The Empty Threats: Vibe-Nuking, Anti-Oppression And The Infamous Lizard
When I talk to queer Adelaide quintet The Empty Threats, they’re buzzing with energy, inspired by the thrill of BIGSOUND.
They don’t miss a beat, either, each member full of silly quips and witty remarks. A distraction from a scaly local proves particularly popular. “Oh my god, a lizard! Look at that fucking beast. Can you see?,” Lenny, the band’s spirited bassist, interjects. They peer over at the lizard, before their drummer, Michael, adds, “It’s an Eastern Water Dragon!” Guitarist/singer Venus, humorously chimes in, saying, “I feel crazy, I can’t see it! I feel like this is Polar Express when he can’t hear the bells.”
I, meanwhile, am doing my best to curtail my inner fangirl in favour of all things journalism; clutching my notepad like it was an infallible font of wisdom. “Journalism is to have a notepad,” Venus chuckles. My first introduction to their music was through 4ZZZ, a Brisbane-based community radio station that I dearly love. As we chat, I realise that I shouldn’t have been nervous — the band’s genuinely warm and super easygoing. Don’t be mistaken, though: The Empty Threats may be playful and charming in interviews, but there’s a sophisticated depth to their music that’s captivating and cathartic in equal measure.
Since their emergence in 2018, The Empty Threats have cultivated a die-hard fanbase thanks to their distinct blend of post-punk and noise-rock, along with their willingness to take strong stances on society’s most pressing issues. Their single ‘Sanity Russel’ opened the floodgates, urging us to “speak your mind” on mega-corps who “feed us lies through a plastic smile that’s broken… you’re out of touch, out of luck and I don’t care”. On their most recent album, Monster Truck Mondays, they venture away from their psych-rock roots, but their political voice is as strong as ever. Right off the bat, they chant “anxious teens are conscious beings” on opening track ‘ATACB’. Later on, they address the horror of colonisation with lyrics like “the temple of mass-genocide, the Holy land, on ashes we stand” on ‘Dear Sunshine’. Lead singer Stu says the band has consistently maintained “a flair for speaking about what you care about”.
“It’s a good space for it as well, instead of vibe-nuking every conversation”, Venus jests. “It’s just like, let it out there”. Stu jokes, “now we just vibe-nuke audiences”.
The Empty Threats: Mixing Politics And Performance
Monster Truck Mondays is saturated with dynamic riffs and evocative lyrics, but experiencing The Empty Threats live elevates that thrill even further. Stu often subverts gender expectations, likening their performance style to that of David Bowie. “On a more personal note, I was obsessed with David Bowie for a very long time… I suppose, influenced by just dressing up in such an out-there way.” The Empty Threats also call on inspiration from acts like Tropical Fuck Storm, POND, and especially, Sydney band, G.U.N: “You’d love it, it’s like us but on speed.”
The Empty Threats’ sonic prowess is enthralling, for sure, but what truly pulls me in is their vulnerability; the undeniable connection they share with the queer community. “We’re gonna be what we are no matter who we perform for,” says Venus. Electric, rambunctious, and textured, The Empty Threats’ politically-charged live shows are confrontational, yes, but also comforting. The crowds overflow with familiar faces — avid gig-goers who don’t care for networking or other BIGSOUND antics. “I feel like the music industry feels so separate to everything”, Matt says, “but coming here feels really comfortable”. Stu says, “the shows have been great! Yeah, really good crowds.”
The Empty Threats: Climbing The Music Ladder (And Lighting Rigs)
The Empty Threats’ flamboyant stage presence goes beyond presentation. Stu always seizes moments to leer over the crowd, whether by scaling a light rack or occasionally clambering onto the roof. Venus says, “I always catch Stu looking around at soundcheck… scheming”. In one venue, Stu even gave the lighting rig “a good shake”, likely asserting its stability. And at events as thrilling as BIGSOUND, all bets are off. “At the 4ZZZ carpark, I just saw Stu up on the roof!” Matt, the guitarist, says. For The Empty Threats, the stage isn’t just a platform — it’s a playground.
Their unbridled energy isn’t just reserved for the stage — as Lenny tells me, their next album involved “jetting off into the desert in the middle of the night”. Michael teases, “There’s a lot of fun stories”. 20,000 steps later — quite literally — the band emerged with an album in hand. “In Ugg boots and a bathrobe, I should add,” Stu chuckles. While the exact release date remains a mystery, rest assured; their album will be steeped in stories and a lot of lived experience.
The Empty Threats: Cross-Country Community
The Empty Threats share their affinity for Brisbane during our conversation, which is partly why they’re so excited to be at BIGSOUND. “We definitely feel the love when we come here,” Stu says. The band sense a bond between Queensland and South Australia, with Matt dubbing them “sister states”. Yet both Queensland and South Australia have their fair share of conservative pockets, a pretty confronting reality facing those boldly embracing queer identities. “It’s really nice to use The Empty Threats as a platform to speak out against things. Hopefully, if we can at least get through to one person, then I think that’s a job well done”.
Undeterred, The Empty Threats have had a few brushes with unenthusiastic crowds, playfully poking fun at angry Karens on the Adelaide 500 Facebook page. “There were about 20,000 people at this huge car race … half the crowd really liked it and then half absolutely hated it, and had to make it known,” Matt tells. “I think I was super thrown off by how volatile everyone was the day after. It feels so polarising, that it kind of feels validating as well. It’s doing something at least.”
The Empty Threats are doing more than something. As a proudly queer, alternative powerhouse, they’re trailblazers in the Australian music scene. Amid light-hearted banter, the Adelaide quintet stand tall as fierce advocates against oppression — carving their own path, and not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.
This feature was created as part of The Music Writer’s Lab 2023.
Cassidy Burke is a Brisbane/Meanjin-based music writer. She commits to authentic storytelling and elevating marginalised voices in the Australian music scene.
Image credit: Nick Astanei via Instagram