Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011: Women on the verge

Rachel Barnes takes a look over a year of trials, tribulations and triumphs for queer women.

Can homosexuality and religion become bedfellows?
While the rest of the world seems to be moving onwards and upwards when it comes to the church and the LGBTQ community, Australian religious communities remain hesitant to taste the rainbow. There is a continuing global trend of acceptance of LGBTQs in religious circles, yet in Australia we can’t even keep a lesbian couple on TV, let alone have them serve in a church.
In July, gay Reverend Ali Wurm resigned after 11 years as a priest, stating that she was, “choosing to no longer submit myself to being attacked, threatened, and spiritually abused by some colleagues and members of Diocesan leadership.”
However, it does seem like Australian church leaders could be coming around. Adelaide’s Anglican Bishop, Dr Tim Harris said the Anglican Church is in a “current messy period” because of the worldwide debate on the matter. “I have no problems with people of any orientation being in the ministry so long as their lifestyle is consistent with what the church agrees to.” Baby step by baby step.
Don’t trust the Internet
On June 13, a widely-read blog apparently written by a lesbian living in Damascus turned out to be a fake, written by a white male living in Edinburgh. The blog’s true author, Tom MacMaster, said it was "a hoax that got way out of hand.” Starting off as a way for MacMaster to comment on topics with some sense of anonymity, 'Gay Girl in Damascus' took his online alter-ego (a Syrian-American known as Amina) to a whole new level. Despite the extent of his masquerade (as suspicion grew he tried to end the blog by having Amina kidnapped at gunpoint), MacMaster defended himself, saying although Amina was a fictional character he was stating facts. "The facts I was presenting about Syria, about Islam, about the Middle East, about all of these things are true," MacMaster said. (Don’t worry, I promise I am actually a lesbian who lives in Australia.)
Penny Wong’s baby
Australia’s first openly gay member of parliament, Senator Penny Wong, released a statement on August 9 announcing her and her partner were expecting a child. Despite knowing who the biological father is, the couple decided to keep his identity a secret, but were happy to share the news with Australia. "We have chosen to make this statement about Sophie's pregnancy as we understand there may be public interest due to my position,” Wong said. Wong’s partner, Sophie Allouache, gave birth to healthy baby girl on December 11. Born just a week after the ALP debated marriage equality in Sydney, Wong and Allouache won’t have to look very hard for a stunning flower girl.
Mardi Gras ‘De-gayed’
Pack away your bedazzled bikinis, hang up your arse-less chaps, and throw away your feather boas, because Australias’ favourite LGBTQ party has become family friendly. On November 17 Sydney’s iconic Mardi Gras underwent a change of its name and logo in an attempt to make the event a celebration of universal love. Organisers literally removed the “Gay & Lesbian” from the festival’s title, leaving some people worried that the event has been effectively “de-gayed”.  Joy 94.9 broadcaster Doug Pollard said: “The whole makeover smells of making the event acceptable to mainstream corporates and the mainstream tourist industry.” However, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays’ Shelley Argent said the festival’s new focus will help “encourage more parents to play a part in the parade.” Let’s just hope it doesn’t become too PG.
The Newtown Girls web series
Sick of every gay character on Australian TV being killed off? Well, you’re in luck! An Australian produced and entirely fan-funded web series is already being compared to The L Word, even though the series writer/producer – Natalie Krikowa says it’s not quite the same. With Australia lagging behind the rest of the world in LGBTQ content on local programming, the web series could be the kick start we need. “There’s more representation coming out of the Middle East than there is in Australia, and that’s disturbing to me,” Krikowa says. “But I think there’s a big change coming and we’re just trying to help that change get out there.” Reaching their kickstart funding goal on November 21, the web series will be hitting our screens early 2012.
Influential Melburnian fights for equality
In December, marriage equality activist Ali Hogg (pictured) was named one of The Age newspaper’s 100 Most Influential Melburnians of 2011. Recognised for her work with grass roots lobby group Equal Love, where she helped organise a rally and mass wedding outside the registry office in Melbourne, Hogg believes marriage discrimination leaves LGBTQ people as second-class citizens. “…we are still denied equality, which not only affects those who want to marry but sends a message to LGBTI and questioning youth that they deserve less than others in society,” Hogg said. Things do seem to be looking promising, with the ALP recently changing their marriage policy to support equality. Just don’t run out and buy those dresses just yet – it could be some time before we see any legislation passing through federal parliament.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Red Paintings

Since his humble beginnings in Geelong, TRASH MCSWEENEY has been composing, designing, and producing performances that go far beyond the confines of the stage. The man behind THE RED PAINTINGSspeaks to RACHEL BARNES about living and performing in America and their long-awaited new album.

