Performing with Busted Chops is like drinking a shot of fireball and eating a pineapple.
Melbourne live music is finally making a comeback and on a Tuesday night in December, in front of a sweaty crowd at a local Fitzroy pub, a band is taking to the stage. It’s a sound unlike the indie alt-rock scene Melbourne is known for—that’s because it’s a Busted Chops gig. And at a Busted Chops gig, they play a genre-defying fusion that playfully pushes the boundaries of performance.
Formed after meeting at university, the five-piece ensemble consists of Jess Mahler (alto sax), Matt Trigge (trumpet), Dave Faulkner (guitar), Ashleigh Howell (bass guitar) and Mia Rowland (drums). Busted Chops are still fresh to the stage and yet, they’re already bringing something new to the table.
Busted Chops at their 'Family Dinner' gig at The Workers Club. From left to right: Dave Faulkner (guitar), Jess Mahler (alto saxophone), Mia Rowland (drums), Matt Trigge (trumpet), Ashleigh Howell (bass guitar). Photograph by Joanna Guelas.
“Performing with Busted Chops is like drinking a shot of fireball and eating a pineapple,” said guitarist Dave Faulkner.
The band plays an eclectic and groovy mix of genres, weaving through improvised solos and licks. This blending of styles makes it hard to exactly pinpoint the band’s sound.
“We don’t know how to describe our band yet,” said saxophonist Jess Mahler, although this doesn’t seem to bother them at all.
Their music is quite unique to the local Melbourne scene, though worldwide it’s a genre that is gaining fast traction. Busted Chops are part of a new generation of jazz performers rejuvenating and modernising groove fusion as we know it. The crowds that form during a Busted Chops set don’t just awkwardly stand around and listen, but jump, whistle, and cheer as the band is playing. Like any good gig, it’s loud and incredibly immersive.
“Combining improvisation with music people can dance to is just so enjoyable and rewarding to play,” said trumpeter Matt Trigge.
Set to release their debut EP this year, the band hopes it will be a chance to showcase their sound and finally put an end to the burning question of: so what kind of music do you play?
“This [the EP] is us, this is what you can expect if you’re around,” said Mahler.
Taking place over two days, the process of recording the EP was both new and collaborative.
“We’re such a live band that recording us is such a weird experience and when we have to listen back to it, we’re really critical of ourselves,” added Mahler.
“I think since doing the recording, we have played together better than we ever have.”
“We know each other's playing styles so well now that we can read each other and play off one another which is really exciting,” added bassist Ashleigh Howell.
A strong influence for Busted Chops has been Colleen Wurfel, their close friend and supporter, who the band refers to as ‘Coach Colleen’.
“The sixth silent member of this band… silent not so much,” describes Mahler.
As the band plays their set, Wurfel wanders in and out of the crowd in a neon yellow vest, grinning widely, and selling handmade bucket hats. Then, in a matter of minutes, she’s up on stage, trombone in hand, playing with them—and the crowd loves it.
Colleen 'Coach Colleen' Wurfel playing on stage with the band. Photograph by Joanna Guelas.
Busted Chops have big aspirations for the coming months, hoping to play a festival this year, start writing their album, and gear up for a tour in 2023.
“I’m so proud that we can all produce such a tight, holistic sound and as long as we have that… I know we’ve got a chance of going places,” said drummer Mia Rowland.
The gig at The Workers Club in Fitzroy, supported by Soren and St. Emerald and later accompanied by Wurfel and Araminta Beroukas, perfectly encapsulates their charm and sound.
Within minutes, they have the crowd cheering and bumping against one another. For a performance almost exclusively instrumental, the ability to connect with the crowd is no small feat. The energy is vibrant and electrifying—a moment where it is just the music that does the talking.
“I think Busted Chops is more than just a band,” said Trigge.
“We are creating this really exciting atmosphere whenever we play and people love it.”
Surrounded by friends and strangers in the dimly lit venue, it’s the way they communicate with one another on-stage and off-stage that stands out the most. The name of the gig, ‘Family Dinner’, a subtle nod to Mahler’s post-rehearsal dinners, is the perfect fit for a band like Busted Chops, who invite the crowd to take part in the fun of their performance while expertly leading music in a fresh direction.
Busted Chops is set to play again at the Farrago Edition 1 Launch this Friday 4 March. You can get tickets here.
You can also catch Busted Chops again and news for their next gigs on Facebook and Instagram.
Cover image provided by Jess Mahler.