Australia · Interviews

Things to Know About Live Music in Sydney

It’s been a little while coming but I’ve finally found the time to write up the first interview in my series on things to know about Sydney scenes.

Today we’re taking a look at live music–specifically hard rock and heavy metal–with Harrison Bray, a 22-year-old who has been making music for two decades and actively participating in the local music scene since he was old enough to do so.

He now drums for Bad Absalom, a band I have enjoyed seeing multiple times in Sydney during my visits in the past year.

With a calculated sound, energetic stage presence, and magnetic friendliness, Bad Absalom is sure to give you a good time. Feel free to come see them at the Townie on April 18, the Bald Faced Stag on April 20, and follow them on Facebook for updates on gigs near you.

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After a sit down with Harrison, I intruded on Bad Absalom’s practice Friday evening at Adversary Studios. Knowing I would be flying out before their next gig, I was happy for the chance to hear some of the bands new songs before then.

Having seen Bad Absalom at multiple venues in the past year, I’ve watched the band find its sound with a solid drummer as the latest addition to a long-standing trio of talented musicians.

Although Arthur May is the frontman, his younger brother and lead guitarist Jeremy takes an equally if not a more active role in pushing the band forward and was the one who convinced Arthur to come in and sing for the band. They continue to manage the band together.

The May brothers of Bad Absalom started playing with a good friend of theirs in Nepal back in 2013 and continued to do so when they moved to Greystanes, Sydney in 2014. It was in Newtown where they met their bassist, Richie Secker a year later.

As soon as he stepped into their house, they knew, says Richie, and the trio has been playing together for three years now.

But it was ghetto, back in Greystanes, they say.

With the May’s nephew as a drummer, the band was complete and played a few shows. However, on the night of their first gig at the Valve, the drummer was kicked out by a bouncer for being underage and their set was scrapped. They did play there again but as a band that was just getting started, the singer says they weren’t what he’d consider quality performances.

Over time, the band went through a number of changes, with a new drummer and second guitarist with whom they performed for a time under the name Mud Angel. However, over the course of the past year both the guitarist and drummer pulled out and the band was back to its three core members.

Enter Harrison, who came on board just eight months ago. As of 2018, the band has now landed its first paid gig, recently recorded an EP, and will soon be playing at one of Sydney’s prime metal venues, the Bald Faced Stag.

Harrison brings more to the band then drumming alone. As somewhat of a jack of all trades in not only music but photography and journalism as well, this Sydney local is an active participant in the city’s metal community and live music scene.

Thus, Mr. Bray appeared just the local to talk to for the lowdown on the music scene.

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Tell me about how you got started with music.

I was born into a musical family: my mother lays the piano and sings; my dad was raised with a father who plays guitar and I grew up listening to old music such as big band, swing, and jazz. So, from a young age, I’ve always had music as an influence.

When my older brother started drum lessons, we bought a second-hand drum kit from a garage sale and for a long time, I would just spend hours whacking around on it. I didn’t really know what I was playing or how to do it but I figured it out. Eventually, I started primary school and I started lessons. And I’ve been playing ever since.

Ever since…?

I’ve been playing since I was about two. I’ve had ten years worth of lessons.

Outside of school, what was your first live performance?

I guess what you could technically call my first performance would have been very possibly at Frankie’s for the karaoke, but I’ve done a lot of stuff since then.

As a drummer, I’d say my first proper performance outside of school would have been with my old band, Broken Knuckles. We didn’t survive for very long because our lead guitarist went back to Spain. We played a couple of originals and a few covers but yeah, we were a metal band.

How did you become a member of Bad Absalom and what was your first impression of the band?

There’s a mutual friend that the band has; I know her through Frankie’s–we became very good friends–and about two weeks before her birthday party, which was hosted at Foundry 616, she posted on Facebook asking if she knew anybody who’s a drummer. I contacted her and said yes, I play drums; I have for a long time. What’s up?

She said that there was a band playing at her birthday who’s drummer just pulled out and they needed someone to fill in. I said, yeah I’d love to, put me in contact with them, so she put me in contact with Arthur and I spoke with him for a couple of days. He sent me some demos and then about a week after he sent me another message that said, sorry mate, we’ve actually found a drummer who we’ve played with before who’s gonna do the party. And I said that’s absolutely fair because you want someone who you’ve played with before rather than someone who’s just heard your stuff.

