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Maybe you’ve never put any thought into how PROM might end. Maybe you don’t get sucked into the various bullshit narratives around the breakup of bands. But I dare say if you thought about it it would occur to you that a band as snottily meta and story-world-y as PROM would probably rent a theatre and present their last gig as the culmination of a seven-year-long live indie-pop genre show.

If cooler heads (read: Julia) hadn’t prevailed I would have tried to smoosh everything the band was into one show- the initial apocalyptic-horror stuff, the half-assed deconstruction of the nature of pub gigs, the audience choreography. For Jules the simple heart of the band, the main thing all along, was that we are Playing Our Own High School Prom. Every gig we’ve ever done has been about refusing to graduate, whether by choosing oblivion instead or just wallowing in a loop of pop-music arrested development.  Anyone who isn’t an idiot like me would have known that we were heading for a Final Actual Graduation all along.

In a way it was still a Greatest Hits show. Joel Barcham MC’d in his SOCE Teacher persona one last time (he finally got a name- Mr Harold), augmented and elevated by Claire Granata as the authoritarian principal Ms Bizcut. Julia basically created a complete theatrical set from $80 of materials, just like always. Chris broke a guitar string two songs in and still played spectacularly, as if to prove that he is utterly irreplaceable (yes he’s moving to Scotland that’s what’s actually happening here). We picked a couple from the crowd and crowned them PROM King and Queen and made them slow-dance awkwardly, casting a comical frame over the what is actually one of my most earnestly-written songs (Run To The Love). Dead DJ Joke played a set either side and is the best DJ in the world of course. We did all the most PROM things.

I couldn’t even to begin to wrap my head around the fact that this was the last time I’d be doing these songs with these people, with Matt, Sam, Julia and Chris. Or the fact that Mel, my dear dear friend who the whole band began with wasn’t there (I mean she was in Brisbane where she lives now so odds are she was having a good time that night regardless, Brisbane is very good).  The crowd came in force and in costume but with the various jokes flying around the stage and the detention essays Ms Bizcut was forcing them to write it’s likely they didn’t spot just how nakedly emotional I was at my inability to square exactly how to most correctly think or feel. Which reminded me more if my actual high school graduation than anything else possibly could.

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We played Cost In Lives last and the chorus high note that has been the bane of my existence for seven years came out as easy as sighing. Thank you to all of you who made this band what it’s been to me.

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Photos by Adam Thomas

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It’s all Nick’s fault (I’ll get to that).

But firstly, Nick graciously invited me to be a guest at his Let’s Get Lyrical sessions – it was a fantastic experience. I felt I was on This Is Your Life – it was amazing to get asked songwriting questions I’d been waiting to be asked, and to hear my songs re-interpreted and contextualised. In particular, Evan Buckley’s rendition of Don’t Grow Up Too Fast was stunning – I often write country songs posing as punk songs (or vice-versa), and Evan was able to find that hidden core, drawing out the pathos and truth in the lyric in a way Faux Faux Amis‘ raucous shows will never capture.

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In attendance was Chris Huet, aka award-winning performance poet and national treasure CJ Bowerbird. Alongside Chris’ many talents, he is also a generous patron of the Canberra art scene, and regularly comes to Faux Faux Amis gigs. Given his familiarity with the band, and his deft way with words, I had asked him to write old-school liner notes for Faux Faux Amis’s upcoming album, hoping it would be a fun challenge for him. Discussing it over coffee, I mentioned the Let’s Get Lyrical event, which he promptly said he would attend for ‘research’.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I get a message from him asking if I would like to support him at an encore performance of his poet-and-choir piece Downfall Of The Main Character. I immediately said yes, and asked him if he wanted Babyfreeze or Faux Faux Amis to perform. ‘I was thinking you solo, if you’re up for that’, he replied. After attending Let’s Get Lyrical, he wanted a chance to see more of my songs. See above: all Nick’s fault.

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To put it in context, in seventeen years of playing in bands, I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve played on my own. I nervously agreed – in preparing for Let’s Get Lyrical I revisited a lot of songs I hadn’t thought about in years, and this seemed a perfect opportunity to exhume some of them.

