Features, Reviews

Mining Memories: on NUN’s debut LP

F1010008CONTRASTWhen NUN plays live, a seemingly endless array of cables spew forth from tables of analog equipment, watched over blankly by Steven Harris, Tom Hardisty and Hugh Young. In front of it all extends a lead to the microphone of Jenny Branaghan, who contorts herself under thickets of smoke and a projected dome of white noise. In the right light, it can look like Branagan is being controlled by the wires of a demented puppeteer. At other times she looks like she’s thrashing against cabled restraints. Her warbling vocals accompany music which recalls some distant childhood memory of a perverted horror movie, and that’s probably where the mental images come from. Nun’s record is similarly inclined: it’s deliberately otherworldly.

Branagan’s vocals are chilling throughout the record, starting with the cringing shouts of “let me piss on your rich mother’s lips” on the painfully slow opener ‘Immersion II’. The album art consists of grainy nondescript images shot in monochrome, while the song titles referencing David Cronenberg and Uri Geller recall mysterious moments of the past rather than anything in the present. It also looks abjectly to the future: “Going to the cinema in the future is really grim” is emblazoned on the inner-sleeve and spat alongside references to replicants on ‘Kino’. It’s a record that’s inspired by imagery and phenomenon that is simple enough to identify – from ‘70s/‘80s cinema to the early synth-punks – but it’s thrilling nonetheless.

NUN is a band that has come from mixed sensibilities. The fact that their synth-punk/electro aesthetic comes from musicians also involved with Woollen Kits and Constant Mongrel may be surprising to some, but there’s a different set of rules for NUN. For some of the reasons listed above NUN excites me like few other recent bands have, but for the same reasons they’ve been swiftly dismissed by others.

Pick Your Context

In an unusually fiery comments thread on Crawlspace, the phrase “stylized nostalgia” was recently used to describe NUN. While the commenter intended it as criticism, I actually think it’s an appropriate description. I don’t think that referencing the past in an intentionally stylistic manner immediately makes music unimportant, forgettable, or as another commenter put it: “as relevant as Jet.”

nun6In the case of NUN, half of the appeal for me is the idea that a band can tap into some kind of distant memory and add a modern relevance to it. This is probably a generational symptom (I wasn’t old enough to experience the ‘80s, for example) or a result of personal philosophy, but I think many would agree that there’s a freshly defined context to current Australian underground music that transcends the influences it may contain, especially for those who have only participated in it recently.

For longer than I’m capable of remembering pop culture has been referential, so the idea of a band being just another loop in a chain of recycled ideas is irrelevant to me. I’m not inclined to dwell on any perceived similarities between, for example, NUN and Suicide, because I really don’t find that interesting. I feel like the comparison between a four-piece from Melbourne and a duo from New York is increasingly misinformed when there is a much more accurate local context at play.

What I do find interesting in modern Australian music is that it has come to exist in its own bubble in both space and time, to the extent that it lives within a context that is self-defined. Perhaps unusually, I tend not to address bands in terms of their place in a 50 year musical history or as compared to bands overseas. Instead, when I listen to NUN I see them as contextual siblings to bands like Chrome Dome, M.O.B or Multiple Man. I actually feel that ignoring NUN for reusing ideas from the ‘80s comes from a lack of appreciation for context rather than an acknowledgement of a greater one.

When it comes to bands I like that dabble in nostalgic sounds, much of the appeal comes from the fact that you can subconsciously feel and identify the source of their influences. These bands and the relatively recent rise in their popularity among a new generation (see Angel Eyes, Primitive Motion, Flat Fix or Lace Curtain, all of whom are reminiscent of ‘something’) comes from a form of extra-sensory nostalgia. For me, most of the exposure to the sounds applied by NUN comes not from an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of electronic music, but of sub-conscious infiltration via the influences that flowed on from that. These can include film soundtracks, lingering aspects of past Top 40 hits and the primitive sounds of 8/16/32-Bit video game soundtracks. For a band participating in ‘stylised nostalgia’, it’s almost like they’re mining memories I didn’t know I had.

