Strictly Business: Teen Ax Interviewed


Teen Ax is a Sydney noise duo comprising Sam Chiplin and Tony McKey. Over the last couple of years they’ve issued short cassette albums on labels including Mazurka Editions and Confirmation Tapes, as well as two self-released CD-Rs. There are few — if any — reasons you should pay attention to a group like Teen Ax, because noise artists releasing short-run cassettes are a dime-a-dozen, and most of them are shit.

So what’s so special about Teen Ax? I tried to articulate why a couple of weeks ago, but on paper none of the reasons provided really set them apart. Barring all non-transferable emotional responses, I think what makes Teen Ax special is simply that they sound like they care about how their noise unfurls. Useless runs shorter than 20 minutes but it’s structured like an album: it feels delicately glued together for some greater purpose. It hints at something bigger than it is.

Also, the virtue of limitations isn’t just rhetoric here: Teen Ax make a guitar, a kit and some pedals sound like something entirely else, like something that breathes with you inside it. Not human.

I spoke to Tony and Sam via a series of emails.

Why the name ‘Teen Ax’?
Sam: We ripped it from a teen porn site that was kinda big in the late ‘90s / early 2000s. We thought it’d make for a fun Google, plus it meant we had a free website: www. teenax.com .

Is there an objective with Teen Ax? What are you trying to communicate, if anything?
Sam: Teen Ax is a vessel to funnel all of my frustration and anger through. It’s rare in life to be able to just let go and really open up, ya know? It offers a release of sorts, physically and mentally. As far as a message or communique goes, Teen Ax isn’t harbouring a strong or poignant message — it’s an immediate, visceral kinda thing — though when you pour your thoughts and feelings into something, messages, albeit cryptic, are likely to surface.

Tony: I guess the band acts as a release for me personally: I don’t really have any agenda or specific message and lyrics are generally stream of conscious. I don’t think we really have an objective other than this personal release, and whatever vibe that gives off is what it is. I don’t think we go out of our way to communicate a particular vibe or feeling, but that said, we don’t really suppress the bad vibes or creepiness, and at the same time good vibes and joy doesn’t exactly flow out when we play.

Sam, In terms of the frustration and anger you mention, are these the result of anything in particular?
Sam: That’s a pretty intense personal question. I guess there are definitely some recurring themes but I would hate to bore everyone with them. Unless you want me to flick you $50 so I can recline and get comfortable…

When I reviewed Useless, my opinion was that it’s totally resigned, despairing, hateful. Is that a response that you’re happy with?
Tony: Yeah, probably not in as many words though!

Sam: Well as I said above, I reserve a large majority of my negative feelings and thoughts for Teen Ax, so it’s usually just soaked in bad energy. Like a dirty tea towel or something. So I wasn’t hugely surprised at your review. When I was reading it I couldn’t help but think you had a cheeky masochistic side shining through, like it felt that you were truly disgusted but slightly aroused…

Teen Ax sounds like the ugliest band in Sydney at the moment. What are your feelings regarding the city – not just its music scene – at present?
Sam: Sydney is expensive, transport is fucked, people are cunts, gentrification is rife and fast moving, and the music scene is pathetic. For such a difficult city to live in, Sydney produces some enormously bland music and art. Where are all the artists pushing back? What are people doing? I can’t remember the last time I saw three or four decent shows within a week, and my taste is fairly broad. I was in Melbourne recently and I had a hard time deciding what to see, there’s just so much quality shit going on down there it’s ridiculous.

That’s not to say there’s nothing going on here, though. There are a lot of hard working bands, venues and people out there grinding away for very little return.

Tony: Sydney can be difficult: it’s expensive, the ‘music scene’ is for the most part terrible and boring. But it’s where home and work is for the time being. The shitty aspects of this place feel like a driving force at times I guess.


Is there anything good about Sydney’s music scene? What do you enjoy (if anything)?
Sam: There’s plenty of positives about the Sydney scene, but it’s fun to hammer the negatives, to get the blood pumping a little. Part of what makes Sydney so fun is the fact that it’s tough. Tony and I have put on a whole bunch of shows that only three or four people have attended, so all you can do is giggle.

