Like a phoenix from the lockout ashes, Sydney's emo scene is rising again. It’s no secret that the 2014 legislation curtailing the city’s nightlife had devastating effects on the city’s night-time economy, but all is not lost.
It’s Saturday night on July 28, 2018. We’re at the Burdekin Hotel, poised for a night full of local acts and DJs. It’s only 8.30pm, but already, AM//PM, Sydney’s very own emo night, is in full swing as RedHook take to the stage. Looking round, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stepped back in time to your high school; the room is full of people with dyed bright hair and piercings – but everyone here is an adult, many with tattoos, and most now well into their twenties, with ‘real’ lives and grown-up jobs.
Over the last two to three years, we’ve been seeing a resurgence of emo, which is good news for those whose love of the genre wasn’t just a passing phase. This global revival has seen countries around the English-speaking world open up club nights which are simply referred to as “emo nights”. While these have been a fixture in the UK, they have more recently sprung up across the Atlantic, and Emo Nite LA and Emo Night Brooklyn have even taken their events out of their respective cities and are now on tour. Australia has its own history of such nights. During the peak emo years of the late 00’s and early 2010s, Sydney played host to the likes of Destroy All Lines’ iconic Hot Damn and MMRS, as well as Wasted Years and SFX. But the lockout laws were not kind to these events, and with the loss of Q Bar, we had to kiss goodbye to these occasions, with only hazy memories and the occasional public holiday comeback to cling to.
Are there any signs of life in Sydney’s emo scene right now? Did lockouts end it all?
“There is absolutely no doubt that lockouts were the destruction of Sydney” says Toby Bramley, one of the three men behind AM//PM. But in spite of that, he’s not pessimistic.
Talking to Bramley in an office above the maelstrom of studs, eye shadow and band-shirts that is heaving in the rooms below, is almost like talking to an artist or a band. There’s a passion - almost a creative drive - when he speaks, a compulsive inability to stop talking. AM//PM formed in the midst of the lull that happened when lockouts forced emo nights into the shadows. A labour of love for those involved - Bramley is joined by Thomas Milgate and Michael Dawson – AM//PM is the product of over 25 years of combined experience putting on nights and DJing.
After programming two packed-out nights when emo legends The Used played back-to-back dates at the Enmore Theatre in December 2016; Bramley, Milgate and Dawson collectively came to one conclusion - “this is clearly a thing again.” Not wanting to rush into anything, the trio then tentatively trialled a night with Haus Party in early 2017, and the whole thing kicked off from there.
It’s safe to say that these guys live for emo, and that’s something they always wanted to share. “When we started the vision was, let’s do a nostalgia night.” But in time, it soon came apparent to Bramley that they were appealing to a very different demographic as well. “We started getting all these people messaging us like ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait until I turn 18 so I can come.’ We were like… wait, what? We’re playing music from like 10 years ago.”
While emo is definitely the theme of the night, it’s a broad church at AM//PM. “It’s more of a club for people who were emos, or who identify with emo music, or who love emo music, but that doesn’t mean after six beers that you don’t want to dance to Taylor Swift. Even if you come out and you’re like the toughest hardcore dude who’s like ‘I just came to watch my mate’s band play’ - by midnight, you’re gonna be on that dance floor.”
And there’s definitely space for multiple styles to exist. The Burdekin has many advantages, as do the numbers that they’re pulling in each month. “It’s doing so many people now. It used to be that when the bands finished, we would just push everyone upstairs and we would just do emo room/party room. But now there’s so many people, that room stays open”. While the top floor plays wall to wall bangers, there is space for the DJs downstairs to have a little more fun with B-sides or your more obscure - some might say purist - emo.
More than “just” a party
For those who may have been drawn to the night as a way to relive past glories, there’s another reason to stay. AM//PM has been able to bring bands - both local and international - to the table (or the dancefloor), and they’re providing a platform for emerging acts in a city that has struggled in that respect.
For Bramley, “the local band scene is absolutely everything to the night and to the scene in general.” After the closure of venues such as Spectrum and Q Bar, there was little support for up-and-coming alternative rock artists.
Just as night cannot exist without day, bands and DJs have a symbiotic relationship at AM//PM. "The two can't coexist without one another" highlights Bramley. “Someone who only came for the party music walks past the band room, then they walk in, and they leave with a new favourite band. The bands kids love the party. The party kids love the band.”
AM//PM July is headlined by Stand Atlantic, a pop-punk band from Sydney who’ve been recently signed with Italian label Rude Records. Speaking to Bonnie Fraser on the night is enlightening - many of her sentiments echo exactly what Toby has been saying. For bands, she says: “it’s got a little worse ever since lockout laws and things started happening, people started going out less, and there are a lot less places to play and less all ages venues. I think we were lucky at the time we started. There were still heaps of venues. We were able to gain easy access to venues and easily play shows. [But] at the end of the day, it’s hard to pinpoint lockouts to ‘that’s the reason why your band didn’t do well.’ If you’re a good band you’ll see success.”
For Bramley, it’s as simple as giving the next generation of acts in the city a platform. “We just want more people to see them. You don’t just become a headliner overnight. You don’t get to do that unless you play 50, 60, 70 support slots. And if you don’t do that, we don’t get our next generation of headliners. And how do you have a scene if you don’t have those bands?”
They’ve got around lockout… sort of.
