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Hexdebt on diversity, inclusivity, and creating community

“You have to have diverse people backstage, diverse people organising the gig, diverse people behind the bar, because that’s what truly fosters a safe environment.”

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Rochelle Flack

Anyone who’s familiar with Hexdebt would know that the Melbourne four-piece thrash hard. Heavy riffs, screaming vocals and raucous guitars permeate their Bitch Rising EP, emanating a punk rock sound and attitude.

But they haven’t always been rockers.

“I started playing guitar when I was seven, so for nearly 15 years,” guitarist Aife Larkin says. “I have a classical background, I play classical guitar and I study classical guitar, but I grew up listening to punk. It’s always been a really big part of my life playing with other people and often not classical music, and then studying in classical.”

Bassist Isobel D’Cruz Barnes, has a similar background, taking up flute at five years old (which she still plays), before switching to bass in her early teens.

“My sister who’s quite a bit older than me was listening to all these cool bands, and I think I just realised how lonely it was just focusing on this competitive, solo-driven classical career and I was like ‘Wow, I actually really want to play music with other people.’ I took up bass guitar when I was 12 and was playing jazz for a long time,” Barnes says.

Barnes and Larkin met in high school, both talented musicians with a penchant for punk and a burning desire to start a band. However, it wasn’t until they met vocalist and guitarist Agnes Whalan and drummer Lucy Fry that this dream finally came to fruition.

“I met Aife at a gig. We were playing a show together and then Aife got really drunk and came up to me after the show and was like ‘Hey, I’m starting this thing with some people, would you be interested in drumming for us?’ And I was like ‘Yeah, sounds good,’” Fry laughs at the memory.

Whalan laughs in agreement, adding “There was heaps of energy to start something together, to the point where the first time I met Lucy was when she walked into my house and I was like ‘Lucy do you want a cup of tea?’ And then we belted out a song really quickly because I think there was a lot of mutual, just like waiting for the right circumstance. And that was Hexdebt.” 

The group had long been playing music with other bands before finding each other. All of them had experiences as musicians in male-dominated groups that have made them even more appreciative and passionate for what they’ve now created.

“I think there’s a stoicism to playing with men in bands that maybe they don’t even realise, but it’s brought by this expectation for everyone to not be able to articulate what’s going on, but ‘Just do it man, just feel it,’ and we’re very vocal about what’s going on and what we’re experiencing and what isn’t working,” Whalan says.

“It was a political thing in a lot of ways. I’m still really, really, good friends with people I’ve played in bands with in the past, and that I do play in bands with still that are dudes, but the whole reason they do it is different to the reason that Hexdebt does it. It’s a really different thing, it’s purposeful in a completely different way,” Larkin says.

“You have to have experienced some of that hardship to totally understand it sometimes,” Barnes adds. “We probably couldn’t write the music we write if we weren’t all deeply friends.”

This sense of support and safety is something the band strives for among themselves, but also aim to cultivate at the shows they play. Being queer in the punk niche of Melbourne’s live music scene, the group have experienced first-hand the ways in which some groups are often marginalised. This happens either consciously or subconsciously, and they’re passionate about creating spaces that everyone can enjoy and feel comfortable in.

“I think the one thing that we’re really endeavouring to do is recognise that there are standards in place that are commonplace that everyone accepts, that upset and affect a lot of people,” Whalan explains. “We’re like ‘Ok, we’ve got this stage, we can do more than just talk through music, we can put things in place to make sure that at the end of this night someone is going to come away inspired, feeling like there is something more about this community that they can participate in.’”

“You can’t just have a diverse stage. You have to have diverse people backstage, diverse people organising the gig, diverse people behind the bar, because that’s what truly fosters a safe environment,” Barnes says.

Hexdebt will be helping kick things off for Live N Local, playing alongside Kill the Darling, Psychobabel, Alice Skye, and Househats; an eclectic mix of artists across a range of genres.

“What’s really important about this gig is that there’s a merging of genre and with that comes different audience groups, and I think by being able to liaison with people that listen to different sounds and have different ideas of what the night’s going to be like, you’re building community,” Whalan says.

“Not saying there’s going to be hip hop influences in Hexdebt anytime soon,” they pause as laughter erupts from the table, “But we’ve played with a lot of bands and solo acts from different genres and it’s really helped us understand what we should be looking out for.”

As for new music, fans should keep an ear out for a single and accompanying video soon, although they’ll have to wait a little longer for an album.

“We’re really big perfectionists, who love to nurture each other and get distracted,” Barnes says. “But there’ll be an album released in March.”

Hexdebt will play Beat at the Bowlo on Saturday August 25 at Middle Park Bowling Club, as part of this year’s Live N Local Festival. Head to the Live N Local website for more info on this free gig and to check out the full program.