Issue 0 | Nov 2013
snap·shot /snăp′shŏt/ Snapshot. An isolated observation; a quick shot fired by a hunter. Welcome to OWL FARM issue zero. When brainstorming the tagline for our initial offering, snapshot came right at us from the woods. Being our pilot edition, it’s a sample of the goods, a fast blast of things to come. Snapshot seemed especially apt, because this special zeroth edition showcases some incredible visual art and photography, featuring the work of talented up-and-coming shot-snappers Kip Scott, Prue Stent, Stephen Townsend and Em J. Norman. Check out an exclusive handpicked spread of tasty snaps in the pages ahead. For now, it’s our pleasure to christen the OWL once and for all, and let it fly into the ether with purpose and passion. Read on. Indulge and dig. Breathe. Then hang in for more.
Friends don’t let friends eat McDonald’s
A Bone in the dark
The man behind the walls
Cam Hassard enjoys a healthy attitude to sex
Melbourne’s best 2am eats From gallery to the streets
The saviours of Melbourne’s noise-rock scene by Noah K. Nixon
Em J. Norman
Dream realities Industrial strength Ringleader: Muay Thai on the streets The last days of Footscray
Stuff 4 28
Who is Owl Farm? Music reviews
OWL FARM is the product of mental illness. Prolonged exposure to OWL FARM may cause: heart failure, an inability to distinguish between jazz and funk, or the sense that you could, one day, be a pro golfer. If you feel yourself jonesing for a trip to your local driving range, consult a medical professional immediately. OWL FARM will not be held responsible for the purchase of plaid pants. Front and back cover images by Prue Stent http://pru-e.tumblr.com
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Who is Owl Farm? Noah K. Nixon
Noah K. Nixon is the name of eight people, one of whom is actually a collection of rabbits masquerading as a person.
Evan ‘Slick Rick’ Purdey Evan once played volleyball with Pete Doherty. His impressive spike is thought to have split up The Libertines.
Cam ‘Biohazard’ Hassard Cam can, and probably has, bench-pressed your mum. All you can do is learn from that.
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Cory ‘Great Zanbini’ Zanoni All InDesign and no sleep will take its toll on a man. Cory has no idea what’s happening anymore and would really like a hug.
Madeleine ‘The Madness’ O’Gorman Madeleine taught Jack White all he knows about music and is quietly bitter she never received the recognition she deserves.
Interestingly, Rock was named not for his propensity to rock but for his resemblance to a sedimentary aggregate. True story.
Dream realities This issue’s cover artist, Sydney-based Prue Stent, is drawn to the dream-like aspects of photography How long have you been creating your art? Ever since I can remember. I can’t think of a time when I haven’t been creating something. I have always loved to keep busy with various different projects such as fancy dress, short films, photo collages and constructing photo albums from family snaps. I always had a strong attraction to photography, but it was not until my final years of high school that I became ritualistic with my photo taking. What got you into the craft? I come from a family extremely interested in the creative arts, so I have always been exposed to interesting art either through our family collection or visiting galleries. My dad is also a bit of a camera collector, so I was lucky in that I always had photographic equipment available to experiment with. I have also always been fascinated by my parents’ collection of family snaps. These presented vignettes, which though innocently beautiful were also—to me—laughingly cliché. In particular images of my parents, their friends and other relatives spoke to me in ways both meaningful and hysterically awkward. They make me wonder how my images will appear in 100 years time! Rather than being open to the interpretation of some long-distant future audience, my intention is to make my irony overt, an artistic intention of the moment, which is unambiguous.
Who and what inspires you now? Nature and decorative objects. Generally, I will find a location and see what I can do with it and how it can be manipulated and transformed. I like to incorporate various props that prompt and trigger spontaneous actions and moments. My work is also extremely influenced by surrealism—I like to create unexpected juxtapositions of dreamlike figurines merged within or amongst the landscape. I like to blur the boundaries between what is real and what is imagined. Also, there are underpinnings of sexuality and desire in most of my work. What’s your equipment of choice? For the majority of shoots I use a Nikon D800 with a 24–70mm lens. However, I also have a selection of old digital and film cameras that are fun to experiment with and I sometimes use an underwater case for my DSLR. Tell us a little more about your featured work (including the cover shot). What was the inspiration or intention behind them? In each of the photos featured I have highlighted something obscure in the everyday. Each of the photos are products of spontaneous shoots with my collaborative artist and model Honey Long. We like to experiment with the human body and the ways in with it can be morphed to create
stimulating and sometimes bizarre imagery. In general my photography allows me to play with expressions of beauty in a freeform collage, which often twists to the absurd. My process is spontaneous and experimental. I often like to construct various props and costumes from my surroundings, establishing a feminine relationship with the natural world. Choosing to work predominantly with the female form and the environment underpins my work with ideas of sexuality, fertility and eroticism. What was your most challenging shoot? A lot of my shoots can be quite challenging, as I like shooting nudes either underwater or in bush environments. I like exploring the interaction between the natural landscape and the human form, as it presents endless opportunities for construction of a dream-like pseudoreality. I like working in obscure environments that are often tricky to get to and work in, however it is always these shoots that I find the most rewarding. Where to from here? My intention is to carry on exploring the creative side of photography and producing personal works. Economic necessity might push me down a more commercial path, but I would really love to organise an exhibition and continue to push creative boundaries. OF OWL FARM • 05
MASTUREDUCATION Cam Hassard remembers a formative scene in the back of a Corolla