I don’t typically play solo for a few reasons – primarily I find it exponentially more stressful than playing alongside others. I have no problem singing on stage with a band around me, but playing solo feels closer to public speaking, and I become incredibly self-conscious and unduly worry about forgetting lyrics or hitting bum notes. Couple that with the fact ‘male singer with an acoustic guitar’ is the least interesting/appealing format I can think of, and I don’t go out of my way to book solo shows (my favourite solo show was supporting Prom – billed as ‘King Handsome Luke‘, I backed myself on drum machine and electric guitar for a bunch of electro-punk rap numbers).

To offset some of these qualms, I invited Faux Faux Amis bandmate Catherine James to do back-up vocals and kazoo. Catherine also sang one song on her own, and duetted on two others, so it became more McGrath & James than just me, which I was vastly more comfortable with. It just helps tremendously to have someone to banter with between songs as well.

An acoustic gig lends itself to a certain type and style of song, and my set ended up ranging from cod-reggae to country (lots of country) to pop and even a couple of torch songs. They came from all over my back catalogue, some appearing on CDR albums I produced over a decade ago, others written for The Bluffhearts, still others seeing the light of day for the first time.

A couple bear special mention – Another Bad Habit To Break is a country song I wrote after I no longer had a country band. I’ve tried it with other bands in the past but it has never worked. Still, for years now it’s the song I’m most likely to spontaneously start playing whenever I find a guitar in my hand – it was great to finally share it with an audience.

Sucker For You is a song that had its sole appearance when I played the now defunct slot of ‘interluder’ at the Bootlegs many moons ago. While I loved the first verse and hook, I never really finished it to my satisfaction,. Using the gig as a prompt (thanks Chris!), I subsequently re-wrote the second verse, as well as adding a third verse and bridge. It’s really strong now, and I need to find somewhere to place it!

I happened upon Lyle Lovett’s She’s No Lady a couple of years ago – the video was playing on a country music channel while I was up late in a hotel room on a work trip. It instantly became one of my favourite songs, and this was a perfect excuse to share it. To calm my nerves, I kicked off the set with it, hoping it would serve as a good luck charm.

I’d been to a Sunday afternoon gig at Smiths a couple of weeks beforehand and there was about a dozen people in attendance. Thus expecting a low-key return to solo performance, I was shocked to find myself playing to a full house – a testament to CJ Bowerbird’s talent and popularity. The sound at Smiths is the best in the capital (down to sound maestro Bevan Noble), and the audiences the most attentive I have played for – their focus and attention is a gift. There was no sound in the room besides the performance – it was a rare treat and something I am grateful to have experienced.

It’s been an interesting year creatively – I had intended to focus on writing and film projects, but ever slave to the muse, I instead find all of my passion and drive being drawn to music. In particular, after giving away home recording for several years, I am in the thick of a production renaissance.

I have at least six recording projects on the go – including a Faux Faux Amis album and EP, two Babyfreeze EPs I am co-writing and producing, a kid-friendly ukulele reworking of some of my songs under the name Luc Faux, a clutch of beats for the Northside Swag Unit, and a nascent top secret pop project. This last month, I’ve also challenged myself to do a couple of covers-in-a-day of favourite local acts. Coolio & Housemouse’s recently released Where Ma Dawgz At? 7” has barely left the record player, and was the initial inspiration and first cab off the rank. It was intended as a one-off until Faux Faux Amis performed with Finger Your Friends the other Saturday, and I couldn’t resist trying my hand at their kick-ass song Astrotel on the Sunday.

Done being the engine of more, I now need to buckle down and complete some of these other projects and get them out into the world!

LGL 2NICK: Of my 9 nerdy obsessions Songs Lyrics and The Writing Thereof are possibly number 1. Of the 6 things I hate most about modern journalism, the fact that you no-one is doing techy-craft based analysis of the Words Bit of songs is definitely number 1. Canberra has an embarrassing surplus of world-class lyricists, a hip indie writers festival that specializes in panel-y discussion-y events, and 1 arrogant dickhead who thought he would be the best person to present said world-class lyricists to an audience, despite having no experience with interviewing at all.

