Some people have Black Flag, others Velvet Underground or The Stooges. I have Castings. I’m not sure that I can objectively write about the band that changed my life, but I can give it a shot.
Before hearing Castings, the appeal of noise’s unending static had been totally lost on me. When Nick Senger handed me a CD-R of Punk Rock is Bunk Squawk when it was released five or six years ago, it was a game-changer. I’m not saying Castings are noise – that idea is so stupid I won’t even bother going into it. What I mean to say is that it opened my ears to what music could and, more importantly, should be. Punk Rock’s disparate combination of ethereal beauty and abject repulsiveness immediately hit me where it mattered. It was weird, unique, and completely devoid of the pretension I later found was synonymous with most ‘experimental’ music. People I knew and could relate to made it, and it helped blow out some of the garbage I’d been infecting my ears with up until that point. Castings led me to reading and ultimately writing for Negative Guest List, Brendan Annesley being possibly the only other person I know who shared my devotion to them. They shaped the way I hear and think about music. I owe everything to them.
2007’s Punk Rock is Bunk Squawk
Yvonne Ruve, Castings’ former venue and rehearsal space in Hibernian House, Sydney
When the possibility of them playing during Sound Summit was mentioned to me a while back, I was filled with equal parts anticipation and apprehension. Knowing the band’s tumultuous history and propensity for collapsing live, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, or if it would even materialise at all. Well, they did play, doing so unannounced at a re-purposed pharmacy (The Pharmacy) on the wrong side of the tracks to a room full of mates, smoke and well-dressed types alike. They didn’t collapse, but instead they bloomed into the towering monument of honest communication that I’d hoped and knew they were. Castings were what some of their well paid contemporaries from out of town playing across the road should have sounded like: a sprawling psychedelic mess of electronics and bad drugs.
Melted from too much booze, time in the sun and social contact, I’ve retained only vaguely illuminated impressions of their set. The equipment and approach of the members had changed since last time, but the sound that was created was undoubtedly still them. Simultaneously melancholic, transcendental and just plain fuckin’ weird, Castings is the seminal music of Newcastle. Their thirty or so minute set took on several manifestations, significantly driven through several of them by Dale Rees’ recently assembled modular synth abomination, which coloured it with a distinctly electronic haze. This transition from the organic defectiveness I mostly associated with their previous output to an almost dependable electronic backbone initially came as something of a surprise, but quickly made absolute sense once it sunk in. Castings is six people, but it is also one heaving, living totality with its own course. It’s not always gonna be pretty, but it will always be the sum of its parts and nothing else.
This may have been the last live collective breath of Castings, and if so then I’m glad I was there to hear that they didn’t go out with a fart. I could say more, but any other impression I had of their set was a personal one and would probably be lost on anyone who wasn’t there or mates with the people involved. For everyone who wasn’t or isn’t, there are some recordings of it floating around, maybe they’ll surface outta the smog eventually. If not, you’ll just have to wait for the hologram tour in 2080.
Contained here are six reviews: five tapes and one 10 inch lathe-cut vinyl. Scum Mecca is the name of the column, an irregular feature on Crawlspace’s schedule. Cooper Bowman writes it. This month the column covers Tim Coster, FFEHRO, Mu, Mermaids, Oranj Punjabi, Pho Band/Faux Band and Sky Needle. We’ve provided audio samples where possible, but most of the time it wasn’t possible. Sorry.
After a string of solo releases on his own Fictitious Sighs imprint, as well as numerous collabs both on FS and other labels, Ocean Liner continues the understated minimalism of New Zealand transplant Tim Coster’s previous work. The title track drifts along in a pleasantly amnesiatic state that will appeal to those with an ear attuned to the likes of Schulze’s or Shnitzler’s more subdued pieces. Here Coster deals in restrained synthesised modulations, effectively complimented with subtle keyboard tones before abruptly ending mid-drift. The second track, ‘Two Adjacent Pavilions’, comprises minimal guitar sounds, murky tape hiss and occasional bleeps, making a slightly less engaging, if decisively incongruent departure from the a-side.
FFEHRO, shorthand for Forks For Eyes Head Orchestra. The first movement is an excessively fried, too-long-in-the-sun style hallucination. Things quickly degenerate from here. In-between clatter and radio abounds. Cutlery as percussion, record warp as music, flickering melody as intoxicant. Psychedelic industrial noise. Must be heard to be seen. Really, what would you expect from Toowoomba.
