Friday, 22 July 2011

Brisbane Music Scene: From Punter To Performer, Part 3: Haters Be Hatin'...

Headkase had reached a point where we were attracting record crowd numbers at Her Majesty's Bar (The Basement), and being invited to open for some of the major touring acts in bigger venues. Doing something different and refreshing was starting to pay off. 

Front page of "QLD Times" Entertainment liftout
But as with world famous artists and performers who make a positive impact and attract a big following, there are always going to be critics. You can't please everybody. And sometimes the critics go to extremes, and do whatever they can to publicly drag these figures' names through the mud in order to turn people against them.

An "Anti-Headkase Neo-Nazi group" sounds a bit dramatic. That's what we thought when we learned that it wasn't just one or two grumpy members of our audience who weren't too impressed with what they saw and heard one time. 

It began with abusive posts on the Headkase message forum about how we're sloppy and lame, we're not heavy enough, we're all "gay" because we try (and fail) to splice metal with other genres. We can take criticism. Sure, it's not constructive criticism, but bands get this sort of thing all the time. Eventually these sorts of posts started appearing more frequently, in several public message forums like the Time Off Message Board, and the guest books of record labels and popular bands at the time. And then the hate emails started filling up our inbox. 

Pretty soon, they decided to take it to the streets. Posters were being plastered around the streets, music stores and venues of Brisbane trying to convince the town to boycott Headkase and it's homosexual members. None of us are gay, but our music and image somehow made them believe we were. Websites were built as well, doctored photos and even drawings were being uploaded, and every online music forum and guestbook was filled with anti-Headkase propaganda, and spam from people posing as members of the band, unprofessionally bragging about how superior we are to all the other bands in Brisbane. Rumours were being spread, our name was being brutally dragged through the mud, and people were actually believing what they were reading. Bridges were being burned, as they insulted and badmouthed every band we'd become friends with. And, frustratingly, people who'd never heard of Headkase were getting this false first impression, and believing every word of it. 

Before the advent of social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, and before the law and media started taking online bullying and defamation seriously, I gathered up printouts of all the abusive posts and emails (some threatening violence against us, with comments such as, "You'd better watch your backs at your next gig"), as well as posters I'd taken down, and brought them into the Police Station on Adelaide Street. It was shrugged off and taken lightly. "There's nothing we can do about it", one officer said. "It's a civil matter. Just get the personal details of the people involved, and take them to court". 

Getting the names and addresses of anonymous cyber bullies was not going to be easy. Nobody was able to trace where the emails and guestbook posts were coming from. None of the music forum owners were willing to cooperate, saying that everyone has a right to their opinion. They wouldn't even remove the offending posts for us. Meanwhile, the hateful replies underneath the posts were growing rapidly. Even people who admitted that they were once fans had been brainwashed and turned against us. 

One day, a friend/fan of the band came up to me at The Basement, and gave me a quiet tip-off. "Don't tell anyone I told you this, but I saw who put up one of those posters. I kinda know him, but he's a bit of a dick". I promised I wouldn't rat him out for telling me. "I don't know his last name, but he goes by the nicknames of 'John the Fascist', 'Facepaint John' and 'Gay John', and he is a strong believer in Neo-Nazism". Immediately, I asked, "Why do they call him 'Gay John' if he hates gay people, and 'Facepaint John' if he hates the fact that some of us in the band wear facepaint and masks on stage?". Turns out 'Gay John' was just a silly name mates called him, poking fun of his hatred of gay people. And 'Facepaint John' was due to the fact that he would wear white facepaint, similar to that of the racist, anti-christian members of the Norwegian black metal scene (pictured), responsible for many of the infamous Church burnings in the early 1990s. 

Headkase t-shirts
Gradually, I started piecing together all kinds of information about John the Fascist and some of his associates. Any information I received was given in secrecy, and in very small doses. There was a hint of fear from those who divulged any information. Some people simply said that while they respect what the band does, they're also friends with John and didn't want to betray their friend. I started hearing stories of people who were beaten for wearing Headkase t-shirts. And many of these stories were linked to other hate crimes against Asian people and gay people, specifically a lot of the bashings outside the Wickham Hotel in the Valley. But nobody was willing to give any more information. 

At one show, there was a group of about six goths in white facepaint who were chanting, "Nigger lovers!" at us while we played. There really didn't seem to be any basis behind these racist and homophobic statements being used against us, all because we dared to play music that was a bit different to what other metal bands were playing. The silliest part about the whole thing was the fact that these people were devoting so much of their time and money to this cause. The printing costs for posters and flyers, the time spent on hanging them up and handing them out, the time spent building websites and writing on countless message forums and guestbooks, and the entry fees spent on getting into our shows. Why would you pay money to see a band you hate so much?

