The Revolution Will Give You a Short Back and Sides

Is there not enough gay porn at your hairdresser? Does your stylist know nothing about break-core music or global politics? Then Ulrich Lenffer suggests you need to visit Sedition.

Barbershop

Sit down in most barbershop chairs and you’ll find yourself staring at your own reflection. But take a seat in Kings Cross’s “Sedition” barbershop and you’re confronted by an enormous cock.

Actually, the massive phallus staring back at you isn’t the only clue that this won’t be your average hairdressing experience.

Everything about Sedition, and its owner and barber Michael Joyce, is a little off kilter. Not in the unhinged way of the truly deranged, but more in the way I imagine most people might have found Dali or van Gogh unsettling on first acquaintance.

With Michael it’s the sum of all the quirks – the many idiosyncrasies which border on the antisocial, but that in the right light (and with a little time) become endearing: the impassive demeanour, the brutal frankness. Plenty of people have given themselves that time, and that’s partly what has made his cutting-edge little barber shop a favourite nook in the Cross for so many.

His shop is a living room, an art space and a music venue, mixing the necessities of each of those functions with gleeful energy. To my left, dusty boxes of records, an installation featuring a miniature cow and road-works barriers on top of some turntables, an inflatable cherry ripe and the Holy Qur'an perched atop a stack of gay porn magazines. To my right, vines made of cable ties, a headless mannequin, a road sign, a poster from the morgue, a crucifix and the Holy Bible balanced on its own stack of subversive literature.

“Sometimes I just like to put stuff up that shocks I suppose,” says Michael. He pauses to consider the artwork in his hand - “…Just get a reaction - know what I mean? Just get a fucking reaction - good one, bad one, whatever." I would have thought that shocking people isn't really necessary in the Cross, a neighbourhood with a wide reputation for its art, violence, drugs and eccentrics, but apparently I’m wrong. “I’ve heard about bohemian Kings Cross my whole fucking life,” Michael says, “but I ain't seen none of it. So I decided to do it myself - I figured that was the best way.“

He's been doing it in this small shop for 10 years now, cutting hair and shooting the breeze, and putting on some extraordinary shows on his tiny stage.

On certain nights Sedition is open late, the pavement outside clogged with punters clutching longnecks, unable to squeeze inside to hear the newest band to have taken Michael’s fancy. Julian, an old friend of Michael’s who pops in for a beer while we’re talking, launches straight into a reminiscence about the last gig he saw there. The show had a visible effect on him. “I keep fucking thinking about that! Thinking about it driving here, god knows why, it just popped into my head - made an impression on me!“

I turn to Michael and ask if it’s always that good. “Sometimes they're fucking fantastic,” he says, “sometimes they ain't so good. But it's the whole approach to it - they’re fucking doing stuff you know? Who else is doing anything?"

I look out his shop window at the street, busy with people working, hurrying, doing things certainly, but most of it not the kind of stuff that Michael’s talking about – not stuff that counts.

For a man whose motto seems to be, “Just do shit”, Michael is certainly no hypocrite. In 1983 he moved to England. Why was that? “Just to get the fuck out of Australia." So why then did he move back in 1990? “To get the fuck out of England."

While overseas he was taught the barbering trade by Greek Cypriots, cut the hair of Boy George and lived in Sicily. What he didn't tell me, and which I found out later from Julian, was that his time there was spent living on a boat. “Oh yeah, yeah, I lived on a yacht," he says, impassive and distracted.““But even that stuff gets a bit fucking dull after a while.“ Julian and I laugh and take a swill of our beer. “I was bored shitless and fucking hot. Steaming fucking hot. All I could think to do was drink beer and fish.“ Once I asked Michael what he thought was “cool”. “Flying two planes into a building,“ he says without looking up. “Everything else is fucking tame really.“

But for all the cussing and prickly attitude there’s a wicked sense of humour. What's more, once the ice is broken his door is always open, and you discover that he is ultimately unselfish and really generous.

You also realise that even his often brutal, quick-fire declarations are considered. And in Michael’s determination to use his space to make you feel something, to stop and think differently, you realise that his whole project is closely tied to a deep empathy for other people and the horribly raw deal a lot of people get - a situation that he’s not content to ignore. After all, he named his shop ‘Sedition’, a word rich in its associations with struggle and rebellion here and everywhere. His own sculptures, assemblages and paintings, hanging all around the walls, also make his shop into a rare and striking gallery of political art that’s frequently disturbing, amusing, beautiful and sometimes very ugly too.

It may not be fashionable, but he clearly doesn’t care much about that.

As you leave the shop, if you stop and look back you’ll see a silhouette graphic of a man being dragged away, apparently by police or armed forces, his limp feet daubing bloody tracks along the ground. For Michael it’s not just an arresting composition. “I like the image because that is happening to somebody somewhere," says Michael, his voice firm with conviction. “Some poor fuck’s getting dragged off by somebody.“