10 Best Bands of BIGSOUND

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Brisbane – you go alright. Sydney folk have given you a bit of a rough ride throughout the years: “It’s too hot…full of bogans…fucking Maroon wankers” are all pretty common complaints. But after offering up so many fantastic bands over the years, it was awesome to finally experience the whirlwind of your uncomfortably warm embrace. And BIGSOUND! What a treat! Despite an abundance of blokes (always blokes) with incredibly overinflated egos (shoutouts to the guy that threw his pass in a security guard’s face, throwing his arm at the 30 second queue and exclaiming “But I’m a delegate! That’s a punter’s line…THIS IS BULLSHIT!”) BIGSOUND is an opportunity.

Y’see, there’s over 150 bands playingsome incredible, some lame as shit, but all there to hopefully further their careers and find success, whatever that definition might be. And I’m really happy about that – there’s not nearly enough cash being thrown back to the musicians who make our punter lives such a joy. So, even though don’t like it, who gives a shit? I’m happy for any artist, of any genre, to achieve their goal, particularly through a process like BIGSOUND, which is a great way to connect with folks who can help you. For every guy that can’t stop mentioning the fact that he works in the “music industry”, there are a dozen people who genuinely care about checking out as many of the good things on offer. So here’s my two cents on the best bands up at BIGSOUND – and by the way, if you ever fucking make me wait in a queue again, I will sue you.

10. Rainbow Chan

The electronic contingent at BIGSOUND was pretty disappointing this year. Maybe it’s coming from a really ill-informed “band bro” point of view, but watching someone overanalyse a set of decks just really doesn’t seem like that exciting of a thing to watch. It was the acts that went left of centre and made the most of their sets that performed best: Sui Zhen and NULL both pulled off impressive and visually engaging sets that are worth checking out. But it was Rainbow Chan that proved to be the most energetic and lively; she’s criminally underrated, and doesn’t play shows nearly enough. Any chance to catch her bop, groove and twirl onstage is a treat that should be taken advantage of immediately.

9. Tired Lion

If I wasn’t guzzling booze and schmoozing up to the heads of the major labels with all the gusto of Gary Busey on a coke binge, then I probably would’ve made it into the sold-out Gang of Youths gig, and they would’ve been on this list. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen (didn’t even get a fucking corporate sponsorship out of all that sucking up either). However, it did mean that I caught Tired Lion, Perth shredders that feature an absolute powerhouse of a front woman, the unstoppable Sophie Hopes. She latched onto every figure in the packed out room with the ferocity of the band’s namesake tearing open the throat of the slowest gazelle in the Savannah. We are all that gazelle, and all we could do was stare in awe of the show that Tired Lion supplied as they stewed upon our entrails.

8. Cosmic Psychos

Their new album leaves a lot to be desired, as much of a disappointment as my results at uni. But it would be plain ignorant to call Cosmic Psychos as anything less than a heritage act, an influential band that spits in the face of legacy because they’re too busy riding tractors and slamming into dead roos. Their reputation as one of the best pub rockers remains undisputed when it comes to a live show. Sweaty, blood-spurting and beer-soaked faces caked the grey-haired but perpetually young-at-heart performance, as classics “Nice Day to Go the Pub”, “Lost Cause” and “David Lee Roth” all saw air time, both from the stage and the bevy of crowd-surfers.

7. DARTS

DARTS played two sets, and both proved to be overwhelming punches of spectacle. Straight ahead, teeth-bared rock that presents itself as a slew snarling anthems, but is plagued with cutting self-analysis and anguish, which explodes in the live arena. DARTS work well in confined spaces, barrelling through track after track on the stages of Brisbane with loaded sets of staunch, lip-curling grunge.

