Spotlight on Singers (with my usual excessive ramblings), 24/3/18

On Saturday (24/3/18) I managed to pop in to two Newtown venues to see friends from three bands perform. I’m so glad free gigs exist haha! And as I watched them, wondering what I was learning this time, I found myself focusing in on each of their singers – all of them, passionate performers. As a vocalist myself, and particularly one contemplating a shift from band to soloist, this is something I really need to pay attention to. Of course I need to perform my best when fronting a band, but if I’m going to hold an entire stage by myself, I need to learn how to go all out. Singers will always attract the most attention from the general, non-musician public, but if there’s nothing else on stage to look at, the pressure is that much higher. None of the bands I saw on Saturday was a soloist, but their vocalists commanded my attention enough that they are my main focus for today’s post (but of course, I can’t help but ramble on a few extra points).

Enough to Escape

Back when I was studying at the Australian Institute of Music, I took ensemble classes (basically a band class) with Michael Quigley, now the drummer of Enough to Escape. We’ve kept in touch, and that’s how I ended up at the Hideaway Bar. Enough to Escape is an unusual metal band – the instrumentalists are all Sydney-based, but their singer lives in Nagoya, Japan. He flew in for two performances only, and the band so far has no more gigs planned, though they are working on a recorded release. It’s a very strange arrangement!

Anyway, so I gather they haven’t had many rehearsals with the singer in person, and when I saw him setting up a music stand, presumably to read lyrics from, I had a little eyebrow raise. More so as I watched him drape black fabric from the mic stand down to the music stand in what seemed to be an effort to hide it. You can see this effort in the black diamond on the left side of the video and image above. I do suppose that if you needed the lyrics on stage, this would be a good way to do it, but it did mean that it interfered with my ability to see the entire band on an already tiny stage. This was my best attempt at finding another angle without that stand setup in the way, ducking down under the sound desk:

But this oddity aside, I have to say, once he started up, you could really see how connected he was to the music. That surprised me, because after spending years watching student vocalists sing off a lyric sheet, or musicians play off a chord chart, I had come to the expectation that if you hadn’t memorised your part, it would negatively affect your performance. Turns out that’s not necessarily true! From his movements to his facial expressions, he was rocking out like nothing else mattered, and as someone who gets kinda nervous and shy, that’s something I really want to be able to emulate. I mean personally, I would’ve dressed up more and maybe gone for a bit more energy, but then again this was one of the darker, slower paced forms of metal compared to what I’m used to, so my preferences probably aren’t quite appropriate!

Other cool things:

  • They tied the songs together! I am really loving this sorta thing. While the guitarists were tuning, the drummer kept a light beat going, and the vocalist made trebly air whoosh type sounds, gave it an interesting atmospheric vibe. This worked particularly well for their genre.
  • The mixing desk was off to the side, not a great mixing position, but I noticed that he frequently came out into the audience to check what we were hearing. I always love it when the sound engineer is doing their job right.
  • There were lyrics in Japanese! You don’t hear that much in Sydney!


  • The stage at the Hideaway is reeeallly small. The bassist had to stand beside it. Meanwhile, people kept walking past, presumably to the bathroom, or occasionally musicians going out back to where the instruments were kept. I found that rather distracting.
  • Strange mic technique and handling, including cupping. This always makes me sad.
  • It was strange seeing the guitarist in the middle with the white business-y shirt while everyone else was in black. On the upside though, they put him in the middle and avoided unbalancing the visual aspects of the stage.
  • Lighting at the venue wasn’t great either, if the vocalist went too far forward, he’d disappear into the dark, without ever leaving the stage.

That’s all that I saw at the Hideaway. After Enough to Escape, I moved on to the Townie.


So I’ve known Sai for a while now, but when we met, he was operating under a different name, and was the frontman for The Abyss Collective. Back then, he was singing with a guitar strapped to his chest, so I never really saw him do the full-on performance that he’s doing now. He also never dressed how he does in his current persona, so the whole thing was quite a surprise for me! But I guess it shouldn’t have been, given the difficulties I’ve found myself, trying to be both a singer and violinist back in Rainbow Death Ray and Wintergaunt. Watching him perform at the Townie on Saturday really drove home the point to me, about just how restrictive it can be to perform as a singer tied to an instrument. Now that he’s been freed from guitar duties, he really is so much more entertaining to watch!

