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Inside the meat disco

Sep 16, 2019 • 19m11s

When the impresario behind Earthcore died last year, he left behind a legacy of paranoia, intimidation and financial mismanagement.

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Inside the meat disco

80 • Sep 16, 2019

Inside the meat disco

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, This is 7am.

Spiro Boursinos was the impresario behind the rave music phenomenon Earthcore. When he died last year, he left behind a legacy of paranoia, intimidation and financial mismanagement. Martin McKenzie-Murray on Spiro Boursinos’ rise and fall.

[Theme music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Marty I thought let's start with Spiro...is it Spiro Boursinos?

MARTY:

Yeah

ELIZABETH:

that,

MARTY:

or Boursine.

ELIZABETH:

And Spiro died last year. What happened on his last night alive in Melbourne.

MARTY:

What we know is that he was out at an Elsternwick bar called the Antique bar in the inner south of Melbourne. There's still a little mystery to it.

[MUSIC BEGINS]

ELIZABETH:

Martin McKenzie-Murray is a journalist and author. He wrote about Earthcore in the latest issue of The Monthly.

MARTY:

But his last night alive. He's out at the Antique bar drinking initially with friends, then later alone. He becomes increasingly abusive and irrational until some point in the early morning, he smashes a bottle and he threatens to slice patrons with it. The police arrive fairly promptly, they arrest Spiro Boursinos at which point he loses consciousness and the police attempt to revive him and fail. Paramedics arrive. They also fail and he dies in the bar.

[MUSIC ENDS]

ELIZABETH:

So tell me about who he was.

MARTY:

Spiro was...ahh it's hard to be succinct with Spiro Boursinos. He was the founder of Earthcore...is the simplest answer I guess. Earthcore being, as Spiro would put it, the founding or pioneering Bush Doof. That is a rave out in the Victorian bush. So he was seen as this kind of godfather of the Bush Doof. And as DJs told me, people come and people go, but his longevity was quite exceptional. He possessed a legend. It was largely a dark one a pretty squalid one. But Earthcore was his life and he was synonymous with Earthcore. He himself said it was his life's work.

ELIZABETH:

So we go back to the early 90s when he first gets the idea to start this festival in the bush. He goes to London first.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“to England and I discovered raves, uh techno music and I um discovered the whole warehouse parties, and it was like warehouse party scene and stuff like that and I was like, wow this is it you know”

MARTY:

Yeah. So he says and this is sort of perhaps the first hurdle. He was a great self mythologiser. Ahh.. so friends contradicted the fact of whether or not he went to London or not, in the very early 90s. But we know why he would want to be known to have been there. And it was because it was ground zero for the illegal raves. This kind of thrilling subterranean world. He comes back from London perhaps, he's a young student of marketing. He says that it's for a university assignment that he kind of concocted the idea of this kind of dance party out in the bush, borrowed from the warehouses of London.

ELIZABETH:

People go out, they want to be on land. They cut loose...

MARTY:

They cut loose yeah. Unleash and regret it later is how Spiro Boursinos himself put it.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“I was just turning 17 or 17 and a half or 18, or I don’t know what I was but it was young / yeah / and I was sort of like this is good you know, it’s got its course, throwing a party and you know, getting it shut down and losing lots of cash, lets just keep doing it. What an incredible rush.”

MARTY:

Initially it's illegal, it's unauthorised, it's out in a Victorian state forest and it's maybe 100, 200 people it's basically friends. But Spiro gets a taste for it. He likes the renown. He has a partner who is much better at the logistics and they kind of go straight. That is they get authorisation they get the state's permission. They tick all the boxes, they get permits and it starts snowballing.

[AMBIENT EARTHCORE MUSIC]

MARTY:

So by about ‘95 ‘96 up to 15000 or 20,000 people are attending Earthcore..

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“this is the land of the Bush Doof, aptly named after the thumping bass kick of a techno tune”

MARTY:

Cultural theorists start attending and rhapsodising about the spiritual benefits of these dance parties.

