New Music

Listen: Forces – World in Focus

Earlier this year Melbourne duo Forces released one of the year’s best debut singles in the form of  Idolise / Ice, which came courtesy of Nihilistic Orbs. Now, after a (seemingly) long silence, they’ve got a new 12 inch coming out shortly through Siberia Records, which you can preorder here. It’s a four track EP and ‘World in Focus’ (embedded below) will feature on it.

Forces will play a “secret rave” in Sydney next weekend. Given its secret nature, there is no venue announced as yet, but if you head to the Facebook page you’ll find a number you can call on the day. They’re also playing Melbourne Music Week, specifically a Siberia Records showcase, which you can find details for here. Alex from Forces said he’d do an interview with us closer to the release of this 12 inch, which is about now, probably, so check back soon.


Goth by Default: Shaun South of Nihilistic Orbs and Chrome Dome Interviewed

This interview took place on the grass/cement/brown glass behind Newcastle venue The Pharmacy during the Sound Summit long weekend. I’d arranged with Shaun South – the founder and operator of Nihilistic Orbs – to have a chat over the weekend for Crawlspace, but I hadn’t factored in the possibility that I’d be pretty lashed while doing so. As a result, much was left unquestioned, because I hadn’t prepared any questions. No problem though, because we met in high spirits – Castings had just finished their first show in a couple of years – and there’s never any lack of things to ask a guy who runs one of Australia’s best record labels.

Nihilistic Orbs has recently released singles for Nun, Forces, Repairs and South’s own band Chrome Dome. The label boasts a strong visual aesthetic that binds an increasingly diverse range of Australian bands. I chatted with South about founding the label, what unifies the various groups it houses, and why dark synth music is better when it’s “goth by default”.

I’m familiar with your work from Young Romantix and Chrome Dome. You used to be a Sydney local. Why did you move to Melbourne?
Let’s see, I moved to Melbourne in 2006. I guess at the time there were bands like Oh! Belgium hanging around, which I was really into. Fabulous Diamonds I also really liked. Basically there was stuff going on revolving around synthesisers in Melbourne that I really liked, and I didn’t even own a synthesiser at that point. Musically I felt like there was a reason to move there. In Melbourne there’s a lot going on every single night of the week. I was also offered a job at an animation studio, which fell apart after two months, but that was another of the main incentives to go down.

Chrome Dome and Nihilistic Orbs were both founded in Melbourne, but I initially associated you with Sydney: Young Romantix, and DIY shows like Chooch-a-bahn. Was there a culture shock when you left? What were the key differences when you moved down?
There wasn’t much of a culture shock, because there were people doing similar things that were coming up to Chooch-a-bahn. That’s how I heard about Oh! Belgium and Fabulous Diamonds, and in Sydney there was Kiosk and Naked on the Vague, and Holy Balm. Sydney nurtured me in that sense, with having that space at Lanfranchi’s [former Chippendale warehouse venue] to basically do something like Young Romantix, which isn’t really a band, has never been a band, and I wouldn’t really consider it one. I still do it, but it’s a collaboration with anyone. My first band was in Melbourne and that was in Deaf Deaf, and that was with kids that were from Brisbane. Even with Chrome Dome, Andrea [Blake] – who I write most of the stuff with – is from Brisbane, and Ben [Taylor] is from Brisbane too. Bryce [Sweatman] is the only guy from Melbourne.

Nihilistc Orbs has a strong unifying visual aesthetic. When you approached starting the label what was the philosophy?
To predate Nihilistic Orbs, I did Summer Winds, which was a DIY festival. That was pretty obnoxious and young and experimental, but I had a five year plan for that and it ended as planned, after five years. I stopped it then because I didn’t want it to turn into some redundant entity: a huge festival or something. The whole idea was that it’d be related to a specific space and time. To go into Nihilistic Orbs though, I was playing in Chrome Dome a lot and I guess before I played music I was more into community and putting shows together in that way, and that’s how I understood how to do stuff.

