I am standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowd filled with what seems like half the population of Adelaide. A usually quiet small-town pub, tonight the Robe Caledonian Inn has been transformed into the South East’s most vibrant hangout. It’s a cool evening, which is not unexpected considering we’re in Robe. Usually, I’d be annoyed by the fact that I have to wear a jumper in the height of Summer, but tonight I don’t mind. The light breeze is a pleasant relief against the heat emanating from the cluster of dancing bodies in which I have somehow ended up in the middle of.
I am mildly intoxicated – enough to admit that I prefer Madonna’s “Hung Up” to ABBA’s original, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”, but not enough to commit a social faux pas that I might regret in the morning (though some might say that confessing my love of “Hung Up” is indeed an unforgivable social faux pas). Sorry, not sorry. I gaze up at local celebrities, the B-Sharps, as they perform a stellar rendition of Paul Kelly’s iconic “How to Make Gravy”. I chime in along with the rest of the audience, throwing in some random words here and there when the actual lyrics have escaped me. I do however manage to nail the outro – a simple repetition of “doo-la-doo-da-doo-doo” that continues until the rest of the instruments eventually fade out. I get ready for the next song. Surely it’ll be “Wonderwall”, or maybe “Hotel California”. I am struck by a moment of confusion when, instead of playing another song, the band starts counting down from ten. The alcohol has clearly made me slower than usual and it takes me a few seconds before I realise what is happening. I quickly chime in, “eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one – HAPPY NEW YEAR!”.
Ah yes, it’s that time of the year again. A time where we all reflect on the year that has passed us by – quicker than the last one I swear – and press the reset button, vowing to embark on a year of self-improvement and character building so on and so forth. But how is this year really going to be any different from all those other years where you have made those same promises to yourself and set those same goals that are still, three years later, yet to be achieved? Why is this year going to be the year that you apply for a promotion, read a book every month, or quit your job and travel around the world? How will you change your approach so that you can actually achieve those same objectives that you set yourself last year, committed to for a month, only to give up on in February when life became all too much again?
This may all sound pessimistic but I am only asking these questions of you because these are the same questions that I asked myself when I woke up on the 1st of January 2020 with a mild hangover and a severely depleted bank account. I have always believed in setting myself goals but when it comes to new years’ resolutions I think we’re gypped. There is an expectation that we lay all our ambitions and aspirations out on the table for everyone to know about. But what happens at the end of the year when, for whatever reason, we maybe haven’t been able to achieve those goals? We feel shame, guilt and disappointment, maybe even embarrassment.
For these reasons, I have chosen to take a different approach to my new years’ resolutions for 2020. For one, I have set myself goals that I actually want to achieve, not what I think would make others proud of me. Secondly, the goals that I have set myself are, in my mind, realistic and achievable. I have started small so that if I feel that I have the capacity to go bigger, then I can. While I do believe it is important to dream big, I think that rather than setting yourself one huge and daunting challenge, it’s better to break that overarching goal into several smaller goals. That way, as you achieve each stepping-stone objective, you’ll feel at least some sense of accomplishment. Hopefully, this will motivate you to continue pursuing the ultimate goal rather than becoming overwhelmed and frustrated by the feeling that you’re not getting anywhere. This also means that at the end of the year, even if you haven’t achieved all that you set out to, at least you know that you have taken steps to put yourself in a better position to reach it the following year. Finally, if I do get halfway through the year and decide that I am simply no longer interested in achieving a particular goal, then I will not force myself to pursue it. Instead, I’ll devote myself to the remaining goals that are truly important to me.
So, with all that being said, what are your goals for 2020?
It’s 6am and the air is already thick with humidity. The sun has barely penetrated the horizon and a cluster of devoted surfers are tending to the waves. After all, the surf is always best in the morning. The rest of the beach remains dormant, aside from the handful of locals that are busy setting up their small dishevelled restaurants and board-hire stalls, ready to cater for the hundreds of tourists that will flock to Hiriketiya throughout the day.
The water licks the tips of my toes as I stand on the shoreline assessing the swell. Not too big, not too small, just right. After rummaging through my wallet trying to pull together the 500 rupee (approximately $4 AUD) that it costs to hire a board for an hour, I approach one of the locals and confidently ask him for a 7’10 fibreglass. He smiles and carefully picks the best of a battered-looking bunch of boards. “Perfect”, I say. The water is smooth, disturbed only by the sets of clean-breaking waves that come and go. I’m a mere novice compared to the group of seasoned surfers that are already occupying the water. I carefully position myself so as not to risk cutting any of them off accidently. God forbid if I did. I may be a rookie, but I’m experienced enough to know not to get between a surfer and their wave.
I sit propped up on the board, legs dangling loosely in the water, waiting in anticipation. After a couple of minutes have gone by a perfect wave begins to form in the distance. Determined not to make a fool out of myself I get into position and begin to paddle, remembering to keep my chest up just as the instructor taught me. As soon as the wave raises me up towards its crest I pop to my feet. Get this part wrong and you’ll be acquainting yourself with Mr Sea Urchin on the reef below. Fortunately, this time I get it right. With immense power, like that of a wild horse, the wave carries me towards the sun-blanched shore. Eventually, its white hooves begin crashing down beside me I decide to carefully kick out of the wave. I promptly drop down onto my stomach and begin paddling back out to sea, ready to do it all again.