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t my 21st birthday bash Mum brought the house down with a killer speech. In one of the many anecdotes calculated to embarrass me in front of my friends, she described a morning scene of our distant past, driving me to school in her old Corolla where, in the static din of 3AW talkback radio I pulled out the question… ‘Mum…what’s masturbation?’ A skilful multitasker, Mum deftly negotiated the peak-hour snarl of Maroondah Highway while illuminating her curious eight-year old about the virtues of self-love. It was testament to her parental agility; a woman unafraid of teaching her son the very basics of life—the way it ought to be. My hand-love lesson was conducted the way the rest of my sexual understanding came about as the years went on. Not in peak hour as such, but candid and free of awkwardness. It didn’t come from a responsible, thoughtful education system. This did not exist. It came from Mum, from a family in which pink bits and bean flicking were mere conversational fodder over roast chicken on a Sunday. I was one of the lucky ones. For most of my mates, asking their parents about such things would have caused tremors. Even today, in an era where sex is everywhere, simmering in a sea of ubiquitous porn, embedded in the subtext of consumerism, the open discussion of sordid things like masturbation remains a significant taboo. Not long after asking Mum the question, I hit grade four. Our class at school enjoyed a lackluster sex education documentary called The Wonder of Living. I still recall the squeamish shade of green that fell upon our teacher, Miss Cope. The ‘m’ word had slipped through in the censored cut, and the kids wanted answers. Miss Cope dressed like a missionary who would never enjoy the pleasure of missionary, and grappled with our questions. ‘Perhaps… ahem… you can ask your parents when you get home tonight,’ she pursed through her cat’s-bum lips. My peers took the question home to parents petrified of such queries. Some dished out windy spiels about birds and bees with scant reference to solo banditry. Bobby Hart’s folks said if he fiddled with his diddle he’d go blind. My mate Hedge asked his brother. ‘I think it’s when you look at naked chicks in Dingo,’ he said. Clearly there was some confusion. Thanks to my hip old lady, I was not one of the confused. Mum worked at the Outer East Women’s Health centre back then, a group dedicated to the sexual health and education of young women. One year they held a stall at the Croydon Festival, a happening event headlined by Johnny Diesel and Slim Dusty. I was 13, helping out at the display tent. They had these toy bananas that split in two like mini samurai swords in sheaths— underneath the banana facade lurked a fake veiny penis, helmet and all. I watched as the good people of Croydon enjoyed free condom-rolling demos on plastic banana cocks. It was quite a day. My tween eyes took notes, and again learned the important lessons. Sometime after this I was asked to bring in a phallic vegetable for condom rolling class in year ten Health Ed. It was a piece of cake for me, but others had trouble. My mate Chas never even qualified. In a bid at oneupmanship, he scoured the
local greengrocers for the most offensively mammoth cucumber he could find, a hefty choad that no Trojan could contain. Chas is now married with four children. While I gloat over my superior sex education, I admit that such freedom has come with consequence. For 29 years I’ve had to deal with a borderline intense parent, hellbent on ensuring that I’m in the loop with everything to do with sexual function. In my late teens it was all about STDs. ‘Have a great time, darl,’ I’d hear from the lounge on my way out of a night. ‘Don’t forget: STDs!,’ delivered with a pinch of irony, a nod, and a wink that meant business. She wasn’t talking about long-distance phone calls. This was a call to arms. ‘If you’re getting a bit, strap one on,’ she meant. I’d forever have ‘STDs’ embedded in my subconscious, even if out for a film, beers at a mate’s, some circumstance where soliciting a root was desperately unlikely. But all this is nitpicking, really. I would much rather have the ubiquitous initials stuck in my head all night than warts on my dong. I would much prefer a lighthearted relationship with sex than feel like I could never talk about it with my own mum. And I would rather be threatened with homicide if I ever got a girl pregnant than navigate my teens as a parent, which Mum and Dad both did with me. There wasn’t a whole lot of information on contraception when they became sexually active. No banana samurai penises, no candid chats in their Catholic high school, which gave as much thought to rooting and frangers as laudatory analysis of the Qur’an. Education about sex is critical stuff. It need not be cringe-worthy or irksome, nor crammed into a single class full of vegetables and prophylactics. As intricate and remarkable as the subject is, we still fiddle around and half-pretend that it either doesn’t exist or isn’t that important. One would have thought that in an era of such technological progress and connectivity we might have enjoyed a more honest sexual discourse. Somehow it still feels like the 1950s to me. Sex is identity. It is self. It is powerful and complicated stuff. Kids today need honest communicators to teach them about their bits and what they can do with them. I feel bad for all those folks like Miss Cope whose mums never stopped traffic on a busy morning highway to teach them how to jerk off. The world might be a better place if more did. Thanks to Mum, I got through my teens sans fatherhood, and STDs (pretty much). I enjoy a healthy sex life with myself and others. Moreover, I look forward to the day where I eschew the frangers and pump out some children of my own. Like my old lady, I’ll be honest and open. I’ll be real, and I’ll remind them that sex is complex, that it’s their own unique creative exploration. I’ll see them off into the night bellowing ‘STDs!’ from the kitchen, and I’ll be sure to do my best to embarrass the hell out of them at their 21st parties. The way it ought to be. OF OWL FARM • 07
Industrial strength Melbourne-based photographer Kip Scott talks to OWL FARM about his thing for factories
How long have you been creating your art?
I’ve always been fascinated by image making but it was in high school that I really got thinking about the great tradition of photography. Back then, we shot purely on black and white 35mm film with analogue cameras and developed and printed our images in the school’s darkroom.
Who and what inspires you?
I’ve always admired the great cinematographers who have been instrumental in creating memorable images but are usually less known than directors. John L. Russell is an example—he worked on Psycho— 08 • OWL FARM
and Conrad Hall from American Beauty. As far as photographers go, Mitch Epstein and Edward Burtynsky similarly explore changing industrial landscapes and their work is always inspiring. I find the medium of photography suits my desire to create art that distils the moment and imagines new, more complex scenarios and narratives.
What equipment do you use?
I predominantly shoot on a Canon 7D DSLR. I use a wide-angle prime lens or a telephoto zoom for my industrial landscapes. I shoot with a tripod in order to get the right composition, while I wait for the perfect lighting conditions.
What was your most challenging shoot?
My most challenging shoot was in an outdoor location at night in windy weather. The image required the use of multiple lights on stands, umbrellas and also a smoke machine to create the effect of mist. As you can imagine that particular shot took quite a few takes to perfect.
Tell us a little more about the shots featured here—what was the inspiration and intention behind them?
