The lives of CLAMM’s Jack Summers and Lulu’s Records’ Yasmine Sharaf aren’t underlined by the 9 to 5 or colourful salaries. They haven’t chosen the easy road, but they’ve chosen the most gratifying.
On the edge of reason, the edge of conventionality and the edge of the Melbourne music scene, frontman of punk rock band CLAMM, Jack Summers, divulges his vendetta against the 9 to 5, the black dog and the state of contemporary Australia.
Having worked a bunch of odd-sod jobs to support his creative endeavours, and now taking a leap of faith, as he puts it, into his music, the 23-year-old wants anything but to be a cog in the system, despite admitting it would make his life a whole lot easier.
He is not alone in these sentiments, rather Summers is one of the members of Melbourne’s diverse underground music scene; a network of people who either feel on the edge or just prefer to be. Bands play DIY gigs to intimate audiences, charging little to nothing for tickets. For many artists, it’s not enough to pay rent, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
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Summers has farewelled the security of a steady job, a choice he admits is probably not sustainable, but he is doing it anyway. Why? At a point in his life it became unavoidably clear to him that he couldn’t imagine doing much else outside of his music and art.
“You gotta work out what it is that you want to do and if it’s something that isn’t a 9 to 5 job then you’re up against it from the start.”
With Spotify paying about one third of a cent per song, and most underground bands either performing for free or for next to nothing, if you’re working as an underground artist, you’re probably not in it for the money.
“You’re not really supported, like at school as a kid, they don’t say you can be a musician. Sometimes you wonder, ‘Is this really sustainable?’, and I guess that’s where the fear creeps in.”
But for Summers, the risks and uncertainty of being an underground artist are not enough to turn him away.
“I’ve been in the headspace with anxiety where I have just felt like, ‘Man, I just fucking wish I could work a job – that I could be okay with just doing a 9 to 5, that would make my life so much easier if I could to that!… that’s sort of CLAMM’s message; ‘Fuck that!’”
25-year-old Yasmine Sharaf is a manager at Lulu’s Records Melbourne – a hub for the ‘modern Australian underground hustle’. Like Summers, Sharaf has always gravitated to the underground music scene. She has been going to gigs since she was a teenager (even when she didn’t have friends to go with), and eventually started photographing live shows, writing a zine and playing in her own band, A/S/L.
“The underground music scene accidentally encompasses every aspect of my life.”
The incredible community and culture of Melbourne’s underground scene, Sharaf explains, dismisses desires to expand to mainstream audiences, leaving many happily on the edge.
“It’s an inward-facing insular world in a lot of ways, not because of elitism, because everyone is really proud to be a member of this community. It’s incredibly rare if you can even find a mainstream audience because of how the industry is shaped nowadays and I don’t think people really give a toss.”
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Summers shares similar sentiments about the attraction of staying in the underground scene.
“Some of these underground bands are the best bands ever, and they don’t seem to give a fuck about taking it to the next level.”
CLAMM’s debut LP Beseech Me was released early last year. Without anyone to push distribution, there was no way it was going to be pressed on vinyl and so the ten tracks were released on cassette. Aside from it being what they could afford, Summers conveys a quintessential underground attitude about the decision.
“If someone wants to listen to it, they’re going to have to buy the tape, and already have a tape player, or go buy one.”
And people did; the album gained traction in and out of the underground community – the opening track ‘Liar’ has now reached over 30,000 streams on Spotify and CLAMM have surpassed 6,000 monthly listeners on the platform. While the feedback-laden fiery riffs and driving basslines are certainly alluring, the themes of discontent and antagonism are the lifeblood of the album.
A common theme of the underground scene is the attitude of “fuck this”. According to Summers, this common catch phrase is more than an unruly outcry, it serves to generate a dialogue around the impacts of mental health problems; an edge he is all too familiar with.
“I think in general I am quite a sensitive person, my childhood was a bit of a tough one,” he says, with anxiety and trauma that manifested a few years ago into “quite intense panic attacks”.
It is this trauma that underwrites CLAMM’s belligerent and emotionally-charged live performances where the band’s aggression can be felt throughout any performance space and is mirrored by the crowd who expel their own rage.
“You need to feed the voice saying ‘fuck that’ and I think that CLAMM can do that for people in a way.”
It’s here that it becomes so clear why Summers, like many of his peers, commit so much time, energy and passion to the underground music scene. It’s more than music; it’s self-preservation. For the CLAMM frontman, the pandemic posed barriers to his avenue of release – playing rock shows.
“CLAMM hadn’t played a gig in like 14 months and I could just feel it in my chest.”
So, the underground music scene is highly intertwined with wellbeing; the socialising, the liberation, the community, the catharsis. A large proportion of CLAMM’s audience are young people, which Summers is excited about.
“It’s a turbulent and formative time and if they [our listeners] are getting empowered to deal with mental health and to live life on the edge, to not go by the books – then that’s great.”
Sharaf also stresses the crucial role the underground scene has played in her wellbeing.
“It’s such an intense form of socialising and community, it’s where we meet people and hang out and you have this amazing support network. It’s really rare in this modern age to have these kinds of face-to-face interactions with people and strong community ties because we live in this individualised world. I think these things really do save people… living in the underground music world.”