24 Hour New Weird Party People

Photo: Ben Lau

For a while now the Sydney party scene has been associated with a cultural cringe. Many still see it as the plaything of a few successful breakaway artists appearing before disinterested audiences, weekend in, weekend out, never really coming together as a unified music scene.

To a certain extent this indifference is justified. Australia still regulates going out (read: ‘partying’) via a seemingly endless list of legal restrictions: liquor licensing, capacity limits, noise restrictions, drink restrictions – the list goes on. We can all think of a typical Sydney night out (I won’t indulge in describing my own version of it here for you) but we all have our qualms about the venue, the people or the music. Despite the nearly constant rancour for our nightlife, it seems people are still going out to listen to music: at clubs, bars, and warehouse parties, and listening on their radios, computers, iPhones and whatever other technological i-thing they have.

Sydney-siders are also making more music than ever before, despite what we hear about the failing music industry and why we should all become investment bankers and sell oil futures. There are musicians, labels, producers, DJs, promoters, distributors, and everything and anything in-between in significant numbers. It’s out there, and it’s happening in Sydney.

Radio Revolution

“I’m consistently amazed by the quality of talent that keeps popping up around Sydney, and Australia in general,” he says. “Every demo I get sent I endeavour to listen to because it’s important to give people that first chance, but also because I really believe that there is always someone out there, doing new and exciting things with sounds that I might not have heard before.”

There was a time (a dark time) when it was difficult, almost impossible, to find music on the radio that wasn’t on hourly rotation, spliced in between drive spots and brain-dead presenters waxing lyrical on the hot topic of the day. A station that broadcasts 24/7 with minimal adverts, community-driven programming, run almost entirely by volunteers was practically unheard of. That is until FBi Radio came along.

After launching almost nine years ago (from an early incarnation of the Sydney University Radio Group), FBi radio has grown into not only a favourite on everyone’s dial, but an essential part of Sydney’s arts and music culture. Their regular set of arts programmes is paired with their infallible selection of the finest new music – 50 per cent of that music is required to be Australian, and 50 per cent of that, from Sydney itself. This little community radio station is full of surprises too. When they opened their permanent live venue, FBi Social, in Kings Cross early last year, many had their doubts. But to this day it remains a popular haunt, contrasting with the multitude of other fine (and not-so-fine) establishments the Cross has to offer.

Aside from FBi’s obvious pedigree in radio they continue to expand their support for artistic culture in Sydney, running the annual Sydney Music Arts and Culture (SMAC) awards and supporting the finest local talent across a broad array of categories. Everyone knows someone who has done some volunteering at the station and it’s a safe bet that if an artist is new and interesting, underground and talented, or even just mates with someone that works at the station, one of the presenters will probably get them in for an interview or an exclusive live set. It’s Sydney radio; Sydney culture at its finest.

You’ll find a number of Sydney University students all over FBi – presenting, producing shows and manning the front of house, like a tireless army of hipsters with hopes of one day nabbing a highly coveted program slot. These don’t come up very often either. Stuart Buchanan of New Weird Australia (NWA) fame left the station last week to facilitate the broader aims of NWA from his new home in the Blue Mountains. Buchanan has been instrumental in introducing young Sydney musos to the world of eclectic electronic music.

“I’m consistently amazed by the quality of talent that keeps popping up around Sydney, and Australia in general,” he says. “Every demo I get sent I endeavour to listen to because it’s important to give people that first chance, but also because I really believe that there is always someone out there, doing new and exciting things with sounds that I might not have heard before.”

The proliferation of community radio mixed with easily downloadable music has helped spawn a growing tide of local music supporters. I programme a weekly show on Eastside FM called Beat Odyssey, with a goal to explore electronic music from its very beginning to the present day. However in recent months I have found myself programming more music from Sydney than ever before. In addition to our regular line-up of guest DJs on the show, our unwritten rule is that we support the scene that supports us, and not just because it is moral but because good music is good for the soul.

It’s not just the radio that is changing the way Sydneysiders approach their music. The people behind much of the change this city has experienced in recent years have been the promoters (or event organisers, if you will) that have been giving young musicians and DJs gigs and fronting the exorbitant fees to bring choice international acts to our shores.

