Photo taken off https://www.facebook.com/soundsofthesuburbsfestival/
The truth about growing up and being a young in coastal towns and regions is that, amongst the idyllic beaches, laid-back lifestyle and open space, sometimes there’s just nothing to do. Mostly, the restless flee to the cities in search of better things. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane. But then there’s the very special breed of human who stays behind, looks at their own backyard, and simply decides to just - make something happen. It’s happening in Wollongong, with the guys behind Yours & Owls Festival, the Farmer & The Owl Records label who brought us the likes of Hockey Dad and The Pinheads, Spunk! Records, the Strawberry Boogie crew, and Rad Bar. It’s happening in Newcastle, with the Renew Newcastle project claiming unused space and repurposing it for the creative. In “The Shire” - that is - the region south of Sydney which includes Cronulla, Sutherland, Miranda and more - those people are the unmistakable duo of Aaron Girgis & Jack Irvine and the Space 44 crew - the brainchildren behind Sounds of the Suburbs - which happened on Sunday September 3.
Once disembarking the train at Sutherland Station, no map was needed, you simply followed the sound of guitars and the muffled echo of drums - which felt quite alien in the town of Sutherland as it cut through the prematurely warm September afternoon. Unlike previous years where the festival has been squeezed into the back lane behind Space 44 in Cronulla, this year the organisers stepped it up in scale - throwing it in Sutherland carpark, with more space, 2 larger stages and one small one.
With two triple j-ready singles under her belt and and a solid music industry team building behind her, it was clear people were curious to see how Ruby Fields held up live. And she knew it. Her nerves took the stage with her as she launched into her first song, but if anything, it was endearing. Being 18 is a scary enough time, let alone being 18, launching your music career, and facing off to a crowd of your peers and strangers all wondering if you’ll match your hype. But Ruby held up, sticking with it until she realised the crowd were into it, and a small smile and internal sigh of relief let her settle into the set. Whilst I’m not so sure about the lyrics of “P Plates” (or maybe it’s just that I’m yet to properly appreciate how youth re-appreciation for the word “Bloke”),
“Trouble” took a good direction, especially when it culminated in the lyric “having smooth legs is too much trouble”. I hear you Ruby. I’ve come to learn that anybody who is that deeply invested in whether or not another person’s body is perfectly hairless body isn’t worth the trouble either. Plus, they’re probably a bit of a creep. Ruby also threw in a cover of “Cherry Lips” by Garbage, which as an all time favourite track, easily won me over. A whole bunch of potential here with room to thrive if she keeps surrounding herself with passionate people and can navigate those murky years of young adulthood whilst maintaining her authenticity.
Jeff Rosenstock took the stage, and I never thought i’d find myself relieved to hear an American accent, as he greeted punters. Not knowing anything about Jeff and his band, it was in spotting some Sydney gig gurus around me that indicated I was probably exactly where I should be. Giving away his veteran status from the get-go, Jeff launched full energy into the the sparse crowd, knowing full well that when he played the people would come - and come they did. The crowd filled out as he brought out highlights like “Festival Song” and “Wave Goodnight To Me”, plus other gems from his discography and latest album, 2016’s Worry. I went in blind, and came out a fan, and I was glad for it.
Whether they’d come by pure accident, or were drawn by the talk of this band circulating the Sydney indie scene right now, every person who turned up for the next set on the smaller Space 44 stage left having experienced the day’s most refreshing act - that is - Sydney (via Perth and Kiama) 4 piece Body Type. After years spent dabbling, supporting and working in the music industry, plus other creative scenes, the stars aligned so that somehow Sophie, Cecil, Annabel and Georgia could find each other and form this band. Writing songs with purpose, and as a consequence, giving a voice through music to experiences other than that of the boys club, Body Type are forging their own brand of unapologetic, clever and fucking badass indie rock - and whilst we probably don’t deserve them, damn do we need them. Highlights include “Arrow”, the newly released “Silver”, plus original single “Ludlow”, which dropped only a year ago. “Ludlow’s” lyrics “At your core, you don’t care about me anymore” hit with equal parts sadness and powerful acceptance - telling of a person so lost to you, that there’s not even any sentimentality for you left in their subconscious - but also, that that’s okay (and here’s a bloody hit of a song about it).
Back on the original topic of “Nothing To Do”, we’ve got Bleeding Knees Club, returned after a hiatus and with a new line up,, with a noticeable absence blonde hair, that being former member Jordan Malane, who is somewhere living his best life, with absolute confidence in his best mate Alex Wall to keep the BKC flame burning as enthusiastically as ever. Whilst the rest of us grow jaded, Alex throws himself right into the beating heart of youth culture, literally ending up in the centre of the mosh of now definitely drunk and high (on life?) punters. Bringing out old hits including “Teenage Girls “ (which is now potentially in need of some slight lyric tweaking) and “Chew The Gum” from their latest EP, the crowd ate it up, and Bleeding Knees Club proved, unlike me, they are at one with the kids and what they want.
Taking things back to 2010, the front of the mosh on the other stage was populated by giddy 25ish year olds who’d come for one thing - the reliving of their own youth via the return of Texan three piece Harlem. A combination of nerves, the unusual heat, exhaustion and technical problems (plus, probably a lot of free full-strength beer) plagued Harlem’s set, and left them apologising a lot, as though they didn’t realise that them just being there in the flesh was enough for everyone who mattered. Bringing out songs from 2010 album “Hippies” where, spoiler alert, EVERY song is a hit - the crowd were satisfied and even old mate Alex Wall had managed to pry himself from the depths of the aforementioned moshpit (hell) to join us on the front bar and watch his idols. The set achieved what it needed to - with the “Please, please, please, put me out” of “Someday Soon” stuck in collective minds, along with thoughts of “Yeah, I’m still cool, I still got it” from punters/band alike.
8 O’Clock dawned, and the coldest tinnie in the Sounds of the Suburbs esky (yeah, I made that one up myself) Skegss appeared on the stage. My two friends and I stood at the back in awe as the Skegss machine did its thing, with faces of slight, well-meaning horror, wincing every time a body fell through the mosh with a neck at a weird angle. Skegss have a good, distinctly Aussie discography of skate rock, bringing out faves like “Spring Has Sprung” and “Got on My Skateboard”, but perhaps the most entertaining elements were the song intros: “This song is about going to the bottlo and not knowing what you wanna get” and “This song is about absolutely fucking nothing” (which made me wonder if apathetic punk is an oxymoron?).
At the end of the day, get it or not, like it or not, feel too old or mature for it or not, there’s nothing better than seeing young people out in the scene, enjoying live music, supporting their friends, taking wild fashion risks, and ultimately just enjoying themselves despite being surrounded by a world of negative gearing, economy-damaging, climate-change denying baby boomers. Sounds of the Suburbs, and many other music and creative outlets across the regional towns and centres of Australia, keep this tradition running. There’s nothing to do - til someone comes along and creates something to do. Thanks Aaron & Jack and co.
Review by - Bree Wilkinson