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Gig Review: Loserpalooza Festival @ Totara Street, Mt Maunganui - 2/09/2023

05 Sep 2023 // A review by Mattmyth

Lethargic are on first at 12pm, and they’re the reason I had to be at the flatmate’s house to leave Auckland when you could still see your breath in the air.

Lethargic, as the singer would tell us after their first song, are new and hungry for our drugs. 

That’s why we hugged the side of Karagahake gorge, cars coming out of the bright morning sun toward us. We cannot miss Lethargic, not at Loserpalooza.

We paid our Koha at the door, and walked through the smoking area at the front that looks like the entrance tunnel into an arena, the dark at the end punctured by stage lighting and the smoke machine.

But it’s still dark.

Not everyone can make harmonic death growls work, but Lethargic can. The lead vocals are long and drawn out. The sound of someone being lowered reeeaaalll sloooowww into boiling water or maybe molten steel. The screams of skin turning red, then blistering and popping and melting.

This is the soundtrack to their positive message: “Don’t kill yourself, it’s dumb.”

Loserpalooza, 2023. 25 bands on two stages running continuously for twelve hours. After Lethargic on the mainstage downstairs, we go up a flight of steps to see Park Flyers.

The upstairs bar is a mezzanine type set up with a balcony overlooking the main stage below. Think, Powerstation kind of setup. The upstairs stage is high enough for people at the back of the bar to see maybe the shoulders and head of anyone not on drums. So, leaning against the bar a fiddling with the tab on a can of Pal’s soda, you can see the guy on guitar with the Panda hat. 

Park Flyers, are kind of power pop I guess but it's not go-skateboarding-and-and-high-five-a-cartoon-dinosaur kind of pop it's not that type of pop at all. It's more, bounce of the walls of the flat pop because there is more to life than worrying about getting the bond back. The flatmate has lyrical concerns about their second to last song. “Is it I don’t like stew, or I don’t like Stu as in like a person?” Because if it’s a person we really gotta know what the hell this Stu did to inspire such a riff.

The riff. THE RIFF. It’s a theme that keeps popping up again and again throughout the day.

As with Bloody Overalls on next downstairs, so far all the bands are all about The Riff. The three piece have a bashing, Soundgarden-ish sludge to them. The bassist hat and the gat player’s entire instrument don’t survive the first song. Like Skonk who play upstairs after them, there isn’t a lot if any attention paid to a vocal driven chorus.

The Riff is King here. The Riff is what matters.

While Bloody Overalls find a happy space of bleak creepy moments and the dooming pound of a hangover, Skonk go more full throttle rock, occasionally a darker slower intro before kicking for the teeth again. Skonk are the song equivalent of a night that goes from a few mates over for drinks and ends up with torn curtains and blood on the bathroom floor. They make the Hendriks mural behind them look very, very appropriately placed.

The Skonk drummer tosses out a stick at the end of their set which The flatmate almost takes to the face, and we descend down to see Thy End Cometh, which is a friggin’ great name for a band.

Thy End Cometh, with cousins on guitar and bass, also worship The Riff. The machine gun double kicks give way to a full metal assault that makes a fitting tribute to their Grandfather who served at Gallipoli.

“Mental health is something that is important to us as a band”. I miss the next thing he says, maybe I said hey to an old friend or maybe I looked at a picture my wife sent me of my boy drawing our cat. “… for me it was my teenage years” the singer continues. “I was thinking about it this morning. Lying in bed, holding my wife’s stomach, feeling my unborn baby inside, and thinking man I’m glad I didn’t do the things I thought I was going to do.”

Loserpalooza, this gathering of Losers and Loser-adjacent people (such as those with kids) is a yearly fundraiser for Lifeline, the brains of this operation of empathy being Austin Cunningham. This year all the bands are locals.

The haunting guitar with a requiem style vocal coming from upstairs belongs to Bits. Bits are a good contrast with vocally driven harmonies, and their riffs serve the melody. They crank up the zoom pedal and end their set with a ripping pop song, which is a nice segue into the pop punk Karaoke act that is Angry Papamoans.

Bouncing Souls, NOFX, Hot Water Music, Wizo, close your eyes and you can almost smell sunscreen along with the sweat and beer.

I once, many moons ago, heard the singer of Brick vs Face ask a crowd “can you fuckers start a circle pit or are you too old?” And by the end of Stay Gold he’d said shaking his head. “Nah. Too old.”

