PROFILE: Andrew Denton

andrew denton profile feature, margaret tranAndrew Denton

Possibly one of the best things to tick off my list of “Things to Do in 2007”.

I interviewed Andrew Denton for a uni assignment for Creative Non-Fiction during my last semester at UTS. I really miss those days where we’d all come in and workshop our drafts, giving each other pointers as to what sounded good, what didn’t, what sentences sounded wanky.. etc.

When our lecturer first announced this assignment, I ran through my list of people I was dying to interview at the time (and still do): Cate Blanchett, Sam Worthington, Abbie Cornish (yeah, I went through an intense Somersault phase), Luke Davies, Andrew Denton.. amongst many unobtainable others like John Mayer, Ian McEwan, Benjamin Law..

I remember shooting off a quietly hopeful email to the folks at Enough Rope, not expecting a reply in less than four days. I spent days agonising over what questions to ask him, emailing back and forth between his publicist and trying to rearrange my whole uni timetable just to get about 15 minutes with him face-to-face. That didn’t eventuate, but I did manage a phone call which took place at 2SER‘s recording studio where I’d managed to sneak in whilst I was volunteering there. It was surreal hearing his voice on the other line, and I kind of broke out in invisible spasms.

By the time I finished it, I remember anxiously sending it off to various magazines and well-known publications only to be thrown tumbleweed in return. As a result, this only ended up being published in the UTS zine Vertigo last year.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written it, and I guess the reason why I’ve only just put it up now is because it’s a very important part of me as a writer. In a way, it’s kind of like a reminder that I’m capable to doing things that, if I try hard enough or simply make the call, then I can achieve it.

Anyhoo, below is it..

The meaning of life, according to Andrew Denton

There is an intriguing air about Andrew Denton when I finally see him walking down the inauspicious red carpet. Amidst the buzz and excitement at the annual Tropfest Short Film Festival, he walks leisurely, unimpeded and I sense, with a sort of calm determination to avoid the lights pooling onto the carpet. Bespectacled with a hat drawn low on his head, it does little to hide his gentle though firm presence. He reminds me of a high school science teacher, brimming with a quiet enthusiasm and equal seriousness, his shorts and socks up to his knees in his leather sandals. It is a stark contrast beside his tall and glamourous wife, Jennifer Byrne, resplendent in her purple silk dress and requisite heels.

Minders push him towards more well known members of the media scrum, Angela Bishop, Richard Wilkins, the usual suspects. He is patient as he calmly answers their questions, moving along the barrier as other reporters hurriedly try to finish their other red carpet vox pops to perhaps grab a word or syllable with him. Andrew is moving closer toward my part of the barrier and my heart beats faster, anxious and a realisation that I have a most profound urge to pee.

“Andrew! Hi-I’m-Margaret-from-Radio-2SER-could-I-speak-with-you-for-a-few-seconds?”

The words spill rapidly from my mouth like water from the walls of a weak dam. Andrew looks at me, a smile forming on his mouth and in his eyes.

“Hello Margaret. How are you?”

I am immediately taken aback by how short he is. It is ironically intimidating despite the extra seven centimetres I appear to have on him with my thongs. We engage seamlessly in conversation as I rattle out my three short questions. Camera crews from other networks and the event itself surround me, their lens pushed carelessly toward him. We are interrupted suddenly by two of the Chaser boys and I find myself completely gob smacked as Andrew Denton begins scolding them.

“Craig Reucassel, you can’t just jump in. This is 2SER’s interview. Excuse me…”

He turns his back to the Chaser boys, facing me.

“I’m not going to talk to the high profile media while I’m talking to you,”
Andrew Denton is defending me.

“Yes I’m sure, absolutely. I’ve worked with these men and they’re disgraceful, and quite frankly they should be ashamed of themselves.”


Much like that afternoon, I am still filled with a similar trepidation and excitement before our scheduled conversation. Despite having spoken to him before, I am still plagued by the thought of interviewing a man who has made a living out of interviewing others.

When he answers the phone, I imagine him sitting in his office at the ABC, or something of the like, riffling through some research for the program that some would say has come to define him.

“Well, you know, you can’t really control what other people think of you as. I’m just a guy going through life and in my career.”

I sense that he seems a little irked by this idea of him becoming a brand. Everything else he has done previous to Enough Rope, he has only done for a few years. He comes off as one of those personalities who appear every now and then, experimenting in the different genres of entertainment. With his unquestionable talent in interviewing, you can’t help but get the sense that it is because of Andrew’s almost zealous dedication to the conceptual aspect of Enough Rope that has audiences defining him as such.

“I think in people’s minds, it’s become a fixed point and that might lead to the perception of being a brand. I don’t think of myself as being a brand. I just think of myself as who I am.”

“I just think that it’s a mistake to be fixed on what other people think of you.”

Born on May 4 in 1960 to a “lapsed Catholic” mother Le and an atheist father, the writer Kit Denton, Andrew’s childhood was littered with somewhat conflicted teachings. He attended a Jewish kindergarten, a Catholic primary school, and a Church of England high school. In fact, he won divinity prizes and more or less had a thoroughly religious education. Ultimately, it seems none of this has had any effect on his current outlook, his response a firm ‘No’ when I ask whether he is religious man.