I was going to the party anyway because she’s a friend and I like to party. About two hours before the party I jump out of the shower and I’ve got a few missed calls from her. I call her back and she asks me, can you please bring your guitar and put together a set with my boyfriend because one of the bands we had has completely pulled out.

I went along and met up with the lead singer of Darker Half–a band in Sydney–and we sat down for about 20 minutes and put together a half-hour set. The boys from Bad Absalom were there that night as well. They saw me perform, except it was vocals and guitar. About six months later, I get a message from Jeremy that said hey man, it’s official, we’ve kicked out our drummer; we’d like you to come and join us. And I said absolutely, I’d love to join.

Jeremy said let’s meet up, have a few drinks, and discuss possibilities. I said absolutely, I’m completely down for that. Fast forward a couple of weeks, we met up at The Townie in Newtown–which is where we played our first gig–we had a few drinks, I got to meet the guys, and my first impression was: these are my guys. They’re good musicians, they know what they want, they’ve got a goal set and it’s very very similar to a goal I have. I just had an instant good feeling about it.

And that goal is?

Well, ideally, the goal is, you know, world famous, internationally known, touring the world, playing music, getting paid.

And that’s a goal everyone in the band shares?

Somewhat, yes. Everybody in the band wants to become known; everybody in the band wants us to take off. It’s just, we may all have different levels of notoriety. For example, I want to get signed to a label and tour the world but I don’t know where the other guys sit. I know that if we did get signed to a label, they’d be on board.

You’re a musician. When you started with the band, what did you think both of the individual members and its potential as a whole?

When we had our first practice, I’d say I looked at the boys and thought, yeah, these guys actually know what they’re doing. When I got into the practice with Jeremy and Richie and Arthur, we were talking in technical terms and I realized that these guys actually know their theory and know what they’re doing.

Tell me about recording your first EP.

Well, the EP, it was a lot of fun, We booked out Adversary Studios in St. Peter’s for about eight hours and we spent the day just recording. It was absolutely brilliant. Our engineer was absolutely fantastic and she seemed to really like the music. We’re not completely finished yet; we’ve still got to lay down a few guitar tracks. Actually, Jeremy is going to be doing that today.

The process was drums and bass, guitar, and we did those for three songs, and at the end of the day, we recorded the vocals. Out of everything the vocals took the least time because Arthur knew what he was doing and it’s a lot easier to focus on one person than it would be to focus on a drummer and a bassist or a guitarist with malfunctioning gear.

With the EP, we’re very, very close to releasing it. We haven’t got anything booked yet for the release party but it’s in the works. We do have two gigs coming up. One is on the 18th of April at the Townie, which is a Wednesday night. We’re sort of using that as practice before our actual gig which is on Friday the 20th of April at the Bald Faced Stag in Leichhardt.

That’s a big one for you guys?

Yes, the Bald Faced Stag is one of the best venues to play in Sydney. I guess you’d say it’s the ANZ Stadium of the Sydney scene. If you play the Stag people know who you are. And we’ll be playing with Hibiscus Biscuit and Cold Vulture.

What are some of your favorite live acts in Sydney?

My ultimate favorite band is sadly no longer together. They were called Under Night’s Cover. They were probably one of the biggest bands in the Sydney scene–very well known–and they played their final show last year to a sold-out crowd.

Is that something you aspire to with Bad Absalom, to reach that level of notoriety in Sydney?

Absolutely.

There are a lot of other Sydney-based bands as well. For example, there’s Snow Leopard, which is an Iron-Maiden style band. They play originals but they also play Iron Maiden covers. Then there’s Kvltofice, which is very power-metally, and also Carmeria. Funnily enough, all three of those bands have the same bass player. His name is Tory and he is an awesome guy. Then there’s another band I mentioned earlier, which is Darker Half, also I’d say very power-metally.

Although one of my favorite bands to go and see, and I’ve seen them multiple times–actually I’d call them my friends–are not Sydney based but they’re here two or three times a year. They’re called Lagerstein; they’re a band from Brisbane. Basically, the translation of their name would be “beer mug” and they’re a pirate metal band. I first saw them open for Alestorm–an internationally famous pirate metal band–back in 2015 or 2016. Every time they’ve come to Sydney since then, I’ve been because they’re my mates and it’s always just a fantastic show. It’s usually sold out: great crowd and fantastic music.

How did you get into music journalism?

