Dead Kennedys Tour Down Under
from Maximumrocknroll #10, 1983
BY JELLO BIAFRA
We started out in Sydnedy, which is the largest city, and probably the main cultural hub, with Melbourne fairly close behind. Both cities have populations in the millions, and both, in the fine tradition of Los Angeles, are very, very spread out... meaning that in order to play to different people in Australia without going the arena-rock route, it meant spending 5 weeks there, basically concentrating on 4 or 5 cities, and playing all these neighborhood areas. It's kind of like spending two weeks in L.A., playing the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, Orange Co., Pomona, Long Beach, Fullerton, Vertura, Oxnard--the land of no toilets, from what I've heard.
Australian mainstream culture is a very bizarre bastardization of the worst of American advertising and fads, with the British emphasis on superficial practicality on top of it. Imagine Texas with bastardized English accents. Access to straight media there is much greater for counter-cultures than it ever would be over here. The college newspapers there are much more radical... in Melbourne, for example, there was a very clever and viciously funny issue of one dedicated almost entirely to the issue of sexism. We were also allowed to talk to some of the straight papers and appeared on the TV news. The editing of what we said was far less idiotic than what would happen in the States, and far less sensationalistic. There was a documentary on nuclear war on the national television network that was far more scathing than anything you'd see on "60 Minutes". It was partly co-ordinated by someone, whose name I foolishly forgot, who was the American in Vietnam who Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now" was modeled after. He is now a full-time anti-war and anti-nuclear activist there. There seemed to by many Americans who have defected from their original jobs as mercenaries or exploitive businessmen, and taken refuge there.
However, your average "silent majority" Australian eats up what he's shown on TV, and reads the National Enquirer-type dailies. So he's even more apathetic than his U.S. counterpart because the economy is relatively comfortable. There's a pleasure-seeking mentality, similar to people who move to Florida. But the people who fight against all that are more tenacious and knowledgable than your average rebellious American.
Ever since rock music began, Australians have pretty much had their own scenes going - there were early rock and rollers like Johnny O'Keefe, who were as hardcore and authentic as you could come by. And then in the mid-60's they had garage bands that were as good as any American band, such as early MASTERS APPRENTICES, PURPLE HEARTS, and the MISSING LINKS (not to mention the EASYBEATS). There are many many 60's garage albums that are very collectable and are being slowly re-issued. A lot of the influences come from the outside, but records imported from England, let alone America, are monstrously expensive. Generally, people only find out about the big underground bands. The EXPLOITED, A.N.L., were very well-known, and CRASS was the most respected. The English pin-up mag, "Punk Lives", was very popular there, and even sold in train station news stalls. We were known because we had our albums domestically released there. And, oddly enough, FLIPPER is known over thre. A lot wanted to see BLACK FLAG, a few requests for the CIRCLE JERKS, and an isolated pocket in Melbourne who were catching on to American thrash bands. There was a homemade 7 SECONDS t-shirt at one show. There are two bands who are also hardcore skateboarders, called CIVIL DISSIDENT, and the MAD FLOWERS, who play American-style thrash, including a couple of covers. C.D. does MDC's "Dick for Brains", and MAD FLOWERS does "No Words" by the FARTZ and "Glue" by SSD, as well as their own material. Because so few bands make it over there... in fact, we found, to our horror, that we were the first punk band, unless you count the CLASH, to ever tour Australia - no DAMNED, no UK SUBS, no EXPLOITED, no DISCHARGE, nothing... that's the only way a lot of people will ever hear those songs. One other generalization that needs to be made is that there are only 4 or 5 major Australian cities... Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra (the capital, a model city built in the middle of nowhere), Adelaide. They're all on the eastern side. The only city on the western side is Perth. There is Darwin too, on the northern coast, but it's so far away nobody seemed to be able to tell me what goes on there. The size of the continent is bigger than the size of the continental U.S., meaning it takes ages to travel from city to city. So there's very little communication between the different scenes. There's starting to be a few record distributors getting them around, but that's about it. There is an exchange between garage rock bands in Sydney and Melbourne, and a little bit in Adelaide, but the punk bands are pretty much kept to their own cities, to the point where only one person I knew in Sydney had ever heard of DEPRESSION, the main band in Melbourne; and nobody in Melbourne had heard of PROGRESSION CULT or WORLD WAR XXIV in Sydney. One thing helping co-ordinate the punk scenes in both Melbourne and Sydney are anarchist bookshops, who besides carrying a wide variety of literature, also bring in Crass label and Spiderleg material, and sell it cheaply.
Also, there are few underground promoters like a Paul Rat, who are willing to try and build up the bands. There are people who can keep very small venues alive, and there's more power-hungry promoters who concentrate on promoting more record-company bands. But very little exists in between, and very few people are willing to take action to remedy the situation. Many of the bands make so little money, they don't make an effort to save and record their own record. They figure that no one would help them distribute it anyway, and wait for Godot to come along and record them. So most of the recent punk records are poorly produced, and are very hard to get ahold of.