Of the three performances I saw on Saturday, Sai’s was also the closest to that situation of being a solo performer. Z(Cluster) is a duo, however its other half, known as INfest8, spent the entirety of the performance hidden behind an electronic setup that was so dominating I could barely even see his guitarwork. Combining that with his much more subdued style of dress, and all-business-no-play performance style, he seemed much more like technician than performer. So of course, it was Sai’s flamboyance which completely stole the show. And in my opinion, it’s lucky Sai does have that performance ability to balance things out. While I can understand the desire of some musicians, particularly in the electronic genres, to seem more “authentic” by producing the sounds live and to avoid accusations of “you just press play”, what I found puzzling in this duo is that INfest8 insisted on fiddling with all that gear given he did have a guitar. When it comes to this issue of a duo mixing electronic noises with heavy guitars, I tend to prefer the Viral Millennium approach: let the backing track play, and bring that guitar out into the open. The interesting thing about that band is that the guitarist didn’t even need to rock out much either – his costume and imposing posture was enough to create the interest INfest8 lacked, while still allowing the singer full range to jump around the stage. By not hiding behind a wall of electronics and instead embracing the guitar, I do feel they had better results, and it is something I do feel Z(Cluster) ought to emulate in their own style.

That said, it’s not a huge concern, particularly at the level they’re currently at. INfest8 may even prefer to be more in the shadows. The important thing is that Sai was able to pull off his role so effectively. He made good use of the stage, walking across it, coming forward to the audience, varying his height and movements. Some aspects of his style are a little too sexual for me to take on board, he is after all very much within the fetish aesthetic… but it was both entertaining and educational for me nonetheless. And given the band’s context, I also enjoyed his use of androgyny, having a little giggle as I overheard conversation wondering about his gender. While he does still identify as male (though somewhat fluid), he occasionally hits these lovely falsetto/head voice tones that you probably could mistake for a female voice if you happened to walk in at that point. Messing with the audience’s expectations is another one of those things that I love to see on stage. I am also stunned by his mastery of high heels. I tried them once. I stick to platforms now.


Until recently known as SNUFF, this band is the most established out of the ones I saw on Saturday. They’re also the band I have the most connections to – I went to the Australian Institute of Music with the Tormentor, who handles the electronics on stage, and I’ve taken a couple of singing lessons with Alicia to help develop my clean vocals. The band is originally a duo, but they now perform with a drummer as well, which sometimes feels unnecessary, but does give a real kick to some of the songs, especially following a band without drums like Z(Cluster). And after saying so much about INfest8 not being much to look at on stage, I need to quickly point out how the Tormentor, who doesn’t play guitar, handles his electronic rig so much better – I have seen him CLIMB TO THE CEILING on his custom setup! And he is always rocking out, regardless of whether or not he’s actually twiddling a knob. He was doing this even when he was performing solo, and I just love it!

But back to my focus on vocalists, there’s Alicia. I remember a long time ago watching one of SNVFF’s early shows at the Agincourt, and oh my gosh, she has come such a long way in every aspect of her performance. She’s always had an amazing voice, but she now commands the stage with ease and has much more confident interactions with the audience. Her level of professionalism is also such that when she lost an earplug, it didn’t even phase her, and I soon saw the tiny thing crushed as she continued her dance upon the stage. Like Sai, her style is sometimes a bit too on the sexual side for me to emulate, but as a female, I did find more that I could relate to with the way my own body works, and hopefully took enough mental notes to find more things I could try incorporating into my own routines.

In all honesty though, once I’d taken my photos and filmed my video, I was too busy having fun rocking out. The difficult thing about attending these gigs and trying to take notes about what I learn is that I don’t get to enjoy the show quite as much. For SNVFF though, I actually know their songs, and I also somehow found myself front and centre in the audience, with no one jostling me for that prime position. You don’t just take that spot and not dance your heart out! I also found that if I headbanged in the direction of a drunk girl who kept flinging her hand in my face, she would actually back off… so now my neck still has a teeny bit of lingering pain, but it was worth it! I got the most exercise I’ve had in ages. I also find myself wanting to get dreads again, I don’t think I’ve actually headbanged without them before, so it was an odd experience, though I guess the photographers navigating around me were probably glad not to have tiny whips flying in their direction!