The industrial environment is a recurring theme in my photographic practice. I am inspired by the photographer’s role or mission to document this ever-changing environment. I search for subjects that allow me to represent both the nobility and contradictions of industry: oil refineries, a disused cement works, an abandoned textile factory, quarries and power stations, and communities that still live and play in the shadows of factories or storage facilities. Subjects that are, at different times of day, solitary, beautiful, polluting, monumental or mysterious in their various states of life or decay.
Where to next for your photography?
I see my photographic practice ranging across commercial work, such as film stills, product advertising, publishing (such as book covers), music promotion, food and architecture. In terms of my own
artistic practice I will be travelling to Berlin in January 2014. I plan to commence a series on the abandoned industrial locations there. I imagine it being similar to the Ruins of Detroit series by French photographic team Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.
Where to next for visual art, for photography, for culture, for life?! What are your visions?
In a world increasingly focused on image as key source of information and art, photography will always need professional practitioners to interpret, document and create. In my own practice I aim to create and exhibit pivotal, memorable images that allow the viewer a moment of illumination and understanding, to in some small way see things anew.
What does ‘snapshot’ mean to you?
For me a snapshot is a passing moment frozen in time that may seem ordinary at first glance but when reviewed has deeper meaning. OF OWL FARM • 09
FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS
EAT MCDONALD’S OWL FARM’s guide to the best 2am eats in Melbourne. By Madeleine O’Gorman
t’s 2am. You’re in the city at a bar downing your eighth drink. Without warning, your mouth starts to water at the thought of a late-night feast. You want to eat everything. You know that when you walk outside, you’ll have the choice of kebabs, burgers, dumplings, a sevs-levs sanga—the works. But with so much on offer, what do you choose? After a big night, we set off on a mission to find the best 2am eats in Melbourne. The answer? Chinatown…
CHINA BAR 235 Russell St Melbourne Open: 11am–6am Owl Farm choice: Hainanese chicken rice
NOODLE KINGDOM 264 Swanston St Melbourne Open: 10am–5am Owl Farm choice: Spicy noodles
15 Celestial Ave Melbourne
204 Little Bourke St Melbourne
Open: 5.30pm–2.30am Owl Farm choice: Roast duck
Open: 5.30pm – 3am Owl Farm choice: Pipis in XO sauce
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Ever wanted to get inside a Thai boxing ring? Photographer Stephen Townsend takes you there
Q&A How long have you been creating your art? I’ve been taking photographs since 2008. It started out as a hobby when I undertook a bludge subject at school. Photography was just my go-to subject where I could relax in the darkroom and develop. It quickly grew from a hobby to a passion when a few teachers gave me the confidence in my work to take it more seriously and it snowballed from there. Who and what inspired you then, and now? When I was starting out I took a lot of inspiration from my everyday life. Just walking around the streets of Melbourne was enough to keep me interested. What equipment do you use? My equipment consists of a Nikon D800, 50mm 1.4, SB-910 speed light and two Bowens heads. Tell us a little more about these shots—what was the inspiration and intention behind them? It was just being in the right place. I was travelling around Thailand with my girlfriend but I became sick early on in the trip. Desperately wanting to leaving the room and explore what was on offer, it came down to the last night in Bangkok. I was just finishing up a shopping splurge heading back to our hotel when we stumbled across a Muay Thai ring that was set up once a week between two shopping centres and a train station. It was so random and just too good an opportunity to pass up. So I hung around the ring between the officials, fighters, spectators and coachers, not wanting the typical boxing photographs and tried to capture the experience with a filmic, documentary feel. Where to next? My dream job. To be paid to work/ shoot overseas where I could experience new cultures. In the meantime, I’m investing more time into food photography. What about visual art and photography in general. What’s your vision for the future? We are already seeing powerful cameras appearing in phones, and photographers shooting high-end jobs with phones. I believe it’s only a matter of time before we see more of this. But hopefully it doesn’t happen. OF
igh above the streets of Melbourne’s inner suburbs hover the tumbling figures of artist Baby Guerrilla. Her beautiful and intricate paste-ups radiate from the red brick and terrace walls that populate the urban sprawl. Unlike the vibrant lines of Melbourne’s aerosol art, Baby Guerrilla’s elegant cut-outs depict monochromatic figures that could be floating or falling or both, clutching at each other’s limbs or at passing objects as they descend. Her art demonstrates a delicate, classical refinement combined with a strong street sensibility, and it was this unique blend that inspired me to hunt her down. After a short backand-forth and an agreement to maintain her anonymity, I met Baby Guerrilla in her modest weatherboard studio and discussed her mission to set art free to go floating across our streets and walls.
Photo of artist: Em J. Norman. Other photos: Baby Guerrilla
Where did the name Baby Guerrilla come from? It was a nickname my dad gave me. When I was young he would always say to me, ‘You’re a wild, untameable little gorilla.’ It was his way of showing affection. He would joke that I couldn’t be domesticated, that I was little bit feral. Still today, you can probably see by my house, I’m still not very domestic [laughs]. Then I just changed the spelling to ‘guerrilla’ to represent the political element of what my street art means to me.
