On Saturday June 15 2013, Melbourne hardcore band The Broderick played a 20 minute set at Bang nightclub. The weather was harsh, the crowd was disinterested and The Broderick were a band at the end of their rope. After seven years together that had seen them perform with some of the biggest bands in hardcore including Poison The Well, Converge and Misery Signals, yet had somehow yielded only one full length record, The Broderick were winding down. A week later they would be flying to South East Asia for their very first overseas tour after which they would call it a day. This would be The Broderick’s last Melbourne show. The venue was half empty but overrun with Mall Punks that were too drunk, too stupid and too ignorant to fully understand the significance of what was unfolding on stage. Instead the faux punks, decked out in basketball jerseys and eye liner, moved in hair straightened packs to survey the scene and after quickly realising that it was too unpalatable for their saccharine tastes would sneer as they scurried to the adjoining room to listen to a DJ spin lame 80s metal tracks.
This was to be The Broderick’s last Australian show and it was to take place at Bang- the lowest dive in Melbourne that was renowned for attracting only the most vanilla kids that would go to great lengths to dress up in their “punkest” outfit but actually knew nothing about the music or the scene except that you were supposed to swing your arms into people and make the devil horns during each song. To add insult to injury, The Broderick weren’t even the headliners. Instead they were wedged in between a hair metal tribute act on one side that was fronted by long haired freaks that were so serious and earnest that their performance bordered on parody and on the other side was IExist– a sludgy hardcore band from Canberra with a degree of popularity but nowhere near the quality of The Broderick.
It shouldn’t have ended this way. The Broderick are one of the best hardcore bands to emerge from Australia. The musician’s hardcore band. One of those rare hardcore bands to successfully wed heavy, brooding guitars and beautifully melancholic lyrics to create a whirlwind of emotional intensity that didn’t need the hollow thrills of breakdowns and mosh parts. News that The Broderick were calling it a day should have been greeted with sighs of disappointment and fond farewells. Instead their final moments were spent in a plastic dive in front of kids that could barely suppress a yawn as they waited for the next cheap trick to entertain them. Yet for all their undeniable talent and brilliant music, The Broderick never really got the recognition they deserved. The reason for this injustice? The Broderick.
“TELL ME AGAIN WHY MY THROAT IS CRIPPLED IN PAIN WHILE EMPTY FACES STARE A HOLE THROUGH ME.”
Think of 21st century Australian hardcore and the names that immediately come to mind are Carpathian, Parkway Drive, Miles Away, Break Even and 50 Lions. Over the last eight years The Broderick played with all of these bands and was better than each of them. Tragedy crippled Break Even before they could properly take flight. 50 Lions’ bro mosh schtick wears thin after you turn 24 and realise that swinging your arms around and fly kicking the air isn’t a particularly impressive feat nor a great way to impress women. Miles Away are a strong outfit that always play hard but are too generic to really stand out from the hundreds of other hardcore bands out there. Carpathian’s greatest success, Isolation was loaded with emotional gravitas that put them in the same mould as bands like Modern Life is War and Have Heart, but Carpathian could never properly transfer that emotional punch into their live shows, instead meandering through dull 30 minutes sets that sounded just like the record but without the same intensity. And Parkway Drive, despite reaching a staggering level of international fame and success that no other Australian band has matched, were always just a bunch of surfer dudes that belted out crunching metalcore riffs that were fun to listen to but were ultimately bereft of heart and substance.
The Broderick had all of these bands covered. They were aggressive like Parkway Drive but had an emotional centre that gave them meaning. The Broderick’s slow build ups combined with chaotic, frenzied finales gave them an edge that separated them from the generic pack, unlike Miles Away. In terms of angst and emotional intensity, Carpathian and The Broderick were similar but the fact that The Broderick became more intense and captivating on stage elevated them above their Melbourne counterparts who tended to leave their audiences feeling underwhelmed.