It’s been almost six months since I returned from my three week trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year, and despite the horrific terrorist attacks that took place over Easter, my view of the country has in no way been tainted. However, I must admit that if someone had asked me this time a year ago whether I would consider travelling to Sri Lanka, I would have told them no. Not because I thought that it was unsafe or dangerous, but because it had simply never been on my radar. But that all changed after spending a sleepless night scrolling through the internet looking up the ‘best places to travel in 2019’. According to the well-reputed travel site, Lonely Planet, that was Sri Lanka. After conducting a quick Google search I found that it was not the dull cricketing country that I had assumed it to be, but rather, a vibrant and alluring island paradise. I was sold. The next morning, running off about two-hours of sleep and far too much coffee, I booked my trip to Sri Lanka. The question was, would I come to regret my hasty, somewhat impulsive decision? Looking back now I can safely say that the answer is absolutely not!
Upon arrival, I wasn’t sure what to expect but having spent three weeks there I can say with certainty that Sri Lanka is undeniably beautiful, which is hardly a surprise considering it is home to eight UNESCO world heritage sites. While the South boasts some of the most pristine beaches you will ever step foot on, travel further inland and you’ll come across temperate rainforests, rolling foothills and verdant tea plantations (lots of them). It’s almost as if you’ve entered an entirely different country. The people are incredibly friendly, their easy-going demeanour rubbing off on tourists as they pass through from one locale to the next. And of course the food, which was simply delightful (aside from the uncooked poached eggs I encountered at one point, but we’ll let that slide).
I chose to travel to Sri Lanka alone. Why? Well, to be honest, because I didn’t really ask anyone if they wanted to join me during my temporary bout of hastiness and rash decision making. But in hindsight I think I’m glad that I chose to do the trip alone, because as cliché as it may sound, it gave me an opportunity to become well-acquainted with myself. I won’t deny that it was difficult at times, but those occasions were far fewer than those that I felt completely unencumbered by any sort of restrictions or expectations. So, if you’re thinking about travelling solo any time soon (which I highly recommend doing), here are a few things that I learnt along the way.
Dining alone is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. However, if you are daunted by the thought of copping judgement from your fellow diners (which I can assure you won’t, because they honestly don’t care), then you can always take a book to read, journal to write in, or a podcast to plug into. At dinner, try and find a venue that has some form of live music or entertainment, and if you’re concerned about taking up a whole table to yourself, then simply sit at the bar. This will also give you a chance to make friends with the staff and maybe snag a cheeky beverage on the house!
While travelling with a buddy is fun and comforting, it’s easier to rely on each other for company than to spark up conversation with a complete stranger. Travelling alone, on the other hand, forces you to make friends with other travellers and locals.
You’ll learn to embrace your own company and eventually, you’ll grow to love it. The fact is that when you’re travelling solo you spend a lot of time with yourself. This is a good opportunity to learn more about who you are as a person, who you want to be, and the things you like and dislike about yourself (*insert image of beach sunset and a cheesy caption about finding yourself here).
You get to make all the decisions and be as spontaneous as you want. For me, this was tough, because for anyone that knows me I am frustratingly indecisive (I’m literally incapable of ordering food at a café without first asking the waiter or waitress what they would recommend from the menu).
Travelling alone isn’t necessarily an unsafe way to travel (unless perhaps you’re thinking of going to a country that is known for being dangerous, such as South or Central America). But, in a country like Sri Lanka, as much as my grandmother would say otherwise, so long as you have some common sense and vigilance, you should be A-Okay.
You will feel lonely at times and this is completely normal, but these feelings will quickly be surpassed by the sense of empowerment that comes with travelling alone.
A great way to ‘travel solo’ is to join a group tour. This gives you the chance to build relationships with people from all over the world. It’s also great because as well as seeing all the main tourist attractions you’ll also get the chance to take part in experiences that might not be available to other travellers. I spent the second half of my trip with Intro Travel, a company I couldn’t recommend highly enough. Their staff were passionate and experienced, the tour was well organised and incorporated a lot of different activities, the accommodation far exceeded expectations, and I met some amazing people who I’m still in touch with today.
A truly magical place, Phoebe and Seddy will go out of their way to take care of you and make sure that you have the best experience possible during your stay. Also be sure to check out their adjoining café which provides some of the freshest, tastiest vegan delights I’ve ever tried.
If you’re looking for the ultimate hipster hang out, this is your place. Situated just five minutes away from Hiriketiya, The Verse Collective is not only a perfectly located beachfront hostel, it also has a spacious open-plan co-working space and a trendy café/bar which serves up Australian-style coffee (i.e. the best style of coffee).
While traditionally an Indian dish, the Sri Lankan’s have put their own spin on it, serving up pol roti (coconut roti). A simple flatbread made from flour, water and grated coconut, this is a great accompaniment to almost every meal.