If the two-night event went well at all it was because of my Rogues Gallery of Guest: Damien Flanagan and Bec Taylor from Hashemoto, Luciana Harrison from Pocket Fox, Sam Seb and Cathy from Burrows and indeed the co-parent of this very blog Luke McGrath!

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I was spoiled to have such a diverse range of writing styles to pick apart, from the finely-wrought images of a Damo to the wry darkness of a Luch, to the haunted playfulness of a Cathy, to the anti-narrative embrace of pure sound that you get with a Seb. Each discussion was peppered with performances of songs, and I nudged the artists to find unusual ways to perform them in the hopes that the audience would approach them as products of craft and thought. Burrows swapped each others’ usual lead vocals around, Damo took us through a song that wasn’t finished yet and Luch stripped her songs right back from Pocket Fox’s normal 8-piece arrangements. I was most excited for what we did with Luke’s interview. We sourced a bunch of our favorite performers to do solo renditions of Luke’s songs while he sat in his chair and listened. The most amazing thing about Luke as a writer is the sheer breadth, diversity and quality of the songs he’s written, there’s no way to wrap your head around it by seeing just one of his bands. It was great to at least attempt to present him to an audience in a way that drives home how unique he is.

LGL 9As an interviewer I was just about passable. Luckily my guest were on-point and articulate because I was perfect storm of rookie mistakes- rambly questions, closed questions, reductive binary questions, the works. I didn’t frame the genius of the participating artists to the extent that I hoped, but they did a very fine job of framing it themselves. As I might have guessed, the best moments were the ones where I hung back and let the interviewee hold forth.

 

Who knows whether I successfully drew the audience into the nerdy study of language and music that I was trying for, but I can tell you the song performances hit home hard. As a raving fan of the acts in question the whole thing was a geeky delight.LGL 12

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Life is supposedly a bleak unjust affair but then the incredible Chiara Grassia asks you to write songs for her You Are Here project which is a tribute show for a legendary 80s Canberra Indie Band that never actually existed. And then the band turns out to be made up of some of the coolest and best and loveliest musicians there are (including members of some of you favorite acts like No StarsAgency Pocket Fox and Petre Out). And then you get to go full method on imagining the entire life and death of your favorite Canberra cult band that never was and attempting to write the parallel-universe indie-guitar classics that you’ve always wanted to exist. And then you show up to the first meeting and the band have written their own songs and they’re perfect and amazing and you realize you aren’t needed at all, but they still want to use a couple of your songs on the set. And then the gig happens and you’re in the crowd and your songs sound just like you imagined but 12 times better plus the songs that the others wrote are your new favorite songs and Nikki H made great music videos for each song and best of all at least some of the crowd are convinced that Slush Pile was actually a real band and the gig goes great and the tribute band (named Plush Style) are keen to make a record of the songs and sure maybe my life is a crazy miracle dream whatever.Slush Pile 7Slush Pile 2Slush Pile 9Slush Pile 3

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‘When a 20-something artist is accused of being ‘date racist’ by her long-suffering best friend she launches ineptly into the world of cross-cultural romance in an attempt to prove her wrong.

Come watch the making of your new favorite show as the creators work out how to make their sitcom about race and relationships right in front of you!

It’s a playful deconstruction of the TV Show Table Read. It’s the latest phase of the Writers Room X project, which uses the structural trappings of TV to devise the kind of stories and characters that TV doesn’t do enough.’

It’s been a year since the beginning of Writer’s Room X, the experimental group-devised indie screenwriting collective that I originally dreamed up for the 2016 Noted Festival. One year since the 1-week locked-room intensive that saw six writers (Tasnim Hossain, Khalid Warsame, Linda Chen, Chiara Grassia, Emma MacManus and me) create full scripts for a six-part web-based sitcom called Drunk White Friend. One year since I committed to produce Drunk White Friend and started the awkward process of working out how to actually go about that.