 Thankfully, the threats of violence towards us never became any more than threats. However, I was appalled to think that acts of violence were being carried out towards our fans for wearing our t-shirts. Especially since the Police still refused to act without full names and address details. I had all the evidence, clues and leads for an investigation that they simply didn't want to be a part of. Venues like The Basement who took the matter seriously were putting on extra security at our shows, for the protection of the band and the fans. Both the front entry for the public, and the back entry for bands were being checked to make sure nobody was bringing in weapons. And roaming security guards were making sure nobody was organising any attacks, especially during our performance. Even enthusiastic fans in the mosh pit who lunged forward towards the stage were pushed back by security.

By 2007, the madness had died down. Any internet nonsense that was still going on was going unnoticed thanks to MySpace and the measures they had to keep riff raff like that away from band profiles. The band continued playing, and we'd gone through several waves of fans in that time. Many of the original regulars who packed out The Basement had long stopped attending shows. They'd hung up their leather pants, boots and spiky collars, gained full time employment, gotten married and had kids. But with every new wave of fans, we were still able to pull large crowd numbers. The "Overcranked" festival at the RNA Showgrounds was a highlight, and certainly reassured us that people were still willing to come out of the woodwork in large numbers to see us. MySpace helped to raise our profile nationally and even internationally as well, which worked in our favour when it came to touring and releasing an album.

In the next post, I'll talk about a couple of other bands I was in during this time - Silent Partners and Marlinchen. 

To be continued...

Part 4 -

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Brisbane Music Scene: From Punter To Performer, Part 2

In Part 1, I started by describing my band Headkase's 10 Year Anniversary show at the Hi-Fi Bar in January of this year, where we performed to 1,200 people. 

I talked about some of the local Brisbane bands I used to see when I first started attending gigs. They included Resin Dogs, George, Gota Cola, Tulipan, and others who had elements of hip hop, dance, folk and ambience. 

I showed you my first band, Boris, which was influenced by these sorts of bands.

I ended with these questions:
How did heavy metal get mixed up in all of this? How and why did Headkase form? And how were the large crowds achieved?

Boris didn't last long. The band consisted of fellow animation students, and a fine art student. We pretty much lasted until the end of the course. The other animation students went on to produce some well received underground comic books, as well as perform in other bands. The fine artist (vocalist) moved to Far North QLD to pick fruit.

Soon after, I read an ad in Time Off or Rave magazine about a percussion group that was forming. Being a fan of beats and rhythms, I joined. I played my Dad's bongo drums, and eventually bought a djembe too. It was basically a weekly drum circle, and was a lot of fun. About 20 or so people banging out rhythms together. We even did some performances in the Valley rotunda. A group of documentary film makers made a film about us too. 

Within this percussion group were various members of bands, including a few from a band called "Von Gherkin". One night, the whole percussion group went to The Zoo to see Von Gherkin play. They were actually opening for George on this particular night. 

US band Mr. Bungle
Von Gherkin were very much influenced by an American band called "Mr. Bungle". I had recently started listening to that band too. What fascinated me about Mr. Bungle was the fact that they would blend lots of different genres together. Predominantly, they played heavy metal (a genre that I felt was just a little bit uninteresting at the time), but mixed it with jazz, funk, techno, ska, circus/carnival music, pirate music, and music from the Middle East. Essentially, they made metal sound interesting to me. And clearly this view was shared by members of Von Gherkin. 

Listen to a sample of "Voices" by Von Gherkin:

Not long after the final performance of the percussion group, my brother Todd asked me if I'd like to bring my keyboard along to band practice with a group of metal musicians he'd been jamming with. At first, I wasn't too sure what I could bring to the table, because I was really just discovering metal at the time. But then I figured I could apply my own influences of jazz, techno and trip hop, as well as circus music, which I thought was a nice touch in the music of Mr. Bungle. That first jam was a hit. And everyone was very keen to take it in this direction, rather than just be a standard heavy metal band. 

Headkase at an early rehearsal (2001)

We started jamming regularly, and came up with some fun, catchy, quirky songs. Due to the crazy nature of the music, the members, and the various things that had hurt, changed and shaped us, we decided to call the band "Headcase". This was actually originally going to be the name of one of the songs.

Nutty (lead vocalist) entered us into the 2001 Queensland Rock Awards (previous entrants included Regurgitator, Powderfinger and The Butterfly Effect). Our first ever show was to be a qualifying heat at the Bracken Ridge Tavern in April 2001. This was a good incentive to rehearse a set for the night. 

