On January 21 2017, the Bendigo Hotel in Collingwood was packed with people wearing metal shirts, piercings and tattoos, edgy haircuts, rocker boots. Soon, a death metal band would carry acoustic instruments onstage and play calm music. It was a Saturday afternoon and the band had just cooked everyone a barbecue.
When the group took their seats, there were no cheers. Their presence sucked the noise away and the Bendigo went quiet, respectful. Singer/violinist Tim Charles said hi and told the onlookers that they weren’t quite sure how to do this. Then the progressive death metal act Ne Obliviscaris (NeO for short) started to play in a way they never had before.
For a while the crowd was still and then uncertain. Soon a slow headbang rippled through the front rows. Like the band, they were relearning how the music worked. Soon these metalheads were grooving, swaying their heads, and smiling.
This crowd was the band’s Patreon supporters, called the Ne Obluminati. The name began as an in-joke when vocalist Xen Campbell started adding triangles to the band’s album art. Triangles are a popular symbol for the Illuminati, a theoretical group of families that control the earth. If NeO was going to shill for the world’s secret puppetmasters, they might as well let in their fans.
This is a review of the music community, not the music. But since you’re now probably curious how they sounded, NeO in acoustic is a rhythm experience because their sounds aren’t as varied, but they’re still pretty. It’s like Apocalyptica hijacked by the Baltic gypsies that inspired guitarist Benjamin “Benji” Baret. It’s a symphony conducted by Tommy Emmanuel, Eric Clapton and some acoustic master.
Xen usually screams for the band, but decided that wouldn’t work today. Savvy musos might have noticed some notes changed or taken out, or that Benji improvised half the show. Although he’s a keen acoustic guitarist, Benji says he found rewriting much more difficult than the other band members. Tim’s violin is already acoustic and drummer Dan Presland swapped his huge, cymbal-forested drum kit for a bongo.
NeO have received mixed support for crowdfunding their music. While they raised over $80,000 to tour America, fans and the band itself say there’s constant backlash. This has been the case since crowdfunding began. Campaigns from artists like Eskimo Joe, TLC and Amanda Palmer have all faced loud criticism.
At-the-time bassist Brendan Brown said most hate they’ve gotten is for the idea of being a professional musician.
Tim Charles talked about this “You’ve-already-made-it” attitude in a 2016 speech to Aussie music industry festival BIGSOUND. People kept congratulating him on arriving and becoming a great musician, while the band struggled to pay rent and lost their jobs to the commitment of touring.
In NeO’s defence, the age of the rich famous rockstar is dead. Soon we must find a new way for artists to earn or accept that music isn’t a business anymore. If bands of regular rockers stop making it big, the voice of our next generation will be autotuned.
In the week before the acoustic show, NeO’s support on Patreon rose by about $2,500 per month. They’re now at $10,000. At $15,000, they will be earning minimum wage for their music. As a way to win sponsors, the Saturday barbecue was an enormous success and may hail a new way to pay the artist.
The metal business has changed, but the scene hasn’t. After the show Benji was inside, delivering one of the greatest rants I’ve ever heard.
“Some fourteen-years-old who should just go to school instead of reading weird ass websites can say, like,” the Frenchman grabbed my shoulders and imitated an Internet comment he’d once read, “‘Oh, you guys are Illuminatis! You are the Devil!’ Oh my god. You have five seconds to give me a real definition of what means Illuminati, or I am punching you in the face right now.
“We have to make shirts saying ‘I am an Illuminati’ or some shit.”
He ranted because he was among friends. This crowd was fans, other musicians, industry people relaxing together. Many, perhaps most, knew each other. You don’t get obnoxiously famous bands here. Benji spends his tour time in local communities, absorbing the culture. Tim has a family – Saturday was the first time his daughter saw him live. Dan quit his $150,000 per year train driving job last year to continue his gigging lifestyle. Like metal itself, their music is diverse because they are diverse.
When the music stopped that day there was a wall shaking cheer, then a swell of loud conversation. Metalheads enjoy noise. When they’re loud, they’re happy. Many of these people had only started funding the band a week ago and now they were friends. That afternoon, hate or love it, we felt like something new had been born.