June 2019

Bringing In The Books

Words: Kat Hartmann Images: Even Books, Will Reichelt & Stephen Hyde

I thought I’d been attending the Even Books parties since day dot. I was wrong. As I found out mid-party – a revelation that inspired a moment of simultaneous disbelief and awe for, yes, there had been more before – I actually jumped on this literary bandwagon during its fourth incarnation: the debauched lane-side affair more widely known as Even Books #4: Motley Crue’s THE DIRT!

It was a mid-winter in June of 2008, that fateful night. A group of still-intelligent Sydneysiders converged on a small white-walled room in Chippendale with books in hand and bags full of booze. The purpose? To engage in largely undisclosed rock-inspired activities including rock trivia, Guitar Hero, a performance by raucous Sydney band Chain Gang and, of course, readings of The Dirt. Needless to say, it was a wild night that ended with one of my muso mates filling the laneway gutter with rivers of her stomach contents (see below to find out what became of Angela that night). Rock ‘n’ roll.

These days Alice Fenton and Angela Bennetts, the duo behind the soirées, have a total of 11 Even Books parties under their belts. Not to mention last month’s multi-event, multi-venue Le First Ever Readers Festival (yes, festival), hosted to coincide with the Sydney Readers Festival.

The series of one-off parties has developed a strong local contingent of devoted followers. Quite simply, Even Books reached out into the gapping Sydney-literary-event void and filled it with a series of at-times haphazard, ever chaotic and always entertaining booze-fuelled affairs. It was as if Sydney didn’t know what it was missing until Alice and Angela discovered the solution to their own boredom and begun combining books, booze and brains to the most interesting of ends.

God bless you motivational ennui, God bless you.

Kat Hartmann: I realise this question is rather pedestrian but am too interested in the answer to attempt to intellectualise, so… What inspired you to start Even Books?

Alice Fenton & Angela Bennetts: A few years back, every time we met up we would end up talking about how we were bored. Eventually, we realised the best way to deal with this was to start creating things (yes, we were a little slow). Our first thought was an online magazine full of all kinds of writing (fiction, non-fiction, long form and short), but then that took a really long time to get going, so in the meantime we thought we’d start an event somehow related to reading and writing, in order to build a community which we could then launch our li’l mag into. We had a look at what else was out there and discovered a night called the B-Club in London, which merged books, bands and bellinis and had actual authors along, like Will Self, and famous performers, like Paloma Faith. We ditched the bellinis and the razzle-dazzle big names, instead erring towards up-and-coming talent, low-brow booze (plain old beer suits us fine), and other random elements. Then we realised that we really enjoyed putting on the events, and the magazine fell by the wayside. Pieces of it actually exist on the Internet, but it’s so old now that we’ll probably never launch it.

KH: Originally the parties were pseudo-book-club-inclined soirées – in that they were themed around one particular novel and involved readings of said novel. These days they have diversified a little – namely with the recent Le First Ever Reader Festival. Post LFERF do you plan to go back to the book-club hybrid events and continue down the path of heterogeneousness or can we expect further future event mutations to occur?

AB: Aww, our own little mutants. Yes we want to keep growing and expanding, and the LFERF was one of the steps towards that this year – it was exciting to experiment with new kinds of concepts – but no we will not give up on the book hybrid freaks. Also in the works is an Even Books-curated exhibition and catalogue at Firstdraft in November. Creating and curating is something we’re definitely interested in for the future. People often ask what kinds of books we publish – it’d be nice to have an answer to that!

AF: We love the book club hybrid weirdo events, and really, the opening night (Friday) of the Readers’ Festival was exactly that. But as Angela says, we are branching out a little to do some curating, and one day we’d love to actually publish something. If we can get some sort of funding or sponsorship next year, we’d like to make The Readers’ Festival a proper, planned festival, rather than just two-girls-running-around-trying-to-do-everything. But in the meantime, yes, expect more of the drunken geek parties.

KH: Speaking of Le First Ever Readers Festival, what motivated the creation of this reader-based event?

AB & AF: It was a bit of a last minute decision, a culmination of a bunch of ideas. We’d had plans for a readathon waiting on the shelf for a while, but never found the right setting; we’d also wanted to recreate cult author Richard Brautigan’s Library of Unwritten Books; and we had been asked to join the Sydney Writers’ Festival line-up but didn’t feel like we quite fit in – the Writers’ Festival was so serious, so about writers, not about readers. Even Books is about readers, about reading books, and celebrating everyday creativity. And is very much not serious. So it made sense to combine this all into a very tongue-in-cheek Readers’ Festival. What surprised us was how everyone took it at face value. Another festival in Sydney? Sure, why not! We’re thinking we should start calling everything a festival. “Want to come over tonight for a festival of Bolognese?”

KH: The exploration of books through television and film became the premise of the second night of LFERF, Read This Screen and among other things included some hilarious screenings of Feminist Bookstore. Would it be safe to say this is an ongoing theme at Even Books’ affairs? What are your thoughts on the at-time controversial relationship between these two mediums?