DWF 2The film industry, even at the indie level, is glutted with participants to the point of being utterly broken. The world of experimental art festivals is tiny by comparison and so can’t help but make more sense. It’s also a world that makes sense to me and where I have a little track record. Plus experiments in form are my whole thing, as WRX to date suggests. So of course my approach to producing a relatively conventional web series (I mean sure it’s trying to break new ground in terms of content and representation but it’s doing it within a clearly identified form, the sitcom) is to create a model whereby every stage of the development takes place at an arts festival and involves a live audience event. I can hear you groaning and you are right to. DWF 10

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In the same way that our initial writing process was structured around the conventions of a TV writers room, this one was conceived as a ‘Table Read’ in the classic TV production style. Really this was a spur to tackle what we knew would be one of our biggest challenges, nailing the casting of the show. Drunk White Friend only has four principles but the cultural backgrounds of the characters are specific, so we knew we’d have to look a little wider than our local networks. Sydney is still close enough that the meager artist fees we could offer for this stage wouldn’t be eaten up by travel costs, and so three of our wonderful cast (Toks Ogundare, Jemwel Danao and Hannah Goodwin) were sourced from there. Our fourth actor, Jim Nguyen, is a Canberran who I’d been looking to use in something since he auditioned for The Real a few years back.

That said, the casting decisions were thankfully not up to me. The not-so-secret edge of WRX is that every one of the writers is also extremely skilled and experienced in at least one other arts discipline. Emma and Tasnim are both in-demand theatre-makers and the only reason this iteration of the project went well (spoiler warning- it went well) is that they made time in their insane schedules to act as director and AD respectively.

Emma was the one who whipped my half-baked Table Read concept into an effective audience event. What she created was essentially a moved reading that made a virtue of super-minimalism, an old couch and a desk acting effectively as our five different story locations. Before we even got to that point Em and Tas worked for months on the audition process and their efforts were evident in the killer roster of actors that we ended up with.

As a thoughtless jerk I thought it would be a great logistical approach to mush the entire development into one day, including initial team meetings, rehearsal, script revisions and the final live performance. I also thought it would be a ‘fun’ twist for the whole thing to happen in a public space, which turned out to be the You Are Here festival Hub Space. This was a gross error in judgement for which Emma and the rest of the Drunk White Friend team should have rightly cut all ties with me and walked from the project. Instead they pushed heroically through the quite frankly fucked limitations of our noise-y chaotic working space. Who knows what our actors made of the insane working format, but they nailed everything we asked from them and it was a true thrill to finally see or characters made flesh-and-blood. Special thanks also to the other WRX writers for filling the variety of production, performance, songwriting and script-supervision roles that popped up along the way. Thanks to everyone but me the final performance was assured and clear, and the audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive (as well as full of constructive feedback for our next development stage).

WRX are some of my favorite people in the whole world and my belief in the merit of Drunk White Friend is total. The only possible weak link in the chain is me, so expect future blogs on the subject to be full of angst and misadventure as I do whatever it takes to Get This One Actually Made. Photos courtesy of You Are Here (I have to check whether Adam or Sarah took them then edit this post)

Wrestle V

Oh, it’s the live art show I’ve been developing for the last couple of years, about the nature of athletic competition and freestyle wrestling in particular, which includes live for-real wrestling as a fundamental component of the show.

Yes this is the thing I went to Belgrade for that I was so coy about at the time, and I’ve had a couple of developments on the down-low since then. Wrestling is such a key aspect of my life and creating a show that will exist partly to present the world of the sport to a lay audience is a nerve-wracking process. That said, off the back of a week-long development in Sydney involving several members of the incredible Sydney Silverbacks, a bunch of folk in the arts community are now aware of the project and I now have a producer on board. Plus our first public development is confirmed to take place at Crack Theatre festival in October. So really it’s time for me to start talking about it here.

The show is about what might drive a human to strive at a thing that they are never going to be the best at, or maybe even good at, and about the strange nature of competition as a way to negotiate worth. It’s about the strange intersections between niche communities and it’s about obsession. In form terms, we’ll be creating a performance model that different wrestlers in different touring locations can be plugged into, so that the nature of the show will be re-shaped each time by the specific participants. At least, that’s the aim.

