Spirit-sapping, pre-dawn runs. Weak cordial and leaky tents. Ravenous parasites. Wannabe ex-SAS masochists masquerading as instructors. Growing up, school camps were a bitch.
Confusingly, at the same time there was a stream of erotically charged American camp movies on high rotation – pulp that alluded to glorious summers fulfilling every teenage desire. Reality and fantasy were continents apart.
It’s a relief, then, to hear Patience Hodgson and John Patterson from Brisbane brat-pop institution The Grates have the teenage-desire vibe planned for the inaugural Death Valley Fun Camp. Less leaky tent and much more like that triumphant scene from Dirty Dancing.
“Wet Hot American Summer has a lot to answer for in terms of the fantasy side of it,” Hodgson says. “It’s not going to be tough at all. Although I don’t remember shit about my school camps.”
Expect bonfires fuelled by craft beer, tunes and fine food, with a salubrious bungalow in which to sleep it all off. Wrap this in the foggy surrounds of Lake Moogerah, 90 minutes southwest of Brisbane, and an overnight escape seems pre-destined.
“We thought it would be fun to do a festival that wasn’t solely music based,” Patterson says. “Something really small, where every detail is taken care of.”
Beyond the four albums and countless national and international tours they’ve racked up as The Grates, the husband-and-wife duo opened Southside Tea Room in 2012 and followed it with Death Valley Records and Tapes, a record label and craft-beer bar next door, in 2014.
Out back of those two venues, they also help run Red Robin Supper Truck with chef Rory Doyle. So Death Valley Fun Camp seems like the perfect summation of this disparate skill set.
Hodgson and Patterson have made a habit of doing things differently. So, rather than a raft of uber-hip bands competing for your attention, entertainment will be solely provided by The Top Shelf Wedding Band, consisting of members of Brisbane supergroup Velociraptor churning out nuptials-appropriate covers like your Uncle Pete depended on it.
“It’s all about groove and vibe,” Hodgson says. “There’s a difference between knowing how to play a cover song and really getting it. There’s that looseness with these guys. Some people behind the beat, some in front. That takes a lot of shit shows and knowing how to drink beer to do properly.”
It’s beginning to sound like a wedding, but one where no one is getting married and there are zero relatives. “You know how there are all these destination weddings these days?” asks Hodgson. “This is like a destination-wedding-festival.”
With all this happening, plus the arrival last year of their daughter, Soda, it’s easy to forget The Grates are still one of Brisbane’s best rock exports of the past decade. It’s been two years since the self-released album, Dream Team. It makes you wonder, is releasing music still a priority?
“If we’d had this conversation a week ago we would have been, like, ‘Oh shit man, we haven’t done anything’,” Hodgson says. “Well, we did two days of writing last week.”
“We started,” deadpans Patterson. “It always takes us a long time.”
“We take so long to write albums,” Hodgson continues. “I think it’s because I know how hard it will be to make an album. I think I get scared. It’s fucking hard. You’ve gotta write a shitload of songs and then figure out the best ones. But then, recording an album? It’s so much work. You have to record every instrument.”
Patterson laughs. “What? Of course you do!”
“Nup,” Hodgson says. “It’s ridiculous. It’s just so much work it blows my mind.”
But first, the sound of wedding tunes is in the air. For now it feels like a reasonable enough distraction.