Now to the cities. Sydney has two very interesting facets to it. It does have a good street-level punk scene, plus a wilder and slightly more violent outer-suburban scene, where WW XXIV comes from. The main bands associated with political activism and anarchy are PROGRESSION CULT, who have an EP out, and a more abrasive post-punkish one called BOX OF FISH, which is now beginning to transcend its BIRTHDAY PARTY influence. The other interesting side of Sydney is a huge and actuve musical cult devoted to American 60's and 70's garage music... meaning their main influences are the STOOGES, BLUES MAGOOS, and the CRAMPS and GUN CLUB. Plus they produced a big one of their own in the late 70's, RADIO BIRDMAN, and there are several RADIO BIRDMAN clones and offshoots now. It's the most fruitful garage rock scene I've ever run across. They put an emphasis on making it sound hard and severe, rather than the glossy side of psychedelia being pushed in this country. These bands are also better at getting their own records out and travelling as well. They include the recently fomed LIME SPIDERS, who are the most extreme band of its type I'bve ever heard, as far as taking sixties punk and making it more abrasive and annoying as any way possible. Also, the recently defunt MINUTEMEN, whose last gig I saw, and were kind of a more morbid psychedelic RADIO BIRDMAN. Others of this ilk include the CHESTERFIELD KINGSish HOODOO GURUS, and SCREAMING TRIBESMAN, who are more popish and the CELIBATE RIFLES, who come from a coastal suburb, and completely "take the piss" out of the relaxed Australian mentality. Their sound is very RADIO BIRDMAN and VELVET UNDERGROUND influenced, which they readily admit to, but unlike the macho pretensions of many of those bands, their songs are distinctly anti-macho, anti-war, and their real forte is very vicious social satire aimed at their own scene, and complacent Australian lifestyles. Also, they are the only band of the hard-edged rock n roll scene who mix well with the punks, and are respected by the punk element as well. WORLD WAR XXIV is more of an oi-influenced dance band doing a lot of covers like "Banned From the Pubs" by PETER AND THE TEST TUBE BABIES, and some of our songs. There are two very interesting fanzines in Sydney. "Treason", which is mainly political, and "Trousers in Action". The guy from "Trousers" loves to make tapes for people, and is also putting out a compliation album. One other band from Sydney of note, who sound like the WILD WOMEN OF BORNEO at times, or the more esoteric side of SAVAGE REPUBLIC, are called WRONG KIND OF STONE AGE, and are one of the best morbid-ambient post-punk bands I've ever seen or heard. Melbourne has the more intense of the punk scenes of the two big cities. The dominant band is DEPRESSION, who are also probably the most powerful punk band we saw in all of Australia; the one band who could probably tour anywhere in the world. They have a killer album up their sleeve, I just wish they'd record it. Their sound is similar to the L.A. STAINS or the EFFIGIES, with a bit more rumbling bass and deep-throated gutsy vocals as well. The guitarist is similar to Earl of the EFFIGIES in that he comes from a heavy metal background and is very very good at his instrument. But the way he bends his guitar makes their sound very, very unique. They are the most complete in terms of good stage presence. Their lyrics are not probably on a CRASS or MDC level, but generally in the right place with a lot of anti-corporate and anti-brutality songs. There's also a heavy-duty CRASS-styled anarchist band there, who only after two or three gigs had one of the most powerful sounds in Australia. They were called END RESULT, and they put out a mag called "Tribal Noise" that's extremely thought-provoking.
Also in Melbourne are the first bands that concentrate on American style thrash music. Both are very new. CIVIL DISSIDENT seemed to be better rehearsed, and they share equipment and practice space with the MAD FLOWERS. They are both avid skateboarders and most interested in U.S. bands, and they would probably be the most interested in corresonding with people in the States, exchanging tapes and records.
Melbourne is also the city that gave us the BIRTHDAY PARTY, formed out of the punk band BOYS NEXT DOOR. They are a big cult thing over there. A couple of bands very influenced by them are SCRAP MUSEUM and the SCARED COWBOYS, who have 2 singles out. Also a pretty important part of the Melbourne scene is a rockabilly revival cult, headquarted at Hound Dog's Bop Shop, which has more obsure rockabilly re-issues than I've seen anywhere else in the world. Two bands that I can think of that have sprung from there are the CORPSE GRINDERS, who are heavily into the CRAMPS and the METEORS, and are great fun live! One of the CORPSE GRINDERS' guitarists was my rock idol in Australia... Arthus, who looks like Sherman of "Mr. Peabody" fame. He had a black leather jacket with an elaborate CRAMPS thing on the back, with what looked like a kind of Pusheadish painting on it. The other band are called the WILDCATS, who sound so much like a 1957 Texas rockabilly band or Sun-style band, it's not even funny... right down to the Southern accents. They're very devoted to whatever culture they're into--very authentic.
