Rob Brens

Musician : Educator : Writer

Top gigs played in 2015

I’ve actually been meaning to do an “All Time Favourite Gigs” post for quite a while now. Not just for the sake of putting out a ‘listicle’ (is that what you kids call them?) but because after I thought about this particular subject, I found that they often weren’t gigs that made the most money or had the most people. They just carried a particular energy that stuck with me long after the show, feeling the effect of the sum of a group of people coming together and elevating to something greater. Or perhaps, it’s just that culmination of an extensive period of work, coming to fruition in a way that isn’t necessarily better than you imagined, but just differently, as often is the case.

Barring any last minute pop ups, it’s looking like I’ve played my last show for 2015 so I figure I’ll make a list of my top gigs for the year. These are the strongest candidates, I wanted to go for 5, but the fifth choice included about 3 or 4 different gigs and an honourable mentions list would have another 20 shows in it. These are in no particular order.


January 9, 2015. The Schoenberg Automaton w/ Colossvs, A Million Dead Birds Laughing, The Arbiter and Orchestrating the Damned.

This one falls under the "epic amounts of work category". I think I worked on this one non-stop for about 4-5 months to fill in for The Schoenberg Automaton for two shows, as their drummer Nelson was overseas. Seems ridiculous, but being friends with the band for so long, I couldn’t turn down the chance to take on this huge challenge, often times this motivates me more than anything else. Huge was an understatement though.

I usually have a pretty solid method for learning songs but I had to reinvent myself over and over again. On top of the physical challenges of executing the music, it embodied everything about the unorthodox and note for note learning the parts was simply out of the question. It became a case of combining ways of replicating the parts and capturing the feel of the songs as best as possible.

So it seems likely that putting all this time and effort would make one’s head explode at the prospect of only having two shots at getting it right (yes I know every gig is your only shot but you know what I mean), especially knowing that the Melbourne show was going to have all of my peers there, which include some of the best musicians going around. But funnily enough, that’s what got me through. Once we were on stage and set up, I looked around and didn't see a panel of judges, just my friends. We were all just hanging out, doing our thing, from the stage to the back of the room. So once I fired off the first song, like every other show, I just had to throw everything to the wind and go for it. I’m not saying it was totally nailed, but it felt pretty damn good and vibes were at an all time high. Judging by the response, I did alright. Now I never want to do that ever again…


March 14, 2015. Alarum @ The New Dead Festival w/Psycroptic, Goatwhore, Aversion’s Crown and more…

This one in particular became more significant to me as it was to be my final show with the band and I’m so glad it was, given it was a great note to finish on. I’ve performed plenty of fantastic shows with the band but I think what stuck out about this performance was just how natural it was. The setlist comprised of a great mix spanning all three albums and a couple of new ones we had been working on. I would say contributing to the ease would be all the work I’d been doing outside the band, making the physicality of playing in Alarum much easier. However, considering the amount of time it took to feel less jaded about being in the band, to play a show like this where there wasn’t just a big, responsive crowd but above all, feeling like a solid unit and just having fun like we were doing it for the first time is an unbelievable feeling when you’ve been doing a band for a long time, after many ups and downs. I’ll be writing a separate article on my nine years in Alarum soon.


November 21, 2014. Hadal Maw @ 170 Russell w/Ne Obliviscaris and Beyond Creation

Alright, I know this gig was last year but I figure it fits in the 12 month mark and this one is too good to not bring up.

This one had it all really. Being asked to perform with some friends who were finally breaking in a really big way, along with an incredible up and coming tech metal band from Canada at a killer venue.

We were incredibly fortunate that the venue had already filled up close to what was going to be the final numbers for the night, as sometimes being the opening band on a higher profile bill can result in playing to few people, or just as punters walk in. Luckily this wasn’t the case and there’s that added bonus being an opening band where all your equipment is setup and sound-checked, ready to go.

The response was fantastic and we killed it on merch, but also being greeted by the Beyond Creation guys, who responded to our music as if they’d just seen a huge band (and we were to respond in kind after witnessing their set). Given we’re both of the 8 string driven, super heavy technical metal ilk, it was a bromance waiting to happen. But above all, it was everything that we’d talked about wanting from the very beginning of the band. To have just experienced something that was a mere idea a couple of years before really added to the experience (that is, after we’d done a good job).


August 9, 2015. Racer Axe @ The Melbourne Guitar Festival, Flemington Racecourse.

Another one for the “culmination of a long period of work” category. For anyone not familiar, Racer Axe is a tribute band covering the works of 80’s shred group Racer X. Playing with these world class musicians is an honour in itself but to be playing in a band with someone who played on my most influential album (On the Virg – Serious Young Insects) is always going to appeal to my inner fanboy. I’m not sure how long we’d been working at this, it’s definitely over the 12 month mark of sporadic rehearsals so the offer of the Melbourne Guitar Festival couldn’t have been more perfect, or intimidating. Playing in front of not only a swath of guitar nerds but also all of Melbourne’s premier muso’s that I’ve been looking up to for many years. Luckily the circumstances didn’t really allow for that thought.

Making the show happen involved getting our slot scheduled so that we’d be playing in the middle of a small east coast run with Hadal Maw. I was flown out of Canberra on Sunday morning where I would land in Melbourne, rush to the festival and from there, drive to Hadal Maw’s all ages show on the other side of the city. Add into the mix my cymbals being lost in transit, you’ve got a whole lot of pent up energy, not necessarily positive. I’ve learned over the years to utilize that energy at gigs, because regardless of the emotional experience, the chemical occurrence is essentially the same. Although getting to the festival and having an incredible crew working behind the scenes definitely eases a lot of tension (someone handing me bottles of water mid set isn’t something you usually get). Once again, it’s almost pointless to get to that moment before you kick off and go through that “Oh boy, here we go, all this time and effort leading up to this one moment” train of thought. Fuck that. You’ve gotta get down to business.

Usually the one conscious thought I try to have (and somewhat unsuccessfully upon seeing some footage) is to play slower than what I normally would, to help compensate for the adrenaline. Other than that, the mission is to just beat the piss out of the drums. We played really well and the reaction from what was apparently the biggest crowd of the entire festival was rapturous. To be well received by so many musicians that I’ve admired for a long time is a great feeling.

I’m sure there’s plenty of gigs that could have made it that are simply eluding me right now. If I had to make one honourable mention it would be playing with James Ivanyi at the Factory Floor in Sydney, supporting Plini. It was a huge challenge and the style appealed to me greatly, it was certainly satisfying being able to do a gig that utilized my fusion chops. I also made a lot of great friends that night and of course was honoured to share the stage with drum monster Troy Wright but I still felt like I could have played better that night, but a lot of the technical mishaps were quite amusing. However I could say that about any gig.