"The arts are essential to our way of being": Lou Harbidge from Downgirl on resilience and DIY

$Downgirl Promo Photo
Image: Downgirl Promo Photo Photo by YogaPunk Photography

If you've caught Downgirl live, you know they don't fuck around. The definition of a hard-working, hard-gigging local band, the four-piece powered through the lockdowns to emerge as one of the tightest and most raucous live acts working in Eora/Sydney right now — if they're playing in your local's front bar, you can't help but stick around to watch them tear it up. And if you're lucky, you'll catch one of powerhouse drummer Skarlett's knife-sharp, life-affirming rants at deadshit hecklers, politicians, or general bad vibes.

Can you give us a brief overview of who you are and what you do in music?

DOWNGIRL is Alex Neville (vocals/guitar), Kristen Adams (vocals/guitar), Skarlett Saramore (drums), and me, Lou Harbidge (bass). We’re mates who like to make a lot of noise together.

Can you think of any notable moment where you suddenly realised that Sydney’s music community was “home” for you?

I’ve played in bands in Sydney for a while but funnily enough, I felt most at “home” in Sydney during the shows we managed to squeeze in between the two lockdowns (and not just because I couldn’t actually leave). Although the arts did not seem to receive as much support as other entertainment like sport, it was felt at a community level. This may sound strange but it was kind of heartwarming standing on stage and seeing seated, masked up audiences who braved the conditions to head out and support live music.

Do you feel Sydney’s changed over the years in terms of its attitude towards music, in terms of broader community participation and interest? What do you think have been contributing factors to this?

There have definitely been impediments to Sydney’s music scene in the last decade or so, namely the closure of institutions such as the Hopetoun and the Annandale due in part to gentrification, the Baird government’s lockout laws, and the Covid lockdowns. Despite this, I don’t think community interest in music has waned, and there are some great venues out there like the Duke and the Botany View that are doing a fantastic job at fostering live music.

What’s your view on DIY? What’s its importance to an overall local music ecosystem? Should there be more of it locally or are we well served in this area?

More please. DIY is what keeps the community going. It brings artists, musos and audiences together in environments that aren’t sterile and centred on financial gain. Music and art can be created more freely when it isn’t treated solely as a commodity by companies that don’t have the creators' interests at heart. 

How about policy, from a local and state government perspective? What do you feel deserves more discussion?

Government policies and funding definitely play a huge part in the arts. I’m pretty sick of hearing political commentators bang on about how public funds can be better spent elsewhere as if the only alternative is to lessen funding to other vital social services like health and education so that the arts can benefit. Obviously no one is proposing that. The arts are essential to our way of being. When we went into lockdown, we turned to the arts for comfort and entertainment — why not allow it to flourish and adequately compensate those who create it?

In your time spent looking at music scenes elsewhere around the world, is there anything you see in the way that they function that you’d love to see more of in Sydney?

I noticed that there were loads of warehouse/DIY gigs in London. I’d love to see more of that in Sydney.

Finally, would love to know if you’re a fan of any local artists or bands that you can’t believe more people aren’t banging on about. This is your opportunity to shout them out here…

We’ve had the privilege of playing with STAIN, Blussh, The Shrugs, Lariska, Raising Ravens, Baby Shower and Euterpe. All awesome bands that you should definitely check out.

Joe Hardy
05 Oct 2022