Known for producing abnormally colourful shows, Trash McSweeney says it’s not by chance that Red Paintings events are about more than just the music. With his perception of sound changed forever after a seizure in a supermarket, synaethesia now enables him to see music as colour, and though it went undiagnosed for a while, McSweeney’s condition had and continues to have a huge influence over his music.

Despite moving to Brisbane to push his project into a more diverse music scene, McSweeney soon found that The Red Paintings just couldn’t function financially as well as ‘normal bands’ can in Australia. They moved to the US in 2009 and have since found a different level of success with the larger audiences of America. Encouraged by the newfound interest, McSweeney has finally moved forward on the band’s long-awaited full-length album, The Revolution Is Never Coming. Initially lacking label funding for his over-the-top vision, McSweeney had no intention of rushing through a record he had been planning for so long. Combining support in the US with fans raising $40,000 to help bring his vision to life, McSweeney began the massive task of translating The Red Paintings stage show into an album. “It’s hard to capture energy,” he says. The album was five years in the making and includes a 20-piece choir, 45-piece orchestra and theremin players, and can only be described as epic.

With marketing ideas as bright as his music, this album looks set to lift the band to new heights. Inspired by the album’s artwork, McSweeney is going to release geisha balloons with small cameras and USBs (with the album and special features packed inside) attached to each balloon. The camera will be simulcast directly to the band’s website, with each balloon being launched when the album is released in different cities. While clearly an unusual and inspired marketing tool, McSweeney says it represents more than that. “All the little things we do to get the word out there, it usually means something more than just trying to make money,” he relates. “The messages in the songs of the album really spell out what the album is trying to say.”

Labelling the band “art activists”, McSweeney says he hopes that The Red Paintings continue to make an impact on the world. “There is just so much activism and symbolism in what we do from our performance and taking our performance art to the streets. We don’t just take it to one small venue or one big venue,” he explains. “Everything that the band does is always changing, but it’s always about something important and it’s exciting for fans cause they never know what the band’s gonna do next.”

McSweeney wryly admits that The Red Paintings as an active concept is a “pain in the arse” owing to work involved, but he wouldn’t have it any other way (for example, the band’s upcoming Black Paintings tour has necessitated the recruitment of ‘human canvases’ to be painted on, live onstage). Everyone involved has a belief in the importance of the work that they do, as it’s the band’s intention to change people’s lives, even if only in a small way. “In a sense it’s a form of therapy for people,” he says. “People get to stand outside their own lives and sometimes see themselves for who they are, and the band has a small influence to push people to that place.”

THE RED PAINTINGS bring their dark new show, The Black Paintings (“an artistic reflection on the potential outcome of conscious human neglect of our natural resources”), to The Hi-Fi on Saturday Jan 7, 2012. THE REVOLUTION IS NEVER COMING is due for release in 2012.


HANNAH HOOPER, the once incredibly crowd-shy and complete artistic hermit turned co-singer for shooting starsGROUPLOVE, speaks to RACHEL BARNES about gratifying recognition and an artistic freedom she could never have imagined.

Nominated for Best Breakthrough Artist at the UK Festival Awards, California-based indie pop act Grouplove are still trying to get used to the recognition. Any band would be envious of the amount of success Grouplove have been enjoying since forming just two years ago. The recent acknowledgement is reinforcement to the band that they’re doing the right thing, inspiring them to write more so they can play more. “To me it totally feels surreal,” Hannah Hooper says. “It’s so exciting to be doing something that people are responding to and you’re not just a crazy person hoping that someone out there likes it.”

On what seems to be a non-stop touring schedule, Grouplove have been just about everywhere and although Hooper seems at home on stage now, it has taken her quite some time to get there. “It was my nightmare to be on stage,” she laughs, remembering just how inanimate she used to be. Never one to even speak in front of crowds, Hooper left her days as a reclusive painter behind and worked on controlling her nerves. “Something just clicked, I think I just looked around and was like, ‘Wait I’m with my friends on stage. This is great,’” she says.

