There’s nothing quite like seeing Totally Unicorn play live.
If you haven’t yet, picture five dudes in various states of undress, wildly thrashing around on a stage, sweating bullets, swilling beer and screaming. As you might expect from that description, they play a fierce brand of metalcore. Uniquely though, their hairy, beer-gutted singer, Drew Gardner, is most likely wearing nothing but tie-dyed underwear, sporting an ensemble of coloured streamers and, depending on the venue, running around offstage, pushing into people and looking for things to climb. In contrast to other heavy bands though, he smiles a lot, cracks dad-jokes, and tells the crowd that he’s awesome.
At first, it might seem like a bit of a gimmick, but pretty quickly, you get the sense that the band is taking the piss out of the highly masculine heavy music scene. “We used to play in hardcore bands and people were just so uptight,” Drew explains. “It was like, ‘You’re not this and you’re not that so we don’t like you.’ We were just like ‘Fuck, who cares?’ ”
For those who don’t know a whole lot about the hardcore/metalcore scene, it’s pretty well characterised by a band like Parkway Drive. They’re straight-edge, meaning they don’t drink or do drugs, and despite a lot of black clothing and tattoos, they have a real “good guy” kind of image. Generally, hardcore bands say a lot of stuff about giving it all you’ve got and sticking by your word, or “staying true”. Conversely, the mosh pits at these kinds of gigs are hives of random violence where kicks and punches are thrown in all directions. It’s not a malicious scene, but it’s a highly masculine space where dudes (it’s nearly all dudes) thrash out their week’s frustrations.
Totally Unicorn are, in part, a reaction against this scene and they obviously enjoy taking the piss out of it. They’ve made two separate music videos that directly parody Parkway Drive, and instead of adhering to the philosophy of straight edge, they describe themselves as “hungover, overweight and ready to party”. They don’t take anything too seriously and they’re dead set on having a good time. In Drew’s words, “Musically, it’s not super different but our demeanour is.” Their live shows are both wild and inclusive. But he admits that shows have been known to get out of control.
“I kind of need to have some liquid courage because sometimes I can get myself into some sticky situations,” Drew tells me. There was one particular gig, a few years back, where security became a threat: “I was off stage in the crowd and the bouncer kind of grabbed me from behind. I thought it was just someone from the crowd, so I kind of shoved him off and he fell backwards,” says Drew. “He was just like, ‘You’re fucking dead!’ ”
As soon as the gig was over, Drew had to run out to the car and hide in the boot. “I could literally hear a group of bouncers standing outside the car and talking to the guys in the band, going, ‘Where’s your fucken singer we’re gonna smash his fucken head in!’ ” Drew’s laughing as he recounts the story, explaining that after about seven years of playing gigs with Totally Unicorn, venues have eventually figured out what to expect. “Now, everyone knows what we’re about so they prepare,” Drew says. “Either that or a venue will say ‘No, you can’t play.’ ”
Totally Unicorn recently got to tour with Aussie punk legends Frenzal Rhomb, who’ve got a similarly non-serious vibe. “Their fans are quite similar to ours,” says Drew. “They’re fucking well into it and they just want to get loose as fuck. They’ll punch you and try to tackle you and wrestle you.” Frenzal Rhomb were the second band Drew ever saw live, way back in ’95, so touring with them was a bit of a teen dream-come-true. He describes them as “the best dudes in the world”, and says they got on really well, even after the boys drank all of Frenzal’s rider.
“They’d be like, ‘Just fucken help yourselves boys, what’s ours is yours.’ Then they came off the stage and they’re like, ‘Where the fuck have all our beers gone?’ ” Drew laughs. “We’re like ‘Oh sorry… but you said…’ and they’re like, ‘Fuck you cunts.’ ”
We’re sitting in Camperdown Park while Drew’s telling me the story. At one point, one of his friends walks past, says g’day and asks Drew if he wants to go to the pub tonight. “Of course,” he replies. Drew moved up to Sydney’s inner west a few years ago because it made it easier to play gigs, but Totally Unicorn are from Wollongong, further south of Sydney.
They still proudly rep the NSW coastal town, having signed with the ‘Gong’s local record label, Farmer and the Owl, alongside Hockey Dad, The Pinheads and Bec Sandridge. They also recently played Yours and Owls, which is a fairly mainstream kind of festival for such a heavy band. I ask Drew if the underwear and colourful streamers make their music a little more accessible to a mainstream audience. He admits that “those triple j people” will come to a show and be like, “It’s not my kind of music but holy fuck the show is just so worth it!”
While Totally Unicorn have a sweet record deal, a new album in the works and a tour of Japan early next year to look forward to, it’s probably true that their live shows are what people remember them for. “I guess it’s what people expect from us: a wild raucous show,” says Drew, “And I still really enjoy playing.”
If you ever get the chance, you should definitely go and see Totally Unicorn. It’s a total riot.
(All photos by Britt Andrews)