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“as DJ after DJ pitched their wits against the dancing gladiators in this almost Medieval amphitheatre..”

MARTY:

You've got the punk DIY ethic as well. So people are kind of making their own campsites and sculptures

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“While everyone’s either relaxing or prancing around, the lomoptic design crew were putting the finishing touches to the decor in the main area. The showpiece, a crucifix made out of wood, televisions, dolls and computer monitors”

MARTY:

You've got vegan stalls UNHCR stalls...

Archival tape -- Unidentified Man:

“Ah yeah, there are stacks of stalls, yeah, there’s like all cuisines from like you know Mexican to you name it, it’s there!”

MARTY:

and they were also starting to get some of the biggest names in the world like Aphex Twin to perform.

MARTY:

Co-founders would tell me that it probably peaked around the millennium after that things started falling apart a little bit ...

[EARTHCORE MUSIC ENDS]

MARTY:

Financially it was never really sustainable. Spiro Boursinos felt incredibly stressed that he had to kind of maintain a reputation for these huge extravaganzas, um but it simply couldn't be afforded. Boursinos was simply not stable enough of a human being to run such a stressful and demanding event.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“look, I must say, I know how hard it is to be a promoter, ahhh, cus you put your balls on the line and it doesn’t always go the way you planned”

MARTY:

But there was sufficient goodwill I guess and sufficient numbers the appearance in other words of success which probably papered over some of the structural difficulties.

ELIZABETH:

So there’s this kind of public pedalling of the mythology of attending an Earthcore event while at the same time essentially teetering on the brink of collapse

MARTY:

Yeah that's right. And also engined by or perpetuated by really scurrilous behaviour. So some of this behaviour was advertising acts that had no intention of playing or strong arming acts by advertising their appearance before they had agreed to it...

ELIZABETH:

So they're on the poster and they haven't said yes...

MARTY:

That's right. And then not paying them or paying them half their appearance fee. But this was routine. This was happening basically every year. There’s also talk of sabotage between rival festivals.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“other people started mimicking and copying, like copies like, you know, what’s that called, what’s that other event called? Rainbow rainbow something…”

MARTY:

It goes from say the benign - which is tearing down posters promotional posters - through to liaising with police to tip them off about potential drug deliveries at rival festivals.

ELIZABETH:

And then there's even accusations of things like money laundering and drug money financing.

MARTY:

Yeah. So as we're getting up to about 2008 I heard routinely that for a period at least around about 2006 that Earthcore was likely part funded by a drug trafficker. And Victoria Police certainly thought that Earthcore was used to launder drug money.

ELIZABETH:

So what does that mean for the festival at that time. 2008 in itself at the actual Earthcore event ends up being relatively catastrophic.

MARTY:

It does. Now in 2008 nearly half of the acts withdraw after they have not been paid properly. Spiro Boursinos at that point is conducting himself essentially with the air of a gangster. It's all threats and ultimatums. He's blackmailing friends and colleagues, becoming increasingly toxic, increasingly erratic, and impulsive. So in 2008 you have all of these acts withdraw. It's a shambles. It goes ahead. But there's a lot of bad will and Spiro Boursinos at that point pulls the plug.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“I think you’re looking at the last Earthcore ever “

MARTY:

and he says that's it. There will never be another Earthcore.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“the reason why I’m playing right now is because it’s probably the last thing you’re ever going to hear…”

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Advertisement]

ELIZABETH:

Marty a few years after that 2008 Earthcore, when Spiro Boursinos declared the festival dead, he changes his mind and starts looking for a new site to rebirth the idea.

MARTY:

He does. So you know it was described to me as the wilderness years by some that knew him at the time. He was sleeping on couches, he was nursing his resentments. And his promise to never revive Earthcore is broken in 2013. He's bringing it back.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“It’s like a big comeback story for me and I’m pretty happy about it right now, um, you know pretty quietly confident that um this is going to be my best Earthcore ever.”

