Sydney outfit RACKETT made their way to Perth a little while ago and revealed themselves to be maybe one of the most important Australian bands of the current crop, making them, potentially, one of the most important Australian bands of all time. Big call? Absolutely, but we think they have the goods to back it up.
It’s Saturday night in the main room at Perth’s Rosemount Hotel and I’ve just witnessed a band I’ve never seen or even heard of before, and they were mesmerising! They had the songs, the stagecraft, the messaging, the indefinable, everything!
After they’d finished their set, still in a state of bliss, I see through the darkness of the room a woman coming towards me. It’s obvious I’m the sole focus of her attention. She walks right up to me and, in the instant before she speaks, my myopia finally lets me recognise who it is.
Did you like the show? Would you like a sticker?
It’s Rebecca Callander, singer and guitarist with RACKETT, the band I’ve just witnessed putting on a blinding performance. And she’s talking to me! Old as I am, I’m still not immune to being star struck, so I don’t really recollect what I said in reply, something like, “Yeah, that was awesome,” as I gratefully took the sticker she proffered and watched as she moved on to make the next person the sole focus of her attention.
When I left the venue after the headline act had completed their set, Callander was still working the room. It was vintage stuff and had me in mind of the early days of The Clash when all that mattered was the music, the fans and the politics.
Part of the Clash’s legend is that they would let fans into their gigs for free, invite them into the dressing room after the mayhem had died down and talk to them about all sorts of stuff, mostly their manifesto for living and how they were going to change the world. Joe Strummer fashioned himself as a man of and for the people. He was never afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and, though he wanted to run away from it somewhat in his later years (sometimes literally), for him music was activism and activism was music. That was one part of what made The Clash so important.
Why look back? RACKETT are all about the future. Well, sometimes history repeats in an odd and beautiful kind of way. In the first wave of punk, 1976 was marked at Year Zero, the date when all that went before became irrelevant and it was time to start again. RACKETT’s emergence may just mark the beginning of a recalibrated Year Zero with Callander, whether she means to or not, out front channelling Strummer-like intensity, willingness to wade into politics and an ear for a mighty fine tune.
But they’re not clones. Callendar and RACKET go about things in their own way.
Speaking to Callendar some time after the gig, it’s evident that she’s not just in the music business for the fun times, although her band brings plenty of those. She speaks thoughtfully, there are pauses between almost every word. Everything she says counts, is laden with meaning.
We start with the band’s identity and the tunes. RACKETT style themselves variously as Space Punk, Femme Punk, Riot Pop, a whole bunch of genres. Callander takes up the narrative.
“The intention for the band when we set out was a trans-genre band, open to any style of music, with the ability to have a psych song and a country music song all in the same set. But, as our journey has progressed, we’ve been forced to pick genres so that people can understand us. We find that’s actually more of a challenge and more limiting than it is freeing right now, because people want to be able to put a label on you, in a genre that they fundamentally can connect with or disown. So, we’ve found our journey to be more difficult and I guess we’re just trying to refine that, so that we stand a chance of being as marketable as possible.”
“We’re Femme Punk, because, we’re women! So, it describes what you’re getting, a female energy. But it also has a kind of sophisticated connotation to it. We’re not as punk as some of our predecessors, so it doesn’t feel right to say that we’re punk. But punk is an attitude of rebellion and, to me, putting ‘femme’ in front of it communicates that it’s punk, but it’s a sophisticated punk.”
Marketability is a strong focus for Callendar. That’s why she personally talks to punters and hands out stickers after RACKETT’s shows.
“I come from a strong sales background, so I just apply all the same processes from working in car yards, from the first meet and greet all the way through to the follow up phone call. I do the same thing with RACKETT. From start to finish, it’s all about making the brand and the band embedded in people’s consciousness as much as possible and, sometimes, that means giving out a sticker at the end, just in case they loved the band, but they had too many drinks and they forget who the band is and then they forget to look it up. If we give them a sticker and then, in the morning, they can pull it out of their pocket, it just reinforces our engagement with the general public.”
During RACKETT’s performances, engagement with the general public can get very up close and personal, with Callander bringing audience members in close to share the love she’s feeling from the stage.
“That’s a way to communicate to the audience that it’s a two-way street and, if they haven’t sensed it by half way through the set, that we need their energy as much as they need us. Getting close to the audience, being as close as possible is a way of engaging their energy and communicating to them that they are part of a greater performance, which involves both the performer and audience.”