Adelaide is considered the most eccentric of the cities, meaning even most of the punks both tolerate and support some very, very unusual bands. On the punk end there is PERDITION, who are primarily slower, British influenced, and some of their material is very strong. They were formerly known as the SKUNKS, who put out a 4-song EP, one song of which appears on the "Gervious Musical Harm" compilation cassette put out by XCentric Noise in England. PERDITION is more thoughtful than the SKUNKS were, who had a reputation for starting fights at their shows. I found that hard to believe after seeing them live. Also, the Sydneyans and Melbournians shake their heads at certain bands of eccentrics, such as the STINK POTS, who have been known to use vacuum cleaners as instruments, and their sister band PURPLE VULTURE SHIT. They share members too. Harry Butler, one of the main people behind the STINK POTS, puts out one of the longest running and most bizarre fanzines in Australia. Another band there is GRONG-GRONG. One thing about Australia, theyr'e the only country outside of the U.S. with a warped enough sense of humor to creat something like FLIPPER. On the surface, GRONG-GRONG sound a wee bit like BIRTHDAY PARTY, until you realize they're repeating the same riff over and over and over again, till people can't take it anymore. But in Adelaide, a lot of people liked them. Imagine, if you can, a singer with a black ski mask pulled over his head, with a cowboy hat, pacing back and forth on the stage growling at people for 45 minutes straight; a guitarist who just plays the same riff over and over and looks like a parody of a 50's greaser; a bass player whose sound was very similar to Will Shatter's and visually looked like Randy from the ALLEYCATS if he'd been in a mental institution doing speed for 10 years; and a drummer with a carefully quaffed 50's pompador that looked like a younger version of Tim Y. I lay awake for about two nights after seeing GRONG-GRONG, still wondering if I actually saw what I really saw.
We were supposed to go play Perth, which is about 6 hours by plane from Adelaide. It's a place where many recent British immigrants have moved to, and apparently many moved there to get away from racial tolerance in their own country. So they brought their National Front mentality with them. There were a lot of threats coming towards us, and whether anything would have happened to us, we'll never know. The Perth police, two weeks before our scheduled visit, came in with clubs, tear gas, shields, etc, and beat the living daylights out of people at a ROSE TATTOO heavy metal show. The police then hand-delivered notes to our promoters, saying something to the effect that "if you think we had fun at ROSE TATTOO, wait till you see what we're going to do to you." Both the shows were cancelled. The only band I even heard about from there are the QUICK AND THE DEAD, who supposedly are very, very Oi!, and have an EP out. Also, the major psychedelic garage band based in Sydney, who I forgot to mention earlier, are the SCIENTISTS, woh originated in Perth.
The last city we'll deal with is up north, and is Brisbane, capital of Queensland. It's the state that's referred to, in other parts of Australia, in hushed tones, because it's so openly racist and repressive. It's run by a state dictator, a kind of Huey Long, named Joh Bjelke-Petersen. His National Party hardly holds any power anywhere else in Australia because they're considered the right-wing lunatic fringe. But at home he's been able to keep in power by outrageous forms of gerrymandering, and is widely rumored to have rigged every election. He has beefed up the police force, and given them carte0blanche to do what they want to keep people from questioning things. In Australia, there is no constitution and no laws about search and seizure, so the cops can, and do, kick in your door, and smash up your house, if they want. They've been known to break up conversations on the streets involving three or more people, cause they didn't want any assembly on the street. I met many people in Sydney who had fled Brisbane because they were being pulled over and detained for a holf hour or so every day. I met a lot of very warm people there, very radical in the head, but very afraid to talk. I felt safer walking around on the streets of East Berlin than I did in Brisbane.
Brisbane is also where Darren, our drummer, was picked out of a crowd of about 15 white people, and arrested for drinking in public, even though his can of beer was unopened. When Ray, our guitarist, tried to intervene, he was thrown in another police car and taken away. Also, Bjelke-Petersen's people are trying to take away the Aborigine's right to vote and own land, claiming they "haven't gotten that far up the evolutionary scale." And still, his party is kept in office. Some of his cronies, in fact the head of the Chamber of Commerce, wants to enact forced sterilization laws to kill off the Aborigines.
Bandwise, there was one very radical band that re-formed to play with us, called the BLACK ASSASSINS, who include as members people of all ages and cultural identification. Another band, who have some American thrashish tunes was PUBLIC EXECUTION, and were probably the most maniacial of the Australian bands I saw. The singer was a genuine nut on stage, with a really demented look in his eye, something you only usually find in Americans. Then tere was MYSTERY OF SIXES, a very crude psychedelic band with a singer who did things with his voice that reminded me of Middle Eastern music. And they had some satanic overtones to them, along with a plastic doll they brought on stage with them with "666" on its forehead.
There is no real scene in Brisbane at the moment, but in the '77 Australian punk scene, the wildest bands were from there... the SAINTS (who conquered the world), PSYCHO SURGEONS (later to become the LIPSTICK KILLERS), and the VICTIMS. Summing up Brisbane, all I can say is it was the closest thing to a heavy, heavy, junta-style police state I've ever been in. I was looking over my shoulder a lot!
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