Sam Octigan Talks

by Wilhelm Philipp

Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?

I’m Sam Octigan, born and bred in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne. I do a range of things, I paint, draw and make things with my hands. I’m the vocalist of Iron Mind. I try to live healthy, stay fit and active. Spend time with my girl. Help friends with their creative projects. Write a bit more these days, travel when I can, collect books, records, Magic the Gathering cards - all sorts really.

What was life like growing up in Melbourne in the hardcore scene?

I grew up skating, listening to whatever punk band I was told to check out by a friend’s older sibling and making corny art. It was a big deal to catch the Belgrave line into the city for the day to skate at the Sail Yards, pick up a new Blank hoodie from Melbourne Surf and Skate and another Fat Wreck Chords sampler from Missing Link - which was then located on Degraves Street. As a teenager around this time the internet had literally, only just arrived in dial-up form and things were still discovered by word of mouth, flyers and in CD liner notes. I was big into bands like Pennywise, NoFX, Strung Out, Body Jar, etc but through Epitaph and Burning Heart samplers, I was getting into bands like Madball, Sick Of It All and Raised Fist and starting to become aware of bands like Mindsnare and Day Of Contempt and venue’s like Midian around this time, but it wasn’t until later that I would experience ‘the scene’.

What were some of the first bands you went to see? Where and what age?

The first shorts of shows were like MxPx and The Ataris at the Corner Hotel in maybe 1999? Another was Millencolin at The Palais. I would have been around 16- years old. Around this time I went to Game Over’s last show at The Punters Club on Brunswick St, which was a venue comparable to The Tote back then and I think this was really my first taste of the Melbourne ‘scene’. The idea of DIY All Ages shows, distros, zines, straight edge, etc came from bands such as Game Over who were a band that had that skate punk sound, but also played shows with Melbourne Hardcore bands like No Grace, Voice of Dissent and of course Mindsnare.

How do you see the new generation of hardcore?

I mean, it’s awesome. Having been involved in hardcore to some extent for a long time, I’ve never really stopped to consider it in terms of generations - more just noticing good bands and new trends as time ticks along. But, being older now, it is interesting to think about those natural ebbs and flows I guess. I do remember before bands like Miles Away, 50 Lions and Carpathian really blew up and did their thing in the mid 00’s, older heads would comment that before that wave, Australian Hardcore was ‘dead’ in the very early 00’s, just after bands and shows had died down in the late 90’s. You could say a similar pattern followed that massive mid 00’s peak, which slowed and then picked up again in the mid 2010’s with Iron Mind touring more - then again a few quiet years, followed of course by covid and now things seem to be roaring again with bands like Speed, AWOL, The Chain, JOY, Mauler to name a couple - which are building off of what bands like Nerve Damage and Primitive Blast started a few years ago. Looking back, each of these peaks seem to have their own movements, vibes, styles that bled into each other… what do they say history rhymes? haha.

I love what’s going on now and glad that Iron Mind gets to continue to be involved. If there’s something that sets todays newer bands apart from previous waves, it’s that while of course they’ve got the sound right, a lot of them seem more confident to flex their own way of doing things, either with the types of shows they book, how they release music and sell merch, personal messages or ideas they want to put forth. Just a mode of operation that seems a bit more confident and less self conscious than era’s past. Where yesterdays bands might have had plenty of attitude, but followed the same rules on how to make things happen for themselves. I think bands today are more open to look over at other youth driven cultures and aren’t afraid to borrow from other scenes and do things in a new way.

Where did you initially form your artwork style in the early years?

Well I’ve always drawn and been crafty from a very young age and was fortunate enough to have parents and teachers who encouraged it, I can’t say for sure but it could be that putting pencil to paper and enjoying actually making things with my hands has what’s stuck with me over the years, when the specific medium or subject matter has changed - or why more formal digital design etc didn’t end up sticking. 

Has your work always had such a depth of detail to it?

I think my work has always had high level of labour or maybe craft attached to it, not necessarily detail - but the two are often found together, or maybe we’re referring to the same thing, haha. I’ve always focussed on both the process and the outcome, I’ve always had to play with a balance of enjoying the process but having a certain outcome in mind. So I’ve never gone off the deep end with detail or let my work be driven completely by the intended end result.

How has the process changed in the modern day?

It’s changed a lot. Thinking back to the previous question about growing up and then reflecting on that tension between process and outcome etc. I think what I do is actually always changing? The constant is wanting to make the strongest work I can, while making sure I’m creating a sustainable space to continue to make creative work. Which, as I’ve gotten older has meant moving away from project driven work and further towards personal projects and exhibitions.

Actually, it was just prior to COVID I realised that I wanted to make certain changes like this, but wasn’t sure how or where to start exactly? I still liked the work I was making and still enjoyed the process and method I was employing, but knew there were lots of new ideas I wanted to bring into it, but just couldn’t figure out how - or where the barriers were. Then lockdown happened (then happened again and again) and initially I thought, “ah, perfect I can pause and take some time to figure this out” but like a lot of other creatives I’ve spoken to, I found lockdown not to be a great time for creative problem solving or new beginnings. Normally I work well in a solitary setting, but I realised connection to a community was such an enormous missing ingredient. It’s like I need a lot of time to figure out and crystallise my ideas, but those ideas really do come from outside. One doesn’t work without the other.

Are you working on any bodies of work or towards an exhibition?

Yeah, so again since lockdown lifted it’s been like a slingshot effect of being held back and back and ba-ack and now bam! - flying at warp speed. Feels like I’ve got perhaps too many different projects or commissions on the go right now, some started in the last lockdown and still not finished! Definitely moving towards the next solo show which is exciting after figuring out some of those changes mentioned above.

Your lovely artwork features throughout the Chess Club collection. Can you tell us about the creative process behind your graphics?

Well t-shirt graphics were the initial connecting bridge between being an artist, hidden away in the studio and my direct involvement in hardcore, so I’ll always have a soft spot for bold, screen printed shirt graphics. What I’ve always loved about commissions for bands or indie labels like Chess Club is the creative freedom and the opportunity to lend your skills and ideas to a project that a relatively small group of people are passionate about. To be involved in something bigger than yourself, which I think is a pretty primal human drive. This, as opposed to just working on my own paintings, under my own direction, for my own ends, non-stop. The process is fairly simple in that I’ll take a theme, concept or title etc and try and come up with something that could be considered eye catching or bold etc, that can be created by hand in black ink for easy reproduction. Trying to come up with something that’s still ‘mine’ while adding to whatever’s being built for the project. The chess club graphics are a good example of how overtime I’ve tried to actually simplify the complexity in a piece. To not hide behind labour and detail, but to let the idea of the graphic and the culture of the brand speak for itself.