The Burdekin has a massive advantage, in that their lockout is 2am instead of 1.30am due to the exemption granted to certain live music venues. Half an hour might not seem like much, but Bramley sees it as crucial. “Getting that exemption was a big deal. 1.30am in people’s heads is like ‘Why would I even bother going out if it’s going to die at 1.30?’ Whereas when people think 2am, it just sounds that little bit later, and we definitely saw a jump in numbers from that, and it’s awesome that the venue was able to do that.” Closing at 4am is perfect timing, too. “It’s still packed. It doesn’t fizzle out, and you get to end on a high note.”
Bramley knows all too well the realities of lockouts on a personal level - for a time, he had to step away from the night-time economy that he loved so much, and had tried to build his career on. Lockouts came in and “within three months, your nights are doing like 300 people, instead of 700”.
So what changed? “Time. We needed to go away for three years”. Returning to live music, Bramley sees value in giving Sydney credit where credit is due. “It’s so weird… as much as everyone says it’s about Melbourne… Sydney’s the place. … There's a lot of space, and we still have the same population as Melbourne, so we just have to get people out".
And people are coming out again. While, yes, as Bramley puts it, Sydney was “the wildest shit ever in the past”, a lot of what’s going on now really boils down to stigma - “that stigma in people’s head of like, oh, Sydney’s dead now...”. Things are changing and people need to realise that the good times are still out there because once you get out and stop blaming Sydney, Sydney is actually still a place to be enjoyed.
There’s a community, and everyone is welcome
Community has always been at the heart of Sydney’s emo scene. Stand Atlantic’s Fraser knows it well, “When we were starting out, in terms of our local scene, everyone kinda knew each other and it gave us a good starting point.” For Bramley, those same words ring true. “These are our people. Everyone knows each other up here. It’s just this tight-knit little community of people who live nowhere near each other, who get on the train, and they all come to one spot”.
Emo nights are arguably not just clubs - they’re one aspect of a wider lifestyle. The same people show up every week, and make it their own. But why? “To boil it down to something that simple; it’s just that everyone likes that music. And everyone wants to bond over something in life.”
Bonnie champions the importance of these nights as well. “To Sydney as a whole, this is so good. It gives the alternative scene a place to be. Hot Damn and all that when I was getting out of school, it was the first place that I ever felt like ‘oh my god, all these people here like the same music as me.’ Now I can maybe start a band, people actually listen to this music - I didn’t realise! It gave you a feeling of feeling like you actually belong, as cliche as that sounds but it’s true. Every mini-scene makes up the Sydney scene as a whole.”
It’s easy to champion a night celebrating aspects of culture that are arguably on the fringes of society, but this is only possible when such a night is inclusive and champions diversity as well. All three of those behind AM//PM claim to be aware of their privileges in society as white males, and as such, they’re highly switched on. “We want to be the place that everyone wants to come to”. The venue itself - on Oxford Street, part of the traditionally LGBT+ friendly area of the city - wouldn’t allow them to discriminate. This attitude, for Bramley, “fit like a glove.”
When talking about getting people from diverse backgrounds involved with the nights, Bramley says “it’s more about listening, for us, as three white dudes.” He makes it clear that people of all races and genders are welcome, and that it’s queer-friendly, too. When it comes to the “massive, massive hole” in the music industry, particularly where women are involved, Bramley acknowledges that “it’s really hard in such a male dominated scene. We’re trying to book every good girl line up that is suitable to the club. Because it’s something that needs to be done. And also… why wouldn’t you? They kill it! Some of the biggest bands in our scene are female-fronted bands. To say that women can’t do good things in the scene is ridiculous”. Beyond this, AM//PM are working on representation across all aspects of the club, including in increasing their roster of knowledgeable female DJs.
What about the future of AM//PM?
Well, if Bramley’s predictions are anything to go by, we’ve not seen the last of it yet - not by a long shot. For AM//PM itself, Bramley is ambitious - “East Coast domination is our goal.” They aim to have monthly nights in Brisbane and Melbourne by the end of the year, and they have already garnered plenty of attention in these respective cities, as well as at Unify Festival, earlier in 2018. In September, Brisbane will even be headlined by the kings of party, Deez Nuts, and it won’t stop there.
As for enjoying these nights more frequently here in Sydney? Bramley’s strong on this one. “We want people to put it in the calendar and save it up. We don’t want to be greedy.” As a painter in his previous full-time life, Toby never wants to pick up a paintbrush again. “On a life level, I just want to have to not worry about having to do a real job. I probably do way more hours working on the club than I ever did painting, but it’s not the same - it’s for us. In five years’ time, if we could just be focusing on this and keeping this good - as long as we’re in the music industry, that’s our plan.”
Toby is tight-lipped when it comes to specifics, but we’ll say one thing for sure - if AM//PM continues to pull off their events as they have done so far, you should keep an eye on whatever’s coming next.
For tonight, that’s all that’s left to say, and we skip off to enjoy the night. Headliners Stand Atlantic play to a packed out room, preceded by Cambridge, Phil Wolfendale and the ultimate ones-to-watch, Redhook. After that, we find, anything really does go. And we wouldn’t change tonight for the world - even though we do leave with sore throats from screaming our hearts out, and legs covered in a highly suspect sticky black mess that’s somehow coated the floor.
AM//PM Emo Night
Selected Saturdays, 8pm - 4am