6. WAAX

On a bill packed with rock acts, WAAX feel like the band destined to inspire more than fair few teenagers to pick up the guitar and thrash around in their bedroom. This band deserves every loud-loving punters full attention, and catching them live should shoot to the top of the list. Ask anyone who was there, and you’re likely to get the same gushing response as entailed here. Front woman Marie De Vita is particularly worthy of praise, an irrepressible emerald-doused firework who dominates the crowd like she’s Joan of Arc and we’re all a bunch of bloody Brits ready for rock slaughter.

5. Tiny Little Houses

This show was absolutely fucking packed. A full 24 hours later, and my lungs still haven’t decompressed themselves. But mate, wasn’t it bloody worth it? I’d kinda given up on folk bands, what with the realisation that Boy & Bear and The Paper Kites both suck…but man, Tiny Little Houses – swoon! They’re lo-fi recordings shine on a stage, and the inclusion of a fair bit of shredding helps bolster their performances into quite the mesmerising spectacle.

4. The Ocean Party

The Ocean Party are easily the hardest working band in Australia, with more live gigs notched under their belts than Ron Jeremy’s got STD’s. Not only that, but they’ve got a fifth record due out in a month AND all seven members deal with their own stellar recording projects in what mythical spare time they have. With all that practice and constant skill-honing, it’s no wonder that The Ocean Party are one of the most charming bands to watch in Aus. Their gigs will suck you in like a bloody typhoon, and you’ll have their incredible brand of guitar-pop stuck in your head for days, weeks, months, years. Truly, this band is the herpes of music…but delightful instead of burning.

3. Dorsal Fins

There’s a fuck-off amount of members in Dorsal Fins, so many that it’s all too easy to lose count. Watching them is like watching that classic gorilla selective attention experiment video – your eyes are bouncing between so many members that a giant ape could walk through the middle and you wouldn’t notice. Not that King Kong antics are a problem here – you’re having way too much fun! Dorsal Fins do pop to its logical, exuberant climax, and the unstoppable Ella Thompson not only possesses one hell of a voice, but the most enthusiastic dance moves that BIGSOUND had to offer. On a bill filled with bright pop musicians, Dorsal Fins were far and away the most brilliant and enticing.

2. The Goon Sax

One song and a handful of demos is apparently enough to fill up a room to a dangerous capacity. If someone coughed, the whole audience would’ve come down with pneumonia the next day. But of course, everyone was excited to check out the new Chapter Music signing. After 20 years, one of the most prestigious and continuously enigmatic labels in Australia went out on a limb and signed their first band based on unsolicited demos. Holy shit did they make the right decision: three high school kids, loaded with shy charm and a love for bands that I wish I could’ve claimed to be into in Year 12 (The Apartments, Go-Betweens, and The Bats) deserved every cheer and clap they got during their slot. I don’t even give a shit if I’ve got whooping cough now – seeing The Goon Sax will be worth every second of my impending plague.

1. DEAFCULT

I am so okay with a band with four guitars. Yeah, you read that right – four. This band has the same amount of guitars as the core cast of Seinfeld has members. And they use these guitars in their entire brutal capacity – nobody was leaving this room without bleeding eardrums and grin planted on their cranium. Fuck, there is so much to love about this band: from the name, to the incredible musicianship on display, to the simple awe generated by the sheer volume of it all. This band is epic, but with all the pretension removed. Watching DEAFCULT is an experience that anyone with even a passing interest in what guitars can do should participate in. Fuck…I think I’ve shit myself just from thinking back to it.

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Interview: Darts

Earlier this year, Melbourne-via-Bendigo fivesome Darts released their debut record through Rice is Nice Records. An acidic, vitriolic commandment of biting rock, Darts threw down the gauntlet, swaying vocally between angelic, and grinding fury. It was a headbanger, through and through.

When they were in Sydney, Darts’ co-vocalists Angus Ayres and Ally Campbell-Smith had a chit-chat about their album, turning a lack of confidence into a thrashing source of therapy, and the trials of growing up in Bendigo:

 

R: This isn’t the first Darts record, you’ve had other stuff. But you got rid of it, there’s nothing on the Internet about it.

