Reality Check

Make it a Double Double

Coffee is the elixir of life. For the coffee drinker, Melbourne is perched atop the list of prime coffee culture cities. On many occasions the city has been listed as one of the world’s top coffee cities [1] [2] [3]. And if you’re one of those who hold in high regard the art that goes into making a skinny mocha flat white soyaccino, then there are few places in the world better suited.

For those like me however, Melbourne is a quite the caffeine dichotomy. I love coffee, I drink two cups a day. But here’s the deal, I couldn’t care less about latte art, the type of milk, organic, free trade or how beardly the barista’s beard is. I only care that it’s coffee and that there’s caffeine in it. Do I care how it tastes? Of course, but in the same way I like my beer: as long as it’s beer.

So how do I survive in the often pretentious coffee culture of Melbourne?

I grew up drinking two types of coffee: black with half n half, and instant. Products of my formative years in Indonesia and North America, both keep the majority of their coffee drinking to what’s important. Outside of home, my favorite coffee establishment is probably Tim Horton’s. Why? Because they keep things simple.

A double double thanks”. Coffee, double cream, double sugar. Do you really need more than that? No, you really don’t.

It’s not quite so easy in Melbourne. There is a clear disdain for chain coffee and finding simple coffee additives like cream/half n’ half is near impossible. So I do the next best thing outside of opening a Tim Horton’s franchise. Buy yourself an affordable drip coffee machine (I got a Breville drip filter machine from The Good Guys for just $45) and substitute the cream with Nescafe’s Coffee-Mate. For beans I use one of two options, the first, the slightly more international, is to import bags of Tim Horton’s medium roast coffee (available either from Oh Canada or from helpful friends and relatives traveling to and from Canada). The second is to find one great local bean producer that keeps things simple and straight forward. For that I found that Padre Coffee from Brunswick suits my tastes- their “Hey Buddy” brew is strong, aromatic, but simple and without adventurous flavours.

In the office, I bring my Coffee-Mate and set the office machine to “long black” to closely recreate that home flavour. It isn’t quite there, but it beats paying close to $10 a day for take away brew, adding up to an expensive weekly habit when you add up the numbers. If you’ve got to get take away in Melbourne’s CBD, two places I do recommend would be Plantation at Melbourne Central (a regular for $4 is pretty good) and Brother Baba Budan. The latter quite possibly ticks every box of the hipster checklist, but if you’ve got to, you might as well get the best.

Savings aside, coffee should be an inexpensive ritual, one that shouldn’t concern itself with being trendy or hip. Melbourne cafes have been known to charge $4.80 for a small coffee because they know we’ll pay for it. But you really don’t have to, which makes the alternative options great ways to indulge in one of life’s great addictions without fueling the culture. Until Tim Horton’s international franchising arm stretches to Australia, I’ll happily take a homemade “double double” over anything else.

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Reality Check

Suburban Stickiness

My friend Louise has a strict “no crossing rule” in which she refuses to cross the imaginary border between South East Melbourne and anywhere past Lonsdale Street.

Getting her to attend functions and events in suburbs like Collingwood or Footscray is an act of mammoth undertaking. She hates the North and would rather believe the West didn’t exit.

She’s not alone either.

Why is that some, once they settle into a particular area, really don’t like to leave it?

Melbourne’s inner suburbs have as much personality as the spectrum of people that inhabit them. Like cultures, they’re stereotype forming, and each locale’s cast of characters tends to act as road markers on your drive between them.

Start seeing an abundance of beard sporting, barista working hipsters? Probably driving through Northcote or Fitzroy.

Girls who go to the gym looking like they’re clubbing? Probably South Yarra.

Getting mugged? Probably out West somewhere.

Yet while we’re all drawn to our own comfort post codes, one discovers that venturing far out of them presents many richly rewarding things you’d never find confined within your own suburb. By venturing out, I don’t mean a Sunday trek to a revoltingly hip Thornbury café from your Hawthorn safety net, but rather picking up and moving from North, to South East, to West, or any combination of the above.

