Photo by Glen Schenau
23-year-old Brisbanite Joshua Watson is a talented chap. A musician in Kitchen's Floor and the Sewers, photographer and filmmaker, he made the excellent Brisbane 2012 which, with a great deal of subtlety and atmosphere, tells the story of the alternative scene directly through interviews with its main protagonists.
Growing up in Browns Plains about an hour from Brisbane it seems he had always been into "weird music" but it wasn't until he met Joel Stern (curator, musician in the band Sky Needle and co-founder of seminal night Audiopollen) while studying music at Queensland University of Technology back in 2009 that he was "turned onto a lot of really awesome shit happening right under my nose". After attending his first underground gig - Matt Horseshit in a book shop in the West End area of Brisbane, he was hooked.
In 2014 he launched his own label Virtual Cool Records under which he releases music from his own band, Sewers, as well as Scrabbled, Rat King, and Bent (a "wonky post-punk" three-piece).
Macho Zapp took the chance for a one-on-one when Josh helped to create our very own tribute to the scene 'Brisbane Noise'. He offers some candid views on drug-taking, isolation, and the electronic influence.
What made you launch your label?
I started Virtual Cool to release music that I think is incredible and under-appreciated. Basically the same reasons most people start a label I imagine.
Why do you sell cassettes and these days how many people actually have cassette players?
Cassettes are a lot cheaper to order than vinyl records. They cost a lot more to post though so there's a bit of a trade-off in that respect. I really like the aesthetic and composition of tapes though. The whole package is important.
Is it easy to get cassettes made? Where do you get them done?
I've had most of my tapes made over in the US as there just aren't that many duplicators here in Aus that offer the shell imprinting - I'm a big fan of that.
Is it profitable? Do you manage to break even?
Most of the releases have been selling well so I have been able to break even for the most part. I don't have that much money to spend on these things, otherwise you'd probably be seeing more releases more frequently.
What's it like playing in kitchen's Floor - any transcendental moments while playing live?
Kitchen's Floor only just started playing live shows again for the first time in well over a year. If things are getting transcendental then it usually means I've taken too many 'performance enhancers'. There was a good crowd for our first kinda show back, which was great. It's more about giving the audience that kind of experience though, so they're having fun jumping around saying "fuck you" to everything and nothing in particular. Shake out the malaise.
Could you sum up what's special about the Brisbane noise scene to an outsider?
'Isolation' is a word that comes up very often when talking about the advantages of being in Brisbane. For the most part there's a very supportive music scene here, and people feel comfortable to try their hand at new ideas or collaborations.
Why were gigs at 116 special? What went on at these nights?
The final houseshow at 116 was utterly depressing. It was like a wake. So many interstate bands stayed and played there over the last 6 years: Naked on the Vague, the Axemen, Jonny Telafone, circle Pit, Chrome Dome, Mad Nanna. Houseshows were always much better than going to a bar. Much more relaxed. They'd start in the early evening and ended whenever Bobby Bot (wonderfuls) finally left. You'd barely be able to see the band for all of the bodies crammed into the tiny living room, if you arrived late you'd likely be listening from the hallway with a goon sack or a tallie of VB in hand. The police have clamped down pretty hard on houseshows in the last couple of years, so they rarely happen these days.
How long would this type of gig last?
The most brutal gigs are those like 12h 'fests' that start in the afternoon and just never seem to end. Late-night jams after shows were always the best. Joel stern would always instigate something like that and we'd stay up until morning drinking, smoking and playing vuvuzelas to Casio drum machines.
Do recreational drugs play a big role in things?
It's pretty 'progressive'. Most people smoke weed socially and you'll smell a few joints at a show. Pills/mdma are pretty popular too - Australians love pingers. Drugs and creativity, man. I'm pretty partial to Terrence Mckenna's views and that's all good fun but, of course, there's also the darker side. Across the board, drinking is pretty bad. Then there's the harder stuff.
There's a lot written about music and drugs and certain books do glamorise that relationship, as if to add this extra layer of authenticity to the music. For some it's just experimentation and they grow out of it, but for others it's because they really do have some serious shit going on. As a society we really need to change our attitude towards mental health and substance abuse.
What kind of characters get attracted to the scene?
The underground scene is Brisbane is so colourful because it's full of all these mini-cliques: Stoned Noise hippies, sarcastic synth-punks, drunk rockers, DIY lifers, barflies and smart-casual observers. What they have in common is that they're all left of 'left of centre'. You'll generally only hear these bands on community radio and getting a insultingly brief mention in any music press. They're not generally the happy-go-lucky yuppie intern looking to get a head in the 'music biz'. It's rather a sort of quiet pride that's mistaken for arrogance.
How has electronic music influenced the alternative scene?
There's a whole bunch of electronic bands in Brisbane and that seems to be a reflection of global trends. Brisbane's always had a rich history of electronic music. Some points more than others but once again I think that's just the fashion of the thing. Brisbane Electronic groups like Multiple Man, Pleasure Symbols, 100%, Workshop, World War IV, Upclock are pretty popular but you also got a lot of people not working in that pop frame-work - more avant garde - like Lawrence English, Club Sound Witches, Henry Meals, Journeaux, Andrew Tuttle. There's also some techno dudes like Enderie Nuatal and Cedie Janson.
Check out Virtual Cool's Bandcamp page here.