Review: Russh (July/August 2008)

Ugly post below. Pretty post here. Please show Erica Bartle some love! =)


July/August 2008

My first impression of Russh was via a work friend who brought Issue 8 into the retail shop and tried to indoctrinate me into what I immediately considered a magazine that was a wee bit too left of field for me with its offerings of retro styling, slightly-above-average writing, and overt brand of fashion photography. Looking back now, I’ve begun to realise that “overt” and “retro” were just excuses I made for my own misgivings in the same strand of “I-don’t-understand-this-magazine’s-purpose- and-therefore-I-am-above-it”. My first seriously purchased issue was number 18 with my newfound curiosity peaking as I partook in my New Year’s Resolution of “read magazines you wouldn’t normally read”. That issue was bought solely via the musical headlines “I’m With The Band: Famous Groupies” and “Best Ever Mix Tapes” – and I digress my superficiality: the title presented in super shiny gold lamination.

So it was with similar anticipation that I opened another Russh issue emblazoned by the word “groupies” (no, this is not my aspired mode of getting into music journalism). In a particularly beautiful understated allure that the magazine is famed for: black and white imagery dominates alongside muted colours in the “Pinch The Look” sections, where muted greys and pale blues are touted as shades to sport this season. But perhaps I’ve spoken too soon, because lo, behold: sequined and shimmery pants make a comeback in true 80s fashion (pun intended?) alongside black lace numbers in “Racy, Lacy”. A few doilies are thrown in for good measure via a white accessories driven shoot, which continues to cement Russh’s distinct drive for fashion reverb.

I often forget that models, beauty artists, and designers are indeed human beings, what with their often immaculate bone structure and facial features – plus the fact that they seem to occupy a whole other world to the average magazine reader means that I find any insights into their personalities a little unnecessary. This is what I found with cover star Hanna Soukupova’s interview talking about her personal style, favourite beauty products, place to shop. I can understand why those aspiring to be in the fashion industry being interested in what cues to take – which to me, is the purpose such interviews serve. Russh takes this opportunity to discover the person behind the face, which is all well and truly good, but the end results often bore the bejeesus out of me.

The cover story on haute couture house Gucci has editor Natalie Shukar speaking to creative director Frida Giannini about rock ‘n’ roll’s influence on the brand as well as the timely muses that inspire the designs and imagery. It’s an interesting take on the traditional fashion profile, despite the feature’s ordinary Q&A style. I was excited to see many of my favourite musicians featured in the music playlist of the fashion powerhouse, which only goes to show how well music seems to act as a social leveller – at least between the financially-challenged uni student and a luxury brand.

Knitwear is given an airing as the needles come out and nanny-fashion is suddenly made fashionable again via questionable takes on stockings. Rodarte takes knitwear to a whole new level of a muted sexuality with interesting takes on the “knitted dress”. Shapes are challenged via Sandra Backland’s rendition of a very complicated sheep fleece, but then again, perhaps I’m just not well-versed in the style stakes.

Fashion features continue as writer extraordinaire Fiona Killackey delves into the introverted mind of Josh Goot, while Fashion Week continues to ebb through the magazine sphere via Carli Philips profiles up-and-coming Australian label Arnsdorf, where the designs seem to echo Josh Goot’s simple, understated style with a much greater emphasis on neutrals. Russh’s editors have their own slice of the fun with their own impressions of the week. It’s interesting comparing Russh’s coverage of Fashion Week alongside other mags. We all know that Russh has a tendency to be caught in a perpetual cycle of retro-loving – clearly evident in their selection of highlights where lace and pastels seem to dominate in comparison to the other glossies.

That said, the mag has definitely improved their articles since the first few issues I picked up. There is a more sass and greater insight into the topics they cover. Lesley Arfin is a refreshing voice in her advice upon arriving in New York – “Eat at your favourite place, Make out, Embrace jet lag” – while Nicole Haddow goes cold turkey on her email, Facebook, and mobile for a week with refreshing results.

Killackey (nope, definitely no bias here) ponders the evolution of beauty alongside images of Charlotte Gainsborough (one of my favourite beauties – I think her slightly larger nose gives her character), ordinary girl Chloe Sevigny, and an interesting contrast of Sofia Coppola alongside Kirsten Dunst. Indeed: what is considered beauty? And what role does the media play in perpetuating such views? In any case, academic Paula Hamsforth offers some insight into the changing image-driven industry: “You only need to think back to the 1960s and the ‘Black is Beautiful’ movement to see how far we’ve come. Today we have models of all skin colours and we’re embracing that which differs from the traditional Anglo-Saxon idea of beauty.”

Despite the improved articles, however, I find that one of the only reasons why I buy Russh is to look at the visuals – it is possible that I may be both superficial as well as fashion-illiterate. And I possess equal parts love and apathy over the publication’s use of token retro garbs of soft-lit photography, 1960s beauties via Britt Ekland and Anna Karina, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and psychedelic coloured clouds in the Josh Goot feature. Russh also has a perpetual preoccupation with sexuality and nudity in both its photography and advertisements. With previous issues I’ve always felt compelled to play “Spot the nipple” in the same vein as a game of “Where’s Waldo?”, particularly after this issue’s advertorial of Irina Lazareanu. That said, the mag drives a much healthier balance between contemporary imagery and that of decades gone by this month, something which I put down to the dominance of Fashion Week coverage.

I still consider Russh to be the cool kid I’m still yet to understand and at times, find a little pretentious. She occupies a world where I fluctuate between enviably wanting to be in, and being totally ignorant to it all. A lot of the time I put this down to the fact that we do not and cannot match or relate to each other as often as myself and other magazines seem to. I still love the way she looks and I’m always finding beautiful images and sparks of inspiration between her simple laid out pages, but ultimately I’m content to agree to disagree in her sartorial and lifestyle choices.

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.

St Jerome’s Laneway Festival (02.03.08)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.