All posts tagged indie

  • IGN Australia story: ‘This Vertigo-Inducing VR Game Will Scare The Crap Out Of You’, May 2017

    A feature story for IGN Australia that was published on May 28. Excerpt below.

    This Vertigo-Inducing VR Game Will Scare The Crap Out Of You

    Meet the Australian couple behind ‘Richie’s Plank Experience’, a hit indie VR title unlike any other.

    IGN Australia story: 'This Vertigo-Inducing VR Game Will Scare The Crap Out Of You' by Andrew McMillen, May 2017. Photo by Scott Patterson

    I hear a bright tone – ding! – and then the elevator doors open to reveal a vast cityscape stretching out before my eyes. Protruding in front of me is a wooden board, about three metres long and thirty centimetres wide – just thick enough to accommodate both of my feet, side-by-side. The task here is straightforward: just like the maritime method of execution, I’m meant to walk the plank.

    First, I must step up onto the board. I tentatively put my left foot forward, seeking the raised edge. I shift my weight and bring my right foot up to the timber. What’s most surprising is the immediate physical response that I encounter: my heart beats noticeably faster beneath my ribcage, and I begin sweating. My brain has suddenly thrown my balance into question, because never before in my regular life have I found it so hard to put one foot in front of the other.

    Heights have been problematic for me in the past: when I moved into a seventh-floor apartment in 2015, it took weeks for me to be able to stand by the edge of the balcony without gripping the railing or leaning backwards, away from the void. I had supposed this was an inherent self-preservation instinct retained from my ancient ancestors, who were smart enough to stay away from high places in favour of keeping contact with the earth. In the parlance of software development, I rationalised that this inbuilt aversion to heights was a feature, not a bug.

    A helicopter passes overhead, not far from where I’m standing. Out on the plank, eighty storeys in the air, I’m holding the two wireless controllers up above my waist, like ski poles. This is mostly for balance, I suppose, but also because my mind has been gripped by a set of emotions that I’ve yet to encounter in any other form of visual entertainment. It’s a cocktail of fear, exhilaration and anxiety, and it’s because my eyes and ears are taking in sensations which I know intellectually to be false. This is virtual reality, after all, and I’m playing a game named Richie’s Plank Experience. Yet out here, on the plank, real and fake are all but indistinguishable. All my brain is concerned with is survival.

    I only manage to shuffle about halfway across the length of the plank before giving in to the fear. My heart pounds, my skin prickles with sweat, and I’m completely out of my comfort zone. Before I put on the headset and headphones, I was just another guy standing in a building near the Brisbane River, watching a bunch of strangers attempt to walk a board that sits just a few centimetres off the ground, held aloft at one end by a hardcover copy of Steve Jobs, and a few stacked kitchen sponges at the other. Yet even after having watched these interactions and reactions play out on the faces of strangers, I was completely unprepared for the sensory overload that comes wrapped in the immersion. It’s simply too real.

    With careful consideration, I remove my right foot from the timber and reach out into space. For a moment, this act sends my mind reeling once again, and I give a clumsy shimmy from my hip before moving my left foot off the edge, too. For about four seconds, I fall toward the hard bitumen and slow-moving inner-city traffic. I turn my head to take in the last sights I’ll ever see. When I hit the ground, everything turns white.

    To read the full story, visit IGN Australia. Above photo credit: Scott Patterson.

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘Hungry Kids of Hungary Get Serious’, February 2013

    A story that was published in the March 2013 issue of Rolling Stone Australia. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Hungry Kids Of Hungary Get Serious

    Personal tragedies and isolation inform the Brisbane band’s second album

    'Hungry Kids of Hungary Get Serious' story in Rolling Stone by Andrew McMillen, February 2013A band that writes a debut album brimming with sunny indie pop songs can be reasonably expected to write more of the same for their follow-up. Such was the situation in which Brisbane’s Hungry Kids of Hungary expected to find themselves following 2010’s Escapades, which hit a sweet-spot between classic Sixties-era pop and their modern take on the form. Real life has a habit of intervening, though.

    In March 2011, the four-piece – Dean McGrath (lead vocals, guitar), Kane Mazlin (lead vocals, keys), Ben Dalton (bass) and Ryan Strathie (drums) – were booked for a three-week tour in North America, including showcases at South By South West and Canadian Music Week – great opportunities to extend the band’s growing reputation overseas. Then, suddenly, all shows were cancelled and the band was homeward bound.

    “2011 was a pretty full-on year for me,” says McGrath, whose experience triggered the return journey. “A lot went down. Naturally, that really coloured the songs I was writing.” He won’t be drawn on specifics, but notes that a “personal tragedy that affected someone I was close to” meant that he had to catch the next flight home.

    “That incident echoed throughout the whole year for me,” the singer/guitarist continues. “It was an ongoing ordeal. It’s funny; writing songs for this band, we’ve always been fairly carefree, but after that [experience], these songs started coming out that were fairly intimate and personal. I was like, ‘shit, how are people going to react to this when they hear it?’”

    The result is You’re A Shadow, a collection of songs somewhat divorced from Escapades’ brimming optimism. Kane Mazlin’s contributions were coloured by a sense of isolation and melancholy, too, in part influenced by a stint in Denmark while his girlfriend took an internship. “She was busy during the day. I was by myself: I didn’t speak Danish, didn’t know anyone,” he says, over a beer in late December. “That had a huge impact on two or three of the songs that I wrote.”