Everyone has stopped whinging that there are no venues in Sydney and that’s pretty good. People are rolling up their sleeves and have started to put on bands all over the place: weird pubs, backyards, warehouses, parks, record stores. It’s feeling better. At one point a couple of years ago it felt like Black Wire Records on Parramatta Road was single handedly floating the underground. You’re a gentleman Tom! Keep up the good work. I also feel like a lot of the new bands that have surfaced over the last 18 months… the majority of them are pretty shit, but it [at least] feels like something is happening here.

And you know, like all subcultures it’s comforting to be surrounded by people who are similar to yourself. There’s a pretty strong community spirit here. Which is a blessing and a curse. Everyone kinda pats each other on the back and says how much they enjoy each other’s bands. It’s part of why Sydney seems to be a hotbed of mediocrity, no one is pushing each other. Sorry I’m sounding like the most pathetic fuck.

Tony: Yeah there is [good things]: it’s easy and lazy to write off the whole city and it’s music scene as boring, that’s probably a tiny bit unfair. Off the top of my head, I always enjoyed Justice Yeldham and Rice Corpse. Whores were really good. Desert Luck are probably the last thing I saw that I enjoyed. If you go to enough NowNow shows, you’ll eventually catch something really good. One of the last things I’ve heard from Sydney I really got into was Gardland. I’d also have to mention Black Wire as one of, if not the, best things about Sydney’s music scene for the past few years as well.

You say the difficulty of Sydney is a driving force. Would you say some of Teen Ax’s sound is a reflection of your feelings about the city?
Sam: Yeah I suppose. I mean for example, because there’s only two of us it’s too expensive for us to jam in a studio or jam space – and we like to play loud so we can’t exactly play at home – so we’ve been forced to find an alternative. We hire a storage space all the way out in Auburn, which is about 40 minutes outside the city. Have you ever been to Auburn? It’s fucking depressing. So by the time we get out there and set up all our gear in a 3 x 3 metal prison, after being stuck in traffic on Parramatta Road, we’re not really going to start singing about the sunshine lapping our faces as we cruise down Bondi Beach on a little banana board or whatever.

Tony: [It’s not a reflection] in the sense that we play with a “RARRRGH SYDNEY SUCKS” mentality. It’s probably more so that after the daily commute and work routine, then the trip to Western Sydney to the practice space, the last thing I feel like doing personally is ‘kicking out the jams’, so to speak.

Do you see Teen Ax aligned with any specific tradition within the noise style, whether locally or internationally?
Sam: I guess we slot into the ilk of noise that uses ‘traditional’ instruments to create a fairly ‘abstract’ sound. Non-Traditional. Tony and I both play guitar and have always worked under the ‘less is more’ ethos. I’ve used the same one or two pedals throughout Teen Ax’s existence, and Tony has only used two or three pedals and he will also occasionally use a contact mic taped to a cymbal for vocals. Before I was playing guitar I was actually playing drums very primitively.

In a way we’ve limited our equipment and gear so that we can push and explore how far you can venture within certain boundaries. I think if you dig and explore and push something for long enough, then something’s gotta give: something worth experiencing. I don’t think we’re there yet but we’ve got our whole lives to keep fucking about.

Tony: We’ve always tried to keep a minimal setup, mostly using live instruments to try to get the most out of the equipment through volume and force rather than knob twiddling, so I guess other groups using these methods we can relate to. We pull influence from a lot of different noise ‘styles’, but for better or worse I don’t really think we sit too comfortably in any of these.

Any plans for the future? Are you happy with where you’re at with Useless?
Sam: Yeah I’m happy with Useless. It’s definitely the most restrained release we’ve ever done. Pretty creepy at times. I think over the coming months we’ll just keep recording and head down to Tassie for some shows. It’s beautiful down there. And there’s some really good music.

Tony: Nothing planned, we’ll probably just keep recording and playing sporadically like we’ve always done. I’m pretty happy with Useless personally, though it drew from about six months worth of recordings so the vibe at the moment is leaning more towards the creepier parts on the tape rather than the harsher parts. Maybe it’s maturing slightly, or maybe we’re just getting too old and too fat to keep up.


Teen Ax’s Useless is available now through Street Muscle. Purchase at Eternal Soundcheck. Above photos are by Patrick Mason.


Teen Ax – Useless (c15)

teenaxThe sonic language of Teen Ax is one that tolerates no ambiguity. There are no subtle inflections of meaning here, and this music can never be decorative or peripheral. Teen Ax is transfixing, but it offers nothing in exchange for your attention: listening to this feels like delighting in obscenities, or marveling at poverty.

