Antagonist A.D: Live @ Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne

I mentally dubbed Collingwood’s Bendigo Hotel ‘Skull City’. Every surface of the venue seemed to have a skull of some kind. I’d hoped to extract a cool story behind the decorating choice, but one of the bar workers just shrugged and said “The owner just likes them”, before opening up a touch more and saying that people send them to him “from all over” and the collection has gradually grown. With these quirky touches of personality, the space is rich with passion, which made it a perfect venue for Antagonist A.D‘s return to the scene.

Once in the band room, I met Antagonist A.D’s vocalist Sam Crocker at the merch table, and just as I’d shared in my article relating to “No Justice”, I acknowledged how important these empowered voices are in the world of heavy music. Growing up more surrounded by grunge and rock than punk, hardcore is still something of an enigma to me that I become more enamoured with with every interaction.

Fan dedication is one of the noticeable features of the hardcore scene in Melbourne. The vibe from the crowd is as all-in as the people on stage, even if that’s just attentive watching and not necessarily getting into the mosh. It was easy to see this in action when Melbourne locals Caged Existence kicked off the night to an already-strong crowd showing. The five piece offer up instrumental impressiveness that’s infectious by way of how it inspires movement, from the stage outward. Wild moshing filled the band room as vocalist Steffanie Adele seemed to channel the energy of fight, furiously directing it into her microphone while Jake Zammit’s thunderous drumming kept things strong and steady.

Caged Existence get better every time I see them, with a stronger sense of unison during this set than the previous. Sharing songs from their recently released The Body Prison, it was frontwoman Steffanie that caught my attention most. She stalked the stage with intensity, seeming to burn with activism fire, at times bouncing around as though it was too much to be contained. As someone near me said after the set, Caged Existence “killed it”, and it was easy to be drawn in by their set, accented by impressive and tight guitartistry, ditch-diggingly low breakdowns, and breathtaking peaks of energy.

Cast Down have a fairly no-bullshit intimidating stance on stage. This second set of the night was aggressive from the start and intense ‘pay attention’ vibes were palpable. Guitar wails added to an out of control wildness punctuated by Jack McDonald’s screams. For me it was the prowess of the band’s drummer Todd Tombleson that stood out in the set; this unstoppable badassery from the back was something solid in the at-times chaotic set that guided the band on their twists and tempo turns.

Clearly a great team, Cast Down’s set was an invitation to get wild. Spoken word vocals in amongst the ‘mess’ and industrial samples were a strong “yes” for me, as well as the sweet grinding bass-y instrumental interludes. It was most fun to watch this set when Jack was losing himself in the music. “Leatherman” closed the impressive set.

It’s an unusual experience to smell pancakes (or something similar?) while you’re watching a band, but that’s what happened during the DREGG set. The weirdo club hoe-down was in full swing as new wave hardcore struck us with warm blankets of riffs. With three guitarists, bassist, and crushing body-rattling beats, we were being pulled to be RIGHT HERE in the experience with the Melbourne band and their massive sound.

While I’d experienced these same stage banter stories at the Deadlights show, it was still a very good time watching this epitome of united individualism in action. DREGG know how to blend bouncy fun and hard intensity and the unashamed dance moves and rough mosh spectrum of the pit entertainingly reflected this spectrum. It was easy to see in vocalist Chris Mackertich’s expressions the forces of questioning (everything) and attempts to extract self-responsibility with songs like “Sorry Daddy”, “Narcotic” and “Don’t Go Into The Mangroves”.  Infectiously fun with their ‘no fucks given’ approach to expression, the vibe was almost a dare for each of us to be ourselves.

I’m not entirely sure how Jake Zammit does it but he managed to bring his drumming strength to another set of the night with Imprisoned, after already being drenched in sweat after his efforts during the Caged Existence set. It was a full house with viewing real estate at a premium. Yet whether you could see them or not, Imprisoned’s solid and unwavering sound steadily and evenly poured out into the band room.

