By Quintin Low
You know I keep meaning to do an article where I don’t have to disclaim bias because I feel like it’d be a nice change of pace to write about bands I’m not so closely tied to in a more critical manner. This is not that article however. If anything, I went even further than I ever have when it comes to writing what I know. For me at least, everything that happened this wild weekend round was all in the family.
If I can think of a day to begin the story from, it’d have to be the 9th of February back in 2017 when The Cones reunited for a secret set down in the Crowbar basement. That night, I got to see to see two bands who’d go on to change the trajectory of my life forevermore and give me something resembling direction in it despite members from both bands self-admittedly not having a damn clue where they’re going themselves.
The first band were the Dune Rats (playing under their secret set moniker that night) a band who I’m sure need no introduction, either due to their fame or notoriety depending on how you look at it. What they lack in technical skill they make up for with a simplistic approach to songwriting that’s equal parts infuriating and genius in how effective as well as through being tenacious as a dog with a bone. It’s gotten them further than most ever could have imagined. Right now, they’re getting major label funding to write songs that are still not much more than three chords and the truth. In that sense, they beat the odds and hard.
When I first met them, they’d just come off playing Laneway Festival, replacing Young Thug much to the intense chagrin of many punters and The Kids Will Know Its Bullshit had only just hit the shelves. It’d been a hot fucking minute since they’d played any headline shows too, so things were definitely at a tipping point for them. At the Crowbar, they’d have played to no more than a hundred people. Only a few months later, I’d see them at The Triffid where they sold out three nights in a row. The rest for them I guess is history.
Never ones to miss an opportunity to make a brand of themselves, the Dune Rats put out their self-titled album through their vanity label Ratbag Records and signed a motley crew of other long haired yahoo’s to fill the artist roster. Probably their best move by far (at least in my humble opinion) because that night, it was the first time the opening band had really met the Dunies too, despite having just signed to Ratbag. They were a band called Pandamic, who impressed me immediately with the strength of their songs while still retaining a level of familiar, playful skate-punk energy to their set. In the two years since then, a lot has changed in their camp and for reasons that could probably form the basis of their own article, I’m now lucky to count them as both my contemporaries and good mates.
I’m telling you all of this now because last weekend, I finally got to see some of my favourite ratbags play back to back nights for the first time in forever and get to partake again in my usual recklessness with the added bonus of their stamp of approval.
Night One: Totty, Pandamic, and Hot Reno (Black Bear Lodge)
Alright so unfortunately, I was unaware that this was one of those gigs that started from doors basically, so I do miss a bit of the initial kick off. Opening up the weekend are Hot Reno. They remind me a bit of Violent Soho with the added angular discordance of WAAX and a dash here and there of the skate-surf-punk sound that’s so ubiquitous to Queensland. Their frontman Harley broke his arm a few weeks ago and had to play an entire show with someone else doing his guitar parts for him. Tonight, he’s still on the mend and he mentions his arm hurts like a motherfucker, but he doesn’t let that slow him down at all as they play to an already frothing crowd.
Next up are Rockhampton’s ratbags themselves Pandamic, and tonight’s a show that I’ve been hoping to see sell out after the success of the Sydney and Melbourne shows of the tour because the last time I saw them play in Brissie, the crowd was a bit sparse and obviously I reckoned they deserved much better. I joke to their bassist Matt that if there’s enough people here for me to crowdsurf tonight then security aren’t allowed to kick me out for it, but he tells me that he doesn’t make the rules ha-ha.
I was still concerned about how many people were gonna be here that night until right before they played, and the show still doesn’t quite sell out, but all my concerns go right out the window the minute they launch into the opening chords of Broke. Everyone immediately goes absolutely berserk for them and so do I once again. They play some of the crowd favorites like Archer, SAM and their usual Rock Lobster cover but a lot of this set is composed of new material. Sweater, their most recent single is still very pop-punk like their previous releases but it’s all the unreleased stuff which represents a big change in sound for the trio. It’s slower for sure but so much more layered and grungier at the same time. The songs are also definitely more serious in tone and lyrical content than many of the fans are probably used to so far. They’ll take a while for people to warm up to them I reckon but I also feel their depth and substance will win the day eventually because they really do show off the full extent of the band’s songwriting chops for the better.
I bounce between the side stage and joining the mosh occasionally but I’m not expecting anything too hectic tonight. As much as I was joking about it and as hyped as everyone is, the crowd isn’t really packed in enough for me to crowdsurf without begin dropped or so I think. I’m very soon to be proven wrong. The crowd start geeing me up to do it during Sweater and the minute I hop up hesitantly, they all surge forward to carry me around. I get set down fairly quickly and I think to myself that’s the end of it but during the closing song Heck Rhys, their frontman, signals for me to do it again twice. Amazingly, the crowd manage to keep me up almost the entire time and don’t get close to dropping me even once. And yes, that is me in the crowd in the photo of them performing in this article ha-ha. All in all, a great effort from everyone in the room.
