Monthly Archives: May 2012

Australian Metal Has it All Wrong: Thoughts on the Ouroboros hoo-ha

I knew that the Ouroboros funding story had gone mainstream when my mum called me up to ask if I knew them. No, mum. I haven’t met them. I’ve heard two of their tracks and it didn’t do anything for me. I like my heavy metal to be ridiculously heavy.

For anyone not familiar with the story, it goes like this: Midweight Aussie melodic deathmetal band Ouroboros get $20k of arts funding from the government to spend on using a real dinky-di orchestra on their next album. Conservative radio host pensioner Neil Mitchell rants on his popular radio slot about how death metal is not music and how this is a waste of taxpayer money.

Metalheads around Australia then react like this:

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Now, you can either read the comments section on the link I posted above or you can check out this article “in defense of metal music” which thoughtfully summarises and articulates the position of Australian metal to Mitchell’s hatchet job. And it’s to Australian Metal I want to say the following very important thing, which everyone seems to have forgotten:

People like Neil Mitchell aren’t supposed to like or understand death metal.

Now maybe it’s my age showing here but when I grew up, metal OFFENDED THE FUCK out of everyone. That was its purpose. It wasn’t meant to be a safe little burlesque Alice-Cooperish shock. Deicide were burning crosses into their fucking heads. Cannibal Corpse were releasing songs like “I Cum Blood”. Even softcock hair-metal crap like W.A.S.P. usually featured a picture of Blackie Lawless dismembering himself with a chainsaw.

Gigs could get intimidating. You were a gutsy chap if you went to some of the shows. My mum nearly had a heart attack whenever she walked past the old “Extreme Aggression” shop in Flinders Lane, and I was forbidden from consorting with such people. The music was fucking angry. What struck you first about ‘Reign In Blood’, huh? It’s delicate instrumentation, or the 100 gigaton explosion of great vengeance and furious anger that reached out from the stereo and violated you?

And now we all get in a strop because some old fogey announcer doesn’t understand the artistic nuances of death metal? Give me a fucking break. Man, I grew up when Couchman had his shock-horror episode about death metal featuring live performances from Necrotomy. It seemed every six months, there’d be another special on TV warning about Satan in metal. I take it as an indication of how far metal has fallen that it has taken this fricking long for the usual mainstream commentators to find something in heavy metal to complain about. The day the Neil Mitchells, Andrew Bolts, and Alan Joneses of the world start appreciating metal’s fine, hard-won technical musical skill is the day I switch shit up and start sampling babies getting fed into woodchippers for distorted 30,000 BPM remixes. Metal is not meant to be safe, it’s not meant to be liked, it’s not meant to be understood, and it is supposed to fill every non-metalhead in listening distance with a violent urge to flee to quieter, dumber music.

STOP WITH THE IMPASSIONED SPEECHES ON THE MERITS OF THE MUSIC. You all remind me of that idiot english kid who thought it would be a laff to wear the Cradle of Filth t-shirt of the nun having a wank to school, then got in a tizz when they suspended him. I happily applaud anyone who provokes, but if you complain about receiving a reaction to your provocation then you are an idiot who deserves mockery. It’s the same deal if you’re listening to death metal. It’s wonderful music that provokes. Upset that people don’t get it, but still want to be an arty-farty airy-fairy musician? Then go listen to some Frank Gambale, you skirt.

Despite me ripping on almost every single person who has commented on this 3AW funding wankathon, this doesn’t make people’s arguments about the merits of the death metal any less valid. It IS funny to hear normals complain about not understanding metal lyrics (quick, off the top of your head what’s the chorus to Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”? The verses to Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”?)  But make no mistake, the roots of death metal are in shock, awe, and offense so don’t be surprised when people are shocked or offended by it. Furthermore, if you’re in an extreme metal band and people AREN’T getting shocked by what you’re doing, take a good hard long look at yourselves.

To anyone frabjous enough to think that Neil Mitchell’s commentary might impact arts funding for death metal, I’ll firstly say WHAT?! And secondly I’ll inform you that a number of high profile Australian metal bands have received government funding before, usually in the form of small business loans. Not quite as juicy as a freebie $20k, but still a nice little assist. These have always flown under the newsworthy radar and unless funding rules change these loans will continue to be available. See, it’s all part of the trade off of having to register an Australian Business Number when you start gigging, isn’t it? …NOT.

And a huge high-five has to go to Ouroboros. They may have got $20k in funding but they’ve managed to get $250k in publicity. I’d consider Neil Mitchell an honorary metalhead for the amount of exposure he has managed to get the genre this week. All Hail Neil.

 "Coming up next, did Jamie Ludbrook really influence Slipknot? Our lines are open, lets hear your thoughts...."

“Coming up, did Jamie Ludbrook influence Slipknot? Our lines are open, lets hear your thoughts….”

