Garden Party A Go-Go
RENÉ SCHAEFER reports from Saturday’s Applecore festival in Melbourne, where 400 people turned up to watch bands including Primitive Calculators, Deaf Wish, Spod and his own Hand Hell perform in a backyard in Thornbury. Photography by BEN BUTCHER.
The idea of having an annual backyard gig like Applecore is brilliant really, as it combines all the best elements of a house show and an outdoor festival. Organisers Jo, Ricky and Tristan outdid themselves this year, going all out to make this a particularly special event. The line-up of bands was spectacular, but what made the show extra cool was the attention given to details like a top-notch PA, toilet facilities, lots of seating, tables and umbrellas, as well as separate meat and vegie barbeques, a merch stall and the great company of around 400 old and new friends.
Plenty of people turned up early to see legendary Melbourne post-punk band Primitive Calculators, in only their third appearance in 29 years. Having roundly dismissed their experience of playing All Tomorrow’s Parties at Mt Buller as being rockist and overtly hierarchical, the band were keen to let everybody know that this backyard gig was much more in keeping with their own DIY philosophy. Despite minor technical hiccups, Primitive Calculators were in fine abrasive form and impressed their sizeable contingent of old fans, as much as newcomers, with their particular brand of jagged synth-pop noise. The band were clearly blown away by the enthusiastic response from the audience and made lots of new friends after their set, chatting with punters and checking out some of the other acts.
Having gotten off to an energetic start, Laura Jean and the Edenland Band gave the audience a chance to settle back on their blankets and chairs and take in some slightly softer tones during the afternoon. By now, the barbeques were firing up and the atmosphere started to resemble an amiable street party more than a rock festival.
Deadbeat Club impressed with several top-notch new songs and, as an all-female band, reportedly inspired at least one 12-year-old attendee to start her own band. While women instrumentalists are by no means as rare as they used to be, it is still interesting to see that there are not many creative role models available to young girls in pop culture generally.
Graveyard Train rolled out some greatly entertaining swamp-blues numbers, played with an idiosyncratic array of instruments that included banjo, washboard and a length of chain played with a hammer. It’s more than just shtick though. These guys know their history and can craft fine genre songs in their own right.
It was a bit of a battle for Luluc’s gentle folk-tinged songs to rise above the general hubbub of a happily sociable crowd, but they managed to hold most of the audience’s attention, due to Zoe Randell’s quiet intensity and some fine double bass work from Pete Cohen (ex-Soda Stream). It would definitely be worth checking this trio out in a more intimate setting.
After reforming for the Chapter Music 18th birthday bash at the Tote recently, Sleepy Township were revved up and ready to go. With members now playing in bands such as New Estate and Beaches, and Guy Blackman pursuing a successful solo career, it was great to see one of my favourite ’90s bands revisiting some of their old tunes. Sleepy Township always took inspiration from the best jangly pop in history, from ’60s girl bands to the C86 shamble-pop scene and Flying Nun bands like Look Blue Go Purple. But hearing these songs again, it became clear how original this combination of four distinct songwriters always was. They are sorely missed and, as the beautiful notes of ‘World Of Bees’ and ‘Westgate Bridge’ chimed out into the Thornbury evening air, I got a bit wistful and nostalgic.
Deaf Wish soon remedied this with a ferocious set of their loose punk rock mayhem. At times they were on the verge of self-destruction, the stage and amplifiers shaking with their primal onslaught of downstroke heavy riffage. With three vocalists, nobody is the star of this band. Instead they are perfecting the art of falling apart and then pulling it all back together for yet another killer chorus. If only all punk could be this good. If only!
By the time Aleks and the Ramps took to the stage, the sun had set and there was a decidedly more inebriated party atmosphere in the backyard. Everybody loves flashing lights, and there were plenty of those in evidence, quite a few of them attached to Aleks’ electric banjo. After a relatively subdued period in the Ramps existence, they are back with a vengeance and a tight, shiny set of quirky pop nuggets all driven along by Black Wasp’s energetic drumming. The informal setting suited their up-beat vibe perfectly and people were happily bouncing around on the dry grass in front of the stage.
As singer Ricky French pointed out, Actor/Model were the only band that has played every previous Applecore show, due no doubt to the fact that he is responsible for supplying most of the stage set-up and garden furniture. In truth though, Actor/Model are also the perfect band for an event like this with their bouncy stage show and long keyboard driven new wave wig-outs. In a perfect world, this band would headline every Australian summer festival. With propulsive drums, Karen Anson’s distorted synth bass and melodies and Ricky’s manic guitar playing style, they never fail to get people jiving and shaking their booties.
Having only touched down at Melbourne airport in the late afternoon, party animal Spod was feeling a tad out of sorts, not to mention slightly tanked after downing as much alcohol as he could in the shortest possible time. This didn’t stop him from putting on a highly entertaining headline set, which involved backing tapes, dodgy rhymes, confetti, fig trees and plenty of self-deprecating in-between song banter. Not being too sober myself at this point, none of it made any sense to me, but the kids dug it though, and that’s what really matters. Set over, everybody went home absolutely exhausted from a day on the piss in the great outdoors.
I had a chance to catch up with the Applecore organisers the next day as we cleaned up the backyard and packed up the stage. They had felt that, in the festival’s five-year history, this had been the best yet. Technically, everything went off without a hitch, and there was a great feeling of camaraderie between performers and audience. Over the entire day, only one bottle was broken and despite recycling bins overflowing at some point, the mess was easily managed.
But the most telling moment of the day came when the home’s elderly Macedonian landlady turned up not to complain, but to donate $50 to the event. How cool is that.