Nihilistic Orbs started as basically a frustration with playing in a band and organising gigs solely for that band, around that band. It wasn’t fulfilling because that’s not why I originally got into music. So it started as a fortnightly event at the Empress Hotel [in Melbourne]. The idea behind it was to record every set and then edit it and then have a cassette released every fortnight. That lasted three or four months and most of those recordings never saw the light of day beyond ten copies, but that’s where it began. I always wanted to do a label in that sense, but I didn’t really have the resources, especially because then, pressing vinyl overseas was limited to a minimum of 1000 copies, but now I can do 300 at a smaller amount (per unit). It’s easier to do short runs and find stuff faster that I find interesting.

Nihilistic Orbs really started with Jonny Telafone though. I was living with him and I showed him Joe Meek’s Telstar and he was obsessed with it and he had access to my synths. After showing it to him, he came out of his room 24 hours later and was like “oh man, I made a tribute to Joe Meek”. And it was amazing. He’s the sort of guy who would never show that to anyone or even release it, and I said I wanted to put it out. So I saved up and put it out.

With Summer Winds and Nihilistic Orbs it seems that one of your priorities was building a community.
Yes, exactly.

Why? Was there a gap that you thought needed filling in Australian music?
Not necessarily that. I didn’t think that there was a hole in Australian music because I don’t think about it in that industry sense. Basically, all the people on my label are friends of mine because we have a similar aesthetic. This is building that together. More people are coming along like Nun – I wasn’t friends with Nun before. Same with Forces: I wasn’t friends with Alex [Akers] before releasing the 7 inch. They weren’t people asking me to put out their record, it was me seeing them play and just wanting to release them. In a way it’s building a community in the sense that we all have a similar aesthetic.

Nihilistic Orbs has a strong unifying visual aesthetic, but there’s also the unifying theme of synth-based music. But Jonny Telafone and Sky Needle don’t always neatly fit that theme.
I got asked this question before about why Sky Needle was on Nihilistic Orbs. I like pop music essentially, but pop music that has an unsettling feeling, where something just doesn’t feel right. When you listen to Sky Needle, you don’t feel “oh wow I’m going to wake up in the morning!” [Shaun says this in a comically optimistic voice]. I guess that’s it: it’s downer pop. Sky Needle pull that off in a weird and different way. It’s unsettling but listenable. Everything is listenable but you still don’t feel so pleasant after hearing it. That’s Nihilistic Orbs. Downer pop.

Why does that unsettling style of pop music appeal to you?
I can go to a club and there’s songs that I like being played by DJs and stuff, and I see a bunch of people dancing around to it, and sometimes it just feels wrong to me. Going to an indie club and seeing people dancing around to Joy Division is like… “what the fuck? This guy hung himself, and you know, destroyed his personal life!” but you know, he made this pop music. I guess it’s ingrained in there somehow, in my head, that I enjoy the happiness that comes from creativity, but that feeling of desperation and hate is still possible without it being a grindcore band or a crust band or something, you know what I mean? It feels more honest. I find something more sinister about a simple drumbeat and downer lyrics. Instantly in your head you want to enjoy it as pop music, but people who would analyse it or listen closely would be like, “oh god, this is horrible”.

Chrome Dome, with South on far right

When I listen to Chrome Dome or Forces it puts me in mind of the type of goth and industrial stuff that I listened to as a teenager, like Coil, or even some EBM stuff. What are your influences, musically?
Fad Gadget and The Normal. Malaria! and Nervous Gender. Stuff like that, I guess stuff from before new wave became popular: when it was still sitting in bed with punk. There are bands that are popping up now that fill that element. There’s a nihilism, a dissatisfaction with life, but you know, [it still results in] catchy synth tunes.

It’s funny you mention The Normal, with the Ballard connection. That feels almost ingrained in industrial, goth-leaning music in a way, that sense of futurist debasement.
I agree, but I guess I just wasn’t from that. I come from a punk, thrash and hardcore background. When I first heard Primitive Calculators, when I was 16 and saw Dogs in Space, I was like “what is this”? I looked it up on the internet, before Chapter reissued them, and there was one flyer saying “Melbourne’s first synth-punk band”. That’s before I knew about The Screamers or Nervous Gender, and I was like “what is this? This is me.”