Angus: The old stuff, we’d been around for a while, so it was a really more of a compilation of songs that were from different eras of the band. Whereas this record, we see it as more cohesive, and representative of how we want to sound.

R: What makes this more particularly definitive?

Ally: This is a bit more of a basis. The last EP, like Angus said, it was a lot of different periods, so this is a bit more concrete.

R: Do you think it was weird that it took so long, from 2009-2014, to develop that basis?

Angus: We hadn’t really thought about it too much. In 2009, we got “unearthed”, and we didn’t really consider trying to push ourselves. Someone telling us that we were alright, that pushed us to have a crack at recording some decent songs. I guess that period has meant we’ve had a slow build to where we are now.

Ally: It was a long process, we recorded the album three separate times.

R: What wasn’t right about the first two times?

Angus: They sounded good, but the environment we were in was very comfortable. We were in this guy’s bedroom in the outer suburbs so we had all the time in the world.

We thought once you put something out there, it’s out there forever. We wanted to put something out we were 100% proud of.

R: After recording so much – where there any points you thought you wanted to give up? 

Angus: You get really tired, and you have no money, but collectively, there was never a question of not finishing this record. We spent so much time on it, we were all very driven to complete it.

R: You said before that someone ‘told you’ that you were good, which I guess led to some high profile slots like Groovin’ the Moo and supporting Wavves. How do you reckon that affected you?

Angus: I’d say we’re a pretty low confidence band. Even if we’re playing a small room, and someone comes up to us and says they thought we were good, we’re blown away. We’re dumbfounded by it.

R: Do you think that non-confidence feeds itself into the aesthetic of the band?

Angus: All those feelings of being overwhelmed, it can lead to feeling hopeless, and that bottoming out sadness. And then when you feel that exhausted, it can turn into aggression, and that comes out through the record.

R: You guys are originally from Bendigo, and I find that a lot of great bands in Oz come from regional areas, like The Ocean Party and High-tails. Why do you think bands from isolated areas develop into something more unique and special?

Angus: I think in regional areas particularly, sport and football is a big thing for kids at that age. When I was 16, the first song that really connected with me was Bob Dylan’s “Lovesick”, and that feeling of a big famous person going through what you’re feeling at the time…that’s amazing. People from those regional areas, when they have to move to a city, it’s a different kind of isolation. You don’t know anyone, and it makes for interesting songwriting.

R: Do you think it’s because there’s extra steps to actually play music?

Angus: [In Bendigo] there were maybe three or four “alternative rock” bands. Every week, it’d be the same bands, at the same venue, in front of the same three people. And I remember when one band went to play in Melbourne, we all thought, “Oh they’re going places!”. It was a cool thing for us to think about.

R: Looking back, how are you viewing, ‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’, this baby of yours?

Angus: It’s interesting, we were very proud of it, but outside of that, anything is a bonus. It’s really amazing that it’s had a [good] response. There were moments in the studio, where we had ideas and thought, ‘Is that a bit too crazy?’ But we did it anyway, and now we have confidence going forward, and we’ll trust our instincts a bit more.

R: What would an example of that be?

Ally: There’s a lot of dueling parts in the songs, like “Below Empty”, where there’s just one guitar, and then whistling. Like, who whistles on a track?

Angus: And there would be three minute tracks turning into five minute tracks. Those were moments where it’s like, is that too much, is that too long?

Ally: Anything over three minutes feels long to us!

‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ is out now through Rice is Nice Records – grab it here.

Album Review: Darts – Below Empty & Westward Bound

First time I heard this record, I had my hands poised in writing position, ready to write about what I thought about this album. Some pun on their band name was boiling around my head, I’m sure. I’d crack a joke about how Darts are bad for your health, and the crowd would roar with belly-rocking laughter. I’d pause for dramatic effect, and with the ice broken, I’d launch into some critical response that would go on to win a Peabody and a Pulitzer.

