Sunday, 12 February 2012

Inner City Sound

(Finally I have my scanner/printer back in good health)!

A few weeks ago I found myself listening to a couple of early Severed Heads albums, "Clean" and "Blubberknife" and I sat there amazed at the quality of sound and sheer brilliance of rhythms and sampling. Amazed because these albums are over 30 years old, but still sound relevant and fresh today. A mark of genius. Then I began to wonder if there had been any books written about Severed Heads and/or the underground electronic scene in Australia. Severed Heads have been a far too important outfit in electronic music over the past 30 years for there not to be a book about them. And what about the surrounding sound? Harbinger Sound released a double CD of Slugfuckers a few years back, and I have cassettes of bands such as Scattered Order, Bleeding Arseholes, Voigt/465 and Negative Reaction ...there must be some documentation about all of this?
I began to realise I know little and nowt about Australian experimental electronic/independent music. Certainly I have read the Nick Cave autobiography (who hasn't)? and I know a little bit about SPK in the late 1970's-early 1980's and have a copy of Trevor Blake's "Krankheit Im Recht" book, but what about the others? I posted a query on some forum boards and the names of Harry Butler and his magazine "DNA" and the writings of Clinton Walker kept being mentioned, then I found (on Amazon of all places) the book "Inner City Sound" by Clinton Walker, published by Voice Chorus Press. "Inner City Sound" is a collection of writings, reviews, overviews and interviews culled from fanzines/magazines written about punk and post-punk in Australia from 1976-1985. Clinton is the books editor as well as main contributor. The book first came out in the early 1980's, what is available now is the 2006 re-press.

The book is 190 pages thick and is full of excellent pictures. It all begins in 1976 and the story of Radio Birdman and The Saints. I must admit to not having heard Radio Birdman and I could never quite get The Saints. Others raved about them at the time (1977), with their "I'm Stranded" single, but to me they were just Pub Rock, ah well. Another big Australian band at this time were Last Words. Last Words released the excellent single "Animal World" on Rough Trade Records in 1977. A cross between Metal Urbain and Generation X. I never knew they were Australian!
The book does concentrate on the more "popular" bands of the time like Boys Next Door, The Hitmen, Jab, The Thought Criminals, Crime & City Solution, Scientists in the 1970's through to bands such as The Birthday Party, Laughing Clowns, Go Betweens and The Models in the early 1980's before ending with writings on The Triffids, Hunter & Collectors, The Moodists and The Sunnyboys. Again, bands that (on the whole) I know nothing about but found their interviews and reviews fascinating. By now most groups were heading off to post-punk Britain, having a modicum of success and returning back to Australia to split and carry on their newly found drug addiction! I remember seeing Laughing Clowns support Sisters Of Mercy at the Boat Club in Nottingham. I think it was 1982. They were bland, as bland as brown corduroy curtains.

There are small chapters on experimental Australia, a really good piece written about Terse Tapes - the label set up by Tom Ellard of Severed Heads, and interviews with Pel Mel - but the bands I really wanted to read about are only in this book in picture form. Great pictures though, and loads of gig flyers and posters that make the book worth is a great read.
Strange in their absence are SPK. Only mentioned in a couple of sentences and one picture - a publicity shot of Graeme and Sinan in their "Machine Age Voodoo" days. Another band I was interested in finding out about; Sekret Sekret are only there in picture form too. Members of this group were original members of SPK, but next to nothing is mentioned about them. There's a couple of nice pictures of John Murphy (with hair) playing with Whirlywirld that made me smile.

So. Now I need to find a book written about the "real" Australian underground, about bands like Scattered Order, Severed Heads, Bleeding Arseholes and Slugfuckers (who are not mentioned in this book). Is there one out there? Can anyone help? Is there no book on Extreme Music label and/or John Watermann?

1: "Inner City Sound" Book Cover.
2: Danny Virgin of SPK/Sekret Sekret.
3: Severed Heads in the studio,
4: Voigt/465 with Ne/H/il of SPK.
5: Tom Ellard of Severed Heads live at Sheffield Leadmill 1985. (personal collection)

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