“I guess you’d say a political level, I’m deeply suspicious of and in many cases, angered by the way in which organised religion is used for political ends.”

It is a curious self-assessment. Considering his directorial work with the documentary ‘God On My Side’, where Andrew went on a pilgrimage to understand the semiotics behind the recent movement of ‘evangelical Christians’ and religious bigotry, it is fairly easy to understand where he is coming from.

“I simply don’t feel a sense of a presence in the universe that could be construed as God. I don’t necessarily think that’s the right answer but that’s the truth for me.”

This mentality, however, won’t be affecting the way he raises his son. Andrew is a believer in the enlightenment that reading offers, and it appears it was due to this belief which spurred his son to question the meaning of life at the convenient hour of 8AM.

“My instinct was to say ‘Ask your mother’ but then I thought, ‘Nope’ and so I said, ‘You know what, that’s a really good question and people have spent all their lives searching for the answer and for some people the meaning of life is God and for other people that’s not a good enough answer. And I don’t know what the answer is, but if you ever find out, please let me know. But keep looking, it’s a great question.’”

After obtaining his communications degree from Charles Sturt University (formerly Mitchell College) in three years instead of the recommended four, Andrew took the path of writing, a direct influence it seems from his father. He attended an Australian Writers’ Guild workshop in Katoomba, before discovering his love and natural talent for Theatresports. From here, the only way seemed to be up as he began writing for 2MMM as Andrew the Boy Genius, before being launched into the television limelight on a new freeform ABC program Blah, Blah, Blah in 1988. Those who work with him and all those who know him describe him as quite the perfectionist.

“Well I’ll paraphrase Tom Gleisner from Working Dog, who was accused in an interview as being a control freak, and his response which I think is a great one, was ‘In what way is that an insult?’”

He laughs. “I think everyone should be striving for the best that they can do, isn’t that logical?”

I feel prompted to justify my question. I feel most uneasy by the challenge, but ask him whether he would also agree to the idea that people can also learn from their mistakes and that sometimes the best things that people realise about themselves stem from such errors.

“Absolutely, absolutely. And I’m a great believer in taking risks for that very reason. Yes, I couldn’t agree with that preposition more.”

There is thoughtful silence before Andrew speaks again.

“What I’ve always found in my career is that almost inevitably when you think you’re on top of something, that’s usually when you fall flat on your face and it’s funny how often you have to relearn those lessons.”

I know that we are nearing the end of our interview so I ask him what sort of mark he hoped to leave on the world. He doesn’t hesitate.

“A small oil stain.”

There is a trace of bitterness and almost self-deprecating tone in his voice, despite its surety. I start to wonder at what stage he began to understand his place in the world.

“You know I always find this concept of a ‘mid-life crisis’ to be as though it’s something that’s really bad. It’s a bit peculiar. If you haven’t gotten halfway through your life and had a bit of crisis about it, I think you’re missing the point.”

There is the thoughtful silence once again, and I begin to understand why some of his peers describe him on taping days tending ‘to disappear inside himself, focusing his energies on the task ahead’. He is a formidable character despite his calm and measured appearance.

“You know, life’s a tricky thing. It’s turbulent. It changes while it’s difficult, and it should be embraced, and I really admire anyone that changes.”

It seems that this is what makes Andrew the person that he is, one who is startling observant and philosophical in his approach in the world. Interestingly enough however, it was research about a ‘living library’ in Malmö, Sweden, where “you don’t just borrow books, you borrow human beings for an hour and talk to them about their lives”, which provided him with one his favourite insights in the world.

“One of the people was a transvestite who all his life had felt a need to dress in women’s clothing and he said a beautiful thing which has become one of the sayings in our household. Just this pretty little piece of wisdom and that was ‘Be yourself, because everybody else is taken’.”

REVIEW: Frankie is an old lady with cats

I’ve been a staunch supporter of Frankie ever since I discovered its gorgeous pages wayy back in first year of uni. Since then, I’ve developed a Will-and-Grace like attraction for intellectual gay men (Benjamin Law) and angry whip-smart anger (Mia Timpano). I have also perfected the art of byline stalking.

Frankie’s been the source and comfort of my inspiration for a very long time, which is why I was decidedly wary when Jo Walker took over from Louise Bannister as editor. I’ve liked Jo’s writings and contributions to Frankie. But “change is one thing I don’t mind” was Frankie’s original slogan, and being the devoted supporter I was, I thought things would be the same but better – if that makes sense.

But no, Frankie is no longer the person you see at parties and gigs every now and then nor is s/he is the only one there wearing flannel or Wayfarers. S/he is still well-spoken and seems to know everyone there, but no one really knows him/her. S/he is the friend you don’t see or talk to as often as you’d like, but when you do, come out feeling inspired and that little bit more intelligent, and your existential crisis is thrown out the window. But s/he is no longer traipsing around the world pondering the little quirks and embracing the idiosyncrasies and nuances that make life what it is. Instead, she is home with her numerous cats, flouncing over her miniature teacups and wearing more holes than usual into her crochet shrug.

