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Post by Garry on Sun 18 Mar 2012, 21:01

We're just transfering the Phats history to this thread. Updates to come

This thread is locked but you can comment at Phats History Chat

Long or short, as long as they're Phat's, we love 'em. Phats are the traditional Melbourne Shuffle dance pants.

They were created by Melbourne's underground arts and fashion communities in the early 1990's, at the same time as the Shuffle was being created. Usually the one wearing the Phats was the one who made them. They were unique one of a kind designs, wearable art and collectable.

Phats are instantly recognizable to others around the world, identifying the wearer is a proud shuffler! Like sporting uniforms and team colors. PHATS = SHUFFLE

Even in the dark, you can spot a shuffler. Phats look great, day and night. You dress to impress with Phats.

Pics: Cript Ballas


There are a lot of artists in Melbourne, it's quite common to bump into an artist in the city.

Artists tend to enjoy each others company, love talking art, living art. Art in a broad sense.

We have few boundaries in Melbourne. Fashion designers call themselves artists in Melbourne, the same as jewellers, writers, film makers, dancers, musicians. Even people behind espresso machines making your coffee call themselves artists - and often are. And if you want to call yourself an artist in Melbourne, you'd better live up to it.

We're very passionate about art in Melbourne, as we are about coffee and fashion. Those ingredients are virtually inseparable in town. The Flinders Lane district (pic right) is crammed with art studios, art galleries, fashion boutiques, designers and a cafe at every two paces - yes literally, there's long waiting lists just to get in. Hundreds of artists lived in their studio's in this block alone during the oldskool era. It was in such arts communities, including Flinders Lane, that Phats were created.

Imagine 120 or so painters sculptors, writers, fashion designers, photographers, jewellers, ceramicists, shoe makers, milliners (hat makers), costume makers, architects, cartoonists, ad writers, art galleries, fake fur, kimono's small press publishers, poetry bookshops, theatre people, a button shop and bridal gown makers, all sitting on top of 5 prominent fashion boutiques, 1 Opal jewellery shop, 3 fast food shops, and a huge basement discount emporium - from $2 DVD's to children's clothing and a very good (cheap) range of professional art supplies, and you have the Nicholas Building today (pic above). - What, no Cafe? No! we go out for coffee in the Lane, coffee here is a social event. We catch up with everyone from the Lane in the 50 or so street cafe's within 2 minutes walk.

Yep, it's Sesame Street With Melbourne's Central City Police station literally meters across the Lane with 140 Police stationed there to keep us all in line - or attempt to at least. They sent all the new recruits in there sooner or later, for us to break them in. One senior Police Officer actually had a studio there. While colleagues worked out in the gym after a stressful day on the job, he'd paint, with a nip or two of Jack Daniels.

A bit hard to imagine? This MP3 might help. On 24 September 2006 ABC Radio Australia broadcast a documentary on the Nicholas Building, produced by Ellen Spalding and called Nine Floors of Inspiration. Recorded in the building, it will give you a great idea of the day to day cacophony of the oldskool era. It's the last remaining original oldskool arts building in Melbourne, arts buildings have existed in the Melbourne CBD for generations.

We do everything at once, all the time in Melbourne, we call it the Buzz. Even sitting still sipping a latte watching the Buzz happen around you, is enough for some people. Just having a ride in one of the Nicholas Buildings manually operated 1920's lifts is enough for others.

Lift attendant and Nicholas Building sculptor Dimi, with his advance copy of Gianni Menichetti's book about Nicholas Building tenant, artist Vali Myers.

ďValiís dogs, Valiís trees, Valiís donkey, the birds, the flowers, the caves, the spiders of Vali. We have seen for the first time the old skeleton of nature." ó Bernardo Bertolucci, film-maker, Last Tango in Paris, Stealing Beauty

"It was like being friends with some angel who had gotten kicked out for lewd behaviour" - Chris Stern, musician, Blondie

Having Vali as a neighbour for many years, has an effect on you. She did artwork like this...

got dressed up like this...

and walked around the streets like this - in her mid 60's in this photo by Marco Bakker: Vali & Gianni dancing (2000). Yes artists can be dancers too. Vali was PremiŤre danseuse of the Melbourne Modern Ballet at just 17.

This is just day to day work life around an arts community. So you can imagine what it got like when we had a party. Whole buildings got taken over for a party, and we'd all dress up.

As artists, we all had odds and ends laying around the studio. We took pride in our creativity and would try to come up with something new for each party. For instance this is me dressed up for an Every Picture Tells a Story party in 1992. Like my hat ? I'd walk around the dance floor pushing a shopping trolley with lit candles and a circular saw blade. They're fridge magnets by artist friend DUCO, on the blade. They were ceremonially burnt on a pyre at dawn.

