die! die! die! on the birmingham floor

Following the devastating closure of the temple of rock'n'roll, I, like countless other Melbourne music lovers, have been repeatedly asking myself Where the hell will we go now? But I've been thinking, and while the Tote's demise is undoubtedly tragic (more on that in the next week or so), Melbourne does have several other spectacularly worthy music venues.

I have written about The Birmingham before, where I also mentioned the secret Ground Components gig I was lucky enough to attend early last year. It was hot. It was sweaty. It was cramped. It was incredible. The tiny band room can be offputting to the uninitiated, but the intimacy between the bands and the crowd (the stage is about five inches off the ground) combined with the general claustrophobia induced by the proximity of the walls to one another creates a wonderfully communal music experience - which is the great thing about so many of Melbourne's small music venues (The Old Bar, Bar Open and the John Curtin also come to mind). At various stages during the overwhelmingly energetic set, fans were screaming the lyrics back at Joey so hard and so close that it was more a constant duet between Ground Components and their worshippers than something to be objectively observed.

The above photo, which captures the characteristically intense frontman and the equally enthusiastic crowd, could have been taken during any one of their songs, and to be honest, I can't remember which. But I like to think that the shutter may have opened in the middle of this rousing chorus:

They said I wasn't meant for this
A life that can't and won't be missed

So go ahead and blow a kiss

To a life that keeps my hands down by my side

The frenetic crowd isn't visible in this shot, which renders it slightly vacant, or somehow lacking. I'm also suspicious of the mic stand threatening to obscure the subject's face. I still adore the image, though; it absolutely recalls the energy of the room, if only because the impassioned scream erupting from the bass player is obviously spur-of-the-moment genuine - that is, he's not doing it for any kind of musical benefit because he doesn't have a mic. He's totally lost in the moment, just like everyone else in that sonic sauna.

Sweaty strangers crammed into a pub's dirty back room, collectively and euphorically belting out lyrics as a few blokes on a crappy stage spew gut-wrenching rock'n'roll into every crevice: This is Melbourne music, and you can still find it thriving throughout the city every Friday, Saturday, Tuesday night. You just have to look. And listen. And scream.

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