On the night, Todd (drummer) decided to draw on his face with Nikko pen to look like an evil clown. We really only had about 15 minutes of material to drag out into the 30 minute set time. And we didn't have a bass player. But somehow, we managed to qualify to enter the contest, on the condition that we find a bass player. 

It didn't take long for Todd to bring in a friend he'd met at a party, guitarist Dylan, to play bass with us. A massive Mr. Bungle fan, Dylan was also keen on this wacky genre-blending metal band idea. 

We'd registered the band name in the Rock Awards, but later changed the spelling to "Headkase" with a 'k' due to our discovery of an active punk band in Sydney with the correctly spelled name. The QLD Rock Awards was like a TAFE course on how to be a professional musician. To fully impress the judges, we had to show how serious we were by officially registering the band name (Headkase) as a business, by setting up a website, and various other things like promotion and image.

In setting up the business side of the band, I turned to members of my favourite local bands for help: Tylea from Gota Cola, Tyrone Noonan from George, and various others. I also wrote to members and managers of bands like The Mark of Cain, The Bird and The Hive, and received some helpful hints. Local all-girl punk metal band "Razel" (pronounced Razelle - rhymes with gazelle) became good friends of mine during this time too. Their manager Tracy Kick was of the greatest help in all aspects of establishing the band. 

Headkase @ The Plough Inn (2001)
We worked our way up through all the heats (held at The Plough Inn at Southbank), becoming better and more confident, and managing to bring more and more of a rent-a-crowd each time. Todd was well and truly embracing his evil clown persona, wearing proper face paint and costumes to each gig. The movement and theatrics on stage, combined with the 'different' approach to music seemed to be working in our favour. 

Headkase with Razel (2001)
Through all of these Rock Awards heats and public jam nights at the Plough Inn, we were also able to hook up our first gigs in the 'real' scene. Tracy took a chance on us, and gave us a show with Razel at the Alley Bar (at the now demolished Milton Bowling Alley), and then another with popular Adelaide rock band "Testeagles" at The Waterloo Hotel. This was our first taste of playing with the big boys. And we certainly learned that night what can go wrong. I don't really remember what the circumstances were that lead to this, but we had our set cut short and were kicked off stage by the Testeagles' manager. 

That same August week, we played the Grand Final of the 2001 QLD Rock Awards, which was held at The Arena (formerly The Roxy), another of Brisbane's bigger venues mainly used for national and international touring acts. As one of the judges was from Triple M, we didn't win first prize. Our music just wasn't suitable for commercial radio. But we were so lucky to have made it all the way to the Grand Final, while so many other bands didn't make it through the heats.

From then on, it was all about continuing to promote ourselves, mingle with crowds at gigs, and build relationships with other bands and people in the music scene. One year on, we had established ourselves as a regular act at a venue under the Hilton in the Queen Street Mall called "The Basement" (aka Her Majesty's Bar). We still played almost everywhere else, but it was here where we really built our fanbase. Every time we played there, the crowd was bigger, to a point where we were pulling 300 people on a Wednesday night. The venue kept asking us back, because we were making them a lot of money. And other bands and venues were contacting us all the time too because of this. 

Headkase playing a packed show at The Basement
By 2003, we were well and truly riding a wave. Playing regular packed shows at the Basement, and being asked to play as opening act for major touring acts such as US metal giants "Skinlab", UK industrial pioneers "Killing Joke", and Australia's own "Jerk" (who had a huge commercial hit that year with their single, "I Hate People Like That"). We were finally a popular band in the underground scene.

But with popularity comes haters...

In Part 3, I'll talk a bit about the Anti-Headkase Neo-Nazi group that formed in Brisbane. 

To be continued...

Part 3 -

Friday, 1 July 2011

Brisbane Music Scene: From Punter To Performer, Part 1

Dylan (Headkase) at Hi-Fi Bar, 2011

As I stood on that big stage at the Hi-Fi Bar with the band, before a sea of almost 1,200 cheering people, I finally felt like all the hard work had paid off. For that brief period of time on Friday 28th of January, 2011, it was our turn. The 'Headkase' Ten Year Anniversary performance was not just another gig. This was the ultimate "rock concert" experience that every unsigned musician dreams of. 

Brett (Headkase) at Hi-Fi Bar, 2011

And it all began 14 years ago, when I started attending local gigs. I watched as some of my favourite local bands played to increasingly larger audiences at every gig. Nobody I talked to had ever heard of these bands, but it was fascinating to see all the fans come out of the woodwork on these nights. It was like being in a secret club. While the rest of the world's population were ignorant of the existence of these bands, 500+ fans would come together, pack out a venue and party to some great original live music. I too wanted one day to be up there on the stage, in a band, performing to big crowds. 