    It wasn’t all bad news internationally, though: footage filmed at the Dutch festival Pinkpop in May 2012 shows the band performing before a crowd of thousands. “The Netherlands seems to be the area where it’s taken off, which is weird,” says McGrath. “When we started talking about doing overseas stuff, that’s not really the area that we imagined we’d be delving into.” Mazlin chimes in: “I think Nirvana started there, didn’t they? It’s a goldmine!”

    After the rush of Pinkpop, though, it was an abrupt comedown in Belgium. The band played that show – “a giant blur of fun” is how Mazlin describes it – and then drove half a day to Antwerp. “We played a tiny show there, where no-one knew who we were,” says McGrath. “We were like, ‘what the hell? We only drove for a few hours, why don’t people know us here if they know us there?’ You forget that it’s a different country! We crossed a border, and they don’t get the same radio [stations]. Touring Australia has conditioned us to think that it’s natural to drive a few hours to get to the next big city!”

    When it came time to choose which tracks made the new album, the four tended not to argue too much about what made it past the rehearsal room. “We do try to keep it to four equal votes, but if two of us feel really passionately about something, then the other two will probably either give it a go, or scrap it,” says McGrath. “Song-wise, we haven’t had to do that a lot leading up to this record, because we’ve seen eye-to-eye on most things without any need for debate – which makes life easier.”

    Five things that influenced You’re A Shadow

    Classic pop

    Kane Mazlin: “I listened to a lot of Camera Obscura, The New Pornographers and The Shins; really nice, classic-sounding pop records with great guitar sounds.”

    Live quintet

    Dean McGrath: “Knowing that there’s a second guitarist during live shows drastically affected the way that I write my parts – it’s not so chordal, busy and strummy.”

    Debut co-write

    Mazlin: “We were on the same wavelength this time, to the point where we were able to co-write a song, ‘When Yesterday’s Gone’ – something we’d never done before.”


    McGrath: “I listened to Halcyon Digest on repeat for months, and it heavily influenced how we recorded a few songs in the studio: that ‘lo-fi pop songs, washed out’ approach.”

    Producer Wayne Connolly

    Mazlin: “He had great ideas from the very first email: he told [bassist] Ben Dalton, ‘you need a hollow-body bass and flatwound strings’. It sounded awesome!”

  • guest post: ‘In praise of earplugs’, September 2011

    A guest post for, the online home of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). Excerpt below.

    In praise of earplugs: A live music reviewer’s perspective

    Anyone who regularly witnesses live music and doesn’t wear earplugs is an idiot.

    This is non-negotiable. No ifs, no buts. If you watch bands playing their music through amplifiers on a regular basis and you don’t wear earplugs, you’re silly.

    It’s the aural equivalent of staring into the sun. Sooner or later it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to make your life worse.

    Human nature being what it is, I completely understand why people are hesitant to take proactive measures to protect their hearing. The conversation tends to go something like: “If there’s no problem besides the occasional ringing ear after a concert, what’s the problem? Ringing ears are part of the live music experience, right?”

    Right, to an extent. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Picture it like this. You started life with 100% hearing. By exposing yourself to prolonged periods of loud noise – like, say, The Drones owning The Corner Hotel for 90 minutes on a Saturday night – you’re consistently chipping away at fractions of that 100%. Human hearing has no natural regenerative properties. Hearing aids may work in some circumstances, but that’s a reactive measure; something you might look into once you’ve made the mistake of standing next to the speaker stacks once too often.

    Like mental illness, hearing loss is easy to overlook because it’s something experienced by the individual, and rarely observed by outsiders. Tangible evidence is rare. If you start losing your hearing, your friends might even notice sooner than you do. They’ll see you straining to hear them talk in noisy environments – like, say, a music venue – and they might mock you for being hard of hearing.

    They have every right to – as long as they’re wearing earplugs. Because hearing loss is preventable, even among the most avid live music fans, as long as certain precautions are taken.

    Like wearing earplugs.

    I generally encountered two main concerns when I raise this topic.

    One: “I’ll look like an idiot while I’m putting them in and taking them out”.

    And two: “They’ll ruin the gig’s sound quality”.

    To read the full article, visit

  • guest post: ‘Artist patronage’, September 2011

    A guest post for, the online home of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). Excerpt below.

    Artist patronage: What does it mean to be a fan in 2011?

    If you tell me you’re a fan of The Jezabels or Kanye West in 2011, what might you mean by that?

    Let’s assume that you mean that, at a base level, you enjoy listening to music written, recorded and performed by a particular artist or band. You identify with their music, or lyrics, or image, for whatever reason. And so you elect to align yourself with this artist or band by listening to their music, ‘liking’ them on Facebook, telling your friends about their music, following them on Twitter, buying a ticket to their nearby shows, buying a t-shirt advertising their name, and perhaps, buying their music.

    The latter three are optional, nowadays; the last one, especially so. In 2011, buying music is like the ‘maybe’ you select on a Facebook event invite so as to not offend your friend, even though you immediately know you don’t want to attend. You know that you can buy an artist’s music, but you know that you can just as easily hear their music without making a transaction. You know that YouTube, streaming services and torrents are the most efficient methods of listening to music without having to pay for it.

    In 2011, it’s easier than ever to be a fan of an artist without ever parting with your money.

