C.O.F.F.I.N are doing things their own way
After 14 years of kicking shit against an increasingly well-behaved music industry, it seems C.O.F.F.I.N are finally poised for some larger scale attention. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride.
As a teenager on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, C.O.F.F.I.N gigs felt like large-scale community events. You’d arrive at whatever venue was brave enough to let them play, and you’d see virtually everyone you knew—school mates, older cousins, local store owners, people you recognised from the bus—everyone.
The shows were absolute fucking mayhem. The band would launch through their thrashy brand of skate-punk and punters would hurl their bodies (and pieces of furniture) around the room.
It was a scene far removed from the advertised serenity of the Northern Beaches, but from the chaos emerged a sense of community that my group of mates had never before felt in our local area.
In a recent interview with The Face, Amyl & The Sniffers frontwoman Amy Taylor described C.O.F.F.I.N’s live show to a tee. “They’re rowdy, but they treat everyone with respect and make sure everyone gets a go – that’s important to them, and it sums up everything I like about live music,” she said. “Even if the crowd’s rowdy, there’s space for everyone. It’s inclusive.”
It’s true. C.O.F.F.I.N stand for community first and music second. Every person in the audience feeds into something bigger than the band itself.
C.O.F.F.I.N (Children Of Finland Fighting In Norway) began in 2005 when Ben Portnoy (drums/vocals), Arthur Flanders (guitar), Abijah Rado (guitar), and Ziggy McNeill (former bassist) scored a support slot for Hard-Ons at the Manly Youth Centre. Ben, Arty, and Ziggy were all 12-years-old, Abijah was 13.
“Abijah smashed his guitar at our first show,” Ben recalls.
“Yeah there was this cinder block on stage, so I smashed it on that,” Abijah adds. “But everything else smashed before the guitar did. Everything turned to rubble, then I just kept slamming the guitar on the stage.”
In the 14 years that have passed since that gig, the band have undergone a handful of lineup changes (mostly involving bass players), but Ben, Arty, and Abijah have remained solid for well over a decade. Now, with Laurence Adams on bass (the same person who booked that 2005 Hard-Ons gig) and Aaron Moss on a third guitar, it seems they’ve landed on a concrete lineup.
The chaos from that first Manly gig has well-and-truly carried on into adulthood. Notoriously, C.O.F.F.I.N are barred from playing almost all venues on the Northern Beaches. The Hotel Steyne, The Old Manly Boatshed, Narrabeen RSL, Shark Bar, Nomad Brewery, The Time & Tide Hotel, and Park House in Mona Vale have all highlighted C.O.F.F.I.N’s name in red.
“Harbord Bowling Club originally banned us,” Ben says. “Then they changed management, and now they keep asking us to come back.”
“After all their failed nights of shit Cold Chisel cover bands, they’ve realised how much money we make them,” Arty adds.
“It’s weird with the beaches,” Ben continues, “because what you hear from our parents’ generation is that this was a hot spot for live music. It was so rowdy.”
“You look at these dance parties and regular club nights… people are suped-up on coke, everyone’s all about image and ego… that’s way more dangerous than a punk gig. But punk gigs look more intimidating.
“Venues never expect us to bring the crowd that we do, then the crowd overwhelms the venue… it’s something we always keep in mind. If someone’s bleeding, it’s never from face-to-face combat. An arm’s just been flown, and everyone’s fine with it. But when security and venue managers see it, they start pulling power.
“These security guards, these old-school thugs, will start going into the crowd and man-handling kids who already have problems with authority. Then the kid will say ‘don’t touch me dickhead’, then punches start getting thrown, then it looks like C.O.F.F.I.N have incited a fight.”
“The violence at our shows always comes from the seccos,” Mossy says.
“Our crowds look after each other. Someone gets knocked down, you help them back up,” Loz adds.
Although C.O.F.F.I.N have spent the past number of years struggling to book a local show, their following has only strengthened. With a string of EPs, two full-length albums, and a series of national and international tours under their belts, the band have fought through any shit-headery to establish themselves as one of Sydney’s favourite punk acts.
With almost no industry backing, it’s an absolute miracle they’re still charging ahead so relentlessly.
The only managers C.O.F.F.I.N have ever had are mates. Even Mossy gave it a crack at one point, before he was “demoted to guitarist“. But largely, the only backing they’ve had is from community.
“Everything has always been paid for by ourselves. Even the art is done by ourselves or friends,” Ben says.
Without managers or labels to tell them what kind of music they should play, or how they should play it, C.O.F.F.I.N are one of the few authentic punk groups left in Australia. They’ve built a following doing whatever they’ve felt like doing.
For their most recent release—a three-track 7″ that includes a cover of Celibate Rifles’ Back In The Red (released coincidentally the day before Damien Lovelock’s passing)—C.O.F.F.I.N have been backed by The Chats’ new record label Bargain Bin Records. The new EP is C.O.F.F.I.N’s first release with any kind of label, and it’s a fitting alignment.
So now, after 14 years of kicking shit against an increasingly well-behaved music industry, it appears the band are finally poised for some kind of larger-scale attention. But the foundation of the band has been built on something far more deep-rooted than any other hyped new rock n’ roll group.
I think C.O.F.F.I.N are the best band in the fucking world. Not because their songs are better than everyone else’s, but because they don’t care. For Ben, Arty, Abijah, Loz, and Mossy, being in a band isn’t some competition. And for that reason, they’ve already won.
“Look at where we are now. We’ve got no one to thank but ourselves. We’ve been a band since 2005. I don’t know any other people that have been in a band with their mates since they were fucking twelve.
“At the end of the day, that’s what saved us. I don’t care if we play to no one, if I get to hang out with these people then it doesn’t matter. Doing this with these guys is the best thing ever. It’s like being brothers.”
Words by Bill Robinson
Photos by Pat O’Hara