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Reflecting on a decade in Sydney music with Philadelphia Grand Jury

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With two albums and nearly a decade of playing together under their belts, Philadelphia Grand Jury remain one of Sydney’s most loved bands. The trio of Dan W. Sweat, MC Bad Genius and Simon ‘Berkfinger’ Berckelman struck a much-needed chord with their catchy pop rock back in 2009, and those strings are still singing.

Though it’s been some time since they crushed the airwaves with The Good News or Going To The Casino, they’re still selling out shows. They’re one hell of a good time, and nothing will change that anytime soon.

One such show is Oktoberwest 2018 in Marrickville, a celebration of two of the Inner West’s most important mainstays; beer and live music. Ahead of the gig we sat down in Young Henrys brewery for a very enjoyable, albeit very tangental chat.

Philadelphia Grand Jury Dani Hansen Happy Mag Oktoberwest

Photos: Dani Hansen

What’s changed in Sydney over the last decade? Waltz through the city’s past with Philadelphia Grand Jury before they rock Oktoberwest 2018.

HAPPY: I wanted to start by asking about Sydney 10 years ago, when the Philly Jays started. Were you always in the Inner West?

BERKFINGER: Surry Hills was the spot. Surry Hills, you’d walk down the street and see everyone that you know. It was cheap.

HAPPY: Awesome.

BERKFINGER: Now Surry Hills is horrible, when was the last time you went to Surry Hills?

HAPPY: Well it’s definitely not cheap. So I’m going to rattle off a few Inner West ‘things’ and you tell me if that thing was better or worse in 2009. Sound good?

BERKFINGER: Ok.

HAPPY: Obvious first choice… breweries?

DAN W. SWEAT: Better.

HAPPY: Better back then?

DAN W. SWEAT: Oh no, better now!

BERKFINGER: There were no breweries, what was the first one?

DAN W. SWEAT: I don’t even know if I knew that breweries existed then. So definitely better, by virtue of them existing.

HAPPY: I thought that might be the case. How about graffiti?

BERKFINGER: Graffiti’s gone really downhill, I think.

HAPPY: In what way?

BERKFINGER: I don’t know, really. Next to our house there’s just this big, fireball smiley face, which is ugly.

DAN W. SWEAT: What counts as graffiti now, all street art?

HAPPY: Let’s go with both legal or illegal.

DAN W. SWEAT: Someone painted a very nice bee on this electrical substation across the road from me. So that’s a thumbs up from me.

MC BAD GENIUS: I like the one of George Pell and Tony Abbott.

BERKFINGER: That was killer.

MC BAD GENIUS: But that didn’t last very long.

HAPPY: It didn’t, sadly.

MC BAD GENIUS: That was a pretty awesome statement, I thought.

BERKFINGER: Someone painted over the George Michael one too.

HAPPY: They were all the same artist, there was a bit of a crusade against him after the Pell one.

BERKFINGER: So better!

DAN W. SWEAT: Scottie Marsh painted my flatmate, Tash.

BERKFINGER: Is Tash just your flatmate?

DAN W. SWEAT: Well, my girlfriend. He painted it on this thing, an amazing painting, and then they painted over it like a month later. So yeah, she was a bit offended.

BERKFINGER: I think rough ass, punk graffiti is worse, but official graffiti is better.

DAN W. SWEAT: Officially sanctioned street art is better.

HAPPY: Good answer. Rehearsal rooms?

BERKFINGER: I really miss Troy Horse.

DAN W. SWEAT: I miss Sound Level in Ultimo.

BERKFINGER: Sound Level was under the Harbour Bridge almost!

DAN W. SWEAT: It was very good, it had very long halls. You could skateboard from one end to the other.

MC BAD GENIUS: I don’t know, I’m kind of happy not to have to go to rehearsal rooms now.

BERKFINGER: That’s because we have a pimp recording studio to work in. That’s a bit naughty… I don’t think we should say that.

