Dead of Winter Festival
Jubilee Hotel, Brisbane
29 July, 2017
The ‘sold out’ sign goes up at the Jubilee Hotel in Brisbane’s live music hub, Fortitude Valley, as 50 bands from Australia and New Zealand (almost half with female members) gather for the horror-themed Dead of Winter Festival. First held in 2009, it’s now the marque event on the Queensland heavy music calendar following the demise of Soundwave, formerly held just down the road.
Kicking off proceedings on the Green Beacon Stage, Brisbane three-piece Walken pledge to play Slipknot’s ‘Duality’ 10 times, but don’t. Sadly, sickness has killed singer-guitarist Matt Cochran’s voice, meaning he now not only kind of looks like a young version of Tad Doyle from Seattle grunge legends TAD, he sounds raspy like him too. It’s a shame because Walken plays some rocking songs, such as ‘Eagle Eye’, ‘The Great Noise’, new song ‘Being Kept Alive’ and – for something different – grunge-hip hop tune ‘House’.
Another Brisbane three-piece, Mammöth, is first up on the adjoining Sailor Jerry Stage. Mammöth is the perfect name for these talented teenager rockers, who produce slow and lumbering doom-stoner metal tunes, some of them instrumental. Echoing Black Sabbath and Cathedral, the band fits four elongated sonic excursions, including ‘Killed By Lightning’, ‘Cave Paintings’ and ‘Desert Lizard, Desert Death’ into its loud 30-minute set. Drummer Storm Mahan, looking like a young Brant Bjork (Kyuss) with skills to match, is a standout.
Hailing from where the beach water is cold, Melbourne surf-blues-rock act Hot Wings is the first act to take to Dead of Winter Festival’s biggest stage, the 4ZZZ Carpark Stage. Fittingly, the band faces a chicken wings food stall as they deliver top-tapping instrumental tunes such as ‘Mextasy’ and ‘Sunk’, with the sound ranging between The Ventures and Reverend Horton Heat. A cool keyboard sound permeates the closing song ‘Flour on the Floor’, making it sound like The B-52s have joined the party.
Freakshow Nightmare takes to the nearby Hysteria Carpark Stage to deliver both a set of punk tunes that sounds out of 1980s Brisbane, and a shout out to a female fan in the crowd who “rescheduled her pap smear to see us play”. A poor sound mix doesn’t help the band’s cause but they plug through tunes such as ‘Shark Still Looks Fake’, ‘Because Fuck You’ and set highlight ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, before rounding out their half an hour on stage with ‘We Are the Sex’.
The punk continues on the 4ZZZ Carpark Stage with Gold Coast act Friends With the Enemy. Sounding like a band out of California with a female vocalist (Chelsie Bomb), they have supported USA acts such as Guttermouth, Propagandhi, Lagwagon and No Use For a Name and also toured America. That experience shows as they deliver a tight set of melodic punk rock that includes songs such as ‘Conspiracy Theory’ and ‘I Miss You Mary Jane’.
Many punters have dressed for the horror theme of the festival – there’s zombies, Beetlejuice and a truly scary looking devil with razor sharp teeth that will haunt anyone on drugs – and so too have Swamp Gully Howlers. The aptly named sludgy-blues troupe seemingly features House of 1000 Corpses villain Captain Spaulding on bass and a harmonica player straight from Festival of the Dead in Mexico, delivering cool songs such as ‘Fallen Daughter’, ‘Bottle and Bones’ and ‘Where the Howling Things Go’.
With a huge sound and songs comparable to Hot Water Music and Against Me, The Cutaways put in an energetic and engaging performance on the main stage. The Brisbane band, featuring passionate vocalist-guitarist Emmy Hour, has a live presence that belies their relatively short 11-month gigging history. An accomplished set features cuts from the band’s self-titled debut EP such as ‘Walk me Home’ and ‘Muscle In’ alongside the likes of ‘Wax Woman’, ‘Million Tiny Pieces’ and ‘Can’t Get a Boy’.
It’s always great to see a band having fun while playing live and the girls from Being Jane Lane appear to be having a ball on the Hysteria Stage. Opening with ‘Never Have I Ever’ the five-piece, recent Gold Coast Music Awards winners, drop a set of catchy indie-punk rock. Whether they’re performing the theme song of animated late-1990s TV show Daria or getting rowdier on a song like ‘Ohio’, Being Jane Lane do it while joyfully bouncing about the stage.