A duo based in Sydney, Teen Ax is a practice in distilling the essence of dread. This is the sound of streamed torture, hosted on proxy servers in third world countries. The sound of dinner from a can in a dark room. The sound of only secret pleasures – fascinations to temporarily fend off suspicion, paranoia, weakness. Teen Ax swap between a putrid quiet and a punishingly loud torment, as if mirroring the climaxes of an age addicted to transgression.

There are few working noise groups that communicate filth as vividly as Teen Ax do. This noise is barren, offering neither imagined frontiers nor catharsis. The sound itself is coldly rhythmic and mechanical, such as during ‘Strictly Business,’ or else dankly quiet, as during the molded and decaying silence of ‘Wallflower’. There are moments of true terror too, like ‘The Curtain,’ where the screams amid swiftly recurring drones sound like a pained remorse rather than, say, the purging of some demon. For Teen Ax, there is never a ‘release’. There is no power here, no control. No salvation in anger. Useless is the sound of being crushed underfoot.

Named after a teen porn website, Teen Ax’s music feels apolitical, circumstantial. The drowned news broadcast during ‘Out’ doesn’t mark a deliberately channeled or meaningful anger. It’s not a context. Instead it sounds like an ever-present adjunct to sensation: just another form of imperfect silence, something always there.

And these quieter moments, these compromised silences, sound like an imagination shifting gears slowly in the face of an empty future. It’s during these quieter moments that Teen Ax are at their most dreaded: these are the desolate environments in which all hopeless searches for distraction are birthed. Useless is the rejection of proactivity, of seeking change. Useless sounds like an apocalypse so insidious we didn’t notice it occurring.

Label: Street Muscle
Release date: April 2013
Purchase at Eternal Soundcheck

New Music

Listen: Teen Ax – Useless


Useless is the name of Teen Ax’s new cassette on Street Muscle. It is a very evocative name, because the music this Sydney duo creates is pretty bloody bleak. When I say they’re the ugliest band I’ve heard for years, I’m not commenting on their physical appearance. Because that’d be rude.

The title track, embedded below, is the sole sampler that exists on the internet at present, but I possess the whole thing and can confirm that this track is not wholly representative of what you’re going to hear, if indeed you do. There’s a proper review coming soon.

New Music

Listen: Teen Ax – New Body

teenax1Another track from ‘putrid-wave’ purveyors Teen Ax, a Sydney-based noise group with an attractively fetid pop sensibility. This is from a cassette which is apparently “coming soon”, and follows a 2012 Mazurka Editions tape released for public safety reasons in an edition of 30. This track isn’t as catchy as ‘Strictly Business’, but it conjures a similarly debased atmosphere: a windowless apartment above an outer-suburban Pizza Haven, green peeling wallpaper, the glow of a television screen at 3am. Rust in the bathroom, gutted cockroaches in the ashtrays.

It’s for this reason that Teen Ax strikes me as among the better noise groups around at the moment. It doesn’t sound like a guy in a black shirt fiddling with pedals. These guys would probably have fun playing with xNoBBQx or, further afield, Mouthus or Wolf Eyes. Strange and ugly.

Photo: Patrick Mason

Features, Reviews

Scum Mecca #2

Contained here are seven reviews: six tapes and one 7 inch flexi-disc. Scum Mecca is the name of the column, an irregular feature on Crawlspace’s schedule. This is the second. Cooper Bowman writes it. This month the column covers Cock Safari, Teen Ax, Cured Pink, Matthew Phillip Hopkins, Hyperspace Vision, Tony Irving, Pleasure Bros. and Tailings. We’ve provided audio samples and images where possible, but most of the time it wasn’t possible. Sorry.

Cock Safari / Teen Ax – Split CS (Street Muscle)

This sounds like Teen Ax and Cock Safari playing each other’s hits. Cock Safe does so live at Black Wire, in what should’ve been a Cocks With Wings set. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the audience instead copped a short barrage of contacted mic cymbal fuckery through busted amplification from the sole, glaze-eyed Cock. Sounds kinda like Teen Ax’s The Danny Sessions Sessions release in its unbridled feedback and obnoxiousness. The Tweens sound closer to their cocky counterpart, due to radio interference prodding in and out of their harsh vibes. Look at how many times it says Cock in this review, if this doesn’t offend you then the lowest-possible-grade smut in which this tape comes surrounded probably will.