This was my favourite local dish. A traditional form of street food, Kottu is made with roti, which is fried and chopped up alongside a selection of ingredients and served with a decadent curry sauce. Think of a classic AB from the Blue and White café on O’Connell Street but replace the chips with roti and yiros meat with curry. Yup, it’s heaven!
Even if you’re not a huge seafood fan, do yourself a favour and at least try it if you’re travelling along the coast of Sri Lanka. On one occasion my food came out about 20 minutes later than the rest of my group because the chef had to wait for the local fisherman to return with his morning haul. Fair to say I was happy to wait.
Coconut Sambal (Pol Sambal)
A fresh coconut relish made from a blend of finely grated coconut, red onion, chilli, lime juice, salt and Maldive fish. This dish is often used as a garnish or a side dish.
Basically a Sri Lankan pancake, made from a mixture of rice flour, coconut milk and sugar. The batter is then fried in a small wok to create a bowl shaped pancake.
Lamprais essentially means ‘lump rice’. It is a combination of spiced rice, spiced meat and sambol wrapped in a banana leaf parcel and steamed.
Any and every traditional curry that is on offer!
Don’t be afraid if there are some ingredients that you haven’t heard of before, that’s all part of the experience!
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Tea plantations (there are many to choose from)
The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy
Sea Turtles in Mirissa
The Nine Arches Bridge in Ella
Surfing in the South (Hiriketiya, Weligama, Ahangama)
If you’re looking for some top-notch surf instructors, get in touch with the guys at Layback. Thilina and his friendly crew are not only passionate surfers themselves, but are also extremely competent instructors. Whether you’re a complete beginner who has never touched a surfboard before or simply keen to improve your skills, they have you covered!
Climb Adam’s Peak or Little Adam’s Peak
Master the art of yoga
Treat yourself to an Ayurvedic message
Take a cooking class
Spend a day Galle, a fortified city founded by the Portuguese in the 16thCentury
Travel by Tuk Tuk
Take the world’s ‘most scenic train’ from Kandy to Ella.
Go on safari in Udawalawe National Park
Finally, if you’re interested in travelling with Intro, check out their website here! (this is not sponsored, I just genuinely believe they are a great company to travel with).
Amber Romberg awoke to the sound of her door gently creaking open like it used to when her parents would come and check on her as a child. She listens to the fan whirring above her bed. It’s winter, but the white noise nurses her to sleep every night, so she keeps it on. At first, everything seems normal, but when Amber tries to reach for the glass on her bedside table, she can’t. She tries to sit up, but it’s as though she has been bound to her bed, like a patient in a psychiatric ward. Suddenly, an immense pressure begins pressing down on her body, as though a tonne of cement has been poured over her. She’s utterly helpless beneath its weight. Then she sees it. Out of the corner of her eye, a tall, dark figure, lurking in the corner near her bedroom door. She can’t make out its face, or its body, but she can feel its malignant presence in the room with her.
The faceless shadow moves towards her, the floorboards groaning beneath its weight. Amber cries for help, but nothing comes out. She can feel her heart palpitating with terror. But still, she remains helpless. The creature is now looming over her. It’s so close that she can smell its offensive odour. It’s how she’d imagine a rotting corpse might smell. It begins whispering something, but Amber can’t make out what it’s saying. Then, the whispering turns into an unbearable wailing that makes Amber’s blood run cold. She tries to block her ears, but her arms remain bound. The dark mass is now levitating above her. If it had a face, it would be just centimetres away from hers. She begins to sink into her mattress, as though she is being pulled into the depths of the Underworld. The shadow has almost wholly engulfed her now. She can feel ice-cold hands clawing at her back, dragging her deeper and deeper into the abyss. Then, all of a sudden, the figure dissipates into thin air. The hands withdraw, the cement is lifted from her chest, and her limbs are released from their bounds.Amber sits up, gasping for air. The room is empty, and the house is silent except for the gentle whirring of the fan above her bed.
Amber sits across from me at a park bench on the outskirts of Adelaide’s CBD. A second-year uni student, Amber is studying a bachelor of psychology at Flinders University. She’s wearing an oversized bomber jacket, tight-fitting denim jeans and a pair of shiny black Doc Martens. It’s autumn now, almost a year since the incident. The sun is shining, but there is a chill in the air, which only becomes more pronounced as Amber tells me her story.
When Amber told her mum what had happened, they both passed it off as a very vivid, very terrifying nightmare. But the lingering sense of being in the “presence of pure evil” left her too afraid to sleep at night. So as any millennial would, she took to the web to find some answers. Within an hour of frantic Googling, Amber had stumbled across a plethora of articles, chat forums and YouTube videos that confirmed to her that she was not going crazy, and she was certainly notbeing possessed by a demon. She had, in fact, suffered an episode of sleep paralysis (SP).
