Real Bad Music is a Brisbane venue that’s also home to Breakdance the Dawn label founder and operator Matt Earle. It’s situated on the Ipswich Road “Magic Mile”, named so because it’s a concrete sprawl of car dealerships. In a new documentary on Brisbane’s underground music scene screened at Sound Summit, titled Brisbane 2012, Matt Earle is interviewed on the premises, and the camera lingers for a moment on the view from one of his windows. It’s a world of shiny cars and four-lane highways, flapping plastic sale signs and low oxygen. Throughout the dialogue with Earle you can hear the constant grind of passing vehicles. You can smell the exhaust fumes and fast food debris just watching it.
I live in Sydney, and I duly recognise that I’m an outsider looking in, but for me Real Bad Music is a neat symbol for some of Brisbane’s weirder music. It’s always being pushed away, both by the local councils that seem repelled by it and the rest of the country, which can’t get a proper grasp of it. And yet, there’s something appropriate about that ugly heavy commercial setting, and the purely pragmatic reasons Real Bad Music must function there. I, for one, can’t think of a better home for some of the music that comes from Breakdance the Dawn; its textures and MOs seemingly borne from the ugliness of modern cities, or specifically speaking, the decay inherent to our cities’ edgelands, a term coined by essayist Marion Shoard to describe “the expanses of no-man’s-land which have sprung up on the margins of our towns and cities”.
Shoard continues: “Rough and ready in the naked functionalism of their edifices and in the lawlessness and vigour of their natural vegetation, these places are unappreciated by the arbiters of landscape taste, but they too have their story and their needs. The time has come to give these ‘edgelands’ their due and recognise them as landscapes in their own right.” I agree with her, and the Magic Mile feels perfectly emblematic of that. It’s equally fitting with regard to the sounds embraced by so many of the groups on this new compilation cassette released by All Day Breakfast, because so much of it revels in the audio we most often want to reject, or the sounds we hear momentarily on our way to something else: the canned demo-button pop of Scraps and Shooga, the white noise hum of X Wave and Girls Girls Girls, the naked clipping imperfections of Kitchen’s Floor and Cured Pink, the salvaged foreign scree of Sky Needle.
What’s going on in Brisbane at the moment is more interesting than just about anything else in the country, and the cassette at hand, the first for All Day Breakfast, is both intimidating and vital because it features so much music most of us haven’t heard before. Judging from the interviews conducted in Brisbane 2012, the health of that city’s underground music scene runs pretty much counter-commensurate to the opportunities available to actually see it performed. There’s few (if any) licensed venues willing to host the milieu of bands featured on Midday Music, and a long list of unlicensed venues like Burst City have come and gone, leaving one of Australia’s healthiest music communities with few opportunities to demonstrate how fit and potent it is.
It’s bittersweet, because at least three quarters of this tape is essential listening. The third track on Midday Music is a live recording by Bitter Defeat at Real Bad Music, a group that, in this incarnation, comprises Matt Kennedy (Kitchen’s Floor), Matt Earle and Josh Watson (Andrew McLellan is credited, but he didn’t actually play). It’s nine minutes of negative space: mouldy bare walls in suburban weatherboards, weeded backyard corners, rusted corrugated iron, median strips in zones pedestrians rarely cross. It’s the total inverse to the doctored real estate images we see when longingly gazing at auction ads we’ll never afford to compete in. It’s the space between notes we never allow to resonate quite long enough to notice. It’s dry and unromantic, and incredibly docile. It’s harsh and unshaded. It’s ugly, but it feels like home.
That type of imagery runs rife across the 25 tracks on Midday Music. Kitchen’s Floor’s live performance of ‘Regrets’ conjures a world of dreary weekday shopping centres and parking lots, with Matt Kennedy’s lyrics eager to reprimand passersby for their air of comfort he can’t quite obtain. Sewers is indeterminate cul-de-sac boredom that doesn’t deign to articulate exactly what is harrying it, while Slug Guts sound like they exist in their own drowsy vacuum: dusty, furious, disengaged. Then there’s the comparatively elated pop of Martyr Privates and Knee Chin, both relatively calm but still with a common fixation on echo and reverb, as if they’re playing on the edge of a brambled stormwater drain. It’s very easy to imagine they are.
Midday Music isn’t tidy though: it doesn’t perfectly fit the hole I want to slot it into, and it’s all the more interesting for it (obviously). There are weird anomalies here, such as the feather-lite and heavenly Primitive Motion, a duo featuring Leighton Craig (a regular collaborator with Eugene Carchesio and formerly, The Lost Domain) and visual artist Sandra Selig, both of whom also crop up as part of Fig. alongside Carchesio. Similarly, Sky Needle comprises artists and curators, but they inhabit the same sonic spaces as their poppier, determinedly less “capital E experimental” friends in Blank Realm and Per Purpose. While it felt like in Sydney, for instance, that the cerebral elements of that city’s music scene were abruptly rejected several years ago by a burgeoning underground rock and punk scene, no such inverse-snobbery seems to have occurred in Brisbane. There seems to be a healthy solidarity taking in a wider range of sounds than most other Australian state capitals.
But yeah, the sounds here! Scraps, Multiple Man, Brainbeau – the sounds these three outfits create alone need their own sodden 1000 word tracts, and when you listen to all of this within the space of 90 minutes it’s kinda stunning and exhausting from an outsiders point of view, to realise how much is happening in Brisbane that we don’t know about. In the Brisbane 2012 doco, Scraps’ Laura Hill admits that she never even wanted to play live: her friends basically pressured her into doing it. She’d prefer to just keep it at home. Similarly, Breakdance the Dawn release torrents of CD-Rs and tapes that basically no one but a select hundred people in the world will ever acquire. Even less will listen.
And while that’s by no means an attitude shared by every artist on Midday Music, it seems emblematic of Brisbane’s weird underground as a whole: the music at the edge, the noise and spaces and people we never see, or rarely properly engage with, creating a new psychogeographic poetry that is decayed and fiercely modern, lacking the lush greens and blues embedded in our dated visual associations pertaining to coastal Queensland. Midday Music feels like an essential documentation.
Midday Music: Brisbane 2012 will release on All Day Breakfast next month. Email for enquiries. We don’t know of any plans of for a wide release of Joshua Watson’s Brisbane 2012 documentary, but we’ll let you know when we do.