Here’s where things can get a little more interesting and flexible, as I’ve taken a slightly different direction in terms of music that had an impact on me, as well included some stuff I find more interesting now than I did then, with the focus on underground music that I’m not so sure many Aussies are aware of these days let alone anyone internationally – plus I want to elaborate on something I only hinted at yesterday.
’88 and ’89 were my first two years of high school – a place where hundreds of still-forming identities are vying to establish and distinguish themselves from the masses – but, and here’s the kicker, at the same time, those identities are yearning to identify with and be accepted by their peers. High school is a place where, in amongst the swirl of other things, music often forms part of the language that is developed to help forge a separation from the ‘other’ (i.e. parents, siblings, or pretty much anyone in a position of authority) while still capable of eliciting an immediate understanding between two peers – quite a powerful thing when you think about it, and in retrospect I can see that at first, that phenomenon did influence what I chose to listen to back then.
In those first two years, I had no identity in high school other than “Bomber’s little sister“. My brother was infamous, considered slightly dangerous, and therefore ultimately ‘cool’. I was mousy, hardly spoke a word, and had stones thrown at me because I sat at the bus stop reading books instead of gossiping about which boy I wanted to kiss (for the record, it was the guitar player in the school band. I don’t remember his name, I just remember that he walked around the school in a trench coat and played the guitar).
My first solution to this was to steal my brother’s Black Flag t-shirt and wear it to school, only I felt like a complete fraud for the entire day. Instead of getting nods of approval, stares of admiration or awe (as I thought would be the case), I wound up interpreting even the slightest hint of a sideways glance as containing contempt and a general laugh at my expense for the failed attempt at being ‘cool’.
Anyway…music. Initially, it was something I tried to use to connect to my friends, but as focus for them became more and more about things like who was the cutest member of New Kids on the Block, music became something I used to connect to something else entirely, and in terms of my peers it was something I was completely alone in – which is probably what I wanted. As my taste evolved, my interest in what my brother listened to gradually became genuine instead of an attempt at hi-jacking some of his street cred. Most of this took place post-’80’s, and in some cases there were artists I only remembered a year or two ago and started listening to them.
One of the most important bands to my brother back then was Massappeal, who released their debut, Nobody Likes A Thinker, in 1986… Bloody hell I thought it was awful, to the point where I considered there just might be something wrong with him for listening to it (in that conceited way most young people have of thinking they’re in a position to judge things they don’t understand). I looked at the picture on the cover, heard this aggressive mess of noise coming from the general direction of his room and just shook my head. This leaves me unable to relate first-hand what an album like NLAT meant to the youth of Australia at the time, but I can say that I now have two of their albums and I play them more than I play the Black Flag albums I also have.
There’s very little online that I could turn up, but here’s a track from NLAT, one of my (now) favourites Can’t Forget. Turn it up loud.
The following clip is a 2006 performance of a song called What Are Man’s Fears by Box of Fish, for the launch of an album called Box of Fish Invented Grunge 1984, which was when the song was first released…perhaps obviously. True enough I paid no attention to this when it was released, in fact, I can’t even promise you I heard it in the 80’s, but in listening to the entire album, I found it interesting as a distinct blend of goth punk, grunge, industrial and noise, which is kinda cool for something that while taking a few cues from The Birthday Party and even one or two from Dead Kennedys, pre-dates the explosion of the latter few genres later on in the 80’s and early 90’s with bands like The Jesus Lizard. (NB the two minute clip is unfortunately not the entire song and cuts out unexpectedly, but it’s long enough to get the general jist).
Finding that clip reminded me of another Aussie box-y band, Box The Jesuit. I remember reading about them in the aforementioned magazine Hot Metal, in which they explained where they got their name from and what it meant. I found this a high source of amusement at the time and didn’t really pay much attention to anything other than that, but I decided to look them up – I’m relieved to report that what while they look a bit ‘Adam Ant‘ on the cover up there, they’re again a bit more on the seedier, gothic punk side of things, so here’s their track Sniffing At The Tailpipes of Hell.
Lastly, though I was trying to keep it at only two clips per post owing to load times etc, I think I really need to make special mention of a band called Lubricated Goat. This is one song I remember very well indeed (watch the clip and guess why!) In The Raw was one of those songs that has the capacity to tear a nation in two… Ok, so that’s getting a little far-fetched, but when they appeared on Andrew Denton‘s show Blah Blah Blah, there were generally two kinds of reactions: those who found it disturbing and offensive, and those who found it awesome and hilarious. I’m not sure if I’m embarassed to admit that I belong to the ‘awesome and hilarious’ camp or not. The main reason I’m putting this up, though, is because by some fairly unexplainable reasons, a bunch of naked dudes growling ‘In the raw! Rawr!‘ is so utterly, undeniably, classicly Australian.
For further exploration of 80’s Australian (let’s just say) alternative music, I recommend looking up Hard-Ons for punk / power-pop, Cosmic Psychos and Celibate Rifles for garage punk / rock, The Church for vaguely Joy Division-ish new wave, and if you can dig it up from somewhere (I’ve had no luck myself other than the linked, fairly low sound quality live clip) Hot Tomatoes for a taste of 80’s punk, Adelaide style.