DAN W. SWEAT: There’s also no more Top End, that closed a few weeks ago.

BERKFINGER: There was that one, Video Club, where the guy walked around smoking in a kimono. That’s pretty cool. You know about it?

MC BAD GENIUS: Nah.

BERKFINGER: There’s one in Marrickville called Video Club, and their Instagram is just this guy.

Philadelphia Grand Jury Dani Hansen Happy Mag Oktoberwest

DAN W. SWEAT: Stage Door in Alexandria, I don’t know if that was there 10 years ago.

BERKFINGER: No, it’s always been there and it’s always sucked.

HAPPY: Really divisive subject, always. You guys been to Paul’s?

BERKFINGER: No.

HAPPY: It’s this crazy one in Marrickville run by this guy Paul.

BERKFINGER: Oh I know Paul! Paul did our sound when we played on that roof.

HAPPY: You don’t need backline because it’s full of amps that he’s repaired.

BERKFINGER: Like ’60s and 70’s Fenders.

MC BAD GENIUS: I can’t go to Zen because I get freaked out by all the cats in the carpark. There’s like, 40 cats. It’s really scary.

BERKFINGER: (to Dan) You can’t go there since they put the blue lights in the bathroom, right?

DAN W. SWEAT: I don’t know how to respond to that. That was pretty good.

HAPPY: Well that section is done and dusted.

DAN W. SWEAT: I liked that section.

HAPPY: Well, does anything else spring to mind?

DAN W. SWEAT: Venues come and go I guess.

HAPPY: I thought about putting venues in there, but as you say they’re kind of always in flux.

DAN W. SWEAT: Yeah I’m not saying there’s more or less, one closes and another one pops up in its place.

HAPPY: Exactly.

BERKFINGER: Our street in Marrickville is like Nashville. There’s like 12 recording studios on the street, and three venues.

HAPPY: Where Golden Retriever is?

BERKFINGER: Yeah, on Faversham St.

MC BAD GENIUS: There’s some rehearsal rooms down the street as well.

BERKFINGER: I’ve heard of people moving from Melbourne to that street.

MC BAD GENIUS: To make it.

HAPPY: Nice. On the music side, in Sydney right now there’s a big punk thing and a big psychedelic thing, what was the thing Sydney was slamming in 2009?

DAN W. SWEAT: It was kind of the tail-end of garage rock, wasn’t it?

MC BAD GENIUS: It was electro?

BERKFINGER: No, like offbeat hi-hat, funk punk. Like Red Riders and stuff, all those bands.

DAN W. SWEAT: Yeah all that, I don’t know what you call it, nu-disco or something? Klaxons style bands were tailing off. It was also the end of garage rock, Strokes and Jet style bands were tailing off a little.

BERKFINGER: Garage though? I reckon there’s more garage around now.

HAPPY: There’s a lot of garage now. Especially old-school, like ’60s/’70s garage.

BERKFINGER: When we got played on triple j people were like “you won’t get played on triple j because you play garage rock ‘n’ roll. They don’t play that”.

DAN W. SWEAT: There’s the wave of, I don’t know, skate punk? Like Dune Rats and that. DZ Deathrays, I don’t know, what do you call it?

BERKFINGER: Bong punk.

DAN W. SWEAT: Yeah! After Frenzal Rhomb and stuff it kind of went away for a bit. Now it’s back big time.

BERKFINGER: Do you know about the time I mixed Dune Rats and they couldn’t pay their bill for ages? And I eventually hassled them and they were like “Awww man…”, you know how they speak? That’s how they write emails, they were like “I’m gonna have to get my mum to pay, ay, we’ll put it on her credit card.” And their mum paid for their first mix.

DAN W. SWEAT: Hope they paid it back.

BERKFINGER: I think they paid it back.

HAPPY: I think they’re pretty sorted now.

BERKFINGER: They would literally write “yewwww!” 

