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CUTTING INTO THE HEARTS OF DARKNESS

Nerve Quakes photo by Brandon Ward
Nerve Quakes photo by Brandon Ward

ALT FEST
BADLANDS BAR, 20 MARCH

Thanks to Bill Gates and MS Word’s somewhat dodgy voice recognition system, this almost became an article about golf.  Imagine that, black metal golfers tearing up the fairway at midnight, industrial noise screaming from their buggies and all sorts of satanic rituals happening in every bunker.  “‘Goth!’  Not golf, ‘Goth!’,” I screamed into my laptop.  Which didn’t help, as the machine just faithfully mangled a stream of other random words on the screen in front of me.  Until the neighbours came over to do a bit of a mental health check and I decided I needed to take a different approach.

“There might be one or two bands on the bill you know,” said Willoughby, “but the rest of them you might not and it’s a good chance to go, ‘Hey, this is something I could get into’.”

So, what are we really here to talk about?  Good question.  Let’s start again.

Bubbling away in the dark spaces of Perth’s music underground is a collective that goes by the name, Hearts Of Darkness.  They get together every third Saturday of the month to play golf…. No, no, no!  No, they don’t!

No.  What they actually do is put on events at various venues around Perth showcasing our thriving alternative music scene across a range of genres, loosely associated with what’s known as ‘noise’ and which incorporates goth, punk, black metal, industrial, EDM and a bunch of other styles.

On Saturday 20 March, Hearth Of Darkness, in conjunction with WA Music Week, will be staging Alt Fest at Badlands Bar.  This underground festival presents 14 bands across two stages, with RTRFM DJs in the Badlands courtyard and a minimart when you can pick up some awesome and, likely, very rare merchandise.

Intrigued at the very idea that, in the age of people sharing every intimate detail of their lives on social media there’s still such a thing as an underground, I spoke to two members of the Hearts Of Darkness collective and key organisers of Alt Fest, Jessica Willoughby and Amir Barber-Skwarko.  We met in a warehouse down the east end of Newcastle Street that features an intriguing collection of chairs, among other things, and probably holds many untold secrets.  If I hadn’t known beforehand what lovely humans these two are, I may have been a little bit afraid stepping into their lair, but I seemed to survive the experience intact.

Willoughby and Barber-Skwarko are the very epitome of the sort of highly focused and driven professionals who make things happen in the Perth music scene.  Without these two and many people like them, Perth wouldn’t be the thriving live music city that it is.

Along with a handful of colleagues, Willoughby and Barber-Skwarko started Hearts Of Darkness back in 2013.  It was incorporated as a not-for-profit organisation around three years ago.

“We started Hearts of Darkness from basically doing goth party events,” Barber-Skwarko said. “We started as a crowdfunder back in 2013, in small and big spaces, and that seemed to have legs.  There’s a whole bunch of music that we like that seemed to have lost steam or people weren’t putting on the events anymore, so we started our own collective, special events organisation.”

“Our only driving force is that we want to see the events happen.” continued Willoughby as she picked up the story.  “That’s pretty much it, because we were just like, ‘Who’s putting on these events now?’ We’ve actually been quite stoked with how it’s grown organically over the years.”

Intrigued, I asked the pair for their take on what it means to be ‘underground’ in the 2020s.

“This is an interesting one for us I think,” said Willoughby, “because we know and love all the bands we’re working with extremely well and have seen them play a lot, but we also know that in the context of broader Perth audiences a lot of people probably wouldn’t have seen these guys. Our goal has been basically, keeping in that mindset, and that we wanted to appeal to a broader audience as well and draw those people in.”

“I guess we don’t mind Hearts Of Darkness being a bit of light that shines into that underground,” continued Barber-Skwarko, “just shines the spotlight briefly. We don’t want to contaminate, we don’t want to put bands that don’t want that kind of limelight, force them into it, but we do like showing Perth that there’s a lot more that you don’t know about and if you have a try you might like it. If you like some of our stuff you might like some of the other stuff as well.”

There’s a balance here between respecting the boundaries of the musicians and bands involved in this underground scene and showcasing it without disturbing or disrupting it, and the desire to reach a wider audience.  There’s a strong sense of community in what Hearts Of Darkness is all about and, if people who wouldn’t otherwise stop by to see and hear what they do, all the better, but not at the expense of the ecosystem.

Hence, Alt Fest, which is a showcase for the bands associated with Hearts Of Darkness with one goal being drawing a wider audience into their world, albeit perhaps only for a short while.

“This is our first attempt at a bigger festival like this,” said Willoughby. “It’s an idea that Amir came up with a year ago or so and we talked about it then, but obviously COVID hit and it wasn’t going to happen.”