From Gallery to Guerrilla: Searching for something more An interview with street artist Baby Guerrilla, by Noah K. Nixon babyguerrilla.com/street-art
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You studied painting at the Victorian College of the Arts and have exhibited at the National Gallery of NSW. Why now turn to street art? In some ways I was frustrated with the gallery system and I still sometimes struggle with the sense that art is just a commodity. The inspiration behind each piece is worlds away from that perspective. Part of the attraction to me with public art is that a lot of people are going to see the work and it’s kind of everybody’s if it’s in a public space. I guess they can take a little bit of ownership of it for themselves—they feel part of it somehow. Even now, I still have that conflict inside me when I create a work. I’m far more excited if I’m working on a public building
than doing something small or private where only one person gets to see it. What do you aim to achieve with your art? My aim is to simply inspire people. I want to capture a sense of freedom and the sense that anything is possible and for that sensibility to spread. There’s currently a renaissance happening in street art. I think we all inspire each other and I think art has a particularly significant role to play in society by altering our perspectives and boundaries. Tell us more about your mission to ‘liberate art from the gallery or the picture frame and make it accessible to everyone’ I think currently a lot of people don’t agree with how our public spaces are being shaped. I think we could quite literally live in a much more colourful world, filling our walls with art rather than just seeing all these cheap, ugly, prefabricated buildings made off the back of a truck with no thought to the people or the environment it’s placed in. It makes a difference to the type of world we live in, the values we have and how we choose to live. What words would you use to describe your work? Feminine. Detailed. Surreal. And maybe a little bit romantic. Lately, I have been doing a lot of work featuring couples. When you put all of my pieces back to back it sort of tells a story. It’s interesting because I can see the ongoing themes of domesticity, and trying to find a way in life and maybe a conventional path not working out. People have said there’s a feeling of wanting to escape in my pictures and I have to agree with that. What do your floating figures represent? It feels like there’s a yearning from all of us in this society for something more. I’m sure there have been a lot of times in history where people have felt like that, but I feel we’re at a turning point and these figures represent that search for something. We’re looking for things that give us greater satisfaction. Things with more soul, I guess. Apparently, as Western people we’re more unhappy and isolated than ever in history.
I’m sure there’s no perfect time in history, but I feel like we are living in a system that no longer truly represents our values. Have you had any run-ins with the law? I was citizen-arrested once by a security guard in Flinders Lane. It was a really dark, dark episode [laughs]. He was very angry even though it wasn’t even the building he was guarding. I think he was just be a bit bored and then excited because he thought he’d caught a criminal in the act. He was like, ‘You and your friends…’ and I was like, what? He just labelled all street art as destruction and all street artists into one group. He was yelling, trying to tell me I was responsible for all of the graffiti in the lane and trying to blame it all on me. And I was like, are you kidding? You can see the art I’ve done, I’m here by myself. He was just a really angry guy. And for days afterward it was like I was tainted, I just wanted to wash it off, wash the experience and that man away. It wasn’t nice. Does being female make life harder as a street artist? I think people can sometimes seem a little more interested in you because you’re a female. Is it harder? I’m not sure. I’ve always been a little nuts, going out late at night by myself. I’d never thought about the risks I faced as a female until late last year, when a carload of men tried to grab me and pull me into their car. Since then I have become more aware of the dangers. It was very scary at the time and it did affect me. I just looked at them and instinctively I knew they’d done it before. I was a rabbit and they were hunting and if it wasn’t me it would have been somebody else. But I wasn’t even out doing art, you know? I was just out. Has that stopped you from pursuing your art? No. Nothing will stop me from going out and doing my art but I am more wary these days. What does the future hold for Baby Guerrilla? I don’t like to think too much about what lies ahead. I try to follow my heart and keep challenging myself. I guess I’ll just keep exploring until I feel the urge to explore something different. OF OWL FARM • 15
They left Perth because they were bored and became the unwitting saviours of Melbourne’s noise-rock scene. They are loud, they are grumpy, and they are Bone
Photography: Elisa Bryant (elisabryant.com)
have released an album called For Want of Feeling. The black record sleeve features the name of the band, the name of the album, the titles of the songs and the names of the people who recorded and mixed it. There’s a white illustration on the front, too—it reminds me of the inside of a fishbowl, plastic castles and aquatic plants and the like. But that’s it. There’s no other information. No indication that Jon sang and played guitar. That Nate also played guitar while Mike and Sam played bass and drums respectively. There’s no thank-yous or acknowledgements. No photographs. No lyrics. This record gives the distinct impression of people who just want to get on with the business of being a band. No bullshit. No distractions. Bone moved to Melbourne from Perth in 2008, for no other reason than that living in Perth had run its course, and it was time for a change of scenery. The four met at various junctures in their lives: at school, at menial jobs, while high and drunk at parties. They started the band simply
for something to do. Four dudes getting together to make noise and blow off steam. None of them had played an instrument before this band, aside from Jon who had just finished an apprenticeship as a guitar maker and who now builds guitars for a living, including those used by the band. They left the small house-party and venue circuit in Perth for the squalor of a Footscray share house where possum fur could be seen sticking through the walls and the nine people living in that five-bedroom abode existed in perpetual fear of being hit by homemade blow darts built from nails and constructed purely to alleviate boredom. A shed behind the property was gradually filled with empty beer bottles until the structure was full from floor to ceiling. Their bond was not returned. During that time, Bone recorded the EP Face Prison, a searing collection of primitive noise-rock. They built connections with Melbourne’s slacker punk scene, consciously eschewing any
tendency to be lumped in with the mathrock and post-rock crowds. They started playing shows with the stage lights off. They toured China and became restless with the verse-chorus song structures that undermined their early sound. In August of 2013 they released For Want of Feeling, the culmination of that restlessness and the product of rewiring the way they write songs. They chose to launch the album at the LuWow—a Tikithemed cocktail bar in Fitzroy whose Formica plants and lurid purple lighting provide a surreal juxtaposition to what Bone drily dubbed ‘the grumpiest album you’ll hear this year.’ The first song on the album is called Perfect, and it’s anything but—at least in any conventional sense. There’s the hiss of an overdriven amplifier. The tentative scrape of fingers across wound nickel. Then it bursts open with a wonky threenote guitar figure that seems to last an uncertain eternity before the rest of the band finally joins in after almost two OWL FARM • 17
