Words by James Lavel
After the success of 2018’s inaugural Halloween Hysteria, the festival has returned in a big way. Last year saw the likes of The Bennies & King Parrot tear through the Jubilee Hotel and was met with a wealth of love and support from the ever-dedicated Brisbane music scene. The team at Hysteria have stepped it up this year with 28 bands spanning across two massive nights at The Brightside & The Valley Drive In.
As I arrived, sound check was already booming through the streets of the Valley. Dedicated punters dressed head to toe in their Halloween best waited eagerly for the festival to kick off. Walls were littered with spiders and other spooky decorations, ensuring the mood was just right.
As the sun set on a beautiful Friday afternoon, the familiar hue of stage lights spanned across the Valley Drive In. For The Wolves took the stage and the air became a little lighter as the space around me started to fill with boots and makeup. This was my first time seeing the Brisbane rockers and they did not disappoint. The set was alive with energy and passion. Their bass player Liam (in his velvet suit and makeup) was expertly demonstrating his stage swagger, ensuring you were paying attention. Ripping solos and catchy hooks kept the crowd right where they were. Before the set was through, the 4-piece blasted their popular single Karma, leaving me wanting more.
Next up was NSW boys Blood Knuckles. Even with their bass player out from breaking his hand (“because he’s a dickhead”, as eloquently put by vocalist Nick) these guys achieved a sound of mammoth proportions. Tearing vocals and sweeping soundscapes had their hooks in me from the first note. Their high energy set pulled more punters to the front as the set went on. Halfway through their set saw the first of the day’s technical issues when the band lost a cymbal and laptop, but Nick demonstrated how to handle these situations with a quip and a smile on his face before jumping right back into their hard-hitting Metalcore.
In between sets I quickly popped into the Brightside to catch the end of Wraith’s set. The place was electric, and it seemed to find its way into the laptop running the lights, leaving the stage in darkness. If that’s not metal, I don’t know what is.
Five piece progressive metal/rock outfit The Stranger were the next group to hit The Valley Drive In stage. Oh man, I felt so sorry for these guys. They only managed three songs (after dropping one to make up time after they took 5 minutes trying to fix a problem with the bass DI); two of which were plagued by a string of technical issues due to some of their own gear playing up. However, the show went on and they more than made up for it by their last track. Beautiful guitar work and vocal harmonies had me in a trance, delivering powerful lyrics and an epic sound. The Stranger are true professionals which was clearly displayed by how wonderful their performance was despite the hiccups throughout their set.
Staying at the Valley Drive In, the tone was about to shift. Taking a short hiatus from the hard-hitting metal, next up were the always fantastic Smoking Martha. Now if you haven’t seen these guys before, fix that ASAP. Smoking Martha’s live shows are filled with stage chemistry and professionalism, and tonight was no different. The lights dimmed as drummer Jordan Poynter filled the void with his hard-hitting passionate drum beats while Tash took the stage. Dressed head to toe in white (with matching angel wings) she was met with screams and whistles from the crowd before her sultry voice filled the air. Mick’s staple catchy riffs were like a magnet for punters hovering near the back of the stage, and Matt tied it all together with his stellar bass work. The group treated dedicated fans to new tracks that they have recently finished recording for their eagerly awaited second studio album. It seemed like there was no end to people being drawn towards the energy emanating from the stage. I had to pull myself away from the last few songs as DREGG were about to start on the Brightside stage.
As I walked into the Brightside it felt like the room was breathing. The heat emanating from the tightly packed room was like a punch in the face – which pretty much summed up the act I was about to see. The lights dimmed, and a recording started – a phone conversation offering Cartman a million dollars to play Halloween Hysteria played out before the group took the stage all dressed as members of South Park. The room was like a sauna, but even with the layers and beanies, DREGG didn’t hesitate, opening with a cover of Turbonegro’s All My Friends Are Dead. Once their second song Return of the DREGG kicked in, the mosh pit turned into a sea of hair and flailing arms, with vocalist Chris Mackertich stating, “this is a fucking hardcore show get pissed off!” …and they did. The group’s animalistic sound and comedy-filled set kept fans eating out of their hands until the end.