Once Hooper came out of her shell the music started pouring out very naturally. She is now even able to sing songs that she has written to crowds that she once could never have imagined even standing in front of. Hooper says the amazing band dynamic is what makes everything so easy. “Just having these guys around, it sounds so cheesy but we really are all having such a good time together,” she says sincerely. “It’s probably because we’ve all been trying to be artists independently for so long and the fact that it works with friends is so much more fun.”

Despite the camaraderie, Hooper says being the only girl on tour definitely has its downsides. “It’s equally as fun as it is challenging at times,” she laughs. Sick of fast food and long van trips, Hooper says some days she just can’t take it. “Being a girl I’m just like, ‘Ugh, this is just getting so gross, I can’t eat anymore fried chicken,’” she says.

Greasy food and bad hygiene aside, Hooper says she would rather be touring with boys than girls because there is a simplicity that girls just don’t have. “It’s just fun, it just keeps everything really light,” she adds. However, after being stuck inside a van for 16 hours at a time, the band always take to the stage like someone has released five wild animals. “We’re really just energetic,” Hooper explains. “Whether there are 20 people or 1000 people at the show, we really just bring 100% all the time.” Grouplove hit our shores after their Christmas break and are more than excited about bringing their show Down Under. Only able to play small festival sets the last time they visited, Australian fans can expect to see a more multifaceted Grouplove showcasing their album, Never Trust A Happy Song. And they’ll certainly be welcome visitors, as Hooper exclaims, “The reaction that we’re getting from Australia its so exciting. Its incredible.”

GROUPLOVE play The Zoo on Tuesday Jan 10, supported by Founds. NEVER TRUST A HAPPY SONG is out now through Warner. for more.

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs

Sick of trying to make it big in a competitive music industry TOTALLY ENORMOUS EXTINCT DINOSAURS – aka ORLANDO HIGGINBOTTOM –decided to take an unusual approach to getting noticed. Speaking with RACHEL BARNES early one morning from his home in the UK, he tells all.

Despite his boyishly good looks and growing up in what one could describe as the reserved and refined university town of Oxford, Higginbottom has definitely been making a name for himself in a way he never expected. Even with an Oxford Professor for a father and the pressure of his brother becoming a doctor, Higginbottom’s family have always been positive about his choice to pursue music.

“There was never any kind of demand for me to go and do something that you might call more serious. They’ve always been supportive about what I do,” Higginbottom says.

The music scene in Oxford has always been slightly under the radar and under-acknowledged according to Higginbottom, who says, “there has always been loads going on”. Inspired by jungle and obsessed with drums as a kid, Higginbottom soon found an open door into producing when his brother set up a small studio in his house. “It was very basic, just like a little computer set-up, and I think that’s what kind of showed me that it was possible to make this kind of music,” he says.

Unsure of where his early experiments would take him, he never once thought that dressing up as a dinosaur and making pop-infused house music is where he would find his success. Despite releasing three EPs on his own, creating remixes for artists as diverse as Professor Green, Darwin Deeze and Katy Perry, and ultimately being signed to a label and working on his soon-to-be-released first solo album, Higginbottom hasn’t yet felt the need to pat himself on the back.

“It was funny. Something like that I think a lot of people would celebrate,” he says of his signing to Polydor. “I was more concerned that I just got on with it. Signing a record deal is more of an opportunity than something to celebrate. You can sign a record deal and still not put any good music out. So I just wanted to get on with making the record and I think I’ll celebrate when my album is out and I’m happy with it,” he says.

With his first full-length underway, Higginbottom isn’t letting wider popularity change his unique sound and remains determined to push forward on his own terms. “I didn’t go and write a load of kind of pop-sounding hits, in fact I think I went the other way. I think I got a bit deeper and more experimental,” Higginbottom says.

He might be craving to get stuck back into the creative process, but the comfort of a studio is far away at the moment. Touring for what seems like forever, there are still a lot of stops on his current tour before he can take a break from the road. Fortunately for us he is heading to Australia before he heads back to the studio. This will be his first time on our shores and though it lands right in the middle of our summer, he says he is prepared for the heat and is very excited.

“I hope to bring a good party and lots of new music and me and the girls dressed up,” he laughs.

TOTALLY ENORMOUS EXTINCT DINOSAURS play Woodland on Thursday Jan 5, supported by Mitzi, WolfWolf and White Palms. For more information, visit