    This is a problematic situation for all but the biggest artists, many of who were already established before Napster smashed the piñata with a sledgehammer and left the entire music industry scrambling on the ground for pennies.

    It’s a bizarre situation where you can know all the words to your new favourite band’s debut album and catch their buzz-driven set during summer festival season without ever making an explicit donation into their wallets. They’ll get a performance fee from the tour promoter, of course, but generally speaking, the road to the Big Day Out is paved with poverty and hardship for every artist without wealthy benefactors supporting their art.

    Historically, this role has been inhabited by the record label: the wealthy benefactor who provided cash for talented musicians so that they might grow and mature as songwriters and performers. So that they might sell more records, play larger venues, and eventually provide a return on the record label’s initial investment. Labels were banks, signing mortgages to artists who might someday be able to own the house outright.

    Labels are banks, still, but they’re no longer the only service provider. Canny media platforms and service providers like Bandcamp and Topspin can become surrogate record labels for artists by distributing and marketing their music on a worldwide basis. Canny artists, too, can manage their own affairs, if they’re willing to invest significant attention into the business side of creativity. A third – and often overlooked – option exists: fans as artist patrons.

    We Are Hunted co-founder Nick Crocker defines patronage as, “One that supports, protects, or champions someone or something, such as an institution, event, or cause; a sponsor or benefactor: a patron of the arts.

    This notion of artist patronage is what we need to foster among the next generation of music fans. That music is valuable, because talent isn’t free.

    To read the full article, visit

  • Rolling Stone ’11 artists to watch in 2011′ profiles: Guineafowl, Miracle, Nova Scotia, May 2011

    In their May 2011 issue, Rolling Stone named 11 ‘artists to watch’ in 2011: Kimbra, Kids At Risk, Gold Fields, Tim & Jean, Zowie, Bleeding Knees Club, Metals, Royal Headache, Guineafowl, Miracle, and Nova Scotia.

    I wrote short profiles of the latter three artists. Scanned images and text below.



    Solo artist gets collaborative with the release of debut EP

    Who: What began as a solo project in bandleader Sam Yeldham’s bedroom has since blossomed into a full-fledged indie pop band. Guineafowl released their first EP, Hello Anxiety, and Yeldham sees the concept progressing in a way that “strengthens that duality” between the band and the solo act. There’s always the possibility that a Guineafowl show could be Yeldham solo, or it could be with all six members. “It’s a matter of trying to marry the band with what I can do on my own,” he says.

    Back Story: Hello Anxiety was recorded with pop whiz Scott Horscroft (Silverchair, The Presets) over two days. Owing to the mixture of full-band and solo recordings, Yeldham, 24, says the live shows are “quite different beasts”.

    What’s Next: Yeldham plans to be a career artist. “I try to make it my day job. I work in a bar on the weekend, and spend my days recording and writing. Treating it like an occupation doesn’t zap the spontaneity out of it.



    Ghana-born rapper’s mixtapes land him Sony deal, plus unexpected exposure

    Who: Miracle – born Blessed Samuel Joe-Anbah – is a Sydney-based MC and producer who signed a record deal with Sony Music after finishing high school last year. The Ghana-born 18 year-old also has a production deal with Sony publishing imprint Nufirm. His ‘s mixtape releases drew Sony’s ire at first, but now they’re all for it. “They see it as a good way for me to gain fans without their help,” he says.

    Back Story: Despite lacking a musical background, Miracle heard 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Trying in 2003 and decided to try his hand at rapping, although he wasn’t looking for a deal. “I thought that I might wait a couple of years and let my name bubble around, and create bigger hype for my first record. I didn’t think it’d happen this fast.”

    What’s Next? Miracle is currently working on his debut LP, and is touring this month on Supafest alongside headliners Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Timbaland.


    Nova Scotia

    Indie rockers weigh up their options after success of debut LP

    Who: Brisbane-based indie quintet Nova Scotia’s self-titled debut album was released in February. “We’d like to make a career out of it,” says singer/guitarist Scott Brique, “but Australia’s such a big country, and we’re all working. It’s a bit hard to throw away what’s potentially a lot of money in pursuit of a funny little thing. But we all love it.”

    Back Story: When Brique’s last band, Toadracer, folded while recording an album, he put the call out so that he could finish what he’s started. He’d found four local musicians to record their debut EP, 2007’s Bear Smashes Photocopier, within “a few weeks”.

    What’s Next?: Besides returning to the studio to “belt out the next one,” Brique says, he also hints at the possibility of their first interstate tour in June or July.


  • The Vine interview: Rohin Jones of The Middle East, April 2011

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview – The Middle East

    A sense of mystery has shrouded The Middle East’s musical career to this point. What we do know is that the indie-folk collective formed in Townsville, Queensland in around 2005, after the members found themselves constantly playing in each others’ bands. Core songwriters Rohin Jones and Jordan Ireland were drawn together out of a mutual desire to better themselves as writers; they assembled a team of collaborators around them to record their self-released debut, The Recordings of The Middle East, in 2008.

    Though containing eight songs and running to 52 minutes, the band soon shied away from calling it their debut album. After releasing those eight tracks locally, the band amicably parted ways due to Ireland traveling to Europe. In the meantime, word escaped Townsville that The Middle East were worth hearing. Their debut landed on a desk at Spunk Records and – after the track ‘Blood’ was added to a Spunk singles comp, was deemed worthy of a 2009 re-release under the Spunk banner. After Ireland returned home, it seemed like a good decision to get the band back together.