* obviously a doctored photo. Neil doesn’t wear blue shirts

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First Show in Scotland

I love Scotland, always have. At first it was because of the grievous little adventures I got into there on tour with the cheerfully homicidal Scottish folk. Later on, when I moved to England and spent the first years in a fog of council-tax-TV-licence-chavs-Jeremy-Kyle-WTF, I loved their bloody-minded hatred of everything English. In my day-to-day life in Bournemouth everyone seemed completely OK with England’s homogenous grey drab concrete high-street mediocrity and to me, the Scottish loathing of England seemed evidence that I hadn’t yet gone insane. Yes, I realise what I just typed.
 
 
I worked for an American bank in England and most of my colleagues were Scottish so it was like this ménage a trois of hatred and bigotry. The English hated the Americans, the Scottish hated the English and Americans, I hated the English and Americans on behalf of Australia, and the Americans hated no-one because you need a soul to feel emotions. The Scottish guys were always floating the idea of taking a hacksaw to the length of Hadrian’s Wall and kicking England further away into the channel, an idea with some merit.
 
 
Some of my funniest times were on an IT helpdesk shift with an English guy called David and a Scottish guy called Robbie. We’d play three-player Tanks on a spare machine between taking IT calls whenever we were stuck on nightshift, and the sledging would get absolutely brutal. Robbie and I would start on David for being a degenerate imperialist cock from an abomination of a country. David would gently remind me of my criminal heritage. I would point out to David that he came from a country so incredibly venal that it needed to colonise a land mass a hundred times its size just to find a place to put all its scum. Robbie would be laughing at this point, so I’d speculate on his exotic appearance usually by inferring that one of his female ancestors had an unfortunate encounter with a Portuguese pirate.  David would then explain to Robbie that his country didn’t actually exist and that ‘Scotland’ was merely a brand-name the English used to identify a tiresome acquisition. All of this back-and-forth was punctuated by us bombing each other into oblivion on the computer. We’d get Robbie to the point where he’d be spluttering with fury and then he’d get a call that would push him over the edge…some manager travelling in the countryside around Guangzhou who got the blue screen of death on their laptop, or a retard trader who was trying to work out how to log on remotely; an unfixable problem from someone who had no chance of understanding our instructions, which possibly wouldn’t help them even if they did. Robbie would sit there suffused with fury and Dave and I would laugh at him. I heard Robbie got a tumour on his lung a few years later and had to have his entire lung removed, and I like to think that the tumour was a physical manifestation of all the anger built up from working on shift with us.
 
 
I digress. Scotland, I’ve always liked. I’ve tried to explain why, but that didn’t quite work did it? So it might be a case of first love – the first time I went to Scotland was to play a show in Glasgow and Jesus Christ that night was rough and I loved it. Every time I played there I came away with another story.
 
 
Berzerker was on its first headline tour of the UK. We were touring with Labrat, Red Harvest, and Insision. The Red Harvest guys were Norwegian dudes. They were lovely, even their singer who has the most psychopathic hundred yard stare ever.
 
 
...like, EVER

…like, EVER

 
 
Insision are a bunch of Swedes. Their singer Carl is a total maniac. His face was constantly bright red from screaming at everyone, and he lost his voice halfway through the tour. Lastly, there were the Londoners Labrat. They were bad, bad, bad boys and agent provocateurs. Whichever direction your worst intent took you, there’d be one of the Labrat guys urging you along. We called them ‘La Brats’. They broke up not long after tour and their collective components spread across England’s metal industry like cholera. I hear they’ve reformed. Fortunately, I live in Australia now.
 
 
 
the four face case for the reintroduction of chastity belts

the four face case for the reintroduction of chastity belts

 
 
 
All the bands were travelling on a nice Skyliner bus except for us. We were on a small bus without heating during one of the coldest Decembers in recent history. Additionally the bus toilet was broken and leaking effluent into the carpet. Our tour manager Baz from Blah Blah Blah tours dealt with the problem by laying cardboard on the floor to soak it up. By the second day of tour even the cardboard was starting to get soggy and the smell was eye-watering. It took me until the second-last day of tour to wise up and steal a berth on the Skyliner instead.
 
 
 
We arrived in Glasgow in our Chariot of Piss to play a club called Strawberry Fields. We were there all of five minutes when we saw the posters in the men’s toilets. The posters were of three people murdered on three separate occasions out the back of the club over the last six months or so. The bottom of the poster carried a reminder not to venture out to the back alley alone – the very alley our bus was parked in. Hmmm. We managed to unload our gear and soundcheck without getting stabbed to death, and headed out for a few pre-show beers with La Brats. I wasn’t too concerned about the warning to be honest. We’d played Detroit already and the British Isles are all about knife crime. At least I had the option of outrunning potential assailants.
 
 
 
"...but all I want to do is entertain you!"

“…but all I want to do is entertain you!”

 
 
 
The pre-show beers didn’t last too long. We got kicked out of the pub. One of La Brats – possibly Nathan – went to the toilet with some Nutella, and came back with it smeared all over toilet paper. He ‘accidentally’ tripped over and got it over singer Martin’s face. This was followed by one of our mates doing a line of pepper off the table. That was enough for the publican. We didn’t really understand what he was saying but we got the message: Get out. You are lowering the tone of a pub in Glasgow.
 