The development showings have gone well but I’ve never felt such a sense of responsibility toward a project being all that it can be. So my future updates about the creation of the show might well involve some dark nights of the soul. That said, I am very excited for the outside enthusiasm the show has already garnered, and like everything I do it’s at least bound to get weirder from here.

 

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It’s 9.55pm on the Friday night of You Are Here Festival, and I’m moving in choreographed sync with microwave cooking guru/internet sensation Amelia de Frost on a stage littered with popcorn and backlit by LED-laden microwaves. Amelia and I are listless in our movements, three hours of literally non-stop Wellness-themed activity has left us shattered. The crowd have been watching us, transfixed by our agony and growing steadily that whole time. The crowd knows that in mere moments the participatory section that they have joined in on 9 times already will occur one final time. Their joy and support sweeps over us and our energy crests one more time as we lead them into a New Wellness Tomorrow. In that moment, as for the whole night, I am Babyfreeze.

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I am a precious flower as far as the projects I agree to do. Claire Granata is one of my best friends and also one of the most skilled performers I know, but when she first floated the idea of combining her brilliant Amelia de Frost character with my Babyfreeze persona in an aerobics-themed show I was meh on it. I LOVE dancing (and Claire and I share a certain aggressively athletic approach to doing so) but ‘aerobics’ as a premise seemed thin and I didn’t want to do anything that was just a joke.

Luckily I am as pretentious as I am precious and I have a couple of simple buttons that any potential collaborator can push. The first button was pushed when Claire suggested a celebrity infomercial-type format, and I realised that I could use this piece as a vehicle to dump all of the venom I’ve built up from 7 years of working in the fitness industry. That’s when it became Aerobicide: Feel Better, a vaguely-defined Wellness System through which we could throw shade on basically anything that’s ever price-tagged the idea of better health.

 

The final trap was sprung when You Are Here producer Rochelle White pointed out that this obviously had to be a 3-hour-long durational performance. I am an absolute sucker for the idea of physical and logistical ordeal as the heart of an artwork, and Claire is similarly fucked in the head, so in a moment we were excitedly committed to what became a three-month campaign of past-midnight rehearsals and teaser video shoots.

Claire brought most of the actual necessary skills to the table, choreographing a full 20 -minute routine (with me interjecting the odd goofy gym move) set to a sublimely-poptacular music mix by go-to sound genius Reuben Ingall. This mix provided the structure of the Aerobicide presentation, a punishing demonstration of the extreme wellness of (celebrity spokespeople) Amelia de Frost and Babyfreeze that was repeated 9 times back to back in the final performance. Rather than speaking live we had ourselves spouting dozens of fitness-based non-sequitur slogans as part of the recorded track. Our past selves therefore stayed immortally sunny and smug as our Live Selves slowly realised that they were trapped in a never-ending loop of Activeness.

The other vital components of the show were Adam Thomas’ incredible set design (comprising 9 separate microwaves all with their own individual lighting effects) and the tireless efforts of Holly Tranter and Matt Lustri as our Coach/Assistants, whose multifarious duties included changing our costumes live on stage 9 times across the night.

The whole thing happened at You Are Here’s Electric Avenues, a great big night-festival in Haig park. We were set up on a stage near the food trucks and I was sure people were going to interact with us like a telethon-type thing, checking in with us every now and then across the night. I was wrong. A huge amount of people camped out to see us repeat the same sequence again and again, descending further into madness each time. The bludgeoning nature of the central gag, where every time we think we’ve finally finished and then the music starts up again, got a louder cheer every time. Frankly I’ve never been involved in an artwork that the audience took to as ideally and perfectly as this one. As Claire and I finally shuffled off the stage at 10pm, taking care to walk in a shell-shocked slow motion, the crowd took up a chant of ‘THREE MORE HOURS! THREE MORE HOURS! THREE MORE HOURS!’

Photos by the wonderful Sarah Walker.