[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
I am currently in Australia. This will mark my 30th trip to this country since I first came here in 1989. From the very start, Australia fascinated me on many levels. For a history of how Australia came to be known as such, you might want to check out Robert Hughes' book The Fatal Shore. What a backstory. It might make you see some similarities with another large landmass where, centuries ago, voyagers came ashore and did some radical land appropriation from the indigenous people.
Years previous to my first setting foot in Sydney, I had been listening to Australian bands for many years. They included the Saints, the Victims, Radio Birdman, the Scientists, the Birthday Party and all of the spinoff projects post-BP breakup in 1983 (the Bad Seeds, Crime and the City Solution and SPK), to name a handful.
When the first opportunity came for me to travel down here for shows, an offer from top agent Tim Pittman — who is my agent to this day — I jumped on it. Getting here from Los Angeles in those days required a flight that was hours longer than any other flight I had ever endured. The flight took so long — or at least I remember it as being that way — that when I finally arrived, I thought I had dropped down on another planet. In many ways, I had. I remember feeling that I was really far away from a part of the world I was familiar with and in a very new environment.
There is no place in the world like Australia. Not even its beautiful neighbor New Zealand. The place is unique and so are the people, but for me, the best part of all this is that the music scene here (from anytime in the past to this very minute) is fantastic.
Australia has certainly had its share of high-profile exports — AC/DC, the Hoodoo Gurus, Men at Work, INXS and Midnight Oil — but the perhaps lesser-known bands really should not go unenjoyed. A very short list of some of my favorites: Beasts of Bourbon, Kim Salmon and the Surrealists (and Kim's solo excursions), the Mark of Cain, Mass Appeal, the Cruel Sea, the Dirty Three, the Necks and Tumbleweed.
I wonder if it is Australia's great distance from more populated land masses that allows its inhabitants to be left to their own devices, to be incredibly creative and, at times, to be wonderfully weird.
One of the best ways to assess this theory is to check the must-have Terrace Industry: M Squared Box 1980-1983 retrospective box set. Actual vinyl from this Sydney-based way-out-there label is exceedingly difficult to procure, but this well-considered collection really allows the listener to get a foot in the door.
This was what occurred to me when I started spending more time here: Australia is on its own yet still on the same planet the rest of us are paying taxes on. By the time established genres wash up on these shores and get assimilated, they become Australianated, and something very cool happens.
Like I said, the local music scene in Australia is beyond belief. Every time I come here, worthwhile new bands have cropped up from the last time I visited. Many of their records never get out of the country, which makes it infinitely frustrating but also really interesting for those into the self-inflicted torture of obsessive record collecting. Having an Australian tour manager, as I do, only adds to the level of unrest and curiosity.
Great Melbourne indie band the Eddy Current Suppression Ring will drive you nuts as a non-Aussie, trying to run down all of their singles. I am in the process of tracking down a few of the more ridiculously obscure ones during this visit. I have high hopes but low expectations.
If all the great bands and their sometimes frustratingly elusive releases weren't enough, the bands from outside of Australia often have some beyond-cool domestic releases. The Wizard label, which must have at some point done a licensing deal with Virgin, put out the first Public Image album — on translucent ivory vinyl. It looks awesome.
Many years ago, Wizard released a three-track 12-inch EP by British band the Buzzcocks, which came out in semiclear blue, black and green vinyl. (There are mentions of a red vinyl pressing, although I have never seen it on any list anywhere and have only seen the green vinyl copy once in a private collection.)
The first Clash album came out in Australia in 1977 in a very limited quantity and distinguishes itself by using a radically brighter ink for the band's logo on the cover. Copies of this album are next to impossible to find at this point.
The Australian pressing of the Damned's “Neat Neat Neat” single is one of the great holy grails of punk-rock record collecting. I have seen only one of these, um, damned things in my entire life. (The New Zealand pressing is even rarer. Way to go, Kiwis!)
Contemporary bands often will do tour-only releases pressed and sold only in Australia. Crikey!
This kind of meaningless information makes my life worth living and keeps me on a perpetual Maltese Falcon-esque hunt.
Great to be back here. Heading out to a record store in less than half an hour.