I got into photography because another Sydney band that I have been to see a couple times, Molly and the Krells, had an album launch at Brighton Up Bar on Oxford Street and I got very, very drunk and started taking pictures on my phone at the gig. I was moving around, getting different angles, different types of shots, and I looked at the photos a couple days later and thought, wow, these are actually really good. I showed them to some people and they agreed. That’s when I started looking into photography and realized it was something I could do.

With the writing, it comes down to the twins, with whom I became friends and then learned about their business, Twin Musix. They showed me the website and around this time Alice Cooper came out with his first studio album in a few years. It was called Paranormal. I was very, very excited–being a die-hard Alice Cooper fan–and I asked if I could write an album review for them because I’ve always had these thoughts about albums that I listen to but never had anyone to express them to.

They said yeah we’d love you to help. I wrote the review; they loved it; they posted it online, and they got more and more work. I said to them, if you need some help, you don’t have to do it alone, And they said yes, we’d love some help, so I started working with them doing writing, editing articles and interviews, and I’ve only recently gotten into the photography part of it. The twins are very particular about the type of photos that go on the website. Up until recently, they only trusted themselves–which I understand–but they allowed me to do the Arch Enemy gig because they were in Melbourne at Download and I was here n Sydney.

I was lucky because, had I not gotten a photography pass, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the show because it was sold out. So I got a free ticket to see one of my absolute all-time favorite bands and I got to go in front of the barrier and take photos up close and personal, which was such a rush.

How long have you been involved in the live music scene in Sydney?

Going to shows, I’d have to say since about year ten of high school. Because, being underage at the time, you can’t really go to many local shows. I could go to concerts; my first concert was AC/DC back in year ten.

I’ve been in the scene for a long time, but I’ve been active in the scene for the past few years. I wasn’t really able to get into the scene as much as I wanted to until I turned 18 and once I hit 18 it was like a whole new world opened up to me There were all these venues that were playing local bands and all these events at nightclubs with live music and these 18+ gigs.

In that time, how has music in Sydney been evolving?

I wouldn’t say it has been evolving; I’d say the music scene has stayed the same but thanks to the government and their ingenious lock-out laws I’d say it’s actually been slowly dying. But that being said, there are countless numbers of people trying to keep it alive and they’re doing a very good job. But unfortunately, with the lockout laws forcing business to shut down due to lack of income and lack of patronage more and more live music venues are getting shut down.

I read recently that the Basement is set to shut down. Is that an important venue for local acts?

Yes, the Basement has been one of the key places for big-time local acts to play. It’s like you have different levels. For example, Somebody can go and play the Valve and that’s the first level. Then you get places like Frankie’s and the Bald Faced Stag, that’s the next level. And then you’ve got places like the Basement and Manning Bar and that’s sort of the peak of the Sydney scene.

When I went and photographed Arch Enemy at Manning Bar the two bands that opened for them were Sydney-based. The first one was called Potion; I hadn’t heard them before but I really liked their sound. The second one was actually fronted by somebody I know and they were called We May Fall. They’re very hardcore metal.

Is Manning Bar a metal venue?

No, Manning Bar is a live music venue. They host all kinds of music there. For example, when I’ve been to the Rock ‘n’ Roll fair they’d have rockabilly bands playing. I personally have been there for metal gigs but I know that they’ve played other people there.

And the Basement?

I’d say the Basement was more for bands rather than solo artists. If, say, Ed Sheeran was to come along and Green Day was to come along when they were nobody, Green Day would play the Basement and Ed Sheeran would play something like Foundry 616.

What’s one thing you love and one thing you hate about the live music scene in Sydney?

One thing I love is the community. Everybody knows everybody. I’ll go to a gig as a performer or just as a punter and I’ll know people in the band or I’ll know other people in the audience. Everybody comes out; all your friends and other bands come out to support you and because they’ve come out to support you, you in turn go out and support them. That way you always pull a crowd.

The metal community in Sydney, our bond is, it’s, it’s thicker than blood. We care about each other, we look out for each other. We contact a band and say, hey we’ve got a gig coming up. Would you like to be on the bill with us because you haven’t played a gig in a while and we know you want to. Or, hey we’ve got this gig coming up and there’s gonna be these types of people here; we know that you play that kind of music and we’d love to have you.

Is it a small or closed community?

