The Syntax memoir – Welcome to Silent Hill
It’s amazing how much impact you can have with a single show; as I would later discover, the word ‘impact’ has implications and meanings that go beyond the very nature of the word. When it comes to spending time in Newcastle, seemingly the concept of ‘impact’ is a very real and physical thing to experience.
This particular story begins harmlessly enough with an offer to support Vents in Melbourne. Another act had to pull out of the support lineup, and after some text exchanges with DJ Flagrant, I bundled my shit together to put on an impromptu set at the Espy.
I say impromptu, however that doesn’t really cut the mustard. To be honest, tsunami and earthquake victims get more warning than I did. In all no more than three hours separated the moment from when I got off the phone until I was expected to walk the boards and perform that night.
I’m always nervous before a show, and the confidence that I’m quite often known for rapidly dissipates in that golden 10 mins before show time. I lose all ability to recall a single lyric, and on most occasions even as I step onto the stage the opening line to my entire gambit is as foreign to me as a makeshift Indian toilet is to a rich kid from Toorak.
“Wait, where’s the seat?”
Somehow despite the issue of little time I managed to pull an impressive set out of my arse, one that managed to turn a few heads and create a few more Syntax fans.
My manager urged me, “Hit up Adfu for more shows” and after several beers and an indeterminate amount of slurred speech, I had somehow scored another support slot in Newcastle.
I had only ever been to Newcastle once before – passing through the town in the front seat of my brother’s 4WD, casually watching the greenery of Northern NSW undergo slow and tranquil metamorphosis into the soot covered brick veneer of the steel city.
We had taken a wrong turn and somehow ended up on the main strip – a single train line slowly dissipated, and the forlorn shops soon melted away into a rocky cliff face overlooking a flurry of boats slowly circling a distressed Pasha Bulker.
While the locals flocked in droves to watch the ship resting calmly on the beachfront, we came to the conclusion we had come the wrong way, and quickly circled around and left the town as quickly as we had come.
Needless to say, when I booked my flights to support Vents, my knowledge on NSW’s second largest city was limited – about as limited as the options in a Tasmanian fish and chip shop.
“Errr, fish or chips?”
The plan was simple and fiendish – book an early flight in the morning to save money, spend some time wandering around experiencing the highlights that the inner city has to offer, and then party on until the early morning, where hopefully I’ll be leaving the local bars and pubs just in time to jump on the first flight at 6am.
Fiendish, simple, easy.
Of course when it comes to anything Syntax related, the concepts of ‘Simple’ and ‘easy’ are about as likely to be a reality as Jessica Alba falling into my lap out of a passing plane while demanding from me non stop rigorous anal sex while rolling around on a bed of cash……that she would give me afterwards.
The first thing I would come to discover about Newcastle, is that Newcastle Airport isn’t actually in Newcastle.
Oh, your ticket will SAY you’re going to Newcastle, but you will in fact be landing in a completely different town, one that is nestled closely on the outskirts of the city. Of course, being somewhat rural NSW, the public transport to and from said airport is barely registerable. The roadkill that littered the small and inoffensive terminal was out in greater numbers than any of the buses that were said to frequent the premises.
After leaving the gate I found myself face to face with a bus, and after a brief discussion with the driver I was told I had to wait for the next one. Seemingly it was only then that a passing mother of six whispered softly in my ear that the departing bus was indeed the bus I was meant to take.
“When is the next one?”
“About an hour”
An hour? What the fuck am I meant to do for an hour? Do you know what goes on in the space of an hour? Entire empires rise and fall in the space between the airport shuttle bus. Even Gold Coast Surfside services, complete with nonchalant drivers and crystal ball evoking timetables are more effective than the ‘not-so Newcastle’ airport buses.
Somehow a Taxi had ended up at the airport like a lost dog wandering from house to house, and after pushing over an old woman into a bin I ran into the street and threw myself across the windshield.
The polite elderly white man behind the wheel presumably wasn’t used to the fancy ‘Melbourne’ way of getting a cab, and after a round of expletives coarse enough to make a randy sailor blush, he let me into the front seat and proceeded to tell me that my destination was over 30 minutes away.
“Exquize me? Baking powder? How far away is it?”
I sat and watched the money slowly rise, and with each and every turn leading to another long winded road with no end in sight, I began to curse myself for lacking patience enough to endure a single hour of waiting.
$70 later I was deposited at my destination, a dimly lit and dilapidated strip of shops that I was assured was the central hub of Newcastle.
As I looked around, all I could think was that ‘Newcastle’ had been spelled incorrectly on the street signs, it clearly should be spelled “S-I-L-E-N-T-H-I-L-L”.
