Live Review: Melbourne punk throttles as Horace Bones headline The Tote Upstairs

Don’t think that because The Tote “Upstairs” had a renovation, it’s lost any of its degenerate charm. If anything, the red-lighted, red-walled room has increased its appeal for debauchery, with Horace Bones’ single launch on Saturday night being no exception. The line-up featured some of the loudest and filthiest in Melbourne punk; a standard Saturday night for The Tote.

Tony Dork nearly made my ear drums blead, with their simple riffs and ‘don’t give a fuck’ Australian millennial vibes. It’s shred-til-you’re-dead, throw a beer at a mate, unstoppable punk; these boys really don’t care, they’re just stoked to be here. Think of a Dune Rats kind of vibe; if they started sniffing glue instead of smoking weed, and breaking shit instead of skating.

The vocalist threw down his guitar at one point, just to ensure there was ample fighting and ground-rolling happening in the front row. The most serious moment of their set was when the bassist revealed his waist-length pigtails to be a wig. There were gasps through the crowd. I’m not exaggerating that this was more controversial than their song “Incest Porn”.

If you haven’t heard of Melbourne’s Press Club, you will soon. They’ve already opened for the likes of The Pretty Littles, Tired Lion and West Thebarton Brothel Party, have dropped an awesome music video for ‘Headwreck’, and are delivering their alt-rock/punk sound at venues across Melbourne. Vocalist Natalie Foster has unwavering vocals, is more hair than woman at times, and emanates a natural on-stage persona, giving off the vibe that you’re asking her permission to be at this gig. She drops to the floor, writhes up as if possessed, all the while having unbroken on-stage chemistry with the other band members, particularly guitarist Greg Rietwyk. Hell, Greg deserves a special shout out for his sheer number of high kicks, as well as powering flawlessly through a broken D-string on the last track.

The Tote Upstairs always feels filthy – so much beer has been spilled on the floors (and walls) that the smell of stale beer emanates from every surface – but it’s never felt filthier than when Bench Press took the stage. Something about their sound is just dirty, a bogan Minor Threat, a post-punk that’s jarring and at times uncomfortable. What they lacked in the on-stage insanity of the previous acts, their confronting lyrics and relentless rhythms more than made up for. Think Talking Heads and Parquet Courts formed a punk band, then injected themselves with Melbourne suburbia.

Before Horace Bones could take the stage, the room was sold out and packed to boiling – yes, boiling. That room was hot. The deceitful bassist (not forgiven for the wig incident) from Tony Dork also beat the band to the stage, doing a very *interesting* rendition of “Stranger Danger” and Horace Bones impression. Thanks beer, you make some wonderful things happen.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting venue for Melbourne’s most horrific (compliment) band taking the stage, with the red lighting alternating for a pitch black room, strobes interjecting at random. It was with this thoroughfare the group took the stage and played “Tarantula”, which naturally immediately started a mosh.

The venomous four-piece were at perhaps their finest I’ve seen, throwing back to the crowd as much energy as we were giving. Vocalist Oisin led the push-pull dynamic; a relentless Irish terror, brandishing a mic stand as a weapon, pushing the tide of punters off stage.

“Shoot to Kill” was definitely part of their finest moments on stage, utilising the blackened room and ominous bass line to build an atmosphere. The return of the red lighting illuminated the menacing Dern Cockburn, bass player and serial killer lookalike, the source of the climatic riff. New track “Van Diemens Land” was a rampant success, with a slow build of discordant noise before the usual Horace Bones veracity, described by Oisin as being “about our forefathers… about our history that’s been too long neglected.” Beneath a sweaty barrage of hair, Caz (the enigmatic guitarist) drove the song – keep your ears out for the release of this one.

One of the last things I anticipated to see was a cover of Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby”, the track vilified in a way that only Horace Bones could, Oisin crowd surfing through a flawless rendition. The set was of course rounded out with single “Stranger Danger”, the call-and-response vocals and perilous guitar riff seeing the crowd rush the stage, crowd surfers a plenty, and a mass mosh.

This single launch gig was one of the best I’ve seen at The Tote in a long time. It’s nearly like someone was asked to grab four bands that they saw as the future of punk in Melbourne. If this is the future, I doubt The Tote will still be standing within a year.

The reviewer attended this show on May 27th. “Stranger Danger” is out now – stay up to date with the group via



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