More than Steel & Coal is a compilation that is meant to showcase the best music that the current Newcastle scene has to offer. It is a timely and ambitious effort. The influence of Newcastle’s scene on the national cultural climate ebbs and flows over time: think of Silverchair, Conation, and Jen Buxton (who appears on this compilation) as examples of how one great record from Newy can change the direction of the punk or alternative scenes nationally. A big part of this would be through Triple J exposure but more importantly, it’s the ethos behind the music; the statements that the music makes, the climate it comes from, the voices it speaks for.
Before analysing the choice of tracks, it is important to take note of a few things. A compilation says as much about the person who put it together as it does about the music that it is composed of. What that means here is that this release is one person’s ideas about what can be considered representative of the Newcastle music scene, but with that comes bias and taste and all the other subjective synonyms that I shouldn’t mention, lest I be accused of being a pretentious pseudo left dilettante (see my Paper Thin review on the Opus website).
Yet again, with everything Newcastle-related, there is a gender problem here. A clear majority of performers on the record being male or male-presenting. I can’t speak to the gender of every performer as I don’t know every performer personally. I guess that is representative of the scene though, so who knows. Another point is that this compilation seems to primarily represent music made with guitars; a certain genre or genres are privileged.
Language is defined by its usage, so I guess that calling this a mixtape in 2017 is a misnomer since that term has come to be integral to African American music and culture. But that’s no matter – if I don’t like it I guess I can just boo (see the response to Childish Gambino’s DJ set at the Cambridge Hotel in 2015).
The tracks here are representative of the Newcastle mates scene; if you go to the Lass O’Gowrie or the Hamilton Station Hotel, this is the kind of music that you will be exposed to. The tracks themselves are good, some of them so good it’s painful, but the further you get through the tracklist the question of who this compilation is for comes to mind. I’m sure the rebuttal would be “what have you done for the scene” which I can respond with a resounding “nothing”, except give it my money, which in our capitalist system is the best I can do. I give the products of my labour to peoples’ artistic expression.
Anyway, I digress. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the ordering of tracks here, creating a rolling sense that you are on a journey. The mood rises and falls, much like the feeling of driving along the F3 as the sun starts to set, following through past the Hunter River on your way into town, off to the Great Northern to watch a mate play an acoustic set. Have a beer, a cheeky dart, you exhale smoke and despair towards the Newcastle Ocean Baths where you remember having your first kiss on a hot summer night. Mum dropped you off even though it was late, skin salty before you got in the water. You wish that summer would be over, but knowing that with the end of summer you come closer to having to become responsible. There aren’t any jobs left in the works or in the pits.
You don’t know what you are going to do but it doesn’t matter now; you are snapped back to the present, your mate has finished his set and now it’s time to head back to the bar, because this town must have more to offer than steel and coal, there must be more, there has to be.
Michael Labone is an Education student and the current NUSA President.
Story image: ‘More Than Steel and Coal’ Facebook.