But fuck, the awards don’t belong to me. Unfortunately, my award season is going to have to wait a year longer, and the ironic Bjork swan dress is going to gather dust in the cupboard for 365 days longer. Because Melbourne-via-Bendigo spaghetti-punks Darts have got a cinematic masterpiece on their hands. You reckon this is how Scorsese felt when he finished Taxi Driver? Or how Beethoven felt after polishing off the last notes of “Symphony No. 5”? Or how L Ron Hubbard gleamed when he made his first million off Scientology? A majestical feat that shouldn’t have been possible, and yet, here it is, laid bare in front of us.

‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ is a pummelling record from start to finish, on par with the wildebeest stampede that killed Mufasa. Songs like “Westward Bound” and “Pony Up” have the thrashing spirit of At The Drive In being fronted by Isaac Brock. These are headbanging moments, grilled and stoked in searing bright flashes of guitar wizardry, and bolstered by yelping defiant shouts. There’s also additional elements in play that help distinguish these moments of ecstasy from any other excitable, hyperbolic jam – slow tidal waves of a tangled noise finale for “Solitary Refinement”, splashes of classic rock posturing in “Traveling Aardvark Cashmere”, and the occasional, but always welcomed ghostly addition of Ally Campbell-Smith on vocals, such as album standout “Aeroplane”

But ‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ isn’t only similar to the saddest scene in the Lion King because of Darts’ ability to crush spleens with their bulldozing rock. No, it’s because these guys implement all the emotional impact of that scene into their music as well. There’s an innate sadness, anger, regret and loss available in all the aspects of their album. For example, when Angus Ayres questions “I’m gonna lay real low, so they don’t know, so where we going now?” between soaring fiery bellows of guitar. Or when he snarls about a lack of identity on “Dead”, screeching the titular phrase with a the kind of aggression and command usually reserved for attempts at mimicking the “THEY CAN TAKE OUR LIVES, BUT THEY WILL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM!” speech from Braveheart.

Darts went to the school of 90’s rock for sure, but their teachers were all different. They learnt under the guidance of Albini, the Deal sisters and Brock in equal length, and soaked up their rawness, melodies and knack for catchy indie rock respectively. And then Darts applied this to their own context – with riveting songwriting trapped underneath blazing, nothing-to-lose riffs, they formed a new sculpture from the mould that The Drones built so many years ago.

This album is absolutely incredible. There have been some fantastic records released this year – from The Living Eyes, Love of Diagrams, and Courtney Barnett, to name but a few. However this Darts records succeeds on so many levels, with such a strong array of songwriting on display. It’s an acidic, self-loathing, and grizzled reaction to both personal and environmental circumstances, and it fills you with an energy that is unparalleled to any other rock release this year. ‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ has got to be one of the finest albums released this year, for sure.

Make sure you head along to Darts’ album launches -June 20 at Shadow Electric in Melbourne, and June 27 at Brighton Up Bar in Sydney w/ Julia Why? and HANNAHBAND.

New: Darts – Westward Bound

Darts have been around for fucking yonks, but I only heard about them when they opened up the fucking amazing party that Rice is Nice threw a few weeks ago. I walked into the courtyard keen to hear a band named after the fastest thing that’ll kill you, and was promptly thrown by how fucking amazing this band is. Shame on all of you for not arriving on time and catching this maelstrom of sound. Just through watching them, I lost 10 kilograms.

They’ve just announced a signing to the legends at RIN, and have dropped their first single of an upcoming record. Holy fucking shit, drop whatever bullshit, menial task you’ve assigned to yourself and wrap your ears around this thing. It’s a chugging anthem that sits somewhere between At The Drive-In and Modest Mouse’s most thuggish singalongs. “Westward Bound” is course and grating, but soaked in acidic melody. It’s a chokehold of a listen, a slam dunk of steely-gazed alternative uproar. Seriously, shove this into your brain, and let this clanging gut-punch cleanse you harder than any detox ever could.