I remember really liking the first Chrome Dome 7 inch. The album that followed was enjoyable on a sonic level, but it felt almost comically dark, which I didn’t like.
The first 7 inch was goth by default. I had all these influences in my head but it wasn’t specifically made to be that way. I had a small setup with an organ, a synth, an amp, two samplers and it was me and one other dude. Basically we just got fucked up on prescription pills and then we came down – so it was like “beats… and everything sucks” [laughs]. So we had those songs and tried to translate it into a band, and then from being default goth it turned into “trying to be goth”, you know what I mean?

What made the difference?
Most of those songs were from me and Ben, and then we took them to a band, where it got confused. We were just trying to find our feet. We did that last 7 inch [on Nihilistic Orbs] and it came closer to us unifying as a band, and writing new material as a band as opposed to trying to translate something from a bedroom into a studio into a live act.

Why do you create dark music? What’s the source of that?
It’s a way of being able to have a smile on your face, and to have a bit of a joke. Microphones are a weapon. It’s a natural thing: I get a drum machine beat and a synth, and then the words go through my brain, and then I can articulate stuff I wouldn’t really want to say to other people. It’s an outlet. It’s goth by default. Even though I’m dressed all in black, that’s where it differentiates between being part of goth culture. I see it as a way of venting, but feeling good about yourself at the end of the day, because of that poppy element. You can say whatever the hell you want through delay and reverb and no one ever needs to hear about it. Then after that you can sit down, have a smile, have a beer, have a ciggie, hang out and be part of a community, rather than crap on about how life sucks so much.

So making dark music makes you a more positive person?
Exactly. Goth by default.


Visit the Nihilistic Orbs website for info on releases.


Moving Statues: Nun Interviewed

Photo by Zephyr Pavey

Nun is a Melbourne synth-punk band consisting Jenny Branagan, Tom Hardisty, Steve Harris and Hugh Young. When I spoke to Jenny on the phone last week, she told me she’s pretty surprised anyone cares about Nun’s music. “We’re surprised that anyone gave us a gig in the first place,” she said. “We were delighted, and no one has thrown anything at my head yet. So it’s okay.”

Nun’s music is like rifling through the $1 VHS bin at Vinnies. If you grew up in the ’80s, exposed to the hum of violent horror films coming from the living room while you were meant to be sleeping, Nun will resonate with you. Indeed, it’ll probably resonate if you were actually allowed to watch these horror films as an adolescent, as Jenny did. They released their debut 7 inch through Nihilistic Orbs last month, and they’re playing at Maggot Fest III and Melbourne Music Week in November. Maybe you could call them Australia’s premier Cronenberg-core group, for a laugh.

When did Nun start playing together?
It would have been around the end of last year. Tom and I were working at [Melbourne record store]  Missing Link and we were really on the same wavelength. It’s a funny thing when that happens, because I’ve worked in record stores for a long time, and you kinda go through stages with certain people where you’ll all collectively tune into the same stuff and show each other things. It was one of those times, and the group of us there were listening to the Iron Curtain reissues, and we were kinda obsessed with the Christian Death Theatre of Pain album. I’m a bit older than Tom, so I was showing him Coil and Throbbing Gristle as well.

We got on really well in terms of what we liked, so Tom said “do you want to muck around, just do something for fun”. He was going to university at RMIT so we went to their studios after work. He was doing a Masters in sound, and that’s how he met Steve, who used to come into the shop. Hugh also knows Tom from other bands [they’ve played together in their groups Woolen Kits and Constant Mongrel, respectively], so they’re in that other world together. Hugh heard a muck-around recording that we did and he liked it. He was like “can I come and hang and play with you guys” and we said of course you can. We were surprised anyone would like it!

Tom’s in Woolen Kits and Hugh plays in Constant Mongrel, and both are very different sounding groups. When all four of you came together, how did you arrive at the sound on the Solvents 7 inch?
‘Solvents’ is a later song, there’s a lot of material before we got to that. ‘Cronenberg’, the b-side, was one of the first things that we did. What we always do is… you know the sounds that always really get your guts, and when you’re listening to someone else’s music, especially in this realm of electronic and analog sounds, there are particular sounds that really get you? It’s not something we even discuss in a way, but we know that’s the main aim of the sound: to get a sound that makes you feel sick in the stomach, because it sounds so good.