Anyhoo – courtesy of my magazine addiction and hapless reading of blogs, I drummed up this review for the latest issue of Frankie for Girl With A Satchel. Erica Bartle used to be deputy editor of Girlfriend magazine (where I interned for a few months) until she moved to QLD. We only became internet buddies through her magazine blog – reading it helps me monitor the financial woes of my magazine expenses.

The review is below, but do click on Erica’s blog for a much better presentation. Thanks muchly, Erica! =)


Frankie Nostalgia

My love affair with Frankie began way back in its sophomore issue in late 2004. Dubbed the “In-The-Moment” issue, I was struck by the model’s big blue eyes – confronting yet intriguing at the same time. It contrasted with the refreshing stories on real people and balanced out by the raw idealism shared by the musicians and actors gracing the pages in between. The best part was the tagline: “change is one thing I don’t mind”, something which seemed to play in very well with my starting uni at the time. Twenty issues later, and I’m still a strong supporter of the stunningly-produced publication. However, these days I’m beginning to suspect perhaps I’m beginning to grow out of my beautiful friend (or s/he is outgrowing me), which makes me a wee bit sad.

I opened this bi-monthly with a little trepidation, despite the sleepy eyes that glanced from the cover. My initial confusion with the first “do-it-yourself sock cat” in issue 21 developed into a quiet fear as the crafty bits popped up with each subsequent issue. I’m beginning to suspect that Frankie is regressing into old lady-isms with their mini-knitting manuals and domestic tendencies. The cat count for this issue amounts to eight (not including ads). Many of said cats feature in the fashion shoot where simple jersey tops are thrown together with delicate and oh-so-comfy knits, complete with a feel-good RSPCA endorsement. The “Denim Fancier’s Society” had me salivating over the jeans, not so much over the photography. I’ve definitely seen Frankie do much better – she’s better and brighter than the slouching on display.

In Frank Bits, I got excited and giggly over The Kooks, and oh my goodness, how scrumptious does Gena Rosenberg’s felt strawberry-iced donut brooch look on p. 21? These quirky bits are breathes of fresh air amongst the many musty shawls worn across my friend’s shoulders these days. The celeb-factor is covered by a streamlined profile on songstress Duffy by Andy Welch, and party tips by the dance-happy electro duo The Presets, complete with Julian Hamilton brandishing shiny disco ball.

Masculinity comes under the microscope as Josh Phillips contemplates the pretentious nature of “buying a shelf” as opposed to building one, while Benjamin Law reaffirms his perfect brand of pondering by assessing the “hugging dilemma” – “it’s like we’re animals meeting for the first time in a David Attenborough documentary”. I, myself, have always been privy to the hug – I tend to save them for special occasions, though a cute stranger hug in my mind never goes astray. Justin Heazlewood picks a bone with bloggers, while Camille Hayton’s Babysitters’ Club pilgrimage got me really nostalgic (Claudia and Dawn was my favourite sitters, closely followed by Mary Anne).

The writers’ rant is often my favourite part of the magazine, and this issue’s question, “Am I a Stereotype?” really got me thinking. Edmund Burke talks of searching for leprechauns, Mia Timpano reminisces about her ‘wog’ family, while Andrew Mueller ponders Australians’ determination to live down to London’s grimmest expectations of us. But Benjamin Law (squeal), whose own experiences include distancing himself from Asian tourists so as not to appear in the same camp as them, offers the real insight into stereotypes: “No-one can be a stereotype in an of themselves. That’s actually someone else’s judgement call to make, and usually those people are cliché’s themselves.” It’s eye-opening to see the internalised judgements we often make of not only others, but of ourselves whenever we see someone on the street or meet people travelling.

Meeting people with same name as your idols must be a surreal experience, but being ‘Jane Austen’, ‘James Dean’ or ‘Jackie Chan’ must make life even more bizarre. ‘James Dean’ did not lose the grim irony over his experience at 110 kilometres per hour on an open road where he “pranged” his car – but such irony may not have occurred at all considering his parents were expecting a girl. And I love how ‘Jackie Chan’ reckons the man in question ought to get back to his roots; she reckons, “He just needs to leave Hollywood… all he needs is one movie – one old-style movie – to redefine him.” I have to say, I concur, and it seems that Frankie agrees with this philosophy in a difference way. Those homely elements have come back to haunt me as the felt ladybug casts its yellow-stitched eyes onto me. Am I meant to be traipsing around pondering the quirks and chasing the dreams of the world? Or stick to what are apparently the simple things in life like pin cushion ladybeetles? While I’m all for appreciating my nest like the ladies photographed in their homes are doing on p. 34 (and absorbing the excellent roast pork on p. 112), I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something here.

I think my lovely friend could be diagnosed with a minor case of “Russh-itis”, where the carrier suffers a perpetual nostalgia to the old days where things were either brash or simpler (the advertisement for the Gumby DVD on p. 117 seems to reaffirm that). Once upon a time, my friend spread her knowledge over the world with bright-eyed enthusiasm, charming those in her wake. But like most people after a long soul-searching holiday, I think s/he had a hankering for some downtime at home. And while a familiar change is all good and comfortable, I hope s/he’ll continue this journey with me again soon and won’t stay home for too long.

