Interview with No-Fi, by Ryan Williams / by Ryan Williams

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Newcastle’s own No-Fi Records has now been alive and kicking for over two years – and is not in sight of stopping any time soon. Like sands through the… unconventional gigs in places you wouldn’t normally expect bands to play, the collective has gone from strength to strength in its event output.

Mirage wanted to catch up with Campbell, Krystyan and Joab for their silver-medal anniversary as well as before their latest event – Grow Up – at Maitland Regional Art Gallery. We met at the Croat for some talky-talky. 

No-Fi Team photo Newcastle records

What has changed for No-Fi since the last Mirage interview?

Joab: It sort of went from a big conglomerate of bands and friends just helping each other and doing fun stuff together, but then we decided to get a little bit more serious with it. We’ve decided we're changing the name, too.

Krystyan: Because we actually registered as a business we had to create an official name and that is 'No-Fi Collective'.

J: We're still going to have No-Fi Records as the music subdivision of it, but then No-Fi Collective is the banner that takes the rest of it in. There is some other stuff we want to talk about too.

K: Yes! We have an official art team – to unite some people who manage the visual art/graphic design aspect of No-Fi. We also started doing DIY exhibitions as well, making that part of our events.

J: I should mention Angus’ zine, Absolutely Hideous, falls into this new art side of things. That product and the first launch event he put on at Softys was so lovely.

K: That was our first solely visual art No-Fi show. So yeah, the art team, and also building a system where we have people with certain roles in the business. They’ve really been huge developments for us. I think it’s really helping the bands get to a new level where they can focus on their own music.

Well that's what they do, isn't it? Music.

K: Exactly. Everyone is getting taken more seriously over the last couple of years. They're getting the gigs – we want to help out as much as we can.

J: And it's a good, reciprocal thing. I think the idea with No-Fi has always been how we can all help each other. We're all going to turn up to each other's shows, we're all going to share each other's posts, we're going to pump each other's events up, try to get all our friends to come. And having the art stuff in there means whenever they do an art exhibition or whenever they do a poster, we promote them as part of that.

K: Well, that's it too. We can give a bit more spotlight now to the visual artists who make up No-Fi, which is something we talked about the first time we met with Mirage. We actually talked about starting an art team.

Campbell: Yes, kind of funny, like a year later –

K: We finally got around to doing it.

C: We actually did it.

So who is on the team?

K: Originally it was only myself and Angus [Bowen]. Angus has always been a great artist and a wonderful graphic designer, so he's been part of everything that's visual art with No-Fi. We’ve both been there since the start. From there we started working with people like Liz Pike, who did the cover for Voodoo Youth’s first EP Alright Alright Alright.

J: Liz has done live art pretty much every time we had one of our DIY house parties. We always had live art and Liz was always the one who put her hand up to do it.

K: We've had a history with her for a while so it was just an easy fit. Then I think after that first Absolutely Hideous zine we did, I got to meet Hannah [last name?]. I don't know how long Angus had known her, but he introduced us and she proved to be a really talented artist.


So when it came round to picking out people, Liz and Hannah were just obvious. They're both talented, they're reliable, hardworking, and they already came to the shows and were friends with everyone, so it just made a lot of sense.

J: They said yes straight away. So lovely and humbling to know that people are excited to be on board. Bringing fresh people into a team – we'd been working together for a while, all of us, and going through all the highs and lows and all the politics and traversing everything – bringing new people in just brings that youthful exuberance to the whole thing. It’s so exciting.

You’ve got a few events in the pipeline as well?

K: Yes. We’re trying to put on more major events and be a bit more selective with them. It's not just, like, a weekly pub show anymore. We've got the following – we should be doing something with angles that are a little bit more interesting.

C: Trying to put Newcastle on the map and make it a place where bands want to stop at.

K: It’s part of the mission statement that we all decided would be our goals for being creative directors.

J: The idea is, bring bands to town that wouldn't normally come here because there wouldn't be a market for them. We sort of want to try to get those ones who are in the middle ground – they’re bigger than us, bigger than all of us, but aren't getting enough Triple J rotation. They might be really big on the FBI, they're big on 4ZZZ, that kind of stuff, but if they come to Newcastle they probably won't play a big show. They would play a sold-out show in Sydney and Melbourne but because we don't have community radio here, if you're not getting that Triple J play, you're not going to get the audience. It's just how it works.

K: Because our major events, as I said, aren't going to be as frequent, we wanted to start off doing that sort of thing using our No-Fi Fridays – which we have now established at the Cambridge. Our first one is September 1st with WAAX.