It is not small; I guarantee you it is not small. It is a massive community and it’s definitely not closed. The Sydney community, especially the metal community, is very welcoming. I’ve gone to big concerts like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, stuff like that. I’ll be waiting in line for hours on a day and I’ll be making friends with people in line; people I’ve never met before in my life. I just start talking with them about metal; I start talking to them about bands we like, bands we’ve seen, even people we’ve met. And then fast forward six months, we’re friends, seeing each other every now and then, they’re coming to my gigs, I’m going to their gigs, and it’s just so open and welcoming.

I’d say, anyone who wants to check out the metal scene in Sydney but is afraid to, doesn’t need to be because they’re just such nice people. Yes, unfortunately, every scene has one or two dickheads (Just one of two?) but the majority of the people in the scene are incredibly nice.

I can’t even think of anything I hate too much about the Sydney metal scene apart from, obviously, venues closing down. I guess that would be it to me: the venues closing down; the lack of venues. If we were to travel back in time to the 80s, or even to the 70s, every night you could pay five bucks and go and see some of the greatest bands playing in any club–local bands, and sometimes these local bands went on to make it big.

Back then you could pay five bucks and get in for a whole night and see about ten different bands playing. Nowadays you’re lucky to get more than two or three venues playing shows in one weekend. Yes, there are a lot of live venues but a lot of the times these venues won’t go out and book people. The band has to turn around and book it themselves; they would contact the venues rather than the venues contacting them. How would I put it? Back in the day, you would have had multiple bands playing, whereas nowadays there would be two or three bands paying just for one night.

Wow. I’ve never been to a gig in Sydney with more than four acts; usually there are just three.

No, same here. I’d say the most I’ve been to would have to be a four-band act. And there’s just so much potential for so much more to be done. There’s always potential for more music to be played and more people to get involved but there’s no space. There’s no venue because they’re all shutting down.

What was the last Sydney band to make it big internationally?

Off the top of my head, I don’t actually really know. I do know that there are a lot of bands from around Australia that have made it big. For example, Airborne. They’re a Melbourne-based band. I’ve got a poster in my room that’s signed by the band from 2006 and it’s their Aussie pub rock tour. I got that off my old lead singer who must’ve been at the show and it would’ve just been a pub show, but then I got to see Airborne play the Metro a couple years ago. And I’ve seen footage of them playing some of the biggest festivals in the world such as Wacken Open Air, Download in England, all kinds of stuff. They are internationally known.

There’s another band I mentioned before, Lagerstein. Last year they were on tour in Europe. It was a completely self-promoted, self-funded tour but they now have an international following. Lagerstein is from Brisbane.

Do you think Sydney is missing out because the music scene isn’t giving bands that potential?

Not necessarily. It’s more of a case of, Sydney is a very expensive place to live and the bands that are living in Brisbane and Melbourne, they’ve got more venues there to play; those places have got a nightlife.

Were they not affected by the lock-out laws?

No, the lock-out laws were Sydney-specific; New South Wales only. If you go to Melbourne, you can leave a bar at 1:30 AM and go into a number of bars and there is a nightlife there and they have bands playing there. But no, I don’t think that Sydney is missing out. I just think that because I’m based in Sydney I don’t see these bands touring.

Actually, no. I’m wrong: Darker Half. They are from Sydney and they did a tour in Europe a few months back; I think they’re going over again real soon. But yes, other than Darker Half I really can’t think of any international Sydney bands, apart from of course ACDC.

Where do you go to catch the best live performances in Sydney? Are they venues you can walk into on the weekend knowing you’ll catch a live band?

Yes, there are venues like that; for example, Frankie’s, who are very public in their promotion of live music. It’s a free entry venue, which in Sydney is pretty amazing. Frankie’s doesn’t have live music every night but I’d say they have it three or four nights out of the week. Then there’s the Townie (which is also free entry) but they only have it maybe two or three nights out of the week.

Of course, there’s the Bald Faced Stag but that’s not necessarily free entry. Sometimes bands will be playing there for free; other times it’s a ticketed event. But there’s always usually live music on there at least once or twice a week.

How about your upcoming show there?

It’s a free entry gig but we’re not playing the stage; we’re playing the main floor. I think it’s something that’s only come out recently. They did a massive renovation of the Bald Faced Stag not long ago. They completely got rid of the Pokies Room and expanded the Live Music Room–a big empty room with a stage–and that’s usually where they have the big acts play.