The Broderick’s ascent to the best Australian hardcore band was slow and almost didn’t happen. In 2008 they released Illusion Over Despair, a six track EP that was distributed on Washed Up Records. Illusion Over Despair, with its frantic, distorted guitars was well received within the local scene, cracking the vaunted Short Fast Loud Top 40 Hardcore Albums for 2008. Listening to Illusion five years after its release it’s clear that this was the work of a talented young band still finding its feet. Although the vocals veer too closely towards the throaty, growly, incomprehensible side of the scale, the seed had been planted; their chaotic brand of hardcore was in its embryonic stages and The Broderick was a band to watch out for.
Illusion Over Despair pegged The Broderick as an act on the rise and they soon landed coveted support slots touring with the likes of Poison The Well, The Ghost Inside and Carpathian. Doors were creaking open and all The Broderick had to do was step forward. Instead The Broderick sank into a creative black hole that can happen when you’re five guys in your early twenties with no direction or idea about what to do with your lives. Disagreements broke out, apathy festered and stagnation reigned supreme. The Broderick had hit a wall and the shows dried up. Sure, they still played the odd show at The Arthouse, but it was never enough to build an audience. Like most things in life, the artistic process is all about momentum- you need to be constantly moving forward, to be perpetually building, writing and creating however as soon as you stop, the rot sets in and apathy takes hold. But when you’re bunch of young boys figuring things out, putting one foot in front of the other every day can be the hardest thing in the world. The Broderick were rapidly overtaken by more organised acts and it seemed as though something which had started brightly would burn out.
“I FEAR THIS ANOMIE RUNS THROUGH MY VEINS.”
The next three years would be difficult for The Broderick. They entered a state of almost permanent hibernation; questions about a debut album were usually answered with a shrug or look of disappointment. Infrequently they’d awaken to pick up a support slot for a bigger band or to play a set at Bang or Next, the only two venues that paid a decent appearance fee but only attracted the shallow fans that didn’t care for the moody, atmospheric sound The Broderick were striving for. Creatively the band hit a wall. They knew what they wanted to sound like but the process of actually getting to that sound seemed a long way off. As vocalist Logan Fewster commented: “We found it really hard to write songs. We’d all bring our ideas to practice but we could never agree on anything. Each time someone put forward an idea, the rest of us would criticise it and pay him out. It was a tense environment we created for ourselves and it became difficult to do anything.”
Meanwhile, as The Broderick stagnated, the Australian hardcore scene was changing. New bands were emerging. Melbourne’s Hopeless took the scene by storm with their stellar full length Dear World. Carpathian called it a day and Break Even were dealt a cruel blow that permanently stopped them from getting to where they seemed to destined to go. “Other bands worked harder than us and were more committed. We knew we were as good as them but when it came to actually putting the hard yards in, we kept falling over.” Suddenly The Broderick had transitioned from up and comers to aging underachievers, destined to be discarded and forgotten.
“VOICELESS CITY… REMINDING US OF WHAT WE ARE.”
Out of all music genres, hardcore is most certainly a young man’s game. Hardcore bands are relatively easy to start – all you need is a group of friends, secondhandinstruments and an amp. As long as you’re willing to live rough, play hard and deliver breakdowns, you’ll always be able to pick up gigs. It’s this ease of entry that is hardcore’s greatest strength and weakness. It allows for a never ending influx of new acts to emerge and constantly regenerate the scene, however most of these new bands, for all their enthusiasm, lack the most important and intangible ingredient of all – talent. At the end of the day, energy can only take you so far before repetitive, droning breakdowns bore most listeners and drive crowds away. Although the hardcore scene remains forever young and vibrant, it’s swamped with mediocre acts that mask the real talent and perpetuate the myth to outsiders that hardcore is nothing but a hangout for thugs, knuckleheads and angry young males.
