Repressed Records and the Sydney Opera House might initially seem like somewhat strange bedfellows. After all, one is an independent record store based out of King Street in Newtown and known for selling left-of-the-dial music, while the other is, y’know, the bloody Opera House. But despite their cosmetic differences, the two Sydney icons are both underpinned by an ethos that honours all musicians attempting something new, regardless of genre.
Indeed, between the Opera House’s gradual transformation into a venue just as likely to book a band like Deafheaven as a Shostakovich recital, and Repressed’s reputation as one of the Sydney DIY scene’s most essential hubs, there is much more that connects the two spaces than that which divides them.
So given that thematic twinning, it stands to reason that the two spaces have a long and storied history. “I was approached by the Opera House about doing a Five Years of R.I.P Society show, the record label I run,” says Repressed staffer Nic Warnock. “We did that in one of the smaller rooms at the House, back in 2013. And Vivid were really happy about all the local artists that were involved, and that the event was all about contemporary music. I think that Vivid really wanted to really represent emerging Australian music.”
“And [the relationship] really evolved from there,” adds Chris Sammut, Repressed’s owner. “Now, a couple of years later, it being our 15th anniversary, they decided to give it another go, I think.”
If you just look at the evolution of independent music over the last 20 years, you realise it’s crazy; independent music is everywhere.
Sammut and Warnock don’t think that the folks at the Opera House are simply booking Repressed and R.I.P Society gigs for the shock factor, either. Although the coming together of the House and experimental noise rock might sometimes have produced some hysterical media attention – the Royal Headache gig that culminated in a stage invasion and the presence of the police comes to mind – Sammut and Warnock describe the attitude of all those involved with the venue’s side of the shows as distinctly open and non-judgemental.
“All the staff at Vivid and the Opera House are really lovely,” says Warnock. “They’re not patronising. Like, this is by far the biggest stage a lot of these bands will have ever played, in the most official-feeling venue. And these are acts that are really loved by a small group of people. I think that the Opera House people are very accepting of the fact these aren’t your typical people who would be playing in this type of environment.”
“People are just genuinely excited about it,” says Sammut. “Even with the [Royal Headache] stage invasion, they weren’t fussed about it. They were just telling us how great it was and what a great night that they had … I think these shows work for everybody. They give the bands on the bill a broader range and a further reach.”
As far as the lineup for the upcoming 15th anniversary show was concerned, Sammut and Warnock worked hard to make it as sonically diverse as possible. Although headliners Total Control might be best known for their punky, guitar-based sound, the program isn’t just some pick-fest – it also includes such aural experimenters as electro drone musician Lucy Cliche, folk maestro Francis Plagne and weirdo New Wavers Miss Destiny, and those tagging along would do well to turn up expecting anything and everything.
For Sammut and Warnock, that diversity is an important way of moving the public perception past the overriding cliché that seeks to equate independent music with garage rock alone. The pair wanted to show off everything that the alternative scene can be; to buck away from the suggestion that it’s nothing but geeks dressed in black playing with distortion pedals.
After all, throughout its 15-year history, Repressed has become famous for its all-encompassing gaze. You can stumble into the Newtown store and find just about anything, from Chicago rap to eerie blends of death metal and neo-folk. That’s the joy of the place – you can come in looking for records you love and walk out an hour later with half a dozen albums that you never even realised you loved; strange discoveries that you simply wouldn’t have stumbled across by yourself.
“We wanted to reflect what our record store is with these shows,” says Warnock. “We wanted to reflect what an independent music community, or a community stemming from punk ideologies, can look like in this day and age.”
“There’s so much stuff that’s based in DIY culture,” Sammut agrees. “It’s not just all based in shambolic guitar stuff. If you just look at the evolution of independent music over the last 20 years, you realise it’s crazy; independent music is everywhere. And we think that it all works together … We want a variety, but we still have that DIY focus.”
This burgeoning renaissance in DIY music has also strengthened the communal feel within the scene, particularly here in Sydney. Bands share space rather than trying to muscle each other out of it, and there is a unified sense of achievement when one group breaks out.
“Independent music is just an amalgamation of a million ideas now,” Sammut says. “You just look at this lineup, and you just look at the family trees of those bands and how they connect – it’s a real web.”
Photo: Damien Arkins
Repressed Records’ 15th Anniversary with Total Control, Lucy Cliche, Severed Heads, Miss Destiny, Angie and more takes over the Northern Broardwalk, Sydney Opera House on Thursday June 1 for Vivid LIVE.