Closing the Tote was a symptom of a broader disease

When people bought discs and tapes, fans of smaller bands cheered them on to reach a bigger audience – they spoke to us so they’d speak to other people – they deserved to break through and be heard.

When Nirvana did that it seemed like a victory for underground. The people who believed they REALLY listened to music and knew what rocknroll was about felt vindicated as the mainstream embraced grunge and a degree of alternative chic.

In Christmas 1995 I went to midnight mass with my cousins in Charters Towers then we wandered over to the town’s nightspot, Club 69, to see what was doing. It was cranking – a huge crowd was impressively drunk and there were strippers taking over the dance floor every few songs. It was appalling, but at the same time the wildness of it was pretty fucken cool.

When they played Smells Like Teen Spirit everyone in the place roared along in that lyric-less voice people employ at such times. My cousin cried.

Kurt Cobain had given voice to her alienation in a small redneck town and here were those rednecks taking him from her.
“He’d fucking hate this,” she said.

Until the late ‘90s inner-Brisbane was divided into The City, in the main for ex-private school, rugby union loving, mainstreamers and The Valley, mainly for people who liked bands, black and sometimes drugs.
The city crowd acknowledged grunge, and then in the years that followed, their younger brothers’ and sisters’ perception of cool changed, requiring them to embrace something new and edgy, albeit still within acceptable bounds. They came to the Valley and colonised a few venues.

In 1996 this still hadn’t happened and I was playing rugby league in the outer suburbs. The boys I was played with were mainly finishing trades or taking whatever work was going – generally a lot of labouring for landscapers and scaffolders. After games we drank at the tavern up the road – a big, empty suburban beer-barn whose name was on the back of our jerseys.

I was a uni student, which they had no interest in, and broke, which they understood. Those boys bought me a lot of drinks and let me smoke their cigarettes on a kind of rotational system. When I had money in my pocket they refused to accept the drinks back and when I had smokes they wouldn’t smoke them.

We had a lot of fights in the pub carpark, mainly between teammates and often fucking brutal. We trained hard and the boys could fight – they smashed teeth and blood flowed. Sometimes the fights got broken up, sometimes we stood in a circle down near the liquor barn and enjoyed the blue.

When they were over, we spewed up in bus shelters on the walk back to someone’s house to drink bourbon and pull cones until we passed out.

When the boys ventured out of the ‘burbs it was to a dodgy downstairs nightclub in the city where the game was drinking out of jugs of mixed spirits and trying to look harder than everyone else in the place until a decent fight broke out. They had some cracking brawls in there, and I still think the time they drew three cop cars and two paddy wagons to a street blue with the bouncers was pretty fucken legendary.

Either way, we got fucked up then met down at the club Sunday afternoon for a game of touch to sweat the piss out and loosen up the niggles from Saturday’s game.

It was all new to me – I usually drank in the Valley and went to gigs, we wore black tshirts, black jeans and doc Martens. At the time flannos and dope were the bridge that linked both worlds. Flannos had always been for bevans, (before cultural imperialism from the south decreed they must be known as bogans), but the Seattle grunge scene wore them so they had a degree of staunch credibility.

We saw gigs and leapt around. The moshpits were intense, dozens of us jumping into each other and enjoying the contact. They drained you physically, but self-regulated. If you hit the ground you were hauled up, if you crowd surfed and weren’t a fuckhead about it, lashing around with your boots, you’d be supported, if not you’d be dropped on your head. The girls moshed too, my sister loved it. She’d be charged up on beer and leaping into the fray grinning like a smashed watermelon.

One of the boys at footy asked me where I normally went out with my uni mates. I rattled off a few pubs, until I mentioned one he knew, “isn’t that joint full of weird cunts?” he asked. Why would I want to go there? Fuck uni cunts are strange.

The footy boys knew they were bevans. It didn’t bother them, they had no interest in the people who called them that, or the world they inhabited. Triple M played good music, Triple J played weird shit. They couldn’t understand poofters, and loved making jokes about them.

But their younger brothers and sisters were less comfortable being bevans, they abandoned the suburban beer barns and headed for the coast or the city. Eventually they started coming to the Valley.

