Tuesday, March 29, 2011


At the outset of the Melbourne Comedy Festival, The Bedroom Philosopher proclaims there is nothing more boring that hipsters and moves on from Northcote with a new comedy show ‘Wit Bix’, which is all about wanting to kick start some conversations.

“I like a pun,” muses the Bedroom Philosopher aka Justin Heazlewood, a revelation which will surprise no one familiar with his work. “I think the name Wit Bix sums up the show because it’s a segmented show, a series of short witty bits. I’ve been self obsessed for 30 straight years so I know myself pretty well and I can say that I am witty.”

With several Triple J hits under his belt, an ARIA nomination and a plethora of TV appearances earned during his years of slogging it out as Australia’s sole representative of indie folk comedy, Heazlewood is more optimistic than ever, a state reflected in Wit Bix, though a proclivity for self-depreciation hasn’t entirely lost him.

“I’ve been the king of whimsy in the past, and there are expectations that I’ll do this awkward, indie shambolic style of comedy,” he says of the assumptions that he brings with him now. “Wit Bix has a lot of wordplay, but it’s more angry and political than I’ve been before. There’s a song about Australia and how much I hate it being conservative, xenophobic and dumb written as a jaunty John Williamson bush ballad. Good comedy has to be original and surprising, because essential comedy is a surprise and laughter is a tiny scream. You’re being attacked by a concept you didn’t see coming, and as times goes on it’s harder to be shocking and original. My usual criticism of things I don’t like is that the writing isn’t intelligent enough, I adore wordplays and juxtapositions.”

With a sideline in writing for Frankie, J-Mag and The Big Issue as well as several websites, Heazlewood gets a lot of room to experiment with language and wordplay which any subject he touches is rife with. However, 2011 sees him moving further into the realm of television with recent appearances on In Gordon Street Tonight and a forthcoming, if overdue, appearance on Spicks and Specks. “TV makes you relevant in Australian comedy and this is my TV year. I’m also doing the Channel 10 Comedy Gala, which I guess is a sign of some success,” he states with a blithe defiance before sighing despondently. “It’s such a confusing dynamic for someone as self-deprecating as me, so I’m handling it by being really cynical. I’m a musician and a comedian simultaneously, but music is more fashionable than comedy so I’m actually trying to turn into a massive rock star. Everyone in Aussie comedy is so polite and supportive of each other, I want to be like Liam Gallagher was in interviews because if I have to read one more interview with a polite indie band not really answering the questions they’re asked and dropping the right words I’m going to shoot myself.”

As a writer, musician, comedian and cultural commentator, multitasking is something Heazlewood clearly excels at. “I’m Gen Y so I’m naturally born with the ability to do four things at once,” he says breezily. “I play music and write so therefore I’m like every second person in Melbourne, plus, I’m a Gemini so I’m already split down the middle. I was born in a bogan town to down to earth country folk, so I’ve got this no bullshit perspective, but after 10 years in the big smoke wearing vintage clothes, I’d like to think I have the ability to be insider and outsider at the same time.”

With more multiple dualities than an episode of Twin Peaks, Heazlewood finds these roles an eternal font of frustration and inspiration, or, as he puts it: “with music, people only want to hear your old stuff and in comedy you have to have new material, so in musical comedy they cancel each other out.” The Bedroom Philosopher, occupying a niche no one else in Australia has attempted and predating the Flight of the Conchords by several years, depicts this state as “the clown and the balladeer punching the shit out of each other. I’m a frustrated musician turning tricks because audiences like it,” he confesses, “and because it really annoys the indie community. I’d argue the music scene has never taken itself so seriously and that my sort of music has its place in that. It’s just awesome how angry people get when they can’t put you in a box,” continues Heazlewood with glee. “I’m the King of Hipsters, I’m the biggest one there is. Northcote is the most hipster thing a hipster could ever do, it’s basically the last word in hipsterness. I’m also the first to admit that it’s old now, and you’d be struggling to find a more tedious conversation at a party than trying to define a hipster. You’d bore everyone stupid, get awkward silences and the only thing left to do would be to call a taxi.”

After the success of last year’s album Songs from the 86 Tram, its accompanying tour and ARIA nomination, Heazlewood was glad to return to subjects that used his improvisational skills and spontaneous wordplay.