That’s what I’ve done since I moved to Australia. It’s worth it, and you really get to know the city and the weird, wonderful and differentiating qualities of each compass point. You discover hidden treasures that exhibit the quirks you tend to only find in the Northern or Western or South Eastern suburbs.

Sure, it’s easy to stick to what we like and become regulars, to get caught up in suburban stickiness. But from my experience, Melbourne is a much better place to live if you’re willing to transplant yourself every few years.

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Photo by: Mat Connolley

Preston, or Depreston, was the first place I lived in Australia and won’t ever land itself on the list of upcoming suburbs of Melbourne, but it’s not without its charms (no matter how far and few they may be). The suburb was ranked pretty low (all the way down at #145) in a 2011 survey of Melbourne’s suburb liveability, and I don’t think there has been much development since.

Median house prices are still decent for Australia but you can’t escape the dilapidated air of oldness that permeates through the area. I suppose the most endearing part of it was seeing the very worst before working my way up.

However, the one good thing about Preston is its proximity to some of Melbourne’s most hip-to-be postcodes- most notably Northcote and Thornbury.

Some of Melbourne’s coolest and most talked about venues are scattered through the North. Music, food, drinks; you really can’t go wrong with what you can find on Smith and High Street following its resurgence in 2005.

My two personal favorites continue to be the Northcote Social Club, where I saw a host of incredible bands come through and play and the Wesley Anne. The latter, a converted old church turned into a bar/restaurant, boasts a great outdoor area and terrific food. Both are great places to hang out, drink and if you’re so inclined, see live music.

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Moving to South Yarra from Preston is the difference between New York and New Jersey, night and day. The architecture is much nicer, the people are better looking, and you get the sense that you’re actually living someplace instead of being part of the background montage of the “Streets of Philadelphia” video.

You really don’t understand how convenient South Yarra is until you someday leave again, with the wealth of everything literally at your doorstep. Trains at an abundance and trams criss-crossing in every which way, the suburbs locality is its biggest asset. Sure, things are a little dearer on the wallet, but the advantages of convenience often outweigh monetary concerns (otherwise, how would 7-Elevens stay in business?).

South Yarra station is great because it is just a few stops away from Southern Cross station, meaning people too cheap to pay for a cab to the airport are within reach of the much more affordable SkyBus option.

Food was always great living in South Yarra. No matter your tastes, there’s something in the area to fill your stomach. My favourite was Pacific Seafood BBQ House, a Chinese joint that boasted cheap $10 meals and the pricier gourmet banquet style dishes. The hostess was the grouchiest, unhappiest person in the world (in 3+ years, I didn’t see her smile once) but getting your fill for a single bill in the area was always worth it.

South Yarra continues to rank high in its liveability but unless your bank account is constantly in the 7-8 digits, you can probably forget about owning property around here.

However, unlike Toorak’s glamorous living, South Yarra still has its character. Whether its cool bars like Maya Bar or affordable restaurants, they are hidden in plain view alongside the glitzier facades that line Chapel Street (avoid).

You can walk to just about everything in South Yarra, something you can’t say about a great majority of locales around Melbourne outside of the CBD.

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The trembling the West can cause to some…

I heard it all when I first arrived in Melbourne; don’t go out West. Terrible place everyone said; “unsafe!”

Truth is, anywhere in Melbourne can be unsafe if you’re not smart about it. And the kaleidoscope of culture you can indulge in over the West Gate Bridge is something well and truly worth your time.

I moved out to the postcode which this site is named after with Ms.3013 and while there are still severe rough patches that plague the West, there are so many great gems that one would be amiss not to discover them.

Sure, you could be happy living in the confines of the Yarra (South), but then you wouldn’t be just a walk away from places like the Cornershop (best scrambled eggs with parmesan, cavlo nero & soft herbs in the business) or the majestic old Sun Theatre. Lately, Yarraville Park has become home to a host of food trucks that make any weekend night a perfect outside spot for food ranging from American BBQ to Vietnamese street food. And who doesn’t like indulging in freshly torched crème brule from a tiny truck with the entire neighbourhood?

