I have never understood fans of Death Metal. To me, it’s the noise of angry, sweaty blokes, yelling “Roaaaaaah! Roaah! Raaaarghh! AAAAAA!” over machine gun drumming. Perhaps useful if you needed to get a hostage to give up State secrets, but surely not something you’d ever play by choice?
If anyone can create an intellectual bridge to things outside of your experience, it’s Canberra comedian and ‘not cool’ guy, Bill Makin.
“I may not look like it, but I do an hour of intense exercise on a stationary bike and I listen to Death Metal then. It’s meditation time. Anyone who is not listening to music on an exercise bike is planning a revenge murder,” Bill said.
But what is it about this destructive sounding noise that appeals to someone so seemingly creative and gentle?
“The lyrics speak to my world view because I’ve always despised Pop music. Death Metal is completely looked down upon by the mainstream– it’s never played on the radio or on TV – it seems to speak for the little man in terms of not being cool; forever the outcast.
“If you imagine how fast Metallica is, Death Metal is further along the road – you eliminate melody and harmony and the point of it is that it’s so heavily distorted that it has an effect on your brain similar to white noise: The chaos of the music is set against whatever chaos is going on in your head and it’s peaceful,” he explains.
It adds up; there have been psychological studies into the genre and its legion of fans. An article in the Scientific American backs up Bill’s experience that the music in fact calms fans, who are by and large “smart, creative and generally good-hearted souls”. Apparently, the feeling of being “an outsider [from the world] and an insider [as a fan] at the same time is at the core of the death metal experience”.
A finalist in the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander comedy competition Deadly Funny in 2018, Bill is a storyteller who makes you laugh because of how he sees things, not because he is ‘always on’ and dropping jokes into conversation.
His first taste for laughs on stage came when he was asked to deliver a 5-minute speech for the Year 12 end of school assembly, after winning a class speech competition which – he quickly adds – was the only thing he ever won at school.
“I had watched so much Black Adder and Billy Connolly I ended up writing a roast of the teachers and it felt like laughter you’d get at a comedy show with applause breaks! It was the only thing I ever did at school that anyone admired. I had girls talking to me afterwards. It was like ‘Holy Shit!’
“I thought it was a pure one off. No one ever said ‘you should be a comedian’.”
And although he fell in love with watching stand up comedy routines on YouTube, it would still be several years before he won a competition with his first ‘official’ stand-up set at Canberra’s Phoenix Pub.
Bill is Aboriginal. He’s also one of Australia’s best up and coming comedians, but he’d never want to be seen as representing anything but his own lived experience. On stage, he doesn’t talk about Aboriginal politics but his comedy is full of stories about growing up in Redfern and then Riverwood in Bankstown, a suburb wedged between Punchbowl and Lakemba reviewed by one resident online as “an Ok suburb”. The son of a Wiradjuri man from Dubbo who was a crane driver and union official and a Mum who worked in the hearing aide factory, Bill has three older sisters who make cameos in his comedy. The kids left Sydney with his Mum when he was about seven and his parents split up.
“My Dad’s side is the Aboriginal side but I was only in that life until I was seven – Mum wasn’t black and I spent the rest of my childhood in Nelson Bay, which is not an Aboriginal town.
“I think it would be the worst thing was if I was the representative of something. I am 100 per cent on board with the urge for more equality, more opportunity [for Aboriginal people] but at the same time, I’m such a hypocrite. I’m so completely bad at other things in my life that if I were appointed the spokesperson for something I would immediately quit.
“I don’t look Aboriginal, I haven’t experienced so many of the problems that are important, all I could talk about is someone who grew up poor in Sydney in the 80s.”
Bill moved to Canberra for work in 2008 when he was accepted into the Australian Public Service Graduate Program. After completing an Arts degree in history and ancient history, he felt none of the career ambition that he could see other Grads felt upon winning a spot in the Program. His first job was in the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and while the first tasks involving maths and statistics didn’t suit him, he loved a subsequent role working on the Census that took him to remote and regional NSW.
“I got to work on the Census as an Indigenous Planner – which sounds like I was organising the Stolen Generations – but it was actually a job where I had to come up with a plan for every discreet Aboriginal community in NSW to engage them in the Census. I loved it.”
For four years Bill volunteered at the Red Cross and while that was a rewarding time, it came from a destructive addiction to alcohol. He was depressed and had so much spare time on his hands that he had to find something to occupy him.
“I went onto Seek and looked up volunteer jobs, but they were all shit. You had to go and weed old people’s gardens and everything else was too hard – like you had to volunteer as an architect or a graphic designer.
“The only thing I could do that didn’t look terrible was the soup kitchen at the Red Cross Roadhouse every night of the week except Friday nights,” Bill laughs.
“It’s not a particularly heroic story. I got to a point where my health was in crisis. They said listen, you’re not dying but you will soon if you don’t stop. So I quit, cold turkey like a moron. But then the anxiety and insomnia came roaring back and I couldn’t sleep for a year. I did it stupidly – the advice is you should go see a doctor, they give you pills, go to a support group. I’ve put a few years in between then and now, so it broke me of it and how awful it was.”
And that’s where the Death Metal comes in.
“Doing an hour of intense exercise every day gets me tired enough to get regular sleep. Once the sleep is taken care of, I can manage everything else.”
Skip ahead to 2016 and his first open mic spot at The Phoenix with two of his sisters and their friends in the crowd and Bill, nervous that no one was going to laugh. But they did and now he has become one of the most consistently funny and original voices to come out of the Canberra scene. Writing 20 minutes to an hour every couple of days has become a new hobby and he has made a collection of new ‘weird’ friends he would never have met without comedy.
“I found that I have to be very conscious of why I’m doing comedy, because I have really childish side. I catch myself being bitter in the way an 8-year-old is bitter when they catch someone playing with their toys ‘How come I’m not in the centre of attention?’”
“But it’s so out of proportion – so what if you’re the centre of attention at the Phoenix Pub on a Tuesday night? You’ve got to love just getting up and doing it for you.”
Bill’s debut solo show Mayonnaise Disputes and Monopoly Fights is on at the Canberra Comedy Festival on Wednesday 20 March at 8.30pm at The Street Theatre Two.
He’s helped put together Canberra’s first Koori Comedy Showcase at the Canberra Comedy Festival on 21 March at The Street Theatre and is putting on his second Roast Battle at The Phoenix Pub, 8pm on February 19.
You can follow him on Facebook .