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ALT//FEST Sounds of the underground

ALT//FEST: A Festival of Loud Contemporary Sound takes place this Saturday, March 20 at Badlands Bar. A collaboration between ALT, Hearts of Darkness Inc. and WA Music, the mini-festival will showcase 14 bands of varying alternative genres across two stages and is set to be a highlight of WA’s Music Week. ANTHONY JACKSON caught up with ALT and Hearts of Darkness Inc. producer, Amir Barber-Skwarko to find out what is lurking underground.

Congrats on the cultivation of ALT//FEST. I love that you are providing a platform to showcase and grow alternative music in Perth. Have you had a good response since announcing the event in February?

Thanks! Yes, it’s been really positive I’m happy to say. Fourteen bands in one night may seem a bit ambitious but we feel like the final line up is exciting and varied enough that punters will hopefully make a night of it and try to catch some live acts they may not have seen before.

ALT//FEST is a collaboration event between ALT, Hearts of Darkness Inc and WAM. Can you tell us about your event team Hearts of Darkness and your involvement in the event?

Hearts of Darkness is a small not-for-profit arts collective that a few of us started three years ago. At its core, we started Hearts of Darkness to support and promote non-mainstream music, arts and culture. Most of us had been working together previously on goth event series The Gathering since 2013. We wanted to branch out into running events focusing on other types of events and genres, and soon enough we started up a number of event sub-brands – ALT (alternative live music), RITUALS (DJ collective), VOLTA (live electronic music events) and ZERO (alternative electronic music club nights). All up so far we’ve run over 60 events across our sub-brands in these three years.

Currently, I hold the positions of Chair and Treasurer for Hearts of Darkness as well as main producer for ALT. I’m a huge fan of live music in general, and booking gigs under ALT gives me an extra excuse to go see as many bands as I can.

Jess (Willoughby) is also part of Hearts of Darkness. She has been an active contributing member of Perth’s alternative scenes for years and brings a wealth of touring and promotional experience. Jess and I work together on ALT’s bigger projects and touring shows, such as bringing over industrial powerhouse Trepaneringsritualen from Sweden, and our Melbourne doubleheader MY DISCO and Kollaps back in 2019.

Jess and I are the festival co-coordinators of ALT//FEST, the biggest event Hearts of Darkness has attempted so far. We’d actually been tinkering with the concept for ALT//FEST for a couple of years now – ultimately it is thanks to the WA Music Week grant that we are finally able to put this event on.

The line-up for ALT//FEST looks fantastic. How did you go about curating the lineup?

We’re super stoked with it, I dare say it’s “all killer no filler!” It’s in the name really, ALT is all about promoting and supporting live music that is alternative, left-of-centre and non-mainstream and we wanted a line up that felt reflective of this.

There truly were so many bands we wanted to include on the ALT//FEST lineup, and that has to be proof of how strong Perth’s various alternative scenes are. To get to our final line up we made decisions based around maintaining a balance of diversity, a balance of genres and we also wanted a line up featuring artists that were actively playing shows and/or had recently released music.

Can you tell us a bit about the different bands? Who are you looking forward to seeing the most?

Oh no, choosing a band or two to highlight is nigh impossible! I have personally seen all of these acts play live recently and I can honestly vouch for them all.

The lineup is a mix of alternative, metal, punk, electronic and experimental acts with many of them crossing over multiple genres. If you’re not familiar with some of the acts, take a chance and check them out, even just for a few minutes – you might just stumble upon your new favourite band!

With restrictions lifting and touring bands only just starting to trickle back through, local alternative gigs still seem to be few and far between. In your opinion how do you think the COVID pandemic has affected local alternative shows and how can we improve the scene?

I think plenty of local alternative gigs are still happening, it’s just that with the COVID-19 Phase 4 capacity restrictions I think these gigs tend to be smaller and fly under the radar a lot more. There’s less incentive trying to do big amounts of promo if you’re limited to only filling half the room, right? Also, it feels like venues are a little bit hungry for interesting local acts and line ups right now, which is great for those who spent some of the lockdown writing new music and/or starting new bands and projects, as there is a lot more opportunity to get on a line up.

As a promoter it’s been a real joy not needing to focus on touring acts so much, and for a while selling out a gig seemed a bit easier thanks to lower venue capacities but still felt great. As a punter, of course, I’ve missed seeing touring acts, but also I’ve discovered so many new local acts, some that are on the ALT//FEST line up, and others that I can’t wait to book for upcoming gigs.

It’s been so great to see so much love for local line ups since lockdown ended. If we can keep this up even after touring bands start gracing our shores again, it’s a win/win situation all around!

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