    Three songs were cut from the initial album for the EP, which (confusingly) retained the same name. But one, in particular, would reach ears across the world. A slow-burner in both musical nature and popularity, ‘Blood‘ (and its ethereal, fingerpicked cousin in ‘The Darkest Side’), soon attracted the ears of the nations broadcasters and wider music industry. Fans started flocking and soon ‘Blood’ was being heard on films, American television shows and TV commercials for European banks; it also polled at #64 in the triple j Hottest 100 of 2009. The Middle East then spent the majority of 2009 and 2010 touring Australia and the wider world, playing at the SXSW festival and picking up shows with the likes of Grizzly Bear, Mumford & Sons, and Doves. Despite their relative ubiquity among indie-folk circles, still little was known about the band.

    April 2011 sees the release of their proper debut album, I Want That You Are Always Happy. Containing 13 new songs, it’s the sound of a young band pushing the boundaries of what they want their music to represent, as well as exploring their bands ability to create a united front. Three days after the album’s release, TheVine connected with a humble but semi-reluctant co-frontman Rohin Jones (he and Jordan Ireland are credited as the eight-piece band’s sole songwriters in the LP liner notes); a man whose answers are somewhat guarded and circumspect. Throughout our interview, “I don’t know” is a recurring response; he also has the curious habit of giving a sharp whistle when confronted with a question that prompts him to search his long-term memory.

    We discuss the band’s mystery, democracy, religious undertones, their hometown of Townsville, an uncertain future and Jones’ (above right, second from right) secret hardcore past.

    Rohin, you’ve been in this position before, where you’ve just released a collection of your music out into the world. What’s different this time around?

    Umm… [laughs] Well I guess the first time we released, it was giving it out to 30 or 40 of our friends. It was a whole lot less vulnerable experience. That’s one big difference.

    Is there a greater pressure or expectation placed upon the band this time around, or do you try to put that out of your mind?

    I don’t think there’s any industry pressure; to ‘conquer the industry’, or be some big, successful act. I think the pressure of the last two years came from trying to produce something that we thought was credible, and up to our potential.

    The first time I saw you was in March 2009, when you supported The Devoted Few at The Troubadour in Brisbane. I think that was right before you hit triple j airplay, and everything else that went with that. What do you recall of that time in the band’s career?

    It was kind of fun. Jord had just come back from Germany, and we picked up where we left off; just playing around. It was nice to play music with old friends again, after having a bit of time off. It was a good time.

    Was there a sense among the band that you could become bigger?

    Not really, hey. I don’t know how to explain it, but… I didn’t expect that EP to [do anything beyond] just hearing it when I went home, because my parents were playing it. That’s about as much as I was thinking at the time. I don’t think we anticipated anything, to be honest.

    That original LP release in 2008 is 52 minutes long. Do you consider it an EP, or an album?

    I definitely don’t consider it an album. It’s definitely not good enough [laughs]. I guess we wrote a lot longer songs back then.

    When you listen to that first release, what do you hear?

    [Whistles] To be honest, I haven’t listened to it in years [laughs]. Usually I get super-close to projects when I’m working on them, so instead of hearing a song, I’ll just hear the mix between the two stereo guitars, or something like that. I’ll be like, “Ehh, we didn’t really get that right”. Or I’ll forget about a part, and go, “Oh, that’s right, that part’s in there.”

    For the full interview, visit The Vine. For more on The Middle East, visit their website. The audio for their song ‘Jesus Came To My Birthday Party‘ is embedded below.

  • A Conversation With Yannis Philippakis of Foals, 2010

    I interviewed Yannis Philippakis [pictured right], singer/guitarist of the British pop act Foals, for Scene Magazine in late December 2010, ahead of their Australian tour as part of Laneway Festival 2011 (which I reviewed for The Vine).

    Our interview originally ran in condensed form as the cover story of Scene Magazine #811. Here’s the full interview transcript.

    Andrew: I’ve got a confession to make. [Foals’ second album] Total Life Forever is one of my favourite albums of 2010.

    Oh, thank you very much.

    I discovered [Foals’ 2008 debut album] Antidotes a couple of years ago, but Total Life Forever sounds like an entirely different band. I like this band more. Do you?

    Yannis: It’s not a different band…

    I know it’s not, but the sound definitely has changed quite a lot.

    Yeah. I mean, I don’t really like the idea of making albums adversary to each other. I find the whole ranking, hierarchy that happens every year kind of repellent and equally… I don’t really have the same perspective on it, obviously, as an externalist, but to us in the band it’s a very linear progression. It never really felt like we had a break, even after we finished Antidotes. I think the production is a hell of a lot more fully realised on Total Life Forever. At least to me, I still have a fondness for a lot of the songs on Antidotes, but I don’t listen to that record largely because of the production. I think that it’s great that people are acknowledging the progression, but to us it is one linear thing. We want to make a body of work. It’s not us trying to eradicate our past, as such.

    Was there any self-doubt within the band, when your style of song writing started shifting after Antidotes?

    There’s self-doubt every day. Of course. Not to do with writing new things, but there’s just… most of them comes from a wish to complete something that isn’t whole. Self-doubt is part of the game. It’s been there always and unless we write ‘Symphony No. 3’ by Gorecki – which we can’t, because it’s already been written – I don’t think we’re ever going to feel sated or complete. It’s just part of the fun as well, the masochistic element of it.

