Duncan Stuart discusses the do-it-yourself aesthetic behind Canberra collective Mulgara, organisers of No Front Fences.
In his book Radio Silence: A Visual History of American Hardcore, Nathan Nedorostek recounts the first time he encountered hardcore punk, “I was 9 when I first came into contact with hardcore at a skateboard shop in suburban Connecticut. I saw a kid wearing a t-shirt with the words Minor Threat crudely scrawled on it with a black marker.”
These two words set up what became a quintessential element of punk music, the do it yourself (DIY) aesthetic. Nedorostek goes on to say that the DIY t-shirt “motivated me to figure out what Minor Threat actually was…but, most importantly it inspired me to make my own t-shirt.”
From creating one’s own merch, DIY evolved into its own ethos. One organised their own shows, put out their own records on either their own labels or their friend’s labels, and used whatever they could for a venue.
DIY was necessary to the survival of punk music. It was unlikely, especially in the 1980s when DIY started, that major labels, large venues and government funding was going to get behind the subversion of bands with names like Reagan Youth or albums with titles like “13 Point Program to Destroy America.”
DIY is now an irremovable element of music scenes everywhere, and Canberra is no exception. From Lacklustre Records and Home Brew Records to DIY venue Crossroads and the variety of shows that occur in unconventional and perhaps unauthorised locations, Canberra has a burgeoning DIY scene. One of the newest groups on this scene is Mulgara.
For Cameron, Phoebe and Bene, the core and founders of Mulgara, the DIY approach is not just necessary, but creative and liberating. “The DIY ethos resonates for us, it’s fiercely assertive. Don’t whinge about your boring city – create it! Get out and make things, do things, pull people together. We don’t need to wait for corporate events or trendy new bars. We just need some space to be loud and dance. It’s a positive mindset that starts with a ‘why not’ instead of a why.”
Mulgara started when Cameron moved to Canberra for work. His friends from Sydney and Newcastle who wished to play Canberra found their venue options narrow. Cameron told his mates to play his house, and he would help out from there. In the space of about a year, Mulgara has gone from a Facebook page and a house with a PA to hosting a mini-festival.
Starting with the focus on shows, it seems natural that Mulgara will be hosting No Front Fences 2017 this weekend. A three-day mini-festival (from 17-19 March), it features 17 bands from across Australia. Cam and Phoebe were inspired by the DIY festivals in other Australian cities, such as Fools Festival and Sad by Sad West.
No Front Fences stands as a testament to the growth of DIY music. Mulgara has managed to pull in some well-known names from across Australia’s punk and indie scene. Highlights include Jamie Hay from Fear Like Us playing on Friday night, and Sunday closing with both Naif from the now defunct Hannahband and Zzzounds, the solo project of David Drayton from Milhouse.
For the future Mulgara is moving towards not just shows, but also zines, art, poetry, and maybe even record releases. The DIY aesthetic they embody is crucial for not just Canberra but any music scene. In it, authenticity, individuality and community come together to help push our musical limits. Mulgara are a fine example of what a handful of people with drive and passion can do to better the arts in their own city.
Duncan Stuart listens to, reads about and attempts to play music.
Photos: Top – Jim Dusty and Azim Zain from Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones do a duet at a Mulgara gig. Both artists are on the No Front Fences lineup. Middle – Patrick J. Johnson playing at a Mulgara Show. Patrick is playing friday night at No Front Fences. Photo by Dave McCarthyPhoto by Dave McCarthy