Purists might argue that technology has killed rock music. But a recent live music competition hosted by Common Code showed how Melbourne’s technology industry is keeping the rock and roll spirit alive and well – and it was all in the name of charity.
Last May, employees from corporate tech teams across the city channelled their inner rock gods and goddesses and showed off their best singing, swagger and stage presence in front of a sold out crowd in the Battle of the Agile Bands (BOTAB).
Six bands strutted their stuff and belted out some bangers in the pub band pageant, which has been going since 2013 – software development agency Common Code (part of the Ackama group) took over BOTAB hosting duties this year after the event took a three year Covid-related hiatus.
Common Code’s community manager Liz Holliday, who coordinated the event, said she was determined to bring BOTAB back to the stage.
“I’d been working in the music and events industry for years before joining Common Code, so naturally when I found out there was this music event within the tech industry, a light went on in my head and I knew I had to run it,” she said. “We saw it was dormant, so we got [founder] Nigel Dalton’s number and called him up in January to ask if we could run it. He said yes please, so we worked it out from there.”
The next step was to find participants, so the call went out among Melbourne’s tech industry.
“It was more popular than we expected - we had eight companies apply and we had to cut that down to six,” explained Liz. “So we held auditions – over three straight nights we went to band rooms in basements and out the back of corporate offices to hear bands play. We really saw how much music can brighten up the corporate world.”
Once the final six groups had been selected, they had eight weeks to get a 20 minute set together and practise their hearts out.
“A whole two weeks before the massive night hit the stage of the Curtin Bandroom in Carlton the event officially sold out,” said Liz. “There was a mad ticket scrabble as more and more people wanted to be there to witness BOTAB come out of hibernation.”
The bands striving for glory were HELLvetica from 99designs, Continuously Grooving from Open Universities Australia, Hot Property from REA Group, Mantel Piece from Mantel Group, E-Soap from Aesop, and Fully SEEK from SEEK.
After some memorable sets of pub rock classics that featured crowd surfing, costumes, glow sticks and a saxophonist’s solo among the packed audience, HELLvetica was declared the winner by the judging team (the bar staff). The clincher for HELLvetica was their final song and encore of the rock anthem, ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ by The Darkness.
Liz said roughly half of the audience were new to BOTAB, and would have been pleasantly surprised by what they saw.
“Some of the musicians were ridiculously good. Scattered through the bassists and drummers were professionals, people who are actually in proper bands who’ve wound up with day jobs in the tech industry,” she said. “They mightn’t be quite up to Glastonbury main stage level, but they could 100 percent play on a Glasto side stage!”
An amazing total of $6000 was made on the night, with every bit of the proceeds going to Orange Sky, a not-for-profit organisation that provides mobile laundry, shower services and much-needed community connection for people experiencing homelessness across Australia and New Zealand.
While the competition was about raising money for charity, participants said taking part also had huge benefits for them on a personal level.
“Being professionals we don’t necessarily give ourselves time and space to do things that we really loved when we were younger,” said Amanda Zonca from Mantel Group’s band Mantel Piece. “Just to get together with like-minded people and team up, and create space for everyone to have their moment and to play what they love, it’s really good for mental health.”
For Liz, a big focus of BOTAB was fostering a sense of community among workmates and the wider tech industry.
“The beautiful thing for me was to watch the Common Coders rally together to become stagehands and merch sellers for the night – it was really cool that these people I usually only see coding or managing me all day at work were all one team for the night, making the event come alive,” she said. “Whether it’s playing in a band or helping to run the event, BOTAB is a great platform for expression and an amazing mental health outlet. Seeing your colleagues in a totally new light is just the best.”
Liz said plans were already afoot to hold the event next year. “I think the success of this year’s BOTAB will generate more entries next time – I’ve already had three large tech companies contact me and say they wished they’d got their entry in on time. And this year’s bands are keen to have another nudge at the title next year too!”
Photo credit: John Contad, OUA https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-contad/