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FROM FINLEY TO FORUM

Spiderbait at The Forum, Melbourne
Spiderbait at The Forum, Melbourne

SPIDERBAIT
THE FORUM, MELBOURNE
9 NOVEMBER

At 9:30pm, I cut through groups weaving and tangling together on Flinders Street, my feet pounding smooth bluestone slabs. 

I can’t help but wonder if Spiderbait holds some key, fostering something that so much of the musical community is searching for.

I am running late for Spiderbait. 

A thickly bearded man I saw vaping outside The Forum doors moments ago overtakes me. He runs and skips through the foyer, his arms waving, all enigmatic rockdog persona forgotten in a moment of pure elation. 

I stay near the rear bar, surrounded by neat looking couples approaching some vague middle age. Drummer Mark Maher, better known as Kram, booms greetings to the 2000-strong crowd. They’ll be playing every single they’ve released, from their early days to now. 

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“This is the soundtrack of our lives.”

Playing drums from a high riser, Kram belts lyrics out with the rhythm of each stroke. He’s so high up it’s like he’s overseeing proceedings, conducting the audience in a raucous game of call-and-response. Janet English on bass and Damien Whitty on guitar are either side of him, just like it’s always been. English shares the lead vocals, poised in dramatic angles, spitting lyrics down her microphone. Everything is short, fast, loud – no wasted time. 

There’s a clean-cut man wearing practical, rectangular glasses standing beside me. He has his eyes closed, bobbing his head to the beat, clutching a VB with both hands, transported. 

Another similar looking stranger squeezes behind us, spilling newly poured beer down the back of our legs. The man with glasses bristles and turns to the culprit. They say nothing for a few moments, cogs of fury turning over somewhere unseen, sizing each other up for conflict. A woman rests her hands on his shoulders.

“Come on, it’s not the first time we’ve been covered in beer.”

Kram tells us to turn to the person next to us and give them a hug. A warm, bashful, softness envelops the crowd for a moment as everyone does as they’re told.

I was born in 1991. According to the internet, Spiderbait was also born that year. All three band members had left a tiny town in New South Wales called Finley to gig around the musical haunts of Melbourne. I’m in no way fluent in this band, I didn’t buy their albums from Sanity or have their posters on my teenage wall, but the years they’ve been around are the only years I’ve ever known. I find I can sense the ebbs and flows of ‘Calypso’ reflexively and mouth the words to ‘Footy’ somehow, more a part of my youth than I’d ever acknowledged. 

Before ‘Buy Me a Pony’, the band recognise it as the first Australian song to take out first place on triple j’s The Hottest 100. There’s another level to the significance of this song though. While there have been many more Australian acts to take out the top spot in the two decades since, only two other acts have also included a woman. 

I grew up in Fremantle, where the boys of psych-rock ruled. It was barely acknowledged that the girls who hung around their rehearsal rooms had arms and fingers capable of picking up and playing an instrument as well as any of the boys. 

In a country and at a time where triple j made (and still makes) the careers of bands and those bands are formed in the garages of their parent’s houses, what was special about the garage that Spiderbait was formed in? What was it about that space that meant English could pick up a bass and become a songwriter for one of the most popular bands in Australia?

I can’t help but wonder if Spiderbait holds some key, fostering something that so much of the musical community is searching for.

Kram runs to English, pulls her into an embrace and takes her mic. “Give it up for this incredible, beautiful woman!” The crowd roars. I feel somewhat relieved, glad to see something I’m grappling with acknowledged. Then Kram runs towards Whitty; “and, give it up for this incredible, beautiful man!” The crowd roars again. Okay, I think, maybe not. 

Quite drunk now, the straight-cut man beside me breaks into a jig during “Old Man Sam”, the final song of the evening. He bounces up and down on the balls of his feet – step-ball-change, step-ball change – arms pumping up and down. 

The band stretches the song out to four times its recorded length, buoyed along by the rowdy, singalong crowd. Whitty pulls his guitar from his shoulder, letting strings scream and twang as they hit his microphone stand. Kram throws away his drumsticks, arms outstretched, letting them arc dramatically over the audience. 

The song deteriorates into dissonance and is engulfed in noise from the crowd. All three band members run to the centre of the stage to embrace, jumping up and down like they’ve just nailed their first ever gig. 

I look behind me and see hundreds of people with their elbows leaning against tiered barriers, hands clapping or resting against gentle, nostalgic smiles. 

The joy in the room is infectious, almost overwhelmingly. I drop my pseudo-psychoanalysis and critique to whoop along with everyone else. Maybe the band’s longevity relies on not embracing the moralistic burden of being a symbol of equality. Maybe it’s okay, in this room, to simply celebrate a fluke of friendship dreamt up in a Finley shed.

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