Closed Circuits - Australian Alternative Electronic Music of the 70s and 80s Volume 1

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2017-07-28

In the insular, boutique world of early electronic pop/rock, many of us early FM radio devotees missed the whole undercurrent of electronic music in Australia. Much of it was either too obscure, or it integrated easily into the already fervent pop/rock pub scenes in major Australian cities, particularly Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and wasn’t a designated "scene."

Just the other day, I invested in one of Rhino’s Summer of Love new compilation series. The one I bought was The Monkees, dedicated to their so-called psychedelic compositions. Hearing "Porpoise Song" alongside the other adjudged psychedelia confirmed what is becoming a real trend in music now: Revisionism. 

As an Aussie, much of the music on Australian Alternative Electronic Music of the 70s and 80s Volume 1 I’d heard before, either because we played them at teen parties, or they played on college radio, or someone, somewhere scored the 45s in a hero’s attempt at heralded obscurity. No one at the time would have taped these songs together as Festival Records have, but the venture is a worthy one.

Like Cherry Red’s Close to the Noise Floor last year, or the more European equivalent, Noise Reduction System, Festival Records' Australian compilation serves well the burgeoning interest in electronic music, but in the antipodean context. Difference is, Aussies were never quite as bleak as those in the Northern Hemisphere so, much of this music is more accessible then the two aforementioned surveys. Not better or worse, just characteristically different. Take for instance, The Reels with "Shout and Deliver." The Reels were a great pop/rock group, and this great nugget does use synthesizers, but never gravitates towards an industrial sound, rather more an anthemic reggae one. Or Scattered Orders "A Few Little Shocks," which prefers the Factory sound of beat driven industry and punk, melded into noisey head jigging, body slamming anarchy. 

The Machinations were a band that played at my then girlfriend’s school formal in 1983, and despite preference for seemingly cold processed beats, they were really a good time dance band that had some funky guitar lines and a great singer, Fred Loneragan, who used his voice as a tool of supreme rhythm. "Average Inadequacy" was a big hit for them, and here it is probably for the first time for most Europeans. The Models were also a big alternative act, and their single "Local and/or General" was a revelatory entry in the punk canon, but here they feature with "On," which is rather more like The Clash subverted by twitchy swirls of juvenile electronica. Top song. 

Of the lesser-knowns, the best are Perth’s German Humour, the band that started out with a Roland TR606 and then splurged on a Linn drum. They adopt the Ultravox aesthetic of cool classic pianistic lines underlying a programmed mechanistic dance beat and droll vocal delivery; gelled hair and shades all the way. Another is Dugites with "Waiting,’" which roughly approximates the start of Human League’s "Being Boiled," but develops into a lovely ballad of well judged synthesiser dynamics and sweet vocals, a little like Clare Grogan but a bit more edgy; maybe Grogan with a smoker’s hangover. The recessed whooshing beats and muted electronica of Karen Marks are perfect compliment to her AM pop credentials.

Fans of Close to the Noise Floor and Noise Reduction System should give this a listen.   

 

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