I blinked and rubbed my eyes – all I could see was a single street, carved on both sides by row after row of empty shop front. Most shops were barren dank shells, while others boasted stale bread, advertisements for scratchies, and discounts for concession card holders. The brightest store in town was a modest bridal fashion store, with dresses in the shop window that looked like they had been stitched together by blind Estonian immigrants in second rate working conditions.
I spent four hours wandering backwards and forwards, looking in vain for something that resembled 21st century design and manufacture, and after following the trail of a single row of modern looking shops, I found myself out the front of a modest KFC.
I sighed, and spent an hour inside looking at my phone, all while trying to avoid the stares of acne ridden Lowes polo shirt adorned workmen and their overweight and rum stained girlfriends.
My plan to set the day ablaze with the sights and smells of inner Newcastle had faded away faster than hypercolour t-shirts, and after five hours of wandering I had seen nothing more than a bookshop, a strangely designed shopping centre, four thousand empty shops, and the confines of an under-staffed and underwhelming KFC.
I looked at my watch and thanked god that Sound Check was imminent.
Well I say that, I actually had no idea at all, the brief on the show was practically non existent, and my plans for soundcheck had been gleaned by eagerly reading the twitter updates of all the protagonists involved.
“Oh, they’re at the venue” was all I could mutter as I trudged slowly towards to the small and inoffensive pub where the evening’s events would take place.
I would soon discover that my presence wasn’t needed – and after wandering a boring and empty city for several hours, I was deposited back on to the streets to wait for another few hours in the rainy and bleak conditions that had suddenly formed over the inner city.
Seemingly I had also underestimated the cold – I had left Melbourne on a balmy early spring day, and although it was a touch nippy I had opted to take very little with me in the way of clothing. I mean, let’s face it, my barnstorming idea for an early flight early departure negated the need to pack anything more than the clothes that adorned my back.
It soon became obvious that my thin and unflattering hoodie just wasn’t cutting the mustard – as far as mustard cutting goes I was attempting to sheer a rainforest with a pair of hello kitty safety scissors.
The rain bellowed down, and I wandered further into the cold abyss than I had done all day. The empty streets had suddenly come alive as workers were cut loose from their employment, and a swarm of umbrellas spilled on to the pavement eagerly pressing themselves into buses and waiting trains.
All the while I wandered, wet, cold and with nowhere to go.
My feet ached, but I pressed on.
Soon the inner city clutter disappeared, and before me opened up a part of the city I hadn’t yet experienced – tiny roads splintered across steep hills like thinly split veins splattering themselves over the grey landscape. They wandered between the buildings, which were modern in construction, and boasted an array of modern stores, cafes and interesting knick knack emporiums.
I was gobsmacked.
It was like a passing Persian had whispered “Open Sesame”, and the chain smoking gaunt faced thugs had instantly changed themselves into beautiful young tight jean wearing bubble butt women, all the while the barren shop fronts rolled up like garage doors to reveal a modern and attractive city scene.
Apparently I had spent all my time in slumsville, and only after had all the stores closed had I discovered the true pounding heart of the town.
I found myself a café, purchased a flat white’s worth of wall space and iphone recharge socket, and sat and waited until showtime.
After another hour, I was confident that I had enough power pushed into my phone, and slowly trudged my way back across the main road down into the ghetto.
I passed a dimly lit and equally grim “Public Housing Office”, and all I could think was that Newcastle’s public housing crisis could be easily avoided by giving waiting families the keys to one of the many empty shops that infested the entire cityscape.
The first act was Kerser, who had made the trip up from Sydney, and soon shouted the lyrics of all his songs to a confused and slightly reserved audience that seemingly were backing away in fear at his over the top attitude and forceful demeanor that resembled a stab wound attached to every bar.
Johnny Utah had also put in an appearance, and after exchanging pleasantries and nerd infused chit chat I clambered on to the stage to kick off the set.
One thing was definitely on point that night – I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with a mic that sounded as awesome and crisp as the one I held in my hand that night. Normally as the music bellows I find myself shouting over the top of a flat and empty stage. This night however I felt confident.
I had also dispensed with a DJ – relying instead of operating the CDJ that had been placed on to the stage by the stage manager. It was easy enough, press play, the track ends, I press play again when I wanted it to go.
Nothing could go wrong.
“Wassup everyone! HOW ARE WE NEWCASTLE?!” I shouted. The crowd responded.
We were off to a good start.
I mentioned who I was, people nodded in appreciation, and the spectacle of the Syntax stage show began.
To say I was off to a flying start was putting it lightly – I felt so on point, so precise, every word was timed perfectly and the mic and the fold backs were doing me all the favours in the world in making sure the entire process was easy, simple and crowd shattering effective.
That was until I fell off the stage.
Like a lion standing atop a rock I strutted, and then all the majesty and ponce that is attributed to the king of the jungle slowly faded into the ether; the big cat proved itself to be a kitten and tumbled down the side of the rock face in front of the rest of the pride.
