Stuff White People Like and a bit that they don’t

Harriet Cheney went to Newcastle for TiNA and Sound Summit: 

I hit the road later than I had hoped to, because I was writing questions for an interview. Luckily, that meant that I missed the long weekend traffic and the freedom of being out of Sydney, driving 110kmph up the the freeway with the Grimes album blaring was life at its sweetest. I arrived in Newcastle for my first ever visit. Good choice of weekend as both the This Is Not Art (TiNA) festival and MusicNSW’s Sound Summit were on. The arts and culture radio show that I produce was recording a programme on the Sunday morning at an open-air Zine market. That interview I was writing was for the TiNA headliner – Christian Lander – the guy who wrote the Stuff White People Like blog that now has 92 million hits. He turned it into two books published through Random House… which bring me to Stuff White People Like (SWPL) #92: Book Deals (for the full list of Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like, you can head here, so you have some idea what I’m going on about for the rest of this article).

So what is TINA? To quote the Newcastle Herald, it is a festival “dedicated to the exploration of experimental and emerging arts media and concepts”. In my words, “it’s a festival with creative workshops, panels, markets, speakers and other arty activities that are spotted in various locations around the city of Newcastle (see SWPL #21, #5, #43). Only 20% of those who attend are actually from Newcastle; so basically you go to hang out with your creative Sydney friends in a place other than Sydney.”

First impressions:
Newcastle actually feels like a city.
There is a very distinctive Newcastle accent.
It’s much cheaper to live in Newcastle than Sydney.
The people in bars/cafes etc are really really friendly.
A large proportion of the population have piercings and tattoos.

Culture time!
I arrived at The United Services Club just in time to hear Benjamin Law mediate a “memoirs when young” panel with Marieke Hardy, Luke Ryan and Michaela McGuire. I squeezed into the already packed room and found a space just in front of TiNA founder Marcus Westbury (and his hilarious two year old son). Marieke’s story about refusing to wear the shower cap, which turned out to be paper underwear for modesty in Asia, and Luke’s embarrassing recount of his efforts to dispose of his bodily waste after a one-night stand, were just two of the very entertaining parts of this event. I loved hearing the guests discuss why they wrote memoirs at such a young age and things they had to be careful of, such a including a”moral of the story”… What could someone in their 20s possibly know about life? I think if you were like Luke and you’d been a cancer survivor TWICE you’d know a thing or two. One thing is for sure, everyone knew that when the panel ended, The Sydney Swans were about to take to field in their first Grand Final since 2006.

TiNA had organised an event that centered around the AFL, so we trotted down to The Great Northern and took our places. Sports website The Roar demonstrated how sports reports are published so promptly after a game with their “Grand Final Live Writing” projection and illustrator, Pat Grant provided amusing portrayals of the unravelling game.

I looked over and there was Christian Lander, who obviously had decided to embrace the Aussie sports culture. I was very close to introducing myself and probably creeping him out with how much I knew about him due to my five hours of research undertaken to write the interview about him. I restrained myself, thinking, “leave him alone today, you’ll have tomorrow morning when he’s a guest on the show, to talk to him as much as you like.” I distracted myself with the suspense and excitement of the ensuing Swans victory. What a game! Everyone was on a high.

Then it was onto Literary Trivia. Now this event was definitely not of my choosing. I don’t particularly like reading books and my knowledge of the literary world reflects this quite evidently. Nevertheless, when in Rome… so I gave it a shot. There was even a grammar question (SWPL #99)! The closest I came to contributing to my team was making up names for the 13 dwarfs in The Hobbit. I took inspiration from Snow White’s dwarves and Spartacus characters. I didn’t stick around to see how close I was to a perfect 13, instead opting for a change of scene, by heading to Newcastle’s main drag, Darby Street, for some dinner. There I found a reasonable number of Asian fusion food restaurants (SWPL #45), but settled on a family-owned Italian restaurant, where I met an artist and discussed the cuts in funding to the arts at TAFE. The Newcastle uni and TAFE art courses continue to be vital contributors to the formation of the Renew Newcastle initiative, from which a vibrant creative hub has blossomed, so the cuts in TAFE finding have caused quite a stir.