And at another Every Pic about 4 weeks later. I had a light built into this hat, with broken mirror fragments on the top reflecting the light. We broadcast these parties live on TV, we had our own underground TV Station, free-to-air across Melbourne.

While fashion people could call themselves Artists, visual Artists were never allowed to call themselves fashion designers...that was taking liberties a bit too far. You need to draw the line somewhere, it's the difference between Fashion and a mess. So artists were told with a penetrating glare, while walking down the Lane.

Of course that didn't stop the artists. It just gave them something else to wind up the fashion people about, especially leading up to fashion weeks and festivals (4 times a year) when prior experience encourages you to give them a wide berth. They get very testy. Your career can live or die with your latest show.

Artists would go through garbage and industrial waste skips searching for material to wear to fashion openings, just to irritate their fashion neighbours, a sort of anti-fashion statement. I wore my torn and patched studio overalls to many a formal opening, just to see if I could get in. No! Then distressed denim became fashionable, and I was, and was congratulated on my work (My overalls). - It helps not to try and analyse these sorts of things too much, just go with the flow.

There were even communal conduct rules when two or more artists spotted the same item in a waste skip - Seeing it first does not count, actually having your hand on it does. Yes it was for real, many feuds have started over a good find. Especially if it appears in an art exhibition a few months later and gets a good reception! - If it doesn't, it is quite acceptable to brag that you knew it was crap to start with. That's the way the ball bounces in this neck of the woods.

There were frequent feuds and clan wars, allegiances being tested when the two protagonists accidentally sit back to back in a small crowded cafe. Or promiscuous sexual activity which generally ended in tears, or a knife in the leg, and then they get back together again, and again. Tenants being banned by Police from setting foot on a particular floor in the Nicholas because of hostilities with a neighbouring tenant on the next floor.

Artists were already doing anti-art type things so, were immune to any anti-art retaliation attempts from fashion friends. Instead, fashion friends would turn up to art openings, looking mighty fine.

Like they were just wait a minute, we'll show you how to get it right. And they did.

So when it came to parties, usually run by artists, the fashion people really had it all to themselves. Lights camera action, they turned up in their hundreds and stunned. And they could dance!!

Make no mistake, while some people in the Shuffle movement choose to 'Dance like nobody's watching', others danced and dressed to impress. The crowd was your audience. As many have told me when I was videoing, 'I have not spent 4 hours getting ready, to be ignored !!!'

In fact you can be certain it was more like all week, choosing and usually making what you'd wear to the next party. You might not care if people approved of how you look or dance, but you do care about your appearance and dancing. You care a lot!

The friendly rivalry was based on respect, and envy, of each others talents. That was part of the attraction to living and working in such as close urban community. Creativity was everywhere. You were immersed in it. It fires you up when you're having a bad day. There's always people having a good day. It sweeps you up and there'd be wide support, as everyone knew what it was like to have a bad day. Their next one could be tomorrow, and the tables would be turned.

So despite rivalry ( and there were countless ), collectively everyone had the best interests of the community at heart. In that respect it was a movement, an ideology that with freedoms comes the freedom to disagree, to debate, to be different, to be an individual in a crowd, while still being a valid part of the group.

And it worked. Because we wanted it to. We had no central control, no central agenda or dogma. But here we were in an isolated costal city on the edge of the planet, next stop South Pole - apologies to Tasmania for using poetic license.

We needed each other to survive. The survival of one stood as a beacon that survival was possible. If your neighbour could make great Phats, what was stopping you ?

If you didn't know how to make them, you'd learn or work with fashion friends. Likewise fashion people short on design skills would work with artists. Often the results greater than each working alone. Often too, a disaster.


As Melbourne Rave parties are always called DANCE parties, you wear clothes that not only look good, but are comfortable to dance in. Melbourne has mild (15C) winters and hot (40C) summers, so these need to be clothes that also make you look good while sweating - ahhh yes it can be done.

It took a while, we experimented a lot, and just kept on trying until we got it right.

For dancing at an oldskool party, a short skirt/pants or long big baggy pants, were ideal. To give your legs freedom to move.

Such as this shuffler Randall, at a Euphemism Fashion Parade at the famous Switch/Filter oldskool club in 1995. Yes he really grabs his ankle, in full shuffle, while spinning !...without missing a beat !!! Very Impressive.

These baggy dance pants were loosely based on track suit pants but with stripes and designs on them, Trakees we called them, and spelt it anyway we felt like. Trakees were the sort of thing you could wear as street wear, understated but with the unmistakable Shuffle edge, which other Shufflers could spot from a mile away.