I recently saw a friend of mine, he’s in a band called ThunderDome, play at the Stag a few weeks back and they played in the main area, right next to the bar. It’s kind of convenient actually, and similar to the Townie. Except, the Townie has a stage; the main area of the Stag does not. You’re right on the ground, up close and personal with the fans.

How do you find what’s going on online?

Obviously, these venues have their websites, which would have a list of events coming up, but Facebook is your best bet. There are a lot of pages (check out Sydney Metal Gig Guide and Anything Music Sydney) for the music scene in Sydney. You could even go to “Events near me” and have a look who’s playing.

Would you say every live gig is going to have a corresponding event on Facebook?

Yes. If you’ve got a live event and you’re not advertising it on Facebook, you’re not really advertising

Alright, let’s wrap this up. Anything else to say?

Come and check out Bad Absalom play at the Stag on April 20. We’re also playing the Townie on April 18. It’s my birthday on April 19 so the Stag gig is going to be a really big party. Come down, have a few drinks, see some great music, and let’s just have a great time.

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

Weekend in Sydney: Beaches and Bridges

With an outbound flight coming up this Sunday, my last full weekend was spent enjoying some of Sydney’s grandest attractions.

Saturday at Bondi Beach

After an interview with proactivist Lance Lieber of Transition Bondi, it felt important to spend the last chunk of daylight down by the seaside.

However, Bondi Beach itself looked as crowded as it would on a sunny Saturday afternoon and it already seemed a bit chilly for a swim.

Under such circumstances, one must hang a right from the beach and take the scenic Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk past Tamarama instead.

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You can catch some breathtaking views from Mackenzies Point and lounge on the Tamarama Rocks while watching the surfers out on the waves.

Sunday on the Bridge Bridge

On Sunday, you can ride trains, buses, and ferries all around Sydney for only $2 with an Opal card.

This last Sunday–in the company of a few good people–I took a train to Milsons Point, right on the northern end of the Harbour Bridge.

Before beginning the bridge walk, we lingered at the Kirribilli Markets under the bridge’s arch on Burton Street and enjoyed a little picnic in the grass outside to the tune of some smooth live jazz.

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At the end of our walk across the bridge, we climbed up the Pylon Lookout for a breathtaking view of the city sprawled across the harbor. We even watched a wedding take place beneath us on a small patch of green near Circular Quay.

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There are fascinating pictures and stories of the bridge building in a museum inside the lookout as well.

The bridge will take you from the north of Sydney to The Rocks–a narrow-alleyed, a cobble-stoned precinct reminiscent of old European towns.

Once across, we made our way to an authentic Bavarian beer hall, formerly known as Lowenbrau Keller and now named Munich Brauhaus.

Not only were all the wait staff dressed as though it were Oktoberfest; indeed, the barman was a real-life German.

We sat outside to enjoy the last few rays of the sun’s warmth and, as it set, noticed a street lamp with a gas-lit street lamp.

With beer (and some very tasty french fries) in our bellies, we walked past the Overseas Passenger Terminal and happened to catch a massive cruise ship waving its farewells while enjoying some live music from the Cruise Bar.

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In one random alley, we happened upon a small window which revealed what may very well have been the rock upon which the first settlers landed in Sydney.

Also to be found on a Sunday: The Rock Market, though, to our misfortune, we got there just as they were closing up at 5 PM.

Eventually, we found a spot in the grass to sit and enjoy the sunset with a bottle of wine.

Nearby, devotees turned towards Mecca and prayed Maghrib. We were approached by a security officer with the Hindi name Sanjay, who, in the most friendly manner possible, let us know that we were drinking in an alcohol-free zone.

There were five other officers in the area who, he informed us, were not as friendly as Sanjay and would readily issue a $200 fine for our offense. Sanjay was merciful, however, and simply asked us to cap the bottle and put it away.

At times like these, I am grateful for the dazzling and diverse city that is Sydney.

 

Australia · Day Trips

Train, Beach, Camp

And when I say train, I am referring to Sydney trains–the ones with wheels–and not the act of training.

Nonetheless, a beach trip was a good follow up to what has now been six weeks of boxing and martial arts at Darkside Gym.

Honestly, we didn’t do much planning for this trip other than deciding that we wanted to spend at least part of the long Easter camped out on a secluded beach.

All we needed to pull it together was:

  • A phone to check train schedules;
  • An overnight bag with beachwear;
  • A day or two’s supply of food;
  • A water bottle to refill;
  • A tent, sleeping mats, and a light blanket.