The Townie Has Changed!

The last thing I want to note from the night was how much the Townie has changed! I hadn’t realised they’d renovated, but the stage has now been turned 90° and expanded, giving more room for both performers and audience members. It’s great! And I’m so glad I went in to have a look, given I have two Capstone performances coming up there in May. I now have a much better idea of what to expect. I did try to take photos of the actual stage, but it was hard to get an angle with the number of people and the limits of my phone.

I also feel like the sound is working really well in there too, but it’s hard for me to say exactly how much it’s changed given I haven’t really been there since early 2016. Also, Sally has always been really great with the sound engineering, so from my experience, she’s always made the place sound as good as it can really get. The problems I’ve noticed tend to come from the performers. So yeah, I really think the Townie is a great little venue, and even better having done the renovations. I’m looking forward to performing there even more now! But I do think I’ll pop in a few more times to really get familiar with it.

Note: This blog was originally written for a class, which you can read about here at the start of the entry.

A Gig I Wish I Hadn’t Missed

On Sunday 18th, I had planned to go see Chicks With Picks in Newtown, but I was feeling unwell and had to miss it… and I am full of regret! I came across this video on Facebook of one of the performers playing cello using a loop pedal, and it’s great! Not something I’ve seen a lot a lot around here.

The other reason I wanted to go is because I’ve booked a slot to play Chicks With Picks on May 20th, as one of my Capstone* performances. I’ll also be playing the same venue on May 30th, on their open mic night, also for Capstone. So I really want to see more gigs at the Townie, and get familiar with the place again.

Lucky for me, there’s a really cool electronic/industrial event on there tomorrow… well actually tonight I guess, since it’s already past midnight…! I’m still a bit sick but starting to feel better, so hopefully I can catch the show. I also have friends in Snvff and Z(Cluster) who I haven’t seen in ages. If I time things right, I might also be able to catch one of my old music school teachers who I’ve kept in touch with, playing at another show nearby… Gosh, there’s so much on right now!

*Capstone is the name of the class for my final Master of Art project. This blog was originally written for another class, which you can read about here at the start of the entry.

Crystal Ignite, Kvlts of Vice, and Mechanical Embrace at the Bald Faced Stag, 16/3/18

This blog was written for one of my uni assignments. See my previous blog entry for details. Without further ado…

Last night I returned to the Stag, for another round of heavy, guitar-based music. My main motivation for going was to see Mechanical Embrace. A while back, they’d been thinking about getting a female singer-growler like me on to complete the band, along the lines of something like The Agonist, and so I’d met up with them to talk about possibly auditioning. Only thing was, after listening to their demos, the producer in me became convinced that what they really needed was a male vocalist.
The other thing about this band, is that when they were looking for a drummer, I immediately suggested my friend Brad, who’s previously played in… more bands than I can recall, but my favourites being the now folded Acid Nymph and Foundry Road. So being friends already with the drummer, bassist, and one of the guitarists meant I was able to get some cool insights about why they made certain choices, the most notable on the night being the use of electronic drums (which I’m still a bit dubious about, to be honest).

So it was really cool to see the evolution of this band, having followed them from such an early stage, through to tonight’s performance. It’ll be interesting to see them continue. There are of course some kinks that need ironing out, as is the case for all emerging bands finding their feet, but the foundations are pretty damn solid. I won’t go into the exact details of what they could improve, but in general the notes I took related to the handling of audio type issues, and a couple of minor points relating to confidence. Other than that, it’s a tight performance. Not even a slipped guitar strap is gonna get in the way.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to see them again in another three weeks time, alongside some other bands I was following before depression stopped me going out. It’s not a lot of time for things to change much, but it is the same venue, and I imagine familiarity with the space will help. And I mention that, because one thing I’ve noticed about the Bald Faced Stag both this time and last time, is that the bass frequencies get out of control really fast. A band like Mechanical Embrace appears to be disadvantaged by the sound of this venue, because they use a low, drop A tuning, with two growly guitars. Contrast that with the next band, Kvlts of Vice:
These guys are an entertaining bunch! They’re well rehearsed, with a good sense of humour, they rock out on stage, and even though they’re not really my style, I found their set quite enjoyable. Can we just admire this synchronised headbanging for a moment?

