Updated: May 26
Words by Thea Martin
Photos and Edits by Tiah Bullock
The true value of the arts is indescribable, but we know that their impact is incredibly far-reaching. In times of pain, isolation, and equally in joy and celebration, the arts unite our communities. The Australian Underground, decided to put together a charity gig in December of 2019 to raise awareness and funds for Beyond Blue, the Australian organisation dedicated to providing support and resources for those dealing with mental illness and health issues. Mental illness affects us all, whether it is personally, or in relation to those that we know and love. Finding spaces to engage in conversations about these issues is becoming increasingly common although there is still much progress to be made, so I was very happy and proud to be a small part of that ongoing movement forward. 5 bands took to the Chateau Apollo stage for another night of great original music, some equally great covers, and a lot of dancing. So whether you managed to make it out to join us that night, or you missed it (see you at the next one?) allow me now to walk you back through the gates of Roxie’s, past the smokers corner and through the doors of the Chateau to relive The Australian Underground’s first live show.
Before the bands began their respective sets we had something a little bit different to start the night. The Mahogany String Quartet played a rendition of the final movement of Ravel’s string quartet, a 20th century French impressionistic work full of rhythmic ferocity and vigour. Now I’m not going to have the nerve to ‘review’ this group because I do happen to be one of the violinists in it, but I will say how wonderful it was to be asked to play, because I think it’s so important and exciting to be exposed to diverse sounds, and to bring traditionally ‘classical’ music into accessible spaces where it doesn’t usually go. To me, all music is music, genre is largely irrelevant and the more we break down these socially constructed barriers that still persist even within the arts, the better.
Returning to the stage after having not played any shows in a few months, Ohko were the first band to play. With songs full of catchy riffs, this band made me proud to call “indie rock” my top genre in my 2019 Spotify wrapped, because that’s what this band was; pure indie rock. A slower track in the set revealed the depth present in their vocalist’s voice, with him then helpfully pointing out at the end of the song that “that was our slow song.” One song in their set sounded vaguely reminiscent of “Are You High” by Fidlar in some strange sense, if you took off the garage wheel rocks and replaced them with a little bit of Alex Turner. I look forward to seeing what comes out of this band in the future, because the foundation is very strong.
Beginning their set with Sticky Fingers’ 2013 classic “How to Fly” Stray Charley were quick to present us with the theme of their set. Stray Charley to me just sound like the ultimate encapsulation of summery Australiana; big names of the moment like Ocean Alley spring to mind if I were to attempt to compare them. Their songs seemed to hold a sense of sweet nostalgia, and you couldn’t help but smile listening to them play. Mid-way through the set we were encouraged to take a step forward, bringing the audience to the front of the stage, and from that point onwards the energy lifted and soon everyone was well and truly having a bit of a boogie. The second to last song in their set had a similar groove to what Hockey Dad do in their more laid back tracks such as “Seaweed” or “Grange.” And of course, to finish, we were launched into their single “Pass Me By,” getting everyone dancing and singing along to the hook.
The Max Headroom were next to take the stage, and having seen them play recently at Burjon’s single launch (which you can read about here) I was looking forward to being thrown back into the gritty vocals and alt-rock goodness this band delivers, and they certainly delivered that and more. They were just as consistently good sonically as the previous time I’d seen them play, and their set was just as exciting and gripping from the moment they stepped onto the stage. Hearing their track ‘Bad Dream’ performed live was a real highlight, the opening chords to this song really stick in your brain. During the guitar solo I felt myself having to make that facial expression where you screw up your whole face because you’re just getting so into it. The breakdown was drawn out to its absolute maximum, and they held the tension with ease, drawing the audience in. Lead singer Ben has an undeniable knack for containing the energy of the band and holding it in the palm of his hand, and as a result completely captivating the listener. Many of The Max Headroom’s songs fall into that signature 90s alt rock sound of the softer, more minimally instrumented verses and loud all-consuming choruses we know from songs like Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ or Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ a structure that is very effective. Again I was very impressed with the connection between the band members, they were perfectly in sync through the many tempo changes, and were able to yet again create a compelling live show.