At this time of year, it wasn’t cold enough to need sleeping bags; we also didn’t have any.

With two people, the supplies were easy to carry.

For food, we brought plenty of fruit and veggies, along with some cold cuts and hummus, for salads, sandwiches, and dips.

We didn’t roll out the door until quite late in the day and had to make a few stops to get last-minute groceries (e.g. freshly baked bread) and pick up the tent and sleeping mats we were borrowing.

From Central Station, we caught the 6:36 PM South Coast Line to Kiama on Platform 25 and disembarked at Wombarra Station just after 8.

You can get the South Coast Line train schedules on Google maps.

Wombarra is the station just after Scarborough but it is the closest to Scarborough Beach–our camping site of choice.

On the train, you’ll likely be charged between 2 to 6 Aussie dollars on your Opal card each way. Spend what you please on groceries and the trip is highly affordable.

I suppose I should mention that camping is not technically allowed on Scarborough Beach; however, locals have confirmed that it is conventionally condoned. Don’t be leaving anything behind, is all.

We arrived at the beach after sundown but were fortunate to have plenty of light from a gorgeously full moon to set up the tent and have a bite to eat.

From the beach, there is also a pathway leading up to a well-lit building with bathrooms and showers that stayed open all night.

The next morning, we unzipped the tent to this spectacular view that made a somewhat uncomfortable sleep on mats that were, on the one hand, small and easy to carry but also just a bit too thin, entirely worth it.

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In all, a full 24-hour cycle was spent enjoying the beach-dwellers life at Scarborough.

At the break of dawn, surfers were out on the waves. As the morning progressed, flags were set up and Surf Rescue volunteers took their stations.

There never appeared to be more than two or three groups of people on the beach at any given time, from yogis doing handstands to couples walking their dog and families with young children playing in the swash.

Regardless, we had enough privacy on our end of the beach to feel quite comfortable doing as we pleased.

Although we had enough food to stay another night, we decided to leave at sundown that day so we could make it back to the city by 9 PM, buy alcohol (bottle shops had been closed over the holidays), and enjoy such luxuries and modern comforts as beds.

Nonetheless, being beachside was exhilarating and wonderfully relaxing at the same time.

Australia · My MMA Journey · Permaculture

Sydney through its Locals

With a little over two weeks remaining in Sydney, I’ve decided that I’d like to pick the brains of a couple of interesting locals for the inside scoop of everything from live music and the martial arts scene to permaculture and proactivism before I leave.

For one, I’ve gathered lots of interesting snippets about pro and amateur combat fighting here in Australia and I’d love to go beyond my own speculation here on my blog and hear straight from the guys at my boxing and martial arts gym who founded it some eight years ago. With any luck, I’ll make it to an upcoming MMA bout myself–though it is the night before my flight out of Sydney–to see the most badass girl in the gym have herself a fight.

In addition to training at Darkside Gym five or six times a week, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a number of great live music acts during my stay here in Newtown and in Central Sydney. In addition to catching bands like Valen, White DogZeahorse, and Snape, I’ve seen Bad Absalom on stage a good couple of times performing original songs and always putting on a great act.

Last week the Bad Absalom boys recorded their first EP and I’ve been looking forward to a sitdown with the some of their members to talk both about their experience as musicians in Sydney as well as chat about some of the other great acts one can walk in on in the city.

Finally, I’m eager to revisit permaculture–which I’ve written about once or twice in the past–and now also proactivism. I’ve talked to some friends who are involved in all sorts of great causes and initiatives but I learned recently that they don’t call themselves activists. Instead, the term proactivism came up because it is, after all, about taking action to prevent problems and now about protesting the ones we already have.

Don’t quote me on this; I’ll soon be talking to Lance Lieber of Transition Bondi so let’s wait for his word on the matter. I was introduced to him by a friend who I’ve already been meaning to gain insight from on this and other subjects. For one, I’d like to know how she stays so very involved in such a myriad of activities, from African drum and dance groups to growing vegetables and learning natural dye and, more fascinating yet, how these interests connect her to her environment.

Now that my intentions have been made officially clear I’m nothing if not tied to them; feel free to look forward to a series of hopefully compelling interviews in the next few weeks. On a side note, if you are a Sydney local and you have something remarkable to share about this city, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 16: One Month at Darkside Gym

No martial arts gym I’ve been to has given me a full of as valuable an experience as Darkside Gym in Sydney.

