The brains behind Sydney’s premiere DIY art and music festival, Sounds of the Suburbs – Jack Irvin and Aaron Girgis – give us their recipe for success.
Story and interview by Jed Smith.
Aaron Girgis is celebrating the success of his second annual Sounds of the Suburbs DIY arts and music festival in true suburban style: with a table full of KFC, next to a dirty pool, in a huge, rundown suburban rental. Having finished speaking to us, his partner an underground Cronulla slab surfer turned pop artist, Jack Irvin, has disappeared; probably to get more sleep. The pair and their trusted crew of local “legends” – mostly wash-ups from the Cronulla hardcore punk scene – have been put through the ringer these past few days; tango’ing with cops and councillors, arm-wrestling shonky teamsters, and trying to figure out where to put the extra six bands they accidentally booked. It was an old-fashioned shit fight to be sure. Just what you’d expect from a DIY festival, but it’s over now, and with barely a hiccough to record – bar some fool pulling a disco ball onto his head (and cutting himself), the mullet-booth guy not turning up, a local property developer trying to levy a trumped-up court case against the boys, and half a dozen other things Girgis pays no more attention to than a laugh and his favourite one-liner, “fucking muppets.” We caught up with the pair just before they passed out, along with American artists, Gap Dreems, and DJ Conrad Loebl of rapper, Antwon’s crew.
Photos: Linc Jubb / About LST Night
How’s everyone feeling about yesterday?
Conrad Loebl: I thought it was amazing. The whole set-up, they made the best outta that place. I would never have thought to do it like that. It was run very smoothly and perfectly. We had one of our best shows we’ve ever had – on the other side of the world! Like I’ve been telling them, me and Antwon never thought we’d be out here touring and just to see your guy’s set-up – they’re punk kids like us, DIY kids. I grew up doing the exact same thing, I been booking shows for 18 years and they’re doing it right, so I’m proud of these kids.
Gap Dreem: Yeah, it was cool. It was sick. Reminiscent of Burger (Records), of things I’ve seen in Europe. It felt like a rocker South by party (South by Southwest in Austin, Texas). That space was utilised so well.
Aaron Girgis: We booked too many bands! (laughter). Me and Jack just get on a role going we want this person, this person, and we realised we only had two stages and we had 18 bands, so we’re like, well, we’re going to use El Sol (the restaurant next door) and (the owner) is like you can’t friggen use El Sol. And were like nah, we’ll make it a stage, lets do it, and we booked six more bands and just did it. That’s how we make use of the space: we just do before we think.
This is the second year of Sounds of the Suburbs. How has it come about?
Aaron: It was the first thing ever around here like that. The first street party. They’d all been in parks.
Jack: And they were almost all council run, and the council had a big part in a lot of them and had maybe too much pull.
Aaron: We got to do counterculture music for this one and it didn’t have to be family friendly. But how did we pull it off? I don’t fucking know, man. Honestly, my brother does a fair bit in the music industry and there was a point where I called him and was like, man, I don’t know what I’m doin’.
You guys are also behind the art space, Space 44. How hard’s it been setting up a cultural oasis in the middle of the suburban Australian Nanny State?
A: Not hard. We could have set that house up and it just been a piss-up, like partying until three or four and had it for three months and everyone would have gone that is the sickest thing ever. But we have just used common sense and run it professionally from the back and now it’s been open for three years. I don’t want to blow my own horn here but so many kids have come up to us and gone, this is so sick, we wanna do something the same, and we table up some advice for them and it is up for a month and you go to their first opening night and it is just goon sacks everywhere. And it’s cool but that is just not going to stabilise anything. Goon sacks are not a business plan.
J: Since we opened the space and with Sounds going this long we’re just seeing how many places we can go from where we are. If we can do this, we can do that, and if we do that then we can do that. I think we can just keep going with it.
A: We were like, well we had 200 people the opening night, and then we’ll do a little day band thing…
J: …and if we can hold four hundred, we can hold 800,
A: We came to a point with Sounds where it coulda’ been a ‘major radio presents thing’ but then they dictate. You gotta go to their playlists. You look at major festivals that have collapsed recently and it’s because they dictate their playlists. That’s where the Burger (records) thing came in. Let’s start small, get one Burger band, so we hit up Gabe (aka Gap Dreems), then we found out the (Tomorrows) Tulips were on tour. We got Wax Witches, Antwon’s not on burger but we got them… We wanna be tastemakers. We wanna offer something new and maybe you’ve gotta go and youtube that person or hit their bandcamp before you come to the festival, because you’re not going to know their music.
Do you feel like you’re having an impact on the culture down here?
A: Yeah, but I don’t think it’s a movement yet. But yeah, people know now. People in the city will introduce me to their friend and they will know it, so I think that we’re shining a light on Cronulla.