AB: Between books and screens? I quite like the cross-over between the mediums (although I should point out, we were featuring clips that had books in them, not remakes of books). Maybe one day people will write novels about advertisements and poems about sitcoms, who knows. But it’s safe to say, Even Books likes to embrace all types of pop-culture crap, including 90s classics and Saturday Night Live clips.

AF: Is it a controversial relationship? People already write novels about advertisements (Max Barry’s Syrup) and poems about sitcoms (some awful poetry slam somewhere). Video games make great movies (hello Resident Evil!) and sometimes toilet paper ads (that one with the dog!) move me more than classics. We love books, which is why we focus on them, but we’re into all mediums of storytelling and love to combine them.

KH: Even Books soirées are multifaceted affairs involving too many user-related props to mention here – shortlist: guest-dressed mannequins, Polaroid photo booths, life models, Guitar Hero gamming and zine stalls all instantly spring to mind. Where do the ideas for the book and prop pairings come from?

AB: From our minds. We want our parties to be interactive, so we just think of ways to achieve this.

AF: We just throw ideas around until something feels right, then reign them in a little once we look at boring things like budgets and venue restrictions.

KH: You’ve had your fair share of guests, in the form of fancy performers and Jo Publics, at your events. Any particular bad behaviour bringers or over-partiers you want to use this opportunity to publicly name and shame?

AB: It’s probably normally me. Stress + no dinner + free beer = crazy lady! After the Motley Crue party, I got kicked out of two pubs for unruly behaviour. What can I say, I was really carried away by the theme? Nikki Sixx 4eva!

AF: Yeah, Angela was rabid that night. There was also the time that I stormed out of the Russian party in tears… But enough about us and how super fun we are to party with! There were some drunk Frenchies who broke our friend’s really expensive photography table… And also one of our regulars once decided to perform an impromptu strip show, then lost confidence half way through and began yelling at the audience “No, we should ALL take our clothes off”…

KH: Sydney has been undergoing a rather intriguing, slow-paced transformation of late in which creative endeavours and slightly left-of-centre events seem to be receiving a little more public attention. Recent changes to council-level regulation have been widely touted as being responsible for the progression but I personally think it runs a little deeper. Seeing that Even Books has been hosting literary, booze, band and film based events for a few years now I am interested to know your thoughts on the matter. Has there has been any trickle-on effect? Have you noticed a shift in numbers and/or media attention during the past 12 months?

AB: I don’t know if Sydney seems to be bubbling with new creativity-ness because I am paying more attention now, or because it really is. While the council regulations have changed (for example the permit for public entertainment being dropped) I actually think it is still quite hard to find an affordable venue in inner-city Sydney. The artist-run studio Even Books lives in (Bill+George in Redfern) has had numerous difficulties with the local council and residents, even though it is a quiet, respectful space. There seems to be a tension between what, for instance, the Australia Council wants to promote and what the local councils will allow. That said, we have a really vibrant fringe culture that’s exploding at the moment – it just seems to be a build up of the right people at the right time.

AF: I think Sydney’s at an exciting point right now – lots of things happening and lots of people keen to support new ideas. As Angela mentioned though, it’s still really hard for us to find suitable venues. We have received a lot more media attention in the last little while, but that could be because we’re more established now, rather than because of any societal transformation. At the beginning it was only people who were really looking for new things, like TwoThousand, and people who sorta knew us, like Dom Alessio from The Brag, who wrote about us, because it was too much of a weird concept for everyone else. Our numbers jumped hugely at the beginning of 2009 and have remained steady since then.

KH: What impact, if any, do you think events like Creative Sydney have on the above-outlined transformation?

AB: Creative Sydney was useful in collecting a bunch of disparate events/organisations/ideas under one officially sanctioned umbrella. I think it helped with critically coming to terms with the transformation, and bringing ‘underground’ things out into the light. Like us! Also, like mushrooms.

KH: While we’re on the subject of Creative Sydney: You are involved in one of the generally inspiration creative cluster fucks that are the Sydney Sessions at this year’s festival. Now, I know and you know, but not everyone knows – so for the sake of greater insight – what exactly will be going down at your particular Sydney Session?

AF&AB: The party is called I, Robot – You, Jane and is based (quite obviously) on Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi collection of short stories, I, Robot. There will be strange techno-gadgets, robot dance-offs, musical performances, short plays and more.

Who will you be collaborating with on the aforementioned Sydney Session?

AF&AB: We are teaming up with Dorkbot (they are bringing the techno know-how) and also the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP), who are re-interpreting some excerpts from the book. What we are bringing to the table will have to remain a mystery.

KH: Since we opened all pedestrian, I feel it’s only fitting we finish proceedings up that way: What does the future hold for Even Books? More specifically, will the cancelled LFERF Readathon be given its time to shine, in the sun?

AB: Yes! It’s ridiculous how dejected I was after we had to cancel that event. I wanted to show the world my exxxtreme reading skills! And beer-sculling skills! (unrelated, but whatever).

AF: Yes, once Creative Sydney is done and dusted we’ll start thinking about the Readathon again. Then I guess we’ll have another ‘do’ of some sort, then we’re really looking forward to getting to work on the exhibition at Firstdraft.

Even Books

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