The Odd Couple

There is an air of improbability to everything Aaron Girgis and Jack Irvine do together. The simple fact of their friendship included. Just as their hometown, Cronulla, emerged from the disgraceful chapter known as the 2005 Race Riots in which hordes of flag-waving fascists went on a daylight rampage beating every brown-skinned person in sight Girgis, a self-described Asics-wearing “ethnic westie,” and Jack, a bleach-blonde, all-Australian surf star teamed up to produce one of the greatest cultural achievements the Sutherland Shire has ever come up with. It began, unofficially, with the ‘Weird and Wonderful Boogies,’ underground raves of sorts, held in nearby parkland, where instead of trance and techno the music tended to be more along the lines of Jack’s Dad’s vinyl collection (think Frankie Valley, Iggy Pop, the Beachboys and the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack).

This led to their talent being identified by the head creative at the once legendary Sydney fashion label Insight. Robbie Russo, giving them a golden ticket into the Sydney underground. “He showed us a whole ‘nother world. We were just like: we gotta do this the rest of our lives! No one in the Shire knew about this. We had to bring it home!” recalls Girgis. And bring it home they did, starting their own scene down south, the epicentre of which was the DIY art gallery and band space, Space 44, in the heart of Cronulla. It was a resounding success, providing a home for dozens of artists across Sutherland and the Sydney and attracting hundreds if not thousands of likeminded creative types in its few short years.

That momentum fed into a hair-brained scheme to start a DIY arts and music street festival in an under-utilised laneway near the gallery. Called Sounds of the Suburbs, it would attract bands from across Australia and the United States, along with hundreds of fans, and some serious heat from the authorities and nearby business owners.

With no training, minimal budget, and a crew of volunteer workers and stage builders made up of Cronulla’s Hardcore Punk scene, the event was predictably chaotic but ultimately a boon. “How did we pull it off? I don’t fucking know, man. Honestly, my brother does a fair bit in the music industry and there was a point where I called him and was like, man, I don’t know what I’m doin?’” laughs Girgis. “That’s how we make use of the space. We just do before we think,” he says.

Doing before thinking explains a lot of Jack and Aaron’s success. In their world, the strength of the idea is what counts along with its potential to deliver laughs and a good time. Commercial viability is a distant afterthought. This air of improbability and unpredictability creates a tension for fans and festival goers that is undeniably captivating. What might also be called a ‘car-cash complex,’ in that you can’t look away and can barely watch at the same time.

Instead of charred, mangled corpses, the worst case scenario in Jack and Aaron’s case is a hilarious and most harmless public fail plus a couple of grand down the girgler (see what I did there?). There work together perfect crystallises what it means to Do It Yourself. It’s little surprise then to see their efforts rewarded by the passionate local and international DIY arts and music communities. Since wrapping up Space 44 and Sounds of the Suburbs, Girgis has gone on to manage emerging sensations, Skegss and Ruby Fields, among others. While Jack continues to hold his own path with art shows around the country, moving works, painting murals, and producing a raft of semi-seminal album covers, tour posters and t-shirt prints.

Watch this space.