Warehouse Parties

Photo: Ben Lau

A famous canon in music literature is a volume by the name of ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life’ by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, an appropriate title for a number of nights I have experienced in the throws of a HAHA Industries party. Now infamous for all-night raves, a parade of international guests and general good vibes, HAHA have been changing the way Sydney dancers think since those dark times when drum machines were looked upon with disdain by sound engineers and bands alike.

Head honchos Dean Dixon and Dave Fernandes have a love affair with vinyl and consistently bring that ‘warm’ analogue sound, thanks to the (now infamous) Rane rotary mixer they lug from gig to gig. Combine their penchant for selecting some of the best underground DJ talent, their choice of warehouse space, and, of course, the

BYO booze, and you have a recipe for their ‘Under the Radar’ series. The guys also help bring some of the world’s best-known and loved DJs to Australia – Optimo, Deetron, Juan Atkins, Robert Hood, Recloose. The idea is simple, says Fernandes: “We started throwing parties literally on our staircase in Redfern, playing whatever we were into at that time. Today it’s pretty much the same, because we’re still throwing parties for us and our friends.”

In a similar vein to HAHA is Mad Racket, who since 1998 have been throwing some of the most infamous parties Sydney has ever seen. Their haunt is the equally infamous Marrickville Bowling Club: the gaudy stamped-copper ceiling possesses an almost hallucinatory quality, assuring partygoers they are in for a good time. I asked Carly Roberts, of the Picnic parties, what she thought:

“For me Sydney wouldn’t come close to resembling itself now if it wasn’t for Mad Racket – four dudes into killer music that knew how to make a unique space sound and feel like nowhere else ever. Of course now Picnic, Co-op, Ha Ha Industries, Slow Blow, Future Classic, Spice Cellar, S.A.S.H and some others try our hardest to do something that good, which makes Sydney a pretty awesome place to dance and play music! There is a lot to be said for continuously raising the bar. People will put up with a lot of crap until they’ve been shown another way.”

The line-up of international artists is hugely impressive but the parties were originally all about the locals, and thank god they continue to be. I heard from a seasoned barman that the early drawcard was the wine they served on-tap. However, unfortunately this wonderful beverage is no longer available. (My guess? It was made illegal due to it being too good.) The great crowds now come for the relentlessly good line-ups.

Picnic is another group who have got their own warehouse party thing going, in the form of their ‘One Night Stand’ parties. Motorik! is another brand that is a seasoned player on Sydney’s various filthy warehouse floors but these guys focus more on techno (should I say tekno, even?) and techno in its purest form. Think 808 kick drums all night long, black plastic garbage bags lining the walls, and no lights. These nights both run in a similar way: fantastic DJs, relaxed atmosphere, BYO alcohol, going home at 11am the next day, and as you can imagine, the occasional unwelcome visit from the cops.

It seems that as soon as you decide to have a party somewhere other than a stupidly overpriced nightclub full of dickheads in white linen requesting Avicii’s ‘Levels’ over and over, the cops get alerted. Most of the time there is no skin off anyone’s nose – put the drugs away and turn down the sound system until they drive around the corner – but sometimes it means they get shut down, which basically just sucks arse.

Astral People are a crew that have caught a lot of attention recently, promoting some of the best up and coming talent, both from home and abroad, in totally legal, new venues. Their roster includes an enviable line-up of Sydney’s premier new talents: Dro Carey, Rainbow Chan, Collarbones, and Jonti. Their parties at Goodgod almost always sell out, and following an absolute blazer of a set from Blawan and Pariah, they show no sign of slowing down.

Their success must be, in part at least, attributed to the legal venues that are giving them the time of day to get down and do their thing. Goodgod Small Club has been at the forefront of underground music in this city since its conversion from a Spanish dance club in 2009.

Why all the DJs?

Photo: Ben Lau

Nic, who studies Medicine at Sydney, routinely gets up to play after-hours (read; early morning) Berlin style DJ sets, “most of the time I’m waking up for a 4am (or later) DJ set to go and play new music to the real party animals… sometimes I hear my alarm go off and really wish I could  have a Sunday morning sleep-in like every sane person does. However, once I’m actually in the club playing music, I’m turned on and I remember why I got up. It all seems to make sense.”