Too Much Culture

NUN’s Jenny Branaghan has talked previously about how her desire to re-watch Videodrome led her to write the song ‘Cronenberg’, and more generally, the routine absorption of horror films as a child via her older brothers. The cultural experience of a child or teenager is different to the more conscious one experienced as an adult. As an adult, experiencing culture is more deliberate: you choose to watch a film based on reviews or discussing it with friends, and you more or less know who Hans Zimmer is. As a kid, you watch a slasher flick just because someone put it on after school, or you play Castlevania on your neighbour’s Sega with the soundtrack playing incidentally for hours at a time. In that sense, hearing aspects of those distant, sub-conscious influences now elicits a different response compared with the music you’ve actively sought out as an adult. Acts like NUN elicit the same feelings within me that I used to feel as a kid: an unknown rush that comes from not fully understanding what is going on in Scanners, but watching intently anyway.

There’s probably a broader reason bands of a nostalgic ilk are rising in prominence, and while it’s not limited to bands of an electronic bent, I think it’s especially prominent in that realm. In my social circles there seems to be a general desire to return to simplicity in many regards, perhaps due to the realities of a modern life that we didn’t grow up expecting. So dramatically has exponential technological progression occurred, that it’s almost like there’s a push to reclaim what dropped out of vogue in the process. See the way ‘retro’ has affected fashion (the rise of the ironic ‘90s t-shirt for example), the fetishised acceptance of tape decks and turntables, or here, the re-emergence of the analog synth.

Meanwhile in mainstream culture, films are stuck in a race to be increasingly larger in scope, and AAA video games consist of artfully crafted video sequences that eventually fold away into actual gameplay. Personally, the return to what felt like the more honest or relatable mainstream culture of my youth is inspiring and exciting. I will never again be mystified by Blade Runner like I was as a 13-year-old, but NUN’s LP makes me feel approximately similar to how that movie did the first time around.


NUN’s LP may have been created with evocations of the past in mind, but I don’t think that makes it any less sincere or honest than someone who is trying to forge new frontiers through experimentation. I think the amount of sincerity involved in forcibly trying to ignore aspects that artists of the past have addressed would be equal to those who happily go with whatever sound comes to mind, or those who set the boundaries of recalling a certain era. I also don’t think those three philosophies need be at war with each other.

My interest in synth-based electronic music has mostly been piqued by Australian artists of the last five years, any of whom may fall into any of those three philosophies of intent: Lace Curtain, Primitive Motion, Angel Eyes, Flat Fix, Lucy Cliche and Superstar are examples. NUN are unlike most of those bands, but they all seem to fit into something common, via an aesthetic that’s hard for me to place other than that they all dabble to some extent – intentionally or otherwise – in a nostalgia that I can only experience hazily. They may not all be setting out to mine sounds of their youth, but it interests me because they’re often mining mine.


Nun’s debut LP is available through Aarght Records.

New Music

Watch: Nun – Uri Geller

Uri Geller is an English man famous for being friends with Michael Jackson. He is also a magician and the subject of a song on Nun’s first LP, which releases April 18 through Aarght. The vinyl version will release with the help of Avant. I’ve been listening to this album a fair bit lately and ‘Uri Geller’ crept up slowly. Despite the clip above and the fact that the song is named after Uri Geller, it’s probably the brightest of the bunch.

That said, it’s incorrect to describe Nun as dark, because they’re not really. It’s not sad or despairing or severe music. It’s certainly not evil either. I think Nun would be perfect music for a very serious party. For more on where Nun is coming from, check out this interview we did with singer Jenny Branagan back in 2012.

A full opinion piece re: this album is forthcoming, but in the meantime you should watch this clip several times and enjoy.

The group is launching the record April 19 in Melbourne at the John Curtin Hotel with Repairs, Soma Coma, Flat Fix and Freejack. A Sydney launch is happening April 26 with Four Door, Housewives and Orion in support.



2012 in review: artists and Crawlspace editors


This is a collection of reflections and lists from Crawlspace editors, as well as a handful of the artists we’ve featured in 2012. Editor Shaun Prescott opens proceedings. Brace yourself.