86 Tram was a writing exercise to make myself disappear,” he says keenly. ”Before then I’d been banging on about my own neuroses and issues for about 10 years but for that, I didn’t even want to be in it. Wit Bix is back to me again only now I’m more confident. I hit 30 and got angry which was a great source of jokes. The show is me making fun of men, I talk about how much I hate going to stand up comedy nights, not being happy with Australia, and about how awkward we are about Aboriginal issues and how no Gen Y person will go there to the point of racism itself. This makes it one of the freshest sources for comedy, I acknowledge that too. I like to think there are jokes to be found in any topic and I think I’ve found quite a few as well as making valid statements about how we’re stuck in an awkward silence. All art is a conversation of some kind and I just want to kick start some new conversations.”

Saturday, March 26, 2011



There has rarely been a more diverse and uniformly excited crowd than that squeezed into a very sold-out Northcote Social Club tonight. Anticipation is expressed through spontaneous cheering, near-constant clapping and the occasional honk of a Mega Blast (a vuvuzela-like hand horn), and it’s all very warrented. From the moment the red curtains part and the initial disappointment that we will not be treated to a band, but rather a dexterous synthesizer player/electronic percussionist Rizan Sa’id, subsides, it is a night like nothing else.

Dressed in his red and white checkered keffiyeh, dark circular glasses and light green, smartly trimmed thobe, Omar Souleyman looks as relaxed as a man with a 500 album back catalog would be, as he paces back and forth across the stage. With a long history as a wedding entertainer in his native Syria, Souleyman is clearly no longer adored only in the Middle East as his performance here elicits adoration most acts would happily retire on. Known by most for his three albums on the Sublime Frequencies label, it’s clear Souleyman hasn’t changed his shtick one iota. He tucks his mic in his armpit, claps and motions for the already excited crowd to get up and get involved, which he never needs to do because we already are. Still, when a man with his sense of authority gestures minimally, the effect is huge and appreciation is expressed even more ardently.

Simply hearing musicians use scales that don’t follow standard intervals is a welcome change. The combination of ceaselessly spiraling, slightly nasal-sounding Arabic scales, brittle steel-drum percussion and a rapid, pounding 4/4 bass drum interspersed with Souleyman’s echo-laden voice is a powerful one. ‘Eeeer-yah!’ he chants again and again in various songs after brief synth flourishes and pitch-bend heavy instrumental break from the po-faced Sa’id. We cheer back with cries of ‘Omar!’ and ‘Habibi!’, raised wrists twisting, feet stamping and copious blasts from plastic horns all of which melds into the song perfectly. The fluidity of the rhythms, the quavering of the notes and the space Souleyman’s voice generates is intoxicating. Over the course of the gig Souleyman smiles more and more, as stage invaders wielding filming iPhones circle dance, stuff money in his pocket and occasionally kiss his hand. This is not your standard show and it’s a glorious example of the power of charisma and the variety of ways in which positivity can be made and music can feel totally fresh again.



Who exactly My Own Pet Radio is (Sam Cromack) and what he’s about should become apparent to anyone paying attention to the Australian independent music scene over the next 12 months. Singer and songwriter with current Triple J hypees Ball Park Music, Cromack is a prolific individual, with this first full-length release following on from his band’s two EPs and four singles, all released in 2010. With a proliferation of deftly played acoustic and electronic instruments, and responsible for all singing and production duties, the album, like its artwork, shows Cromack is fascinated by structure and assembly.

At times, Unidentified Flying Collection of Songs sounds like a learning process, though an eminently listenable one. When Cromack occasionally risks losing songs to production experiments it’s never in an egotistic way, and nothing here, no catchy hook or spiralling effect, outstays its welcome. Listening to the album puts you in the unusual situation of not knowing what the next song will do once one, usually abruptly, ends. Album highlight and closing track How Strange You Are evokes melancholy Kiwi pop, All Colours disappears into a gorgeously unhinged vocal arrangements, while The Banana Situation offers wry and catchy self-analysis.

Cromack’s inspired mix of low-fi production works in favour of the music. Opening track I Am Having Such a Good Time Here is a hilarious mix of acoustic guitar and harpsichord-driven verses, which explodes to a vocal-drenched hook of a chorus. Like other parts of the album, it’s reminiscent of Beck, when he was still driven by a sense of adventure.