Once termed the ‘Nightmare’ (then spelt Nightmaere) the first clinical description of SP was published in the journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1664 by a Dutch physician. Nowadays, we use the term to describe a bad dream, but in its original context, it referred to a nocturnal visit from a sex-crazed demon, known as a succubus or incubus. Indeed, long before any sort of medical explanation was articulated, descriptions of the phenomenon were prevalent in global folklore. While these descriptions all contain the same fundamental elements, the etiological interpretations of the phenomenon have been determined based on various cultural and religious beliefs.
In the western world, SP was most commonly attributed to witchcraft and demonic possession. In Newfoundland, the Old Hag, a supernatural creature that would come and sit on sleepers’ chests at night, was responsible for the phenomenon. Meanwhile, in Europe and the United States, records from witch trials dating as far back as the 1600s contain testimonies of people claiming to have been held down by witches in the middle of the night. One testimony, recorded in 1747, describes a European woman professing that her husband had been lying stiff in bed with his eyes open, barely breathing, when he suddenly cried: “My Lord Jesus help me! Oh! Fiery witches took me to Maramaros, and they put six hundred-weight of salt on me.”
In other countries, SP has its source in the spiritual world. In St Lucia, the phenomenon was associated with creatures known as Kokma, which are the malevolent spirits of unbaptised babies that would crawl on top of people while they slept. In Egypt, SP was an attack by a powerful genie (Jinn), and in Japan, the phrase Kanashibari has been used to describe the ‘Nightmare’. The term literally translates to ‘metal-binding’, but in Japanese vernacular, it refers to any state of immobility.
Despite being a matter of discussion for many centuries, the disorder has only properly been categorised in the past fifty years. According to Psychiatrist Dr Richard Weeks, SP is “best known as part of the tetrad of narcolepsy, which is characterised by excessive sleepiness, ‘sleep attacks’ and sudden loss of muscle control. However, it can also occur as an isolated phenomenon, which is called isolated sleep paralysis (ISP).” In its simplest terms, it is a temporary disconnect between the body and mind either just before falling asleep or just before waking up. “It occurs when rapid eye movement (REM) and partial wakefulness co-occur,” Dr Weeks tells me via email.
REM is the fifth and final stage of our sleep cycle, and it is during this phase that we are most likely to dream. To prevent us from acting out those dreams, the brain sends signals to the nervous system to paralyse our muscles. This puts us in a state of atonia, where our muscles have almost no strength, making us temporarily immobile. Richard explains that when we experience SP, it is because “our muscles have not yet received important information from the brain to let them move freely.” This is why people tend to feel as though they can’t breathe properly or that there is immense pressure on their chest because while their involuntary respiratory movements remain fully functional, their voluntary breathing is restricted. Amber describes the sensation as “waking up dead.”
When I asked Dr Weeks why people experienced vivid and often terrifying hallucinations during SP, he confessed that the science was inconclusive but that there are some possible explanations for it. In a second email, he explained that because we are most likely to dream during REM, waking up during this stage of the sleep cycle can result in vivid multisensory hallucinations. “It’s tantamount to dreaming with one’s eyes open,” he tells me.
He went on to explain that a possible reason for such frightening hallucinations is because of the hyperactive state of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain strongly associated with emotion and fear- processing, throughout REM. “During sleep paralysis, your amygdala is actively responding to a sense of fear despite there being no obvious threat. To resolve this paradox, the brain creates sinister hallucinations.”
However, while as many as 40% of the general population may experience ISP once in their lifetime, only 20% will encounter visual hallucinations. Individuals who are more likely to suffer from hallucinations are those that have narcolepsy.
Karl Hoschke is a big burly 24-year-old with a lax demeanour and a charming smile constantly spread across his face. He was diagnosed with narcolepsy in early 2015. “The first time I had sleep paralysis was quite scary as I didn’t know how to escape this false reality as I couldn’t move. Luckily, my girlfriend was sleeping next to me, so I started frantically tapping her with my hand because I was somehow able to move that part of my body,” he tells me. “It was only when she gently began shaking me that I came out of the paralysis. Now the code for ‘help me’ is when I frantically tap her to wake me up. If I have no one to wake me up, then I simply have to be patient until it goes away.”
While Karl didn’t experience any hallucinations during his first episode of SP, he says that since then he has encountered a panoply of supernatural entities, from a disfigured dead girl prowling around his room, to a hung man dangling limply next to his bed. “I’ve seen so much shit,” Karl sighs. “I remember one night all of the clothes on my bedroom floor had turned into bloodied cadavers, and another time my fan transformed into a red-eyed crow with blades for wings. Once I even awoke to the sensation of electrical charges pulsating through my body.”
While Karl’s stories were enough to give me nightmares, he admits that he’s not too phased by it. “It’s certainly unpleasant and scary at times, but I just tell myself that it’s not real and that eventually, I’ll wake up.”
For Amber, however, “knowing that it will end is no comfort at all. Every second is Hell.” While Miss Romberg hasn’t had a second run-in with the shadow monster, she reveals that she has had several more episodes since the first incident. “Thankfully I haven’t had any more visual hallucinations, but I still get an overwhelming sense that there is something sinister in the room with me, a sort of presence I guess. It’s really quite disturbing.” When I ask Amber if she believes there is a reason for her episodes, she tells me that she thinks it might be related to stress and a lack of sleep. “When I first got it, I was extremely stressed because we had some family stuff going on, plus the pressure of uni and work on top of that. I was so pent-up with anxiety that I was barely sleeping.”
