Sounds like: Karen O swigging a bottle of gin in the desert with The Velvet Underground.


‘Twas a Saturday night when glassy-eyed thirty-something-year-olds streamed down into the depths of the OAF den, where others were already milling around with booze in hand. It was a little surprising – a gentle nod to the early noughties and the loyalties that still exist towards its niche soundscapes (see: “country-goth”). Yes, that was a thing.

By the time Glassmaps (Howling Bells’ lead guitarist Joel Stein gone solo) hit the stage with his no-frills rock, the room was abuzz. Backed by Bells’ drummer Glenn Moule, Stein had feet tapping with some smooth melodies and bluesy numbers.

Local Sydney four-piece Cull hit the stage next, pushing their shoegaze sound with some serious guitar riffage. Jamming through tracks from their Bà Nội EP, the boys championed psych-rock tendencies, though their sound was marred by the overdose of effects and layers with some of the melodies seeming to get lost along the way.

When Sydney expats Howling Bells took the stage, the night became a warm homecoming of sorts. Squeals and cheers were kept to a minimum, the older crowd preferring to lean in with attentiveness, anticipation, and inevitable nostalgia. Lead singer Juanita Stein dazzled centre-stage in a gold mesh blouse, strumming the audience through sultry new cuts from their Heartstrings album. Having been worked on by the producers behind Depeche Mode, Foals, The Killers and PJ Harvey releases, the new tracks stayed faithful to the Bells’ signature gloom-pop inflections, while veering into radio-friendly territory. Of course, old favourites were on the cards too – ‘Low Happening’ (i.e. the song you rocked out to on The OC season 3) warranted some semi-enthused singalongs across the floor.

While the Bells hit each beat with the fluidity of a band in its tenth year, the polished sound and detached banter made it feel as though they had outgrown small venue status, instead giving off the impression of a compressed stadium show. That’s not to say all weren’t left humming along after the last bar.



Featured image: photo by Kate Booker Photography