Though it’s unlikely many other musicians could assemble an album with this sense of inventiveness and playful intelligence, the most notable achievement here is that Cromack drives the whole album with a quality that is sadly bereft from most new Australian music, personality.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011



When there is such a high level of expectation around a band and a festival there is a lot of room to fall, but The Hold Steady entertain no such notions. Blasting a gapless, breathless rush of smart and verbose punk rock, the band pack so much energy into the music that frontman Craig Finn comes across like Woody Allen if Allen had dabbled in brilliant punk rock instead of respected jazz clarinet. Though most of the incredibly dense lyrics are lost, the sheer thrill of songs like Hot Soft Light, Sequestered in Memphis and the twin guitar attack of Rock n Roll Problems seal the deal that this will be one of the shows of the festival.

If watching Airbourne is like watching Jersey Shore (as one punter accurately notes), then watching Wavves is akin to watching a reality TV show. Will he lose it this week? Will he argue with the crowd, his band or both? As it turns out the recipients of Nathan Williams bitter ennui are an overly aggressive security guard, the sound guy and ‘fucking grasshoppers’. Opening with So Bored and King of the Beach before continuing to get mopey about California and being young, the brilliant low-fi haze of his recordings is lost live, and the songs become more mechanisms for eliciting a steady stream of bodies across the crowd barrier. Job done.

Possibly the band most people are most excited for Belle and Sebastian prove that plane fares for a twelve-strong band plus crew is not wasted with a complete blinder of a set. Though meek in voice, Stuart Murdoch is anything but on stage, careering along the front row, crowd-surfing, high-fiving and kinetically expressing his joy at playing. With a set that’s heavy on If You’re Feeling Sinister and The Life Pursuit plus a version of Kinks’ Victoria that gets everyone on side, they are a perfect match of venue, songs and audience, even if certain tough-looking musicians occasionally yelp and flinch at an unexpected insect landing on them.

Landing a pressure-heavy 9PM slot on the last day is Architecture in Helsinki who choose to return from a yearlong absence with a new look and new songs. Unsurprisingly, it all goes brilliantly and the new look; white suits and tails with blue sparkly bow ties matches their mid-80s lightweight electro-pop perfectly. Mixing in crowd-amping new versions of old favourites, it’s the new songs that really impress. Deep Down will be all over the radio and in charts before the year’s out, while the titles Escapee and Desert Island won’t mean much now but are songs that are sure signs the band are stronger than ever and their forthcoming album is something to hanker for.

While Hawkwind were fascinating from a ‘how will they do it?’ angle (the answer is they don't, with robotic dancing girls on stilts and overlooking your classic single), World’s End Press take that awkward 2AM-after-the-headliner-slot and run it into the ground. Earning deafening vocal love and several hundred elevated shoes partway through their blinding single Faithful, W.E.P are a bizarre beast. One misstep and their blend of 80s beats, flailing dance moves, sparkling lamé and rubbery basslines would come crashing down, but their sheer energy, sincerity and undeniable conviction means they become an unlikely high point of a festival whose success is largely based on familiar acts playing familiar songs in a familiar setting.

While that’s essential to a certain degree, this year’s Golden Plains was one full of surprises, the most welcome of which was the programming; eclectic, complimentary and almost impossibly, without a dud. From Graveyard Train’s piercing cry of ‘Wake the fuck up Golden Plains!’ as they redefine the role of opening Day Two, to the micro-second thought process written on hundreds of faces as ‘who’s Imelda May?’ turns to ‘holy shit this is awesome!’ the only sensible reaction is; ‘Golden Plains, you clearly know what you’re doing, please carry on.’


(Cooking Vinyl)

Regardless that this is the band’s sixth album, most people will arrive at a PB&J album with expectations of stylish, featherweight pop. When Young Folks hit it felt like such effortless sliver of genius that you’d expect its composers and producers to be able to turn out a dozen more like it, which made its accompanying album Writer’s Block such a relative disappointment. With Gimme Some there’s no Young Folks but further, no attempts to write anything light and catchy or even produce the album themselves, which is remarkable given the experience they’ve had behind the desk. This move is perfectly exemplified by Breaker, Breaker, which takes a blistering 99 seconds of supercharged guitar-driven pop with a suitably thrilling filmclip and leaves no prisoners.