According to Dr Weeks, general stress and lack of sleep can certainly lead to an episode of SP. “Any sort of sleep deprivation, altered sleeping patterns, stress, and even sleeping on your back are all things that can bring out the condition,” he tells me. “Other disorders such as bipolar, PTSD, depression and anxiety can also trigger sleep paralysis in an individual.” Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to treat the disorder. However, Richard does recommend maintaining a regular sleep schedule, reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption, meditation and getting adequate sleep.
For Karl, SP is simply part of his condition. At the end of our interview, he tells me that he wants to learn how to embrace it and turn it into a joyful experience. “I’ve heard that people can turn an episode into lucid dreaming and instead of suffering from terrible hallucinations, they’re able to astral project themselves and do all sorts of crazy things.”
Meanwhile, for Amber, the experience has made her more interested in the human mind. “If anything good has come out of this, it’s that it has motivated me to use my psychology degree to educate others about the disorder,” she exclaims. For now, though, Amber hopes she will never experience another episode again. “I’ve started meditating before bed, and I aim to get at least six hours of sleep a night.” After thanking her for her time, Amber and I part ways. As I walk towards my car a sudden feeling of dread washes over me, I can’t help but wonder if the faceless shadow creature will be paying me a visit later on tonight.
A gentle crooning echoes through the concert hall in accompaniment to the static hum of the Marshal stack that sits at the back of the stage. A crowd of three-thousand wait in anticipation as the next act prepares to come on. Today is the final day of the Sound Central Music Festival (SCMF), Afghanistan’s only alternative arts event. There is barely room to move amongst the sea of sweaty, mostly teenage bodies that fill the French Cultural Centre. It’s no Coachella, but in a country where all non-traditional music was banned between 1996 and 2001, this festival is a cathartic release for the youth of Afghanistan.
A deafening roar erupts as White City, the codename given by the UN to a city that is under a high-security threat, wander on to the stage. Their lead guitarist, Travis Beard, is an Australian photojournalist, better known for being the brains behind the festival. Dressed all in black, he dons an oversized bomber jacket over a faded Led-Zeppelin T-shirt. His jeans are ripped and frayed at the knee caps. Whether that’s ‘the look’ or the result of a night that got out of hand, we’ll never know.
Travis wastes no time and as soon as the rest of the band are in position he swings his cherry-faded Gibson over his shoulder and begins thrashing down on the strings like a mad-man. Small waves begin to rise from the sea of roiling bodies as the crowd jump up and down in unison. People are ferried back and forth atop the expanse of raised arms. Towards the front of the stage a tower three bodies high, looms over the rest of the audience, dubiously swaying from side to side with a concerning level of instability. At one point, a rogue fan attempts to lunge onto the stage, only to be blockaded by a thick Afghan security guard. The crowd bark and cheer with an infectious level of energy, which is reciprocated by Beard and his bandmates as they bound around on stage. Right now, all that matters is the music and the melodic riffs that resonate from Beard’s guitar.
For Travis, the period between 2006 and 2012 were the “golden years”. During this time, the war was focused more towards the South, in cities like Kandahar and Arghandab, leaving the North largely untouched by the conflict. Subsequently, Kabul became a hub for the thousands of ambitious expats and aid-workers who flocked to the city looking for opportunity. The city fast became an expat bubble, or as private security officer, Elijah Berry, prefers to call it, the “Kabubble.”
“You’d have hordes of big burly US troops roaming the streets with AK47’s strapped over their shoulders, and then you’d have the dreamer peace-core ‘hippies’ that Afghanistan had become a mecca for,” explains Elijah.
However, despite all their differences, there was a common yearning for entertainment, especially on weekends. “People just started bringing their instruments into the country with them and playing small acoustic gigs at the local bars,” Elijah tells me. And so, the evolution of Kabul’s “underground” music scene was set in motion, a scene which was still very much in its infancy when Travis happened to stumble upon it shortly after his arrival in 2006.
Travis picked up his first guitar when he was 13 years old and played in several rock bands throughout high school. However, his interest in guitar began to wane after he discovered photography. Ironically, it was a career in photojournalism that first bought Travis to Afghanistan, where he rediscovered his passion for music. Within months, Travis had formed his first band, the Insurgents, which was mostly comprised of military personnel. The group would travel from one military base to the next, performing gigs on a Thursday night. The high turn-over rate within the military meant that there were constant changes being made to the band. “We’d go from having a helicopter pilot on drums one week to an infantry boy the next,” Travis says.
Indeed, performing gigs in a country like Afghanistan did not come without its many frustrations. Travis recalls that the power was so unreliable that it was more common than not for it to cut out midway through a set, or for an amp to blow out during sound-check. But these common hiccups did little to discourage Travis and those alike, who were determined to keep the music scene alive. By 2007, bored with playing military gigs, Travis decided to leave the Insurgents behind. Within weeks, White City was born, comprising of English bassist and lead vocalist, Ruth Owen, Swedish drummer, Andreas Stefansson, and Travis himself on lead guitar.