We’ve found a little space and a little quiet this side of town and while there’s a lot of work to be done Westside, there is an air of ascendance in its optimism- that these suburbs really are up and coming.

No matter which part of Melbourne you currently call home, there should be no reason to confine yourself to any boundaries.The best parts of the city are scattered all across its landscape.

Why would you limit yourself?


 

Photos credits:
St Kilda: Donaldytong
Smith St: Mat Connolley
Chapel St: Stonnington Council
Sun Theatre: Grayline

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Album Reviews

Review: The Bennies – Rainbows In Space

benniesMelbourne’s The Bennies are an eclectic collective of musicians who seem to have cut their teeth on everything from party rock anthems, metal and ska to reggae and pop. The group’s debut album, Rainbows In Space, is a rather apt description for this 14-track LSD trip down the road of every15-year-old kid’s schizophrenic music collection.

You get party-themed rock (the opening “Party Smashers”), ska-tinged anthemic punk (the pretty great “Anywhere You Want To Go”), stoner reggae rock (“Let’s Get Stoned”) and rock steady (“Hold On”, which is another good entry). It’s an easy indication that Rainbows in Space is really a smorgasbord of genres that are glued together by the band’s frenetic energy. Much of the album sounds like it was written under a heavy haze of drugs and alcohol, and while some of the songs are a bizarre mixture of tripping something fantastic with an ultra laid back attitude, some songs seem to be lacking in solid direction.

The album’s biggest problem is that the band have an affinity for so many different genres of music that they’re having a hard time picking one (or even two) to give the album a singular aesthetic. The band completely lose their marbles in “Frankston Girls”, a candidate for one of least productive songs you’ll hear all year. It’s part metal, part ska, part rock, all kinds of terrible. It’s real shame because they follow it up with the more traditional third-wave ska sounding “Westgate Wednesday” which is a terrific tune, akin to what Against All Authority, Voodoo Glow Skulls and Assorted Jellybeans did during their time.

It’s early days for The Bennies as they’ve got a lot of positive elements going for them. They know how to party, but lack direction when it comes to writing a solid album from start to finish. Some of their terrific songs are weighed down heavily by their awful ones. An album full of “Westgate Wednesdays” and “Anywhere You Want To Gos” would have made Rainbows In Space worthy of repeated listens. Unfortunately, for now, your best bet is to pick and choose a few tracks until they’re able to do the good more often than the bad.

[rating=2]

 

Rainbows In Space is available now via Poison City Records.

Listen to “Anywhere You Wanna Go”:

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Sight & Sound

Watch Harmony’s creepy video for “Diminishing Returns”

Melbourne down tempo heroes Harmony have unveiled their video for the track “Diminishing Returns”. The eerie new track is being released this Friday as a 7″ via Poison City and has been described by vocalist Tom Lyngcoln as;

“weird, it’s non-linear but it’s still a losing cycle, it’s eerily soft then primitively loud and will do nothing to help us fit in with any kind of crowd.”

The band will play a handful of shows starting next week in support of the 7″ and tour dates can be found below.

Tue 19 Nov – The Residence, Melbourne Music Week
Fri 22 Nov – The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle w/ The Drones
Sat 23 Nov – Polariods of Androids Backyard Show, Sydney
Sat 23 Nov – The Farmer & The Owl Festival, Wollongong Town Hall
Thu 19 Dec – The Curtin Hotel, Melbourne

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Headlines, Music

Why does Jack Johnson suck so much?

Andrew’s Hamburgers in Albert Park is a culinary institution in this part of town. Its family feel aesthetic is lined with the numerous awards and plaudits the small joint has received in all its years in business. True to form, Andrews is always filled come lunch time, and with its busy staff, the small kitchen area is teaming with workers, including principal owner Greg Pappas. With its cosy locale, there isn’t much room outside of your own head to contemplate anything but diving your teeth into the succulent patty, waiting for the juicy extras the joint is known for to satiate your taste buds.

