Sunday January 17, 2010
Sandringham Hotel, Newtown, Sydney


If you have any human compassion, don’t read this. If you are repelled by spite and bile, don’t read this. There. I’ve given fair warning. Fortunately, I’ve never stood a chance in any popularity contest so there’s no way this will affect by social standing. I’ll tell it like it is. If it comes out bitter and twisted, the more kindly among you can put it down to post traumatic stress.

Yes, this gig was that bad. It would have been better if the participants had actually wanted to inflict some kind of hideous torture upon my person. No. This was a recreation, past misdeeds displayed as exhibitions in a gallery. The establishment had come to let their hair down and remember when they were the cool kids.

Review in short: I walked into the Sandringham Hotel, was fleeced at the door and then climbed the stairs. Lo, I came upon a statue erected for some great leader from the past. The plinth stated his name was M Squared but time, the elements and assorted Newtown junkies had not been kind. Stripped now of finery, gilt and body parts, all that remained were the statue’s shoes (a pair of red plastic sandals) and the words “Look at my works ye mighty and weep.”

Some of you may wonder why I’m ripping off Percy Bysshe Shelley to begin my review. I just wanted to demonstrate to anyone reading this that I do understand a post modern framework. But that doesn’t mean I give a shit. I do know a thing or two about art but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I dislike.

Review in depth: I walked into the Sandringham Hotel and downstairs a band called “Boys Band” was playing for free. Misogynist, predictable, drug riddled and high on body odour, you would think they underlined the reason for an entity like M Squared Records to exist. It’s like night of the living dead in the downstairs bar without the living part.

Upstairs, a celebration is going on; a veritable frenzy of back slapping. Thirty years ago, the alleged cliché that is rock had somehow encouraged a scene of like minded individuals to rebel against form and craft music from noise. Well that and Krautrock, art school and imported copies of Throbbing Gristle records. No-one bothered pointing out at the time that rock and pop music at the time was experiencing a cultural renaissance or that, three decades on, dreary twelve-bar blues rock bands would still be peddling their wares at the Sandringham. Only time would tell that this emperor had no clothes.

This “new” music was played by angst-ridden 20-year-olds too nerdy to score regular sex with other human beings. It was kind of cute in its way. “Wah, wah, wah, won’t somebody love me?” was the underlying theme. Where previous generations had tried to woo with guitars, dulcet tones and saxophones, these tormented souls preferred vacuum cleaners, tortured moans and power tools. Believe me, that is not nearly as exciting as it sounds.

This pathetic quest for requited love is par for the course when you are 20-year-olds. For 50-year-olds? Surely virginity comes with some sort of use-by date. The atonal racket favoured by these would be iconoclasts became a self-perpetuating function. The easiest way to get someone into bed is to get them to dance. In my experience, if you use power tools to, say, put up a shelf, girls are impressed. If, on the other hand, you wave power tools around menacingly, girls will run away from you. We’ve all seen enough horror movies to understand this.

Most of these kids worked this out and returned to the upper middle class suburbs they sprang from. Someone finally invented the home computer and they could be happy. A nameless band member tells me how it had been difficult to prepare for this event. There are members of his band that haven’t touched their instruments in 30 years. Surely, it is this kind of dedication to an artistic form that merits inclusion in the Sydney Festival of the Arts and, no doubt, access to the public purse.

Upstairs at the Sandringham, I am amazed at how few of these punters have chins. I walk into the band area and five guys are sat on the dance floor. Cross legged, they are playing some sort of electronic instruments and it’s kind of like the soundtrack to paint drying. The band downstairs drowns them out and, if you want to read that as some kind of metaphor, that’ alright with me.

As the night progressed the acts got louder. I listened as acts such as Suicide and Cabaret Voltaire were ruthlessly plagiarised. I wondered if it was truly post modern to steal from your contemporaries. There was plenty of volume. The drum machines pounded. The feedback wailed and the synthesisers pumped. But what was it that anyone was trying to say? Did they think, perhaps, they could put their arms around their memories?

You see, here is the central problem with this event. Iconoclasts do not gather 30 years later to celebrate their complete failure to overturn popular culture. Noise music works best around an ideology. That ideology can be political, social or just bloody-minded fuckoffedness but any such ideas are sorely lacking in this museum piece. All we are left with is sound and fury and it signifies nothing.