J: No-Fi Fridays is really exciting. The idea is you're not going to a gig, you're going to a place where you know your friends are going to be and you can get drunk and have a good time because it's not just the bands. We're doing DJs until 3am in the smokers’ area or in the front bar, depending on what's on at the rest of the Cambridge, with indie-style playlists. Say if you're drunk and it's midnight, you want to go out, you want to dance, your choices are Argyle – which probably isn't going to appeal to someone with an alternative taste in music, or the Kent – which is funny and great, but again not hitting that target either. So you know there’s No-Fi Fridays. Even if you don't like any of the bands that are on, you know you're going to be able to go there and dance to good music until early in the morning.

How often is that? Like once a month?

J: Once a month. We're doing a once-a-month thing but we're also bringing some big fuck-off bands to town. A big party with some big bands and the best locals and DJs so everyone can come and have a beer and celebrate. We'll have a really big rotating diverse roster that will be interesting, hopefully. That's the main thing. Not something that's the same all the time, really make it exciting.

Tell me about the Maitland show.

K: We try to think outside the box with our shows. The Argyle show proved to be a way of getting garage music into a venue that was unconventional. So I feel the Grow Up festival at Maitland Regional Art Gallery has that same great rebelliousness to it, because it's a proper established prestigious space. We're putting on one of our backyard shows there. I mean, we're doing it in the backyard of the gallery [laughs].

The difference between this and many of our other shows is simply that it's more of a celebration of the many things that are happening in Newcastle. Kind of a reflection on the last couple of years joining in on the Newcastle music scene. How the DIY shows have become bigger and more abundant. An art gallery functions as a space to exhibit contemporary art, amongst other things. An artist puts work in an art gallery and that's meant to bring some sort of value to the work because it says that it's worthy of being put up in the art gallery. By putting one of our DIY shows in somewhere like an art gallery, we're legitimising it as more of a movement than anything, speaking about it and discussing it more with the show. The theme is 'Grow Up'. It's about young artists and how we're all trying to use these experiences to actually build our careers and get taken seriously. I mean, that's why we get involved with the DIY stuff. It's about people who aren't established creative people. They're just doing it for themselves. Skipping that red tape that is getting the courses done and then getting hired for the job.

Usually the artists in the gallery have already established themselves over decades of work. There's actually this gap where new emerging artists don't get the chance to get recognised, apart from the odd scholarship show or the university show.

J: This is really interesting. I didn't know any of this, this is great.

K: Yes, I hope I don't talk too much.

No, it's good.

J: I'm actually learning a lot right now.

K: This is also what the gallery wanted too. They wanted to engage with the young community that they feel like they haven't had the chance to give a spotlight to. We’re kind of working with each other to achieve the same goal.

Usually young people in our experience, trying to build our careers, we're met with a few roadblocks. A lot of visual artists, especially those who go to university and tell people that they study art, could go talk to a person in a pub and tell them, ‘I'm studying fine arts.’ Always, a hundred percent of the time, they'll get the response of, ‘What job are you going to get?’

I guess what I was hoping to do with organising this event and through No-Fi, is to challenge those people and say, ‘Well, it’s actually quite serious.’ Here we are in a prestigious art gallery so it must be validated. It must be important and we've skipped the steps. I would imagine it would take decades before anyone at some art gallery or establishment like that would recognise us as anything worth mentioning or even putting on a show. So it's our statement that, ‘This is legitimate. This is a proper movement and there are so many people out there who are talented and are going to take over the world’, and just give that spotlight to them. Reflect on the many movements because this isn't just No-Fi, it's a show that should branch out in its perspective to all of the collectives in Newcastle.

J: There's only one No-Fi act on the bill. How many acts – six acts, is it?

K: Yes, only one No-Fi band on the bill. I made sure to talk to as many people as I could from other collectives who I knew because everyone just helps each other all the time. That's the way it works. I wanted to put on a show there that says something, I guess. There's something about where it's all got to at this point, not just with No-Fi but with Newcastle and everyone here.

I wanted to use the word 'reward'. The gallery letting us put on a show as a kind of like, ‘Yes, you are important and yes you are the up-and-coming, you are the emerging, you're going to be the new wave’. So that's what the show really reflects. But we also just want to put on a sick show.

J: Something you touch on there was pretty important about the fact that we are opening it up to everyone and trying to include everyone. The start of No-Fi, we were just a couple of kids playing with the bands that we knew, putting on shows together and not really having any idea what we were doing. It was just five bands trying to put on shows with no clue. And people were turning up to the shows, we're like, ‘Oh, this is great. Look, how good is this?’ Then it got to a point where we actually had something happening, like, ‘Holy shit, what do we do with this?’