There are very few things that can ruin this experience, or so I thought.

Recently, during a lunch time sojourn, my ears were met with the untimely and horrific sounds of the in-store radio playing Jack Johnson’s “Taylor”. The station in question was the local classic rock station and one of the reasons why they’re playing a song more than a decade old (other than the obvious) is most likely because Johnson is slated to appear at next year’s Byron Bay Blues Festival, a gargantuan collection of performances that next year will include Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Iron & Wine and about a hundred other artists from all walks of life and backgrounds.

Yet as I tried to dig into my burger, my ears shrivelled to the size of raisins and my chest grew tight. My stomach churned and my head became weary. I knew it wasn’t the uneaten Andrews burger in my hand because that is scientifically impossible, so I knew it was the awful, awful sounds of Jack Johnson and that insipid song. But why? It’s hard to pinpoint the numbers and logic behind it, but as I packed up and walked out to finish my burger elsewhere, I was taken back to the song’s much played music video and deduced that my severe dislike for Johnson and his music stems from this 5+ minutes of film.

If you haven’t seen it (maybe it should stay that way), here it is:

It’s got all the hallmarks of a Jack Johnson video- the serene settings all tuned in to the plinky plonky music. It’s got the beach and surf and people dressed like they spend all day there. And then there’s Ben Stiller. Ben fucking Stiller. I don’t hate the guy but God damn it if his stupid facial expressions and his stupid acting in this stupid video makes me angry every time I see, or think about it. I hadn’t in a while too, which was great.

Back in 2002 when I was still living in Indonesia, MTV and Channel [V] still mostly played music videos and hashed through this piece of garbage relentlessly. I suspect this is the cause of my irrational reaction to it today.

Strangely, I don’t mind the Dave Matthews Band and I don’t think John Mayer is anywhere near as bad as a lot of people seem to think he is. Both are to some degree, musically similar, but I cannot stand Jack Johnson. Is it his surfer boy vibes or overtly hippy surfer commune-like aura? I don’t know. Through his six full length albums (all with ridiculously easy going, beach-as names like To The Sea, In Between Dreams and From Here To Now To You… and really, what the fuck is that?), I honestly cannot name a single song or have heard any music that happens to be Jack Johnson and thought, “oh yeah, this is pretty good”.

Maybe its because he’s always got a shit-eating grin on his face.

For some reason, his music has connected with a great deal of people other than myself and while that’s not a problem by any means, it ruined my Andrews Hamburger and that’s just not kosher.

Can one awful song be enough to dislike an artist for life? Apparently so.

Then again, maybe it’s Ben Stiller.

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Album Reviews, Headlines

Review: Bodyjar – Role Model

BodyjarI’m not sure if it’s the old age or that things do actually get better over time, but after an 8-year hiatus, Melbourne punks Bodyjar may have just released the defining album of their career with Role Model. Some 20 years into it, the band has written both a consistent and consistently good record built on the kind of melodic punk that filled the airwaves through the mid-90s.

For those who lived outside of Australia during punk’s seminal burst into the mainstream, Bodyjar’s introduction was their Nitro Records release How It Works. Polished and composed, singles like “Not The Same” were a nice first look, but the album lacked the depth their contemporaries had. Perhaps the biggest differences between the career trajectories of Bodyjar and their North American counterparts was the sheer number of similar bands that flooded the market in the US and Canada while in Australia, Bodyjar were clear and above the best of their kind.

Rode Model, their first release since 2005’s Bodyjar, rips to shreds these preconceived notions the band aren’t as good as their US friends. In fact, one can argue that Role Model is the best melodic punk album we’ve seen in a very long time. Tracks like “Petty Problems” and the terrific “Fairy Tales” is proof that this band not only has the chops, but probably had them all along.

Hope Was Leaving”, brings back sweet memories of mid 90s skate punk doused with a hearty helping of soaring melodies and the kind of bite associated with the Strung Outs and Good Riddances of the world, while slower fare like “Break This Feeling” give the album some room to stretch.

