Northcote Fun Fax [or, Ever Wanted To Know What It’s Like To Have Your Artistic Creation Crowd-Surf Its Way Over The Underground Only To Be Strip-Searched, Redressed And Tossed Back With A Cultural Reappropriation You Don’t Quite Recognise Or Relate To?] (2020)
“Is there anything more hipster than making fun of being a hipster?”
youtube user rhonan, 10 years ago.
To celebrate the pleather anniversary and long-listing in Triple Js Hottest 100 of the Decade, The Bedroom Philosopher (AKA tram dude) reflects on the cultural flashpoint of his accidentally-on-purpose Khe Sanh for millennials.
- At the height of its powers, Northcote (So Hungover) was a question on Rockwiz and an answer in The Age crossword. There was talk of it being on a Fantail, briefly.
- Adalita was approached to be one of the nurses in the video.
- It was originally going to be called Thornbury (No Homeowner).
- If you play the track backwards, you can hear samples from Agro’s Cartoon Connection.
- Okay, so, not to let artistic intention get in the way of a good pigeon-holing but (yawn) first and foremost, it was a song satirising the music scene, not hipsters. The song has its origins in a sketch I wrote for Channel 10s The Ronnie Johns Good Times Campfire Jamboree Half Hour Show (Now on Television) for which I was a writer in the mid 2000s. I penned a couple of sketches called Underground which featured two indie musos trying to out-cool each other.
- The song was written with gags aplenty as part of the 2009 Melbourne Comedy Festival show Songs From The 86 Tram. An early version had me trying to do two voices as per the original sketch, before I settled on one. “Rage Against The Sewing Machine” is still page one of my pun resume.
- I always thought of the main character as having the name ‘Drake.’
- The song was recorded in late 2009 by Chris Scallan with my band The Awkwardstra laying down the tracks. Gordon “Gordo” Blake (Vicuna Coat, Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine) did a particularly good job on lead guitar.
- Triple J started playing Northcote (as per the Z-Sides & Demos USB) in February 2010. It was soon on medium rotation and fared well on Super Requests with Rosie Beaton. It was the most requested song on five occasions in April.
- It currently has a JPlay ranking of 1147/84191 (somewhere between Diana Anaid and The Reefer Song.) It was last played at 1:50am in 2017 (I wouldn’t stop calling). It reached #12 on the Independent music chart. For this I was given a keyring and drinks voucher.
- There was a moment where Triple M were considering adding it to their rotation. They featured it on some kind of ‘cool or not’ segment where people phoned in. If there was ever a tipping point for the song going mainstream this was it – but Bazza said no.
- Jane Gazzo interviewed me for Channel V – a career highlight. (We’d last chatted in 1996 when I’d rung up Calamity Jane on Super Requests to tell her my nickname was Phonze, I was going to beat the Parklands High School 50m freestyle record (which I didn’t), and could she play Bentley Rhythym Ace (which she did.)
- The Northcote music video was shot over two days, working from 7am until midnight. It was ambitious, taking in eight different locations, including Soundpark rehearsal studios (where Courtney Barnett recorded her second album with Idge, the sound engineer in the video). Two of my band members (inc. drummer Hugh ‘Mad Dog’ Rabinovici) were going away on holidays, so Josh Earl had to fill in on bass.
- Yarra Trams were very supportive. The most hassle we had was towards the end of the second days shoot when some of the hipster ‘extras’ were caught drinking on the tram. Hey, those dudes were method.
- The video featured many special guests including Tim Rogers, Kram, Angie Hart and Damian Cowell, formerly of TISM. (Tim was nominated for best supporting role in a medical procedural by Smash Hits.)
- I formed a supergroup of Melbourne indie musos (fronted by Sad Sanderson, played by Awkwardstra bass player (and fill-in drummer in the video – Andy ‘Nature Boy’ Hazel) to be the band Pose Tattoo. They even played a live set at the video launch, with the songs uploaded to Myspace. Turns out everyone’s favourite abandoned music festival recently lost 12 years of data in a server migration. Unfortunately this includes the only known output of Pose Tattoo including their 3CR anthem I’m So Sad (Hey! That’s Sad).
POSE TATTOO: (Emma Heeney, Julian Nation, Claire Hollingsworth, Will Hindmarsh, D. Rogers & Sad Sanderson (aka Nature Boy Hazel). Absent: Eilish Gilligan)
- The video had a budget of $9000, with the director, producer and much of the crew donating their time. Half of this was for my prosthetic fringe. (The other half for Sad Sanderson’s prescription cardigan.)
- It was directed by Craig Melville and produced by David Curry. It went on to win several awards including ones from the Australian Director’s Guild and The Australian Cinematographers Society. For this we were given a keyring and drinks voucher.