The high-pitched screams of Tai Sui singer Alexis draw captivated punters to the front of the Sailor Jerry Stage. Put the music, social awareness and political and corporate world disdain of Rage Against the Machine, Pitchshifter, System of a Down and Insurge into a blender and you will get something like Tai Sui. Their set of sample-friendly heavy rock features ‘Celestial’ and ‘Navigators’. Tai Sui is a band with a big world view and in Alexis, waist-long white dreadlocks airborne, we have a contemporary version of Def FX’s Fiona Horne.
Valhalore are a revelation – and the most fun band of the day. Mandolin, tin whistle and flute sit comfortably alongside metal guitars and double kick drums to create viking-metal epics such as ‘Across the Frozen Ocean’ and ‘Guardians of Time’, from the Brisbane band’s debut album Voyage into Eternity. With kick-arse guitar shredding by Anthony Willis, stellar vocals from Lachlan Neate ranging from black metal growls to falsetto, and happy punters circling around the packed mosh pit arm-in-arm, Valhalore could do for Aussie viking-metal what Lagerstein has done for pirate-metal.
It’s hard to ascertain who is more frustrated by the technical issues that stall the start of Black Rheno’s set – the keen punters or singer Ryan Miller. When Sydney’s exponents of ear-splitting heavy grooves finally cut loose, the vocalist and his bandmates explode with boundless energy. During a brilliantly manic and hell-raising set, tunes from debut EP Let’s Start a Cult such as ‘No Time For Numb Nuts’ and ‘Lock the Gate’ get pumped out while the rabid ones in the mosh pit happily get pummelled and Miller crowd surfing with punters, including one lying on his back.
Brisbane underground legends FAT, the elder statesmen of the Dead of Winter line-up along with The Porkers and The Meanies, play the Hysteria Stage. “We’re FAT and we’ve been around for more than a while,” proclaims one member of the band, Queensland’s answer to The Melvins. Songs from a career spanning more than 25 years get a run, from older tunes like ‘Bestiality’ and ‘My Parents Are Divorced’ to newer cuts such as ‘When Michael Jackson Died’ and ‘Junkie Song’.
The 6.30pm time slot is a ‘hollow’ time for metal fans at the festival, with Hollow and Hollow World playing sets on different floors of the Jubilee Hotel at the same time. Billed as the band’s last ever show, Brisbane metal legends Hollow’s set has passionate fans (literally) hanging from the rafters above the crowd in front of the Sailor Jerry Stage. Songs from the Exhibit B EP form a large chunk of a fittingly chaotic career coda. Upstairs at the Drum Cartel Stage, the intricacies of Melbourne melodic death metal crew Hollow World get a bit lost in the sound mix, but keen fans mosh hard to songs like ‘Patient Zero’ and ‘Wildfire’.
Dallas Frasca sounds and performs like a band that has made a name for itself both in Australia and in other parts of the world in recent years. A southern USA rock sound transplanted to Melbourne, and with Australian top 30 album Love Army under their belt, the trio is high on distortion and big on hooks. One of a number of bands on the bill foregoing a bass but still sounding loud with a capital ‘L’, thanks to the twin guitar attack of Dallas Frasca and Jeff Curran – and approaching the 1000-gig mark of their career – this band is tighter than many.
The Gutter Birds look like three sweet young ladies (and a geeky guy on keyboards) but they’re three foul-mouthed lasses who sing smutty songs in swing-vocal harmony style. And they’re developing quite a following in Brisbane. Regaling the Green Beacon Stage crowd with renditions of Frenzal Rhomb’s ‘Bucket Bong’, Flangipanis’ ‘My Period is Late’ and Afroman’s ‘Because I Got High’, originals like ‘Thank Fuck He Dumped Me’ and ‘I Like Looking at Naked Men’ also feature, greeted by raucous applause.
It’s near bedlam outside as Flangipanis tear it up on the Hysteria Stage in front of a huge and rabid crowd. Dressed in matching pink masks and superhero capes, Brisbane’s best-loved punk heroes run through songs like ‘Getting Shit For Free’, ‘Fuck Your Phone and Fuck You Too’ and ‘Nice Haircut Dickhead’. The stage manager looks rightly frazzled as fans of the four-piece go bonkers, stage dive, discard underwear and get near naked. No more playing the small stage at Dead of Winter for this mob.