minutes. Bass and kick drum arrive like anvils dropping in unison, but even then the song doesn’t really start. Instead it lurches uneasily forward, Frankenstein’s monster emerging blinking from the lab only to be confronted with torches and pitchforks. And when a change finally comes—a curiously upbeat guitar trill— any hope of tunefulness is stomped on by a pounding discord. And then it’s all over. Just the amps left to squeal and hiss. I can’t help but imagine the naming process of the song went along the lines of: ‘Hey do you think we need a chorus or lyrics or something?’ ‘Nah. It’s perfect.’ Pedestal arrives the way Perfect departed, all shuddering bass and drums
before a truly disorientating guitar riff kicks in and delivers a sensation not unlike vertigo or seasickness. Bone let it all hang out here: the background hisses and scrapes, the slightly out-oftune guitars and woozy bending of notes. It feels damaged and drained, like a day spent at work with the flu, peering through rheumy eyes while everything swims and oozes around you. And, like an incensed co-worker about to go postal, Jon is shouting ‘Fuck a pedestal!’ through a fog of distortion. Once again it never really turns into a ‘song’ proper. There’s no chorus, no payoff—just an awkward and unrelenting groove that is sustained throughout the subsequent six tracks. Bone would like to ensure you are
not sitting comfortably. It’s unnerving and thrilling in equal measure. At the launch of For Want of Feeling they tear through the album in its entirety. No encores. No concessions. Mike starts the gig with his legs wide apart and they stay that way for the duration. Like some punk rock Colossus of Rhodes, standing astride cables and gaffer tape, moving as though trapped in some mechanised loop—the neck of his bass swinging back and forth in robotic arcs. In the gloom to Mike’s left, Nate fights with his denimclad guitar as though he’s just woken to find it strangling him in his sleep and it’s a matter of life or death to keep the thing away from his neck. Sam keeps his
No bullshit ‘It feels damaged and drained, like a day spent at work with the flu, peering through rheumy eyes while everything swims around you’
head down, fixing his sight on the middle distance as he hammers the shit of his drums, letting kick-drum blasts cannon off into complete silence before the rest of the band heave into another ferocious riff. To the right, Jon lets single notes ring out from his guitar, exuding a composure that seems at odds with the mania displayed by his bandmates. That is until his steps up to the mic and unleashes an unhinged and indecipherable yelp—something that sounds wounded and bleak but is more than likely about taking a bath. It’s a spectacle akin to watching the dying moments of broken toys, their sputtering clockwork somehow synchronised to
make one whole, impenetrable racket. Each individual note and beat is vital to the song. Every shuddering discord is intentional. All around them the plastics skulls and Tiki sculptures of the LuWow leer out of the dark—oddly complementary décor for Bone’s deadpan take on the human condition. A breakneck bassline introduces See the Boy—an ode to questionable parenting that conjures images of kids left in cars with the window cracked while mum and dad feed their child support into poker machines. It’s the first time on the album that anything close to a melody surfaces, although it’s a fleeting reprieve before the another pummelling outro, underscored
No distractions by Jon’s chanted recital of a custody schedule: ‘Monday through Wednesday! Every second weekend!’ Lyrically, For Want of Feeling delivers line after line of caustic humour, and repeated allusions to water and childbirth that lend a weird validity to Jon’s joking assertion that it’s the world’s first concept album about menopause. Nowhere are these concerns more readily on display than on Bucket, a surreal vignette where an unwanted child learns to stay afloat in an overflowing pail. ‘She wanted a daughter, they got you! He wanted a Spartan, they got you!’ Jon exclaims after the band charges through an obscenely catchy riff. 18 • OWL FARM
Thematically, Bucket’s disowned child is reminiscent of Big Black’s My Disco— and this would be as good a moment as any to address the issue of Steve Albini and his acolytes in relation to Bone. The spectre of the Chicago underground in the late 80s and 90s looms large in Bone’s music—the brittle guitars, the bassdriven song structures, the raw recording. All these hallmarks point to the Touch & Go roster as a prime influence: The Jesus Lizard, Killdozer, Shellac, take your pick. Yet the band claim not to have heard any of those bands until years later when friends pointed out the similarities. Instead, Bone cite hip-hop mixtapes, dance music and even Queens of the
Stone Age as early touchstones—sounds and ideas almost impossible to reconcile at first listen. But watching Bone play— those close-cropped heads bobbing rhythmically in and out of the blackened stage—it’s not as implausible as it sounds. Recall that none of the band bar Jon had played an instrument before starting Bone. Those disparate influences, those sounds they enjoyed pre-band, they’re all there only reinterpreted on guitars and stripped to an almost unrecognisable skeletal frame. Like hip-hop mixtapes, Bone take single ideas and push them to extremes, sitting on solitary grooves for minutes at a time before changing on a dime. Take Moot for
example, a relentless pneumatic stomp that shifts gears only once the riff has been ridden into the ground. It’s brute minimalism, unapologetic and in service only of tone and propulsion. Then there’s album closer Bath Time. It starts almost reflectively, at least comparatively to the onslaught that has preceded it—Mike’s bass picks out a major key figure while guitars ring out around it. The song moves into a cursory verse and bridge before locking into a single pattern and sticking to it. And stick to it they do. For four and a half minutes. No singing. Just the same identical pattern again and again, no variation and so tightly wound it could have been looped. It’s so bloody-minded. It’s engaging then hilarious then frustrating then boring and then finally and inescapably hypnotic. It’s every element hinted at in the previous seven songs brought to their unrelenting and logical culmination: one idea beaten senseless before cutting off mid-passage and leaving the listener with only nagging, naked silence. The album launch finishes just as abruptly, the folded-armed crowed suddenly shocked out of their hypnotised reverie by the absence of sound. On stage in the dark, Bone are all smiles. But there’s no banter. No thank-yous. No acknowledgment of the stifled shouts of ‘More!’ from the back of the room. Bone just want to get on with the business of being a band. No bullshit. No distractions. OF OWL FARM • 19
The last days of Footscray Each issue Owl Farm takes to the streets in a suburb around Melbourne. First up: Footscray—check it out now before it gets gentrified Photos by Em J. Norman ‘I wanted to capture Footscray not as the rough or dangerous area that many assume it to be, but as a friendly, colourful and interesting mix of cultures. People warned me about taking photos in Footscray by myself but I didn’t feel unsafe for a minute. It was actually me asking people to follow me down alleyways so I could take their photo… I was the creep! I met some lovely souls. Don’t get me wrong: I got yelled at by a 90-year-old, kicked out of the market and abused by a fruiterer… It wasn’t all Footscray roses.’ (Full interview with Em J. on p23)
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22 • OWL FARM
Q&A How long have you been creating your art?