Op-Ed: I’m A Fanfiction Elitist

And so my descent (ahem, ASCENT) into Geekdom continues: am addicted to fan fiction. I mean seriously, where else can one revel in the fantastical construction of your favourite characters and other people’s rather deplorable imaginations of said characters?

This is something I submitted to issue 2.2 of the zine Nerds Gone Wild! (founded by the inaugural Mia Timpano). I still haven’t heard a response from her or her associate editor, but my byline stalking still ensues – she’s published in this bi-month’s Russh and of course, Frankie.

One day I will have a proper WordPress blog/journal thingo site where I properly and coherently dump all my writings. Until I find someone who is actually WordPress-literate, I will continue to flounder here on Blogger – not that it’s all bad, it’s just that updating it takes about the same amount of time for a sloth to decide whether or not it needs to sneeze.



I’m a FanFiction Elitist

I blame the combination of Buffy’s vampiric duties with Irvine Kinneas’ wily pixellated ways for my habit. Seven years later and I’m a potential addict, devoting at least three hours a day sitting on FFN (Fanfiction.Net for you fan fiction n00bs) and apparently brimming with elitist wankerism. Just because I believe Mary Sues should die a slower death than the soap opera plotline of an Orphen fic I read recently, doth not maketh an elitist. And what is elitist wankerism when you’re a writer and appreciator of writing in equal parts?

My perchance for fan fiction wasn’t always like this. I exhausted my catalogue of Buffy and Angel videos around the same time I discovered the internet. So in between painstakingly taping episodes off the TV without commercials over approximately 17 tapes, I satisfied my obsession online at FFN inhaling the stories on offer with the fervency of a junkie on crack. Dial-up connections and 56mb RAM were no obstacle compared to Joss Whedon’s lag between seasons. It was around this time that Final Fantasy VII came out, and after sobbing out my eyeballs in a dark corner over Aeris’ demise, it was back to FFN to see what the equally emotional masses had drummed up in their fantastical imagined worlds – most of which consisted of melodramatic plotlines of Aeris’ and Cloud’s wedding, their subsequent children, catfights between Aeris and Tifa, and enough slash to make my 12-year-old self become a mild frigid for a few years.

It was during one particular late night binge that I realised my R&R’s were approaching the lengths of a progressively horrible franchise starting with “power” and ending with “rangers”. A perusal of my recent reviews to a writer, who utilised my new favourite vampires in her stories, found numerous mentions of “you’re getting completely OOC with him to the point where it’s unrealistic” and “there is no way he would attack Bella with the hormonal implosions of a 14-year-old”, as well as, “how the hell can you go from this scene to the next without giving proper explanation to your villains’ actions from previous chapters?!! READ THE BOOK FOR FUCK’S SAKE!”. And let’s not start with my increasingly apparent anal retentivity regarding Mary Sues, grammar, punctuation, and that fact that the main character is a bloody vampire (no pun intended), and therefore not human, for a reason.

One thing I’d like to get straight: I am not a troll or flamer, though I may attract similar examples of such. I am persnickety with characterisation and fluidity of voice because I want these stories to get better – to make these storylines believable, it’s all in the mannerisms. I don’t do it because I have an inferiority complex or because my only friends are online, and therefore that is where I gain my self-esteem – for fuck’s sake, not all nerds are socially inept in the ‘real world’.

The whole point of fan-fiction is to take these characters that you love so purely and allow them to help you become better writers and creative magicians, and in doing so, help you and others fill the void. You do not add a disclaimer at the beginning of your chapters only to violate the characters you’ve come to adore more than your limited edition Spike Season Two action figure. OOC characterisations and side stories with minor characters are doable, so long as they’re believable. OOC for major characters should be outlawed and punishable by repeated viewings of Batman and Robin via the Ludovico technique.

So if you ever decide to write fan fiction, do keep in mind that characters are not there to be exploited into dialogue that fails to breach the realms of conversation between two Pokémon. Nor are they there to cavort in a highly sexualised fashion with a randomly inserted character of your own imagination. FFN will tell you to ‘unleash your imagination’, but I urge you to think twice about what my imagination is capable of should you decide to write lemon between two male pilots from NERV just because you saw Shinji Ikari speak to them before an Angel mission in episode 15. Yes, caps lock does not fully express your otaku joy, but my keyboard will express my own kind of ‘joy’ over your nauseating attempt at yaoi.