 
I can’t remember too much from the show except it was a cracker. The crowd went apeshit from go to woah, and both Matt and myself stagedived at the end of the set. We were told to get out quickly as the place turned into a gaybar thirty minutes after the show ended. Our wonderful promoter Kelvin organised a night out for us at the Cathouse. The guys from Co-Exist came along, and I was introduced to the drink Buckfast by their drummer Quzzy. Buckfast “gets you fucked fast” according to the locals and is the most Scottish of drinks. It is as clear as present danger, as caustic as a billion amplified bagpipes, and as intoxicating as the image of a Scottish boot stepping onto an English face, forever. Quzzy looks like a dangerous thug and we slugged back shots of this potable paint-stripper together straight out the bottle all the way to the Cathouse. I’d say the day was getting better and better but honestly, I didn’t see daylight once the entire two weeks we were on tour so I’ll say the night got better instead.
 
 
We partied hard at the Cathouse. I can only start remembering stuff from when the night began drawing to a close, which is fortunate because that’s when things got weird. I had picked up some Scottish girl with a black eye, not because I was particularly into her but because she said she had some crack that I could smoke. This happened back in the early 2000’s so I’m hoping that the statute of limitations for behaving like a dickhead has passed. This black-eyed strumpet had some crack to smoke, I’d never had it before and I figured when in Glasgow drink Buckfast and smoke crack.
 
 
 
 
In retrospect, I think it was all just a cunning ruse to get me back to her flat and use me sexually. She had already gathered that I wasn’t that into her and her offering of crack was just a ploy. She had already asked if she could blow me and I’d responded only if I could wee in her mouth. We were about to leave the club to head for her place when two of La Brats turned up like God himself making a chess move, and asked her if she could recommend a prostitute for them.
 
 
Yes, she said. Her flatmate was a prostitute. Her place was a short walk away. They could come along with us and she’d hook them up. So we happy few walked down the stairs and across town, us band of brothers, me with this chick with a shiner who had by now consented to getting pissed on and would share crack with me, the fellas giddily looking forward to destroying some Glaswegian hooker. We exited the town centre, crossed a few streets, and entered the area known as The Gorbals.
 
 
Here are some choice excerpts from Wikipedia’s entry on The Gorbals:
 
The Gorbals has long had a reputation as a gritty and rough area of Glasgow. It became widely known as a dangerous slum and was subject to efforts at redevelopment, which contributed to more problems such as homeless people and diseases spreading. The name is remarkably similar to a Lowland Scots word gorbal/gorbel/garbal/garbel (unfledged bird), perhaps a reference to lepers who were allowed to beg for alms in public. Throughout the 1980s, the Gorbals was often referred to as the most dangerous place in the UK, as street gangs and casual violence were rife, particularly from the famous Glasgow razor gangs. Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, was born at The Gorbals as Ian Duncan Stewart.
 
We skipped and tra-la-la’d into this place with the girl leading the way. It took me a good ten minutes before I sensed something was wrong. I was pretty drunk and had a mammoth ego that blinded me to even the vaguest flashes of reality, but I started getting a gut feeling. I realised that we were the only ones out on the street, and that no cars were driving down these roads. Indeed, the only car I could see had all its windows smashed and was burned out.  There were buildings but their windows were boarded up. Even worse, our femme facilitator was now walking some distance ahead of us and had been saying “it’s just around the next corner” for about the last ten minutes. And every time she said it, it sounded like she was calling it out to someone else out of sight. This was not good. I was coming to conclusions at about the point that La Brats sidled casually over and whispered surreptitiously out of the corner of their mouths.
 
 
“Sam”, one said, “we’re in the Gorbals. This is the most violent place in the UK. I don’t think we’re going to get our prostitute.”
“I don’t think I’m going to get my crack” I glumly replied.
“There’s a main road back down the left”, said the other. “I reckon on the count of three, we make a run for it and jump in the first taxi we see. What do you think?”
 
 
It sounded like a good plan. Besides I was cold, starting to sober up, and had the feeling we were being watched. We whispered one, two, THREE then sprinted off down the street laughing our heads off. It didn’t register with any of us that we’d left this girl by herself. In my mind she was setting us up for something so she deserved it. We got to the main road and hailed an elderly cab driver who seemed astonished at the sight of two very alternative English and one giggling Australian sprinting out of the Gorbals waving at him. When we arrived back at the bus, Baz, the bus driver, and Kelvin the promoter nearly wept with relief. Someone had turned up at the club after we’d left and told them we were last seen walking into the Gorbals, and everyone was convinced that they wouldn’t even be able to find our bodies.
 
 
Years later when I told this story to my Scottish work colleagues, they’d piss themselves laughing. Then they’d tell me that it was amazing I wasn’t killed. Then they’d start debating amongst themselves; no, it was the English that would have been killed. They would have kept the Australian alive as a curiosity because of the accent, and I would have just been maimed a bit. Then they say that the Gorbals aren’t as bad anymore as they used to be. At least that’s what I think they say, because they all sound like this.
 