The crowd cry for an encore afterwards but Rhys turns it into a chant to buy more merch and by then I reckon my luck for the night has run out, so it was probably for the best. Afterwards Rangi, their drummer, remarks to me that at their next Brisbane show I have to do it again and wear the same yellow Dune Rats shirt I wore the last time I crowdsurfed at a show of theirs and almost got kicked out for it. I tell him “Sure”.
By the time the headliners tonight, Totty, take to the stage I’m well and truly out of energy so I stay out of the mosh despite the efforts of my mates to get me to pull another stunt again. Totty are a three-piece, self-proclaimed shed rock band originally from Wollongong, who show a lot of poppy, fuzzy grunge influence in their sound. Hell, their drummer Chris wouldn’t look out of place wearing a flannel on a cold, wet, rainy day in Seattle ha-ha. They’re fronted by Kelly Jansch, are named after a Kelpie of the same name, and are labelmates with Pandamic and Dune Rats. I saw them for the first time in this exact venue in 2017 when they opened for Ruby Fields and they’ve come off a mega tour with Skegss this year as well.
By now Black Bear is packed and the minute the band launch into SIGH, the pit opens up to twice its previous size within moments. They play all the crowd favourites like Ovaryt and RIFF as well as a new song or two in the mix and close things off with their latest single Lucky. For a three piece with a fairly simple set up, they sound absolutely massive live and fill the room with walls of great noise. Kell has a very quirky stage presence and tends to fill the space between songs with what the next one’s about mixed in with bizarre non-sequiturs. One of my mates tells them to “come to Brazil” at one point and Kell somehow relates it back to their internet beef with the American rapper of the same name and how the next song is about them. It’s honestly impressive.
There’s a point for me in the night where things get too hazy for easy recollection but mercifully it’s after the show ends and the bands decide to pack it in for the night rather than go for kick-ons. I’m a fucking wreck when I get home and at this point night’s consumption has caught up with me but the less that’s said about that the better. I think to myself that tomorrow night can hardly top tonight even if it is a bigger show because surely no one’s gonna gee me up to pull anymore stunts again.
I was very wrong.
Night Two: Dune Rats, West Thebarton, Miss June (The Triffid)
I’m dusty as hell when I rock up to the gig at doors the next day and the entire thing almost goes too quickly for me, although that might have just been my consumption as per usual. I’m getting mad flashbacks already to their run of shows here last time in 2017. It’s an all-ages show so the kids are already here but they’re confined to the mezzanine. The adults in contrast seem almost reluctant to rock up until the eleventh hour and the concert room is a bit sparse on people for the openers Miss June which is a shame because they were sick.
Miss June are a New Zealand four-piece fronted by Annabel Liddell, who’ve just released their debut album Bad Luck Party. From what I managed to dig up on them beforehand, the frontwoman was undertaking a medical degree all while somehow managing to juggle international touring and scoring a record deal with an American label up until now basically. Already they seem to be going from strength to strength ha-ha. I saw them last time when they toured with Ruby Fields and they’re just as ferocious and unapologetic as before. They definitely have a bit of an eclectic blend of sounds in their songs, running the gamut between stripped down buzzsaw punk and more experimental noise rock tracks. Their music is reminiscent of the nineties, but it sounds contemporary at the same time, a bit of a reflection of this wave of nineties revivalism we’re seeing at the moment I suppose.
Up next were West Thebarton, a seven-piece hailing from Adelaide and one of the first signees of James Tiwdswell’s Domestic La La label. They’ve got an old school, hard edged sound indebted to 70’s pub rock but not entirely rooted in it either. Their frontman Ray Dalfsen, who goes by the moniker of Reverend Ray or The Rev much of the time, is filled with relentless energy and has a voice with a roaring, throaty quality to it. He’s one of those frontmen who can’t keep himself on stage and gladly leaps into the crowd mid-song at one point, asking them to split apart and then charge at him and at each other on his signal. Amazingly he survives and so does the mic and then he manages to make it back to the stage seemingly none worse for wear. He regales us all with the concept of the “shaka-fucker” at another point too, throwing up the shaka at us and then extending the middle finger as well. You can see a photo of what I’m talking about below:
In-between sets, I’m talking to all the usual suspects who are watching from the front rather than the side stage much to my surprise. I remark to James that I understand why he signed West Thebarton now because it was my first time seeing them and he seems appreciative that I’ve now become a convert ha-ha. Luke Henrey and Mikey are around (but not Luke Boerdam) as well as The Chats boys who were at Pandamic last night too. I bump into DZ Deathrays afterwards who are up here rehearsing for their upcoming Euro tour. They all seem fairly sedate tonight considering the monumental run of shows that lies ahead of them. Lachie tells me after their flight all the way to Germany they have eight shows in a row before their next off day which I reckon is insane. Pandamic and Totty are down in Byron Bay finishing up the tooz and I’m cursing their absence because I’m out of people to pester, at least until Maz from WAAX rocks up ha-ha.
