enjoying a great day of diverse music, at one point during the afternoon 3 cop cars suddenly pulled up across the road and smashed in a car window to rescue a baby locked inside with a 30 degree sun beating down. There was at least a brief moment where we all assumed they were coming to shut the show down. Thankfully, not this time.
Sunday, February 26: Jura Books, Petersham - Lenin Lennon, Wells, Union Pacific, Zounds, Palisades
Jura Books is a long running anarchist bookstore and library almost directly opposite the Bald Faced Stag and just a couple of doors down from the Clarence Hotel. Both hotels have live music, although I'm not sure what styles are entertained at the Clarence as I've never come across any bands I know in Sydney that may have played there. A block away from these pubs there's also the Petersham Hotel which used to be a bastion of the Sydney music scene about 15 years ago, I don't think they have any live music these days though. It's certainly an easy area to find a drink if you want one though.
Jura Books is pretty much a converted house and offers no competition to the hotels. The downstairs is a small shopfront whist the upstairs is a small library. Emphasis is on small here. The space is made available to host shows, talks and potentially other suggestions can be brought to the table too. Obviously the space has a huge political slant but there is no overt influence cast over a show beyond the fact that it being an intimate setup and a shop where "fuck-wittery" will not be tolerated.
Today's show was an amalgam of two lots of traveling bands looking for a space to play in Sydney. Main organiser Mitzi, who rarely organises shows at all, knew that it would be easy to pull something together quickly utilising the small community of friends in and around Jura, and after a few phone calls, a Facebook event was created and it was on. Having her own PA for use, all that was needed was to organise some drum and amp sharing. Easy!
Ben is currently the event co-ordinator for Jura and as a musician himself he's come to prefer the more intimate shows that spaces like this can provide. He also feels there is more direct participation from bands wanting to use the venue (i.e. bands may organise everything themselves from equipment and line ups to promotion and food options). Once the show is happening the intimacy provided by the cramped space is often accentuated by the fact that you can be sure that everyone in the room is a friend of a friend or perhaps once more removed at most. This makes for a comfortable setting and also provides the opportunity to easily make new friends.
All of the artists playing today confirmed the preference for intimacy and the comfort it provided even for interstate bands who may know no one at the stage of their set and make firm friendships by the end of the night. Teo from Palisades sometimes hosts shows in his house back in Melbourne and understands and appreciates the effort that goes into such events, including the shitty end of the deal cleaning up the following day, but also the highlights of the freedom and self regulation that goes on. There's no requirement for hired security and money is not a prime factor in these type of events. Today's show had a sliding scale donation entry of 5 to 10 dollars and those too poor to pay at all are often welcomed too. It's easy enough to soak up the atmosphere from downstairs or outside anyway and today two acoustic acts jumped on the bill and played between the main bands up in the library.
Sunday afternoon shows can be a lazy affair and despite some of the high energy music on offer they were brief bursts of energy amongst friends that brought smiles to our faces and pleasure to our ears.
The Union Pacific
Whilst it's obvious through the writing of this piece, and well established by those that know me, I am immersed in this scene and these spaces. It's a special occasion for me to venture to a regular bar venue and as a consumer at those events I can enjoy myself immensely. But I still leave them without caring about the venue in any shape or form. If it closed down the following week I would unlikely be affected.
Sydney, and everywhere else, has other options. Currently these places are mostly inhabited by the punk and alternative music scenes but they are all open to anyone; anyone with a shred of organisational skills could put something together and likely be welcomed as they diversify the range of events and broaden their audiences. When people cry about the death of a music scene in a city I believe they haven't yet fully explored all the options available to them and despite the naysayers the Sydney scene is very much alive and well.