Meanwhile, other expat bands such as The Internationals and The Ceilings of Nork had also begun to surface and were quickly building names for themselves amongst the local community. “It was incredible. Someone could go from being a highly regarded deputy ambassador by day to a beatnik drummer by night,” Travis says. Eventually, live music became so sought after that bars began organising legitimate events and investing their money into proper equipment and PA systems. Then, in early 2008, the first Afghan band popped up, Kabul Dreams. “That’s when things really started to get interesting,” Travis exclaims. “All of a sudden we saw that there was a local capacity to the scene, and it all just grew infinitely from there.”
Kabul Dreams is, perhaps, the countries greatest success story. Formed by the now 29-year-old front-man, Suleman Qardash, the indie rock group were quick to gain a loyal following. The success of their debut album, ‘Plastic Words’, which was recorded in Afghanistan using makeshift recording studios and borrowed equipment, led the band to California in pursuit of their musical dreams. The trio has since signed with an American record label and have played at major festivals such as South by Southwest. “In a country where contemporary arts had been suppressed for so long, the rise of Kabul Dreams was really an indication of the fact that the youth of Afghanistan wanted change, and wanted to be able to express themselves through music,” Travis says.
As local talent continued to emerge out of the woodwork, Travis began toying with an ambitious idea: Afghanistan’s first-ever alternative arts and music festival. “It simply came down to the fact that we needed a bigger artistic platform,” he tells me. Despite having no experience in event management or festival planning, somehow it all came together, and in May 2011, the first SCMF was held at an open-air park just south of the city. Unsurprisingly, the biggest challenge was security. “There was no promotion except for an SMS which was sent out on the morning of the festival with the time and location,” he explains. “It was the only way we could ensure that the Taliban would have the least amount of time to plan an attack.”
Despite a few minor technical glitches, the day was a success. A smorgasbord of creativity, the festival showcased work from some of the country’s most talented musicians, artists, photographers and filmmakers. By its third year, the festival had grown from one day to four and from one stage to three. But with this mounting success and popularity also came the greater risk of a security threat. In 2014, a difficult decision was made by Travis and his team not to run the festival for a fourth year. “It was just too dangerous and the last thing I wanted was for anyone to be harmed for the sake of music,” he explains.
Indeed, Travis had every right to be concerned. In 2013 the bubble that had once shielded Kabul burst, and the war that had devastated the rest of the country for years began to descend upon the city. One of the most ruthless attacks came in early 2013. The La Taverna du Liban was a popular UN security-approved restaurant frequented by expats. On the 17 January as a room full of unsuspecting diners sat down to their meals a man walked up to the entrance and blew himself up. Two more attackers followed, sporadically firing their assault rifles at anyone and anything. Twenty-one people were massacred at their tables that night.
This was the first in a series of escalating attacks against civilians. Not more than three months later, British-Swedish journalist, Nils Horner, was shot down in broad daylight by two gunmen in Kabul’s heavily policed diplomatic district. That same month, a group of Taliban militants stormed the Serena Hotel, killing nine civilians. Three weeks later, photojournalist Anja Neidringhaus, was shot point blank in the head by an Afghan police commander. Finally, on 11 December 2014, the French Cultural Centre was blown up by a suicide bomber during a theatre production. One person was killed and several injured. By the end of 2014, more foreign civilians had been killed than foreign soldiers. Suddenly Kabul was one of the most volatile and dangerous places on Earth. Concerned NGO’s began to pull their people out of the country and serious security restrictions were imposed on those that remained. Music was no longer the priority, survival was.
Now, Afghanistan “is in the worst state it has ever been in,” says Elijah. With fewer expats, less money in the economy, less of an ‘aid gravy-train’ and less of an audience, the music scene has been left to wither and wilt. “Of the four main local bands that once prospered here, all of them have now fled, taking their talent with them,” Elijah explains.
Travis remains optimistic that, one day, there will be another SMFC. But for now, the once vibrant music scene of Kabul has been laid to waste beneath the rubble in a country that has been plagued by violence and conflict for far too long.
Disclaimer: While this is a fact-based story, there are elements (mainly the description of the concert) that have been fictionalised.
Garbed in a loose-fitting, semi-opaque gown, Florence Welch emerges from behind the simplistic wooden backdrop that occupies the stage. As she floats toward the microphone, her bare-feet barely make contact with the ground beneath her. She opens the night with the beautifully dark ‘June’, from her latest album, High as Hope. It’s a torrid summer’s night in Adelaide, but Welch does not seem deterred by the extreme heat. Nor does the crowd, who obediently follow her instructions to “move your bodies” when she commands it.
There is rarely a moment of stillness as Welch bounds around the stage with endless energy, all the while belting out monumental anthems such as ‘Hunger’ and ‘Ship to Wreck’ without fault. For someone with so much stage presence, you’d be surprised at how softly spoken, timid even, Welch is as she takes a minute to address the audience before proceeding to move about the stage with a sort of disjointed elegance.