Some FF terminology:

Beta: a fanfic writer’s editor, often arranged through a shared appreciation for a particular series, show etc.
OOC: out-of-character a.k.a the fine line between fanfic escapism and downright debauchery of the original text.
R&R: read and review
WIP: work-in-progress
B/A: Buffy/Angel-centric fic, or any other two characters depending on the series. Forward slash may also be substituted with an ‘x’.
R&R: Read and review; often used by those on FFN
Slash: male/male relationships in fanfiction. Common examples include Kirk and Spock, Harry and Snape. Recently, the term ‘slash’ has been used to describe any type of erotic fanfiction, regardless of sexuality.
Lemon: fanfiction containing sexually explicit content – ‘lime’ refers to mildly sexual content
Yaoi: publishing genre which focuses on male/male relationships and is marketed at females, originally from Japan, stemming from manga.
Yuri: as above but focusing on female/female relationships

St Jerome’s Laneway Festival (02.03.08)

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feist

So I went to what will hopefully be my last gig for a long time on Sunday (I seriously need rehab for my full-blown gig addiction) – St Jerome’s Laneway Festival was splendid! There should be more micro-gigs in Australia where independent and unsigned bands are given its own prime space for the year. That said, there have been a rather ridiculous amount of festivals coming through in recent years: Future Music, Parklife, Good Vibrations, V Festival, and that’s all on top of the annual Big Day Out, Homebake, and inaugural Splendour In The Grass (for which tickets are freakin’ impossible to get!). It seems that jmag got it right with their latest issue – “electro is killing pub gigs”.

But it’s not just electro – music itself seems to be moving in the digital direction, as downloads of both the illegal and legal kind taking its toll on CD and record sales, thereby significantly reducing the average income for musos. So really, what choice do they have other than to tour, and tour often. Not that I’m complaining – the microbyted quality of an mp3 is nothing compared to the atmosphere at a live gig. And what better way to sample all of this mind-blowing music than via a festival. The only thing you have to worry about is time clashes like Gotye being on at the same time as The Presets and The Brunettes, or Broken Social Scene being on at the same time as Dan Deacon – clashes of which I fiercely shake my fist to.

Anyhoo, below is a gig review I drummed up for Sunday’s glorious event. I submitted it to FasterLouder, but it didn’t get published because the editor of The Brag (Elmo Keep) got in first. Grrr..

Photos are on my Facebook by the way! And there are a gazillion if you look them up on Flickr.


St Jerome’s Laneway Festival

Circular Quay, Sydney


With the onslaught of music festivals in recent years, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is a little ray of sunshine in a darkened alley of otherwise mind-numbing genres. Indeed, the clouds threatened a downpour as punters rocked up in their decidedly individualist garb – flannel shirts and wayfarer sunnies in equal parts please.

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feistThe Basics
But no matter, the sun proved its staying power and was cheerfully helped along by the power pop sounds of a suit-wearing trio. Performing to a handful of early Sunday morning risers on the stage closest to the entrance, The Basics gave a charmingly observed set as the first act of the day. Wally de Backer, a.k.a. Gotye sat hidden in the back, possibly to give his long time band mates Tim Heath and Kris Schroeder some time in the spotlight. Despite their shining tunes, it was clear that Wally quietly outshone his crew with his stunning vocals and mild drummer gymnastics, the drum kit left shaking from his beats.

Ghostwood have been playing the live scene for a good 18 months, and their punk rock drawl often brings a fairly strong crowd to their shows, curious onlookers included. That said, they did little to maximise the laneway space of Reiby Place to their potential and left a promising sound quite unfulfilled. On a similar plane, there followed The Devastations who unfurled their own brand of moody rock to a politely intrigued crowd. Unfortunately, I wasn’t intrigued enough so it was back to the Park Stage for some swing dancing via Little Red.

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feistLittle Red

The Melbourne boys of Little Red continued the do-wopping trend set by The Basics as they filled the canopied area with sweet tunes of holding hands and monogamous relationships. With the joyous fizzy dream of an ice cream soda, their marriage of The Kinks ’ pop-rocks and Beach Boys groove sent a growing crowd to partake in their own brand of toe-tapping, though their rock star swagger and throbbing bass lines provided a curious sexual lining to their otherwise innocent personas.

Indeed, the Laneway Festival provides a platform for new and upcoming bands to strut their stuff to a smorgasboard of indie enthusiasts where music tastes are as diverse as they are intriguing. Perhaps the most curiosity-driven crowd arrived when Manchester Orchestra took the Reiby Place stage, and with a name as poetic as that, one almost expects a string ensemble to join their otherwise tempered rock. With vocals reminiscent of Placebo, Manchester Orchestra gave Sydney a solid performance to their music on the back of their, ahem, virgin record, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. The crowd threw appreciative applause as lead singer Andy Hull bestowed his pleasantries on them to see his band.

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feistThe Panics

From there, this reviewer inched back towards the Park Stage with sausage and notepad in tow to witness emerging Australian darlings The Panics. The sheer volume of the crowd became apparent as the path to the front barrier was quickly obstructed by devoted fans sitting put and staking their claim to the popular stage. The Panics are quickly becoming infused into the Australian music psyche, not unlike the lads of You Am I. With a third album firmly latched under their well-worn belts, The Panics launched into the oh-so-familiar tracks from A House on a Street in a Town I’m From, and Sleeps Like A Curse. A faulty keyboard threw off their performance with a “ghostly” jarring to their otherwise melodramatic blend of rock and psychedelia. As the stage crew attempted to replace the keyboard with what sounded like a second faulty one, lead singer Jae Laffer unleashed a torrent of F-bombs, a testimony to his admission that he doesn’t “work well under stress”. But worry not, for all was forgotten as guitarist Julian Douglas led an arm waving of support as the familiar opening chords of Don’t Fight It filled our ears. Technical glitches cut the set short, but the adoring crowd really couldn’t give a flying fuck – pleasing is as pleasing does.

