It’s a slow cooker of a day with the venue harbouring little more activity at the event kickoff than that of an impromptu uni party. But the atmosphere slowly builds to an eventually impressive turn out, with revellers channelling just enough anarchy to satisfy the spirit of the music. I even manage to get punched in the face! Sadly it’s not for expressing my thoughts on Unwritten Law to the wrong fan, but it is a story for another day.
There are some big names headlining here today and the setup seems humble by comparison. Two stages, one big, one small and a handwritten timetable, available if you really try to find it, via the event facebook page.
For the first few hours, the main stage is host to only a smattering of spectators despite the event being kicked off with the supergroup that is The Implants featuring members from Ten Foot Pole and headliners Strung Out.
The vibe outside feels more like a regular beer garden Sunday session than a punk festival but there are clues to ground us in the atmosphere; a sea of black band shirts, converse aplenty, a kilt, backwards baseball caps galore, headscarves, an excess of Wheels And Dollbaby and of course a rainbow of gravity-defying Mohawks.
Out here stage 2 is a fairly casual setup in the form of a temporary tent shelter under a tree lit by fairy lights. The afternoon sees mostly acoustic acts interspersing sets with punk covers and the performances are well received even though punters seem more interested in socialising.
Back inside Death By Stereo are about to put on what is, in my humble opinion, the most energetic, hardcore performance of the day. These guys are amazingly animated, exploding onto the stage and gesturing from the get-go for the spread out gathering before them to crowd in closer.
They are a band who clearly loves being on show, with guitarists utilising the entire stage (literally running around as they play) and frontman Efrem Schulz getting down amongst the crowd at every opportunity. His eyes bulge dramatically and in between vocals that growl, roar and soar he hits himself in the head, spits into the air, pulls body waves and other moves that are both frivolous and pleasantly disturbing.
Roughly three songs in Shulz addresses us “Anyone here not heard of Death By Stereo before? If you’ve not heard of us, welcome to an extreme world’. Spit, sweat and bottled water fly all over the stage and Schulz signals the now rabid front row to support him as he dives into the crowd getting carried around before hugging people, grabbing hands and eventually encouraging a circle pit.
We’re treated to some choreographed moves between the 3 guitarists that strangely remind me of a synchronized swimming team and just as I’m wondering if the drummer feels left out in all of this, Shulz says “Who’s excited about Mike’s shorts?”. Mike stands to parade his Australian flag short shorts and it’s the icing on this strange little DBS cake.
Frankly it’s a tough act to follow for Ten Foot Pole, but oddly enough the numbers here have started fleshing out even more and it seems there are plenty who’ve rocked up especially for these guys.
They’re solid performers but compared to what we’ve just witnessed in DBS, they seem almost a little lacking in mojo, like they’d prefer to pretend that all eyes aren’t on them and just play the music without fanfare. It seems I’m alone in this assessment though as the crowd absolutely love them with a random dude even foiling security to jump on the stage and share the mic with Dennis Jagard before doing a bit of a sexy dance behind the guitarist.
The band seem unphased by this and say they’d “like to thank the solid gold dancer”.
The Casualties are next and from here on stage visuals become a thing. A massive red banner with skulls and spikes sets the street punk tone as they file on to the Star Wars theme music. With a blue mohawk stage left and a red mohawk stage right, frontman Jorge Herrera kicks off proceedings by raising a beer to us before tipping his head back to pour it all over his face.
The crowd claps in the beat for Unknown Soldier and needs no prompting to sing along to the “Oh oh oh” intro making it clear that this band has also been one of today’s big draw-cards. Herrera is pretty quick to tell us what they’re about in between songs “We like it fast and hardcore. We don’t like this slow punk, you hear?”.
Midway through he takes a break and has been replaced by none other than Death By Stereo’s Shulz. Man this guy loves us! He’s back in the crowd for more hugs as we’re treated to a rendition of the Ramones’ Rockaway Beach.
Herrera returns with a spiel about the system “Do you guys hate your fucking government?” as a lead in to System Failed Us.. Again. He wants to see a stage dive acknowledging that “there’s a barrier but I don’t really give a shit”.
He says he hasn’t seen this once in Australia and a brave girl obliges, flinging herself to an accommodating group below. Before long the entire crowd has been invited up and there are about 20 people on stage in a demonstration of mayhem. Bodies are smashing together, they’re carrying each other around, sharing the mics and there’s even a random colorful parrot balloon being paraded.
Security aren’t happy but surprisingly they tolerate this turn of events before gently helping everyone down at the end.
By the time Face to Face hit the stage, The Roundhouse is well and truly packed.
They kick things off with You’ve Done Nothing and the crowd is a bobbing throng of appreciation. Favourites like Ordinary and Blind have fans chanting along before Trever Keith salutes Hits And Pits saying it’s a “fucking great festival”.
Bright Lights Go Down sees a sea of raised plastic beer glasses and someone in the back of the room pegs a full bottle of water at the drummer presumably as a sign of respect. It misses.
The word around town today has been that Unwritten Law are the main reason a lot of people are here and there’s a buzz of anticipation that seems to confirm this as they emerge onto the most smoked out stage in the history of music. Why so smokey? My take is that this is a pretty vain band who prefer we don’t see that they’ve aged at all in the last 24 years.
Maybe I’m being a little cynical here but seriously, the whole thing feels a little melodramatic. Having said this people lurve them! As the gentle harmonies of Harmonic kick off the set, four shadowy silhouettes emerge through the indigo haze to frenzied screams. The figure rocking the bowler hat stage front must be Scott Russo (but who can be sure) and he does this slow motion running thing with his arms throughout most of the set that adds to the overall absurdity of their stagecraft.
To be fair Unwritten Law do seem to be putting on the show that their fans came to see. They play most of the favourites and don’t mess about too much in between songs, each merging into the next with the sounds of a hysterically happy audience augmenting each transition. Girls are on shoulders singing along at the tops of their voices. There’s a mini jam of Fugazi’s Waiting Room in there somewhere and a guest appearance from their 29 year old Sydney tour manager who Russo says “plays our songs better than us”.
It’s obvious we’re going to get an encore at the end but everyone plays along and begs for it anyway. To his credit Russo salutes the other bands referring to Death By Stereo as “The coolest fucking band in the world”. For their set finale, Grinspoon’s Phil Jameson is suddenly on stage with their own hit More Than You Are. All in all, I have to admit, it’s a pretty great wrap up.
Finally headliners Strung Out take their long awaited places on stage to the Rocky theme. In stark contrast to Unwritten Law, their visual presence is a no-nonsense, honest affair with simple lighting, no smoke and the novelty of being able to watch them perform without the need for an infrared sensor.
They’re all dressed in monochrome and yellow, matching their stage banner (the only splashes of colour being a red head scarf and a fluoro green goaty) and it seems so effortless that it could have been accidental. The crowd has thinned slightly but I know from chatting to people throughout the day that Strung Out is the reason many people bought tickets.
They put on a stellar show with Jason Cruz acknowledging how much went into the organisation of the day “Thanks for sticking around. Everyone on this tours been working their fuck’n arse off”.
Few would argue that Hits And Pits hasn’t delivered a great day of punk and hardcore gems. The festival’s only in it’s 3rd year and it seems to be gaining popularity with each installment. It is a bit of a shame that some of the great bands from earlier in the day weren’t granted the crowds that were drawn in for the evening headliners but that could have been the competition with Mothers Day or the fact that this is still a festival that’s relatively in it’s infancy. Here’s to hoping we can expect even more fanfare for Hits And Pits in years to come.