I bought my camera about six years ago and started selling my photos from the walls of a friend’s beautiful boutique: Tiger & Goat in Newport.
What got you into the craft?
My dad, for two reasons. Firstly, he took lots of photos, and was always behind the camera on holidays. The problem was when he passed away we didn’t have any bloody photos of him! He was also one of three men in a photo named by LIFE magazine and Le Monde as one of the 20 most influential images of the 20th century—a civil rights protest on the dais at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. I grew up knowing the power, longevity and repercussions a photo could have.
Who and what inspires you now?
Lately I’ve been inspired by Ezra Stoller, an architectural photographer from the 1930s onwards. I like the personality he imparted to buildings. He would apparently stay in the spaces for days before shooting, which I think comes across
in his photos. For me, some of them feel quite eerie; I find I can look at them for quite long stretches of time. I love taking photos of buildings; they don’t get awkward and they stay still for you all afternoon.
What equipment do you use?
I use a Nikon D60. I keep meaning to upgrade but I do like the little guy.
Your most challenging shoot?
By far the trickiest and also my most enjoyable shoot was at Abode, a fetish club in Melbourne. A friend was writing a piece on Abode’s owner, The Colonel, for a magazine and I was lucky enough to do the shoot. It wasn’t until I had The Colonel on a leather couch with two sexy girls writhing either side of him that it dawned on me I’d pretty much be directing a porn shoot of sorts. Needless to say it was great but impossibly dark (as a sex dungeon should be) and my flash bounced red light off everything—red velvet overkill!
What does ‘snapshot’ mean to you?
It’s capturing a fleeting moment that would otherwise fade away. It’s moments worth putting in your pocket.
OWL FARM • 23
The man behind the walls OWL FARM enters one of Australia’s toughest high-security prisons, and finds out why one insider is convinced the system is broken By Noah K. Nixon
A few months ago I was allowed inside one of Australia’s maximum-security prisons to write about a brave man who works there. For journalists such access is typically fraught with red tape and suspicion, but I glided past the prison guards with nothing but an ID check and my student credentials. But I guess they never imagined what I would learn. Alarm bells rang a few weeks later when I got a call from a prison officer telling me not to publish anything without explicit approval. I hadn’t agreed to that. It seems they had let me in without following the correct curb-the-journalist protocols and they were now scrambling for control. Apparently, news of my visit had gone right to the top of the state’s correctional system and pressure was being applied to kill the story. To force my hand, the man I’d interviewed and befriended was used as crude leverage: his career was threatened, twice, by prison officials. Understandably, my subject’s willingness to put his name to the story quickly evaporated. Currently, the prison is pushing for a ‘feel-good’ rewrite, but I felt this story deserved to be told. To protect my source, his name has been changed and the prison I visited will remain nameless. But everything else you will read here is true and accurate.
he smell of unkempt men lingers in the air. A circle of prisoners in green tracksuits and cheap sneakers fidget on plastic chairs. Feigning nonchalance, a young Indigenous man with a scar under one eye rocks back on his chair, smirking and joking. A scruffyhaired prisoner to his left anxiously taps his foot, staring blankly out the window at the clouds over the basketball court. In front of them sits 52-year-old James O’Malley, dressed in blue denim and a collared shirt, a duress alarm clipped to his hip. He has grey bushy eyebrows and a chunky silver cross slung round his neck. His name badge reads ‘Prison Chaplain’. James is the chaplain in three of Australia’s toughest corrective institutions. He works in extremely challenging conditions and makes an important difference to the lives of many incarcerated men, but he has lost faith in the system. Today, he has helped me gain access to one of his workplaces to understand why. We met earlier that morning at the gatehouse of the prison, a circular fortress hidden away in the industrial zones of outer suburbia. James led me through a set of sliding doors and into a security screening area, and straight away the atmosphere shifted. The air inside was thick and laced with tension. I shuffled through a biometric iris scan, a drugs and explosives sensor, a metal detector and a pat-down and clothing search before I was finally cleared to join James inside. Now he sits before the encircled prisoners and I hover in the corner, feeling tense and out of place. We’re on
the bottom floor of the Orientation Unit, a two-tiered cellblock at the north of the grounds and the entry point for all new prisoners. The ten men assembled here are new arrivals. They will spend the next few days in one of the 75 cells in this unit, before their security level is assessed and they’re ‘farmed out’ to block A, B or C. Next to the chaplain slumps a portly Offender Services Officer, reading from an orientation handout. Without looking up, she reels off the physical activities available in the prison: ‘Street Soccer on Wednesdays, trivia every third week…’ No one seems interested. Many of these men have been in before and more than a third will re-offend within two years of their release. The officer finishes her recital and hands over to the chaplain. ‘Welcome to paradise,’ he opens with a chuckle, before rattling off a well-practised speech about the services he and his fellow ‘sky pilots’ or God-botherers provide. His manner is casual and calm as he litters his speech with jokes and light-hearted remarks. Some of the men relax, their postures change and they unfold their arms as he warms the room. ‘Now, I know you guys have been separated from your friends and family and this isn’t exactly the fun palace, so if you’re having problems settling in, we’re here to help. Remember, we’re not part of the system.’ James and the other chaplains offer the prisoners a promise of confidentiality, so they can talk about anything, even crimes or other taboos— though naturally there are limits. ‘Our talks won’t go on your record but if you do want to bash another prisoner over the OWL FARM • 25
head or land a helicopter in the yard at 12pm sharp, firstly don’t, and secondly, don’t tell the chaplain because I am obliged to inform prison management about any security issues.’ His presentation is over in a matter of minutes and his closing jibe at Collingwood supporters animates a few of the men to the point of a fist pump and a ‘Carn da Bombers’ from a man with a neck tattoo. James’s larrikinism seems the perfect device to lower the men’s guard, overturning the stereotype of what a man of God is meant to be. On our way out, two more prison staffers saunter in to deliver their threetimes-a-week info spiel, which, judging by their demeanour, neither they nor the prisoners care to hear. After the orientation we’re buzzed through an iron gate and then another, past armed officers in blue uniforms, their hands sheathed in purple sanitary gloves. Some are polite and say hello to James, others suck cigarettes through square, grimacing faces. James admits that the orientation process may appear blasé, but his good work is really done through one-onone meetings and interactions known as ‘pastoral contacts’. ‘A large part of what I do is just sitting with the guys, listening to their stories and supporting them. What they want is someone who will treat them with dignity and respect. We all want that, but in the prison system they don’t get it.’
