Applespiel out to make myths out of musicians

The great myths of Odysseus and Beowulf and King Arthur are still told today, but who among us will be spoken of thousands of years from now? Applespiel would argue that rock musicians are our true heroes, and they're here to claim the title.

“We've always been really interested in modes of contemporary myth-making,” says Applespiel member Mark Rogers. “For us the pinnacle of that is the rock band and especially this form of the rock documentary that squeezes the ordinary banalities of being in a rock band, on the road, playing shows, drinking, recording, and kind of turns them into something much, much bigger.”

That something is Applespiel Start a Band and Take on the Recording Industry. They weren't a band until ... well, read the title again. This is the story of a theatre company that reinvented itself as a real rock group in order to tell the story of a fictional rock group's rapid ascent and equally rapid downfall. The result is part concert, part play, and all live rockumentary as the unfolding events are filmed on live TV cameras and edited on-the-spot into a slick assembly of gig footage, interviews, backstage scenes and more.

Laying bare the process of producing a music documentary hints at the artifice behind the whole industry. “You can see the whole time that this big thing we're creating is fake,” says fellow member Emma McManus. “We're presenting this huge thing where we're becoming famous but at the same time you can see us creating all the shots, see us making these fake things where we're pretending we're in this huge stadium but clearly we're in this tiny room.”

The show's double nature means that it can present the rock band as a modern myth while also revealing the dreary banality of a musician's reality – of royalties and APRA, of the daily grind of touring, and the “mean and weird and very efficient marketing machine” that engineers it all.

The framing device is also a way of exposing our own complicity in the myth-making process. The audience can choose to view the mechanism laid bare before them, or immerse themselves in the slick documentary itself as it plays out on mounted screens above. There's a pleasure to be found in “the way that society puts this status on people who are rock musicians”, says McManus. “This huge idolatry of them and how we all feed that idea of what a rock god is, that they're these people who do things we wish we could do. How we help them become these bigger-than-life figures.”

At the same time, Rogers says, there's a genuine desire to make something meaningful behind both Applespiel the band and the kinds of real-world figures they represent. “I grew up playing in bands and if I'm analysing myself, I played in bands because I wanted to do something with my friends, to be cool, have power from that, but you also want to make something real that says something.”

“The characters are sort of based on ourselves,” says McManus, “but with tropes from music documentaries thrown in, like the crazy visionary or the one who drinks too much.”

Rogers says that the band's size and the hectic spirit you get when members aren't exactly at “this crazy level of virtuosity” gives the outfit a sound that might be comparable to early Arcade Fire or Architecture in Helsinki.

“There's no one lead singer, no one lead guitarist. It's more mutable than that. Which is more interesting as a way of focusing it less on one individual member and more on the band.”

Applespiel's own structure is just as organic. The eight met while studying at the University of Woolongong and came up with a name any member could use when creating performance-based work.

Applespiel works have “no director, everybody writes, everybody devises,” says Rogers. “It's a great process where everybody has an investment in it and everybody works together to this vision. Within Applespiel there's the same kind of conflicts that happen in a band, around creative control, how ideas get out and what ideas get out.”

“We called it the Wu Tang model,” says McManus. “We're all in the clan but not everyone has a solo in every song. This is actually the first project where all eight of us are in it and were completely involved from the beginning.”

Applespiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry plays Malthouse Theatre, September 3 to 13.