Choosing Sides are a self-described “genre-bending indie rock band” and were the final band to play before hearing from the headlining band for the night, SODA. Mid-way through Choosing Sides set I had a realisation that “wow, this is really, really good.” Of course, I’d been thoroughly enjoying the entire set from the start, but it was a few songs in that I truly felt the impact of this band. Every track is so unique in terms of genre, mood and sound, but is also executed at such a high standard with incredibly high energy. Their bass player in particular was an absolute joy to watch, slapping that bass harder than anyone I’ve seen. The resonance and strength in Will’s voice is so powerful, taking each track to new heights. There were moments of heavier glam rock that reminded me of classic tracks by The Killers like “Andy You’re a Star” or “Smile Like You Mean It,” joined by tracks that were reminiscent of great UK bands like Catfish and the Bottlemen and The Vaccines. This band is one to watch for sure, they have an undeniable talent for writing exceptional songs and creating a diverse and high-energy live show.
And then, we arrived at the headline band for the night, SODA. All night the energy had been building, but as our feet grew tired and heads started to pound from the noise of the speakers, SODA completely transformed the atmosphere. The lights were brought down, and the audience stood a little closer. It’d been a long night of fast-paced tunes, but now we were left with something a little more intimate, perhaps a little more contained. Beginning the set with the band members seated, heads lowered and eyes cast down, a pre-recorded voice filled the Chateau. This was the prelude to SODA’s set, and was by far the most unique live show I’ve seen from this band, or really, from any other artist. Bathed in lights of soft blue and red, Cameron talked us through the real reason we were there that night, to raise awareness for mental health. We were taken on an exploratory journey, guided through stories of losing a loved one to drug addiction, and personal paths to working through confrontation and tragedy via mediums of both song and speech.
Mental health affects so many of us, and it seemed that this show was quite a personal one as the band’s vulnerability was worn upon their faces and in the way they played. There were points where I felt Cameron’s voice almost give out, but every moment remained captivating, clinging to the energy in the room for all it was worth. Towards the latter end of the set, Cameron performed a solo cover of Shivers by Boys Next Door/The Birthday Party. It was as if the floor fell out from beneath us all; everything the night had been building up to was stripped away and we were left with what became one of my favourite live music moments ever. I collect these kinds of moments and they never leave my mind; from standing on the Thebarton Theatre balcony as Ball Park Music played the most incredible cover of Hey Jude and I felt I got as close to the Beatles as I ever would, hearing Julia Jacklin play Don’t Let The Kids Win and feeling nothing I had ever felt before standing in Botanic Park with one of my closest friends, and the moment the stadium lights came up as the opening riff of Mr Brightside begun when I saw The Killers in Melbourne. This moment was right up there with these, and I will keep it locked in my brain forever.
A synth pedal and a solemn bass line played on keys were all that Cameron needed to create one of the most transfixing moments of my life. I held my best friend and we stood, fully captivated with tears in our eyes as he gave one of the most heartfelt performances I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t bring myself to even get my phone out to record any of it because I felt that if I were to move I would’ve broken some invisible line. This set was I feel what we needed more than anything to end the night. It was so heart-warming to hear mental health spoken about so explicitly in that environment. I personally can not thank SODA enough for everything they do and stand for as a band. Their music is innovative, their artistic vision is unparalleled, and their dedication to creating and telling their story is nothing short of beautiful. In their final song, we were invited to join the band and come dance on stage, and as a result the distinction between listener and creator was merged, a perfect ending to a wonderful night.
Over $1000 dollars was raised at Charity Choons to be donated to Beyond Blue, so we are so thankful to everyone who came out and/or supported the event in some way. Thank you to all of the bands that played, the crew at Chateau Apollo, and all those who assisted in some way big or small behind the scenes. I’m looking forward to partying with you at the next one.
Check out our upcoming gig here: facebook.com/events/872928303162302/