in the yard. ‘As you can see, a lot of these men look like you and me. They have hopes and dreams and desires and emotions just like the rest of us. They’re totally human. Yet the media often portrays them as less than human. ‘I find a great sadness in it all,’ James confesses, telling me that prisons are a revolving door and that he often sees the same faces time and time again. ‘There are no winners. Everyone loses.’ Men of every age and ethnicity slide past us, nearly every one huddled with a chosen ally. Very few walk alone. In a lowered voice the chaplain tells me that not long ago, in the evening before lockup, the prison had a suicide. ‘A bloke took a leap off the second tier of the cell block and dove headfirst into the concrete.’ Immediately after the incident the prisoners were locked down for several hours until ‘the mess’ was cleaned up and the body taken away. ‘This isn’t the kind of the stuff you’d expect to see on the outside, let alone when you’re in prison,’ says James. ‘In this instance it was pretty messy. It was incredibly difficult for [the other inmates]. They had no one to talk to and it played on their minds.’ As we’re talking an announcement rings out over the PA system in a lethargic voice, stating that an AA meeting is set to start. Metres ahead of us, a prisoner with a shaved head calls across the fenceline to a scrawny bloke in C-yard. ‘I heard ya was taken last night. Why’d they move ya?’ he
fortified cage at the centre of the prison known as Inner Movement Control. The yards of A, B and C blocks fan out next to each other in a semicircle, each separated from the others by three-metrehigh chainlink fences. The two-storey cell blocks are a dull grey, the yards sparse and dotted with fitness machines, but modified so that any potentially dangerous elements such as removable seats have been replaced by foam. A large Pacific Islander leans on the barricade between A and B yards, a hand tucked into his pants, slinging slang to his friends through the crosshatches. The chaplain admits there are always things bubbling below the surface that he doesn’t see. ‘There are assaults that take place here, physical, verbal. Standover tactics and sexual assaults.’ Obviously this constant threat of brutality takes its toll on the men. One of his fellow chaplains describes prison as ‘Institutionalised violence on behalf of the state.’ ‘It’s a very artificial environment. It is violent. It’s aggressive and it’s dehumanising. Everything they do is monitored.’ He points to the black-glass eye hovering above us like a street lamp. Most of the inmates who talk to James do so tactfully. ‘Some of the guys won’t talk to you in the yard, you know. It’s seen as a sign of weakness.’ A prisoner usually passes on a request to an officer for a meeting with their chaplain of choice, whether Anglican, Catholic, Uniting Church, Islamic or Buddhist. A
‘A bloke took a leap off the second tier of the cell block and dove headfirst into the concrete’ As we wander down a concrete path the icy air bites my cheeks. I notice red blotches around James’s neck and throat, scars left from brutal radiotherapy treatment he endured after being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. He’d told me the lasting side effects of his treatment: one of his saliva glands is fried, his throat is constricted and he has permanent ringing in his ears. And despite all this he spends his days trying to give comfort to the imprisoned. As we continue on James’s rounds he points out the different units, waves to prisoners and cracks jokes with me. Some prisoners wear warm casual clothes sent from home. Others hunch over in waferthin tracksuit ‘greens’ supplied by the Salvation Army, some out of necessity, the rest as a criminal badge of honour. He motions to the men standing about 26 • OWL FARM
asks. The man hesitates and gestures our way with a smirk. The men fall quiet and wait for us to pass. Once we’re a safe distance away, James asks if I’d noticed the rolled-up pant legs of the man in C-yard: ‘a traditional sign of a drug dealer.’ James may have a Christian outlook, but his time in prisons has taught him a great deal about man’s capacity for evil. Like prisoners, he uses humour and a persona to protect himself. ‘Everyone has to. Any sign of weakness and they’ll manipulate you and put pressure on you to do things you don’t want to do.’ Some prisoners may even try to befriend staff to dig up personal information about family or friends that can be later used for threats or blackmail. We stroll away from the Orientation Unit, through B block and toward a large
daily printout tells the chaplains which prisoners need help. ‘I have most of my meaningful conversations with men behind closed doors, and you know what, you meet some really nice guys in prison. [laughs] Yeah, okay, they stuffed up, but who hasn’t? And who of us wouldn’t like to take two minutes of our lives back every now and then?’ After a brief lunch bought with prison tokens, we make a call to the solitary confinement unit. The official euphemism for this area is the Management Unit, but it is known to insiders as The Slot, after the letterbox-type flap used to communicate and deliver food. Here James arranges to meet a prisoner we’ll call Adrian. The Management Unit houses men who have ‘played up’ or are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, and is
‘Without meetings like this, the 23 hours a day in The Slot would surely swallow him up’ locked down for 23 hours a day. A square chickenwire window, the size of a pizza box, is the only source of sunlight, and even then the men say the sunlight never reaches their skin. A stone-faced prison guard with a forearm tattoo greets us at the gates and engages in dry banter with the chaplain. We sign a visitors’ register and are again asked to stand in a star position while a metal detector wands over us. The guard grabs Adrian from his 3.65m x 2.65m cell. The inmate is searched and enters the meeting room with a smile. He’s overjoyed to see James and they talk at length about his parents and his girl on the outside, joking and laughing. The chaplain knows Adrian’s loved ones’ names and their stories. If the jail walls suddenly dissolved, they would just be two old friends sharing a yarn. This time clearly means a great deal to Adrian. Without meetings like this, the 23 hours a day in The Slot would surely swallow him up. In 2011, a UN expert on torture recommended the total ban of solitary confinement and stated ‘indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition.’ The report cited studies that showed that lasting mental damage can be sustained after just a few days of social isolation. Adrian has been here for over three weeks already. Before we go, Adrian tells the chaplain he’s been cleared to leave The Slot but he’s unsure when he’ll be released. It’s hard to find beds in general population, and when I enquire why, I am told that the prison is running at 30 men over its intended capacity. In the afternoon there is a service in the prison chapel. Six prisoners from the
