Back in February 2011, Luke Armstrong was turning 30 and wanted to hear a lot of music on his birthday.
So the bassplayer and singer in Hy-Test organised a music festival at the Cabbage Tree Hotel to mark his third decade on the earth.
He convinced more than 20 of his favourite bands to turn up and play but didn’t send out birthday party invitations – turn up at the door with $10 in your hand and you could join the fun.
And that was supposed to be it for Hy-Fest – it was never supposed to happen again.
“The idea was that it would just be a one-off thing, but it just seems to have snowballed every year,” Armstrong says.
“By the third year we did it we didn’t even have to try and pick the line-up and call and ask them to play – we had so many people hassling us to play.”
A CHANCE TO PLAY
Held every year since, Hy-Fest has become very much a Wollongong institution. Despite the fact it no longer coincides with Armstrong’s birthday, it’s still a gig he and the other bandmates in Hy-Test look forward to.
Partially because it’s one of the few guaranteed times of the year they get to play a gig.
As they get older, work, families and drummers make it harder to make time to play.
“As we were getting older, the other members of Hy-Test were all doing different things and playing in different bands,” Armstrong says.
“Neil, our drummer, he plays in about half a dozen bands, so any time we try and book something we have to try and work around his schedule.
“Also we’re all working full-time so it’s hard to tour like we used to. We used to leave Wollongong every second weekend and go out and do stuff.
“We’ve had kids in the last couple of years as well so it all makes it difficult to get everyone together and do it.
“But this show is the one gig of the year we all look forward to, for sure.”
Playing the show is great for Armstrong. But organising it? Well, that became a pain in the backside.
Such a pain, in fact, that he was about ready to throw in the towel.
“The last two years I’ve said, ‘nah, I’m not doing it this year’,” Armstrong says.
“It really is quite a logistical nightmare to put together – getting so many people together, finding the right venue. After having kids I found it really hard to find the time to book it.”
That’s where Warren Wheeler, from Helter Smelter Booking and Promotions, stepped in.
“Warren’s been a champion,” Armstrong says.
“He’s just jumped on board and said ‘you don’t have a choice - I’m taking it out of your hands, this has to happen’.”
Wheeler felt Hy-Fest needed to happen, as it had become much more than a birthday celebration, and more than an excuse for a Hy-Test gig.
“I offered to help because I love loud rock, punk and metal music and know plenty of others do too,” Wheeler says.
“Hy-Fest is as much about that community as it is about getting your eardrums shattered into a million pieces.
“Not that this compares with the Yours & Owls festival at all, and look, I love those guys and they’ve got a good thing going.
“But there’s another demographic that gets left out of that scene a bit. Hy-Fest caters for those that love their rock ’n’ roll a little louder, a whole lot uglier.”
As well as a chance for Wheeler to shatter his eardrums, keeping Hy-Fest going was about nurturing the local music scene for tomorrow’s singers, guitarists, bassists and drummers.
“We have some great heavy bands here doing some awesome stuff,” Wheeler says.
“Maggot, for example, are tearing up stages and legends like Babymachine and Hy-Test fly the flag well.
“Hy-Fest is an opportunity to bring bands in who wouldn’t ordinarily play Wollongong, giving young bands something to aspire to.”
Someone else might be organising Hy-Fest but one thing remains unchanged – Hy-Fest get to pick all the bands.
“Hy-Test still have the final say over what bands play,” Armstrong says.
“Warren put a list together of bands that he thought should get up. It got down to the point of us saying ‘we really like those bands but they’re not really mates of ours, and we’ve got mates of ours who are hassling us to play’.”
One band who were mates and did make the cut are headliners King Parrot from Melbourne.
Lead singer Matt Young says Hy-Fest definitely has a reputation in independent music circle outside Wollongong.
“I think there’s definitely a buzz about, especially in Melbourne,” Young says.
“I think there are four Melbourne bands playing on it this year. Definitely the Melbourne guys know about it and look forward to making the trek up there.
“They’ve done a really great job of promoting it, making sure it’s a bit of a national fixture.”
Young says those in the crowd at Hy-Fest can expect “total and utter chaos” from King Parrot’s headlining set.
“We like to make a mess, we like to get involved with the crowd and we like to get the crowd involved with us,” Young says.
“I know by the time that we get on stage people will probably be a bit messy, so that suits us perfect.
“You can expect nothing but craziness from us.”
Hy-Fest is on at Dicey Riley’s on December 10 from 2.30pm. Bands on the bill include King Parrot, Hy-Test, Front End Loader, Batpiss, Babymachine, The Vee Bees and more.
Tickets are $20 (plus booking fee) from Oztixs or $25 at the door.