Freya Zaknich (Rule of Thirds)
March 1st 2013 was the first Chrome Dome show in over twelve months. It was at The Tote. Our drive from Adelaide ran longer and later than expected, unsurprisingly, so we only arrived in Melbourne as everyone was starting to load in. Despite having to tease my hair in a pub bathroom, the fact that Rule of Thirds would finally be playing with Chrome Dome was reason for me to swallow the indignity. To say that Rule of Thirds came about in large part due to the exposure and influence of Chrome Dome and its members is true enough for me to put forth in some detail now.
In fact my first real experience of punk in the decade passed was an alleyway show that Pathetic Human played in Adelaide in 2008. Due to lurid purple track-suiting, their drummer was all but obscured from view, however there was never an option to overlook the looming figure with electrocuted black hair. It was Shaun South who was afflicting the unsuspecting crowd from behind a synthesiser. Somehow it was functioning from the meagre power supply of an abandoned furniture megastore car park on the city fringe. And functioning is an appropriately ambiguous term.
Though I’d known Celeste Aldahn for a while already, that night I was introduced to Lewis Godwin and spoke to Dieter Striech, which would lead to my meeting Ben McLaren and a score of other South Australian sweethearts and scum that I am familiar with now. Some time after that Celeste, Marcel Cuthbertson and I put together a group, Witches At Black Mass, so that we could play at a Chrome Dome show in Adelaide. It was a wintry night in the cramped front room of The Exeter, where if there were five people shoving and gyrating–and with violent titillation is still the only way I know to respond to Chrome Dome–it felt like there were fifty. Witches At Black Mass faltered through three songs and only ever played once more. But for all intents, the aborted venture of leather and sweat would be revived in 2011 under a different name.
Following that night I would develop a kind of sickly fixation with Chrome Dome. It was the strangest thing to think of how they could craft such twisted dance music with their machines, moving me to an obsessive psychosis in the process. There were the whispers, groans and yelps that shook from Shaun. And for me as a dumb choir girl to hear the voice of Andrea Blake beguile and belittle with equal venom and grace- I was overcome. All powered by Bryce Sweatman’s drumming and the programmed percussion, all taut and relentless. There’s that nauseating siren in ‘Life As A Party,’ that continues to send my tongue curling tightly in my throat, triggering my gag reflex.
Some time afterward they expanded to include Ben Taylor for additional synthesiser and released the vicious After Midnight/Cut Ties 7 inch on Shaun’s own record label, Nihilistic Orbs. Other projects seemed to take priority for a while, though Chrome Dome did return to Adelaide again with Repairs for a pair of excellent shows. People know how to dance in Adelaide, if you care to note. With a cracking strobe you can be alleviated from and isolate yourself as you watch your own limbs contort, flying like phantoms through thick curtains of dry ice. My point being that there were far too few people dancing when Chrome Dome played at The Tote this year. And what a sullied fact. It would be the last show they played.
Perhaps its only with retrospection and longing, but it seemed the evening didn’t quite satisfy. I remember it didn’t seem like the sky was dark enough and I was a bit stupid with nerves and expectation. It started quietly with the first ever performance from Flat Fix, and when Nun played the room was a little empty. Sky Needle were potently confusing, simultaneously alluring and jarring. Rule of Thirds played next and then Chrome Dome. They included some new songs that I now cannot recall even with my best projections and delusions. But there would be worse news at the end of the month, when we were told what had happened to Shaun.
There are sources more informed and more closely aligned than me to give enough account of Shaun South’s productions, performances and personal attributes. While you can’t ignore the wretched loss and unnecessary cruelty of the matter, legacy feels like a remote and impossible thing to speak about when the last time you saw someone you complimented them on their shirt and they handed you a wad of cash. And then they are gone.
I question the need for much to be said at all when you consider the demonstrative force of the Nihilistic Orbs closing show that occurred on the 21st of November. Nine artists performed for over eight hours at the Liberty Social, in their order of release on the label. From the first with the impassioned Jonny Telafone to the final act of Four Door, and in between with Asps, Repairs, Forces, White Hex, Sky Needle and Nun. As Chrome Dome could not play, the Primitive Calculators appeared in their stead. Stuart Grant told of when he first met Shaun, and how Shaun told him that the Primitive Calculators changed his life. And so he yelled “you changed my life motherfucker,” over and over while ‘Topped’ oscillated through its fetid tale of seaside murder. They spoke to the audience and played along to their songs, mixing in bends and distortion, incomprehensible mutterings and a sorrowful ballad so that Chrome Dome could exist for the night. And even though it was a strange, transmuted and evasive presence, there they were.
Weird and exhausting as it was, the night was an immense effort reigning in the work and talent of the past four years, all made possible by Andrea Blake and Ben Hepworth, and the endless lists of musicians, friends and volunteers involved. I doubt there has been equal triumph in terms of cultivating a more explicit yet encompassing cult of the dark and nasty -the “goth by default,”- underside of music in Australia, ever. In bowerbird fashion, Nihilistic Orbs grew into a stark beacon, a gathering of like-minds attuned to electronic mutations of pop. The black glamour, emitted by design can be clearly seen in the physical product- whether in the metallic gold sheen of the Asps’ tape or the sullen photographs on the White Hex LP.
Of course it’s over, it had to end. Nihilistic Orbs is complete, sealed off to remain encapsulated, holy, perfect and untarnished. Leave it to linger as a collective imprint of a time and of people and of one person’s strength of vision and wielded force. I know that my foolish romance that might appreciate this closure had it come from another sphere is all but spent.