- In the days leading up to the video release, Metlink commissioned me to write a parody version of Northcote to promote their ‘online tools.’ I filmed Hurstbridge (So Sober) over two days and in an unfortunate bit of timing, the parody version was released to the public before the original! This confused a lot of people, especially the vitriolic bloggers on infamously narky site Mess+Noise who suggested I was the online tool.
- The video attracted a lot of comments (which I’m still getting over), which inspired me to write a version of the song made up entirely out of YouTube comments. To get meta, it included comments made while I was on Triple J being interviewed about the song and the comments it was getting. When I later went on Triple J paraphrasing one of the comments, I dropped the C-bomb at four in the afternoon and got in a lot of trouble.
- Soon after the release of Songs From The 86 Tram the distribution label who put out the album and song (the aptly named SHOCK) went broke, taking the money from 3000 single sales with them. At this point I concluded that the music business was a bit shit.
- The reaction to the song, in particular the whole Hipster Thing™ was surprising and unintentional. The timing was pitch-perfect to capture the trend for lampooning a new ‘cool’ subculture of artists, bohemians, designers and fashionistas. Hipster was a term of derision, suggesting this lot were a superficial tribe of posers who dressed and spoke a certain way. This was aided by the video which had a costume designer channeling the American Apparel fuelled trends of the minute. (Is it worth mentioning Vice magazine and the fact I often found that periodical profoundly uncomfortable to read? I mean, the point size is tiny and I’m very short-sighted.)
- I suppose the video gave the song a newfound edge of meanness which it was never intended to have. Honestly, I saw it as a few puns about musicians and a light-hearted acknowledgement of the bitchiness and competitiveness of the industry. It didn’t help that right next door there was a video called Being a Dickhead is Cool (released three months after Northcote, itself a crude distillation of 2005’s game-changing series Nathan Barley which is the first major record of the hipster archetype (portrayed as obnoxious, shallow disruptors) or you could go even further back to 2000s High Fidelity which features an exchange between Jack Black’s character and a muso looking to start a band (“we want to retain our pop sensibilities, but, you know, go further out…no gigs yet.”) Bondi Hipsters appeared in 2012 which along with the debut of the bohemian-skewering comedy Portlandia (2011) seemed to me a much more obvious subcultural lampoon; nonetheless cementing Northcote as a flagship fixie in the hipster-bashing satirical fleetfoxes of the decade.
- You might think this is all a bit of fun and no big deal or a bit of an overthink, but bear in mind that at a bar in Sydney one of the editors from Mess+Noise told me that a lot of musicians he spoke to were genuinely offended. They saw my song as a mean spirited attack on their authentic ways. When I supported Dan Kelly in 2011 he said he and his crew thought it might be about them. All of this from a throwaway short-play making jokes about Molly Meldrum and Domestos.
- It’s almost (and I can’t empathise almost enough) – and I know I’m at risk here of weighing in above my station – but it’s a l m o s t as if, like people, (i dunno), took the song…
- bit too seriously
Shout-out to all Beddy Phil fans – especially my American friends who seemed to become enraged when they didn’t understand all the pop culture references of the song
- Northcote created a sub-cultural high pressure system in which the boundaries between emo, punk, indie (and don’t forget ‘capital a’ alternative) were melted down and cut with yuppie to create the offensively ambiguous hipster catchall. (Didn’t the term originate in the 1950s anyway – Jack Kerouac and his mates going to jazz cafes?) The storm roared in stereo confusion with the line between The Bedroom Philosopher and the ‘character’ I was playing wearing as thin as the imitation leather in Drake’s jacket. It didn’t occur to me for a second that anyone in a regional town would see the photo shoot from the video and think that was actually what we looked like. “You’re obviously playing a character,” said members of my inner circle. But of course, so many took it literally. (Hello to everyone in Ballarat, Bunbury and Burnie).
- (I could talk more about aforementioned cultural/artistic flashpoint amplifying the standard-issue tall-poppy backlash for appearing too successful but psychologists have stipulated I don’t have the space and I respect you too much to grizzle any more about fame after Funemployed).
- Bear in mind I had always considered myself indie which was a term of endearment for being authentic and not compromising your ideals. It didn’t help that Stuff White People Like was released a year earlier. I began the decade feeling like an op-shopping individual, but left it a f r a n k i e cutout digging on Dave Eggers and fonts.
- It really did feel like a witch-hunt. (The blah witch project.) A kind of low-stakes character assassination in which everyone went through their phone contacts to determine whether people were legit or a knob. The general rule of thumb was the paradoxical “Anyone who denies being a hipster is one and anyone who claims to be, isn’t.” Many people (okay, Yon from Tripod) seemed genuinely confused about whether I’d turned or not.