“We had the WAMFest (2019) stage as well,” added Barber-Skwarko.  “That went well and that was a fun experiment with what we would consider to be underground bands as well. They were stoked to play. It’s playing with peers and, maybe, it’s recognition that comes from being part of something bigger that they might not have been asked to appear at otherwise.  To be able to say this is a contemporary heavy and loud sound for Perth and put them under that umbrella we can advertise for the underground but still be respectful of that.”

As well as the underground, the focus of Alt Fest is on contemporary. 

“Contemporary was a big deal for us,” said Willoughby. “A lot of these bands aren’t particularly new, they tie themselves to certain genres which have developed since the dawn of time, but what’s important is that it’s what’s happening now in Perth. It was important for us to demonstrate what loud sound is in Perth now in a broad ranging sense. There’s everything from noise and post punk to black metal and hardcore. Everyone hates tying themselves to a genre, but it’s all in this mixed bag that’s on the festival line up. In terms of Perth bands, these are bands that have defined themselves in our musical culture and are doing great things, and I think that’s important in a contemporary sense.  We also have extremely new bands on the bill as well.”

“For me, genres, in terms of defining that, there is a different sound to that,” said Barber-Skwarko. “No one likes to be completely tied to one genre.  So that, for me, is why I would say genre defining. There are different, separate scenes in Perth and we’ve chosen the bands that we think are really at the forefront of those movements.”

So, Alt Fest is about underground, contemporary and genre defining noise.  It’s the best of what’s happening in Perth right now and, if it’s the best that’s happening in Perth, you can be sure that it’s at least the equal of the best that’s happening in the world.

“There might be one or two bands on the bill you know,” said Willoughby, “but the rest of them you might not and it’s a good chance to go, ‘Hey, this is something I could get into’.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Alt Fest happens at Badlands Bar on Saturday 20 March.  For event information and tickets, click here.

Featured on the line up for this two stage festival are:

NERVE QUAKES
Local post punk/gothic mainstays Nerve Quakes combine cloudy analogue synths, chorused guitars and a driving rhythm section to find solace in the shadows. Having previously brought their live set to support The Sisters of Mercy, My Disco and Peter Murphy, bring your two-step.
https://nervequakes.bandcamp.com/album/deprogram

PESTIS CULTUS
This is Perth black metal royalty. Formerly known as Snorri, Pestis Cultus have just released their first self-titled album through Signal Rex and it’s one of the most putrid things to come out of the West.
https://pestiscultus.bandcamp.com/releases

M.S.O.L
Straight-laced punk from the likes of The Scientists and X-Ray Spex, blended with garage and surf-rock sensibility. MSOL have been on the ‘up and up’ and will be hitting us with a new release in the next month.
https://msol.bandcamp.com/track/covid-69

DEAD JERK
Hard-hitting, retro-futuristic soundscapes concocted from a rich blend of analogue tones, synth leads and dual percussion undertones.
https://deadjerk.bandcamp.com/releases

HEXX
With a slew of new material due out soon, HEXX are an all-out assault of the senses. The filthiest mix of death metal, power violence and crust punk in Perth.
https://hexxperth.bandcamp.com/album/hexx

SUNEATER
These post-metallers have just released a new track, Ashen, and it’s nothing short of crushing. Share members with Gutter Oil and Crypt Crawler.
https://suneaterau.bandcamp.com/track/ashen

PARANOIAS
With an Australian tour with Generación Suicida and 2020 appearance at In The Pines under their belts, expect fast and furious, surfy punk served with serious attitude.
https://paranoiaspunx.bandcamp.com/album/napalm-springs

NO FUTURE
Sporting extensive tours around Aus and South East Asia, releases on the infamous Televised Suicide and Hardcore Victim labels, No Future are back to rip you a new one with their signature noisey and raw punk.
https://televisedsuicide.bandcamp.com/…/ts40-delirious…

HI OK SORRY
Mesmerising and immersive experimental electronic duo and analogue synthesiser enthusiasts.
https://hioksorry.bandcamp.com/album/hi-ok-sorry

CHRISTOPHER J BROWN
Hard-hitting industrial body music from this one-man machine.
https://hntd.bandcamp.com/album/christopher-j-brown-revolt

DIN
Raw industrial noise from Michael Banting, former front-person for the now defunct Population Control.
https://deathindustrialnoise.bandcamp.com/album/din

PHANTASIS SATANICA
Experimental noise-pop project from the prolific Beth Commons (Pool Boy).
https://phantasissatanica.bandcamp.com/album/glmrdze

NERVOUS
These punk newbies just released their first single, I’m Here, on February 20. Hear it in the flesh for the first-time post-launch.
http://instagram.com/___nervousband

KRIMI
Brand new post-punk outfit ft. members of Cold Meat, Nerve Quakes, Helta Skelta and more.

Trent-Jean Trent-Jean

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