Perhaps a better question is why has electronic music, like house, techno or dubstep taken such a hold of Sydney in its nightlife renaissance?

A band, traditionally speaking, will play a selection of known songs which has arguably made you want to go a see them. The DJ, however can have a completely different attitude. Nic Scali, a Sydney University student and rising local techno DJ puts it as such; “The DJ set is not so much about the familiar, individual song but about the unfamiliar, the discovery and journey. The DJ also has to adapt to fit their style with a particular environment. If anything, for me it is closer to a jazz band improvising than any other traditional live band gigs.”

The new and the edgy experiences is definitely something that will appeal to anyone looking for a non-average night out. Joss Engebretsen, founder of the contemporary music society on campus, Beat The System, however believes the reasons may be deeper. As someone who used to “hate electronic music” he explains, “I started Beat the System for bands to be represented on campus. When I look back at the numbers, not one of the members of the now over 63 bands that have graced our regular Hermann’s night, comprising of perhaps over 200 musicians, remains as a core part of the organisation. Compare this with the far fewer student DJs that have we have hosted but are now central to the running of the society. “

Joss continues, “What I think some styles of electronic music provides, partially due to its underground nature, is a sense of community and honesty that, I think, a lot of musically minded people are looking for now. It somehow seems to cut the bullshit and focus on the music. Because each electronic artist is his own, in a world where the financial barriers to entry are vastly lower with the years gone by, its almost created a genre of entrepreneurs. True entrepreneurs focus on getting things done and depend on one another, and in this context that kind of entrepreneurship has provided a great community and some really awesome parties.”

Without a doubt some of Sydney’s best parties have been organised by some of our best DJs. However, more and more the lines between contemporary music genres are blurring, Nic comments “So many bands these day are using electronic elements, and of course there’s no reason to only be in to one (DJs) or the other (bands) – the two are melding and have been for quite some time.”

Sydney Students Everywhere

Beat the System hosts bands and DJs every week on campus. Photo: Will Bean

Sydney university has it’s own fair share of supremely talented DJs and producers pushing the boundaries. You see that dude, walking into your Monday morning Government lectures with the expensive looking headphones and a black t-shirt: he’s probably quite talented behind the decks.

Nic, who studies Medicine at Sydney, routinely gets up to play after-hours (read; early morning) Berlin style DJ sets, “most of the time I’m waking up for a 4am (or later) DJ set to go and play new music to the real party animals… sometimes I hear my alarm go off and really wish I could  have a Sunday morning sleep-in like every sane person does. However, once I’m actually in the club playing music, I’m turned on and I remember why I got up. It all seems to make sense.”

Closer on campus the contemporary music society, Beat The System features their own list of talented Sydney DJs and bands who play for free at their well-known music night on Thursdays during semester at Hermann’s Bar. BTS was founded only last year, yet in that year it has helped expose some formidable talent that would have otherwise have subsisted under the radar. Bands like Rufus and Movement all got a lot of early exposure at BTS events.

Indeed Sydney uni students are all over the scene. You may remember the label The Finer Things founded by students from USYD which Honi featured last semester. This local label supports some great Sydney talent holding monthly parties at a local inner city pub with their always enjoyable resident DJs spinning all that is new in the world of Dubstep, House and Electronica. Their roster includes Nakagin, Rainbow Chan, True North, and, of course, TMGN (better known to many of us as Timothy Newman) – many of whom have been guests on, also Sydney Uni student run radio program, Beat Odyssey.

Sydney has been experiencing a renaissance in what is on offer at night, fuelled by a plethora of talented local musicians and DJs. Regardless of genre or sentiment, Nic sums up Sydney’s younger party-goers attitude nicely, “I feel that now more than ever before people are appreciating music for what it is rather than how it’s made. “

Sydney wants good music and great times – give that to us that or we will make it happen ourselves.

 

 

Photos by Ben Lau. For more information and photos, go to thekuhlektiv.com

 
Honi Soit
Honi Soit is the largest and oldest weekly student newspaper in Australia. Our articles, like this one, are made possible by our dedicated student reporters and contributors.
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