For almost a decade, Jessi Tilbrook and Sam Szabo have championed local and national heavy music under the Punk Ass Kids flag. Now known as PAK Music, the business has evolved to become one of Adelaide's newest record labels.
Introducing PAK Music: Punk Ass Kids all grown up
From the outside, CityMag assumed the long-haired yahoos behind Punk Ass Kids, Jessi Tilbrook and Sam Szabo, rebranded to PAK Music so as not to be pigeonholed as fans of loud, hard and fast music – aka punk.
It was actually the word ‘kids’ they hoped to distance from.
“When we started Punk Ass Kids it was targeted at younger people. It’s not what it is now,” Jessi tells CityMag.
“But also ‘Punk Ass Kids’ on Facebook was not meeting community guidelines,” Sam laughs. “It was the ‘ass’ that couldn’t get us sponsorship and advertising.”
We meet Jessi and Sam a couple of months after they announced PAK Music had altered its business model to become a record label.
Punk Ass Kids formed in 2013, when Jessi noticed a disconnect in the live music market: local bands weren’t playing nightclubs.
She remembers writing a “really formal proposal” to the owners of Hindley Street nightclub Rocket Bar and Rooftop, arguing for them to be included in the venue. They were into it.
“They were quite supportive,” Jessi recalls, “and I think as well because I was a young girl. They didn’t have young girls working in that capacity in the space.”
Sam jumped on board after attending a couple of Punk Ass Kids shows as a punter, eventually working the door – the coalface of the club night.
“You get to know your clientele and you become the first point of call,” Sam says.
“You develop rapport with everyone. That kind of led to what it was originally always was… a very close and tight-knit community.”
Punk Ass Kids soon became a Wednesday night staple for the music scene, hosting hours of rock, punk and alternative music from local bands in Rocket Bar.
The Thursday lineup was clearly distinct from Rocket’s other live music night, Cats, which would regularly host touring Triple J acts.
— Sam Szabo.
By 2017, Sam and Jessi were ready to take Punk Ass Kids in a new direction.
“We did Rocket Bar for four years, every other week, every other fortnight and then we decided that we don’t want to be attached to one spot,” Sam says.
“I think Jessi initiated it. She said, ‘I’m not feeling this. Can we be in a club into our late 20s?’”
“[In the beginning] it was heavily focused on local artists and then we wanted to grow it,” Jessi says.
This is the moment Punk Ass Kids became PAK Music and separated itself from Rocket. The duo started hosting gigs in the Exeter’s beer garden and at North Terrace nightclub Fat Controller.
They also started to book national outfits, bringing over indie-rock trio DZ Deathrays and punk firebrand Amyl and the Sniffers.
The latter booking is a career highlight for Jessi, who saw King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard drummer Eric Moore turn up at the show and then scout the band for his own label, Flightless.
“Amyl got signed because of our show,” Jessi says.
But this still didn’t feel like enough of a progression.
Sam jokes it took a pandemic for PAK Music to become what it is today – a company that puts on gigs, and puts out music.
“The core is always going to be live events, and then outside of that we’ve started this new venture as a label,” Jessi says.
With just two artists on the PAK Music roster, there is plenty of room for the venture to grow. However, the duo still wants to hold onto the kind of work that made the business a success in the first place.
“We just want to put on unique experiences,” Jessi says.
“Working with touring artists, as well as local artists and somehow marrying that up. Something that is important for us as well is trying to get artists to Adelaide that would normally skip out on Adelaide on a tour.”
— Jessi Tilbrook
We ask the duo for lessons they’ve learned in PAK Music’s ascent, just in case readers want to make a similar impact in the local music industry.
Jessi’s advice is simple: be professional.
“It’s a small city,” she says. “You don’t know who you’re going to fuck over by saying the wrong thing.”
For Sam, it’s being brave enough to push past popular music.
“In retrospect, Punk Ass Kids was not fashionable,” Sam says.
“We were just happy put on the local bands that may not get to play other gigs. So, be honest to what you are. Be prepared to go beyond the trends.”