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A HEAVY Backstage Pass to Bigsound 2017

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A UK A&R man, a band manager, touring agent and a publicist walk into a bar on a Monday night… Bigsound has begun and Fortitude Valley (Brisbane) is absolutely teaming with the hottest upcoming bands and even more music industry folk that could discover and break them. As we down our first alcoholic bevvy of the week, I immediately begin to realise the next few days are probably going to be one of the most intense, educational and fun weeks of the year. I can’t wait for things to get underway.

The streets are awash with the Bigsound promotion. Everywhere you turn there is something to do, see or listen to. Minutes into the festivities the vibe is electric and words of wisdom and priceless banter are already being thrown around our table at the Empire Hotel.

“Managing a band like herding cats,” the Band Manager implores. “You can herd cattle, you can herd sheep, but try hurting cats. You can’t”, he continued in his jovial but learned manor.

After drinks and dinner, the sun begins to set and we head down Brunswick Street strip to The New Globe Theatre to catch our first act of the week, Fierce Mild. They put on a trippy show that combines psychedelic indie rock sounds with cinematic video so disturbing at times it could rival Slipknot’s. The venue is perfect for the occasion–a converted movie theatre where we can sit sipping our drinks amongst the trance of the music. Musically, Fierce Rival was very good although they could unleash a little more performance-wise.

Before we know it, it’s Tuesday afternoon and time to head out. A burger and cider at Ric’s Bar precede a trip to Brisbane’s premier heavy venue, Crowbar, to catch UNFD’s recently signed band, Easy Life. The whos who of heavy music stand in the crowd and although Easy Life takes a couple of songs to get into the swing of things, the Shellharbour melodic hardcore band eventually smash it out of the ballpark. By the end of the set, it’s clear why Easy Life has been selected to perform this year.

Next up is Melbourne hardcore act Pagan who don’t hold back in thoroughly tearing shit up. The vocalist’s screams are aggressive and her stage presence is captivating. She unleashes high kicks and throws herself around stage whilst the boys play furiously behind her. Between songs, Pagan welcome their “Crowbar La Familia” to their “Italian Disco” and the crowd can’t help but to groove along.

Down the street at The Brightside, Down This City are set to hit the stage. As I stand at the top of the steps which lead to the pit, vocalist Alex Reade tells the audience to come closer then proceeds to point me out, “That means you, Monica!”

Unfortunately, I severely underestimate the distance between my current location and the first step and nightmarishly proceed to slip down a few stairs with what feels like the whole venue watching. I recovered without completely barrel rolling and trauma aside, I’m thrilled to discover Drown This City are even better live than on their recordings.

The mix at the Brightside isn’t great so screams get lost but Reade’s beautiful clean vocals cut through. She taunts the audience jumping on and off stage and the band plays loud and tight. There is a reason DTC has been one of the most talked about acts of the year and I’m pumped to see them again the following night.

Wednesday begins with much caffeine before a round of interviews. First up is one of the most anticipated bands of Bigsound 2017, Polaris, who we interview by the pool. We talk about their upcoming album which was partly recorded in a cupboard; full Harry Potter style. Luckily they’re not claustrophobic!

Progressive outfit Alithia arrives soon after and we decide that it would be hilarious to ambush them in the lift with a rolling camera and microphone. They’re good sports about it all and we chat about their upcoming show tonight which they’re doing minus a vocalist.

On a bridge at sunset, we interview Drown This City before pushing on to the gigs of the night. I catch Osaka Punch who play a tight and fun-filled set before heading to a dinner. I arrive back to Brightside just in time to catch Drown This City who play even better than the night before. The sound was awesome and there were no further stairs for me to fall down which was a bonus.

Bellehaven captivates the heart of my inner 15-year-old emo self by single-handedly bringing back guitar swings. Seriously why don’t bands do this anymore? That aside, musically and performance wise Bellehaven are completely on point. With perfect vocal harmonies and every band member moving around the stage and mouthing the words along with the singer, I don’t think I’ve seen such a tight and cohesive unit in quite a while. I didn’t know Bellehaven before tonight but I’m so glad I now do. I strongly feel like other bands need to take note of the show these guys put on because it’s definitely next level.

Keeping the vibes rolling are Polaris and the first pit of the week emerges. They have the biggest crowd of any of the heavy bands so far and the hype about them is completely justified. One of the highlights of the set is their new single, “Remedy” and if this is the direction they’re moving in, I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album.

We’re now into the early hours of the morning and retreat to what has quickly become our home away from home, Crowbar. Pagan play a late set to a packed out room and it’s an awesome way to end the night.

The next day we meet Pagan back at Crowbar for an interview in the venue’s new back room dubbed, The Church. Under an upside down neon cross, Pagan sip cocktails whilst giving recommendations on the best way to drink Campari and explaining the importance of not using store-bought “Dolmio Shit” as your pasta sauce. They’re also about to head on tour with Clowns and King Parrot so I highly recommend getting to see them at one of their upcoming shows.

Thursday night is largely spent back at Crowbar and we finally catch Alithia live. Afer there show on Tuesday night at Brightside there was much anticipation about tonights show. Looking around the crowd you could spot many of the who’s who of the industry. They’re not normally an instrumental outfit so I’m interested to see whether they can hold their own with a lead guitarist replacing their vocalist at late notice. As soon as the first note echoes through the room it’s clear this is going to be a very special performance. Their set of progressive rock with hints of Spanish and world influence is blistering. Even without their frontman, Alithia engages and encourage the audience. Their music transcends the room and is utterly captivating. New axe man, Nguyen, is a stand-out and surely earned himself a permanent fixture.

The Beautiful Monument hit the stage and carry us late into the night with a solid set of tunes and awesome performance. In the crowd tonight, as there have been on all nights, are members of several other bands supporting and encouraging each other. They’re not just in the back watching from afar, they’re at the front against the barrier head-banging and singing along. It’s amazing and immensely gratifying to see. “Fuck the metal community is awesome,” I say turning to those next to me.

I did catch some other bands during the week from other genres and meet others from the music industry that weren’t heavy music specific.   It was almost like travelling to a totally different planet.  It seemed like sometimes there was more time spent drinking cocktails then watching live music.  If there is anything to take away from these experiences, it’s the intense passion the bands and industry within the heavy genres have for music and each other. Managers and booking agents genuinely can’t stop raving about the acts they look after and the musicians in each band play their absolute hearts out time and time again.

Supporting these bands is the reason we all exist – the only reason – and coming back to Crowbar for the last part of the week felt like coming home.

In the words of Alithia, “We are a community.”

I know for everyone reading this, the sense of community is one of the main reasons you love heavy music.

Until next year, Bigsound!

Photography by Ken Ken

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