- I mean, my video had ‘gone viral’ but had I inadvertently also contracted a disease recasting the DNA of my intellectual property as an effete, striped, toothless werewolf of fashion?
- So what if I had? So what if I was? There are worse crimes in this country than aspiring to be cultured. Blow me down, when the blowback from Northcote wasn’t taking the form of thinly veiled homophobia or a class war against trust fund babies flaunting their disposable incomes, I suspect it may have been fuelled by Australia’s ingrained disrespect / distrust of intelligence and everyone’s least favourite ‘A’ word The Arts. Suddenly wearing glasses and going to Wes Anderson movies (you know, daring to espouse a lifestyle of reading books and attending the theatre) was grounds to be ridiculed and despised. A kind of rebooted War On Nerds was taking place by bitter middle-class sports jocks cranky they didn’t get invited to life’s after-party and classless bogans preemptively striking with disproportionately insecure reactions that anyone appearing clever must also think they are better than them. Isn’t it ironic (don’t you think) that these same people were the ones bullying us in high school for being introverted dweebs who tried hard in class. What, just because we didn’t peak in high school we’re gonna get picked on all over again? With the peer-pressure-prison of social media infecting my consciousness like a trash magazine crossed with a high school reunion, forgive me for feeling that sometimes I’m reliving grade seven all over again.
Parklands High School (Nairana HOUSE) photo shoot – 1993. CREDIT: PIXIE FOTOS
Yeah – you know I’m cooler than you, punk. I’m the psychological bully – and we always get our man in the end. What’s that saying? Names will always hurt me but cancer sticks and stones green ginger eases the pain.
- Look, there has been a huge misunderstanding (also the working title for the BP memoir). Because my own 70s retro-Beck-cardigan-frullet persona was so bohemian to begin with – it was less evident which part of me stopped and the Northcote character began. So, say, if Dave O’Neil strapped on the Northcote garb for a Spicks & Specks thing, it’d be cut and dried what was going on.
- The Northcote phase of my career came just after I’d played John Safran in John Safran’s Race Relations. It was the first time in my life I’d ever worn jeans, and I must admit I quite enjoyed feeling a bit more common people. Until 2010 I was infamous as the only bloke in Fitzroy wearing flared trousers (shout out to Tim Rogers). I enjoyed the support that skinny jeans gave (kinda like swaddling for nervous legs), so I’m the first to admit I wasn’t making anything particularly obvious by wearing skinny jeans on and offstage.
- Don’t underestimate how much Australians despise ambiguity. (Wait, did I say despise? As if Australians are that passionate about anything other than sport and anti-authoritarianism – okay, don’t underestimate the indifference Australian’s have towards subtlety.)
- As previously stated, one of the more concerning aspects of online hipster-bashing was the not-so-thinly-veiled homophobia that came with it. You can appreciate how disappointed I was by comments calling out ‘metro-fags.’ I mean, if I’d wanted to get called poof I’d’ve include Launceston on the tour schedule.
- My take? A <underline> lot <underline> of guys were having trouble with how sexually attractive I am in that clip.
- Did you know? I am actually really good looking and charismatic on camera and could have cleaned up in an ABC series about a mentally sensitive social worker in a sharehouse and his romantic tribulations (Working title: 50 shades of Brown & Orange.)
writing OUT my will. CREDIT: HELEN MELVILLE
- There’s an instrumental version where my character texts the whole thing.
- Thanks for reading Northcote Fun Fax (I’m talking to the Turkish hackers, spambots and three other people who visit this site – two of which are me). I shall leave you with some other stunning trivia about my 85 minutes of fame (the time it takes to get from Bundoora to Docklands).
- A fan once emailed to say she had Northcote stuck in her head while she gave birth (in Wales.)
- Steve Kilbey once auditioned for the part of Tim Rogers.
- I have other songs.
- The full list of comments from the Northcote (So Hungover) lyrics page on this site is an archive of love and fury.
- David Foster Wallace said irony was destroying our culture.
- The director Craig Melville cut together the original animatic of Northcote (So Hungover) to enjoy. You can now appreciate how the video may appear to dogs and unwell children.
- A tell-all interview with the Melbourne Leader sums up how I felt at the time Northcote blew up. “I was turning sausages by myself and swearing.”
- Truly haunting vision of me performing on the Frankston line.
- A large swag of photos from behind the scenes of the video can be found on FB.
- The original scripts from the Underground segment on Ronnie Johns Half Hour.
“How can one be truly critical in an age of mass camp?”
Naomi Klein, No Logo.
CREDITS: Most photographs by Helen Melville.