MARTY:

So in 2013 he puts out an advert asking Victorian farmers to contemplate leasing their land.

ELIZABETH:

This is in the Weekly Times or...?

MARTY:

Yeah, the Weekly Times. Yeah. And it's at this point that he kind of goes into partnership with a farmer Brendan Kelly. And So Brendan Kelly, in a little town called Pyalong, it's a town of like 660 people north of Melbourne. He responds. And he hosts the 2013 return of Earthcore. It's an interesting partnership I guess, in that Brendan Kelly is a blunt, plain spoken, tough Aussie farmer. He has no previous association with raves or the Bush doof. But he sees a business opportunity. But, it was said to me that Spiro met his match in Brendan Kelly. He met someone strong. Unapologetic.

ELIZABETH:

Straight talking...

MARTY:

Straight talking, and he would refuse to be intimidated by Spiro Boursinos.

ELIZABETH:

This slick impresario from the city.

MARTY:

Yeah. Brendan Kelly argued that Earthcore generated a bit of local employment for mums and dads. He says the first one 2013 went quite well. Though even from the start Spiro Boursinos was erratic and violent, verbally you know abusive, impetuous, very very difficult to work with and he said that only got worse over the years. Spiro Boursinos would also make all these grand promises about how the locals be the first pay. But then they'd be packing down going back to Melbourne and plenty of locals wouldn't have been paid for their work. And Brendan Kelly was kind of left with the baby in that instance the figurehead of Earthcore who remained in town trying to explain to the angry locals why they weren't being paid.

ELIZABETH:

So their relationship sours over the few years that Earthcore’s held at that location, and by 2016 they have what ends up being the last Earthcore festival at Brendan Kelly's property.

MARTY:

That's right. Brendan Kelly wants nothing at all to do with Earthcore anymore and Pyalong is also not renewing the permits. They're also insolvent at this point so Spiro Boursinos is trading whilst insolvent.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“I mean there are people out there who would probably say that uh, they’re owed money um, which I know in the business mate, that happens, and uh, that’s something you have to I guess work out in yourself, how do you, how do you, what do you do?”

Archival tape -- Unidentified Man:

“Simple, you pay back your debts, yeah? Yeah you do and that’s the only solution to it. So…”

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“have you ever had to go bankrupt for example?”

Archival tape -- Unidentified Man:

“Not personally, no.”

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“No?”

Archival tape -- Unidentified Man:

“No”

MARTY:

It's haemorrhaging money. He's pissed off a hell of a lot of people and yet in 2017 he looks to expand Earthcore so as well as having a Victorian event there will be ones in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia.

ELIZABETH:

A sort of refusal to accept the reality.

MARTY:

Yeah he was also a chronic gambler - in that he gambled with opportunities. He felt that today's debts would be paid off by tomorrow's parties but it failed spectacularly. 36 acts mostly international withdraw because they've been abused, because they've been lied to, because they haven't been paid or they've been paid insufficiently. And so of those four events only one with a skeletal lineup. The Victorian event goes ahead.

ELIZABETH:

So that year Earthcore doesn’t happen on Brendon Kelly’s property, but it’s not the end of his dealings with Spiro either.

MARTY:

Yeah there was one expression of criticism and it was a Facebook page called Earthcore memes. It was a repository for acerbic memes mocking or exposing Spiro Boursinos and he was almost fanatical in trying to unmask the person behind it. And so one target of this was Brendan Kelly. Brendan Kelly receives many harassing calls from either Spiro Boursinos or associates. On one occasion it's from a man calling himself Jason. Profanely threatens Brendan Kelly.

Archival tape -- Jason:

“yo man you wanna sort out some shit, I’ll tell you though, I’ll see you within the next few days, and I’ll tell you what you better stop starting shit with Spiro. You’ve got no idea the trouble that’s coming your way.”

Archival tape -- Brendan Kelly:

“No worries, who am I talking to?”

MARTY:

Um, he’s not the sharpest goon in the world and he has used his undisguised phone number and his real name.

