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Alive and kicking

Thursday 31st October 2013

It’s a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in the Super City, azure skies horizon to horizon, and I’ve decided the thing I’d like most is to spend it in a small loft surrounded by sweaty, writhing bodies and noise. 

I’m at 4 Cross Street, an art space adjacent to K Rd, where eight bands of varying ages and styles will be playing an all ages gig over the next five hours. The show hasn’t yet started and it’s already starting to smell a bit like a teenage boy’s bedroom. 

What started as a conversation amongst a group of friends in a tour van returning from Wellington has blossomed in a few short months into the first-ever Fang Fest – an inner-city Auckland punk festival. 

Held on Labour Weekend, the inaugural event is taking place over three venues, including The Wine Cellar, Whammy Bar and Cross Street, and includes nearly 30 bands, merch and stalls and – on the last day – hot chips and movies. 

The criteria by which the Fang Fest committee chose the weekend’s line-up is less to do with ‘punk’ as a genre of music, and more to do with creating and fostering a community of like-minded individuals. 

Tom Anderson and Katie Macrae are longtime friends and two of the devoted team behind the event. 

Anderson is a musician and audio engineer who is playing the midnight slot later tonight with his band the PCP Eagles. 

Macrae and younger sister Lucy comprise the rock promotion team Chicks That Scream, who have been bringing bands like Bad Religion, Slayer, Hot Water Music and NOFX to New Zealand for 15-odd years now. 

Macrae says events like Fang Fest are important for mentoring the up-and-coming bands – “the next us”, as she refers to them. 

“You really do have to be passionate,” she chuckles heartily, laughing off the sleepless nights and lost ticket sales that must be endured as an independent promoter. 

“It doesn’t have to be corporate, it doesn’t have to be about money… At the end of the day, we make music and the bands make music because it is a passion. It’s fun; it’s what drives them. It is what fulfills their lives.”  

As well as co-organising the event, Anderson is also sharing roadie and live sound duties with his bandmate Aidan, both at the all ages show and at the Whammy/Wine Cellar show later on. I ask Tom what goes into organising something of this magnitude.

“There’s almost 30 bands playing. Normally you might have three or four bands so theoretically it’s ten times the work … but it doesn’t quite work that way because there’s ten times the amount of things that can go wrong. Being able to do things like set up online documents and DropBox folders … it’s amazing.”

Having been involved with bands like The Managers and The Poisoners, and the notorious Caryard Chaos shows of the early 2000s, Anderson says the only thing he laments is that the political and anarchic aspects of punk aren’t embraced as they once were.

“Politics has been divorced a lot from the music. I want to blame the Internet a little bit … there seems to be a real lack of politics involved in music, which as quite a political person I find that kind of a shame.”

He theorises that perhaps the over-informed can become overwhelmed, leading to apathy and a desire to use music only as escapism.

“Music and politics helped shape who I am, so it would be cool if that came back into it a little bit.”

When first band Pramcakes take the stage promptly at 2pm, mics and stands adorned with personalised undies, only a handful of punters have arrived. Unperturbed, the raucous two-piece launch a sonic attack that sets the pace for the rest of the afternoon. Those that have arrived early are electrified into action. 

It’s getting hot in the loft and punters are escaping outside during the ten-minute interval between bands. With scant regard to oncoming traffic, many of them are spread across the road, rolling cigarettes in the laissez-faire fashion perfected by under-20s the world over.

Like Izzy, a sweet blonde character up from Wellington who has come to support her friends The Cavemen and fellow Wellingtonians Fantails. With her long, almost white hair, knee-high sports socks and an oversized tie-dyed singlet, I had noticed her dancing up the front for a long time. 

In true punk style, she spent the last of her money on a weekend pass to the festival, and has only a vague idea of how she’s getting home. 

She’s enthusiastic, to say the least. “I was glad there was a moshpit going on here before! Sometimes people in Auckland don’t let loose too much. My friends The Cavemen, they’re a real awesome stage presence so it gets the crowd into it a lot.”

The Cavemen look every bit like the rock stars they are when their turn comes, in cowboy boots, painted on jeans, big hair and either a stripy or a muscle tee (worn to menacing Paul Simonon-perfection by towering guitarist Jack). 

Unleashing sharp bursts of garage rock that whip the now wall-to-wall crowd into a frenzy, they burn the stage with the fire of The Datsuns at their youthful best, or an early Stooges. 

I can’t help but predict big things for this four-piece, even after long-haired bassist Takumi declares that shows like this are for kids – “not like, people in their 30s”.  

I’m back out on the street to breathe some precious oxygen when I spy one Andrew Tolley, defiantly in his 30s, and formerly of The Hasselhoff Experiment and the Bloody Souls. 

He’s playing this afternoon with his new band Bloodbags, who are also taking the stage later tonight with the newly-reformed Hallelujah Picassos at the King’s Arms. Now why on earth would a musician of his peerage be playing an all-ages show on a Saturday afternoon?

“I got asked, and I never say no,” he says. “And it’s a good line-up of bands.”

He can’t remember the last time he played an all-ages show, but suspects it was a community hall in Wanganui at the end of the 1990s. 

I ask him if he thinks the punk and DIY scene in Auckland is in good shape. 

“There seems to be a hell of a lot more bands playing, and keen to play. And there hasn’t been that many venues shutting down. Venues used to only last for a couple of years and then they’d die a quick death. Lucha Lounge, Whammy, Wine Cellar… King’s Arms is just there forever and a day, so there’s lots of opportunities for people to play.”

Fang Fest is all about opportunity, to play music and to have fun, to get involved and to be part of a community. One can honestly say that it feels like the future of live punk and rock music in Auckland is in good hands – and that despite what the papers may say, the kids are, in fact, all right. 

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