4ZzZ 102.1 FM

I don't know what it was that lead me towards some of the more abstract, underground sounds that were coming out of Brisbane's local music scene at the time. I guess I've always enjoyed music that's a bit different. Even as a kid, I'd get a kick out of some of the weird stuff that 4zZz were playing, as opposed to all the commercial pop music everybody else liked. 

I guess part of being unpopular was enjoying unpopular music. All the cool kids liked what was "in". But what was "in" was just too bland for me. And there was (and still is) no way to avoid it. Every ad on TV, every shop, bar and passing car has it blasting. Even without listening to commercial radio, the songs still get stuck in your head. But while I couldn't avoid this over hyped, overplayed, generic, teeny-bopper rubbish, I could at least escape it occasionally by either listening to CDs, or attending live gigs.

Time Off Magazine - Brisbane Street Press

I used to read the local street press (Time Off, Rave and Scene) even before I was legally allowed to attend most gigs, so I kept pretty well informed about the scene. I was very much into acid jazz, trip hop, turntablism, trance, ambient, folk and funk at the time, and many Brisbane bands catered for these tastes. In fact, many of them combined all of those elements, which fascinated me. 

Regular bands I would go and see included: 

Soma Rasa, Zephyr Timbre, The Visitors, Hydrophonics – All live bands with real instruments, playing funky dance and hip hop that you'd normally expect to be electronic. It sounded like real music, and the stage performances were a lot of fun. 


Trinkets – Ambient, delicate, quiet music. Strings, keys, cleantone guitar. Really soft moments that would elevate into louder, hypnotic sections. Hard to explain. It’s the sort of music you’d listen to while reading a good book by a fireplace in a quaint old cottage. These guys were definitely an influence for the band “Marlinchen”, which I was in between 2003 and 2007.


Tulipan – Four girls playing exotic instruments such as hurdy-gurdy, zither and hammered dulcimer, as well as sax, violin, keyboards and plenty of drums and percussion. They all sung in harmony as well. Playing fun world music, folk and "Hungarian fusion", band members would talk about the history and origin of the instruments, which was always interesting too. 


George – Before they were famous, they played jazz, funk and ambient soft rock. I used to pay $10 to see them perform at The Zoo in the Valley. Sometimes, they’d perform for free in the Valley Mall rotunda during the Saturday and Sunday Markets.
Listen to a sample of "Homebrew" by George:

Resin Dogs

Resin Dogs – Dave Atkins’ live drumming in this hip hop/dance outfit always blew my mind. And DJ Katch was quite the turntablist. And there were always so many performers on stage, often including break dancers. This was a band who really knew how to pull massive crowds. Always a BIG, spectacular show with a big live sound. They knew how to party! Now, this is a time when Aussie hip hop was NOT played on the radio like it is now. These guys were making the crowds jump long before we were hearing Hilltop Hoods on the radio. My brothers and I ended up appearing as extras in one of their music videos: “Hardgroove 2001”.  
Listen to a sample of "Que Kumbers" by Resin Dogs:

And my all time favourite, the dreamlike Gota Cola. Tylea, Lexie and Skritch always had me in a trance. I was always there, front row, centre at their gigs. I would often have a chat with Tylea afterwards. What a fanboy I was. I have both their debut EP and an autographed copy of their album, which I got them all to sign especially. Nobody else got a signed copy. It’s not like they were signing them at the merch desk. I was honoured to meet all of them. They were just such an amazing live band. It was ambient trip hop combined with indie rock. Very mesmerising stuff.  
Listen to a sample of "Red Red Moon" by Gota Cola:

All of these influences lead me to undertake a course in DJing and turntablism at the “United DJ Mixing School”. Run by professional DJs in the business, I learnt how to scratch rhythmically (as they used to do in hip hop throughout the 1980s and early 90s, and in trip hop throughout the 90s), how to beat mix (creating beats using the drum sounds on records), and how to mix one dance (techno/house/trance) song seamlessly into another, creating the illusion of one long, drawn out track, as heard in nightclubs.

I did really well at the turntablism (scratching) element of the programme. I had an interest in this style, and have an ear for rhythm and timing in music thanks to years of classical piano.

From there, a couple of fellow animation students and I, along with a girl who was studying fine art formed “Boris”, which incorporated all of the elements of these bands I was going out to see on most weekends. There was funk, jazz, folk, trance and hip hop elements. I was on turntables and keyboard. I had originally thought that this band was going to eventually follow in the footsteps of Gota Cola, George, Resin Dogs and the others, performing for the same crowds, and perhaps even on the same bill. But things took an interesting turn. 
Listen to a few short (poorly recorded) samples of songs by Boris:

How did heavy metal get mixed up in all of this? How and why did Headkase form? And how were the large crowds achieved?

To Be Continued…