In this high turnover, limited talent environment most hardcore bands live a short existence. The rump of mediocre groups break up once the novelty of playing shows wears off. The lucky few bands that gain a following, crank out a few records, generally of declining quality, and live in the back of a van as they ceaselessly move from gig to gig. The elite hardcore band, that is the one with seeds of sophisticated talent, usually outgrow their humble roots and evolve into a much more accomplished group, shedding their hardcore skin and reaching for a broader audience.
The Broderick fit none of these categories.
Far too talented to belong with the chump bands, nowhere near successful enough to sustain even a meager living from touring and their sound, though sophisticated and evolving, was not gaining new admirers too quickly. To compound the problem, The Broderick were old. To be in your mid to late twenties in hardcore was to be as old as Moses. Being in a hardcore band means putting the rest of your life on hold. Family, friends, work, education, money. All of these things take a backseat when you’re in a hardcore band. When you’re 19, getting a good job or buying a house feels trivial and the thrill of the stage is all that matters. But as soon as you hit your mid twenties, that excitement has dissipated and instead all that’s left is the grind- the grind of another set played in front of small, disinterested crowds. The grind of underpaid, part time jobs to make ends meet. The grind of watching your friends progress with their careers while you’re still sitting in vans.
The Broderick had reached that stage. Still in the scene but outside of it as well by the dint of their age and the fact that the next generation had already usurped them. The Broderick had reached a fork in the road. Quietly disappear from a scene that had always given them an underwhelming response and wonder what might have been or launch one final assault. One last statement of intent to remind everyone of what had been under their noses this whole time.
After much debate and consternation, The Broderick decided to take the latter option. One last roll of the dice. The band knuckled down and sensing that this was to be their epitaph, summoned up a level of determination that up until now had never shown. Months of toil in the studio culminated in Free To Rot, Free Of Sin. The Broderick’s magnum opus and one of the best records produced by an Australian hardcore band.
“I AM FRACTURED. I SEE THE RUIN IN ME.”
From the first strains of opening track, Black Lung, it’s clear on Free To Rot that The Broderick had hit their stride. The potential for greatness that laced Illusion Over Despair finally blossomed on this 10 track record. The frustration from years of waste and ignorance had boiled over and had manifested itself in this maelstromic album.
Marc Harpur’s dissonant guitar that blends hardcore aggression with progressive soundscapes gives Free To Rot its unique flavor and provides the soundtrack to mid youth breakdown. What separates Free To Rot, Free Of Sin from its contemporaries wasn’t its aggression or its epic choruses, of which there are many, but its quieter moments. Harpur, showing expert craftsmanship, uses these quiet moments not as lulls in the action or the cost of doing business before returning to more breakdowns, but as opportunities to build the tension. Any band can deliver a crunching riff but very few understand that what transforms an album from just a random collection of songs into a cohesive whole is the ability to weave a narrative and mood through each track so that each song builds on the last and bleeds into each other without the listener even realising it. Harpur’s moody, atmospheric guitar provides that continuity. Even the interlude tracks add to the atmosphere. On “Unseen” muted guitars combine with Ash Denman’s superb drumming to create a feeling of dread and impending doom. As the volume gradually rises, the tension becomes almost unbearable as the listener strains for a release, setting the stage perfectly for the explosive opening to “Low Sky.” Instead of allowing the listener to catch their breath, the quiet moments of Free To Rot, Free Of Sin, close the walls around the audience, squeezing the air out of their lungs as they grasp for respite.
If Harpur’s guitar is the engine that propels this stellar record, it’s Fewster’s pained vocals that elevates this record into rarefied air yet simultaneously grounds Free To Rot with an emotional hold that almost strangles the listener with its ferocity. Fewster, fuelled by his own self loathing and insecurities, becomes a snarling beast desperately trying to exorcise his personal demons. On “Low Sky,” the standout track on a standout album, recounts the final days of a doomed relationship as both parties attempt to keep alive something that had died sometime ago: “We will talk, pretend and reflect / Of course you can’t go through another night like this.” Fewster’s decision to use The Broderick as his confessional is by no means revolutionary but it’s delivered with such sincerity and passion that the listener cannot help but be moved. Such is the level of despair in those pained howls that by the time closing track “Diving Bell” begins to fade and Fewster mourns that “I am empty skies,” the listener will be physically and emotionally exhausted by the significance of what has just been imprinted on their conscience.