The new masses changed the demographics, they didn’t like the music anymore than their elders had, but they brought a wipeout drinking style with them that rendered the music irrelevant. The venues responded, live music was squeezed out, strip clubs and faux-sophisticated, lets-get-fucked-up venues spread like weeds.
They also brought a serious punch-on culture out of the invisible pubs of the outer suburbs and into the mainstream, where rich people’s kids and journalists go.

The band pubs that survived didn’t change much because the new crowd rarely entered them. The experience of a night out in alternative Brisbane changed though – a lot more blues on the streets and in the cab lines, some gay men got bashed by buff cunts who used hair product and wore tight pink shirts; gay clubs were invaded by hens’ nights and slappers trying to turn a fag.

City private school kids had the money and now the access to the newly mainstreamed drugs. A couple of them get arrested, a couple take bad pills, a couple get bashed and you’ve got a crisis on your hands – a city under siege. All of the elements existed before, just the locations changed around and the demographics didn’t cope with the new experiences.

At the live music pubs, the scene went on. When I go out to see a band now it amazes me how little things have changed.

Music festivals have been the real scene killers. They’ve come to dominate live music and are beloved by the people who came to the Valley and colonized the drinking venues. The live pubs were too filled up with weirdos and fags, but the festivals are all about gettin’ fucked up in the sun, whether you know the bands or not.

The Big Day Out is rancid.

At the last one I could stomach I was excited about seeing Luciano, a Jamaican conscious reggae legend. Being brought up on tough Jamaican punters who don’t tolerate mediocrity, Luciano knows how to work an audience. There wasn’t much of a crowd, and not many knew his songs, so he incorporated a couple of Bob Marley standards to get them on side. I was a happy man, standing mid-crowd, smoking a couple of spliffs in the afternoon sun.

Then the shirtless, southern cross tatt boys appeared. Who are they? The rugby rich kids and the suburban boys all morphed into one at some stage.

They were there for the techno act up next, an electronic beat simple enough for anyone to dance to no matter how fucked up they are. They crowded the front of the stage and started tackling each other while they waited.
They knocked a few of the reggae punters over with their male-bonding wrestles and I moved back to give them their space. The gig was fucked from then on, they were shouting at each other over the music and I remember vividly the look on Luciano’s face as he saw what was happening to his crowd. Then the security turned up.

And rolled me over for the roach of my spliff. They crawled around on the ground trying to find the evidence I’d crushed into the grass. Marijuana is illegal you see.
Being a fuckhead isn’t.

Years ago my parents lived in the gulf country and an Aboriginal bloke told my old man a story to illustrate the attitude of the National Party in Queensland:

When a puppy reached a certain age his father took him out into the world to show him how things worked. They went down an alley behind a restaurant where the father brought him to the rubbish cans and helped the pup push one over so they could share the food within.

The pup was proud of his clever father – with this knowledge he’d never go hungry in his life.

Then his father sniffed the air and barked at the pup to follow him as he bolted away up the street.

When the pup finally caught up he found his father fighting a group of dogs. His father was so brave and savage he scared all of the other dogs away, except for one, a bitch on heat that the father mounted while the pup watched happily.

When he was done the father took the pup wandering through a park toward home. It was a slow journey as the father sniffed every tree and pole along the way and encouraged the pup to join him in lifting his leg on them.

When they got home the father asked the pup, “What have you learnt about world today?”

And the pup replied, “If you can’t eat it or fuck it, piss on it.”

Such is the mainstream experience of the alternative world, be it live music pubs, festivals or gay clubs.

A scene that Bjlke-Peterson couldn’t kill inadvertently highlighted things about our society that people were happier not knowing. Governments all over the country are trying to solve a “social crisis” and bring in licensing laws that close bones-of-their-arse music venues.

And the people that have always loved the bands, the music and the scene can’t be trusted with a full strength beer at a festival.

When the venues get beaten down enough the mob will move on to next decade’s trend – but boys and girls dressed in black will still plug guitars into amps. Hopefully there’ll be enough shitty pubs left selling cans of beer in dank backrooms with a stage.

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