Despite my adventures, I was the first one out of my band back onto the Four-Wheeled Portaloo. I crawled into my bunk which was floor height so I could get the stench of chemical toilet right in my face. I was starting to doze off when I heard Luke get on the bus with some guests and a few girls. I saw feet by my face. One of them had very pale delicate ankles. I reached out and grabbed it and heard a girl scream. I fastened on with the other hand and tried to drag her into the bunk but her friends grabbed her and after a brief tug-of-war they hoisted her out of my reach. They made their excuses and left.

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Brain Drill get Arse-Drilled

I’d like to think that I’ve personally experienced every ridiculous metal story of misfortune that ever was, but I must admit – I never got cavity searched. I am a sadistic prick who LOVES hearing about other bands’ misfortune and stories don’t get much more unfortunate than this:

Brain Drill getting cavity searched on tour

Well, tour stories do get more unfortunate than that – Evile, Decapitated – but even my schadenfreude has limits. This is about as bad as it gets where I can still sympathetically laugh about it. It also serves as a good example of why you should never transport drugs on tour.

The story’s old, I know. Love the band, listening to ‘Quantum Catastrophe’ at the moment.

"Sir, we need you to bend over, touch your ankles, and give us your most gutteral death-growl"

“Sir, we need you to bend over, touch your ankles, and give us your most gutteral death-growl”

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The Gig Where Nothing Went Wrong

I’ve got to write about this gig, just so I can justify writing up another ten or so articles about ridiculous bullshit that went wrong. If you have ten stories about stuff going wrong and one about when it was alright then you’re heroically relating true stories; if you just have ten straight stories about stuff-ups and disasters then you’re either inept, a whinger, or both.

This isn’t to say that every show I’ve had has been a disaster. There have been quite a few great ones. I’m a lucky dude. But few of them were as perfect, fulfilling, and enjoyable as the one I’m about to recount.

I joined UK death metal band Mithras back in 2009 when their old bassist/vocalist Rayner left them. I was already rehearsing with Leon, the main Mithras guy, in preparation for the Senseless ‘Floating World’ album. As soon as I heard about the lineup vacancy I not only volunteered, I swore that I’d kick any other contenders down a flight of stairs. And I totally would have as well. Mithras were often maligned as Florida death-metal clones or Morbid Angel wannabes. They weren’t, there’s a real psychedelic splash of colour to their music that other bands of the genre don’t have, but they were similar enough to really rock me. Ever since I started playing an instrument I just wanted to be Dave Vincent (minus the codpiece, perhaps) and seeing as though Morbid Angel wouldn’t hire me, Mithras would do just fine.

I have no idea why. I would have fit in so well.

I have no idea why they wouldn’t hire me. I would have fit in so well.

Did I just say Morbid Angel wouldn’t hire me? Quick side story: I finished the Art of Noise tour in 2003 with Berzerker down in Tampa, Florida and was fortunate enough to get on the piss with Morbid Angel’s drummer Pete Sandoval. We were a good portion through a bottle of Jim Beam and I was asking how the ‘H’ album was going…last I heard, they’d be in the studio any day now. I specifically asked if Dave Vincent was back in, as per the rumour going around. Pete confided in me that the negotiations had fallen apart last minute. He had no idea who was going to do bass and vocals on the album. He was freaking out. This was my chance! I said “I’LL fucking do it! I can play all of your albums A through to D, note for note, know all the lyrics, and can do all the vocals!” When Al Dawson from Earache confided the same problem to Luke – no Dave on the H album, don’t know who to use – Al was told the same thing. Sam can do it! He can already play all of their stuff! – Hey, you gotta aim big sometimes, don’t you?

Needless to say that one didn’t fly. Shit, it didn’t even start flapping.

Had my own wig and everything

Had my own wig and everything

Anyway, I auditioned and got the role with Mithras. There was another unexpected pleasure on joining Mithras which was everyone could play their instruments WELL. I mean REALLY well. We locked in real tight together, and even though Leon regularly gave Ben hell about his drumming it was a step up from a lot of the other dudes I was used to playing with. The main thing I loved was that no-one forgot songs, or made ‘car-crash’ mistakes; mistakes where you have to stop the song and start again.

I was so used to years in Berzerker where you were never sure if someone was going to forget how the song went, or start playing something different entirely. I remember some show in Adelaide where we were supposed to play ‘Abandonment’. Luke and I started playing the song, but Matt started playing ‘No-One Wins’ and Gary played ‘Painless’. This was after plenty of rehearsing and a few shows. There were no problems like that with Mithras. It was pretty rock-solid from early on and only got better. I think we looked at each other after the first rehearsal and said, hey, that would have been a passable show. As a result I always felt super-confident stepping onto a stage with those guys. Sometimes with Berzerker I’d be in my mask just shuddering, thinking dear god what’s going to happen tonight?

This confidence was a good thing as we booked our first two shows about three months after starting rehearsals. The first show – which wasn’t the perfect one – was in Rushden, or Kettering. I have difficulties telling those two places apart. About twenty people turned up to the show. I guess it was good as a ‘first gig’.

The second show was the perfect one, and that was two weeks later in the Czech Republic playing at Brutal Assault 2009 Festival for around ten thousand people.