Protection Unit skulk into the service ten minutes late. Two appear to be in a daze as they slink into their chairs, possibly because of their methadone treatment. No one sings or reads aloud from the service sheet and a huge brute with a boxer’s face rolls cigarettes through The Lord’s Prayer before asking me where I got my Air Max, what size they are and if I want to swap. ‘I think they only come for the complimentary coffee and biscuits,’ the Salvation Army chaplain remarks after the service, while James stands guard to make sure the coffee and sugar are not smuggled out. When he returns from his watch I ask about the success of the rehabilitation process and he remembers a conversation with a young man who was days away from release. ‘I asked him what he had learned about himself and he said, “Before I came to prison, I knew how to break into cars, and now I know how to break into trucks”.’ In James’s experience (like that of so many others before him), the act of locking men up like animals just makes them bitter and twisted, leaving them worse off than when they came in. In a lot of cases, criminality has been taught to offenders from a young age. ‘I can remember talking to one guy years ago, and he said that as a kid, he would do the ‘shopping’ for his mother. But she’d taught him to shoplift and he just thought that’s how you got food. And so things progressed and he ended up in jail.’ James believes only a small percentage of people in prison belong behind bars because they are ‘a danger to society or themselves’, and that the average $100,000 spent on each prisoner every year could be better spent. ‘Instead of making some of these issues criminal
justice issues, I believe a far greater number should be treated as mental health issues, and the money poured into the mental health system.’ Community based orders, suspended sentences and fines work a lot better, he says. He believes prison is not an effective deterrent. ‘It simply does not work,’ he says, and to support his case he cites a recent ABC Radio interview with Arie Freiberg, the Chair of the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council. Freiberg said: ‘People who received [suspended sentences and community based orders] for similar offences were less likely to reappear before the courts than those who received a jail sentence. What we’re saying is that prison serves a lot of purposes, including punishment and incapacitation. But if you’re relying on deterrence as one of the major justifications, then one has to think very carefully about its effectiveness.’ But there is no chance the government is going to promote prison reform, says James. The Victorian government would never recommend the reduction of the prison population by 50% because the public is misinformed about the nature of prisoners. ‘While they’re behind bars, it’s somebody else’s problem and we don’t have to worry about it. But prison numbers are growing every day and we’re no better off.’ As the chaplain carries his large wooden cross into the storeroom and stows his communion kit, he offers me a simple analogy. Picture a cliff, he says. ‘Today, we have an ambulance positioned at the bottom of the cliff to pick up and repair those who fall down. But what we really need is a fence at the top of the cliff to stop them from falling down in the first place. That is what we don’t have.’ OF OWL FARM • 27
No Poison, No Paradise
In 2009, US quirk-rock legends Polvo did the impossible. After an 11-year hiatus, they returned to active service with In Prism, an album that astonished fans with its confidence and quality and defied everything we have ever learned about recapturing past glories. With Siberia, Polvo continues its unlikely renaissance, producing another record of driving, off-kilter tunes and trademark stringbending riffage. This is a lighter and more easygoing album than In Prism, with fewer standout moments—there’s only one instant classic here, the opening track Total Immersion—suggesting a band that has proven it’s still got the goods and is now content to take its foot off the pedal. But even if it is not up there with great records like Exploded Drawing, this is still a substantial new offering from Ash Bowie and pals, and that in itself is cause for wonder.
It’s crazy to think that Stonefield have won Triple J Unearthed, played at Glastonbury Music Festival and toured with the Foo Fighters and Kaiser Chiefs all before releasing their own album. Following on from their wildly successful singles Foreign Lover and Black Water Rising is their self-titled LP, a feast of anthemic rock, soaring vocals and 70s psychedelia. Think Led Zeppelin and The Kills. Highlights include their current single and radio favourite Put Your Curse On Me—a power rock tune featuring the haunting vocals of the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir—as well as Over & Over, a track with one helluva steady swagger and addictive bass riff. In short, Stonefield is one solid, ballsy offering that raises the stakes of modern rock.
The golden years were thought to be over for Detroit. The once-great muscle car mecca had reportedly creaked to a standstill, rusted and rolled into the proverbial scrap heap. But hope is emanating from somewhere deep in D-city’s industrial zone, a shining light beaming forth from a man called Milk. No Poison, No Paradise LP is a stellar offering from rapper/ producer Black Milk, with sharp beats, complex rhymes and a dark, uneasy feel. There are plenty of standout tracks here, from the Nintendo blips of Ghetto DEMF to the perfectly sampled jazz guitars of Monday’s Worst. The rhymes are still a little gangstercentric, but brush that aside and just listen to this sucker purr.
Ratsak 7” Ratsak
Mark Groves probably released half a dozen records before you had breakfast, and Ratsak are kind of like his easy-listening project when paired against the unholy racket he makes in Dead Boomers or one of his 200 (I counted) other bands. This 7-inch is pretty straight-up hardcore, and that’s no bad thing. It’s hardcore of the most caustic, bleeding throat, mic-cable-wrappedaround-the-fist variety. And while all four tracks presented here are corkers, I take my hat off and hurl it gleefully into the circle pit to the glory that is Bullhead. This song has a hook the size and weight of the Berj Dubai. If there is any justice in the world, people will be going on about Bullhead in ten years’ time the way people go on about My Pal and Walking About. It’s that kind of good.
OWL FARM • 29
Published on Nov 6, 2013
OWL FARM is a quarterly magazine for bookish-types and city-dwellers who dig music, art and culture and more precisely – good writing. This...