I think we just collectively like those sounds, that colour palette, and we understand the spectrum and work within it. They’re sounds that we like and they make us feel a bit weird in the stomach. It’s a guttural feeling. I definitely think that’s how we’ve arrived at the sound, it’s not something we’ve contrived. Everyone contributes and it just works, and it’s fun.

It sounds fun. There’s all these obvious sonic references on the 7 inch, but the visual associations shine through stronger. ‘Cronenberg’ is named after the director. How come?
I was going through a stage where it was really sunny here [in Melbourne] and all I wanted to do was watch [Cronenberg’s] Videodrome. I was in my living room and I was sick of the sun: I get really burnt in the sun, really clammy and gross, so I was like “that’s it, I’m rebelling against this” [laughs]. So I shut all the curtains and watched it. I hadn’t watched it for years – I watched a lot of horror when I was growing up because I was allowed to do whatever my older brothers did. So I’d been watching Cronenberg and Videodrome was at the very forefront of my brain, and I started sketching some lyrics.  The lyrics and the composition happened because I was also listening to a lot of Jonathan Richman.

The lyrics in ‘Solvents’ have a wordy, baroque feeling. What’s the song about?
I suffer from a very severe case of nostalgia. I have a romantic view of the past, the things that you did when you were younger: old relationships, watching horror movies with your older brothers, Christmas: I’m one of those people who love Christmas, I’m a romantic idiot [laughs]. I long and crave for those romantic ideals and sense of nostalgia. The song is about the past, and about moments that were really special and really directly odd, those early experiences you have where if you try to interpret them now, they’re not the same.

There’s also an element of seeing your life from the future, things like second sight: self-perception of your future but also of the past. What would you call it… like a hauntological approach? If you were academically going to summarise it. That’s just come out of my mouth for the first time.

There’s a lot of different influences mentioned in your press blurb, particularly BBC sci-fi dramas, Readers Digest’s Strange Stories etc. A lot of these visual sources are very pulpy and b-grade. Is that a part of the nostalgia you mention, the stuff you read and watched as a kid?
That’s completely it. I still have them. I was obsessed when I was a kid with all of that stuff, and Steve was too, very much so. I have all of those Strange Stories books, and I would stare at them. I would literally memorise the pages. I grew up in Ireland, and all my relatives are Irish-Catholic. My Aunties were really superstitious. I grew up in the ‘80s in Ireland, at the time of moving statues, and apparitions. If there was a scream outside they’d be like “oh that’s the banshee wailing”. And you know, you were just a kid so you were just absorbing all this, half freaking out and half thinking it was amazing.

There was a lot going around about religious iconography moving, but I definitely took an interest from that into the so-called more dark stuff, the binary opposite of that. My older brothers were also a major influence on me, and I grew up watching the BBC. Is it because I’m getting old and I’m longing to be a child again? That could be the reason. I’ve discovered that through talking to you. You’re like a therapist. [laughs].

There’s a whole stream of nostalgic music that is heavily influenced by the BBC, like the Ghost Box label, which draws from old BBC incidental music and public service announcements. When you’re a kid you’re attracted to the occult or the weird because it’s phenomena that can’t be substantiated or proven.
Definitely. There’s definitely a sense of re-enchantment in the age of science and reason. I’m not really a religious person at all, so I don’t have a faith at all, but there is a sense, as a child, of wonderment that’s invoked by the notion of the other and the uncanny, and that surrounds the BBC sci-fi stuff, and horror films. It’s magical. Also it’s a reflection of that period, when you look at ‘70s and ‘80s horror films. The people in the creative industries at that time in Britain and the BBC really had that same want for re-enchantment in their lives. That was coming through so strongly. I guess it has since the turn of the century, when you look at the Victorian spiritualists and so forth, that rebellion against people coming in and saying “no, it’s strictly science!”. It’s a recurring theme.