We went to fly from that English airport beginning with ‘S’ whose name I can’t remember right now. The stupid one the global-warming protesters shut down a few years by yelling at the fence, that one. Air travel with a band would normally be cause for disaster, and to be fair we tried to incite disaster in two respects. Firstly we brought along our soundguy Bob. Bob really shouldn’t travel anywhere foreign, or even be let out of a cage. He is a bald middle-aged red-faced foul-mouth whoring bigot on an array of medication. By bigot, I totally mean raging racist. He doesn’t like foreigners unless he is perpetrating sex crimes on them. Even then, I fear he still doesn’t like them and that his graven libido is fuelled by loathing. He just has that aura about him: “Born to Hate-Fuck”.

And that’s the other side to Bob, the man requires constant sex. He just Has To Have It. It doesn’t matter if it’s strangers, homeless women, personal ads in the paper, or mobile numbers written on toilet doors, Bob would be in there faster than a pig to shit. He is the sexual go-to man for every woman in the Midlands who requires loveless debasing by a revolting thug.

Bob nearly lost it when we went through security screening. We all got through fine but he was pulled aside by a black security dude and made to remove his Doc Martens. Bob’s face got red and his eyes bulged, and we barely managed to drag him away post-search before he started quoting Hitler and mouthing all manner of racial epiphets. He spent the rest of the trip speaking to everyone in the Czech Republic in a Borat accent, but apart from that he was fine.

Stanstead! That’s the name of the fucking airport! So we nearly missed our plane because we were all lounging around eating sandwiches and having drinks. Fortunately, Leon is super OCD about details and managed to alert us that the gate was closing in five minutes during one of his many paper checks. The guy was detail-obsessed about every aspect of the flight, the bookings, the show, to the point where he was even reading the fine print under ‘carriage’ to find out what we were and weren’t allowed to take on the flight. He had me ringing up the airline at one point to get their definition of what constituted “electronic equipment”, which was tricky as the airline’s customer service helpline (like all UK helplines) was an M.C.Escher nightmare of phone options leading from one to the other and staffed entirely by robots. About an hour into that call I was cursing the obsession with detail, but it saved our ass that day. We made our flight and were the last ones on board.

Made it on board even with a Weapon of Mass Destruction wrapped in coffin-shaped cardboard. Nothing but the best on these multimillion dollar tours.

Made it on board even with a Weapon of Mass Destruction wrapped in coffin-shaped cardboard. Nothing but the best on these multimillion dollar tours.

So, this is where the gig became perfect. It became perfect because the team behind the Brutal Assault festival were involved, and when they’re involved, shit goes right. We arrived in Prague, met a dude holding a sign for the band, and jumped into a van. We were riding with the guys from Pain who were lovely, and a guitar tech from Opeth who was a douche. You know, one of those industry support people who thinks they’re more important than the band itself. We drove for an hour and a half and arrived at a small town jam-packed with metalheads near the border of Poland. The van drove into a large old military fortress and parked in a large carpark area.

We got out. The driver told us to wait for a minute, that help would be along shortly. Everything had been going smoothly so far and this is where everything took a step up in wonderfulness. About a minute later, a person from the festival came and gave us laminates, drink and food vouchers, and pointed at where the food tent was. Another minute later, a dude on a quadbike towing a trailer along turned up and asked if we had merchandise to sell at the merch tent. We gave him our boxes of shirts and CDs which he swiftly counted, wrote down amounts and prices, then gave us a stock sheet to sign. He was just disappearing around the corner when another quad-bike-trailer combo turns up. This guy was to take us and our equipment to our backstage cabin. I loved it. BAM BAM BAM! The three top problems of getting ready for a gig taken care of with minimum fuss, one after the other. Normally just organising food, backstage, and merch would take hours and screaming and frantic negotiation. I was enjoying myself already. We headed off to the cabin.

Now the festival site is a BIG old army fort with a few layers of walls. We were already inside the main compound. To get to the backstage cabin area, you walk down a large tunnel which takes you through the last wall into the festival area. The ground is gravel and dirt. We walked through the tunnel which approaches the two-stage setup from behind, and as you approach it you just get the huge bottom end of whatever band is playing booming at you. When you exit the tunnel it opens up to a huge outdoor area, all the sound frequencies pound your ear at incredible volume, and you can suddenly hear thousands of people. It’s like being a gladiator and walking out into the Colosseum. I went to a gap between the stages and looked out. We estimated the crowd to be around ten thousand people. They filled the open area and were sitting on a hill that ran up the back of the site. I could see them in the distance. Biohazard were on, telling everyone how real their shit was and reminding people that they were in fact from Brooklyn. Tera Patrick was dancing on stage. I looked back at the people. They were smashing the crap out of each other. In a few hours, I thought, I will be onstage playing to them. My stomach dropped away and I felt lightheaded. It felt like my first gig all over again.

We went to our cabin which was stocked with water, soft drinks, fridges, and towels. We got our equipment out and started double-checking everything. Bob went off to check the soundboard and say things to strangers like “my wife, she is number one prostitute in village”. Our assigned assistant turned up. I forget her name but one thing I won’t forget is how ridiculously hot she was. She was taller than all of us, blonde, slightly tanned, great english. She said if there’s anything she can do for us, do not hesitate to ask. Thank God Bob was out of the room.

