Okay, that’s life, that’s what I was told anyway – 24th February 2012

Friday, February 24: Dirty Shirlows, Marrickville – Haunts, Thomas William Vs Scissor Lock, Making, Simo Soo

Dirty Shirlows has struggled along as an alternative venue for a few years now. At times kept quiet by too many visits from the police or council this great space seems to be enjoying some toleration by the authorities, at least for now. Probably best known for many great late night, early morning breakcore dance parties, the 2011 SMAC award winning collective is starting to focus more on band nights and with more regularity – the logistics probably being a lot easier to deal with, with people tending to arrive and leave purely around the band show times and not just partying on until the sun comes up.

Tonight’s show was organised by Greg from Underlapper/Haunts and the line up was inspirationally diverse. He choose Dirty Shirlows for a couple of reasons. Firstly he felt like this was a venue that he actually wanted to organise a show in, the ethos and community spirit of the collective being a draw card. Secondly he knew that this line up would be unlikely to be accepted by a more regular venue due to the diversity factor and the almost necessary requirement for a reasonable number of punters to be buying enough drinks over the bar. This last point being of particular note as it seems that expectations from some venues are becoming higher and higher, with many of them now just refusing to host shows that they don’t think will bring out at least 150 to 200 people.

As a venue, Dirty Shirlows has transformed itself from an often cold and uninviting iron clad warehouse into a fabulously graffitied and artistically decorated lounge with what is regarded, by many who play there, as one of the the better PA systems in Sydney. With the stage area slightly separated from the lounge area fans get the full force of the sound system with a crystal clear sound at reasonable volumes. I’m sure it can be pumped but the levels tonight were perfect. Lighting wise things were quite restrained tonight, just some nice projections purely on the bass amps creating an interesting distraction between sets.

A reasonable crowd of approximately 100 people made it to the show. Some old warehouse hands, others visiting for the first time. Some paying undivided attention to every act and others taking in the atmosphere of the graf-lounge or playing foosball.

First up were Haunts, who were an unknown act for me so I was curious to see how they fit with the rest of the line up. A three-piece featuring the aforementioned Greg from Underlapper, as well as one of his cohorts doing various things electronic and Peter Hollo adding effect laden cello. For only their second show they seemed in total control, with their (still mostly unnamed) songs generating some nice beats mixed with soundscapes, Godspeed-type spoken word passages and occasional vocal lines. I enjoyed this much more than I would’ve expected from that description and perhaps that’s a testament to artists having perfected their craft.

Marcus Whale and I go back a little way to when he was a quiet, shy 16 year old attending and occasionally performing at the legendary Pitz. We agreed that tonight’s line up reminded us of those shows and even more so as Thomas William Vs Scissor Lock (aka Marcus) quickly set up off stage to get up close and personal with their audience. Three long tracks, with the first being a highlight; long droning electronic sounds generated by devices eventually forming into some gentle laid back struggling rhythms that drove the piece forward into heavily treated vocals. Marcus, no longer the shy boy, and obviously quite pleased with himself, experimented further with the effect between the songs. The next two tracks following the same lines but failed to find any rhythm; nice experimental noise that prompted one the Shirlows crew to wonder if they had had a fire alarm installed recently. The audience, quite absorbed were mostly seated by this point, sucking in the vibrations through the floor and up into they backbones.

Chris, guitarist for Making, commented about the commitment of the sound guys to ensuring a grand audio experience for the event and compared this to the sometimes lackadaisical efforts at other venues and spaces. It certainly serves as a good advertisement for your venue if the house engineer is working with the band and not just someone who rocks up and being paid to ‘do their job’. Making certainly benefited from the attention as this was the best I’ve ever heard them, their tight math rock perfectly suiting the sound system. Bass man Peter certainly appreciated the big vibrating booms from his cab, trembling through the floor and blowing his arm hairs forward as the band melted song into song with some glorious feedback. Despite limited lyrics and little interaction they kept the audience rooted to the spot for their entire set and dropped in many nice subtleties in their last two songs.

As with Marcus, I’ve known Simo Soo since the Pitz days when he would perform with Call The Medic, Call The Nurse. Since unrestrained from the confines of those punk parameters Simo challenged himself (and often his long suffering house mates) to making mad electronic music with blindingly funny and self aware lyrics. It had been 4 years since I’d seen him last so I was curious to see how he had developed. I remembered an unconfident, gangly, awkward youth just jumping around like crazy to some crappy rhythms. Fun for a few minutes but nothing of substance. And tonight was a great example of how he has grown, no longer afraid of the awkwardness, and sometimes embracing it as a device, he started tonight by simply playing a remix from his laptop and just bouncing around the stage with a huge smile. Where he really shines though is with his own songs and there’s plenty of opportunity for crowd sing-a-longs. I’ve discussed with Simo previously how I value his contribution to what I consider to be ‘punk’ much more than some of his compadres who sometimes wallow in the mire of that musical genre – this is the aesthetic of ‘punk’ and I champion him for it. Earlier we were discussing the line up for the evening and how whilst we enjoyed it, often audiences would just come for the band they wanted to see and then leave again. Simo thought that perhaps this was changing now as kids seem to be growing without the genre boundaries that we’d somehow imposed on ourselves in our own youth. Let’s hope.

The Shirlows collective, the bands and organisers, all are essentially volunteers, donating their services, their space or their art and tonight showed that in what some naysayers insist is a failing Sydney scene, there is plenty of life left in the underground.

29th Apr 2021 – I’d forgotten I’d written this article! Originally posted at Polaroids of Androids as part of an article entitled A Weekend – see entries for the 25th and 26th of February 2012.

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