By the way, if you haven’t read Part 15 of this series, check it out for my introduction to this and other gyms in Sydney’s inner west.

In my first month at Darkside, I managed to fit in 24 classes–many in their convenient midday slot. (Check out the timetable.) Of the various fight forms offered to build up the full MMA experience here at Darkside, boxing classes are the most abundant.

I’ve done the most training in boxing because it was the first fight sport I started training in nearly two years ago at Elorde in the Philippines. As such, I might have thought I’d be coming in with at least a decent foundation.

However, in more than one area, it has felt like I’ve been starting from scratch since coming here.

Many of the things I wish I had learned from my trainers in six months of boxing at Elorde, I have been learning here.

That’s not to discredit my Pinoy trainers at all: Elorde gave me an excellent introduction to the sport by building fitness, toughening up my knuckles, and starting to put some power in my punches.

In a way, my experience at Darkside is best compared to the short time I spent at Team Lakay in Baguio in that they train people how to actually fight and, when you’re sparring, you and your partner want to hit and get hit.

It comes down to the difference between a fitness gym and a fighters gym and that is, in fact, something I like quite a lot about Darkside: you can walk in here–curious to try a new way to get fit, indifferent to actual fighting–and fit right in.

However, you won’t be going through the motions; you’ll be learning proper footwork, good form, and pertinent punching sequences.

Depending on your level or how badly you want to get fit and/or want to get hit, there are a variety of boxing classes you can join, from Fitness to Fundamentals to Advanced.

The Fitness class is full of conditioning drills and bag work and has already become somewhat dreaded as it will wipe you out physically. You won’t be getting hit but your knuckles might feel a little sore after the pounding you give the bags.

Fundamentals is a great entry-level boxing class; you’ll be learning basic moves and sequences and mostly practicing with a partner on focus pads. The likelihood of getting hit is fairly low.

In the Advanced class, we’re full contact: this is where the sparring happens. However, how hard you go at it is entirely up to you and/or your partner. Regardless, you will be getting hit and you’ll learn quickly to keep your guard up.

From there, you might progress to Muay Thai and finally MMA, in which case you can add getting kicked and strangled, respectively, to getting punched.

After my six months of boxing at Elorde, I switched to Muay Thai at the same gym and I can make similar comparisons here as I did earlier with regards to the boxing classes there and here.

Where at Elorde I learned the basic movements and conditioned my body to kick and throw knees, I’ve started covering better footwork, more targeted kicks, and–the most neglected of my skills–blocking, at Darkside.

I have found the Muay Thai sparring, and leg sparring in particular, to be decidedly fun and helpful.

I’m always excited when my teaching schedule allows me to make it to one of the MMA sessions–probably because I have the most to learn in this arena. Plus, because it covers so many styles, you can look forward to something different in every class.

On a final note, Darkside also offers Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes. I haven’t tried any of them but I’ve watched out of the corner of my eye while doing Muay Thai and it’s basically boys in pajamas taking turns watching each other roll around in intimate pairs.

You know I’m kidding. I love BJJ and I the only reason I haven’t jumped in on these classes is that I don’t have a gi to use here in Sydney.

Before coming here back in December though, I did three months of jiu-jitsu at Fitness Unlimited in the Philippines and enjoyed it immensely.

By the way, Darkside Gym has a new look and now features an elongated cage area and a full-sized boxing ring. Come check it out.

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What’s next for me?

For one, I intend to get in another solid month of training before I head back to Manila and then Europe for a stint.

Additionally, I’m intrigued to learn more about the Sydney fight scene from the bits and pieces I’ve heard of it here at the gym.

I certainly hope to attend an amateur fight while I’m here and maybe find out how long I’d have to train here to be ready for one of my own. (I’ll only know after the fact, obviously.)

On a final–somewhat related, somewhat unrelated note–you may care to know that I am no only martial-arting at the gym; I have also officially begun my, training in Ninja Writing.

In all likelihood, there will be more on this to come.

 

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

First Swing at the Sydney Surf

Summer is slipping away here in Sydney and I realized that I’d been here since December and had yet to have an Aussie surf.

Back in November, I went surfing for the first time in Baler, Philippines and it was an unforgettable, totally affordable experience. Of course, a one-hour lesson here in Sydney costs nearly seven times as much as a lesson over in Baler.

Fortunately, board rentals are more affordable.

As far as city beaches go, I’d only been to Manly and knew that it was good for surfing. However, both Manly and Bondi beach tend to be insanely crowded on sunny weekend days.