And of the three bands that played last night, they easily had the best sound. At first I thought the contrast might be because they had acoustic drums, which did make a big impact, but I soon realised it was probably more to do with the bass frequencies being much more under control. (Sorry that the videos don’t properly show this, my phone decided it didn’t want to record bass frequencies anymore.) Some of this would be the bassist having his amp at a more reasonable level on stage, but it also helps that he was playing what appeared to be a standard 4-string, in a genre which does not rely so heavily on the lowest string. I did notice that the guitar sounded a bit more bassy than I thought it should, but with there being only one of him, and not so downtuned, it didn’t seem to affect the sound.
Contrast that with the final band, headliners Crystal Ignite. Compared to Mechanical Embrace, these guys are more hard rock than heavy metal, so I’m pretty certain they aren’t using the super low-tuned guitars, and yet they had possibly the worst bass problems of the night. This was particularly the case for the song they played just before I had to leave, about 40mins into their set, when the bass cut out and needed a quick rejig, returning with such a vengeance that I was not upset about having to escape to the bus. But what’s most interesting to me about that incident is that in the brief moments without that bass, the mix was absolutely fantastic! Still excessively loud, even with Class 5 earplugs, but balanced almost to perfection.

And it just made me remember a lot of my previous studies both in my composition degree, and my further studies into audio engineering. I couldn’t help but wonder about which factors were contributing the most to the problems I was noticing. It’s undoubtedly going to be a combination of factors, but apart from the previously mentioned possibilities about downtuning, number of guitars, and errors with amp settings, other factors could be sound engineer issues, venue equipment problems (someone was telling me they have subs under the stage now), and even the shape of the room. The room possibility interests me a lot – it’s a very box shaped room, with a height that seems similar to the width, and if it is a bit too square shaped, that could be causing issues for standing waves. I certainly noticed that moving around the room changed my listening experience a great deal. Although the face full of bass I received when approaching the barrier was more to do with speaker and amp placement than room shape.

In any case, I guess what I’m learning/relearning here is that the venue can totally influence your sound. Because it also reminded me of when I went to see Amelia Arsenic play at Hermann’s (Sydney Uni). I’ve never been a fan of that venue, but I came to understand why when Amelia brought a guitarist on board to play with her. To be blunt, it kinda destroyed her mix for me. I still enjoyed the show, but the sound just wasn’t what it should’ve been. This was made even more obvious when Snvff played later in the night, featuring only vocals, electronics, and drums. To my surprise, their sound was flawless. And that’s when I realised that every other time I’d been there, I’d seen bands with guitars, and for whatever reason, that venue just didn’t play nicely with them. Hopefully it’s changed (or my memory of past experiences could be wrong), but I realise now that the only way I’m going to know is if I go back and see more shows there. Anywhere I plan to play a gig someday, I should go experience being in the audience, so that I know what to expect, and can hopefully learn to make the best sonic decisions to work with the space.

Back to Crystal Ignite though…
Hurrah, finally one of the bands last night had a female member! And as the front person! And she seems incredibly passionate, particularly in her rant song about the environment, though I did scratch my head over a couple of comments she made in that speech… Anyway, as excited as I am to see talented women getting up there and doing their thing in the midst of this male-dominated subculture, I can’t help but linger on a few things that bothered me, other than the bass problems.

1. As I mentioned last time, I really do feel that bands should have a bit of consistency in their on-stage outfits. Sadly, this band is lacking that. They were also less unified in their on-stage action, compared to Kvlts.

2. As event organisers, I felt they shouldn’t have kept pushing the start times back in the hopes of more people turning up (particularly given the venue is probably experiencing boycotts after the promoter scandal). Mechanical Embrace had already started 15 mins late. And then the changeover time between Kvlts and Crystal felt excessively long. Audiences don’t wanna have to stand around waiting. Indeed, I had to leave in time to get my two buses home, and by pushing back the times, I wasn’t able to enjoy as much music as I could have.

