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HELD SPACE

ALT//FEST
ALT//FEST

ALT//FEST
BADLANDS
20 MARCH 2021

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become more sentimental. I’ve spent a long string of lockdowns away from Perth, so that would make sense. Still, it puzzles me that a phrase I’ve resisted for being too Tumblr-tender, too Eat, Pray, Love, has been stuck in my mind all weekend. Puzzling, too, that it’s arisen in response to Alt//Fest, a showcase of heavy, sludgy, goth-y, punk Perth acts. Here it is: I want to say that ALT//FEST– held space?

It’s been refreshing to walk around Perth like a normal person living a normal life, having just come from a part of the globe where black metal talk of pestilence, looming death, etc. feels a bit less fun. I feel chuffed that, less than a week out of quarantine, I’ve been able to experience the best of the Perth underground scene…

ALT//FEST held space open in its line-up for a refreshing number of musicians who weren’t lank-haired metal boys. Its audience held space open in the crowd for people who would’ve been deterred by aggressive moshing. It held space for a raucous but respectful crowd of punks, goths, e-girls, over-fifties, and at least three people in Hawaiian shirts. They held an outstretched hand to attendees vis. a proviso in the event description about ear protection. And I was pleased to see – the conceit is running thin – that Badlands could effectively hold a mammoth 14-act line-up, market-stalls, two bars, and some poor netballer’s 21st birthday.

In a deftly managed back-and-forth between two opposing stages, the schedule followed a loose tequila sunrise/tiramisu structure (i.e. darker at the bottom.) Shifting between the two effectively kept the crowd moving, the front row turning over, and the enormous line-up flowing. The show opened with two slow-burn overdubbing performances – solo bassist Nocturnal Trails, feat. taut harmonics, frenetically palmed tremolos, and a violin bow, and Hi. OK, Sorry, a modular synth duo who inspired a freestyle dance circle of one.

Nervous set the tone for the night’s trend-bucking, inclusive approach, performing the antithesis of aggressive metalhead wank. They played an angst-ridden set with an oddly, sweetly insular stage presence. You couldn’t help but be moved by the rousing/relatable cry of “I’m here! And I’m tired,” performed largely with one arm held behind their vocalist’s back. (Their guitarist struck a power-pose a couple of times, but that felt mostly aspirational.)

By mid-evening, we’d shifted to a string of brash punk outfits, kicking off with the blistering politicised punk of No Future. The back stage also hosted particularly furious drumming from bratty surf-punks MSOL and Paranoias (Perth’s best band right now, according to one of the Hawaiian shirts). Krimi played tight, preppy post-punk, reminiscent at times of Le Tigre, peppered with consummate drum fills and guitar runs.

After popping out for some mozzarella sticks, I returned to a positively proggy set from Dead Jerk. Their ostentatiously lush instrumentals dipped in and out of swotty math-rock, fat synths toeing the King Crimson line, and two (two!) drum kits. By the time Suneater hopped on the front stage, supplying the night’s first head-thrown-back death growls, the energy had shifted to the kind of Wagnerian showboating I’d associate with metal. (Both these acts were a lot of fun.)

The tail-end of ALT//FEST firmly concluded the night with heavy, head-splitting performances from metal act HEXX, industrial solo sets from Christopher J Brown and DIN, and the luxuriantly filthy Pestis Cultis. Also in the mix was a brief moment of reprieve from subdued and Ian Curtis-gothy Nerve Quakes, whose gently spooky sound was complimented by equally washed-out visuals from the VHS era.

It’s been refreshing to walk around Perth like a normal person living a normal life, having just come from a part of the globe where black metal talk of pestilence, looming death, etc. feels a bit less fun. I feel chuffed that, less than a week out of quarantine, I’ve been able to experience the best of the Perth underground scene – an enthusiastic and well-mannered crowd, old faces, fresh sounds, at an event that can happily encompass a spectrum of alt sounds, alt scenes, and residual DeVille’s tiki décor.

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