I found this Beginners Guide to Surfing Sydney’s Beaches, which has a brief and helpful overview of beaches in the city, listing the pros and cons of each.

We ended up opting for Maroubra Beach because it’s only an hour from Newtown and the bus drops you off right in front of Let’s Go Surfing. (Check out their website if you want to book lessons.)

Board rentals here are $15 for one hour, $25 for two, and $40 for the day. The shop guy was super chill about us being able to start off paying for two hours and extend if we wanted to surf longer.

He told us to take whichever board we wanted and said we were welcome to come and switch it out for another one if it wasn’t quite right.

We showed up around 1pm and went straight for the waves; when I wandered back to the shop to check the time it so happened that he was ten minutes from closing up.

What I enjoyed about Maroubra:

  • It wasn’t particularly crowded. The surf guide I mentioned earlier said it’s always crowded on weekends and to watch out for locals but I found the crowds fairly sparse and the locals non-threatening.
  • The waves were both fun and manageable at more or less a meter high–similar to what I was used to from Baler.

Surfing setbacks:

  • Later in the afternoon, blue bottle jellyfish swarmed the beach and everyone pretty much had to clear out of the water.
  • Although it was a nice hot, sunny day and the water temperature was initially great, it did get quite cold when the wind set in. If you’re used to a place like the Philippines where you can stay out in the water till the sun sets and hardly feel a chill, you might find that your hands are starting to feel numb and your teeth are chattering come late afternoon down under.

If you’re in Sydney, what are you waiting for? Catch a ride to a beach, pick up a board at a shop, and give surfing a shot.

Even if you don’t catch any waves the first time around, it’s an excellent arm workout and exercise in salt-water tolerance.

Seriously: if you’re a beginner, you’re going to have to work hard for a wave. When you catch it, though, and manage to get yourself upright on the board, the momentum of the ocean below your feet will make you forget every preceding hour spent struggling and want to spend every successive one trying to have that again.

Australia

Wild Wild East

I’m on my third trip to Australia in a year’s time and, finally, I’ve experienced some genuine wild-wild-east, sun-blazed-and-blistering, cattle-trading outback vibes.

I ended up on a long-train-ride journey out of Sydney to a somewhat random town in cow country, NSW.

Fine, it wasn’t random. What is that to you, anonymous reader?

The cover photo of this post was taken at Dungog Station.

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Here’s how you get there: Open Google maps; type Dungog.

If you get the right train at the right time, you can make the roughly-4-hour journey with your Opal card for six or seven Aussie dollars each way.

 

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This random station along the way is Wallarobba

 

If you wanted to go there simply to check it out and say hello to the cows, you can get an Airbnb starting at about $75 a night. (Again, your instructions are: Open AirBnB.)

Has travel become too easy or what?

With tumbleweed, saloon-style buildings, and a vet that treats cows and horses, it did feel remarkably wild-west out here.

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In case you became confused, how would you know that you are in fact in the Australian outback and not on the American frontier?

 

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Aboriginal art and solar panels might be a clue.

 

For one, there will be no tossing of the old pigskin. (The colonists definitely did that.)

No, Aussies will guffaw at the preposterous notion of a football propelled forward in a fashion we in other parts of the world might refer to a toss or a throw or a hurl.

Instead, taking inspiration perhaps from all that time spent on the beach playing volleyball, the Aussies like to give their football a little tap–not with the wrist nor with a fist, but something like that.

I won’t even get started on the “foot” ball misnomer. Everyone knows a football is what people in orange shirts kick through goal posts so that all the other people in orange shirts around the world can cheer and drink more beer.

So Aussies and Americans alike get a kick out of touching footballs with their hands but in notably different ways. They do in fact kick the ball with their feet as well and so can take some consolation in not being entirely misguided.

Regardless, let’s put our differences aside and enjoy these gorgeous views.

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Since you’re here, you should definitely visit Copeland Reserve and check out some old mining relics, deep shafts, and snakes.

 

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Hurray: I saw my first snake in Australia!

 

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While it was too overcast to watch the sunrise as hoped, the dawn trek through the forest was quite surreal.

Were it not for the light and refreshing rain trickling through the trees, it may have taken much more than half of the hike to feel properly awake.

 

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Not a terrible place to drift through in dream-like state

 

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I’ll wrap up with this chill porch view and

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this wonderfully long train ride.

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