3. It was distressing to see mic cupping even outside the growlier genres where it’s an established but unfortunate stereotype. Her general mic technique was also a bit strange, pulling away on certain notes so that they disappeared into the mix. I suspect that with her incredible background as the singer of Bellusira, she may have learned that for a particular kind of stage, given they played some very big gigs when they were active. But in the comparatively smaller space of the Stag it seemed unnecessary, and at times, detrimental. She was also the only singer to seem to have a lot of feedback problems, whether that’s to do with her technique, or the mic just being far too loud.

4. It may also have had to do with her use of in ear monitors, which in this size of venue are also kinda unnecessary and another layer of things that can (and did) go wrong.

5. I was not impressed with the way they handled talking to the sound and lighting engineer. Of course, if things aren’t right, you need to say something, but don’t call the engineer “buddy” (unless you already have that relationship), try to learn their name before you go on, and don’t sound like you’re blaming them. In the case of the in ear monitors, she made it sound like it was the engineer’s fault, only to have an audience member point out that her end had become unplugged during her energetic dancing – no apology given to the engineer. Add in the calls to have an audience member take over the lights, and I was just mortified. You’ve gotta have some respect for the technical staff who are making your performance possible, no matter how big a star you think you are. Having been on both ends of this relationship, it’s one of those things that really gives me an eye twitch.

To end on a positive note, however, one thing I did like that I didn’t see other bands doing was running the end of one song into another. Sometimes you do need to pause between songs to allow for guitar tuning changes and so on, but if you can keep the flow going, it really helps to keep up the energy. That’s especially true for singers like me who are never sure what to say between songs! And it also helps stop you from having to resort to the stereotypes that get mocked in YouTube videos…

Metal Evilution at the Bald Faced Stag, 9/3/18

For one of my uni assignments, I have to attend weekly “cultural events” and blog about how they are useful for developing my own creative practice. Since I’m currently a bit disillusioned with the art world and drifting once again back to music, that means gigs! So for the next 10 weeks or so, I’ll be sharing these uni blogs with you here. I hope you find them interesting, but I also realise that they might seem a bit odd, due to the requirements I have to meet. They’re not meant to be like a proper review, rather, they’re meant to be more about me. Since I love to write ALL THE THOUGHTS down though, there will be some review-like snippets in there, if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for. So, without further ado…

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a gig. Depression really killed my desire to leave the house, and made it difficult to enjoy music anyway, so when Rainbow Death Ray went on hiatus, I mostly just stopped going out. But now that I’m well again, I can finally go out and rock! Hurrah!

Last night, I headed back to the Stag for the first time since they removed their pokie machines. The venue has recently had a bit of scandal with a shady promoter not paying bands, but I still really love the place. When I walked in, they even had some other band out by the bar, which was cool to see (and a possible opportunity to keep in mind if I wanna do a smaller gig), but I went straight through to the main auditorium to get my metal fix. I was only able to stay for the first two bands, but for my first proper night out in ages, I was plenty happy with that!


So this isn’t meant to be a review of their performance, but I have to say I was impressed. Panik’s style of metal isn’t really my thing, but they put on an enjoyable, professional show, despite the room being fairly empty as is often the case for openers at these smaller, local gigs. I really love bands that take every show seriously, no matter how small. Their onstage antics and interactions were much more entertaining than most, and their sense of humour really worked well in their stage banter.

I also took note of their presentation – they all wore white singlets and dark pants, and this sort of consistency is really quite rare in most of the bands I’ve seen in Sydney. Usually the guys will just get up there in any old band shirt, which is fine, but incredibly boring, and those bands tend to be rather forgettable. The unfortunate reality is that humans are a predominantly visual species, so it’s not always enough to just rely on the music to make an impression on fans. Panik, however, while not being extreme in their image, actually show that they’ve put some thought into how they present on stage. The fact that they’ve chosen white is also a good move in my opinion, to help differentiate them from the bands who opt for a more traditional black. It’s subtle, but sometimes the best messages are transmitted subconsciously.