(Ed – the cover art shown above is saturated with white because it’s pretty rude. See the proper version here. Not safe for anywhere.)

Cured Pink – Dudi Bumi CS (Redundancy)

Dudi Bumi comprises Andrew McLennan’s recordings while in Indonesia on some sort of artist residency malarkey last year. McLennan has enlisted the more than capable services of several local noisemakers throughout, many of whom may be involved in the Yes/No Wave collective. The first ‘piece’ begins with excessively pounding drums, an electric current of a drone underneath and occasional heavily delayed / deranged vocals. Basically this is TG’s Discipline reprised in Indonesia. The sound reverberates around the Yes/No Klub in a riotous cacophony before it de-evolves into a mess of scrape n’ shout. Much of the rest of the tape is a collaged blend, divided between more abstract vocal movements and a good amount of industrial chart-toppers. The flip starts with a genuinely fuckin’ strange organ-driven ditty, mixed with vocal sounds of what sound like I imagine being consumed feels like. This rates with the Sabbatical release from a couple of years back as one of the most consistently interesting CP listens.

Matthew Phillip Hopkins – Small Entry s/sided flexi 7” (Horizon Pages)

Small Entry is the first audio release on Melbourne vanity printing press, Horizon Pages. In what is likely his first solo release since the dissolution of the Bad Tables / Lamp Puffer nom de plume from a few years back, Hopkins crafts an opaque web of atmospherics by way of (according to the cover) tapes, keyboards, voices and feedback. The lone track here is closer to the dark void created by Hopkins in new project Half High than anything done by NOTV. There are hints of the electronic arpeggiations of Four Door, but this is an entirely murkier beast altogether. The flexi comes packaged with a broadsheet poster of Hopkins’ art and ‘digitized responses’ by the guy who does the label, so it is more of an ‘item’ than a stand-alone release per se, but still hits the spot nicely.

Hyperspace Vision – Starfire CS (Magik Crowbar)

Obviously extending on from Fabio Umberto’s love of italo, under Hyperspace Vision he makes the kinda space-disco knowledge of which is usually reserved for Europeans with impeccable hygiene habits and high Discogs seller ratings. Both tracks here are simultaneously epic, cheesy and immediately addictive. The title-track begins with an ominous synth-tone before leading into a sweaty galactic mess, replete with a subtly vocoded-sounding refrain of its title. Impressively, Starfire sounds like it could have originated from a rooted paradox of Italy, the 1970’s and the deep reaches of zeta reticuli.

Tony Irving – Vox Cyclops 21/05/11 s/sided CS (Confirmation Tapes)

On Power Waters Records, uh, Confirmation Tapes comes a new live recording from the hallowed halls of Vox Cyclops, the much-missed Newcastle record store and halfway house. This is the first I’ve heard of the (apparently) much revered English-born / Queensland-based multi-instrumentalist. Heavy feedback, ecstatically loose drumming and occasional geet dirges congeal into a mess of freeish noise. If this is you’re kinda thing, then you will dig, if you don’t then you won’t.

Pleasure Bros – Pleasure Bros CS (Self-Released)

More z-grade filth from one of the tainted minds behind Teen Ax, Tony McKee. In the T n’ A tradition, Pleasure Bros is excessively abrasive and indecently packaged. I listened to this with one of my mates slightly toasted while there happened to be an earthquake going on around us. Said mate tried to convince me the reason that I was feeling weird was due to the coarse static being issued from his tape deck, but a phone call from my childhood pal seeing if I had survived confirmed that there was another, more likely reason. The earthquake was actually pissweak, this tape isn’t though. The Pleasure Bros nearly had me convinced that music could be physically displacing and psychologically manipulative. Too bad, Tony could have made a killing selling it to the CIA.

Tailings – Untitled CS (Mazurka Editions)

Tailings is a Newcastle duo comprised of Jason Campbell and Kerry Robinson. Preceding this, Tailings had released one cassette on Campbell’s Eternal Solitude imprint, exhibiting them in a more formative juncture than the fully evolved organism on show here. Previously skirting the edges of harsh noise, this untitled cassette instead finds them comfortably situated in a smokestack spewing industrial zone. It’s easy to fetishise the decrepit, post-industry weirdness of Newcastle, but the comparison couldn’t be more satisfyingly apt here.