It’s ten-thirty when the Dunies play and unlike usual where they gee us the fuck up, they’re fairly quick to hit the stage and hit it hard. The vibe tonight is a bit of a weird one and that’s because they’re going through a transitional period at the moment and this run of shows is basically just a preview for what’s to come. Their very early stuff is quite playful while the songs off the last album are almost irresponsible in their embrace and celebration of hedonism. Rubber Arm and No Plans are actually quite reflective, looking back on their past misbehavior and the unreleased song Crazy follows this trend. A little bit of all three eras are played tonight, all out of order, and it makes for a really chaotic and uneven mood. I’m not sure if I’m meant to love taking drugs every day or not by the end of it.
It’s the Crowd Smurfing tour so they have one of their mates dressed up as a Smurf and have him crowdsurf on the same boogie board that Schapelle Corby got caught smuggling weed into Indonesia with (for legal reasons, I feel I should clarify this is a joke) but we’re honestly really shit at keeping him up and he falls more often than not. BC is probably the only person who can do that and expect to be kept up the whole time ha-ha. We do a lot better when we lift Danny up as he does a verse from Superman while James takes over on guitar however.
Like the titular character of Rubber Arm, it doesn’t take me very much to leap back into the fray. I wasn’t planning on going so hard tonight but I end up charging into the mosh and being crowdsurfed (mostly against my will) twice. Unlike last night, I do end up dropped, but miraculously land on my feet almost perfectly both times. The second time I come very close to falling on top of the Dune Rats’s friends and family and I see some of them appear to recognize me from last time as I float mere inches above their heads. The set ends with Bullshit but of course we all cry for an encore. Brett’s walked off at this point so Danny and BC launch into the world’s most atrocious (and mercifully aborted mid-way) cover of Wonderwall. They decide to switch over to Blister in The Sun and we’re all back to slamming into each other in short order. The crowd tonight are either full of good vibes and intense fervor or are absolutely feral mongrels depending on how you look at it but if you give too much of a fuck about that stuff, I think you’re at the wrong gig.
I manage to lose an earplug during the set but otherwise (miraculously) make it out the other end in one piece mostly unscathed despite being at ground zero for much of it. It’s only once everyone is leaving that BC chucks his drumsticks into the crowd and manages to smack me right in the head with one of them. It ricochets off me and bounces on the floor and two cunt’s immediately dive for possession of it.
Guess that just says a lot about my luck in life ha-ha.
Christ, I’m writing this all with a big lump on my head from where the drumstick hit me and with some still very present ringing in my ears as well as all the usual aches and pains from the weekend’s misbehaviour. I never used to think that I had very much in common with the Dune Rats despite listening to them so much but the more I look at it, the more similarities I seem to find. The first and foremost similarity however is that I’ve got a rubber arm just like them and all their mates when it comes to risk taking and that doesn’t seem to be something that’s fading away anytime soon. I didn’t actually ask myself to be boosted up at any point, but it ended up happening five times anyways.
I’ve also become more aware over the years of why they’re so bizarrely inspiring to me as well. For a bunch of supposedly lazy stoners, the Dune Rats sure as hell don’t seem to keep quiet or stay still for very long. They started with the deck stacked against them, playing punk music poorly in an age where that sort of genre hasn’t had its day in ages. Over the course of the nine years or so they’ve been a band, they could have folded about fifteen times for one reason or another but somehow, defying all expectations, they’re still here and still kicking.
And not only have they managed to have their own success, but they’ve been able to help other artists in that same sort of place find their feet as well. Through that, they’ve been a part of a wave, a vibe, an energy that’s about the scene right now. This continuation of the idea that all you need to do is give it a shot. Start from the bottom, grab every opportunity with both hands and learn to laugh at all the very regular fuck ups along the way. You don’t have to have everything figured out or the best approach possible. It just has to take you that little bit further than you thought it would every day. Hell, it’s how I got my start and yeah, it was Dune Rats themselves who encouraged me to do it if you couldn’t already guess. Now obviously I’m biased, but looking back on it all now, that’s not too shabby for a bunch of pot smoking, long haired yahoos.
Not too shabby at all…
All the Dune Rats photos in this article were graciously provided to us by Matt Walter Photo, if you’re interested in seeing more, you can view more of his work here: https://mattwalterphoto.com/
Big shoutout to Will Johnstone and Kate Jean as well for their photographs of Pandamic, Totty and West Thebarton.