Well, punk rock circle pits are back with Angry Papamoans. Even if it was their own kids wearing earmuffs, holding hands in the most goddamn adorable circle pit in punk history.

We Will Ride Fast are a one-man band. A dude on keyboards, part piano, part synth, samples, drums, he crafts a Dark 80's vibe, the sort of music where “it puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again…” What Robocop’s band would be if he was allowed to express feelings.

Eddie and the Dreamers are just cool rock n roll. Dinosaur Junior if they occasionally did rodeo clowning. The backups compliment the lead vocals nicely, but they can give it a scream if a song calls for it, which the song they dedicate to the Late Great Norm McDonald certainly does.

After False Waltons and Club Med deliver some melodic driven sets that suit the sun outside, YdoubleR grabs us all by the face and drags us into the trenches. With trap beats and a tip of the hat to early industrial metal, YdoubleR sounds- as a dude leaned over and yelled into my ear in between swigs of bourbon and coke- “like he’s seen some shit.” It's intense, and you can’t help but wonder just what the experience of a full band behind YdoubleR would be like…

Flesh Merchant are Fucken Metal.

And while it is obvious through the execution of each of their songs and each epic riff that they take the playing music with the utmost seriousness, themselves and performing not so much. The vocally gleefully announces the next song is about pies, and they play a track that could be the soundtrack to a claw hammer hitting a skull. Each terrifying riff is nailed to the cross by a guitarist cracking smiles and doing the piss-take dance of someone just there to play riffs and have a laugh and it’s all mean fun.

The punters are loving it.

The bands keep coming. It's relentless, constant.

The filthy whiskey stained blues of Somacaine, who sound like the smell of whiskey and stale tobacco in a dimly lit dive bar where the waitress has a pencil behind her ear and calls you “hun”.

King Fish, followed by This Is How We Die who both wouldn’t sound out of place alongside any of the best Hard Rock you hear on Hauraki or the Rock.

And then, at 8pm, shit starts to get epic.

Threat.Meet.Protocol have always been a fun band to watch. It’s always been something no one else is doing and that’s interesting, even if you don’t like the songs much. And it’s always easy to like a band with the guy that helps everyone else, so there is a bit of bias here, sure. But they’ve gone so far beyond that now.

Threat.Meat.Protocol songs are the sound of extreme fun for people who can’t afford it. 

Don’t think snowboarding and sky diving. Think, being in a wooden barrel getting thrown down ten flights of stairs. Think, swimming out past the breakers and hanging onto the shark net. You expect their set to end with smashed glass and busted wood framing.

They are followed by the big-show stage presence of Dead Empire, the epitaph/fat wreck punk sound of Six Twos, and Tactical Chunny who play as a two piece as the guitarist had a sick kid. These sets feed off each other, setting up the energy for the next band to build on.

Somethings going to break, that’s the feeling you get. 

Tension.

There isn’t any secret sauce to Stunt Clown. Turn the amps up to eleven and play relentless driving rock like Lemmy inspired us all to. They neck booze, talk shit, and smash out banger after banger.

Hoick! pick up where Stunt Clown left off, and we really are getting into holy-shit-balls-how-is-this-band-not-huge territory. Hoick! don’t do gaps between songs, just the hangover creep of feedback before the next riff is unchained. They use duel vocal screams without killing the centre piece, which is The Riff, the backing scream has a good sandpaper-on-skin texture.

You gotta see this band I’m not shitting you.

Riff rockers Hemordroid and swamp punkers Two Skinner provide a one-two combo of no-pissing-about. Matt Gibson from Hoick! makes a drum cameo while the newest member, Adam Skin, jumps on the mic for a song. And it's gotta be noted that Adam's got a voice that Two Skinner will be making use of if we’re all lucky.

The pure hell fury death metal of Absymal close out the night. It seemed fitting that I walked from sunlight into the darkness of the bar at the start of the show, and at the end I exited the bar into a darker night. As though Abysmal ended the whole world while. Which would be pretty damn metal.

25 bands in 12 hours across two stages.

More than $5,750 raised for Lifeline to continue their work for Suicide Prevention.

I could have told you so much more, but it all seems too much as it is at the moment.

And that’s ok, too.

I think the real question is, is that how long will all this stay so underground? At some point, one of this bands is going to get a lot of attention and everyone will want to be Losers.

 

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