Bands from that era have tried and failed to branch out from power chords and whoa-ohs, but Bodyjar are unashamedly comfortable with who they are. Melodic punk has fallen by the wayside with the younger generation of bands, but that’s where Bodyjar come in, and Role Model should serve as educational material on how to do this genre right.

Old punks die hard, for that, we are thankful.

[rating=4]

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Bodyjar’s Role Model is available now via UNFD. You can pick up a copy via iTunes.

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Headlines, Music

All Talk, No Rock

Over the past several months, my Facebook feed has been punctuated with many sharing, signing and liking the “Petition to Save the Palace”; Melbourne’s on-going fight to prevent one of the city’s iconic rock n’ roll venues from turning into a luxury hotel. Like most, I’m in the general category of those who wish to see The Palace continue on as a great place for rock n’ roll heathens. However, as I suspected, the collective of keyboard warriors and e-protesters continue to do what I’ve long been against; doing a lot of shouting and talking on the internet without actually doing anything worthwhile about it.

TheMusic.com.au reported yesterday the rally to “save the Palace”, held on a sunny Saturday afternoon, drew “between 500 and 1,000 people” (how vague) after the well-meaning organizers aimed for close to 30,000. A paltry sum in reality isn’t it? There are more than 30,000 “likes” to their Facebook page and over 25,000 people have “signed” their e-petition, but less than 1000 people showed to actually try and do something about it? (And let’s face it, when organizers say between 500-1000 people show up to their even, it’s more than likely closer to 500 than 1000).

We’ve seen this before of course, on a much larger scale. In the recent Australian elections, I was constantly bombarded with pseudo political Facebook rants, silly memes and links to petitions and protests in fear of a Government’s inevitable rise to power. The conclusion? Let’s just say their politicking seemed to dry up as soon as the election results were in. Did they continue on their fight and actually go out there and do anything? I’m not even sure half of them actually voted, and during the times of their loudest protests, could not string together valid and tangible reasons as to why their supposed “preferred party” would be the best to lead the country outside of marginal debates.

This, like much of Generation Now’s inability to translate internet gasbagging to actual tangible results is very much part of the problem. I asked a few of my friends who I know signed the petition whether they went to the rally and I was met with a mix of results that included,

“I didn’t know it was on”

And

“I wanted to but my girlfriend/boyfriend had something on in the park and it was such a nice day”

I don’t have working answers to save the Palace but I know that signing stupid online petitions and liking Facebook pages won’t do the trick. Heck, just showing up in person to an actual event may at least be worth something. And after perusing the Save The Palace website, it doesn’t appear that the organizers have a plan either. Perhaps we should rename ‘Save The Palace’ to ‘Organize the Save The Palace Rally’?

The Palace is a great place and on many occasions I’ve spent nights in the pit, soaked in booze and sweat being serenaded by my favorite bands. I’ve been backstage for shows I’ve been part of organizing and believe the venue is worth saving. Just as long as the people who are trying to save it know what they’re doing. If the venue is saved, I’ll be happy for those involved, but if the Palace ends up being a fancy hotel, I won’t be fussed. Everything has their time and place and in the tangible world and it all comes to an end. If you don’t have the money and resources, then you’re only going to go so far.

Unfortunately for The Palace, the people trying to save it have to try and coral a group of individuals who tend to be furious with their words, but in practice and in action, go only as far as clicking the mouse.

In the end, it’ll take more than what these noble organizers are doing. It’ll take actual money, business acumen and real world thinking if the venue is to be saved. Developers don’t care about rock n’ roll history or art, they care about making money.

We’ll see what happens over the next few months, but don’t bet on The Palace being saved on the account of these people, no matter how noble their intentions are. Generation Now needs to know that you have to do more than sign an online petition or like a Facebook page to activate change in reality. And that’s too bad for the venue, which may soon end up being a place of all talk, and no rock.

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