Two large speakers had been attached to the stage – well, I say attached. In fact two large holes had been cut into the stage to allow the speakers to fit in nicely. Of course, the holes that were cut into the stage were not perfect, in fact, you could say that they were made a foot too big.
‘My’ foot too big.
While strutting backwards in a display of swagger and pompery, my foot had got caught in one of the holes and wedged itself between the speaker and the stage; I tumbled backwards mid song with all the grace of a lemming falling off a bridge into a lake of molten lava.
The music kept playing.
There was no DJ to stop the show.
The entire crowd stopped and looked, I heard an audible laugh, and the allure and mystique of Syntax burst like a refined English gentleman had just been dacked in the centre of Piccadilly Circus.
I dusted myself off, skipped to the next track, and the show went on.
I slinked off the stage and licked my wounds, there was no ‘backstage’ area, no rider, and I was eating into my savings by trying to drown myself in cheap bar purchased schooners.
Among the chaos of Vents’ set, I surreptitiously muzzled myself up to one the venues many wall sockets and proceeded to charge my phone – I looked at my watch, it was 11:30pm. Still another six and a half hours until my flight.
Well, I thought, everyone here is having a good time. Usually the show will go on till about 1am, there’ll be drinks after, chilling out with the punters, maybe a bar or two to visit afterwards.
Things were panning out just fine.
It was at this point that a young lady sidled up next to me and started conversation.
Alright, I’m on here.
I adjusted my metaphysical tie and made nice with the talky talky.
My thoughts of riding the stinky mattress train until 6am were soon interrupted by a drunken swaying man that proceeded to plop himself in between myself and my impromptu date.
“Errr hi, how are you mate?” I blurted.
“Fuckkkknnn good aye”, he muttered with speech so slurred I felt the entire time space continuum had collapsed and we had wandered into a passing time bubble, “awesome fuckkknn show aye buddy”.
“Cheers mate” I replied.
Hiro Nakamura, the man who could control time and space, then proceeded to put his arm around the young girl and the two kissed tightly.
Apparently, it was his girlfriend. I retreated to the opposite facing sofa and wormed my way out of the situation by making idle chit chat.
We talked calmly and nicely until midnight, when my entire world was shattered when a passing security guard ordered everybody to vacate the premises.
“C’MON EVERYONE, OUT YOU GO, WE’RE CLOSING UP”
Wait, what? It’s midnight. What do you mean closing up? It’s Friday night, we’re in a town populated with nothing but drinkers, smokers and sex addicted factory workers, what do you mean you’re closing up?
My plan to stay at the venue was blown to dust.
To complicate matters the polite couple invited me back to their house.
“It’s ok, we’re not going to rape you” he drunkenly assured me. Alarm bells ringed loudly. When someone has to re-assure you that rape isn’t an option, more than likely rape is imminent.
I declined their offer and stepped into the cold, dark, rainy night.
The streets around were empty, I wandered up to find somewhere warm to rest and have a beer, but every bar, pub and speakeasy had closed its doors at midnight, presumably so the townsfolk could gather in a paddock somewhere and burn some heathens in the Wicker Man.
I slumped into a chair, frozen, underdressed, defeated, and looked at my watch.
It was 12:30am.
I still had another 5 and a half hours to fill until my flight.
My iPhone buzzed its low battery warning once more, and I admitted ultimate defeat.
I hailed a passing cab, slid into the passenger seat, and told him to take me 30km out of town to the non-Newcastle Newcastle airport.
“Airports are open 24 hours mostly” I told myself, “Yeah, I mean there are red eye flights all the time going in and out of Melbourne. I’ll just sit myself down in the warmth of the empty departure lounge, plug my phone into a wall socket, and have a peaceful sleep until my flight is ready to leave”.
Of course as we have already established the words ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ mean nothing in the world of Syntax.
The Taxi driver deposited me out the front of an empty and darkened terminal, only a few feet away from the bus station that had begun my long winded downward spiral into the underbelly of NSW’s second largest metropolis.
As he sped away into the night, my dreams of a warm and comforting sleep exploded into nothingness when the automatic doors of Terminal 1 failed to open.
After I had scraped what remained of my head off the closed door, I sat down on a bench, cursed myself till I was blue in the face, and waited.
Of course I didn’t have to wait long until I was blue in the face – the temperature had dropped to 4 degrees.
At that moment in time I would have murdered a family of ducks for warm clothing – I toyed with the possibility of catching and skinning a passing rabbit for its pelt, and as it ducked under a nearby Mazda I fell to the ground a broken, spent, sore, cold and tired human being.
I sighed, huddled behind a bus shelter for warmth, and reminded myself that every artist goes through this on their way to the top.
Yeah, they must.