No Front Fences: Canberra’s DIY Future?
It is in a warm, inner north home that Mulgara meet to plan their projects. From offering up a sacred space for a friend’s album launch to putting on the biggest DIY event Canberra has seen in years, if ever, Mulgara has proven they have a momentum that refuses to stand still. Their foray into putting on DIY gigs has not been without a learning curve, but the seven members of Mulgara remain committed to serving their local music scene.
You could be forgiven for not knowing about Mulgara if you weren’t acquainted with Canberra’s underground music scene. Like faithful disciples, they do a lot of work being the scenes of Canberra’s local music and ask for very little recognition in return. The collective specialises in throwing local gigs at house parties around our nation’s capital with a few ventures interstate under their belts. Beginning with only two members, Cameron Byers and Phoebe O’Leary, Mulgara, like most great ideas, Mulgara started from humble beginnings.
“In the beginning, once we started doing a few shows… people seemed to like it… and there seemed to be a little niche here in Canberra,” said Byers about Mulgara’s beginnings, “…for visiting bands it can be lonely or pretty hard to book a show at a venue, particularly for your first visit to a city…so playing house shows in an established community sort of helped out those [interstate] bands.”
It was after their first gig, an album launch for their friend, that O’Leary and Byers met the future members of Mulgara. From there the group decided to continue holding house shows for local bands around Canberra which ultimately led to No Front Fences’ debut in 2017. Essentially a music festival for DIY bands, local and interstate, the event was a major success despite only being planned two months beforehand.
“We started asking bands and doing all of this stuff and we were like ‘oh this is really happening… we have bands coming from everywhere.. and we don’t even have sound organised’,” laughed co-organiser Amy Coughlan, “…so we messaged [co-organiser] Joel [Cabban] who brought all the sound gear… and was a massive help especially with the business side of things.”
Despite an overall lack of experience at the time by most of Mulgara’s members, No Front Fences debuted without a hitch. Spread over three days, the festival consisted of three gigs, the majority made up of house parties in the inner north of Canberra. Presenting a lineup full of local Canberra talent, as well as underground interstate acts, Mulgara put a strong emphasis on supporting up and coming talent. This has led to the return of No Front Fences this year for its sophomore outing.
“I think mostly the band selection was different this year…last year we really wanted to keep it diverse… but because we asked people in such a rush… we ended up with a very male-dominated lineup,” said co-organiser, Benedicte O’Leary-Rutherford, “this year… that’s the biggest change… being constantly aware of what the end lineup was going to be and that we were happy with it.”
Another stipulation while putting together this year’s lineup was to keep the selection completely fresh. In an attempt to widen their circle of artists Mulgara have ensured no band from last year’s festival appear on the lineup for No Front Fences 2. This tactic comes from the group’s overall aim to facilitate the Canberra live music scene flourishing, an aim that demonstrates their generosity gig after gig. What may surprise some is that Mulgara is completely not-for-profit and often sink a lot of their own money into their shows.
“Because it’s [Mulgara] more of a passion and fun thing for us we don’t really mind [contributing money]… we usually try and put some money toward punch for the shows or in winter we were doing a lot of soups…” said Coughlan, “…as long as we’re able to pay the bands it’s fine.”
In recent times Canberra’s live music scene has been cast into more than a shadow of a doubt. With the closure of venues such as The Front and Lobrow, as well Canberra institution The Phoenix facing financial struggle, it is not unusual to wonder what the future holds for live music in Canberra. Is it possible that as venues begin to close down the musicians and punters of Canberra will be led to the DIY house party scene?
“Personally I think it’s on a knife-edge… if The Phoenix does close it’s going to take a long time to repair but I think the positive of that is if we lose all our spaces there is going to be a big counter-culture kick back…” said McCarthy, “…it’s just whether it will be recognised as part of the mainstream of the city like it’s been promoted as the last five years…or whether it’s going to collapse… and have to live in houses.”
It is their passion for the local scene as well as their generosity which continues to lead the group to success. Outside of Mulgara McCarthy operates his own Canberra-based music blog, Laundry Echo, which specialises in showcasing Canberra talent as well as providing a platform for interstate bands to catch the attention of local punters. Co-organiser James Marchet has played in the Canberra music scene for a number of years as a part of many different projects, his most notable being solo venture Jim Dusty. If this type of dedication to Canberra’s music scene wasn’t enough, Cabban started his own record label, Noise Floor Records in 2013 with an emphasis on supporting live gigs in our city.
No Front Fences 2 begins on Friday 16th March with a house party in Watson. The second night of the festival will provide more brimming talent at Transit Bar on Saturday 17th March with the festival concluding at a house party in Downer on Sunday, March 18th. The last day of the festival is designed to be more of a wind down for the event. Starting during the day, the Sunday session will feature market stalls, live art and a family-friendly vibe in addition to live music.
Tickets are available here and the lineup is as follows:
This interview was written by Thomas Spillane, If you are interested in writing for the Stir blog email us at Magazine@causeastir.com.au