Blaze Festival proves the heavy rock scene is thriving in Ballarat

Why should Melbourne be the final word on Australian heavy rock? 

This question led to the creation of Blaze Festival, a Ballarat music event that runs the gamut from straightforward hard rock to more esoteric varieties of thrash and death metal. The festival isn’t intended just as a night of loud and frenetic sound, say organisers – it’s also intended to reinvigorate the Ballarat music scene and to pull a little attention to regional Victorian musicians.

“We want to bridge the gap and encourage the Ballarat people and the community around the area to be more inclusive,” says festival spokesperson Serenity Furjan. “The activity is there, but not as prevalent as it should be, on the heavier and harder side of music… This is an encouragement for Ballarat to be a part of something invigorating within their arts and music community. We’re gonna shake shit up – that’s what the plan is. We’ve got big goals and big dreams, and they’re achievable, provided that we’ve got the community’s positive response behind us.”

Headlining Blaze will be a Melburnian group that’s made a name for themselves overseas: Metallica-influenced thrash metal group Desecrator. Also on the bill are prolific death metal group Hadal Maw, black metal artists Encircling Sea, punk ensemble Wolfpack and the inimitable Whoretopsy, among others.

“[Wolfpack] are another band who’ve gone out and championed and challenged themselves not only locally, but nationally and internationally,” says Furjan. “Blaze goes from… the darker, blackened end with Encircling Sea to everything in between that makes rock, metal and punk so accessible and so wonderful to be a part of. Ballarat needs that encouragement.”

Melbourne death metal group Whoretopsy are well known for their deliberately over-the-top lyrics, which feature material that can be explicitly violent, sexual or just plain weird. The band’s sometimes cringe-inducingly graphic lyrics have led to more than one gig cancellation following public outcry – a response Melbourne usually reserves for right-wing lecturers – but Furjan hopes that Blaze audiences will be prepared to take Whoretopsy’s boundary-pushing music in good humour.

“We’re trying to encourage the artistic merit of this band,” says Furjan. “It actually goes beyond the undertones that a lot of people are seeing, which are quite superficial. I think a lot of people are losing sight of what satirical artistry can be brought forward in music… We don’t want to censor anybody.”

The convenience of streaming services has bitten into ticket sales for live events over past years. As well as revitalising the Ballarat heavy music scene, Blaze Festival should also encourage the public to choose live music over digital services, says Dav Byrne, bassist for Encircling Sea.

“It’s definitely up to the punters to show their support for live music by voting with their feet, getting to a show and not taking the easy option of staying somewhere comfortable and doing something that’s a bit more predictable,” says Byrne. “I really hope that the festival will put Ballarat back on the map as a destination to come and see some incredible arts and culture.”

Encircling Sea is working on an unconventional lighting setup for their set at Blaze Festival – one that will create a heavy, moody atmosphere devoid of the standard blinking red, blue and green lights. Byrne hopes that Blaze audiences will have fun, but not so much fun that they won’t remember Encircling Sea’s set the next day.

“A crippling hangover is not necessarily a badge of honour,” chides Byrne. “It’s always great to remember some of what you saw the previous evening, and I hope that audiences will take away some great memories of Ballarat as a hotbed for challenging and extreme music.”

So long as Ballarat’s notoriously capricious climate doesn’t intercede with sleet or a 40-degree heat wave, Blaze Festival is set to become an annual event that will breathe new life into the regional Victorian heavy music community, says Byrne.

“It’s not just about the Melbourne music scene anymore,” says Furjan. “It’s about the Victorian music scene. We’ve got so much to give everybody. Victoria’s only going to be a bigger, better place in the next ten years, and we definitely want to be a part of that growth.”

Blaze Festival goes down at Karova Lounge, Ballarat, on Saturday January 26. Tickets via Oztix.