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Violent Soho: Come As You Are

Brisbane’s Violent Soho are ready to smash and grab.

It’s a sultry, sleepy Sunday night in Brisbane city. In the living room, the Australian cricket team are trying to work their way out of a mid-season slump; I'm in the backyard near the Hills Hoist with a cask of Stanley red and some boys from a band. They’re called Violent Soho and I've known them for a while – they’re a sweet, polite bunch of guys who, conversely, put on one of the most raucous live shows I’ve ever seen – minus posing, agenda and all of the other assorted bullshit.

They’ve long been in the enviable position of being visual and relevant here in Brisbane and play an excellent variety of gigs, but have never gotten caught up in scene semantics. Soho will put everything into their live performances, but if you don’t like it, they genuinely couldn’t give a shit. They’ll go home and smoke cones and play Playstation.

They’re all classical art tattoos, dirty hair, flannels and daggy Smashing Pumpkins shirts. They sound like teenagers reared on a diet of raw meat, Nirvana records and a sense of all-pervading suburban ennui. This is because they all grew up together in Mansfield, near Logan – a place which boasts remote areas of bushland, a cluster of Bible-bashing high schools and… not much else.

“We never grew up around anyone who knew anything about good music,” says singer/guitarist Luke Boerdam, “There was nothing going on. We were forced to sing Christian songs in chapel once a week at school, and our weekend hangout was church on a Sunday night.”

So Boerdam, along with his school friend, bassist Luke Henery, began messing around with some skeletal tunes in a garage. Boerdam’s girlfriend at the time had a brother, James Tidswell, who happened to be a guitarist. “So, my sister was dating this guy,” Tidswell says, “who never spoke. When I heard that he had a band, I sort of laughed because he never said a word – how could he be a singer? Anyway, I heard a recording and really liked it, despite some sort of electronic stuff being on there as well. I came and played some guitar.”

During these formative rehearsals, Violent Soho set a blueprint for the elements of danger and high energy present in their later live shows. Their first drummer, apparently, ended up in jail for assault (he’s since been replaced by Michael Richards). Tidswell consummated his first rehearsal by smashing his guitar because he felt like he wasn’t playing well enough. It’s not unusual to see this sort of activity when watching them – instruments were thrown in the air during their appearance at 4zzz Market Day last year and regularly thereafter. It’s not in a badass, show-offy “Hey, look, we’re The Who!” sort of way, more of an extension of their own energy and excitement.

Their first gigs were arranged with Brisbane punk rock stalwarts like Eat Laser Scumbag! and Gazoonga Attack – Violent Soho were so enamoured of the former’s record that they decided to employ the same engineer for their first on-tape effort. Last year’s ‘Pigs and TV’ EP, recorded at the Zero Interference studio by famed Brisbane knob-twiddler Bryce Moorhead, shows a band that, although paying a large amount of homage to other acts, is both tuneful and snottily defiant.

Many of these songs were written by Boerdam when he was just 14 years old, an amazing effort, considering their bawdy pop sensibilities. This collection of tunes, as well as their newer, unrecorded material, points to a band that is rapidly becoming ready to forge their own sound and path. “Since I was 14, obviously things have changed within the music that I write,” explains Boerdam, who like his bandmates is now in his early 20s. “After you release an EP and have been in a band for a couple of years, you have a different outlook on what putting out a record means. Now we definitely sound more mature, more developed and we have a clearer direction set out in terms of where we want our music to go and what we want it to sound like.”

That said, ‘Pigs and TV’ has done phenomenally well for an indie release. It’s all but sold out, which is a relief because Tidswell sold his car in order to help finance it. They also made a hilarious, rough-and-ready video for the single ‘Bombs Over Broadway’, which involves what looks like a game of Goon of Fortune, beer bongs and some realistic looking vomit. Oh, and a slip and slide.

On the back of the EP, Violent Soho earned some high-profile stage time alongside acts as diverse as Nashville Pussy, Gentle Ben and Butterfingers. Sometimes they went down a treat, sometimes they didn’t. When asked about the band’s reception in front of such a variety of crowds, they just sort of shrug. “It’s more of a challenge for us to play in front of people who wouldn’t listen to the type of music we play,” Henery says, “We like it. We like to try and win them over if we can.”

However, one of the band’s biggest breaks came when they were asked to support the Grates on their national tour late last year. They were assisted by a long-time friend and touring member of the Grates, Dan Condon, who can be seen most nights behind the keyboard, rocking out in a panda suit. He threw their name into the ring for a support slot and they ended up accompanying The Grates on a national tour, playing to the “most receptive, welcoming audiences ever”. The quartet also reconciled with popular Brisbane venue, The Zoo, after being “banned for life” some months previous to the tour (details are sketchy: the incident apparently involves some shoe throwing and Anton Newcombe-esque behaviour).

Of course, playing such a high-profile tour has, in turn, piqued some commercial interest. April brings them to Sydney with Bit By Bats, while Melbourne sees them in May. And they’re desperate to record more of their songbook. Regardless, the group appears to shun hype, preferring to remain self-sufficient to an extent. Violent Soho are a band which could be seen as an addition to the current neo-grunge campaign, and in turn appear to subscribe somewhat to the grassroots crusade which originated amongst American underground acts in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

“Every band has to do-it-themselves at some point,” Boerdam says. “However, we’re inspired by that era both in terms of music and attitude. It’s the only music that seems truthful and sincere to us. With getting signed, there is a difference between being on a label where you have control, and a label that will use you as a product puppet. If we get to do what we always have been doing, then sure, why not take someone else’s money and make a record with it?”

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  -   Published on Monday, April 9 2007 by Jo Nilson.
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