The band doesn’t seem in a particularly good mood throughout Gimme Some. There’s no joy in their delivery, from the opening repeated lines of ‘I don’t think you are sorry for what you did / I know you need it and you just don’t know how to quit’ through to the closing ‘I know you don’t love me and I know the reason why.’ While heartbreak has been the impetus for some of the greatest indie pop songs of all time (say, The Field Mice’s If You Need Someone or The Concretes’ New Friend), here the writers seem too scared to fully explore them, content with initial feelings of bitterness and anger, keeping the songs short for fear of giving too much away.

Peter Morén’s Lennonesque piercing vocal and slap-back echo haunts the album, an evocation that does the band no favours. Instead, when they stretch out and show a hint of vulnerability as on the closing IKYDLM, they get interesting and the production of Per Sunding (of Swedish indie pop gods Eggstone) gets something to explore. Worth a listen, but probably not many.


(Shock/Moshi Moshi)

Nostalgic house music can be incredibly powerful when done right, when songs are assembled with personality, intent and deft production. The odd thing about Hercules and the Love Affair (HLA) is that there is no real identity associated with the band and so it is that Blue Songs seems to float around a musical concept of Chicago house-influenced pop with no real heart. While this might be fine if you want to switch off and relax with the last warm breeze of summer and some good conversation, there is little offered in the way of dynamics or arresting beats as their debut boasted.

Most associated with the earlier incarnation of HLA not with ringleader Andy Butler, but guest Antony Hegarty for their most notable track, Blind. Here, the most notable guest is Kele Okereke who turns in a limp-wristed effort on the insipid Step Up. More impressive is the gliding, pulsing bassline, heavily compressed brass and four-to-the-floor beats of Falling (almost worth price of admission alone) and the late-80s encapsulation of My House, which oozes late-80s nostalgia in an infectious way, the only songs which really build on their beginnings.
Nostalgia seems to be Butler's main motivation on assembling Blue Songs. While it can be glorious to be reminded of an era when someone resurrects their hybridised version of it, it’s less exciting when their version is so faceless and any chance to connect with the music is challenged by shifting vocalists, none of whom leave a strong enough impression.
HLA leave their boldest move for last, with a bizarre, beatless, breathy cover of Sterling Void’s seminal It’s Alright, which only reminds you how great the Pet Shop Boys cover was, a band whose Behaviour album Blue Songs would dearly love to be.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Live Review: ALPINE


Despite the murmuring of dissent in the weeks leading up to this gig, it turns out a local band with minimum airplay and only a handful of gigs under their belts CAN release a debut EP and nearly sell out The Corner on a Friday. Alpine, whose hype has been moving from a low buzz to a steady roar since their signing to Ivy League last August, prove beyond a doubt that 2011 is going to be their year. Kicking off with a brief instrumental Lovers, they leap into Too Safe from their EP Zurich and it’s safe to say the young, stylish hand very vocal audience are very familiar with the singles and grow more enthusiastic with every song.

Before the third song is over, the band’s songwriting format begins to show; bold guitar chops, icy vocal harmonies, 303-style pulses from the bass guitar, clipped minimal drums and dense washes of synth. It’s a stellar combination and one the six-piece toy with joyfully. Comprising of four guys and two artfully made up and attired harmonising girls Phoebe Baker and Louisa James, Alpine have struck a winning combination. Christian O’Brien’s slashing dry guitar work sounds simplistic but is delicate and precise, holding this unusually tight band sound together and ensuring that the only way the songs stray from their recorded version is by an elevation in intensity.

The stunning mid-set highlights Hands and Tough Skin see the constantly writhing and dancing Baker’s makeup run, as does the sweat down the backs of the tightly dancing audience. New songs Seeing Red, North South East West and Vigour, promisingly, get the audience responding louder than ever. As cupfuls of glitter are hurled toward the ceiling, the projections of the cosmos that have been illuminating the band reach a flickering peak and Baker’s microphone is flung to the floor as the single Heartlove kicks in it’s impossible not to be caught up in the thrill of the moment. Encore Icypoles (recently remixed by impossibly hip British producer Star Slinger) ratchets the joyful intensity up another notch, and the coda to Icypoles ends a set that could be turned into one of the best albums of 2011. Alpine are onto a winner and delivered one of the best gigs of recent memory to prove it.


