"Loud As Ever" collection captures a time and place
Loud As Ever – Various Artists (Sound As Ever)
Every generation of music lovers grows up thinking its era was the best. So it goes with those who ploughed through puberty in the ‘90s, a time now digitally immortalised (as all things are) by a Facebook page, “Sound As Ever”, dedicated to Australian independent music from 1990-99.
“Sound As Ever” is a snapshot of what life looked and sounded like on the fringes of Australian music in the ‘90s. It has an audience of 72,000 Facebook users after just a year. Like any retrospective, some of what’s thrown up is gem-like and some is shite.
Personally, the ‘90s were a letdown: Once the tidal wave of grunge had subsided, it left a lot of mediocrity on the surface and it seemed there wasn’t much Real Rock and Roll left. Bands like the Powder Monkeys and New Christs that were grossly underappreciated at the start of the decade criminally remained so at the end.
Over-regulation and creeping demographics tore the crotch out of much of the live scene in most places and you had to dig harder to find anything worthwhile that hadn’t been diluted by major label dollars. But the real seismic shift - the onset of file sharing that made music a devalued commodity – had only just started. Which is where we are today.
So to “Loud As Ever”, the third in a series of compilations put together by “Sound As Ever” curators Jane Gazzo (music TV program star) and Scott Thurling (Popboomerang Records honcho) and it’s focused on the noisy end of the spectrum.
“Loud As Ever” faithfully recaptures the sounds of sticky carpet pubs in the ‘90s. Its band selection skews towards Melbourne - no shock there: the compilers both call the place home - and it’s a mix of demo’s and lesser-heard tracks. All of its bands sat comfortably on the much industry’s fringes. The common threads are energy and a healthy conviction that “raw” is “good”.
There’s much to love. Like The Meanies’ “Curse Crom”, an abrasive burst of punk-pop, or Girl Monstar’s “Joe Cool”, WHICH champions the wave of underground female pop that came into its own in the ‘90s. If there’s one band here that could have been huge, surely it’s this one.
You can argue that the real sound of the Australian underground in the ‘90s fell between the stools of pop, skate punk and hardcore. “Tell Me” showcases the crunching, tank-tracks-on-tundra feel of The Mark Of Cain and the brutality contrasts with the nervy, skewed punk approach of Fur (“13 Queer”). The throat-punch of Budd (“Kneecap”) dials up the hardcore.
Ricain’s “Tact vs Deceit” straddles a few camps, cleverly combining sharp riffs with skittish rhythms and dissociative vocals. Beefheart meets Butthole Surfers in a public bar and gets a bit loose. In a similar vein, Fridge and Midget sound like they’re working you over with a cosh.
Geetroit - the high-energy nexus of the Geelong and Melbourne scenes - probably had its day by the time the ‘90s got going in earnest, but Seaweed Gorillas’ “TV” grabs the torch with its serrated guitar and collar-grabbing vocal. Ditto Guttersnipes, although their melodic sound and rolling rhythms probably aligned them with Fugazi at the time.
Only a couple of these bands are still going strong - most notably Cosmic Psychos. Their acoustic “Lost Cause” - a response to the unplugged Nirvana colossus - bristles with we-can-do-this-shit-too intensity.
“Jesus Drives a Sandman” isn’t The Fools’ greatest moment (check out their hard-to-find album for that) but it ain’t half bad, either. Chalk one up for Sydney’s Detroit sound, channelled through Newcastle.
Of course that sound was on the wane as a whole lot of other influences permeated the Harbour City. Sydney is represented by three bands in particular - Dwarfthrower, Big Heavy Stuff and Nitrocris – all forging divergent paths.
Dwarfthrower's “Waste Monkey” is one of the best tracks here, a relentless wave of fuzz and feedback that's murky yet magnificent. (We're not saying that because the Bar's own Edwin Garland led the band.) The live “Cringe” from Nitrocris sorts out the all-women bands from the boys with its grinding, ragged attack. Not sure they had the songs but this is convincing enough. “Research” is a Big Heavy Stuff demo that's underdoine but serves as a reminder us that Sydney had a strong pop and slacker undercurrent in the ‘90s that’s otherwise not here.
TISM referencing 17 million as the national population dates their live “The Ballad of Paul Keating” but its message about societal stasis is obvious – in the finest tradition of art school smart arsery. Q: What’s the difference between TISM and Captain Matchbox? A: Twenty years and technology.
Area 7 is the sole ska rep. The Porkers may have an issue with that. Likewise, Christbait is waving the flag for Melbourne metal.
Ben Brown’s artwork and the liners hit the mark. All up, a wonderful package. Just a guess but the CD won't be around for long so score a copy here.