Philadelphia Grand Jury Dani Hansen Happy Mag Oktoberwest

HAPPY: As a couple of guys who have done the music thing for a while, do you find yourself looking at new bands with a different eye? Like noticing different things?

DAN W. SWEAT: I think that people are way cooler now than we used to be. People are more savvy, earlier on.

BERKFINGER: Now you’re not allowed to be 19 and in a really shit band, like how our first band was a really bad punk band. If you do that, your career’s over. And I do miss that, all the good bands I know of usually did something terrible first, realised it was terrible, but they went there. (To Dan) Art vs. Science, no offence, you guys were doing hard rock then you went “no one’s listening to this”, then you got keyboards and you got huge. So I don’t know.

HAPPY: And you feel like that doesn’t happen now?

BERKFINGER: I think that’s your training, you know? You’ve got to be really crap for a while.

MC BAD GENIUS: You need to have that experience of people hating your music.

HAPPY: I feel like a lot of people now won’t lead their first band, they’ll be in a backing role and they’ll learn from there.

DAN W. SWEAT: There’s maybe a lot less bands who play to three or four years to nobody, there’s a lot more people who can be their own band in their bedrooms. They can get quite good at writing songs before they even do a show, that happens more now.

BERKFINGER: But then is the show good?

MC BAD GENIUS: If the people come, is the show good?

BERKFINGER: If the people come again, the show is good.

HAPPY: On to Oktoberwest, which is on this weekend.

MC BAD GENIUS: Sold out!

HAPPY: Sold out! And we’re doing promo!

DAN W. SWEAT: Stop the interview!

HAPPY: They’ll say “Can you delay this interview for 12 months?”

DAN W. SWEAT: And have us play again…

HAPPY: Regardless! Simon you spent some time in Berlin, and the rest of you visited. Did either of you live there there or just stay to record?

DAN W. SWEAT: Not really, I went for a few months to visit Simon.

BERKFINGER: You had a couple of months in an apartment, thinking about life and shit.

DAN W. SWEAT: Simon was there for five years, probably?

HAPPY: Did any of you make it to the actual Oktoberfest?

DAN W. SWEAT: My friend Luke and I wandered around the area where Oktoberfest was, a month later.

MC BAD GENIUS: It was more of a southern German thing, I think.

DAN W. SWEAT: We just saw the aftermath.

BERKFINGER: I don’t really like Germans… but I like beer.

HAPPY: You stayed there for five years…

BERKFINGER: Yeah, but there weren’t many Germans in my life. I like French people, I like Spanish people.

HAPPY: Does Berlin do anything while Oktoberfest is on?

BERKFINGER: I reckon it’s not cool in Berlin. For a start beer is like, one Euro everywhere. So it’s kind of always Oktoberfest. For the Germans in the South it’s just an excuse to get your gear on and get a little crazy.

HAPPY: What’s the best beer you had over there?

DAN W. SWEAT: Augustiner.

BERKFINGER: Augustiner. It’s been made the same since the 1200s by monks.

DAN W. SWEAT: By the same monk.

HAPPY: By drinking the beer?

DAN W. SWEAT: He’s stayed alive for 800 years because of how good the beer is.

BERKFINGER: Didn’t German monks invent beer? I’m pretty sure Bavarian monks invented beer.

MC BAD GENIUS: We could look that up, or we could just trust you.

HAPPY: I’ll believe it.

DAN W. SWEAT: The German monks set up a brewery in China, and that’s where they make Tsingtao. The same happened in Japan, I think.

HAPPY: So there’s this old cult of original German beer monks?

DAN W. SWEAT: Like missionaries, but beer.

BERKFINGER: But you can’t get a pale ale in Berlin.

Philadelphia Grand Jury Dani Hansen Happy Mag Oktoberwest

MC BAD GENIUS: This is a tangent, but missionaries actually destroyed the great silk road from China to Europe. What they did was they sent monks across to China, they had staves for walking sticks and they hollowed out those sticks and filled them with silk worms. These monks brought the silkworms all the way back to Italy…

BERKFINGER: Suss monks.