K: We have a thing now.

J: So we did the same thing for a long time because it worked. We didn't know what we were doing. We were just idiots. We were young kids with no idea how the music industry worked. None of us had done courses or any of that kind of stuff. We were just putting on shows and people were turning up.

Then once we started reflecting on ourselves and realising what we were doing, we realised it was such a closed thing. It was just too within itself and, once we realised that, it was like, ‘Oh, shit, we didn't even know we were doing that. We were just putting on shows with our friends. Whoops.’ We really tried to make a very active thing to try to incorporate other members of the Newcastle music scene, try to really incorporate everyone that we can into what we do. We don't want it to be a closed thing at all. The scene is something we all care about so much. We've all gone to pretty much every single Beach Street, to every single show we can, we try to spread our web and bring it in. The scene, if it doesn't support each other, won't support itself. It's going to fall down.

K: Yes, what's good for the scene here in Newcastle is good for No-Fi. It's good for Vacations, good for RAAVE TAPES, good for Buster Visual Art. It's what the show at Maitland is going to represent, the success of that.

J: Even the young up-and-comers as well, like Boys Don't Cry, the whole Andrew Brassington thing. God he is a good kid. Sixteen years old.

C: He is just such a hard worker.

J: When I was frigging sixteen, I was listening to Simple Plan or something. Impressive.

C: This is not doing anything near what he is doing, putting on all-ages shows and actually getting a huge crowd attendance and everything as well. But then he’s filming it, he's taking photos, he's recording the shows. He's getting bands from out of town as well to showcase.

J: Good bands. His finger is on the trigger. Like you said, the gallery said to us, ‘Oh, you guys are the new wave coming through. We want you to put on a show.’ We recognise that the thing he is doing, that's the next wave. You can already see that so we want to try to tap into that and bring that up and try to foster that kind of thing as well.

K: That's always going to be the case. You're going to have waves. If No-Fi didn't exist, it would be something else. There are always the other collectives as well. If they didn't exist, there'd be something else.

J: Yeah, like Banshee have just started up. We could talk about that in the interview, that's good. It's so good seeing other stuff like that happening. The more the merrier. It's the kind of thing where –  Newcastle doesn't need to be – no scene needs to be negative and taking each other down. We just support each other. We're all keen to go to that show and see how it eventuates and help make it as good as it can be. A good show in Newcastle means people will go to a show and have a good time. You go, ‘Well, how good's live music? I'm going to go to another one.’ Even the idea of DIY, this show at Maitland, it's still DIY because we’re doing it ourselves, but the production stuff is all amped up big time. We've even got, like, a proper big company coming in to do stages and fucking lighting and we have to do public liability insurance and serious stuff, but it's still DIY.

Do you have goals in mind if we were going to do an interview in another year and a half?

K: I don't know if you related back to it, but at the beginning of the year you actually mentioned the gallery. If you asked me back then, ‘Are you going to do a show at the gallery?’ I'd be like, ‘No, hell no'.

You never know these things.

K: ‘That will never happen’, but now it's on the cards, it's happening. It’s because of the efforts of everyone in Newcastle.

C: We're all working together and creating this community.

K: Yeah, it's been successful. It's got to that point. I guess with that knowledge, looking back at how surprisingly it can work, I would be ambitious to say that our future goals would be to support more venues. I'd want to support more artists, anyone who is interested and passionate, that's all that really fits my criteria. And then No-Fi can help, with other collectives, to establish Newcastle as a hotspot for culture.

J: I'd say the main thing is to try to put Newcastle on the map. We've got something here. We know that if any of these collectives or individuals who put on their shows, whenever they do that, people are turning up. There is a crowd here. There's a market.

So when you've got bands coming from out of town, if they just put on a show by themselves, they don't have the avenues. They don't have the promotion that we have – tap into us. Ask us, ask Beach Street, ask bloody Sad Grrrls Club, ask Banshee, ask Boys Don't Cry, ask anyone. There's a list.

This is what I want to see. You want to get as many, like No-Fi and Love and Rent are doing quite a few collaborations at the moment, that kind of thing. I'd love to see more – like Banshee and No-Fi presents, Beach Street and Love and Rent presents, that kind of thing, where it just brings everyone together. The more crossover crowd, the better.

K: Exactly. I mean, whatever the Newcastle audience is, they are still people from Newcastle. We've all got the same audience. It's not anything different really, if it's No-Fi or if it's anything else.

Grow Up! Festival 2017 - Miatland is on Saturday, September 16 at Maitland Regional Art Gallery.