Screaming for us to “get up on the stage”, Imprisoned’s vocalist really caught my attention for a lot of the set with his raw/roar heartfire. I was mesmerised by what was an open-hearted expression of full-blown strength and couldn’t stop watching. Aside from this, the entire band formed one strong unit that seemed to effortlessly take something already heavy and amp it up into greater heaviness somehow, with some very cool riffy and punchy (someone get me a hardcore thesaurus™) breakdowns.

In amongst Imprisoned’s fire were very welcome guitar grooves, harmonic guitar whirs, and grinding and alluring bass riffs which I fell for. I also appreciated that the bass was given a clear place and presence in amongst what could have been a ‘wall of sound’ approach. The huge drum presence seemed to be amplified times infinity, with either rock solid beats or too fast to keep up with. All of it worked so well. With stand-out skills across the band, it inspired me to recognise how all-in the entirety of the band is and just how important this is to a creative project. The Imprisoned collective gave everything they had through to the punishing end of their set, where a pregnant pause in the thick of a breakdown brought it all satisfyingly home.

The Antagonist A.D set came with its own unspoken drenching of hype, with intense captivation becoming like a dense fog before a sound was played. Opening with a recording of Christopher Walken’s monologue from Poolhall Junkies about a lion and jackalls, it’s instantly an intense free-for-all where hectic pace, jumps, and barks are part of the experience.  As I’m watching this crowd screaming and thrashing along with their band, it’s like they never left. So much felt contained within these moments (relief, joy, triumph, celebration, determination) that it’s tough to put into words.

Musically we’re dragged along by punishing drums and wake-up calls rolled out by this band with a larger-than-life stage presence. It’s a unifying experience, even for those not fully versed in the Antagonist A.D discography, as well as an emotional one. “I miss this energy” Sam shared between songs, referring to the moment and the connection as “Our fucking house”. He then verbally gifted the expression of the band’s music to those watching, for us to take it and use it in whatever way we need. It’s easy to feel a connection with this band, due to what they’re offering up alone.

The crowd experience is wild, hot, and sweaty, and we’re all aptly referred to as “crazy and beautiful” as the adventure rolls on, veering into two-step territory, digging deep and low with the vocals, and facing further unstoppable wildness courtesy of the drums. The band play a new track that is gratefully consumed as we all ‘pretend we know it’ on Sam’s advice, who incidentally is a great frontman; both down to earth as well as commanding, seeming to politely ask for “one good circle pit please”. Does it go without saying that this request was approved?

Clearly passionate about their craft, incredible guitar work was a standout. We were all putty in their hands as we were led to a cliff top and thrown into mammoth breakdowns while riffs rolled onward. “Coffin Keeper” is a great example of this.

It was one heck of a ‘hardcore party’. As Antagonist A.D’s set went on, a stunned expression on Sam’s face was noticeable, and emotionally moving. The band weren’t taking any of this for granted. Putting expression into words, Sam took time to share with humility that while it is ‘easy to get bitter’, the younger bands on the bill have sparked a fire of inspiration within him. He was also honest in wanting to acknowledge everything that’s happening around him, allowing himself to “sit back and go ‘holy shit'”.

The set ended somewhat suddenly, but was wonderful nonetheless. At this point it kind of struck me how much heart is in this scene, and how much of this was on show while we watched these bands do their thing. The heart and passion for change and realisation is there in the intensity, in the screams, and the force. This scene is improved by bands like Antagonist A.D using their voice to (literally) say “It’s all love, it’s all you and me”, sparking a connection as well as an encouragement and something of a revolution. The intentions behind all five bands’ music is deserving of recognition for its imporance; sharing honest perspectives as well as urgings to be compassionate and self-responsible inhabitants of the planet while we are existing upon it.

Long live hardcore. Welcome back, Antagonist A.D!

[Photos shot by Ivan Souriyavong @ Burdekin Hotel, Sydney.]
Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it. [Loved the read? Shout Kel a latte.]

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