NARDI SIMPSON fills ANDY HAZEL in on life as half of acoustic duo STIFF GINS and how stripping away your identity can sometimes be a good thing.

With the release of their third album Wind and Water, acoustic duo Stiff Gins seem at the peak of their creative powers and damn happy about it. “We’re totally excited about the album, it’s been a long time coming,” says Nardi Simpson. “The songs have been around for about four years, when we started to demo those songs. We waited a couple of years to get the album together, then we got funding to finish it, spent the last two years recording and finally…it’s here.”

Though four years may seem a long time between albums, Simpson and band-mate Kaleena Briggs are good at squeezing life experience into their time together since their formation in 1997. Playing in Kuwait to Australian army troops, extensively touring Africa and Europe and 2011 is the first year they’ve assembled a backing band for live performances. “It’s always just been the two of us,” Simpson says. “We’re usually loners, we’re a bit shy. We’re a little bit intimidated by musos because we think that we’re two friends, and we don’t feel like we’re ‘on the scene’ or ‘in the business’”.

Raised from Redfern but now living in Marrickville, Stiff Gins are most commonly identified as being an indigenous group, a label that initially obscured the music more than they would have liked. “We freaked out at the beginning because it has such strong associations,” she intones carefully. “When we went over to Edinburgh people thought that they were coming to see traditional Aboriginal music, so…words can overtake what we do. As we’ve become more comfortable with who we are it matters less,” Simpson continues. “We know we’re able to do justice to that term and represent that as well as representing a lot of different things. We’re blackfellas and we’re proud of that and we’re songwriters and we’re proud of that, we can deliver on both of those in 45 minutes.”

While Australians may just be catching on to the dazzling harmonies and sweet blend of folk-pop that the band birth, people in unlikely corners of the Earth who might be ahead of us. “Things that are huge for us; our heritage and who we are just disappears over there. When we went over to Africa we were driving around with this guy who asked us where we were from and we told him we were indigenous Australians, and he said ‘we’re all indigenous’. He said ‘oh no, you’re not black,’ and I got angry. Then I realised that the politics of colour of skin is totally different there; you’re black or your not, and we weren’t. What’s at the core of who you are might not have any relevance anywhere else.”

Identity and nature seem to be big inspirations for both Briggs and Simpson as songwriters, but overriding even these sources is their friendship, which has lasted even longer than the band. “It was hard for me to come to terms with being daggy relatively young,” laughs Simpson about the suggestion that their music will age well. “I was all about getting on stage at Homebake and the Big Day Out, winning an ARIA, all that stuff. I thought that being in a band would make me even a little bit cool, but because we had such different upbringings and we let the music unfold, your experience as you get older changes and your stories become more interesting and you get better at delivering them in a different way. Because we’ve been doing it for ages, I can’t envisage a time when we‘re not playing. A while back, I felt like we were losing a bit of what it is that enables us to have the friendship, but now -because we’ve got a publisher and record label and an agent, it’s cleared some space for us to do what we do best. It’s all about the friendship again.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Not minding being woken up at 8AM in the midst of a Glasgow winter, Belle and Sebastian’s drummer RICHARD COLBURN is happy to talk about band dynamics, his love of touring and Australian beer, as ANDY HAZEL excitedly discovers.

“I’m in Glasgow, in mah bed...I just woke up man,” says Colburn sighing tiredly, his Scottish burr seeming extra-thick. About to embark on an extensive global tour to promote the band’s 2010 album Write About Love, Colburn fills time between working with the group by also playing with Snow Patrol and occasionally with their singer Gary Lightbody, REM's Peter Buck and Zooey Deschanel in Tired Pony. “One album and three gigs!” He says qualifying the latter “not sure that counts as a band.”

A little more animated, Colburn brings us up to date. “I’m in the studio just now with a Spanish band; me and [Belle and Sebastian bassist] Bob [Kildea], we’re the backing band of the studio. I love working with other bands and different things with them, I’ve done it so long now I’m not qualified to do anything else besides music,” he says with a laugh. “I was over in the States for a month before I got married,” he continues casually. “We didn’t get a honeymoon in, but we’ve both just been so busy. I’ve got a baby coming at the end of July too, which complicates things. I think we’re back by then, we might stop for a little while.”