Mu is a recently anointed duo comprised of Mickey (Mad Nanna, Silk Ears) and Hugh (Nun, Constant Mongrel). Rather than the more rock-based moves of their other ventures, Mu sees them both finding zen in the outer reaches of noise. Following a quick succession of untitled releases, this short affair (same track on both sides) follows a similar trajectory of experiments in pure microphone feedback, vocals and electronics. The piece begins as a steady, warped bass loop with feedback shrieks prodding in and out, before building steam and becoming fully immersive with the introduction of a Casio beat and garbled vocals. Reminds me of some of the more zoned-out aspects of the Shadow Ring combined with the production value of SPK’s Live At The Crypt. Gripping stuff.
Mermaids – Love From The Vegetable Kingdom CS (Grog Pappy)
New tape on what is easily one of the best tape labels in the cuntry. One part Cock Safari, other part Polyfox, Mermaids is a project usually reserved for cheap laughs and cheaper sounds emitted via a range of toys and abused Nintendo applications. Love From The Vegetable Kingdom sees the Mermaids paired up with Nylstoch (Unaustralians, Venting Gallery) on a rare Melbourne sojourn earlier in the year. Although elements of their toys creep underneath at times (definitely could pick an annoying siren I’ve heard used at least once before), Nylstoch’s hysterical overdriven geet and presumed later drumming mutates the Mermaids into a much more threatening beast. The animal lurches, stumbles and crashes into a heap of low-end blow-out and cymbal collapse. Grog Pappy provides what is probably the greatest insight into Newcastle you are likely to get, outside of getting your head kicked in outside The Kent. This tape’s covers are printed on paper found in one of the many derelict buildings in the Newcastle “CBD” (I use the term very loosely) before it was demolished. My copy has a list of many of Newcastle’s suburbs in its background, and I probably have a fucked story associated with every one of them. There is no love in this vegetable patch.
This is the second release for a newly formed label from Newcastle called Mazurka Editions. The imprint operates on miniscule runs (this specific tape is limited to 30) and possesses a distinct focus on the artwork which adorns them. Oranj Punjabi has roots in musique concrete due to her approach being predominantly tape-based, but otherwise there is little else I can think of to compare her to. The first of the two tracks here, ‘Permanent Vertigo’, begins with noises akin to tape being chewed outta the deck and straight down the plughole. You ever hear of that chinstroking wankfest called Liquid Architecture? This is liquid deconstruction. Really, I have no idea what source material is being used here, but it sounds like OP has somehow converted magnetic tape into a watery form and is playing with it like a small child. If Drexciya made noise instead of techno, these are the kinda submerged sounds they’d create. The flip, ‘Zero Degrees of Psychic Life’, is a journey through an uncharted locale. There are bumps and ridges along its topography, creating a thoroughly disorienting sensation. Resonance is repeatedly slowed and stopped. Occasionally the reverberations hint at rhythms, but mostly they are gradually fed through and allowed to exhale freely. The results are an astral trance of which the endpoint is (thankfully) nowhere in sight.
Pho Band / Faux Band – Barry O Cup Day / The Door 10” lathe (Greatdividing)
Greatdividing is one of the most essential features of the Australian musical landscape. There are few who appear to be appreciative of it’s rough and rewarding terrain, but those who do know the geography better than most. The two bands here are one band. Both are comprised of Exiles From Clowntown alumni, arob and sootieb. The two loose, side-spanning manifestations on offer bear much in resemblance to the disjointed and purely engaging slop-rock of the Exiles. It’s impossible to tell which is the “a-side” due to both being littered with several, seemingly unrelated numbers and sigils. In fact, the record appears to be a testament to irritation par excellence; it is a detested size (10”) assembled out of unpopular materials (polycarbonate), featuring bands that do not exist, playing music that moves an inch. But what an inch it is! I’ll go with the Pho Band first; drum and guitar walk around the room uncomfortably, run into each other, shake hands and make nice before leaving for the pub. Repetition is the key here. Two old blokes in a room, the sound of encroaching senility (or refinement). Drunk, abject, confused, where else to go but down? It’s ok, I can say that without fear of too much reprisal, arob used to be my landlord (sorry about the rug). The “other” side is similarly aimless n’ entrancing . Hypnotic guitar and what might be an organ or might not be push a rock up shit hill but never reach the top. Nor do they need to, it is the process that matters. Despite being a disreputably unreliable format, these two cuts sound bloody fantastic. If music appearing on a lathe is a deterrent for you, then you should probably sort your life out anyway.