Archival tape -- Jason:

“You’re talking to Jason, mate. And you’ll meet me soon.”

Archival tape -- Brendan Kelly:

“Righto”

MARTY:

So Brendan Kelly goes to police. They don't have good news. Jason has priors for assault and they said if he shows up you give us a call. Or do what you need to do.

Another example was a group of former friends and colleagues and a journalist and they had this message group which was infiltrated by a friend of Spiro’s. Their names were made public. And they were threatened, Spiro Boursinos uh tried to convince people to disclose their home addresses so he could pay them or his goons could pay them a visit. Others were receiving a lot of threatening phone calls. And this is all in his final year. In fact his final months. He says that's the jealous haters and the trolls don't mean anything to him. He's got thick skin. But really the last months of his life, was spent intimidating critics.

ELIZABETH:

And right until the end, he holds onto the delusion, doesn't he, that he’s going to be putting on another festival -- that Earthcore is everything and that he’s still in charge of it...

MARTY:

Yeah. He was a few weeks before the 25th anniversary, and it was said that he was celebrating a venue for Earthcore. But co-organisers wouldn't tell me what those venues were, which I thought was suspicious.

ELIZABETH:

When does it end for Brendon Kelly, the farmer?

MARTY:

Well, when does it end. I guess with Spiros death. He's receiving you know being peppered with calls. I think it continued the day after Spiro Boursinos’ death. So Brendan Kelly like a lot of other people simply didn't believe that he was dead. And that wasn't sort of garden variety shock. You know when you hear of the sudden demise of somebody - this was weirder than that. You know such was the capacity for Spiro Boursinos for spooky mischief that a considerable number of people thought initially that he was faking his death. These are the sort of dark arts that he played in you know...

ELIZABETH:

Completely bizarre

MARTY:

Incredibly bizarre. Yeah.

ELIZABETH:

And so what does he leave behind?

MARTY:

A highly fraught legacy. There are still defenders who saw a creative and influential man in this particular space. I mean even his defenders would qualify his virtues to me and other reporters and they would use rather inane predictable words like polarising and colourful. These are insipid words - they're not satisfactory words to describe the legacy of disorder and how actually traumatised some people are, such as one colleague who slept with a machete by his bed for years after Spiro Boursinos threatened to kill him. So we're talking about actual damage but his defenders seem to say, not explicitly, but it was heavy on the suggestion, that because he had created this thing, that trumps the behaviour. His life was so strange, so luridly shambolic.

[MUSIC STARTS]

MARTY:

You know I've written a lot on men behaving badly but few as aggressively and weirdly destructive as this guy.

Archival tape -- Spiro Boursinos:

“Only you, the person coming, can really save yourself, but at the end of the day it’s, it’s the person’s using their own mind and their common sense and getting wasted and... you know it’s not a fashion statement, just use common sense. Enjoy yourself to a level you can and if you see your friends or anyone else having too much... whatever, maybe just tap them on the back and say mate, calm down or chill out... yeah.”

[MUSIC ENDS]

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[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

A drone attack on two key oil fields in Saudi Arabia has affected up to half the country's oil production. Markets have not yet responded as they were closed for the weekend. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said the attack was Iranian-backed and called it an, quote: "unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply". Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, said they carried out the attacks using 10 drones.

And in NSW, experts warned that without significant rain or government intervention, the towns of Dubbo, Cobar, Nyngan and Narromine could be without water as soon as November. The NSW water minister, Melinda Pavey, said the situation was critical.

This is 7am. I'm Elizabeth Kulas. See you Tuesday.

Spiro Boursinos was the impresario behind the rave music phenomenon Earthcore. When he died last year, he left behind a legacy of paranoia, intimidation and financial mismanagement. Martin McKenzie-Murray on tracing the threads of his strange, short life.

Guest: Writer and author Martin McKenzie-Murray.

Background reading:

All tomorrow’s parties in The Monthly
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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80: Inside the meat disco