“HOW COULD YOU LET GO?”
Free To Rot, Free Of Sin was the best hardcore album of 2012. It garnered positive reviews from all corners and those that heard it commented on its sophistication and power. The Broderick had arrived. Their ambitious vision for a progressive, moody hardcore album had been achieved, yet as soon as Free To Rot… was released The Broderick began slowing down once again. A national tour took place, support slots for touring overseas bands were picked up but it was all half-hearted window dressing. The Broderick couldn’t even be bothered to produce a film clip to promote the record for fear of being laughed at and seen as desperate, even though their teaser trailer rapidly generated over ten thousand hits. Even with a masterful album in tow, The Broderick still couldn’t muster the will to get out and push the record into the hands of those who needed to hear it. The haphazard touring schedule resumed and momentum was squandered. Fewster later reflected that “we didn’t promote Free To Rot properly… we knew it was a great record and were proud of it but as soon as the album was pressed we’d all stopped caring.” It was as though the effort required to produce Free To Rot had drained the band of all their remaining energy and now that their last great feat was accomplished were simply going through the motions of touring and support which as a band they were expected to do but the intent was gone.
The key ingredient that made Free To Rot so powerful was its maturity. It was the work of seasoned musicians who knew what they were doing and were determined to see the vision come to life. A band in their teens or even their early twenties could never have produced an album of such sophistication and gravitas. Yet it was this maturity that was now The Broderick’s undoing. Having been through the meat grinder of touring before, they no longer had the stomach to do it again.The problem for The Broderick was that they’d peaked too late. If they’d managed to produce Free To Rot when they were still full of youthful vigour, they may have found the strength to build themselves into what they should have become. Instead they were here. At Bang. In front of an audience that didn’t know who they were and nor did they particularly care. They were old men struggling to keep up in a sport meant for the young.
When asked to assess The Broderick’s legacy, Fewster is reluctant to give an answer but there’s no doubt that he’s proud of the band. “We accomplished a lot, more than most other bands from the scene. Free To Rot is something I’ll always be proud of and grateful to have been a part of.” At the same time, after repeated questioning Fewster can’t hide the pangs of disappointment. “We should have been bigger than what we were. We didn’t reach the level we should have. That’s probably our own fault.”
Talking to Logan Fewster about his band is like trying to hold water. He’s hard to pin down and reluctant to say anything, even to those close to him. After careful prompting he finally offers an opinion on why The Broderick never made it to the level he believes they should have- “We fought a lot. Nearly all of us quit the band at some point and we were lazy.”
At that point Fewster’s evasive skills take over and he has nothing more to say but perhaps it’s what he didn’t say that matters most. The Broderick failed not because they weren’t talented enough or because they couldn’t get that lucky break. The Broderick’s ultimate demise was because they were too frozen by the fear of failure to give everything.
“TRACE OUR STEPS AND MAP OUT OUR DESTINATION / WE’RE NOT MOVING, WE’RE STATIONARY.”
The final Bang show began just after 11pm. Close friends of the band, knowing that this would most likely be their last show, turned up to show their support. Parents came along. As always The Broderick play hard and Fewster radiates an animal magnetism that commands attention however the show is a disaster. The sound mix is poor and the vocals are completely inaudible. Ten minutes into the set the bass amp blows up bringing proceedings to halt. The band exchange tense, resigned smirks as they stand awkwardly on stage waiting for a new amp to be set up. Eventually after an unbearable pause, a new amp is found and The Broderick play one last song before exiting the stage. The audience is confused. The crowd is waiting.
We’re still waiting for The Broderick.