SORRY GOLDEN STATE
(A review, in part, of EXEK/BLANK REALM/SOOT taking place at the BEARDED LADY on MARCH 31, 2018.)
(With a nod to Crossed Wires and Negative Guest List.)
Brisbane is a “cultural swamp”, apparently. But the detractors are defectors and end up populating Sydney and Melbourne music. They poke at the departed place like the pulped mess under a pulled tooth. Because there is something about place and tramping the same pathways that gets into the sound, unless you work hard enough to make something rootless, tailor made for the car advertisement niche. Overcome this urge and make something distinctive by drawing on the familiar. What I mean is:
Any kind of making is an attempt to record unrepeatable sensation. Here this feels palpable. What makes it valuable is that this thing—making, capturing, time spent, youth—is going on all the time and ending all the time. So in a town outside of the discussion of most music-adjacent cultural capital(s), on a regular Saturday night, the first band SOOT puts ten of their zines on the door/merch table. A few of these contain CDs and the CDs zoom you back out from micro to macro, Brisbane through decades, through families, unified in place. (Time is taller than space is wide.)
Google mapping the coordinates of SOOT’s mix CD takes you roughly to the Queen Street Mall, a monstrous entity I keep writing about because I keep going back there. So, for a potential audience of basically none, SOOT make clear their context as they see it. And this is Brisbane as you don’t see it unless you come here, and with interstate bands seeming more reluctant to venture over, already foreseeing the aftermath of some poorly attended shows, it must be said that only good bands come to Brisbane.
To bring it to you in completely bastard form, I uploaded the SOOT CD to Soundcloud. Some of the tracks were ripped from Youtube in the first place. Low qual, low vol, with incidental chatter. The SOOT mix earnestly pops Wonderfuls and Clag in with the Saints and the Go-Betweens. In words or music, stories help to make sense of lives while we are living them, or after. Someone steals one of the CDs.
For a second support EXEK have Blank Realm (slick! professional! guaranteed attendance!). Consider the contrast: the first, SOOT, have no music available to stream or purchase, no online presence, but are absolutely the best thing going in town. No bandcamp but badges. They might leave a clay ash tray in your house.
It’s Easter Saturday and the Bearded Lady is packed full of people who want to get pissed, far away from their families in close proximity to people who want to see Blank Realm for the millionth time. There’s the allure of an interstate band, too!
In order of appearance:
- SOOT played their first show at the Bearded Lady not long ago and, like others, I live to relive, that first unmediated realisation that something is happening and it is good. Songs about going fishing, sitting next to strangers on the bus, sneaking onto private property. They play a deranged B-52s cover and it makes me want to throw holy water on any covers I ever hear again that do exactly what the original song does.
- It’s not disparaging to say Blank Realm are standard: the audience is over capacity and going off. Someone seated in the front bar says he’s seen them more than a hundred times, can’t stomach another. At some point a man pisses directly onto the bathroom floor next to the sink, rather than wait for one of the two cubicles.
- EXEK are here and nothing is working! My first encounter with EXEK’s music was the video where they smash up the car and I thought, here are boys who need you to know they could smash up a car if they wanted to. They are all very friendly. Blame the subtropical humidity but Albert’s guitar wasn’t working, nor was a backup, so EXEK were forced to go full chaos mode and it made it more exciting than a technically proficient set. Broken wrist, seated performance, nothing to do with your hands when the guitar is gone. Fit in nicely with the weirdo Brisbane nationalist stuff.
The show is a microcosm of all that other stuff: of sticking different generations of music together, of drawing material from place. Brisbane music is not as professional or self-consciously progressive as it could be. Between bands, thinking the show is over, regular punters filter into the space then scurry away when the shambles resumes. These people want to get pissed, not listen to live music for $10 (even extremely palatable live music like Blank Realm).
Because of the venue hire cost and low capacity it’s almost impossible to get bands paid decently, or at all, depending on attendance. It underlines that these psychos waste their money on playing music just because that’s what they want to do. This isn’t unique to Brisbane, but they do it like it’s important, like there’s something urgent that won’t get communicated if they don’t. They’re right.
Alex Gerrans is a nonfiction writer from Brisbane. Her essays and reviews have featured in The Guardian, Meanjin and Overland online, among others. She tweets as @algerrans.
Top image credit: Blanket Canvassing / Glen Schenau.