The other guys had a good long look around, I think I went for some food. When I checked out the festival site later I found the sheer number of people so overwhelming I scurried back to the cabin fairly quickly. The thing which was playing on my mind the most was that with all the Berzerker shows, both Luke and I would do vocals…but he was the only one that regularly talked to crowds and introduced songs. I think my last attempt at stage banter with Berzerker didn’t go over too well. We were starting a tour in Rushden – or Kettering – and some drunken idiot stage-diver managed to tangle up and unplug all of the drum trigger leads as well as the mic for the guitar cab. I think Luke screamed at me to say something, tell a joke, anything, while they took time to try and plug everything back in. I told a joke:

Q: What’s the difference between an apple and a dead baby?
A: I don’t cum on an apple before I eat it

So stage banter wasn’t my forte. It was starting to dawn on me that I would not only have to play bass and do vocals in this gig but address and engage a crowd of thousands, whose first language was not english. Gulp. I started compulsively chewing gum. The biggest rush doing a gig for me isn’t when I step on stage, it’s the two or three hours beforehand. By the time I step out I’ve already warmed up and got myself to a state mentally where I can handle anything. But the pre-gig waiting is when the imagination has time to fly and the butterflies happen. I love butterflies. To me it feels like your body straining against a leash, doing what it has to do to get itself into a peak-performance state. I never had butterflies like this before. It was unreal. It was like drugs. Thank god this gig was with Mithras. We were so well prepared, so ready, and Leon, Ben, and Bob were so relaxed that it was something I could enjoy.

"SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT"

“SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT”

The hot assistant came to our room and told us there was a lineup change, would that be a problem? I thought to myself, hah, here it comes. I knew this was all going too smoothly. This is where they say you’re on ten minutes ago, good luck with the last five minutes of your set. Or they say that some rockstar has had a strop and they need to cancel your show. I wasn’t prepared for what she said though:

“The lineup that we’ve got in mind would be Brutal Truth, then Turisas, then you, then Cynic on last. Would that be a problem?”

WOAH!  Brutal Truth are legends, Turisas are festival crowd favourites, then us, then Cynic – who had just reformed after over a decade in retirement. We’d be the last band on our stage, Cynic would be the last band on the other stage so I could happily fool myself that we were co-headliner for the day. I’ve got video footage of the moment I found this new arrangement out and I actually stop chewing gum for a second and start giggling.

Then I started thinking battle tactics. It’s a terrible habit of mine. I start comparing my band to anyone else we’re playing with, and trying to see if we have an advantage we could exploit. Brutal Truth would be on our stage before us – legends, but their gig is musically sloppy. Turisas would then go on the other stage – great band, but not particularly heavy. We’d go on, and then Cynic would be after us – musically amazing, but they just kind of stand around playing their instruments instead of pasting the audience with power. Shit, I thought, not only are we going to be in a great position but we might actually come out well against these other bands. Our musicianship will beat Brutal Truth, our heaviness will crush Turisas, and we’ll be pouring more energy off the stage than Cynic. We agreed to the lineup change and finished getting ready.

Brutal Truth went on. I think they stopped one song about thirty seconds from the end because their drummer Rich forgot how it went. Some guy without any arms or legs got onstage with them to party. I went back to the cabin to do one last warm-up and think of things to yell at the audience. Turisas went on and started their show on the other stage. As soon as they got going, we got our gear up on our stage and got it ready. It looked like there might be disaster at one point when I realised I’d forgotten to bring a UK-Europe power adapter but Leon, true to form, had a spare. I gaffer-taped my leads down, and checked the mic was in a good position so I could sing into it and see my bass. God, the stage was huge. I could hear Ben warming up on the kit. People were starting to drift over. We did a foldback check and pasted our setlists around us. I looked at the guys. They looked at me. I saw our backdrop behind Ben, high up under the lighting rig. Turisas finished playing. We did one last check to make sure our instruments were properly amplified. The stage manager gave us the go ahead. We started playing.

We had done some rehearsing for this gig and played one show. I had personally done a lot more preparation though in the preceding months. I was jogging in my spare time, doing pushups and crunches. I’d rehearse the set twice a day and always do it after my exercises when I was most exhausted. I had a large mirror in my lounge room and I’d perform into it, not looking at my bass, and working out what looked like cool frontman moves and what looked like a dork. I practiced playing in the dark, practiced playing one handed so I could plug my lead back in, practiced finger-picking in case I dropped my pick. At that point in my life my long term relationship was crumbling and my job was shedding people left, right, and centre. I needed something to obsess about, something to keep me occupied, and I occupied myself with rehearsing and preparation. I was ready for this gig.

I’m not going to do a song-by-song breakdown or anything like that. But some highlights are worth noting. Big crowds are awesome. I remember looking out and the mind couldn’t really encapsulate how many people were out there. It was like a blur. I yelled out ‘HEY’ between songs and heard about a thousand people reply. That’s a rush, right there.