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feistStars

Soon after, Stars blended dreamy pop tunes with the ever-melodious Torquil Campbell. The trees lining the area provided a fitting atmosphere for the stronghold of fans – one girl sang along word perfect to each and every one of their musical offerings. Amy Millan stuck a decided brash rock chick persona, her part balanced by Torquil’s exuberant singing and clapping – an action that’s seemingly become a crucial part of indie pop. Indeed, the fun was just beginning as Torquil introduced a song about “fucking someone to death” with a well-observed Australian accent, providing a violently prosaic tinge to their set with One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead).

A last minute change and clash to the timetable meant there was no way I was forgoing the next band for Dan Deacon, no matter how amazing people say he is. Kevin Drew emerged with the ever-expansive Broken Social Scene. To say that this band is a supergroup is a profound understatement. There is definitely something brewing in those Canadian waters – the sheer quality of musicians coming out of that place over the past few years is mind-blowing, and Broken Social Scene are no exception. If you thought their gorgeous layers of orchestral joy and guitar noise was splendid on CD, then seeing them play it live is like a whole new revelation.

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feist

Opening to the chorus of audience anticipation, the band dallied across the stage, their fingers articulated in concentration. Stars And Sons provided the first high of the set as Leslie Feist , Stars, and a slew of other members clapped their way into the hearts of an already adoring crowd before skipping off to the sidelines, their figures still visibly dancing. 7/4 (Shoreline) was another highlight as Feist gave us another reason to love her wily ways amidst the stunning cacophony of brass-wielding members. Torquil came out with his trumpet and a nod to his own Australian idol via his emblazoned t-shirt – “I Miss Grant McLennan” – as the air practically hummed with euphoria.

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feist

Part Three of the Broken Social Scene takeover of Sydney came as Leslie Feist took the stage for her solo act leaving Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to puncture her ballads and iPod passengers from the Reiby Place stage with their stellar guitar. That said, Ms Feist radiated powerful Joni Mitchell vibes as she came on stage soon after sunset with her lantern. So interchangeable she seemed that the blues guitar of Janis Joplin, the soft lilting voice of Jane Birkin, and even the brash persona of Stevie Nicks came soaring through her performances. Feist cruised through most of her latest album, jarring the spaces between songs with the odd “fuck you” to the doof-doof sounds of neighbouring stages.

st jerome's laneway festival 2008, broken social scene, little red, margaret tran st jerome's laneway festival sydney 2008 review, vasco era, manchester orchestra, gotye, bridezilla, devastations, the panics review, stars sydney 2008 laneway festival, feist broken social scene, kevin drew feist, the presets gig review

The Presets

But enough Canadian joy for tonight, as a handful of punters shuffled back to Reiby Place to catch The Presets last performance before their stint in the UK. I would’ve liked to have seen The Brunettes, but the Basement was decidedly out of bounds having reached full capacity about 3 hours previously. That said, a night with The Presets is a guaranteed night well-spent as the electro duo shot through their tracks with the precision of a dance sniper – so compelling were their beats that one really had no option but to dance. Are You The One? and My People proved the biggest hits of the night as the crowd sent St Jerome’s off to the musical ether for another year.

As the dispersing crowd headed for the exit, Gotye finished up at the Park Stage with the closing sounds of Night Drive. And so it was with the rising chorus and sheer joy of his mantra Learnalilgivinanlovin ’ that this punter headed home with gleefully imploding back muscles and a day’s worth of aural splendour.

University Observations (Rant)

This particular submission was for the first issue of UTS’ student zine Vertigo for 2008. Unfortunately it didn’t get past the editors, but whatevs – I like it anyway. The basic premise was an introduction to UTS for new students into the quirks and nuances of tertiary education. Obviously there is a fairly strong Frankie-vibe to it, but I am trying to find my ‘unique writing voice’.

I hate how speaking in abbreviations has permeated into my everyday vernacular. CBF throwing abuse at brain fart that is The Hills. Bastards.


Things You May Discover Once You Begin University

Aloha. Welcome. Now take it easy, and calm the fuck down. Please refrain from hyperventilating into a sad puddle of Ksubi jeans and cardigan cool, because more people will be laughing at you than sympathise the death of your arty pose. Chances are, these would’ve been some of the few intriguing things you’ll have discovered when you stepped foot into this architectural phallus known as UTS (it’s really not that bad). Such it is that some of these observations have been especially compiled for you complete with sub-headings and bullet points (because everyone loves a numbered article):

1. The girl-to-guy ratio is 5 to 1, at least if you’re studying Humanities. A dire situation for those in search of the requisite uni significant other (an epidemic likely to sprout amongst your school friends because look! Fresh meat!). A fair proportion of these guys will either be really, really, ridiculously good-looking, ridiculously intelligent and thus, unavailable, or good-looking, intelligent, and gay. Insert sob here. Mating choices for the straight boys will be considerably wider, in which case I’d suggest you learn to differentiate between the visually pleasing and the intellectually pleasing. In actual fact however, there isn’t really that much of a human smorgasbord to feast upon. But before this sub-heading descends into more disturbing depths, consider the possibility that you may be cavorting with the same sorts of people you’d find at your high school, just meshed together differently and at times, sartorially better. That said, should you truly find a significant other more significant than you originally thought, then kudos to you!