Do you think there’s something inherently weird about analog synths?
Yeah! [laughs] They’re really mental. You can’t predict it. There’s a sense of unpredictability about them, they have a little hum of their own. You treat them differently: people kinda talk to their synths, you see them do it. They’ll even do weird little pat things to them. There’s a different sound and a different feeling from them. It’s a different sonic presence.

There are a lot of great synth-driven groups on Nihilistic OrbsRepairs, Chrome Dome, Nun. They all sound really different but they come under the same umbrella. Is there a special energy among the groups?
I only got to meet a lot of those lads through doing this, but I knew some of their faces from the record store. There’s a shared sense of taste, and we can discuss stuff, and I guess there is an umbrella, but there’s definitely a separate vision between those groups. There’s a shared love of the sounds that we’re using and there are a few crossover influences that would definitely be there, and we’re supportive of each other. Everyone is like that in Melbourne though, very supportive of each other’s projects and bands. It’s nice like that across genres as well. I really like that about doing this, because you get to play with your mates’ bands but also with a lot of different sounding groups.

Is there an LP coming?
Yes we’re working on it. We don’t know who’s putting it out, but there is. After Melbourne Music Week we’re knuckling down to record.


Nun’s Solvents / Cronenberg is out now through Nihilistic Orbs. They’re appearing at Maggot Fest III on the Saturday at the Gasometer in Melbourne. Full details and tickets here.


Nun – Solvents / Cronenberg (7 inch)

This is pre-CGI synth punk. If you’ve ever stared transfixed and nostalgic at that Scanners animated .gif of the anchorman’s head exploding, then Nun will just make sense. Gratuitous and malevolent, this Melbourne four-piece recall the hyper-saturated VHS colours of the 1980s: think Cronenberg, Carpenter, and maybe even some of the nastier and weirder filmic visions of that decade, like The Garbage Pail Kids or Troll 2: films that are appreciated for a creepy undercurrent their creators apparently never intended. Nun is colourful and grotesque, yet so immediately appealing that it kinda feels like a virus.

But you could throw a pamphlet worth of varying cultish references at Nun and they’d probably stick, because this music is determinedly screwy: during ‘Solvents’, Jenny Branagan’s voice sounds like a choir of squat, razor-toothed monsters, while the discomfortingly cheerful lead line lends a deviant, manipulative tone to the mess. “They used to wash my head in solvents,” she sings, and you know it’s some abhorrent but actually kinda funny initiation ceremony. During ‘Cronenberg’ the synths turn in on themselves, and initially clear melodies slowly turn into a swarm of blunt hypnosis.

While Nun is less proudly referential, this single is uncannily reminiscent of James Ferraro’s one-off 1980s b-grade love letter Nightdolls With Hairspray. Each record focuses on a different aesthetic – Ferraro teen drama power-pop, Nun sci-fi/horror punk – but the effect is similar: a reminder of the unwittingly strange media we were exposed to as children, when we were at our most receptive, when nothing was obvious and everything held an unfathomable secret. This is a distillation of that titillated sensation of being up far too late after bedtime, and those secrets coming ever so close to being revealed.

Label: Nihilistic Orbs
Release Date: October 2012

New Music

Listen: Nun – Solvents

Here at the sprawling Crawlspace corporate headquarters, we used to keep a monkey chained to a notebook whose sole task was to refresh the Google search “Nun Melbourne Nihilistic Orbs 7 Inch” for twelve hours a day, so that when the band finally released some officially recorded track onto an unsuspecting internet, we’d be the first left not suspecting. The monkey kinda failed though, and by the time you read this the track will have circulated for about 24 hours. Sorry about that.

Anyway, here is the first taste of the group’s forthcoming 7 inch on Nihilistic Orbs. It’s four-minutes of LED-flanked synth pop that kinda sounds like it’s sung by the ugly little monsters in The Garbage Pail Kids movie. Which is a ringing endorsement indeed. Nun is a four-piece featuring members of Woollen Kits and Constant Mongrel, but if neither of those groups float your boat there’s no reason you won’t like this. We’ll have a proper review of the 7 inch once we’ve acquired and digested.