The dull, unrelenting drone of the bus picks up as we make our way through the dispersed traffic typical of a Saturday afternoon. We reach the Adelaide CBD, as seemingly endless amounts of nameless faces pile on the bus, ready to leave the day as it was and move on to the next thing.
An odd sense of excitement and genuine curiosity for the night ahead is in the air. Things sure have changed since my full-time office job in the city — it’s fast approaching five-pm, and I’ve only just woken up and already started drinking; I shudder at the thought of identifying with the ‘Bogan Pride’ sang about by Bad//Dreems as I alight on to Grenfell Street.
A Day of Clarity, an entirely free multi-venue music festival organised by Clarity Records, is celebrating its second annual installment today; the ‘hardcore matinee’ that kicked things off for the day is coming to a close down the street at the Crown and Anchor, with the powerful, commanding set of Melbourne’s Outright (also returning for their second year).
Huge riffs vibrate throughout the Crown and Anchor as self-identified miscreants and weirdos fill out the band room, along with a typical mix of punters wearing opinions on their sleeves at the bar. Rhyce eventually joins me, feeling right at home among the strangely uniform style of individualism on show, in the form of cookie-cutter punk-vests and pins.
“Did you see?! There was another guy with a Clowns logo on his vest!” Rhyce dizzyingly regales.
Outright are a perfect showcase of some of the better hardcore material you can find in-store at Clarity Records, and also incredible performers. A hardcore-punk band led by a female vocalist, you'd not be wrong assuming the band aim to break-down gender issues, along with their choruses, through politically charged lyricism. Topics like domestic violence, emotional trauma and institutional corruption all got dedications before tracks that showcase their energetic, large (and, overall, impressive) sound. With monstrous, doomy riffs flourished by crashing breakdowns, the band would not at all be out of place in a NYC hardcore line-up, or opening for California’s Ceremony.
That may be the case, but something is wrong — nothing is happening off the stage. A theme that seemed to pop-up throughout the night starts to dip above the water as punters start asking themselves: "has this band, who have driven all the way from Melbourne, been given the right set time?". Suddenly the otherwise solemn, still crowd breaks open to the familiar yet alien site of hardcore-dancing; fists and kicks throw from a central grey hoodie, and a circle starts to spread open. A psyched Outright fan, or just another hardcore kid at the Cranka looking for an outlet for their angst, showing their dedication to the scene? Regardless, it got things moving, and was bit more reflective of the energy on stage than hypnotic crowd-nodding would tell you. The hooded vigilante leaves flustered, a few songs before the rest of the crowd.
Taking part across over ten stages this year, the sophomore festival is only just beginning to take shape for the evening. A Day of Clarity’s position as a highlight of the South Australian music calendar is quickly confirmed on arrival at the already-at-capacity Exeter Hotel. The symptoms of having a free Adelaide music festival are starting to show on the outskirts of the venue, as footy-sashed belligerents intermittently scour the pub in confusion. No signs of aggression yet.
Stephen takes the stage of the crowded Exeter beer garden with the rest of St Morris Sinners. The Exeter, along with the Cranka, has a sense of homely familiarity to it. The laid-back, semi-rural vibe quintessential to Adelaide's culture is encompassed by the bar's decor, along with the beer garden's tall, arching greenhouse ceilings — to some, it's a city-goer's version of the long, glass table you’ve inevitably sat around past two-in-the-morning at parties, getting existential at with romanticised ramblings, before arguing over the inherent values of McDonald’s fries. A bar where Adelaide’s collective auntie’s pot-plants hang throughout, as mice run past your table, and the forgotten dregs of the city ask you for change outside; the Exeter lends itself as the perfect backdrop for live music in Adelaide of all shapes and colours.
As St Morris get half-way through their set, the rest of our cohort arrives to watch Stephen’s front-man balance between Henry Rollins and Jim Morrison intimately develop. St Morris Sinners are a band to keep on your radar. Channeling the best bits of West Thebarton Brothel Party’s blues inspired tracks like 'Two-Bit Loser' with their own, frenetic flavor, the band are a fitting opener for the homegrown-hydra, and a great entrant in the showcase put on by Matthew "Footy" Horvath and Laura of Clarity Records.
