Friday, 22 October 2010

Rant in B-Minor

This past week I've been spending my time in the trendy inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. Last weekend I flew down with some bands I play in for a show at a bar in musical hotspot Fitzroy, and tonight I'll be seeing the second of two shows at The Forum as part of the Melbourne Festival - last night was Low, tonight is The Drones. In between I've been enjoying the city's many cafes, restaurants, record stores and scenery (not to mention the cold weather, God how I love the cold weather). Tomorrow morning I'll be flying back to Brisbane to get ready to return to work on Sunday.

Melbourne is a city that tends to make young Brisbanites go green with envy. Most culturally aware people from Brisbane can expect to have about 20% of their friends leave town for the southern city during their early 20s - it was my own 20% who loaned me their spare beds and couches this past week. Common wisdom has it as an inarguable fact that Melbourne has a far greater array of things for a young creative person to entertain themselves with than Brisbane.

Or does it...?

Superficially, yes, it does. There are about 3 times* as many venues in Melbourne as there are in Brisbane, partly due to a fortuitous set of licensing laws and partly to do with a culture that supports a multitude of small venues. However, if you compare our little city to the rest of Australia we're doing fairly well. We're probably about on par with Sydney, even though that city's population is greater than even Melbourne's. But for argument's sake, let's say that Brisbane suffers from a lack of venues (even though the recent opening of places like Woodland, The Alley and The Nest more than makes up for the upcoming closure of The Hangar). Does this mean we suffer a lack of gigs? As someone who puts together a weekly gig guide** for this very website I say 'absolutely not'. There's rarely a week where I can't find a whole bunch of gigs that I want to attend. Clashes between competing gigs is the norm, not the exception. There always seems to be some interesting art exhibition at Nine Lives or Bleeding Heart or some other gallery. There are young people getting out there putting on events of all shapes and sizes week in and week out. People like the crew from Lofly & The Hangar, people like Lawrence English (Room40), people like The Fans Group, Andrew Tuttle (Peer Pressure), Dan Lewis (Making Hey / Bon Voyage), Ian Rogers (God Hates Brisbane), the Browning St Studios crew, Will from Burst City, Tom Hall (Sonic Boom etc), Nick Smethurst (In Finland), Bedroom Suck. There are more that I've forgotten, many more, and that's just sticking to the indie rock & 'experimental' community that I'm most familiar with. Move outside that and things open up exponentially.

And yet I constantly hear people complaining that there's nothing to do in Brisbane. I hear people complain that there are no shows to go to, no good bands, that Brisbane is a cultural wasteland. These people then often admit that they've never made it out to The Hangar, don't know many Brisbane bands outside of the few that get played on JJJ, have never even heard of Burst City. I'm going to put this bluntly. If you are one of these people, then here's my message for you: You Are Lazy. Yes, you. You are lazy in at least one of two ways. Firstly, you are lazy if you complain about there being nothing to do in this town but have never actually put in the effort to search out the interesting venues / bands / events. This is the most inexcusable form of laziness, and the most common. However, maybe you have actually put in that effort and not been able to find anything that satisfies your interests. Oh no, all hope is lost! Or alternatively, you could get off your arse and do something about it. What, you think that awesomeness is just going to fall into your lap? You think that all of these fantastic, interesting venues and events just happen? No, someone out there thinks of something cool that doesn't exist and then puts in some time and effort (and yes, maybe an amount of money) and makes it happen. Yes, it's often difficult and usually thankless, and definitely disheartening when a bunch of people tell you later on that they didn't come because 'it was on a work night' or 'it was raining' or 'it was too hot' or 'West End is too far away, you should have done it in The Valley'. But so what? It's also fucking awesome. If you ignore all of that bullshit you get a night like God Hates Brisbane back in June of this year, where you could see 8 fantastic local bands in one night, on two stages upstairs at The Step Inn. It was, without any hyperbole, one of the best nights of music I (and a few dozen other people) have ever seen.

Ok, maybe I'm being *slightly* harsh with that second part. Not everyone has the resources required to put on a show, let alone open a venue or art gallery. Still, a lot of people DO. And those that don't shouldn't be allowed to use it as an excuse anyway. Do you think that all of those people I listed before knew exactly what they were doing when they first started out? Of course not! They were stumbling in the dark, figuring out exactly how you book a venue, a bunch of bands, get some promo out, get someone to do sound, run a merch stand, and at the end of it all try to not lose a fortune in the process. But they did it anyway, and now we thank them for all of the effort that they've gone to (or at least those of us who went looking for something interesting to support do). There are so many people doing so many amazing things in Brisbane that I find it personally offensive to hear someone complain of there being nothing interesting to do here. Brisbane doesn't suffer a lack of activities, it suffers a lack of support for those activities.

This isn't just for the arty, outsider crowd too. I'm not just talking about experimental noise shows (actually, I don't need to because the people involved in that community tend to be pretty great at self-organising, since they're not likely to get booked at The Zoo or The Troubadour any time soon - no criticism of those venues, either). I'm talking everything. I'm talking slick pop bands through to weird little folk things. Just get out there and do it. Ask people who've done it for advice if you want. They will give it to you. They're the people who want to see interesting stuff happen, after all.

Basically, this whole post could be summed up with 'stop being lame retards, start being awesome!'. There you go Brisbane residents, there's a challenge for you. Be awesome. I freaking dare you.