Pushing past her self-confessed shyness, Welch seizes every opportunity she can to interact with the audience. Before an intimate rendition of ‘South London Forever’, we are instructed to take the hand of the person beside us, so as to become one big, beautiful, ethereal mass. Next, we are made to feel “strange and vulnerable” as Welch requests that we put our phones away for ‘Dog Days Are Over’. But this disconnect is only temporary, and soon after we are permitted to draw them out again in order to create a sea of stars for ‘Cosmic Love’.
As the end of her set draws near, Florence takes the opportunity to show off her impressive athleticism, darting through the audience during ‘Delilah’, putting the security guards through their paces. It is only when she stops to dangle her delicate body in front of the audience for ‘What Kind of Man’ that they finally catch her. As the show comes to an end, the crowd lingers. It’s now our turn to make a command. We wait patiently, simultaneously chanting ‘encore’ in the hope that we’ll get just one more taste of Welch’s divinity. A roar erupts amongst the crowd as Florence + The Machine dutifully return to the stage for a final delivery of ‘Big God’ and ‘Shake it Out’. Then, just like that, Welch disappears once and for all behind the orange-lit wooden backdrop from which she had emerged at the start of the night.
A few weeks ago I conquered my first music festival. Ok, that’s a bit of a lie. I mean I’ve done GTM and Laneway before, but that doesn’t even compare to the epic four-day bender that is Falls. Before even consulting any of my mates I spontaneously booked myself a ticket as soon as they went on sale. I knew the line-up was somewhat questionable, especially considering the stellar Splendour lineup which set an exceedingly high standard with acts like Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, and Gang of Youths all making an appearance (I still cry a little at the fact that I missed out on a ticket). But, I didn’t care. I was adamant that this year would be the year that my new years eve didn’t turn to crap. There was absolutely no chance that I’d be seen looking miserable (and far too sober) in the Black Bull at 11:59pm this year. No chance at all.
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you when I say that Falls isn’t a cheap endeavour. In fact, expenses can add up real quick. But, it’s completely worth it. So, while it may feel like your spending a tonne of money (which you are) on petrol, alcohol, trendy ‘festi’ outfits and of course, snacks, it’s best not to think too much about how far into the negatives you are – at least not until you’re back home and have a comfortable bed to crawl into and weep in for a while.
On that note, time for my first word of advice. Don’t be stingy on the snacks. Believe me, they’re essential, and if you don’t bring enough you’ll be in a world of regret when you return to your campsite at 2am and don’t have a fresh packet of Doritos to sheepishly munch on in your tent.
Continuing on with some words of wisdom, my second piece of advice is this: if you do stop over in a country town on your way to Lorne, such as Ballarat (also known as ‘The Rat’) and you decide to treat yourself to a nice pub meal, for the love of God, DON’T order the exotic pork bao and lentil salad, get a pub meal! Trust me, this is from experience. If you don’t opt for the chicken schnitty that is calling your name from the menu, then you’ll be left feeling unsatisfied and a little disappointed in yourself for being so stupid.
When it comes to arriving at the festival, you’ll want to get there as early as possible, or else you’ll be stuck in an endless queue of cars, and that my friend, is an immediate mood-kill. Following on from that point, another immediate mood-kill is having the majority of your alcohol confiscated at the security checkpoint (which was unfortunately what happened to us). Now, the majority of you will be fine and will get through without too much trouble. Sure, they might find that one bottle of vodka that you were too lazy to hide properly, but after looking at the number of cars that still have to be searched, security will wave you through so that they can get on with the monstrous task that lies ahead of them. However, you could be one of the unlucky ones (like we were) and have an absolute hard-nut of a woman search every single nook and cranny of your car. Honestly, props to her for doing her job so well. No poker face could throw this one off, she was no novice. She knew all our tricks and as soon as she saw our stash of tonic water it was game over.
So, as it was, out went our cases of water (along with several litres of vodka). Out went our cases of soft drink (along with several cans of beer). And out went our boxes of water (along with several bags of goon). I’m not going to lie, it was a truly dismal start to the weekend and I spent the rest of the drive to our campsite questioning my spontaneous decision to purchase a ticket. However, in the scheme of things, there are far worse catastrophe’s currently going on in the world, and after scavenging some alcohol off our very generous friends (who managed to get in virtually unchecked), we were back on track for a good time.
Once you’ve made it through the queue the next important task is finding your campsite. While you may have little control over where this is, you can hope and pray that the officials direct you to a spot that is a comfortable distance from the toilets. Far enough that your campsite isn’t constantly penetrated by the smell of sewage, but not so far away that going to the loo in the middle of the night becomes a near impossible feat. You’d also be hoping that you’re not put at the bottom of a hill, because if you’re blessed with the rains, chances are that you’re campsite is going to be flooded, and that is not something you want, especially when you’re relying on a $12 tent from Kmart to get you through the weekend.