Phats were bigger and brighter and went really well with high power UV lights and lasers at parties.

You didn't wear Phats to hide in the corner of a room,

You wanted to be noticed.

PHATS> taken from the music related slang term 'phat' - generally translating as 'more of a good thing'. Such as with dance music, a 'phat bass' really fills a room, without being 'boomy'

Often called a 'tight phat bass' when it has a 'thump' to it. The overall sound in the bass region is usually referred to as the 'Bottom End' so you can have a 'Phat Bottom End' too. Such technical terms eh ? They keep technicians amused for hours.

So in design terms, you got them as big as comfortable, but too big and you keep getting your foot caught in them while dancing - with very embarrassing results in a crowd. If you go to a giant size, say more than 80cm in the cuff width, your legs tend to get lost in them and look like you're not shuffling. But the phats look great.

PHAT FACT. There is a limit to how bright and how big Phats can be. One day when someone reaches it, we'll let you know. These Phats in the pic below are coming veeerrry close to it.

The oldskool phats were usually made by the person who wore them. So (in theory) they were always a good fit. They were a simple pattern - BIG with an elastic or draw string waist, like a pair of gents pyjama pants, track suit pants or 'Happy Pants' big light weight pants often worn in the tropics. Even an artist could make them. And many did.

After a while, we became more sophisticated with them, experimenting with light and heavy materials, synthetic and cotton. Finding a material weight that suited ones dancing style. Getting a better cut happening so they didn't look too much like a potato sack. You could see the 'mistakes' easily, and would vow to avoid them next time.

We used a lot of recycled materials in the early 1990's, not so much because of any heavy duty environmental ethic, rather, because it was cheap.

It was the height (or depth) of global recession at the time, and a lot of industrial material was being auctioned off, for peanuts.

A favourite haunt was the Reverse Garbage Truck, or just Reverse Garbage as we called them. These were environmentally conscious warehouses that would take offcuts, remainders and general manufacturing by-product stuff that would end up as landfill, and resell

Very often it was priced by the handfull. As much fabric and plastic offcut you could hold in one hand would set you back $2. Perhaps $5 for a grocery bag size.

Among this stuff was a range of plastic based materials, synthetic polymer fabric etc which glowed beautifully under UV lights and new ranges of lightweight industrial reflector material. Such as that used on safety jackets / vests or overalls. Anything that glowed in the dark or reflected lasers and high powered party lights was in big demand.

These would be cut into shapes and sewn on the pant legs. This is where artists played with designs.

The Phats became an artists canvas, usually only a one-off as well. They became SHUFFLE ART and collectable.


Outside of parties and clubs in the oldskool era, there was no where that Shufflers could just meet up to socialise, shuffle, exchange dance tips, what new shoes were like for shuffling, what pants were most comfortable, all sorts of things.

One of the first fashion people to recognise this was Tess who set up Euphemism in Toorak Road Prahran in 1994 then later around the corner in Chapel Street Windsor until 2004 - both Melbourne inner city suburbs.

Euphemism ran from 1994 - 2004 seeing the peak of the Dance Party era of Melbourne.

Not only a fashion shop, Euphemism had a hair dressing salon specialising in rave cuts and styling and also a lounge area with turntables and music sales. DJ's were invited to practice on the turntables and tryout their mixes on the Euphemism crew.

Shuffler Itchy at the Euphemism turntables (above), The hair dressing area (below). pics Garry Shepherd (1995)

Euphemism gave many hundreds of independent designers an opportunity to sell and develop their styles. Phats, Trakees, tops, jackets, male, female and uni-sex designs. Many of the pieces were one-of-a-kind and were highly collectable. There were literally thousands of unique designs.

Euphemism gave Shufflers a place to find all these designers, and share their passion for the Shuffle and Shuffle wear.

Euphemism also ran fashion parades, and pioneered the exhibition/stage Shuffling style that we see today. These were no shy shufflers. They danced to impress, and they sure did. See them in action in the two PHATS! vids below.

Euphemism even promoted early Shuffle teams, who would choreograph and practice their moves. Such as these Euphemism crews (pics below) getting ready for a Euphemism show at LOVE PARADE @ The Metro (Melb) 1995 and on the stage at Filter 1995. Filter was always pioneering styles.

These shows featured some of the best Shufflers in oldskool history, guys and girls, from mid teens to early 20's. These were the people who helped create the Melbourne Shuffle at it's beginning.

As Long as there's a Shuffler

Garry Shepherd
Global Shuffle Director

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