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Three Generations of Punks in a Basement

A time lapse of the Hard Ons from side stage

The Hard-Ons show in Canberra on March 31st turned out to be quite the miasma of Aussie rock. Between You Am I’s Tim Rogers joining the band and multigenerational supporting acts, there was a lot of Australian music on display.

But first, some stuff to catch you up to speed.

The Hard-Ons, formed in 1981 in Punchbowl, came to be quite a force in the underground scene, and have just put out a new album (their lucky 13th), ‘I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken’.

Their early work attracted the attention of many a sweaty youngster, including one, Tim Rogers of ‘You Am I’ fame, who would have been twelve when they started.

Rogers has joined the band now, which has made them something of an Aussie rock chimera. Other members include: Peter ‘Blackie’ Black, the guitarist (who looks eerily related to Rogers), Ray Ahn, the bassist (who’s right nipple is perpetually attacked by a tattoo of a lizard), and Murray Ruse (the only one with a short haircut).

The Canberra show is part of an album launch tour, it’s the only show they’re playing in Canberra. Canberra can be relied on to sell out exactly one show before it’s been tapped.

It’s a pit stop city.

Tim Rogers and Peter 'Blackie' Black on stage.

The night of the gig I finagle my way into a chat with the openers, Charlotte and the Harlots.

Getting a chance to talk with The Harlots was great, as they represent the culmination of nearly fifty years of Australian rock tradition.

It is freezing cold, and I can hear a microphone come squealing on and a guy yelling ‘Yeeeep!’ into it, followed by a sort of imitation magpie gargle.

The eponymous Charlotte Jenkins and her Harlots assemble around a table out back of The Basement (the venue), and when asked if the momentum of landing these big support gigs and putting out their own music is scary to them at all, the resounding answer is more excited and hopeful than nervous.

The Harlots bassist, Jasper Kemp-Myers (who, yes, he knows he bears a passing resemblance to Dave Grohl, he gets it all the time), says there’s an approachability to Australian music, they have chances to play with their heroes that would be much more difficult to land in countries with less tight-nit scenes.

Charlotte and the Harlots bassist, Jasper Kemp-Myers.

If you’ve never been to The Basement, it’s a kind of inconspicuous place in Belconnen (it somehow seems very Canberra that one of the best live music venues around is facing an Office Works).

There are several non-smoking signs around, and many people smoking around them.

I’ve seen the Harlots live a few times now, and they were at their best that night.

Charlotte is an energetic front-person. The guitarist, Luke Schiffer, is a bundle of hair and flannel. Kemp-Myers plays the kind of bass you want to grind your teeth along with, and the drummer, Daan Steffens, hits hard enough to be a liability to surrounding microphones.

Harlots' guitarist, Luke Schiffer, and singer, Charlotte Jenkins.

We talk about the oeuvre of Australian rock and punk and the irony of following a ‘Punk Tradition’. As if by magic, while we talk about musical families, Jenkins father, a grinning ginger beard, walks up, looking exactly how you’d hope the supportive father of a punk singer would.

He’s probably about the same age as the Hard-Ons members, after all punk is dad.

Jenkins says she considers The Hard-Ons up there with any of her musical heroes, she seems genuinely excited to be playing with them.

The guy testing the mic starts throat singing, or maybe Gregorian chanting. No doubt the guy behind the soundboard is giving him little thumps-ups/downs. He rounds off with an acapella didgeridoo, and the band take off to get on stage.

Jenkins has a DIY tattoo that says ‘BLONDIE’ on her inner elbow, she lives up to the spirit of it on stage.

The second band of the night is Glitoris, a protest band who in 2014, played what was supposed to be a one off show, dressed in nothing but glitter, but after it went resoundingly well, the band stayed together.

They’re now a main-stay of the Canberra scene.

Glitoris guitarist, Andrew

Despite forming in 2014, Glitoris are the middle-sized doll of our Babushka, with the members being older than the Harlots, but younger than the Hard-Ons.

The maturity of the band’s respective names doesn’t seem to map to their ages, in fact, it almost seems inverse.

Every member sings, but the lead singer Keven 007 has sharp winged-eyeliner, bright purple and, would you believe it, is very glittery; she reaches falsetto heights at multiple points. Andrew, the guitarist, is the most intense by far, she is shoeless and propped on the foldback wedge and strikes at her instrument. The bassist, Malcolm, dances wood-stock like and does a lot of the rhythmic heavy work. The drummer Mickey provides the backbone to many of the chanting breakdowns.

On stage, Glitoris are hard to pin down, they are vaguely trance-ish (I don’t see the lead singer blink till the fourth song).

To start, Nine Inch Nails seems a decent comparison (in both tonality and manicure), but then it’s more Rage Against The Machine, then full blown 80’s cheesy anthem. But, it’s all done with a sort of Wiggles-esque choreography accompaniment.

If the Harlots feel like a band from the 2000’s and The Hard-Ons feel like a band from the 80’s, then Glitoris are resoundingly 90’s, with a love for sarcastic, slogan, big-billboard style, call-to-action lyrics and intense looks into the crowd.

They are, for the record, very fun to watch play.

Between sets everyone flees out to the alley behind to chatter and shake and joggle and smoke/vape depending on age range. The olfactory intersection of Tooty-Fruity vapor and straight up-and-down tobacco is in a word, complex.

The Hard-Ons onstage.

When The Hard-Ons take the stage it’s with an intensity that reminds you why these younger bands are so excited to be playing with them, why they looked up to them.

I think it’s very telling that every member of The Harlot’s refer to the members of The Hard-Ons by their first and/or nicknames, like you do with a cool uncle. They have never met them in person, but they feel immediately familiar.

Though, Tim Rogers is always referred to as Tim Rogers, the brand is rather strong. He gets on stage in gold go-go pants and a rose belt and dances to a noise punk song like Mick Jagger trying to charm a snake, or a very unique belly dancer.

Tim Rogers yelling into a microphone.

They’ve lost none of the bite.

If you want another example of the inter-age dynamics of the night, here’s one that seems hand-delivered for just the purpose: The Harlots drink Carlton Dry, Glitoris drink gin and tonics (slice of lime and everything), and The Hard-Ons drink water.

The night is ear-hair-flatten-ingly loud (though this is exaggerated by having to stand right next to the speakers to get good photos, and forgetting to bring earplugs, like a rookie), and all in all ends up going for something like four or five hours with breaks.

It was light when the show started, it is resoundingly dark by the time it ends.

The Hard-Ons are seasoned pros at long stints of sweat and movement and noise, they play at maximum the whole night, and have that magical quality of punk that makes the onlooker think, ‘I’d love to be up there doing that’.

And that’s ultimately the theme of the whole night, the Australian punk scene maintains a scrappiness that makes it immediately relatable and approachable. The Hard-Ons exemplify this, they hired a long time fan to be lead singer, there is no better affirmation of ‘you can do it’ than that.

As a star to steer by for up and coming Australian rock bands, they seem pretty worthy.

All photos by Ezra Ryan