I raced back outside to the fresh air and lights just as Redhook were gearing up. Over the PA, Space Jam played, sending the crowd into a frenzy as singer Emmy Mack took the stage. Redhook instantly had the crowd’s attention. Their high energy set was full of catchy hits such as Your Heroes Are Bullshit and Turn Up The Stereotype that left not a stationary foot in the house. Emmy Mack owned the stage and commanded your attention. The group spoke of their excitement to play the fest and their car troubles that almost prevented them from playing. The Sydney 4-piece ended their set with their cover of Guerrilla Radio that recently got them a shout out from Tony Hawk himself. The crowd absolute ate it up, singing every line.
At long last Brisbane heavyweights Dead Letter Circus hit the stage. Through the darkness, screams bounced from the concrete walls of the Valley Drive In. It was clear that this was the moment so many had been waiting for. “Song enhancing” cannons fired and sparks shot to the roof; Dead Letter Circus had arrived, and they had brought their A-game. Vocalist Kim Benzie’s expertly executed high notes carried across the venue. The riffs, the beats, and man, the bass. I’m not sure if there was some sort of bearded bass pact between Stewart Hill and Luke Gower from COG but it was clear we were home to some of the best bass men on the planet. The stippling bass lines Stewart achieves are truly mesmerising. Dead Letter Circus fans were singing every word. We were treated to Tremors, the first song the group ever wrote. However, unfortunately not even Dead Letter could escape the days technical glitches, with the group losing the PA (which we were told was due to the powerboats to the PA being accidentally tripped by bar staff) during We Own The Light. Handled like the true professionals they are, the group continued to play until it sprang back to life, falling right back into perfect timing. The Armour You Grow from their latest album has the crowd moving before the The Mile is met with a roar from the crowd. They saw the night out with Next in Line bringing an end to their set and to the first night of Halloween Hysteria.
There was a distinctive change in the vibe today. As I walked into the Brightside I could see the Brisbane punk scene lining the walls of the venue. Costumes had been taken to the next level with body paint, devil horns, and fake blood reminding me this is Halloween!
Setting the mood for the day, Hell and Whisky kicked things off with the kind of whisky-infused blues you’d hear at the gates of hell. For a two-piece, Hell and Whisky have the sound of full-size band. Acoustic guitar coupled with what I could only describe as a drumkit in a box; throw in some sexy electric riffs and harmonica, and baby you got yourself a stew going. These two have been playing together for the better part of 20 years so it’s no surprise they are so tight. They pulled people to the stage as the place started to liven up.
The next band I was caught was Piston Fist. These guys haven’t been playing long but they are already gaining some traction in the local hard rock/metal scene, and I can see why. Piston Fist’s brand of hard-hitting rock cuts to the bone. Their killer riffs and heavy vocals are like a truck that’s breaks have failed and is bellowing down a hill and destroying everything in its path. These guys were having fun and so were we.
I had been looking forward to Shandy all day. I caught these cats at Dead of Winter back in July and I was keen for another glass. As the sun began to set, Shandy took us into the evening by inviting us all to tough camp complete with stage sit-ups and air punches. Front man JJ’s signature mullet and amazing dance moves kept the energy high. A real highlight of the set was their song about Kookaburras with JJ demonstrating his impressive bird calls. It’s like they have written the soundtrack to drinking a cold beer at the pub with your mates. Everyone was dancing before they were through, leaving a smile on every face.
I quickly shot inside to catch the end of Azreal’s set. These absolute legends were tearing it up as usual. Azreal are a huge part of the Gold Coast metal scene. Drummer Chris Dennis is always a pleasure to watch behind the skins. Couple that with Jimmy’s tearing riffs Luke’s guttural vocals and Scotty’s rolling bass lines hitting you like a brick to the teeth, Azreal are a powerhouse of metal.