Stephen stares with a fugue-like intensity into the eyes of the crowd, as his booming voice fills the beer garden, along with the band's bluesy instrumentals reminiscent of something you'd hear over the pub's stereo while having an afternoon pint at the venue. Looking at Stephen run through the crowd with mic in tow, a small sense of déjà-vu guilt can’t help but come about in the crowd for inaction, as the set comes to a climactic end in the open concrete at the front of our otherwise still Converse sneakers. Who’s to blame, though? The night is still young, and the Sinners couldn't have been booked with a more appropriate set time if they tried.
As the moon rises from behind the horizon, punters of every demographic begin to pour off of Rundle Street's boutique footpaths, pulling to the side of the Exeter to line-up for the increasingly crowded ATM, or exchange yells to punters sat at the tables outside. Inside, West Thebarton Brothel Party are beginning to pack out the beer garden to total capacity, much like the stage with its many members. It’s very strange watching these guys develop from a band with a questionable name opening for Bareback Titty Squad in 2013 (a band with an even more questionable name), to a local mammoth that has dads, mums, footballers, musicians, writers, photographers, drinkers, bimbos and everyone in between standing to attention, on tables where necessary. Making way back to the front of the crowd, the space near my Converse present for St Morris Sinners has become grossly overpopulated, as dozens of punters accompany Reverend Ray and the pit-choir to deliver a few hymns about Australian fast-bowler Glenn McGrath. The crowd sway like lemmings as the poor folks at the sound desk do their best to fight for enough of their own footing to do their job correctly.
To me, seeing the beer garden packed to capacity with crowd-surfing for the Thebbies-hydra isn’t what impressed me this year — it’s seeing the boys hailed to do an encore from a sizable portion of the crowd, and actually performing one.
I remembered, Ray. I forgot the name of the song, though. The unrelenting, malty burps on the bus from my breakfast Hoegaarden had apparently done their job.
The self-deprecating humour is a constant throughout the night across all of the event's ten venues. Coming from Adelaide, it’s best to have a sense of modesty about yourself, after all. Watching punters walk in and out of different venues across the night, a strange sense of polarity between jovial, self-deprecating apathy, and the ugly look after someone has drank and/or drugged themselves to social invulnerability begins to become apparent.
On one hand, you have bands like Sincerely, Grizzly (who are more than capable of putting on an intricate, tight set worthy of critical praise) missing a band member, telling the crowd to not expect much in the face of their technical handicaps.
“If you’ve got other bands you’d like to see tonight, now might be the time,” Josh jokingly hazards the crowd at The Rhino Room.
(Sincerely, Grizzly went on to do a reasonable job, all things considered) Raccoon City Police Department, far from inadequate, were also not allowing their headline slot to make them take themselves too seriously.
“I honestly don’t know why we were allowed on so late,” the boys chuckle, before closing off the stage’s A Day of Clarity debut.
The thing is, after a night spread out across so many venues, with so much diversity, and so many drinks, you begin to forget that each venue is celebrating a mutual event. A Day of Clarity is a camouflaged music festival that gives you a great excuse to venue-hop throughout the night and observe some of Adelaide’s best and worst revelers across the east-end pubs. The festival is half a showcase of the bands on display, and half a showcase of the punters and collective atmosphere of each venue.
The ugly side in a long night out across venues isn’t really in the black-and-white violence that lock-out proponents like Mike Baird would have you believe. The ugly side is in the telling glares you see from sleazy AFL fans, held up only by their friend’s shoulders. The ugly side is in punters doing push-ups at the bar to pay for drinks after their card is rejected (I’m not one for push-ups, but honestly this was a bargain deal for me). The ugly side is punters that walk in off the street, and take someone pushing them in the crowd of a band as a challenge to their authority.
The worst part about having a bunch of free gigs collectively on in Adelaide is, ultimately, that you have to deal with people that go to free gigs at pubs in Adelaide — they'll be there regardless of if it's apart of something larger, as long as the beer's cheap. Such is the beauty of a local music scene: A bunch of nobodies performing for a bunch of nobodies — but with the diamonds in the rough that events like A Day of Clarity aim to shine the spotlight onto. Just don't try bowing to Footy at the Crown and Anchor afterwards, he's not doing it for the praise.
Walking out of the Exeter as the night is closed off by the pub-rock thunder of Battlehounds, Adelaide gig icon Spoz Spozington stands in the doorway as revelers push past, spilling half their drinks in the process.
“I used to be somebody!” Spozz yells amidst the chaotic chatter of the bar.