Closely following an excellent LP on Negative Guest List earlier in the year, Acid Perm is something of a red herring on the otherwise patently electronic-geared Nihilistic Orbs label, run by Chrome Dome’s Shaun South. The title-track of this cassette features what is for me the most interesting quality of Sky Needle; almost total incomprehensibility of how the music is being created. At once it is both organic and electronic, the only distinct instrument used being drums. Otherwise, the rest of its components are difficult to determine. What is certain is that it possesses a purely unprecedented and psychedelic quality. The song is bookended by clapping, indication of its recording in a live setting followed by a brief and blurred reprise. ‘Deadshits Salon’ possesses a similar sickening lurch, albeit with Sarah Byrne’s verbal jabber as the prevalent sound employed, a lethargic male voice subtly weaving underneath and around it. To be perfectly honest, I prefer Sky Needle as an instrumental unit. Their mechanisms almost struggle at times to maintain synchronicity, the very fact that they do is what keeps me interested and it is in this potential collapse that Sky Needle’s strength lies.
This is on the same label that righteously committed the almost-lost 3-Toed Sloth recordings to vinyl, amongst numerous other services to antipodean archival. This time Unwucht has spawned yet another new platter from Mad Nanna. Seriously, every time I check the forecast there seems to be a new MN record floating in the ether, waiting to be absorbed. With this level of productivity, one could assume that the quality of their output would suffer. Thankfully, this is infinitely far from the truth. Mad Nanna are an inherently difficult group to ‘get’ (whatever that means) and therefore interest me more than just about anything else involving guitar and/or drums on this continent or elsewhere at the moment.
The a-side, ‘I’m Not Coming Here’, was recorded at out-of-the-way gallery space KOF early in ‘11. It’s a disjointed, beautiful mess that wavers in and out of time and instrumentation. Occasionally it devolves into totally shredded edges, but is sustained throughout by Mickey’s relaxed strummin’. With Mad Nan, a live-recording is as good as anything else you’re likely to hear and no two recordings of a given track will likely sound the same. A testament to musicianship!
B-side, ‘My Two Kids’, is easily among my favourite MN jams. As my housemate put it, it’s like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash in pyjamas”. Narcoleptic, slurred, but with an undeniably rockin’ vitality. One foot in bed, the other in the Centrelink line. This version was recorded in Lyttelton on their NZ trip last year. This information is relevant, as several of the groups I would hazard Mad Nanna derive their sound from hail from this bountiful continent: Scorched Earth Policy, Plagal Grind, Axemen. None of these references are singularly apt, more so in terms of a mutually displaced frayed quality skirting the edges of ineffable pop sensibilities. Another great single from one of the most consistent and prolific bands in modern animation.
Earlier in the year I went to see Straightjacket play with a much-loved Australian rock and roll band. I didn’t even want to go to the show. I didn’t even want to go to the show. I was tired, high, and pissed off about lining up to see a band I thought I’d seen play the best set they were capable of at a house party a few months earlier. There were cunts everywhere, most of them stupid looking, and it didn’t seem like it was going to be fun. Long story short: it wasn’t. I copped a black eye and had to put off the job hunt for another few weeks. I found out later that the eye was fractured, and it still feels kinda fucked if I touch it now. Don’t think this is a cry for masculine adulation: it is pretty awkward admitting to a doctor as a grown adult that you willingly entered into a situation where someone headbutted you, and you didn’t care.
Wistful anecdotes aside, Straightjacket Nation have released a new record and it rips. The shit-stirring title potentially intends to take the piss out of the PC punks SJN cut their teeth playing with when they started out, or maybe it’s just snappy marketing and will sell more t-shirts as a result. Really, who gives a shit – it could be called Joshua Tree and still be one of the heaviest records of the year.
Nationalism is SJN matured but no less dangerous sounding than they were seven years ago. Despite its members moving into other, less expressively prohibitive (pissed off) areas of music, these three songs affirm that when they return to their roots no other contemporary hardcore band comes close to nailing the sound of alienation, dissatisfaction and small-town frustration as well as them.
The A-side is two songs. ‘Nice Talk’ isn’t nice. Lyrics on hardcore records usually don’t matter, but here they do. It’s an ode to displacement and not easily communicating with suits. I hear ya. A bullshit bass and drum break leads into the title track, which is easily the staunchest cut of the three. ‘Nationalism’ possesses the same kind of tension as ‘Get In The Boot’ off the LP (Cheap Kicks, 2008). Put this on in a room of youths and don’t expect the furniture to stay where it is. If it does, call their parents and let them know their children are well balanced. The b-side, ‘Child Care’, is directed at people who probably should’ve been neutered at birth, people who pawn their existing spawn off onto others while they fornicate. Opens slow, ends fast, sounds good.
Listening to Nationalism reminds me that it is okay to want to kick someone’s teeth in sometimes, and I’m fine with that. I think they have an LP coming out on No Patience later in the year.