The playing was REALLY good. No car-crashes, no real stuff-ups (except for me starting ‘Wrath of God’ a little early). Ben was drumming extra-fast this evening but we were rehearsed, pumped, and the foldback was great so we rode it no problem. And my vocals were my best ever. I was in the zone. I remember I was so on-point that night I managed to walk away from the mic between verses of one song while bashing away on the bass, walk a couple of laps of stage, and recommence the next verse the moment I strode back to the microphone. It’s one of those simple things that is impossibly tricky to time. I did it without thinking, playing to the people sidestage, backstage, the other bandmembers, the crowd.

The doppler effect - occupational hazard of superfast blasting

The doppler effect – occupational hazard of superfast blasting

The crowd were pretty quiet during the show apart from the applause at the end of each song. There were a few fans up the front losing their shit, but everyone else was subdued and watching intently. They were trying to work out who these three office-worker types were, from some band they’d never heard of, who had suddenly appeared on the high end of the bill and were setting about totally destroying their set. They also had another reason to be confused. I neglected to mention the band name. Oops. I might have screeched it out once, but that night I learned a lesson about the big gigs: when you say your band name, say it many times and say it slowwwwly…ESPECIALLY when you’re playing to foreign crowds. Pretend you’re an Englishman in Spain somewhere trying to order chips.

The gig finished. There was a ten minute break before Cynic was going on. The crowd cheered, then drifted off to their stage. I looked at the guys. They looked at me. We did it. I packed my gear up, not quite able to believe we’d not only played our show, but played a great show. We stashed everything in the cabin and went sidestage to watch Cynic play. Other bands were there. Cynic started playing some of their old ‘Focus’ material. I looked at the crowd. They didn’t seem that into it. Quite a few of them had drifted off, probably back to their campsites for some sleep. I didn’t care. Sean Reinert was drumming just a few metres away. The guy was so fluid behind the kit, it was like watching a great dancer, or a kung-fu expert. You see his movements and know you’re in the presence of a master. I thought of a driving trip I had taken up the coast of Australia back when I was in high-school listening to their album. I could never have predicted I’d be watching them in such circumstances.

OK. The rest of the night was pretty tip-top. We got paid – not always a given with festivals. We got paid, Tomas the festival organiser was happy with the show, we got our itemized merch back with sale money and a receipt. Bob, in addition to being a soundman and a total freak, also had nifty tour-manager skillz and managed to get everything else wrapped up while we were basking in the post-gig glow. We got a lift back to the hotel where we’d be staying the night, riding with members of the band Grave (“I love you dudes, first heard you on Triple-J radio station in Oz back in the 90’s!” etc etc). Our driver was a madman superspy fella who dealt with a traffic problem by taking the vehicle offroad, finding an invisible side-road, and gunning down it in the dark.

Note: After writing this story down I asked Leon to check it for me and make sure nothing of note was missed. He sent me this -:

“One thing you didn’t mention was when that guy was driving us back to the hotel we had to cross to the wrong side of the motorway as there was that massive traffic jam, the driver changed lanes and started gunning down to find his invisible turnoff. Two huge articulated lorries were coming the other way blaring their horns, and Bob was asking the driver “how do you say suck my balls in Czech?” I was sure that was the last thing I was going to hear in my life but we just made it round the corner before the trucks got there.”

We got to our hotel alive and in reasonable time and sized it up. Nice. It was a big old place, set on the town square. The driver told us what time he’d be there in the morning to get us to our flight, unloaded our gear, and left us to it.

We got our room keys and divvied up rooms. Ben and I grabbed a room together and I went straight down to the lobby. I needed a goddamn drink. I required libations and celebrations. I went to reception and asked if they had a bar. The answer was no. But! They sold alcohol from reception! AND they accepted credit card! Just when I thought things couldn’t get better, I looked at their drinks menu. THEY HAD BECHEROVKA.

Becherovka is a potato vodka with a bit of a medicinal cinnamon taste. It goes down absolutely deliciously and I can rarely find the bloody stuff anywhere. But they sold it here in cheap little frozen aperitif bottles. I bought eight or so, and as many beers as I could carry. There were a couple of couches and a table in the lobby area so I sat down there and settled in for some drinking.

There were another couple of dudes down there drinking as well. One of them was the sound guy for Pain. He ended up giving us a bottle of Jagermeister. It was in the bands rider but they were all too exhausted or sick to drink. When a band is on tour it’s usually a given that at least half of them will be ill with something at any given point. I gratefully accepted the Jagermeister, and bummed a smoke off the other guy sitting with us. He was a nice mannered young dude. I asked him what his name was. He said Mathias. I asked if he was playing with the festival and he said he’d just played. Which band? Turisas, he replied.

WOAH! I asked if he wanted to get the rest of the band down to help with the jager but apparently they were already in their rooms asleep. I looked at Ben and Leon. I doubted if the few of us could handle the alcohol we were beginning to accumulate. We needed backup. Fortunately, the cavalry arrived: Brutal Truth.

