Ukulele Death Squad – A Festival Act is Born

Music activist Joe Hay looks to Adelaide's own Ukulele Death Squad as a Fringe success story

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 3 minutes
Published 03 Mar 2019
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Ukulele Death Squad

Two and a half Adelaide Fringe Festivals ago I went along to see the newly formed Ukulele Death Squad (UDS) perform their first ever gig at the Grace Emily Hotel. The Pulp Fiction-inspired ukulele band had been building a bit of a buzz amongst Adelaide’s emerging folk scene in the lead up to the Fringe and I was a little curious to see how it would turn out.  Having spent a lot of the last decade working to increase opportunities for South Australian musicians and creatives, I was equally excited to see a group of talented Adelaide musicians who until that point had been traveling a more traditional career path, producing something new specifically for the Fringe.

The Fringe is a fertile ground for a band to take root as it provides a platform to speak to an audience actively seeking new experiences. It also provides exposure to artists and industry from all over the world to compare and learn from, and importantly it almost demands participants take risks and try something new. 

Although UDS may have started out as a way to make some extra cash during Adelaide Fringe, it was never going to be just another show with The Timbers’ Ben Roberts and The Coconut Kids’ Julian Ferguson and Eammon Burke driving it. 

Although UDS had formed during a resurgent interest in ukuleles, this in no way guaranteed that anyone would want to see them play. Their promotional activities had been creative and designed with a single purpose: target this growing ukulele market and hope to God that some of them would drag a few friends along. And that they did.

After winning a weekly and then the overall Fringe Award for Best Music Show in 2018, the recognition increased their exposure, attracted more interest from a broader range of festivals and corporate events and importantly helped them book and promote larger shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. This recognition also helped them secure invaluable support from the Adelaide Fringe, Arts SA and the Made in Adelaide program.

Before 2017 the guys were restricted to the kinds of shows they could play and were on the standard Australian music pathway of writing songs, playing pubs and hoping to be heard on Triple J so they could secure a festival or two or grab a support slot on a national tour. The Fringe has given them access to a whole new world of networks, audiences and opportunities to continue to play and build a career.

UDS has three different shows at this year’s Fringe: a mini one-day festival at Carclew House on Mar 3 with local and interstate acts and free entrance for the kids, a standalone Ukulele Death Squad show ‘50 Shades of Uke’ on 15 March at the at Regal Theatre in Kingston, and a Nick Cave Tribute show 12, 13, 14 Mar at the Grace Emily Hotel (UDS were asked to perform some Nick Cave songs for the Edinburgh International Book Festival and loved it so much they decided to expand and do it again this Fringe).