    The moment we stopped recording Antidotes, we started doing b-sides for Antidotes, it started to change a lot, and there was much more experimentation. We started to implement a lot of the things that we learned from Dave Sitek, and make stuff that I think actually bridges the two albums quite closely. There are some b-sides; one in particular called ‘Gold Gold Gold‘, and another two called ‘Titan Arum‘ and ‘Glaciers‘. That’s what I mean; it felt linear. It didn’t feel like we ever stopped, we just always worked on stuff.

    All that really happened was that, at the beginning when we started the band, there was a very definite and conscious process. It was a conscious aesthetic, that we wanted, and it was to do with techno, it was to do with a style of guitar playing, a visual aesthetic. Everything was very conscious and we wanted to have parameters on it. We were in love with the idea of bands like Devo that had a distinct world that they occupied.

    Everything since then, once we felt like we attained that, everything now is about undoing that process and getting to a point which is kind of the reverse of that, where nothing is conscious and if I had the choice, I’d have a lobotomy and cut out the conscious part of my mind, so that I could just make music direct from the gut. I don’t know. Did that answer your question?

    For sure. You mentioned the style of guitar playing the band has. I’ve always been fascinated by those little needly, palm-muted riffs that you guys come up with. Were there any particular artists that inspired that style of playing?

    I think it was just something that we heard. I think there are a lot of bands, a lot of styles of guitar or even just playing strings [instruments], everything from string players in a classical piece, to [‘math rock’] bands like OXES and Don Caballero, and African Senegalese guitar. I think the main thing, at least personally for me, there was something about that way of guitar playing that just attracted me. I was never that fascinated by chords, and I actually neglected to learn how to work chord sequences and stuff. Instead, everything became about these ‘guitar tattoos’. It was more I had a lot of different types of music and different types of bands and wanted to cannibalise it and make it our own.

    That’s always been a main bit of the band. We start playing stuff lower down the guitar. We play with chords sometimes now, but I think that will always be part of the sound because that is just the way that I play, naturally. It’s become muscle memory, now.

    It’s certainly one of the band’s most distinctive elements. Did you always intend that to be the case, or did it arise when you started playing together?

    You kind of progress, but yeah, it’s always been there, it predates the band. It’s how I learned how to play the guitar. I used to mimic and ape the guitar lines I liked, and they usually were like staccato, tight little phrases, that’s how I liked it. As I said, I was never really attracted to chords, or distortion pedals. I like the idea of a transparent guitar sound; a guitar sound that’s unashamed to be a clean guitar. I think that you can get as much power out of a clean guitar as you can out of a distorted guitar.

    You’ve been touring pretty heavily this year, as we discussed. You’ve played a lot of shows. I’m interested to know how you keep it sounding fresh and feeling fresh night after night.

    Just do loads of drugs, basically. That’s pretty much it. [laughs] Do you mean like the shows, or the actual lifestyle, or my body odour? What do you mean?

    The music. If you’re playing the same songs each night, does it feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over?

    It depends. I definitely think there’s a point at which bands stop touring and sometimes you can’t tell when that point is going to be, and you have to keep on playing for a bit longer. But that rarely happens. Each show is different, and we don’t play exactly the same set every night. Even if we were playing a similar set, we have quite a lot of room to improvise… well not improvisation, exactly, but we have negative space that we’re allowed to do different things. We allow space for chaos in the set, so that it’s not so tightly rehearsed, that it’s mechanical. It’s not choreographed, in that way.

    I think that helps keep it fresh. I get tired of touring sometimes, but it’s not really often to do with the shows, more to do with the kind of… I don’t know, I’d probably be able to answer that question later on in the year because we’ve still got two more tours [note: this interview was conducted in mid-December 2010]. At the moment I feel pretty good about playing. I’m starting to feel restless about writing new things. I’ve been writing so many things and I think the more that appetite opens, the more pedestrian touring seems in comparison. The further we get away from the completion of the last record, the more difficult touring becomes, I think. Not because of playing the same stuff, just because there’s a new appetite that emerges, of wanting to do things.

    When I was researching for this interview, I was surprised to discover your age. You’re two years older than I am. Was it a challenge to get people to take a bunch of teenagers seriously when the band first started?

    How old are you?


    What do you mean? For who to take us seriously?

    People in the music industry, as you were getting introduced to labels, and so forth.

    I don’t know. I think that for a lot of young bands, that’s when the prime is, sometimes. I think people are savvy to that in the music industry. They kind of want to feed off young blood. You have a naivety. You’re not jaded in any sort of way. I think, if anything, it wasn’t an issue of persuading them, it was more like trying to have them not suck our blood. I’m the youngest, but I wasn’t that young. We’ve all been playing in bands for a long time. I don’t know, I didn’t really feel that. I don’t feel as young as I used to, though.

    Do you feel that as you get older you’re being taken more seriously?

    It depends on what you mean. Are we talking about people that listen to records, are you talking about critics?

    All of the above.

    Yeah, I think so, in some way. I think the critics, there is something that make critics recoil if you seem like a young, cocky upstart. When we started doing interviews and stuff, I really didn’t have that much of a filter on my brain. A lot of time I really didn’t know where I was, in terms of how things would be relayed in the press. I think that with time comes an understanding. I understand myself better now. I think as you get older – what were you like when you were 19?

    I was a dumbass.