MC BAD GENIUS: …and they started producing silk and having silk worm colonies, so it destroyed the trading route.

HAPPY: There it is.

DAN W. SWEAT: Also, Suss Monks is a really good name for a band.

BERKFINGER: How much does a dolphin weigh? Male, bottlenose.

MC BAD GENIUS: Are we just doing random facts?

DAN W. SWEAT: 800kg.

HAPPY: I’d go like, 250.

BERKFINGER: Lower.

MC BAD GENIUS: Lower, really?

HAPPY: They’re kind of human sized.

BERKFINGER: 160kg.

DAN W. SWEAT: Yeah, 800 was pretty out on a limb there.

HAPPY: This has been very educational. I had a follow-up question about oom-pah bands but now it seems very out of place.

DAN W. SWEAT: My friend Dan, from my other band, believes he can draw a direct line between oom-pah music and techno. Because it has the same up-down, two-beat pulse.

MC BAD GENIUS: He wanted to create a techno band with people playing oom-pah instruments.

DAN W. SWEAT: He did, and we tried one time and it was… an experiment.

Philadelphia Grand Jury Dani Hansen Happy Mag Oktoberwest

BERKFINGER:  (to Dan) Who’s a band in Sydney that you like?

DAN W. SWEAT: Uhhh…

BERKFINGER: I like Sunscreen.

HAPPY: Sunscreen are great.

MC BAD GENIUS: I just heard that Body Type song on the radio, I liked it.

HAPPY: They recorded at Golden Retriever!

DAN W. SWEAT: I went and saw Psychedelic Porn Crumpets on the weekend and it was super awesome. I don’t know if they’re from Sydney or not.

HAPPY: They’re from Perth, I’m seeing them tomorrow night.

DAN W. SWEAT: They were very excellent. I saw Hobo Magic too recently, they were on a similar line to Psychedelic Porn Crumpets and they were awesome. Again, not from Sydney. Riffs are back!

MC BAD GENIUS: My time to shine!

HAPPY: Now this has been lovely, all over the place, but lovely. But we gotta wrap it up… on your website there’s mention of a tour – you’ve sidestepped the traditional tour format before by doing a run of live karaoke shows, are you going to change it up again?

DAN W. SWEAT: Don’t know yet. Work in progress.

BERKFINGER: We have to decide on the next single, that’s what has to happen.

HAPPY: So there’s a body of work coming?

BERKFINGER: Yeah, there’s probably an EP ready to go but we’re probably going to hold off on a new song until early next year. We’re going to spend all our money in the bank on a pimp film clip.

DAN W. SWEAT: We are going to try three new songs on Saturday, to see how they go.

MC BAD GENIUS: And a special secret cover.

HAPPY: Any hints?

BERKFINGER: Stutz Bearcat.

MC BAD GENIUS: That’s a good clue.

HAPPY: Umm…

BERKFINGER: You’ll get it when you Google it.

MC BAD GENIUS: Or he’ll just get pictures of cars.

BERKFINGER: No, a Stutz Bearcat is the car Mr. Burns drives when they cut back to him in college.

HAPPY: So it’s a Simpsons cover!

BERKFINGER: It’s Do The Bartman. Which I had the cassette of!

MC BAD GENIUS: I had a whole album of Simpsons songs. They sold one.

HAPPY: I never thought about that, there are so many good songs.

DAN W. SWEAT: Isn’t there that punk band that only does Simpsons songs?

BERKFINGER: Don’t they dress as Ned Flanders?

HAPPY: I think we’re sweet to finish there.

MC BAD GENIUS: Come to Oktoberwest!

 

Philadelphia Grand Jury play Oktoberwest 2018 on Saturday 6 October at The Factory Theatre in Marrickville. The Saturday night  is sold out, but Sunday tickets are still available!

Grab your tickets here. Use codeword ‘happy’ for a sneaky $10 off.

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October 4, 2018