At the beginning of the year I hated writing about music. I wanted to stop and work full time on a novel, which pretty much signals the end for any writer (unless they manage to complete that novel and it’s okay). The sentiment wasn’t born of dwindling interest in music, but more the brutal logistics of making a worthwhile outlet work. These are the logistics (pageviews / unique hits = revenue) that render a lot of the music we cover on Crawlspace virtually non-existent to outsiders.

For someone whose taste has always been driven by the written word (that’s old-fashioned at best and illogical at worst, I know) it felt like there wasn’t enough writing about Australian groups that would have made me dreamy as a teenager. Things that you read about that make you think, “wow, that sounds incredible and I must track it down,” or “why would anyone listen to that? Help me understand.” Stuff that opens up whole new avenues and ways of listening. If I hadn’t discovered groups like Castings, or Moonmilk, or Naked on the Vague, or Alps, purely by accident upon moving to Sydney in 2005 – where would I be? Crawlspace is largely a response to failed pitches.

The thing is, most of Australia’s best music is often only heard by the people who make it and by their peers. In Sydney, you see the same people at all the good shows. This is healthy enough: that’s a community. Music doesn’t always need to amount to more than that. But in other ways that’s just not good enough. As a believer that reading about music should be about discovery and, sometimes, re-aligning one’s understanding of what they already like, it just made sense to make this website. I also unapologetically believe that 99% of Australia’s music media is ignoring this country’s most important art, instead slavishly covering what the overseas market or the established local “industry” deems fit for consumption. This longstanding habit is an absolute fucking stain on a media that is meant to excite, educate and actually be there when something remarkable is happening just down the road.

Diplomatically speaking, there’s so much to discover, and there are heaps of bands that I wanted Crawlspace to cover in detail this year that never got a run: Collarbones released an incredible record that I greatly admire. Southern Comfort finally released a proper piece of wax. Newcastle’s Grog Pappy label sent us a package we haven’t covered yet (there is something in the works, though). Teen Ax released a great tape that I couldn’t quite articulate the appeal of.

Crawlspace has kinda defined 2012 for me, thus the tiring prologue. Sorry about that. Here’s the business:

  • 2012 has been a year of great songs. Circular Keys’ ‘Eurogrand’, Kitchen’s Floor’s ‘Bitter Defeat’, Nun’s ‘Solvents’, Lower Plenty’s ‘Nullabor’ are all favourites.
  • I feel like Breakdance the Dawn is the strongest LP-oriented label in Australia: their hastily packaged CD-Rs usually communicate one single idea incredibly well. Often they feel like transmissions from a world that is vaguely similar to mine, yet it’s somehow melted, fraught with illogical dream-state segues. Girls Girls Girls and Club Sound Witches both provided highlights.
  • My favourite LP this year was WonderfulsSalty Town, which I still haven’t reviewed, but will. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a record that captures small town loneliness and neurosis quite as effectively – and it’s not even (completely) about that. It’s a tough record to swallow. It’s emotionally challenging and confronting.  A close second is Mental Powers‘ LP.
  • Woollen Kits are a group I’ve maintained total ambivalence towards up until now. I’ve heard the 7s and bought the first LP, but found all astonishingly dull. They wouldn’t let me in. Magically, Four Girls did. Prosaically speaking I think they simply became better songwriters.
  • The best punk rock record of the year is Taco Leg‘s. Many thought my review suggested otherwise. Sorry about that.
  • Fatti Frances’ Sweaty EP is something I think about regularly when I’m not listening to it. It’s so strangely modern in its positioning of love and lust, and whether there should be a versus there.
  • If Australia celebrated new music as tirelessly as it did the old, than Midday Music: Brisbane 2012 is an essential a document as Lethal Weapons and… a bunch of other old compilations that people fawn over.
  • Melodie Nelson’s To The Dollhouse is objectively one of the best records in 2012, but I’m quarantined from all things MN because she’s one of my best friends. So don’t trust me. Listen for yourself. She also made the logo for Crawlspace. Thanks for that.

Anyway, without further ado, over the page is a series of reflections and lists from some of the groups and artists Crawlspace has covered since it launched in August this year, as well as our writers. We humbly thank everyone who participated.


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