Do-it-yourself music scenes – characterized by artist-driven venues and events, as well as a hands-on, holistic approach – these are often avenues for eluding the creative restrictions, red tape, rigid routines and general bullshirt that can accompany commercial venues and the music “industry.” Usually it works, too: domestic or non-profit settings for gigs, a sense of cooperative community, and artistic freedom can make for exciting times and fertile creative ground. But such scenes are not immune from the trials of the “real world,” and sometimes they come under threat. Such is the way with 208s, the fabled Maylands house of punk, which has recently been the brunt of noise complaints and requires a fresh lick o’ soundproofing if its legacy is to continue. That’s when the community spirit comes into play – and who should come to the rescue but Dada Records, another bastion of local music legend, hosting gigs as it has in its garage for some time now. Ben Stewart and The Good Buddies Foundation have curated a lineup for a show to support 208s in its plight. I arrive as proceedings begin, eager to hear what’s literally and figuratively in store.
I’ve been looking forward to see the DIANAS for a while now, not because I knew what to expect, but precisely because I didn’t. The fact that the group includes Nathalie from the Big Old Bears is encouraging – every time I’ve seen her perform before it’s been nothing short of spellbinding – but all reports suggest DIANAS have little (musically) in common with the soulful, rambling, folksy ‘Bears. Tonight heralds the arrival of the year’s biggest moon, so it follows that a band named after the Roman goddess of that celestial nightlight would be in their element right now. Dianas plunge into a pool of dirty surf-pop songs: simple, tasteful chords progressions, vernacular (but never clunky) drumming and nicely rough-around-the-edges basslines coagulate into something both familiar and curiously magical. Perhaps it’s the wonderfully executed harmonies and slyly irreverent lyrics that pluck these songs out of the swamp of pastiche and lob them into the waterfall of sparkly excellence.
Perth doesn’t really have any bands repping this sort of sound, though Astral Travel have some similar vibes, but in any case I eagerly await getting to watch Dianas outgrow their influences even more, and become the force they already hint at in this foetal stage.
I take a wander down Hay St to find something to wet my parched lips. IGA Liquor is rather overpriced but luckily VB is available for the pretty good fee of $13.95/6pk. I notice Comiczone has relocated and apparently they are reopening on May 5, coinciding with Free Comics Day. I frown before realizing that today is May 5. I track down the new Barack St store with high hopes for a free comicbook. Sadly it’s closed, but perhaps just as well, because now you can start reading about bands again, which is what you’re here to do.
Back at Dada, THE NEW POLLUTION have just finished setting up. In terms of appearance, choice of guitars, warming-up noodles, these guys all seem to be channeling sixties garage-psych via nineties grunginess – and I can surmise a degree of Brian Jonestown Massacre adulation before I even notice the t-shirt. Of course, that’s just me applying a superficial taxonomy of musicians to a bunch of real and independently-thinking human beings in front o’ me, but the truth is their ensuing tunes do little to upturn my flippant presumptions. They’re loud, but their ideas don’t speak volumes: blues pentatonics, straight-up slowed down old-school chugalug, some delay and plenty of fuzz and some indecipherable vocals. I’m not hating – they’re a good band if that’s your scene. But it’s not mine – I like a bunch of the stuff BJM and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, etc have done, but for me The New Pollution fail to live up to at least one of the words in their name (the middle one). There’s nothing that widens my eyes or pricks my ears up, and I’m not drunk enough to enjoy it without those concerns dampening the experience.
HOOTENANNY are a fitting comparison. Like The New Pollution, they aren’t necessarily trying to pioneer anything; their riffs, too, are simple blues patterns cranked to eleven, and their songs are structured in pretty traditional ways. But man, I love me a bit of Hoote, and I think the big difference is the delivery: complete with fur hats, feathery head-dresses and squeals, the Hootsisters sound is served with a sense of immense fun, light-heartedness mixed with firm belief in the visceral power of grimey rock and roll. While The New Pollution brought a sense of self-seriousness and somewhat lethargic noisiness, Hootenanny approach similar musical ideas with a smile and more energy than a crate of those Red Bull syrup things, and it’s contagious. (Am I presenting a double standard here? Is my suggested distinction a weak one? Am I being too harsh on The New Pollution, who I actually didn’t mind listening to at all? Write your responses on the back of an old fifty dollar note and mail in a stamped, self-addressed envelope, to Attn: M. Lingon Blute, The Helipad, Cool Perth Nights Grand Central Tower, Penguin Island WA, 6099). Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Hootenanny are crashing through tunes like ‘Fire In The Belly,’ and some covers, including a very convincing rendering of Pond’s “Cloud City” – a little nod to the band that were supposed to be headlining today, but had to pull out due to the fact that it was mango harvesting season and the sweet golden flesh was set to spoil were it not to be reaped before the darkening hour.
CROOKS then make themselves known visually and sonically. I don’t want to call Crooks a ‘supergroup,’ because that’s kinda dumb especially on the same week that Avengers came out. But I will confide that they’re both super, and a group. The group comprises Pete (Sonpsilo Circus etc), Steve (Hunting Huxley etc) Drage (Mercy Mercy & The Success of Satan etc), Lewis (Ten Mountains and erstwhile cartoonist) – and the criminal mastermind behind it all, Ash (of Helta Skelta, Bermuda, Blackout and more, he’s also key-keeper to 208s itself). Crooks proceed to play something that comparable to the perfect DJ set: they seem to read the vibe of the room, work with it, build up intensity when necessary, and generally foster a hulking party vibe teeming with super entertaining musical confetti. In what’s proven to be a running theme of the day, Crooks too have sixties pop and garage rock influences proudly embroidered on their sleeves, but it’s a pretty hearty mélange of ideas and tempos from within those worlds of sound. Lewis and Pete do some instrument juggling, taking turns to slam the bejeezus out of a rickety vintage Italian organ that sounds just awesome. Last time I saw Crooks they had Cam Avery on electric voice which gave it a bit more low-end grunt; the sound is perhaps now less hirsute. But it’s fun. If you like having fun you will like having fun with Crooks.
And if you like having fun with Crooks, you will like having fun at 208s. Although a mere suburban house, 208s is truly a kingdom of sweat, blood, rock and roll where the echoes of years of amazing domestic punk shows still float through the rafters. As Peter Bibby, founder of the Good Buddies Foundation says as the show concludes, this fundraiser was all about keeping 208s alive so that our children and grandchildren might have their own sweaty sound parties there in years to come. Amen to that!
Photo courtesy of Chris Webster Photography (http://www.facebook.com/chriswebsterphotography)