Rites of Passage
words Joe Pirrett pics Chloe Tanner
My first visit to the Royal Exhibition Building was in August 2014, for the launch of the Melbourne Art festival. Its enormous hall was then filled with typical bourgeois types eating canapés and sipping champagne; as overdressed and underwhelming as ever. It was an audience very far removed from that of Rites Of Passage, Australia’s largest tattoo, music and arts festival, which Chloe and I attended on Saturday 25 April. As we strolled around the world heritage building, this time looking out upon a sea of black-clad bodies, shaved heads, stretched ears and inked skin, déjà vu wasn’t even a thing.
Tattoo events have become extremely popular in recent times, and there are hundreds of happenings happening worldwide each year. The Las Vegas Tattoo Show attracted more than 40,000 guests in 2014, and showcased more than 1,000 featured artists. Rites Of Passage, although far smaller, embodies much the same spirit as its larger and more established counterparts. Now in its fourth year, it attracts people who work at the coalface of one of Melbourne’s most passionate alternative art scenes. Some walk out with fresh ink, some are looking for inspiration, while others, like myself, are simply taking in the atmosphere.
Rites Of Passage was a refreshing sight for many people across different styles and cultures. Goths, Bikers, Skinheads, Moshers, Rockers, Emos and anyone else in black jeans who didn’t fit in at school. Our first impression was a beautifully ornate Harley Davidson glistening at the main entrance, conjuring up daydreams of roaring down some road so long and straight that it disappears at the horizon, a leather-wearing redhead sat behind you sporting a pair of Doc Martens and a nose ring.
Walking past stall after stall of evident masters of the craft, all the while listening to the incessant buzzing of a hundred needles, you can’t help but crave a new piece of ink. The tattooist’s work was spread out on the tables with a heap of portfolios to look at and have a nose through. Seeing all this definitely spurs some inspiration, and you leave wanting to book an appointment at the tattoo studio for your next piece. I could have spent $10k in that place, easy. A vaguely depressing day out, really, for a British backpacker with no dollar to spare. Nevertheless it was an awesome vibe in a beautiful building with a great mix of genres, styles and tattoo art.
Apparently the next convention in the Exhibition Building is a show for dog lovers … I can’t help but think that the 40+ Maori bouncers at Rites Of Passage may not be called in for that one.
Rites of Passage 2015 happened over Anzac Day weekend, 24 – 26 April at the Royal Exhibition Building 9 Nicholson Street Carlton Gardens Melbourne (VIC) – museumvictoria.com.au and ritesofpassagefestival.com