    [laughs] Things change. I think it’s not just to do with age. It’s to do with the fact that we made the second record, and hopefully it didn’t stink, and the people believe in you that little bit more because you’re not just putting out a hype record that, in theory, is a one-hit wonder, and also a compilation of songs that you spent 10 years to write. I think that we’ve conducted ourselves, at least since the beginning, in a way that we feel proud of, and hopefully people have a belief in a certain type of integrity – or an attempt at integrity – which will mean that we gain some respect in that field.

    Yeah, sure. Before we finish up, I wanted to ask you about Oxford briefly. Earlier this year I came across a documentary called Anyone Can Play Guitar, which I note you’re involved with. I’m particularly interested in Oxford because I love both Ride and Swervedriver.


    When you were growing up in the city, was there a sense of wanting to follow in the footsteps of other Oxford bands like those two perhaps?

    Yeah, it wasn’t those two, but there were other ones. There was a band that was pretty much our contemporaries, but a little bit older: Youthmovies. Oxford definitely was like a big factor in the way we started to think about music. I obviously knew about Radiohead and Supergrass, but Ride and Swervedriver in particular, I wasn’t that aware of. When I was growing up I paid attention to local fledgling bands. Those bands [Ride and Swervedriver], I don’t think they were really playing Oxford when I was growing up, so I wasn’t that aware of them. A band called Youthmovies had pretty much the biggest influence on Oxford in general and people my age, and it’s still being felt now. I think it’s a very interesting place to live, if you’re not an academic.

    Is there a sense of being able to give something back to the scene that helped foster Foals, now that you’ve got some attention?

    Yeah, we take bands that we like on tour with us, and I try to talk about them in interviews. But not really out of a sense of… there’s nothing magnanimous about it, it’s just that we like the bands and a lot of them are our friends. I’d rather talk about my friends, because it’s more personal to me.

    Last question. A friend asked me to say “pretty please, will you leak the Dave Sitek mix of Antidotes?”

    [laughs] Ehh, maybe.

    Okay, good. Thanks for your time mate.

    A pleasure. Thank you.


    For more Foals, visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Blue Blood‘‘ is embedded below.

    Elsewhere: a review of their 2010 album, Total Life Forever, for The Vine.


  • The Weekend Australian story: ‘Independent bookshops: Holding the line’, March 2011

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Review. The full story is included below.

    Independent bookshops: Holding the line

    Some of the big boys may be in trouble, but independent bookshop owners are stubbornly hanging on, writes Andrew McMillen

    “We’re all a little bit crazy. We’re all a little bit obsessive. We all work far too hard. We’re really passionate about what we do. We all do a huge amount of unpaid work in the community. We’re all literary award judges. We talk to schools. We’re passionate about literacy.”

    Fiona Stager, co-founder of Avid Reader in Brisbane’s inner south, is describing the sort of people who own and operate independent bookstores across the country.

    Suzy Wilson, owner of Riverbend Books in Bulimba, an inner-east suburb of the Queensland capital, wouldn’t argue with that assessment. There’s “a certain addiction to doing this”, she says. “I love it and believe in it. I believe in how important bookshops are in communities, to the extent that I’m not prepared to disappear.” With a laugh, she adds an afterthought, “Which my accountant thinks would be a really good idea.”

    Entrance to Riverbend Books is gained by passing through the bustling Teahouse, Riverbend’s cafe. Monday morning business is brisk and walk-ins are hard-pressed to find empty seats. Inside, dozens browse the shelves; among them, young professionals and mothers with babes in arms. The sound of children laughing and playing echoes throughout the space. Handwritten staff recommendations hang from every other shelf. Overhead, a jazz soundtrack is played at just the right volume.

    A former schoolteacher, Wilson knows “a lot about literacy and the ways of leading children towards books”, but had “less than zero” business knowledge when she decided to open the store in 1998. Based on what she gleaned from books on the subject — and what other medium would a prospective bookshop owner use to increase her knowledge? — it became clear that since her business would not be based in a shopping centre or an area with a high passing trade, Wilson needed “some other thing to make it a destination”.

    Hence the Teahouse. Initially, a relaxation of Bulimba’s town planning laws allowed her to sell coffee, sushi and sandwiches, but not hot food. Since then, the overall store space has doubled and the Teahouse is now a restaurant in its own right, serving breakfast and lunch daily. Its earnings account for about 30 per cent of Riverbend’s overall business, but Wilson hopes the books and food split will return to 50-50, as it was in recent years. The two operations “complement each other really nicely”, she says.

    Visiting authors have commented on the bookstore’s atmosphere. Children’s author James Maloney regards it as the “community church”, and another writer compared it with an English pub, referring to the store’s power as a social space. “I really like that role,” says Wilson, eloquent and generous in conversation, and with her praise of others.

    Last year Wilson travelled to New York with Stager and two other bookshop owners, Mark Rubbo and Derek Dryden. Dryden is owner of Better Read Than Dead, in Sydney’s Newtown and Rubbo is general manager of independent chain Readings, which operates six shops across Melbourne. “He’s one of the few who’s significantly increased his online sales,” Wilson says, with unbridled admiration.

    Rubbo makes the point that “people will always want to have some face-to-face contact and the pleasure of going into a bookshop, discovering things and talking to people. I think it will always be important. But that aspect of the business is losing market share to internet retailers.”