So, finally, we’re in. We’ve set up camp and the time has come to see some live music. While this year’s lineup may have been slightly underwhelming, I can safely say that the performances were consistently good and I found myself pleasantly surprised by the energy that acts like Vance Joy, and Catfish and the Bottleman bought to the stage. Indeed, there were a few standout acts which for me were Cub Sport, Churches, and Jack River. The other huge standout was the $5 slice of pizza served up at one of the food trucks (which I can’t remember the name of for the life of me), but I can recall that it was certainly worth the detour on the way back to camp.
So, there you have it, my Falls experience. Of course, there were plenty of other shenanigans that went on, but if I were to write about all of them you’d be sitting here reading an essay, and no one wants to be doing that. After a few weeks of getting back to normality, there is no doubt in my mind that, unless the lineup is absolutely atrocious, I’ll be back again this year for round two.
It has been a while since I last posted, believe me, I know. I must admit, maintaining this blog as regularly as I first anticipated has been more difficult than I thought it would be. What can I say, life gets busy. A lot has happened this year. I mean A LOT. Some good…some not so good, but I’ll spare you the details of the latter. One of the biggest things that has happened (or I should say currently happening) is that I’m moving out of home for the first time.
The thought of this makes me feel a lot of things. Excited, overwhelmed, daunted, financially stressed and to be honest, a little scared.But in saying that I know that everything will be ok in the end. I mean, if thousands of other 21-year olds can survive out of home, surely I can manage? Yes, it may mean that I’ll have to forego almond milk in my morning coffee (but perhaps my barista will love me better for that) and curb my impulse buying habits (time to accept that 10 pairs of converse are sufficient). I’ll definitely have to pick up an extra shift at work during the semester and devote an hour of my weekend to grocery shopping, but, in the scheme of things these compromises are not so bad at all.
There is no doubt that the next few months are going to be filled with challenges and lessons learned. So, here is what I am hoping to do. I’m hoping to use this blog as a bit of a platform to share my experiences with you, and perhaps offer some helpful advice on what to do and what not to do when it comes to moving out of home.
To start off with, here are some of the things I’ve picked up so far:
When you find a place you like, get your application forms in quick! No, I don’t mean in a few days, I mean now. Because, chances are that if another suitable applicant gets their forms in first, then they’re going to get the house.
Think about what’s important to you in terms of location or the quality of the house. While spending hours trolling through realestate.com it was interesting to see the contrast in price between a nice house in a suburb slightly further from the city than say, a dilapidated shit-hole in a suburb like Parkside. Think about what you want and find a balance between location and house quality.
If you’ve got a pet, finding a rental property is going to be 10 times harder, especially if it’s a large dog!
Make a good impression with the property manager when you go to inspect a house. Make sure you introduce yourself and ask questions to show that you’re truly interested in the property. Building up some sort of rapport will improve your chances of being considered as a potential tenant.
The rental market is a bitch for those that don’t have a past rental history. I mean, it makes sense. Landlords want to be able to trust the people that they’re leasing their house to and what better confirmation do you need than references from past landlords!
Before moving out, be absolutely certain that you’re going to be able to live with the people that you’re intending to share a house with. Whether you’re moving out with close friends, strangers, mutual acquaintances, family members or a mixture, you want to be certain that you can all get along for the most part and that everyone is going to pull their weight when it comes to maintaining the property and paying the bills.
Moving out of home is no small feat, and there are so many things that I hadn’t even thought of that require deep consideration (like which toilet scrubber is better value). So, I’ve created a little bit of a checklist of all the things that are important to think about when first moving out.
Moving Out Checklist:
Think about what the necessities are and what you can do without for a while.
Look for budget items on eBay and Gumtree.
If someone offers you something for free (and it’s somewhat functional), take it!
Kmart, Target and Big W are your best friends for cheap decor, furniture and appliances.
Get contents insurance
This is something I didn’t even think about until the property manager suggested it, but if something happens to the house (a fire, break-in, flooding), you’re gonna want to make sure that all your valuable shit is insured.
Budget, budget, budget!
This is going to be key when it comes to dealing with the expenses of living out of home. It will also hopefully relieve some financial stress if you’re able to create a budget (and stick to it). Consider things like bills, rent and other household expenses.
If you’re renting with family members, perhaps consider opening a joint bank account and each transferring a set amount of money into it each week to create a pool of funds for household expenses and bills.
Take it as a chance to get rid of all the shit you’ve accumulated over the past decade. Be ruthless. Treat it as a cleanse. But don’t be lazy and just chuck everything in the bin. Recycle what you can and give anything that is still in reasonable condition to charity. Also, take it as an opportunity to make a bit of extra dough by selling any unwanted items on eBay or gumtree – who would have thought one could get $25 out of a 20-year old keyboard.
Organise removalist if you’ve got big-ass furniture items like desks and double beds. But, if you can, try and get some mates together to help out (especially ones with trailers or utes) and pay them back with a slab of beer (it’ll be cheaper and you can nab a few for yourself).
Redirect your mail and update your address for things like your driver’s licence, bank details and Medicare.
My final tip is to accept that it’s going to be challenging and stressful, but at the end of the day, everyone has to move out at some stage, so what better time than now?