It’s Friday night at the Nivara Lounge. On the stage, guitars knobs are being twiddled, microphones are being tested, and a keyboard is being set up on an ironing board. Offstage, the venue is full of people; some nursing a drink at a table in a dark corner, others yelling to each other over punk music on the PA. Standing by the entrance down the stairs is Arpie, the dude that put this all together. Merch for his new band, Bitter Defeat, is for sale beside him, the ink on the t-shirts still drying from when he painted them earlier that day.
For the last two years, Arpie has been heading up Hamilton Underground Press – a collective of people running live concerts, hosting touring bands, writing online blogs, recording podcasts, photocopying zines, and generally just keeping the local scene alive through the power of sheer will. As well as the regular shows they organise, HUP also runs Future City Fest, a two night, multi-venue gig that this year, saw bands like The Datsuns and Dad Jokes come through our shitty little town.
If you think that sounds like a lot of work, you’d be right. There’s a lot of shit you have to do to put a concert together, and it’s easy to get down on yourself if your gig gets a subpar turnout or everything goes wrong on the night (as it always does). Putting on a “successful” show can be difficult here, and requires a fair bit of gumption.
‘I guess you have to define what a successful show is,’ says Arpie. ‘If the people that come along have fun and so do the band, it’s probably a success. My motivation is, as basic as it sounds, to make cool stuff happen in Hamilton—stuff I would go and see if someone else was doing it. It’s that simple for me. If you have basic organisation skills, it’s easy to put a show on. I think that if you care about something and believe in it enough you never really give up, maybe just have a break now and then.’
For Hamilton to truly come alive, we need people like the crew at HUP making things happen. If you want to see good shows and great bands, the best way to see that happen is to do it yourself. You don’t need a degree or experience or a heap of money. You just need to have the drive and passion to see something mean happen in our city.
‘I strongly believe that the number one thing that will improve things, at least in terms of nurturing a local scene, is for people to form more bands here,’ Arpie reckons. ‘We have a lot of the building blocks in place in Hamilton—radio, great venues, tradition, festivals, helpful press, studios—there’s just not enough cool local bands to make interesting shows every weekend, or every other weekend.
‘For ages, I thought the problem was people just not going to shows, then I realised that’s not actually very fair or right. If there were more bands, more interesting bands with characters and good songs, then people would go out more! So, whatever is needed to make it more attractive or easier to start a band – that’s what needs to happen, especially the youth.’