2. Last-minute essays are the way of the future. Most likely you will begin the semester with an overzealous approach to completing assignments weeks before they are due and earn the most votes for “Most Punctual” on Facebook – I did (am such a rebel). However, come end of semester you will be likely to descend into the pits of procrastination limbo, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself becoming one with one of the many computers at the library and twiddling your thumbs approximately 27 minutes before the assignment is due. That, and you’ll have noticed the fact that Market City is just across the road! Resistance is futile.

3. Lemons solve everything. A fruit, a core vitamin, and more multi-purpose than your average multi-purpose cleaner (including the pink grapefruit kind). This will be all you need if you’ve just moved out of home for the first time because chances are you’ll be witness to both you and your housemates’ free dump policy of the food, drink, and bodily variety. Sometimes at the same, but in different rooms or out different windows. Regardless, cleaning will be the norm. Lemons are the Swiss Army Knife of fruit because they can do everything – imported beer garnish, salad dressing extraordinaire, trusty cleaning agent. Dilution will ruin its impact, so apply to sticky, stainy surfaces raw and sliced in quarters. Add baking soda to toughen up the old geezer. Marvel. Or sue Vertigo for giving you shitty cleaning tips.

4. The Clare is your second home. Friday night drinks are normal from about week one. Most likely you’ll start off at The Loft for their excellent Happy Hours, but for a more rounded (albeit mild) overview of the university nightlife, leg it across Parramatta Road to The Clare where its vintage charm envelopes you with dumpy, comfy couches and endearingly sticky tiled walls. Home to many a drunken Engineering (and Humanities) student, this pub will hold a special place in your heart once you’ve left and graduated from your 10-year degree. It will be the place to go when you’ve finished classes on Friday (or Monday, whatever), and also the place to go when you’ve failed classes. Pat your liver as it gives a woozy smile when your alcohol tolerance rises considerably. Or not, if you balk at the mere scent of Vodka and all you drink is a fizzy concoction commonly known as lemonade. Hello designated driver.

5. All your newly discovered friends will disappear after the first week or two. So make an effort and get their contact details now to avoid despair. Or you could always stalk them on Facebook.
You play nice now, kiddies!

Explosions In The Sky (15.02.08)

explosions in the sky gig review margaret tran
I’ve always been a fan of Explosions In The Sky ever since my Last.FM player pulled them up during my early aural experiments. Being a fan of Mogwai and Sigur Rós, Explosions was right up my alley. That said, seeing them live is a whole new experience.. Intense only barely begins to describe the atmosphere of the place.

And it seems that University of Sydney’s Manning Bar is fast becoming a formidable venue in the Sydney live scene. February was without a doubt chockers with indie’s finest: Stars, Broken Social Scene, Beirut, Okkervil River, but to name a few.

explosions in the sky gig review margaret tranBroken Social Scene
Freakin’ glorious

Anyhoo, below is the gig review I did for FasterLouder. I personally think I come off as a pretentious wanker, but it’s still fairly readable. Those prog-rock/soundscapes stuff that extreme artsy types listen to can be a hit-and-miss for me sometimes..


Explosions In The Sky
Manning Bar, Sydney
15 February 2008

By expertly balancing the tender tones of Sigur Rós with My Bloody Valentine ’s sadistic brutalities, Explosions In The Sky set an obscenely high bar of expectation for the night. Their late starting time of 10.45PM and requisite support acts only served to heightened the buzz surrounding their maiden performance on our shores.

Wollongong band Ohana meandered onto the stage and unleashed a disjointed mesh of guitars and jagged wails. Indeed they seemed to aim for the punk end of this dizzying prog-rock spectrum, but lacked the energy or presence to really pull it off. The crowd threw appreciative applause, but the band struck an, at times, clichéd chord that did little to stir the senses for this reviewer.

Eluvium on the other hand, was a welcome entrée to the main event as Matthew Cooper shuffled into position. It was a varied and breathtaking experience of soundscapes punctured with conjured images of warfare and its proceeding funeral procession, the sombre piano a testimony to his years of childhood lessons. Being a one-man-band, there was the immediate difficulty in translating the lush layers of sound into a live experience. He alternated between crouching over his DAT players and crouching over his piano, a feat only forgivable by his superb compositions.

Another half hour wait preceded the main event as the crowd ambled closer to the stage. Plastic cups began to litter the carpeted floor of the university hangout, and there was a distinct buzz in the air, heavy with anticipation for the Texan aural artists. Then at last, they arrived, grins apparent on their faces above the roar of applause as they settled into position. After the announcement of the very recent birth of a friend’s baby by guitarist Munaf Rayani, a harrowing explosion (for lack of a better word) of distorted guitar by Michael James opened the set, assaulting the eardrums of those who happened to be nearest to the speakers.