This blithe referral to life-changing events is a perfect example of the earthy realism that underpins Belle and Sebastian. Call them twee and fey but the members are from working class Glasgow and singer Stuart Murdoch, a boxer and Colburn, a champion snooker player, are as unaffected as they come, still living in the suburbs in which they were raised. Colburn still admits to being thrilled that he can travel and play music the way he does. “I am a fan of touring I love it, I really love it, I don’t think I could be happier doing anything else actually. We’ve not toured for so long which means there’ll be lots of old songs in the set by the time we get to Melbourne. We often tend to reintroduce old songs into the set after we’ve had a break. Someone will want to hear something old, You’re Just A Baby or String Bean Jean, that sort of thing.”

Excitement contained, it seems Colburn is just as enthusiastic about the time between gigs as playing them. “Well last time I was in Australia I was in Perth and we hired bikes and drove up to Bon Scott’s grave, which was cool. Me and Bob are less proactive in the ‘lets go out and find stuff to buy’ department when we tour, we’re more about going out after the gig, I’m more an advocate of that. It depends if it’s a gig day or if you have a day off, sometimes someone will go off on their own, Stuart might go and check out public transport or something. There are times like that, after 15 years it’s inevitable you get into habits.”

Besides the habit of consistently putting out acclaimed albums, Colburn is surprisingly forthcoming about the inter-band dynamics, those same ones that come to play when touring, something that will inevitably be a part of a seven-strong band with an entourage. “We always try to be as democratic as possible, but you always need one person to be decisive otherwise nothing gets done. The dynamics have shifted over the years,” he continues. “The first two records were pretty much all Stuart and quite rightly so, they were all his songs. We were almost like a backing band in the beginning, but around the time of [The Boy With The] Arab Strap, other members started having an input; Stevie or Isobel mainly, and latterly Sarah as well. At first, it was all Stuart but soon he decided he didn’t want all that pressure and we all concentrated on working together and it opened up a lot more.”

Songwriting in the band has obviously undergone a major shift since the release of debut album Tigermilk in 1996, though the band still sounds unmistakably like itself, which, it seems, is in part due to the weight given to each member's opinions. “Occasionally people will suggest things for each other, it depends who writes the songs,” he explains. “It’s got to be OK by Stuart and they have to have a really firm idea of what they want. It could be me or Bob or Beans [keyboardist Chris Geddes], sometimes songs are only half written so we just experiment together as a band. I do all my own parts but sometimes it’s the songwriter who makes suggestions, especially if it’s not quite working for some reason, we’ll change parts around and think about adding other instruments, like horns maybe.”

The opening track from Write About Love, I Didn’t See It Coming, sees Colburn kicking off the album with an atypical funk beat, introducing one of the favourite subgenres of Belle and Sebastian songs; the dance number. “On that particular song we recorded it a different way,” explains Colburn keenly. “I think there is some electronic percussion in the backing track, but even without that, it’s such a different song from anything else we recorded for that album. I’d love to go further down that route, explore more of the electronic and dance stuff,” he says before laughing. “A few years back we were going to make an entirely electronic album where we all played keyboards, like Depeche Mode. Perhaps we’ll get back to that at some point, I know Beans was keen.”

When it comes to songwriting, much has been made of the role of spirituality in some of Murdoch’s later lyrics, an aspect Colburn is happy to discuss though unable to contribute much to. “Christianity is big for Stuart yeah, and in the songs he writes there’s definitely the content inspired by Christianity. He’s always been an avid churchgoer, but as for the rest of us not so much no, that’s more of his scene and we’re happy to go along with it.”

Something he’s far happier to go along with is a chance to be introduced to is the work of some Australian microbreweries. “I enjoy Australian beer and always like the selection of alcohol we’re given in our rider when we play Australian shows, and I’d love the opportunity to try some other. Usually on a rider they just give us VB or Carlton or whatever, which is fine, but we’d love to get our hands on some microbrewed beer, we’re always up for that.” Well, you know what he’s drinking Melbourne, get your round in.