Watching on, Callander’s interaction with RACKETT’s audience is very in the moment. Talking to her about it after the event, it’s clear that it’s also very calculated.
“I’m just channelling a dramatised version of myself, really. I’m channelling a confidence that’s dramatised and then I’m dramatising what the subject matter of the song is. So, if it’s about sexuality, then I’m dramatising that. All that comes from years of dance training, and as a dancer, you’re taught to communicate the emotion of the piece and connect with people. That’s something that, not only myself, but Ally (Gaven, bass) applies to our performance. Astrid (Holz, drums) and Kat (Ayala, lead guitar) do as well, but they haven’t had the dance training that Ali and I have.”
“As a front person, I’m leveraging what I’ve already been taught through dance, and that is projection, confidence, dramatising emotions, because you’ve got to communicate emotion and tell a story to an audience that might be 10, 20 metres away from you. So, it’s kind of hand in hand with the make up of a dancer, where it’s heavy blush, heavy eyeliner to accentuate your features, you’re just accentuating the emotion of the piece that you’re performing.”
What we have here is a performance manifesto that covers everything from the small and intimate to the large and distant. The time will come very soon when RACKETT regularly play stages of a size that will deny Callander and her bandmates the sort of closeness with their audience they have right now. The band’s early performances will pass into legend, but playing bigger stages won’t at all mean they become distant. The band has a presence that will keep finding its way deep into the consciousness of those who are with them, no matter how big the stadium.
Performance is something the band takes seriously.
“Yeah! Absolutely! It’s just all about entertainment for us. If someone can be bothered to come out and see a live show without hearing any of the music [first] and they’re taking a chance … And even if they have heard the music, they’re still taking a chance. So, if tickets are the same price as a movie we expect that, as an audience, you should get that value for money. It should be as entertaining, if not more entertaining at that price point. It’s all about entertainment for us.”
It’s all about entertainment? Partly correct, but that’s not all. Back to the rebellion …
“It’s about having a vision, a greater vision, beyond self-satisfaction and ego. It’s serving humanity, increasing humanity, bringing justice, empowering people to join forces and stay aware and awake. There’s a lots of subject matter that we’re passionate about as a band, that we see as injustices. We’re not necessarily a very political band, but there are higher intentions to what we do beyond just playing rock music.”
“We think that welfare distribution is grossly unfair and an issue for us right now. We see that there’s children dying of starvation in some parts of the world and, at the same time, there’s people in the first world participating in hot dog eating competitions, which is just waste and indulgence. We want to bring attention to the fact that, in the first world, we need to realise that we are very lucky, and there needs to be a greater, fair distribution of resources to developing countries and people who are suffering. That’s all about humanity and that’s something that we try to do, caring for people in need.”
For me, the priority is humanity.
See, it’s not just about entertainment. In RACKETT’s case, music also is a vehicle for change. Some bands are great entertainers. Some are very earnest about their politics. Few manage to mash up both into a vehicle that is as compelling and downright enjoyable as RACKETT.
Whatever label you choose to put on it, RACKETT’s music has a way of getting under your skin. It has energy and beguiling riffs. It’s noisy, accessible, unashamedly poppy, and credible. Throw away, it is not.
The band’s current single ‘I Tried To Quit’ is a good case in point. Listen once and you might just be able to put it down, listen twice and you’ll be hooked.
RACKETT are like the musical equivalent of crack but with no downside.
We’d love to have a smash hit and travel the world and make lots of money and use those resources to give back to people that are suffering and bring awareness to animal cruelty.
RACKETT have played more than 150 gigs in 2018 and it’s not even November. Add to that time in the recording studio (“We’ve already got a huge collection of music to choose from. We’ve already got music that’s ready to go, and we’re just trying to create catalogues that sonically make sense.”), and what you get is one of the hardest working bands in Australia right now. That’s maybe the last piece in the puzzle, the work ethic.
“We’re just going to do the best that we can do and write as many songs as we can. You’ve just got to keep going and try to stay relevant and, surely, something’s going to give if you don’t give up.”
With RACKETT, nothing is left to chance. Their thing is as planned and carefully considered at Callander’s words. But it’s no contrivance, they’re the real thing, perhaps even better than the real thing. They’re bringing the punk ethic back to life and bringing it to a town near you real soon.
Get on the ride now, you’ll never want to get off.