I cut it short as Brisbane punk rockers Something Something Explosion were about to start. Kicking straight into Motor Mouth, the energy was high. They kept the momentum up as they punched out catchy tunes, keeping everyone moving. Vocalist/guitarist Grace Drummond and bass player Damon Motby have some great stage chemistry. The groups drummer Nayth Marshall recently left the band, so Josh Jansen (Flangipanis) was filling in tonight and doing a bang-up job. Their quality stage banter kept my attention between songs. Before they all left the stage, the boys left Grace alone with the lights as she covered Slipknot’s Snuff. I distinctly noticed for the first time today the crowd was dead silent as she exhibited her beautiful vocal range. The guys returned, and they finished with upbeat punk rock bangers, leaving the wheels well-greased for the Flangipanis.
Brisbane punk rockers The Flangipanis need no introduction. If you have seen a Flange gig before then you know what to expect: ridiculous costumes, stage antics, voice changers and lots of songs about sexual organs. The local legends took the stage in their shiny silver gowns before blasting a set of crackers like Fuck You And Your Stupid Party and I’m Drunk So What? Fuck You. The Flange never disappoints. Tonight was part of their tour for their new EP ‘Community Backwash’ about “all the things you can catch sharing drinks”. They hadn’t been on stage for more than 20 mins when they got the call to cut it short. Guitarist/vocalist Jodie – ever humble – thanked us for watching, but the crowd weren’t having it. Chants of “bullshit” rained out over the pit and the group smashed out another two songs.
Have you ever seen a man in a G-sting play a guitar with nun chucks? Because I have. It’s hard to put into words what I witnessed in the Jet Boys set. Returning for the first time in 8 years these Tokyo punkers put on the most entertaining punk show I have ever witnessed. Nowhere was safe from the Jet Boys, standing on drumkits, climbing walls and even grating a zucchini with his guitar strings. The Jet Boys aren’t a show, they are an experience. I was left dumbfounded with a stupid grin on my face the whole time. I don’t know what just happened but I’m sure glad it did.
I took a break after the Jet Boys to process what I just watched before making my way back the Valley Drive In for the Nekromantix.
I’ve been a fan of Nekromantix for a long time, but this was my first time seeing these guys and I was a little excited. Bodies seemed to come out of the walls until there was a healthy sea of mohawks and battle jackets. Before you knew it Kim Nekroman’s signature coffin bass was popping across the drive in. They kicked off with Stuck By A Wrecking Ball; I don’t know what was going on with the sound, but the guitar was blasting over the mix and the drums were almost non-existent. The sound issues continued through the next track, being sorted out shortly after. None of this stopped the Nekromantix from delivering their staple psychobilly sounds though. Subcultural Girl had the crowd singing along before Gargoyles Over Copenhagen got the place moshing. I enjoyed the set thoroughly, wishing they had more time.
Before The Chats were singing about pub feeds and peaceful smoko breaks, the Cosmic Psychos were writing rippers like Nude Sheilas on Motorbikes Drinking Beer and Nice Day To Go To The Pub. Cosmic Psychos are the perfect example of “don’t overthink it”. When I saw these guys last John “Mad Macca” McKering eloquently took the stage, beer in one hand, a six-pack in the other, and proceeded to down the lot before their 40 min set was done. Tonight, the guys brought the most creative setlist I’ve seen, written on a cardboard box so all members could see a side each. Beer in hand, singer/bass player Ross “Knighty” Knight proclaimed that this would be his right hip’s last show. These guys don’t take themselves too seriously – or at all really. There was a constant string of banter from the crowd and the psychos, keeping spirits high and people laughing throughout their set.
Alas all things must come to an end. Halloween Hysteria 2019 was an awesome time. So many great bands played, and many beers were had (with the help of the ever-supportive Young Henrys). With the amount of quality bands packed so close together, it was hard to see everyone, but I was told about the amazing sets I missed assuring me good times were had by all. I do wish there had been some food options though. Punters had to leave the venue between sets and it left some acts with smaller crowds. Regardless, Joey McGahey and the team at Hysteria put together another absolutely cracking Halloween Hysteria. I am eager to see what they have in store for next year.