By RONJA HONEY MOSS
Whilst the Easter Bilby hid chocolate eggs in high nests and sandy holes for all the excited desert creatures and children, screams of rebellion and disorder echoed down the hills of the Yeperenye (caterpillar) dreaming.
The thump of thrashing drums and shrieking guitars exploding from the Gap View Hotel would have been enough to awaken the ancient grubs themselves and to bring all of the MacDonell Ranges alive! Yet, that is supposedly the antithesis of ‘Blacken Open Air’ – the heavy metal festival created in the ‘dead’ centre of Australia five years ago (as per their promotional video, still image at bottom).
Still, I found myself standing barefoot in the sand, laid on the ground for the main stage mosh-pit, having an interesting moment on Saturday evening. Observing my dear old friend and creator of the festival, Pirate (long ago known as Nic Rossiter), roaming the stage as lead of the local group Snakes, I was struck by the serenity of the event.
Though death, gloom, blood & guts, anarchy, head thrashing and Satan worship may all have been ideas embedded in the screaming lyrics blurring and popping my ear drums, the feeling of innocence in the crowd and even a somewhat naive atmosphere overwhelmed me. Looking around I could see people of all ages expressing themselves through dance and enthralled in a scene that made them feel safely at home.
That being said, I could make out Pirate telling the crowd the next night as he ‘sang’ in his other band, Exdemission, that the people of Alice Springs would be “ejaculating nipple juice”, and I have lost count of how many times the ‘C-bomb’ was dropped through the mic by various leads…
So, maybe it was just the frame of mind that I was in giving me this lighter perspective: for I had been painting the faces of children all day! And Heaven (or in this case Hell) knows we can only see through the lens of our own experience.
Pirate, also the creator of the Black Wreath music label hosting Blacken, had invited me as a part of the honoured crew: to paint the faces of iconic metal stars onto the pure faces of the few kiddies attending. This seemed a fitting role as I used to be the facilitator of the kids’ space at WOS and am now a proud teacher at Sadadeen Primary.
He had bashfully asked me if I would be keen, stating he liked to up the anti every year and that last year there just wasn’t the right person for the job. Well, I was charmed naturally and stepped in to help my friend. I was also curious to see how the whole thing would unfold, as I have only recently moved back to town after five years away, and it was to be my first Blacken.
A born and raised Centralian girl, when I left Alice all those years back it was a quick departure: newly in love with a city slicker and bewitched by Melbourne itself, it does now seem like some enchantment that swept me away, leaving my hometown as close to forgotten as possible. This is only natural for the young, I guess. Nevertheless, coming back into town I was immaturely nervous that no one would remember me or even want me as a part of their community, for I felt that I had abandoned my family, my country, and many friends.
Blacken proved me wrong. Likewise, Alice has been doing so since I jumped off that Qantas flight and back onto home turf – it has been one open arm after another these past four months. I had forgotten the ability that Alice mob have of banding together, that the locals’ connection to each other runs as deep as the spirit of the place itself. Blacken proved to be the epitome of this.
Everywhere I looked there were people chipping in and putting their all into making this amazing event work. Many of them I have known my entire life: Rainer Chlanda with his skate ramp, Jane Ulrik on the door, and Tully Lowson doing… well pretty much everything! That’s just to name a few. Among others, Malcolm McDonald deserves a special mention – having broken his collarbone only weeks before, this legend still facilitated much of the sound and played hard as the drummer in another local band, Hell Machine.
Yes, many people collaborated to create Blacken, and it would not have worked without this group gusto – girlfriends, family and friends. It cannot be denied though that so much of this is thanks to Pirate. Throughout the grounds I could hear his name being whispered as though he were an urban legend, and I even heard one follower ask another at one point, “Where is our Lord Pirate?”
Honestly, I think Pirate would hate this type of worship. From what I have gathered, being an artist alongside him over the last 10 years, the whole point of metal is to express yourself uniquely yet with the security of being a part of a discrete unified whole. Lochlan Watt, host of The Racket at triple j, also told me as I was painting his face black and white, that the scene was a way of feeling like one was not alone in the sadness of the world. I liked this. Nonetheless, I think Pirate’s respect for art and artists is what has earned him so much in return.
And perhaps this is also why the acts themselves felt the ability to let loose. For they sure did! My favourite band for sure was Dr Flouride from Tennant Creek. With singer Jeff McLaughlin dressed in a homemade nappy and chorusing “Get on your knees, open up wide, let Jesus inside” as he stumbled around scratching his obviously sweaty butt, it was hard not to laugh and flinch all in one. He told me beforehand, “We’re here because someone said he couldn’t play metal and I wanted to prove them wrong”.
Blacken had opened up so wide, they had even allowed reggae bands to help create metal!
Truth be told, as this music genre is not my cup of tea, I had a paintbrush in hand for the majority of the weekend. I did not check out many of the interstate bands, so I cannot review them. But I joined many slamming the dance floor on Sunday evening to the local heavy hiphop group Bad Math who were awesome, and I tried to imitate Pirate’s sexy hip-gyrating snake moves for both Snakes and Exdemission.
And back to that childlike wonder I felt on the first day. Well, these scarily dressed men and punk-ass gals looked truly free: dancing like lunatics in the sand, like teenagers in the privacy of their own rooms. And I thought to myself, “Hell, this is a festival for the inner child after all! Why not have face painting?!”
It took me back to the flats I lived in with Pirate nine years ago. We had been wild, chaotic actually – creating mayhem and making art as a way of life. Now, with hard work, dedication and humbleness this energy has gone into a project that supports hundreds of people in a concrete, productive and creative way.
Finding home through metal: Blacken Open Air festival
By RONJA HONEY MOSS