* Ok, so I just pulled that figure out of the air. You get the idea.
** Sorry for not doing one up this past fortnight, but being out of town made it a bit more difficult than usual.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Review: BigStrongBrute - We Can Sleep Under Trees In The Morning

Paul Donoughue (aka the man behind indie-folk 'band' BigStrongBrute) is a son of a bitch. He makes things look so easy. First off, he was part of the great band Tragic/Athletic, a band that started out as a snot-nosed noise-punk band seemingly highly indebted to Turnpike (no bad thing) before maturing into something much more 'adult' and yet somehow just as - if not more - interesting. Now he's continued that musical growth even without the help of his old band. BigStrongBrute has existed in some form for many years now, but its original incarnation as a mid-naughties electro-clash performance piece has now been completely replaced by exquisite folk-pop songcraft. Donoughue takes the same simple song structures and basic open guitar chords that thousands of people have used to create a million songs, and yet manages to create songs that are not only memorable, but somehow unique and individual. Paul Donoghue is a son of a bitch.

I suppose a large part of the reason for the success of We Can Sleep Under Trees In The Morning is the maturation of Donoughue's voice. It's always been a rough instrument, straining for pitch and range, but these days it's managed to strike that wonderful balance between roughness and musicality. The notes might be slightly off, but it's always in a way that makes things sound better, not worse. Donoughue's voice is full and rich and warm and contains a weariness beyond his years. It's the same kind of perfectly flawed voice that makes people fall in love with singers like Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum or Okkervil River's Will Sheff, acts that BigStrongBrute are often compared to. Those are comparisons that are understandable: all three bands feature strong frontmen with 'rough' voices surrounded by a slightly tweaked and modernised version of traditional folk instrumentation. The passing similarity is just that though, there's no simple aping of a somewhat popular sound. Even if there was, there are worse musical ideas to steal; thank God that Donoughue didn't attempt to create yet another over-rehearsed, bloodless 'folk' act like the Mumford & Sons of the world (as an aside, I must have heard that band's hit song - whatever it was called - a bunch of times, and each time it's ended I've been completely unable to remember a single thing about it). We already have too many dudes who thought it would be a cool idea to grow a beard, strap on an acoustic guitar and get half-a-dozen other musicians to fill out the sound with a bunch of 'obscure' instruments. I'm sick of supposed 'folk' bands who are all slick, filled with multi-part harmonies and super fast finger-picking. Be raw! Be out of tune! Stop trying to be Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes! Anyway...

Of course, the songs are what make any record. My personal favourite here is the closing title track, a 3-minute song that feels as though it's a 1-and-a-half-minute song. When it finishes I find myself wishing it were a 6-minute song that felt as though it were a 3-minute song. The final wordless refrain leaves me completely devastated in a way that few local acts can manage (the dearly missed Ambitious Lovers being the only other that immediately springs to mind). 'Supply & Demand' is the obvious radio single (well, obvious to me. My friend thinks that the upbeat penultimate track 'You Were Always Right' holds that title), but even it can create a lump in the throat in its final, solo bridge before the band kicks back in for the rocking outro. Then there's the beautiful build of opener 'Hands', the minimal 'In My Own Mind' and the epic centrepiece 'Industrial Town'. As you'd hope from a 6-song record, there's not much fat on here.

Engineer Todd Dixon has given the record a somewhat timeless quality, doing a commendable job of mixing together the wide array of instrumentation; flute, trumpet, piano, organs, guitars ranging from nylon stringed through to distorted electrics, all manner of vocals. Some might call it lo-fi. It's not, but neither is it a modern, polished stitch-job. Like many things with this record, it's wonderfully balanced but not hyped. I wonder if this balance might actually end up being to its detriment, as the record's lack of immediacy in both sonics and songwriting gimmicks might mean that it doesn't grab ears in the same way that, say, The Middle East did last year. BigStrongBrute just don't have that show-off element that the more hyped 'folk' acts do (which isn't to say that they lack a sense of drama). It's a shame, because Donoughue's songs are as good (I'd say better, in fact) than those of that band; they're just simpler, rougher and more subtle. Hopefully this means that they'll have more staying power.

I want to say something vaguely negative about the record so that this isn't a glowing puff piece, but I can't really think of much. It's the best local record I've heard in some time, certainly the best folk record to come out of Brisbane for a while (right up there with McKisko's debut and the previously mentioned Ambitious Lovers' farewell EP, Winter Got Warmer). It's not perfect, but anything I can think of to criticise sounds exceptionally petty (eg: sometimes the backing vocals are mixed higher than Donoghue's lead vocals). I know it's a cliche to say this when reviewing an EP, but I really hope we don't have to wait too long for a full-length. Actually screw the rest of you, I just hope *I* don't have to wait too long for a full-length.


Tuesday, 15 June 2010


I thought that I should perhaps post an update on what's happening with Before Hollywood, as I've recently received a few questions about the future of the blog since posts have been fairly sparse as of late (ok, non-existent for the last few months).

Late last year / early this year I became rather busy with a recording studio that I run, and didn't have the time to sit down to write a review each week. I'm now doing that as a full-time business (instead of something I did in my spare time from my 'real' job), so I now have the time to write again. Therefore I might start updating the blog again. There were lots of good releases that we missed in the downtime (Slug Guts' debut, Ambitious Lovers' Winter Got Warmer EP, heaps more), so maybe we'll start with a retrospective of the best releases from the last six months.

Oh, and we still have lots of Strandeds, so feel free to get one from the link on the top right.


Monday, 11 January 2010

Tragic/Athletic video clip

To celebrate a new year, here's something that doesn't require much effort from me to share. It's a video clip for Tragic Athletic's 'We Set Sail When The Wind Came', from their rather awesome 2008 10" EP Brakes. Apparently they have a new EP in the works.

I have a whole stack of records I'd like to talk about sitting next to my computer, so if I can motivate myself I might do a big roundup of a heap of newish releases from the latter part of 2009.