Images: (a) The Thaw at Loophole in 2008. Photo by Chris Rust. (b) Papier mache monsters from the Go Genre Everything launch in 2010. Courtesy of GGG.
Featured track- Go Genre Everything- Humans Like Collecting Things That Match. gogenreeverything.bandcamp.com
Narrator: You’ve now arrived at 670 High St, the former location of the Loophole Community Centre. From the late 2000s onwards a number of non-commercial, DIY music venues popped up along High street and its surrounds. Each one took on a uniquely different form from the last, and they included art studios, galleries and radical infoshops. While most couldn’t claim to be full time music or performance spaces, they were united in their dedication to provide no frills community venues where fun things can and did happen.
Small shopfront spaces in Northcote like Forepaw and Disco Beans held many musical events, but they were preceded by larger spaces including the extremely multipurpose Loophole.
Michelle Reeves: At different times Loophole occupied two different shop fronts and residencies along High St. It was first and foremost a residential collective, but provided a ground floor rich with community resources. A library, a kitchen used by Food Not Bombs, a garden, a bike repair workshop and a space for social and political groups to meet. But where it really came alive was when it played host to gigs. It was a large enough space that it could get away from the very small one-man-band and art-noise gigs that proliferated in the smaller shopfronts, and provide a larger stage and audience to the often no less arty, but somehow more chaotic 3 & 4 piece bands kicking around the scene at the time.
The great thing about these DIY spaces is that normal rules just simply do not apply. The concepts of structured set times, room configuration, and ticketing are all free to be discarded or manipulated at will. And if you’re lucky, there is also often a friendly cat or dog happy to accept your pats and snacks.
I can think of no greater example of the DIY ethos in full flight, than the Go Genre Everything album launch for their “Eternal Youth Carefree Cleanness” release in 2010. The band itself consistently referred to the launch not as a gig, but as a “Happening Event”, and they were not wrong. The “Happening Event” was at least 9 months in the making, and after months and months of papier mache making, collection of an army of volunteers, set production and promotion, a night of pure chaos descended on Loophole. The band organised all volunteers by telling them only the details they specifically needed to fulfil their role. Even people who had been working on the event for months upon months really only had a glimpse of what the final product would actually be.
For my part in all this, I was working the door on the night. This was not your usual working the door kind of role though. It was not sitting at a small table taking tickets and money off people, no. Myself and my counterpart had a lengthy list of instructions. Tickets to the gig were sold out, and an additional cap was allowed for people who showed up on the night. What punters did not realise though, was that the ticket simply allowed you entry to the nightmarishly bureaucratic literal maze that had been set up in the backyard of Loophole. Entry to the band room would only be permitted once you had fully completed a booklet that you were given in exchange for your ticket, and could only be completed by working your way around the maze which made absolutely no sense to anyone. Throughout the colourful maze, other volunteers were dotted around with jobs to provide stamps, activities, waypoints, diversions and other totally unnecessary layers to the experience. I am quite certain that someone had the actual job of sticking single pieces of different coloured string in peoples booklets, which, upon return to us, at “the door”, would be interpreted in varyingly ridiculous ways.
Our job, primarily, was to distract and confuse people. And it worked. People were trapped in the maze for hours, coming back and forth to us with varying levels of confusion, joy or frustration, trying to work out how close they were to actually being able to get into the band room, which was fiercely guarded by another volunteer who was applying her own particular brand of denial of entry. One guy who turned up to see his friends playing in one of the support acts tolerated this for all of ten minutes before throwing a tantrum, kicking over a maze wall, and storming into the band room. Why more people didn’t follow his lead is still beyond me.
While this was happening, different levels of unplanned chaos were happening elsewhere. As part of the show, several volunteers were meant to wear giant, heavy, papier mache headpieces and costumes, and sit in front of the band for most of the gig. The headpieces had poor visibility and were so heavy that additional volunteers were needed as handlers for each of the creatures. As part of the performance, there was meant to be a procession of the papier mache creatures and a complex dance routine during the gig, all of which were impeccably planned and timed. In reality, the show was running hours late, the temperature outside was in the 30’s, and the person playing the role of papier mache unicorn had stage fright and was sitting in the laneway drinking truly heroic quantities of vodka.
While we were waiting for the signal that the show was about to begin, the papier mache creatures and their handlers suddenly appeared in the yard, complete with banners and props, making their “procession” into the bandroom. The creatures ran unexpectedly wild, shoving and kicking anything in their way, and leaving a completely trashed maze in their wake as they made their way there. We frantically shut up the gate, cleared the last of the people from the destroyed maze, and moved into the absolutely sweltering bandroom to our new post – the fog machine.
The door was closed, the room was packed, the lights were off, and the papier mache creatures were in place at the front of the room. Their handlers were frantically running around with modified water bottles with straws trying to hydrate the creatures (we would later learn this was actually vodka), and the temperature rapidly climbed into the 40’s. The room slowly but surely filled with fog as fast as our machine could manage between bouts of overheating. Then, the music began.
For the first few songs, you could still see the band. After about fifteen minutes the fog reached critical mass, and nothing at all could be seen. There was music, there was fog, and then there was an angry person yelling at us to tell the fog machine person to knock it off. We nodded sympathetically, while continuing to press the button underneath the desk. By and large the audience embraced the murk and it became a large, chaotic dance party. Soon, the drunk unicorn would start randomly charging into the crowd, who had no ability to see it coming and get out of the way. The unicorn would charge, the audience would scream, the handlers would wrangle it back into its seat, and assist those that the unicorn had trampled.
The show continued, the scheduled dance routine happened with the large creatures and all their props somehow jammed in among the packed crowd, and the unicorn had its very own dance party of one, handlers now totally giving up on it and instead giving it a sensibly wide berth. Somehow, somewhere in all this, the creatures were presented with a cake, which was immediately smashed to bits, and the creatures died their staged death in the audience while the band played on. There was a narrative, but all in all, whether you wanted to or even could follow it, you were ultimately surrounded by abject chaos. And fog. Lots of fog.
And then – it was done. We watched as these dazed people slowly left, having to again navigate the maze on their way out, but at least this time without gatekeepers keeping them pointlessly trapped. Fans of the band were delighted at the scale of what was pulled off that night, an incredible blend of art, music, and sheer arseholery – while the many people who’d been drawn into the hype of it, but didn’t previously know of the band, either became instant fans or left confused, bewildered, angry or a combination of all three.
This was a DIY gig in all its glory – rules of your own making, and no clear definitions of music vs destruction vs theatre vs art. It just simply was. Or as Go Genre Everything themselves put it, a “Happening Event”. Whatever you could call it, at its essence, it was just like so many of the shows at DIY spaces at the time – the kind of gig you could never in a million years hold at a pub band room.
Narrator: Loophole closed in 2012 but non-commercial gigs at house shows, galleries, studios and others spaces continue whilst the spirit of Loophole’s artistic and political radicalism lives on with regular benefit gigs at Bar 303 and Thornbury’s trash rock n roll dive bar Café Gummo.
13 – Loophole Social Centre (670 High St. Thornbury)