The Localist

Play Bar – Beats, Breaks and Hip Hop in Surry Hills

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A few Fridays ago I was rounding up an enjoyable evening with some lounge room karaoke, as you do. Sipping away on my coffee mug of white wine, waiting for my turn on the microphone, I suddenly wondered if my planned rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Sorrow’ was going to clear the (small but powerful) dance floor with its moody undertones. As the aspiring Cher faded out ‘Turn Back Time’, my sudden decision to switch to hip hop was well received by all. My subsequent moderate to terrible attempts at freestyling gave me a new respect for people who can rhyme words, and I was inspired to check out the talent at Play Bar’s open mic night in Surry Hills (Sydney) the following week.

Having never been to a hip-hop open mic night before, my friend and I were a little unsure of ourselves. We arrived an hour late, only to find we were so unfashionably early that we were the first people there. Expecting to spend the evening awkwardly perched on an upturned milk crate while mentally blocking out the layer of grime that coats the surfaces on some Surry Hills small bars, we were pleasantly surprised to descend a staircase into a clean and comfortable underground lounge area. As we ordered a wine and sat down, it seemed like we were in a perfectly normal post work catch up type situation. Then the crowd slowly dribbled in, all young guys, in baggy track pants and sneakers, all friends. It became clear that our attire, gender, and preference for nice wine over, well, nothing, cemented our fate as outsiders.

Not to worry. The MC welcomed us all along and announced the night would begin with some beatboxing. Usually underwhelmed by this genre, I was surprised to find that beatboxing has evolved significantly since that guy in high school sounding out ‘boom boom churr’ on repeat. I was literally stunned when performer one kicked off with some house music, complete with loops of female vocals. He then continued a trip through early naughties rave music, nailing techno, trance and drum and bass, and perfectly imitating that spine tingling reverberating bass vroooom where the speaker moves and you feel music pulsating through your body. My friend and I couldn’t help closing our eyes then squealing to each other in excitement, ‘I couldn’t tell it wasn’t real, ahhh!’. Possibly, we ostracised ourselves a little more through this behaviour.

The night flowed on from there, one by one performers stepped up to the microphone and in a dressed down, ego-less manner rocked out rhymes in a skilful organic fashion. I must admit I found it less interesting when the kids branched out into the overly American ‘bitches and hos’ lyrical territory. Not that I was expecting raps about kangaroos and koalas, but I definitely preferred performers who mused on original and relevant issues over rehashed lines. There was a nineteen year old who was particularly amazing, and was a perfect contender for hip hop superstar, had he not looked so young and wholesome that I kinda wanted to ruffle his hair and take him to a video arcade like I would my little brother. Almost certainly not the look he was going for, but the talent was certainly there.

No open mic night would be complete without the wild card. This came in the form of an older guy, who didn’t appear to know the rest of the crowd. From the moment he arrived it was clear he was itching to perform, drinking beer after beer and sternly viewing the stage. I think it would be fair to sat he was quite intoxicated when he eventually made his debut. While other performers had been understated, then wowed us with talent, he went right in with the overstatement. Acting superior, he firstly wasn’t happy with two options of background music presented, so after rejection two the MC kindly got up and beatboxed for him to the precise tempo required. Prancing around the stage he harassed the skills of other performers, calling everybody wankers and cocks, stumbling through a performance that wasn’t un-entertaining, but you know when you’re laughing at someone rather than with someone? It was one of those. As he finished up he couldn’t resist a further gloat, yelling out to the audience ‘I made that shit up! I made that shit up off the top of my head!!’, to which the MC diplomatically responded: ‘Off the top of his head ladies and gentlemen…good effort‘ – upholding the supportive and friendly vibe of the evening.

Later, a guy in a suit showed up and started freestyling about an impending ‘lyrical disaster’, which sounded slightly ominous, but turned out to be a sort of rap off. One beatboxer provided the sounds and two freestylers went head to head with each other before randomly swapping with others in the audience. It was high energy and before long a crowd formed, huddling around the stage in excitement. At this moment a bunch of city types, also in suits, stumbled down the steps, attracted by the commotion and eager for a last cheeky drink before bedtime. They were quite stunned to find this little oasis of creativity, and appeared as mesmerised as we were. The suits were actually the only people who actually spoke to us all night, so I suppose you could say it was a bit of a cliquey place, but we were thoroughly entertained all the same.

For successful infiltration, I suggest wearing something very casual, and being male. Perhaps don’t go along with an impeccably groomed costume designer, nor wearing a dress and heels, which were, in hindsight, closer to ‘textbook hip hop’ than ‘underground arty’. There is a big difference, and Play bar open mic night manages to nail the good stuff. I’ll definitely be back for more.

Play Bar: 72 Campbell St, Surry Hills, www.playbar.com.au

AUS_JenniferGoodwin_M

 

MEET THE LOCAL: JENNIFER GOODWIN

 

 

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