Another Wave from the Aussie Underground
by Kevin J. Elliott
by Kevin J. Elliott
If you weren’t already aware, there’s a glut of excellent, if not unbearably ugly, punk being produced in Australia these days. And though there’s been a long lineage of mordant riffs from the Saints, Radio Birdman, the Birthday Party, and lesser-knowns like Feedtime borne out of the desolate outback and cretin-filled ghettos, a lot of these kids would rather snub Nick Cave’s influence than build the man a statue. If anything, this latest surge in exports from Oz owes as much to the Columbus, Ohio pantheon as it does to homeland allegiance. First, there’s the Negative Guest List. Not only is the DIY label and zine named after a Thomas Jefferson Slave Aparments’ song, it contains a monthly column dedicated to keeping up with the current underbelly of Ohio’s capital city. Then there’s the unhealthy obsession with the Cheater Slicks. Among Australian musicians, the Columbus band’s output has become a genre all its own, so much so it’s puzzling why the trio hasn’t already migrated to the southern hemisphere to ride out their twilight years. It’s like there is a pipeline between the two scenes—that or circles in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney are actually universes parallel to Columbus. Hell, down under they celebrate the Unholy Two with reissues and two-page centerfolds of Chris Lutzko. Mighty bizzaro indeed. But even in this age of internet and instant satisfaction, the Australia underground still feels far away, hard to access without postage stamps and mysterious as to how it continues to thrive. The first half of this year brought us Circle Pit, Slug Guts and Kitchen’s Floor, but in this latest batch from Australia, it’s apparent the junk-punk abscess is still bubbling wildly, fueled by bad smack, crude culture and the government’s dime.
Dead Farmers, “Out the Door” b/w “Never Enough” (RIP Society)
From the label that introduced the world to the hellish biker groove of Circle Pit comes the debut single from Dead Farmers. I made the mistake of missing them when they last checked in, but judging from these two songs, Dead Farmers sound as if they’re put together with more time and care than their peers. That doesn’t always guarantee dazzling results, as the charm of most of these bands comes in their crummy fuck-off abandon. Dead Farmers are instead stylized with rootsy clarity. “Out the Door” relies on a faux roadhouse racket made famous by bands like X or the Mekons. I’m sure the Gun Club and The Cramps are more suitable psychobilly aspirations for what the Dead Farmers aim to play, but in the end, exasperating as “Out the Door” is, it seems neutered of any sign of danger. Though the male-female blooze damage of the aforementioned Circle Pit can be found on the flip, “Never Enough,” the whole thing is a centimeter away from giving love to Uncle Tupelo.
Low Life, Sydney Darbs EP (Negative Guest List)
It would be remiss to exclude the downer nihilism of Flipper when referring to what is so energizing about this mass movement of Australian half-speed hardcore repossession. Low Life is the perfect representation of what makes junk-punk such a gnarly revelation. The Sydney trio displays such a classic tone on their debut that it’s like discovering some lost pocket of proto-sludge from the early ’80s. While Black Flag and Bad Brains were searching for speed, Low Life’s inspiratory mainline is filled with Drunk with Guns records and, as expressed in “Atomised” or “Rewire,” Wire as pigfuck. This is heavy face-melting metal, really, just bypassing actual metal in exchange for AmRep aggro. Think Cows and Cherubs, rhythms so blatantly bashed to a grind it’s like being dragged by the leg on hot asphalt, with skin flayed to reveal the gory details of the circulatory system. This is the grimiest twist on the Aussie underground’s already soiled underbelly, perhaps the Australian doppelganger to the sonic rape provided by the Unholy Two. That’s definitely apparent on “Down Under,” which ends the EP with their distinctively abrasive structure, but soon devolves into brown-acid psych or some nightmarish PiL mantra driven into oblivion.
Of course this next wave is not limited to these records. For more pummeling examples of the chum coming from Australia, one need only to pay the extra cash required to get the Negative Guest List in their hood or check out other releases by like-minded labels, like RIP Society and Bedroom Suck Records, currently being distributed in the States. Going forward, I’m eagerly anticipating Degreaser’s Bottom Feeder LP and the further disintegration of no-wave though this jenkem-coated lens on Scraps’ Classic Shits album.