    In New York Rubbo, Wilson, Stager and Dryden were the Australian contingent at Book Expo America, the largest annual US book trade fair. Calling it a place where “many interesting minds come together to talk and think about the book industry, and where it’s going”, Wilson found conversations there were the impetus for “facing the music”; for adding up the risks involved in continuing and the chances for survival.

    Wilson nevertheless gives the impression she would rather not have to deal with questions about her business and its future, whether asked by her accountant, her customers or a journalist. The mere existence of pleasant, inviting bookshops such as her own should be punctuated with an exclamation point, not a question mark. After all, what else but passion could fuel the pursuit of an endeavour such as hers?

    The business concerns of bookshops have been widely discussed of late, due largely to the mid-February announcement that REDgroup Retail — the company that oversees book chains Borders and Angus & Robertson — was entering voluntary administration. REDgroup chairman Steven Cain pointed his finger squarely at the federal government for its refusal to lift import restrictions or enforce GST on online shopping.

    When this topic is raised, Wilson is unequivocal. “I regard it as grossly, grossly unfair that Amazon doesn’t have to collect GST. Canada make them do it, so why can’t we?” she asks. “I’ve written a few letters to politicians over the years. I’ve been bamboozled as to why no one wants to do anything about it.”

    To Wilson, Amazon — the world’s biggest bookshop, whose storefront exists solely online — is “that horrible word we don’t like to use too often”. No wonder. Businesses such as Amazon and the Book Depository, an emerging online bookshop based in England that offers heavily discounted titles and free shipping to Australia, have altered the way customers buy books.

    Wilson tells a story about book-club members who had been buying titles at the store for 10 years. Discovering the Book Depository had the same books for half the price, members “took me to task”, Wilson says. “I asked if they’d let me put up a spirited defence of my situation because they actually thought I was ripping them off.” She sighs. “That hurts. So I put up my defence, but they’d already ordered the books, so they went away a bit sheepish. I said, ‘If you buy from them, you’re saying that this place has no value in our community.’ I completely understand that you have to watch your dollars, but it’s a choice about where you watch them and what you value in your community. I think you have to look at the bigger picture and say: ‘Do I want a community without a local bookstore?’ ”

    But this is all business talk. Wilson would much prefer to discuss Riverbend’s role as a community hub; how, for instance, seven local school principals use the Teahouse for their monthly breakfast meetings. Wilson regularly sits in with them. “They’re a really interesting group,” she says. In their most recent meeting, the topic of social media came up. It turned out that none of them — all “oldies”, according to Wilson, who lumps herself into that demographic — uses Facebook or Twitter. She realised last year all of her staff were “competent and involved” with such networks; at the time, she was blissfully ignorant yet aware of the necessity to keep her finger on the digital pulse. So, with the school principals as the first guinea pigs, Riverbend will soon begin hosting social media classes.

    These are the kinds of gaps Wilson loves filling: an in-demand service, provided for a greater good. An example is the Indigenous Literacy Project, which Wilson founded in 2004: since the start of the project more than 60,000 books have been delivered to 200 remote communities across the country.

    Wilson believes social projects at independent bookshops across the country are about “all of us putting our minds to building this community to be as strong as possible, so that we’ve got the best chance of surviving”, although she acknowledges they require a huge amount of work, which is “not really reflected in the returns”.

    However, the pursuit of what Wilson dubs “the tipping point of profitability” will determine the years ahead. By hosting school principals for breakfast and helping indigenous children, perhaps these community-focused measures, in a roundabout way, will help Riverbend’s doors stay open.

    Riverbend is not the first bookshop to realise the importance of leveraging its floor space beyond the basic act of stocking and selling books, and certainly won’t be the last. Stager sees the Avid Reader’s bulging events calendar as one of its key strengths. “We’ve put a greater emphasis on our events, which is what we’d started a couple of years ago. I’ve always been very event-driven; that was one of the core principles I started with, using Gleebooks in Sydney as a model.” Seeing as an example the growth of live music within an industry affected by declining physical sales, Stager decided to concentrate on what she deems “the live experience”; usually, visiting authors giving readings and conducting question-and-answer sessions with readers. Successes in the past 12 months include 400 payers attending a Shaun Micallef book launch at the Hi-Fi, a couple of blocks down from the bookshop on Boundary Street in West End, as well as more than 600 attending a Paul Kelly launch at the same venue.

    David Gaunt has managed Gleebooks since 1978. “We’ve been around for a long time and I don’t think we’ve ever been unaware that the best chance for independent bookstores to survive is to place a strong emphasis on social engagement in the community,” he says. “In our case, this includes heavy representation at festivals and conferences, events outside the shop, as well as the country’s biggest in-store author event program.” Such events sustain customer interest year-round, he says, but especially when the going’s “really tough, which it certainly is at the moment”. For Gaunt, the act of bookselling, online or off, has barely changed during his time in the industry. This year, the only real difference is that Gleebooks promotes its events program through social media channels.

    Enticing though such events are to so many, reading is still, by and large, a solitary pursuit. As to whether Stager views online bookstores as competition to the service in her shop, she responds cautiously. “Yes, they are. And that’s because everybody in the media has told the readers that Amazon and the Book Depository are our competition. I think they get millions of dollars of free advertising, which they don’t warrant.”

    It’s perhaps an irony that so many Australians have gained knowledge of these alternative, online retailers through the act of reading the news, and the growing profitability of online sites is proof people do still read; more than ever, perhaps.