What General Custer would look like if the Indians were alcoholic and came in bottles

What General Custer would look like if the Indians were alcoholic and came in bottles

The first time I met these guys was at a show in Melbourne in the early 90s. I lent a cigarette lighter to Danny Lilker so he could take a hit off a hash pipe just before playing. I looked over while he was toking. Rich, the drummer, had cut an acid tab in half. If my youthful memory serves correctly, he took half and gave the other half to Kevin. Then they started playing a set which went for over an hour. Somehow Rich was still able to function well enough to sell me the ‘machine parts’ EP after the show. THESE people can be my drinking buddies, I thought.

Kevin and Rich got involved. They had been drinking and smoking all afternoon. They tried some of the Becherovka, then had some Jagermeister. Then a little more. After a while, Rich casually got up and walked out the front of the hotel. There were big windows and the front door and lobby was all glass, so we could see him clearly. He stood at the top of the stairs and bent over taking deep breaths. He turned white, then green. Kevin was commentating: “Oh man, he’s fucked. He’s gonna throw up. Hahaha, oh yeah, he’s gone”. Somehow Rich managed to pull himself back from the brink and rejoin us at the table.

Cynic arrived back. I watched in silent awe as Paul Masvidal walked past. Didn’t consider offering him a drink. No-one plays music like that unless they subsist on tofu and spring water. There was an almighty crash. I looked at the front doors. Sean Reinert had run up the stairs carrying a drum flight case and a bag of spring water and had run straight into the doors, which were now cracked. Bottles of water had gone everywhere. I stepped out, pretty drunk.

“Can I help you there Sean?” I smirked. Must suck to be famous, smirking aussies you’ve never met walking up to you in the middle of europe addressing you by your name.
He kind of looked at me blankly. “I’ve….got to….get this water”
I helped him pick up the water, ensured the door was open, and he scurried inside and up to his room. Guess he won’t be drinking either, I thought.

I got back on it. The Brujeria dudes arrived. I saw Daniel Erlandsson, whom I’d met once or twice before. I waved the jagermeister bottle at him, taunting gently “Erland-sson……ERRRRLANDSON”. He backed away with fear on his face – “No. Oh no no no. Not jagermeister”.

It was a good night. I laugh when I see these facebook pages “Party Like A Rockstar”. They’re always pictures of insanely dressed people doing duck-pouts in plush looking venues with hot women everywhere. Get real. Rockstars don’t party, they’re usually in bed early when on tour so they don’t wreck the next show. Or if they’re up, they’re sharing convivial drinks with other industry people. You don’t have the energy after a big show to go wrecking rooms or pillaging wenches.

I woke up the next morning after about three hours sleep with barely even a hangover. I went downstairs for breakfast (food! we even got FED!) and saw Rich sitting at the breakfast table, chowing down. I was shocked. “But…but…but….I thought we’d KILLED you?” Nup, he was fine. Years of experience, I suppose.

Bob and Ben were missing. I found out later that Bob had seen a rather sussed picture of a man gobbling a sausage on the side of a lorry, and he’d basically forced Ben to join him on a citywide hunt to find the store that sold the offending product:

Dying! Dying! Dying for a sausage

Dying! Dying! Dying for a sausage

The lobby was full of bands all departing to their next gig, or their next festival appearance. One of the guys from Atheist was trying to get help, one of his bandmates was down with the flu. I pointed him over to the pharmacy across the square and reminded him to get a receipt to claim on his travel insurance. He thanked me and went. I thought, christ, you guys should have been Metallica-sized with ‘Piece of Time’. I heard a SMASH, and looked around. Sean Reinert was standing at reception, and had dropped change all over the floor. I gave him a hand picking it up.

“My…money” he stammered, trying to explain.
“Mate, seriously” I said. “Do you leave ALL of your co-ordination behind the kit?”

Our pickup van was on time. Kevin Sharpe gave me some goodbye shit about the carboard boxes I was transporting my bass in, then we headed to Prague, got our plane, arrived back in England. Paid, fed, gigged, partied, rested, and satisfied. Best gig ever. We waited for a shuttle to take us to our respective carparks. Bob watched black guys exiting customs suggesting they’d just held coups in their home countries, and checking his watch to see if he was going to be able to make that night’s swinger-club session. We laughed at his comments in that sort of way where you pretend you’re amused but are really worried that people will think you’re his friends, and shuffled away surreptitiously.

I got in my car and drove back to my home in Bournemouth, where I swiftly descended the peaks from that weekend. It was a great festival, an immense gig, and the last moment where it felt like life was perfect.

Footage from the show:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

The best footage – Worlds Beyond the Veil

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recommended reading – The Rotted tour diary

Just realised a few things all at once:

  1. The Rotted have a blog
  2. They are on tour at the moment
  3. Their blog is actually interesting to read, candid, and well written

A little bit of knowledge is an awesome thing. My tour stories probably end up sounding like a broken record (kind of like my music)….always “this went wrong”, “then he started bleeding”, “didn’t get paid”, “no food so we ate the setlists”, etcetera. Reading The Rotted tour stories reminds me of touring all over again: the exhaustion, getting anything resembling a daily routine smashed to bits, band hierarchies on tour, the social life exclusive to a touring band, and so on. Anyone who is starting off in a band would do well to read it and see what’s in store for them.

http://therotted.blogspot.co.uk/

gentlemen AND scholars

 

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