Live Report: Repressed Records Presents… @ Vivid LIVE

As part of this year’s Vivid LIVE program, Repressed Records presented a solid lineup of underground heroes at Sydney Opera House, featuring the live debut of Snake & Friends, plus performances from Superstar, Blank Realm, Monica Brooks, Royal Headache and Exhaustion & Kris Wanders. MAX EASTON* reports. Photos by *PRUDENCE UPTON.

In 2010 I moved into a Marrickville sharehouse that had a gas leak, multiple roof leaks, and a hallway that smelled of the lack of personal hygiene emanating from one of the strangers who lived there (his room had no windows and he rarely left it). At night, we had to turn the gas off so that the smell of the leak (and explosion threat) dissipated until breakfast. My room bordered an alleyway under a street light on Victoria Road. People would piss on my wall on their way home and occasionally look through my curtain-less window. I was never comfortable there.

It was the first Sydney house I’d lived in other than the family home I’d just left. I was unhappy and didn’t know anybody. I was uncultured and only knew about Rugby League, of which no one really wanted to talk about. I didn’t know which places I should go to in order to see or do things, even though that’s why I moved towards Newtown from Liverpool. My life was drastically different then, and when I look back at what changed it the most, it was a combination of a few good people I was lucky enough to meet and a record store on King St.

I used to go to Repressed Records to dig through the $5 bin for used Neil Young and Midnight Oil LPs because I didn’t know of much else. I don’t remember much of those visits other than talking to Chris [Sammut] at length about the footy, and Nic [Warnock] talking to me at length about whatever record I was buying. One weekend I picked up a CD copy of Kitchen Floor’s Loneliness Is A Dirty Mattress (holding an Elvis Costello record in my other arm) and asked Pete the Sunday guy if he thought I’d like it. He searched for his most polite phrasing and suggested that I probably wouldn’t. I bought it anyway and that night, over a bottle of bargain scotch in a house that smelled like someone else’s wet towels, everything I liked and valued about music changed.

That album continues to be one of the most important albums I’ve owned. I don’t even have a copy any more (I left the CD in my dad’s ute. He threw it out the window in disgust before the first song ended). Such experiences at Repressed weren’t isolated to that record. Posters behind the counter lead me to shows featuring bands like Dead Farmers, Chrome Dome, or the early guises of Low Life. Chris and Nic sold me records by Whores, The Native Cats, Woollen Kits and the Bed Wettin? Bad Boys. It led me to a world that became the home I didn’t think I’d ever find.

“The fact that Royal Headache have repeated these scenes in places of increasing stature is nice, but ultimately unimportant.”

In mid-2011, Royal Headache released their debut LP and played an in-store at Repressed on a Sunday afternoon. It was packed, and sent attendees spewing out the shopfront and down a fifty metre stretch of South King St. When they finished, a policewoman pushed through to the shop counter and accosted Chris, ?Mate, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?? With thirty or so people left polishing off the last of their paper-bagged longnecks around him, he just furrowed his brow and shrugged. After Saturday’s events at the Opera House, I’m sure he responded the same way.

The fact that Royal Headache have repeated these scenes in places of increasing stature is nice, but ultimately unimportant. The storying of Saturday’s whitewash needn’t go any further than the awkward summation of a newsreader who declared it: ?a royal headache for security.? Saturday night was never about underlining the triumph of an underground Australian band (wait to see how few people will show up to any show in Sydney next weekend). Instead, it was about Repressed exposing the niche they’ve carved under this city into the Opera House interior.

With the aid of Royal Headache’s ability to appeal to something broader, Chris and Nic (the latter of whom played unannounced in his Exotic Dog guise between sets) were able to assemble a lineup with the capacity to change anyone’s perspective on how music works. For Blank Realm, who have recently grown accustomed to larger venues, their sense of adventure is at odds with the bands they have the scope to share stages with. Likewise, the set by Exhaustion & Kris Wanders felt at home in the confines of a more discerning-by-definition venue, but it was the discomfort of the acts of smaller appeal that moved me the most. Superstar’s uneasiness in their surrounds lent a new air to the strange nostalgia they mine, while the subtle physicality of Monica Brooks? performance on the Opera House’s grand piano was a perfect counterpoint to the hyperbole that since frothed over from the night.

I enjoyed the strangeness of [Snake & Friends](/articles/4693701) playing their first ever live performance on the night with a half-issue of Distort as a programme to accompany their appearance. The mild reception of a barely attended theatre to their set of drum machine backed multi-instrumental folk was a distortion of what would happen later. I enjoyed also that the theatre’s norms were inverted to such an extent that sub-sections of the crowd were most confronted by Monica Brooks, stringing along those who were impatient enough to stew only for the headliner.

The only negative of the night was the weight that could be seen falling over the shoulders of Royal Headache as the inevitable rigmarole played out to end their set prematurely. It’s common to see a tinge of hesitance in people who have crossed worlds to participate in events like this, usually because in acknowledging commercially-centred festival culture, the ugly shades tend to come with it (i.e. public relations purple, marketing department blue, social media expert maroon). I understand that feeling, but I also see great potential in having flooded the Opera House for something other than the world it typically caters to. I see potential in a 16 year old being forced to watch the 6pm news bulletin and wanting to find out what world Royal Headache came from; I hope that search might lead them to re-thinking their life through the discovery of something stranger still.

It may be sappy and self-involved to labour the point of how much Repressed has done for me as an individual, but I’m not the only one who was gifted a sense of purpose by the store after feeling alienated. Without Repressed, there is no home in Sydney for bands like Holy Balm, M.O.B, The Friendsters, Low Life or any of the people who go to see them every week. That someone new may have stumbled across that home after Saturday is worth whatever it cost the Opera House in seating repairs, and whatever everyone else has to endure in relentless mythologising.