One final comment I have is less about Panik and more about the experience I had while watching them as the first band of the night. The other day, my intellectually disabled brother was watching The Wiggles singing the ABC song, when they switched into sign language. Having never seen singing in Auslan before, I couldn’t help but go google it, and discovered that there have actually been concerts interpreted for the deaf, and there’s even a deaf rapper, and while deaf people can’t hear, they can feel the vibrations that come from heavy bass beats. On this last point, it turns out that heavy metal concerts have been held for the deaf with vibrating floors designed with them in mind, and while standing in the Panik audience, I can 100% understand why. Metal gigs are always incredibly noisy, beyond what’s necessary, to the point that you’d be mad to listen without the protection of ear plugs. Combine that with the driving bass and the fast-paced double kick beats, and you have a room full of rhythmic vibrations that fill your whole body. And it really does make me feel happy to know that even without hearing, people are still able to experience music.

Armoured Earth

The other band I was able to stay for was Armoured Earth from Melbourne. As far as their sound goes, they are honestly much more my style, so musically I found I enjoyed their set better, and with more people on stage, there was more to look at, even if the stage was now a bit too crowded for the types of antics that Panik engaged in. The technician running their lights also did some great work for them on a couple of their songs, helping to set the mood for the particularly dark and gnarly passages. But with these guys, I did notice a lot more little things that I was a bit less impressed with, despite the enjoyability of their music.

One of the first things I noticed was the total contrast in the band’s approach to their appearance. As mentioned before, the standard miscellaneous black band shirt stereotype is in force here, but to make things worse, the bassist confuses things by beginning the gig looking completely out of place, as if he belongs to an entirely different genre. It’s only later when he takes off the outer shirt that he begins to fit in. Having someone look different isn’t terrible in itself, but when it’s done without any apparent reason, I personally find it confusing and detrimental to the overall band image. But I was a little bit surprised to hear the vocalist actually publicly point him out as different, which brings us to some other issues…

1. This band seemed to overdo the vocals a bit. Fair enough give the guitarist a mic, his backing vocals were a great addition. But giving the drummer a wireless headset that he barely seemed to use? And while I can understand giving the frontman a wireless mic frees him up to move around more without fear of accidentally pulling the cable out (which I have done), it also gave him the idea that he should come out into the audience and sing from amongst us. This is actually really cool from an audience interaction perspective, but the audio engineer in me was incredibly nervous about feedback. Fortunately, this only occurred as the singer was returning to the stage, but I personally leaned towards disapproval, particularly since I had to turn away from the band to see him behind me, and I’m the kind of person who wants to be able to appreciate the musicians and not just their mouthpiece.

2. Speaking of feedback, it seemed to me that this singer was really unaware of microphone technology and proper technique, and it was distressing to see yet another growler covering the rear ports of the mic with his fingers. He was only a one-hand cupper, but it was enough, and I particularly noticed the problems when he switched to a singing passage, at the same time that guitarist was also singing, and the guitarist just sounded that much better.

3. The onstage banter was another problem for me. Of course I understand, big scary band, maybe they wanted that macho stereotype dickhead persona. But from making a sexual joke at an audience member’s expense, to dissing his own band members for the way they dressed, I found it harder to want to connect with the band as a result. Panik utilised humour effectively. Armoured Earth seemed to just make a mess of it, and it reminded me of some of the arrogant singers I had to work with back in music school. As a singer myself, it’s this sort of thing that I really hope I can avoid.

So yeah, as much as I found their music to be more my style, I couldn’t help but be distracted by noticing all these little things.

Closing Thoughts

I said this wasn’t meant to be a review of the performances, but since I kinda did that, I guess I’ll get to the point – how experiencing this gig has been helpful for me as a musician. And I think for this gig, the main thing for me has just been about reengaging with the live scene. As I watched the bands, it helped me recall some of the good old days back when I was gigging with Wintergaunt, and I actually do miss being in a real metal band, complete with live drums shaking the room apart. Unfortunately, I can’t currently afford to be in one of those bands, due to rehearsal and travel costs, and also a lack of time while I’m at uni. But it’s something worth thinking about for the future. At the moment I’ve mainly been working in industrial, but I think I’m always going to be wanting another piece of the heavy metal stage. And when that time comes, I guess the other key benefit of seeing this gig would be the reminder of all the do’s and don’t’s of putting on a good show.

Yup, I write a lot, but that’s all for now. Til next time. \m/