Then came the soft, lilting notes that define the light and shade masterpiece that is Explosions In The Sky. Being so used to seeing microphones follow musicians like an organ extension, one becomes acutely aware that here is a band who let the music do the talking for them. Taking most of the setlist from the records The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place and the popular All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, the band have the outrageously exacting skill of taking you on an almost cathartic journey. Never mind that you might know the songs all by heart, they somehow meld the tracks into one so that it’s impossible to tell which way you’re going to be thrown next. Many punters were standing completely still, their eyes closed in an act of utter submission, allowing their bodies to flow from the proverbial quiet stream into the violent and suffocating ocean.

There are few words that can describe the intensity of experiencing the music live. You get the impression that something terrible is going to happen, and sure enough, it does, its coming obliterating everything in its path. Indeed, some people had to leave the space for a moment or move further away from the stage in a bid to regulate the music. The textured synthesised sounds and the weeping guitars were not done justice by the sound at Manning Bar, the walls of the place threatening to peel away to accommodate. Amazingly, there were a few people talking during the James’ quietly nuanced guitar, but they too were silenced into obedience by the white noise of Mark Smith’s pounding bassline and Rayani’s satanic tones, as he swayed around like a man possessed.

Despite the absence of the beautiful Your Hand In Mine and First Breath After Coma, the band delivered a set worthy if not better than their overused Mogwai comparisons, and leaves this reviewer needing a few days to recover from it all.

gig review: José González

I am stupid behind my usual deadline with this gig review on José González – I usually get it done the morning after the gig. By the way, he was stunning, love love love. But I took a critic perspective with this review. I paid for my ticket, but have since signed on as a contributor for at FasterLouder (about freakin’ time, I know). Hopefully it’ll pass through the editors.. *twiddles thumbs*

I still have a Daft Punk review I’ve been meaning to finish, but let’s face it – how the fuck do you put the Daft Punk experience into words? I was hoping to pitch it Rolling Stone, who’ve since gotten a new editor – HURRAH! No more being freakishly terrified of Simon Wooldridge =D


José González @ Enmore Theatre, 29.12.07
Support: Emily Barker

José González really loves Australia. His recent Enmore gig was his fourth visit to our sweltering shores in just under as many years. Commanding a quietly formidable presence at Newtown’s Enmore Theatre, the artist riffled through his library of finger-plucking tracks with requisite covers thrown into the mix. Indeed there is just something about the Enmore Theatre that keeps musos coming back, and González was no exception, transforming the at times vast space into an intimate mute-lit lounge.

Support Emily Barker turned over a pleasing set with her folk-slash-alternate-country melodies. Dixie Chicks comparisons aside, she found her place between a melancholic Sarah McLachlan and the trace of Stevie Nicks. Indeed, one might even find the strength and clarity of Martha Wainwright if listened hard enough. Barker’s voice is quite an aural gem to behold, as she attracted some appreciative applause from the small crowd who bothered to turn up early.

A rather long 45-minute wait finally saw the Argentinean-cum-Swede stroll onto the stage with his rapidly expanding afro and mo’. A hush descended the murmuring crowd as he opened the show with a powerful rendition of Hints. Fingers moved across the strings like water, hypnotising to those lucky few at the front as we were treated to a humbling instrumental number before crowd pleaser Heartbeats took the show to the first of many highlights of the night.

Percussionist Erik Bodin and back-up vocalist Yukimi Nagamo joined him on stage for Stay In The Shade, before the crowd threw adoration at a less-than-perfect In Our Nature. Indeed, while the song-writing from the In Our Nature record is a lot more adventurous, its surety was not as easily obtained when translated to a live performance. Interspersing a lukewarm Time To Send Someone Away with a haunting rendition of Lovestain merely served to point out exactly in what made Veneer so exquisite. The atmosphere of this song brought the show to a soaring crescendo as we were treated to a more bitter side to the otherwise quiet González. Soonafter, Remain took this fever to a higher octave before a simmering and almost groovy Down The Line.

A change possibly spurred by his growing popularity, the venue was divided into two dancefloors, a move that did little to benefit González’s otherwise mesmerising performance. The presence that he drove on stage is one of drawn out subtlety and climactic in its execution, an impact lost on some of his newer fans. It seemed that the simplicity of his songs found many punters shuffling from sore lower backs, and made the theatre appear cavernous at times. A shame to be sure considering the lush melodies mused with his soft vocal tones; he spent much of the night hunched over his classical guitar, the odd ‘thank you’ thrown to the crowd here and there in between his aurally pleasing twangs and picks.

With such a lack of showmanship, you become acutely aware González’ complacency with his growing popularity and perchance for the stunning covers he puts in place of his otherwise excellent song-writing, which is on par with the likes of Elliot Smith and of course, Nick Drake. The encore proved such brilliance with Deadweight on Velveteen and Crosses before a lack-lustre Abram from his second album. The softly melancholic Kylie Minogue cover aside, it was apparent that the night belonged to one song. A devastating Teardrop closed the night, building to a commanding high, at once breathtaking and true.

A night with José González is one well-spent indeed, especially for a reviewer who’d paid to see him twice before. Despite a slow rise in popularity with the second offering, the songs were supported by his solid efforts with Veneer many of which proved to be the favourites amongst the crowd. The performance was an enlightening end to the year, though it would be a crying shame if he became defined by the covers that he so ingeniously produces.