webcam self portrait, 2014
Pathetic Human - Live under the Clifton Hill bridge..
How the fuck have I never seen this footage. I was sitting up to the side being a drunken asshole kid. Space Bong + Bum Creek also played. Can’t remember who else.
This is a working draft of a piece of writing I’ve been chipping away at for a few months. I’ve done a large chunk about Per Purpose, but it’s unedited.
It’s probably best to start at the end by trying to explain what it is I mean by Transcendental Australiana. The phrase came to me when I was thinking about two bands in particular: Brisbane’s Per Purpose and Melbourne’s Mad Nanna. Two of my favourite groups. Without meaning to sound reductive, there’s something distinctly Australian about both of these groups - but the two bands reflect different aspects of 21st century Auhs. This feeling has overtaken me while watching both groups live and inspired me to write this in order to explore that feeling and the way I understand these groups. I hope also to write about some other groups, too. Groups like Terrible Truths, the Native Cats and HTRK.
Invoking the idea of ‘Australiana’ is a risky move, but there’s something about both of these bands specifically that taps into the Australian psyche (or atleast my experience in Australian capital cities) and the baggage that comes with it. For anyone with any degree of historical awareness, proudly self-identifying as an ‘Australian’ is fraught with nasty implications. The history that makes up the Australian identity is fraught with denial. Denial of racism and xenophobia, a denial of indigenous sovereignty, a denial of wars during white settlement and a denial of the Australia that exists outside of suburban wealth, the ANZACs, sporting success and the gross celebration of the Australian male (yes, these pillars of Australian character were heavily inspired by historian Richard White).
That’s the history lesson there. Mad Nanna and Per Purpose are bands, and it’s beyond me to say whether these ideas on Australian identity have inspired either of these groups. However I’m of the view that there is an underlying culture of denial, repression and violence in Australia. Everyone experiences this differently, some people experience this directly via bigotry, some attempt to combat it through articulating it’s presence - academia and the arts, others might not experience it all and choose to see it as a problem of an other.
As with most cultural objects the music and presentation of these bands is full of codified information. Sometimes to the point of being wholly abstract. This information doesn’t just simply relate to being ‘Australian’- whatever that may mean to yourself, to me, or the people in the bands- but to stylistic influence and inspiration, aesthetic approaches and considerations etc. The two bands that sparked this idea offer pretty different things, but they both seem to me to play with the idea of what it means to live in this country. This is my attempt at a personal reflection on what these bands mean to me.
There’s a patient repetition to Mad Nanna’s musings, and a sedate domestic bliss to their music. They certainly seem to strike a chord with people who like to explore the depths/history of recorded sound: music for the sake of music; the mundane becomes transcendental. Although Mad Nanna can come off as being dejected and ugly, I think there’s also a quiet contentment in finding a home that’s out of the way and removed from the horrors of contemporary culture. My favourite articulation of this sentiment is the suggestion by Genet that: to escape the horror one must bury oneself in it (I’m paraphrasing here). Not to suggest their music is horrible, simply that it rejects a lot of traditional conceptions of what music can or should be, at least in the context of pop music. This approach, of course, has always run parallel with and often intersected with popular music.
Performing live Mad Nanna are at their best. As a group, they’re able to create their own sense of time and control the way it unfolds. Mad Nanna move slowly, rambling and repeating the same chords or notes over and over until you realise that this twisted logic makes perfect sense. It pays to be meditative when watching them, as the music draws upon the combined years explorative listening done by the individuals in the group - the group has a rotating roster but is centered around Michael Zulicki, Patrick O’Brien and Ian Wadley. Reading a review of their first LP it’s easy to understand how one could describe it as catatonic and thought-less: ‘‘… the only resemblance to sentience here is the fact the music actually moves … with its own syrupy, narcoleptic tread’, but there’s more to it than that. This comes across more clearly in a live context. This is music that’s understated, patient and contemplative - but not in that benign folksy sense. This is something which is outside the reach of most bands performing around Australia at the moment.
Mad Nanna paradoxically belong to the Australian pub rock tradtion, while at the same time creating anti-Pub Rock music (see this live footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztwN66mUY7k). Their instrumental set-up is in line with a typical rock set-up, but they mess around with the idea of what a rock song is. The group manages to mix improvisation into songs that have been performed countless times already, and their method is pretty transparent as they played and released the same group of songs for a couple of years. Meaning that these songs grow and change between each time you manage to go out and see them. It’s as though they’re designed to be malleable to a different time, place and setting. It makes me think of Sun Ra’s approach and understanding of music.
Seeing what must have been one of Mad Nanna’s first shows at the Empress I was reminded of the Velvet Underground. An obvious touchstone for a band of this style and approach, and in terms of groups that have inspired Mad Nanna I’m sure there are artists that I’m not aware of that are far more relevant, but I can’t help but think of the tune ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ when thinking of Mad Nanna. They seem to hold up a mirror to the quiet domesticity of Australian life, a stark grimy insight into domestic reality. The photographs/album covers and lyrical themes all seem to revolve around very personal moments and spaces. The fleeting feelings and memories that are created behind the closed doors and shuttered windows laid bare without cynicism or hostility. There’s some profound existential unease going on in You Can’t Expect It.
The group seems to me to belong to the long tradition of strange and anonymous music that could’ve been made anywhere and anytime after the ‘60s, if taken out it’s actual context. But it has context: the musical melting pot of Melbourne in the late 2000s. Thanks Mad Nanna.
Listen to me. When I talk I don’t count. When I want to emphasise a word I h-o-l-d it longer. Preachers reiterate and reiterate and reiterate (and meanwhile they’re saying, “You’re going to heaven, now give me money”). You got to reiterate, too. People can relate to that. Most people live like that. They do the same things over and over. Don’t worry about sounding wrong. If you sound like you’re wrong people will be interested. You don’t ever hear people say, “Let’s go hear that band: they play everything right.” But if you play some things wrong, they say, “That band plays wrong: let’s go see them.” Sometimes we should even look like we don’t know what we’re doing. I knew a man in Chicago came to see me with his friends. He said, “I told them I wanted them to see you ‘cause you abuse the piano.” He wanted to see a piano abused.
Sun Ra directing his Arkestra on how to play music.
Small-run exotic cassette releases. Based out of Melbourne, Australia.
New tape label I’m working on. Mail order wont be up until I get back from NZ in mid-feb, but ya can have a look at some of the releases I’ve put together. Heaps of different sounds in there. More samplers/artwork to come over the next week or two.