Next up was the TiNA evening event, which was the Elephant Traks, Hip-Hop safari themed ball. Obviously I freaked… I didn’t have a costume. My friend pointed out that my spike studded high-tops were sufficiently ‘hip-hop’ and my faux fur bag could cover the safari part. I was almost willing to accept that that would do, until we called into a friend’s place so he could get changed. In the other room I spied people with quite amazing costumes, make-up and face paint. I stood in the doorway staring at them in envy. Then a camp, gorgeous guy asked if I’ve like my face painted (SWPL#88, having gay friends). My new friend was amazing. Within minutes I had neon pink and black leopard print painted on the top right hand corner of my face. Yeah! I was ready for the party now.

Party fun times! But, not too much fun… we had a last minute guest confirm for the show we were recording the following day. I went home to engage in some more professional stalking of this said guest only to realise that I didn’t know the wi-fi password and the people’s house I was staying at. Not to worry though, because one of the guys came home not long after me. “Excellent”, I thought, but somehow my request for the wi-fi password translated as “I want to be peer-pressured into drinking and then go out to one of Newcastle’s amazing clubs.” When I refused the alcohol, I was offered pharmaceuticals that “were just uppers that would make you feel good”. I politely declined, managed to retrieve the password and got to work on my Mac Book Air 13 (SWPL #40 Apple products).

In the morning it was time to head to the TiNA Zine & Artist Rooftop Market on Kings Street to record our show. It was going to be a BIG one. Five guests in 1 hour, all Newcastle music programmed (SWPL #41, indie music) and a bustling venue filled with excitement. While the team was sorting out power issues, I grabbed a coffee (SWPL #1) and had a look around. I ended up buying the Sci-Fi edition of Seizure magazine which was pretty brilliant.

Our public radio show was great (SWPL #44). All went really smoothly. BUT…. our final guest didn’t show. Yep, the TiNA headliner, that I wasted hours of my life learning and writing about, was nowhere to be seen. Christian Lander has on numerous occasions described himself as “just an arsehole with a blog” and man did he he prove that. So enough of Stuff White People Like, I’ll tell you a few things that they don’t like. Stuff White People Don’t Like (SWPDL) #1, people who commit to things and don’t follow though. SWPDL #2 anticlimaxes. SWPDL #3 wasting time on arseholes. But I won’t let that shadow my Newcastle experience as I later learnt that a technical difficulty had prevented him from appearing. With that in mind I’ll move on to the lovely lunch I had, where the waitress was incredibly friendly, even when I made my order annoyingly complicated.

Then, I went to visit the very cute Emma Taylor at her adorable shop called Emma Soup. Emma designs and makes vintage style clothes that are inspired by her grandmother. The shop’s purpose is not only a place to sell clothes, but also functions as a gallery space and a gig venue. It should be illegal for someone so young to be doing something so cool… but I’m glad it’s not and the world would be a more creatively rich place if there were more ‘Emma Soups’ around.

Next door to Emma Soup is a pub and gig venue called The Terrace. Both these venues held events for Sound Summit and I popped into The Terrace to catch 1980s punk rockers Pel Mel bust out No Word From China.

The main Sound Summit venue was The Croatian Club, which is really at the other side of town to all the TiNA activities. Due to the proximity, I only caught some of the great Radiant showcase on the Saturday and the very ‘interesting’ showcase on the Sunday afternoon. Now, when I say interesting I actually mean unbearable. There were some Brisbane electro acts playing in the side-room, that were pleasantly dreamy (I especially like Brainbeau), but the main-stage experimental acts literally hurt me. I went to the bathroom and stuffed my ears with tissues in an effort to increase my tolerance level but, despite my tissuey protection, my ears still ached. The ‘music’ was jarring feedback sounds which hit unhealthy frequencies. Oren Ambarchi’s eerie creations were reminiscent of the Bladerunner soundscape amped up to the max. Amazingly, there was still that token guy standing up the front nodding to the “music”, just loving it. Clearly my journey into musical acceptance and appreciation has many more avenues it can take and this was not the chilled out Sunday afternoon I had imagined.

I regrettably needed to head back to Sydney so I missed the Sunday evening showcase which included two of Sydney’s best, Royal Headache and Straight Arrows. On the drive home I reflected on my weekend. Newcastle’s pretty cool. There was way too much on to attend even half of what was on offer and the distance between venues made it difficult to swing between TiNA and Sound Summit. I feel like I only scratched the surface, but was really impressed with the city and the way the events were run. Now that I’ve got my bearings i’ll be all geared to go for next year. It’s a great way to broaden your mind and to engage in things that creatively challenge you…. although, perhaps next year, I will sample the music before seeing it and do a very thorough screening of the foreign TiNA headliners first.



Words by Harriet Cheney