Bringing face paint, shock rock imagery and a sense of theatre to the Sailor Jerry Stage, industrial-goth rockers Darkcell are the spiritual brethren of Wednesday 13, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and 69 Eyes. Running through tracks like ‘Stitch Your Heart’, ‘Toxic Mutant Her’ and ‘Man Who Destroyed the World’, it’s not hard to see why these guys are gaining traction overseas. By the time Darkcell completes rousing closing number ‘Preacher’, you get a sense of what it would have been like to have witnessed Mötley Crüe or Alice Cooper performing in their formative years.
Some Jerks don’t look much like surfers but they play cool surf-rock with 1960s garage rock thrown into the mix, like The 18.104.22.168’s and old Sydney girl-group The Del-Emmas. Most of the songs from Some Jerks’ 10-song performance come from their latest album Strange Way, though sadly for curious metal-heads passing by, the band’s cover of Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ doesn’t get a run. ‘Never Know’ and ‘A Million Girls’ book-end the set and in-between ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Dark and Dead of Night’ get many hips swaying.
Technical issues delay the start of She Cries Wolf’s set at the Drum Cartel Stage but the Gold Coast band make it up to the punters with some brutal hardcore metal. The mosh pit is not a place for the faint-hearted when the band opens its set with ‘Distorted Youth’, followed by other Doubt album songs ‘We’re All Arsonists’ and ‘Chapter II’. Intensity is the world as She Cries Wolf powers through a short but sweaty set of tunes that sits somewhere between Every Time I Die and Dillinger Escape Plan.
Probably the heaviest band at Dead of Winter, Whoretopsy take to the Sailor Jerry Stage soon after 9.30pm – and punters’ eardrums are battered by about 9.45pm. The music is brutal but this is death metal with a sense of humour, as evidenced by singer Storma wearing a bright pink t-shirt and the lyrics of songs like ‘White Men Can’t Blump’, ‘He Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly’, ‘Jackhammer Skullfuck’ and ‘Fiddler in the Roof’. Do you remember the scene in the Jim Carrey movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective when he goes to a Cannibal Corpse show? Whoretopsy is the living embodiment of that scene.
Punters waiting for As Paradise Falls amuse themselves by kicking a full water bottle about like a soccer ball. One poor bloke cops the bottle to the nuts and writhes in pain on the floor as the band takes to the stage. “We have a human sacrifice on the floor,” As Paradise Falls singer Shaun Coar exclaims with perfect comedic timing. But the shits and giggles are soon over as the Brisbane metal act launches into tracks from debut album Digital Ritual. A precise, calculated and engaging performance yields tunes such as ‘Captive to the Creation’, ‘The Ultimate Consumer’ and ‘Automated Sacrifice’.
For punters who can’t manage to get a view amongst the huge horde gathered outside for The Bennies, the Green Beacon Stage and a rare performance from Brisbane stalwarts Giants of Science is the destination of choice for rock fans. For their first show in 18 months they run through classics like ‘I’ve Tried’, ‘Here is the Punishment’, ‘The Letter B’, ‘Zodak (Evil Cosmic Enforcer)’ and ‘Dead Sea’. Soaring, impassioned vocals on a cover of AC/DC’s ‘Riff Raff’ from frontman Ben Salter (of Wilson Pickers and The Gin Club fame) brings down the house during the closing song from a criminally underrated band.
Deservedly holding a place in a list of seminal Aussie punk bands alongside The Saints, Radio Birdman, Cosmic Psychos and Hard -Ons, The Meanies close the Sailor Jerry Stage with 60 minutes’ worth of short, sharp and irresistible punk tunes. Playing what could be their final ever show in Brisbane, the Melbourne legends run through classics like ‘Conan’, ‘Never’ and ‘10% Weird’ and newer tunes such as ‘There’s a Gap’, from their last album It’s Not Me, It’s You. Vocalist Link Meanie, who is set to move abroad permanently, frequently gets up close and personal with delirious crowd members who will greatly miss these Aussie counterculture heroes.
Words by Lee Oliver
Behind the lens Jordan Aarts and Gethin Hill