    According to Stager she has “one big advantage over Amazon. If it’s on my shelf, you can buy it, there and then. I’ll gift wrap it for you, beautifully. I offer events and interaction with other readers through great customer service. There is more to retail than just getting something. Retail is an experience, and I have to make sure that when you come into my shop, you’re having an experience.”

    Stager is adamant book consumers shouldn’t support independent retailers just because they’re smaller and thus perceived to be vulnerable. Instead, she says, “They have to support us because of what we offer: customer service, our range and a whole lot more. We have to be good citizens as well, so we have to be doing the right things by our staff, by our community.

    “That all comes into play. Don’t support me just because I’m small and an indie; support me because of the things I do.”

    For the full story, visit The Australian’s website. Thanks to all of the helpful independent bookshop owners I spoke with for this story, many of whom I had to omit. Please note that the above photo was taken by Lyndon Mechielsen.


  • Mess+Noise story: ‘Lofly Hangar: 2007-2010’, January 2011

    A feature for Mess+Noise about a much-loved Brisbane venue.

    Lofly Hangar: 2007-2010

    ANDREW MCMILLEN laments the loss of short-lived Brisbane venue Lofly Hangar, which shut its doors in late 2010.

    Nestled under a party goods store on Musgrave Road in Red Hill, the Lofly Hangar always seemed an unlikely meeting place for Brisbane’s independent music community. Located far from the dedicated entertainment precinct in Fortitude Valley – where the majority of the city’s live music venues are based – Red Hill is very much a residential area. Yet since it first opened its doors to the public in 2007, the Hangar built a reputation for delivering quality music to curious listeners in an intimate setting.

    From the beginning, $10 got you inside – a cost which was maintained through until the final show in December 2010, except for the occasional special event – and since it was classed as a private residence, there was no liquor licensing regulations involved. You’d bring your own booze, and since the main area was adorned with couches, it didn’t feel dissimilar from your living room. Such was the charm of the Hangar: interesting people and new sounds, experienced in comfort. Upon entering, you’d be almost guaranteed to have a great – and cheap – night out.

    The line-ups were curated by the Lofly brains trust – Phil Laidlaw, Andrew White, Greg Cooper, Chris Perren, and Joel Edmondson – and even if you’d never heard of the bands playing, the sounds emanating from the adjoining band room were almost always diverse and intriguing. The stage, however, was non-existent. The bands played on the floor, set up in front of a wall of old televisions. The venue’s PA wasn’t amazing, but it got the job done. An unspoken, Meredith-like “no dickheads” policy seemed to be in play throughout its existence. To visit the Hangar was to be among open-minded music fans. It was a beautiful thing.

    The final Hangar was held on December 11, 2010; coincidentally, it was the 100th public show held at the venue. A few weeks beforehand, three Hangar co-organisers – Laidlaw, White, and Cooper, each musicians themselves with aheadphonehome, Restream, and Toy Balloon, respectively – reflected on their time at the forefront of the Brisbane independent music scene.


    Andrew White: We got a warehouse and leased it to practise and record in, and have parties with our friends’ bands. Then we started having more people coming. The idea came about to have it as a regular thing, every month. We were interested in putting on music that we liked. Having the parties has been a way of paying the bills. It was never a profit thing; it was just something that we wanted to keep going.

    Phil Laidlaw: At the time [2007], there were around three or four venues [in Brisbane] – The Troubadour, Ric’s, The Zoo. So we’d approach people asking them to play, and they’d respond with, “What are you talking about?” The model of warehouse party shows wasn’t happening. There wasn’t a lot of faith in it. It was very difficult to get bands that we thought were good bands to play. But the culture of the space evolved from the parties we were having. There was no need for security, because we knew everyone here.

    For the full article, visit Mess+Noise. For more on Lofly, visit their website.

    With this story, I tried something I’d never done before: I went for an ‘oral history’ angle. I chatted with Andrew, Phil and Greg for over an hour on the evening of the last Hangar nights, and shaped the best / most relevant bits of that conversation into a narrative structure. I think it turned out OK.

  • Mess+Noise album review: Surf City – ‘Kudos’, October 2010

    An album review for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

    Surf CityKudos

    Kudos is an anachronism. It simply shouldn’t be. It is the antithesis to modern music. While every other band is doing their best to sound like the future, New Zealanders Surf City are stuck in the past. There’s nothing futuristic about it, and yet, like a Magic Eye image, if you stare into their gaping sonic void for long enough, a conclusion reveals itself. Suddenly, it all makes sense: Surf City sound so fresh because they’re not trying to sound fresh.

    From the moment the first glassy guitar notes of ‘Crazy Rulers Of The World’ stream from the speakers, it’s clear that the six years the band have spent working toward their debut were worth it. In fact, just why Kudos succeeds so resolutely could be put down to the band’s patience. Their self-titled EP wasn’t released until 2008; likewise, nothing about Kudos feels rushed. Again, Surf City is antithetical to modern music, and the forever fast-forwarded release cycle perpetuated by tech-savvy musicians. Their social networking sites are neglected. Too busy making amazing music, I guess.

    Full review on Mess+Noise. More Surf City on MySpace.

    I wish I could embed a video or something to show you just how amazing this band is, but there’s fuck-all info about them online. You can stream the album’s best track, ‘Icy Lakes’, via Polaroids Of Androids, however. Do it.