ALTERNATIVE ANIMALS: AN INTERACTIVE DOCUMENTARY ON THE AUSTRALIAN PUNK SCENE 1976-79– Various Artists (Shock)
A long time coming, this double-disc package of CD-ROM and CD has been worth
the wait. Whatever you label it, it’s a superb set of snapshots from the formative days of Australian punk music.
The guy responsible, Scott Anderson, is a Melbourne musician who spent zealous hour upon hour tracking down the principals and cajoling them to sit in front of a camera. . Anderson’s band The Naked Eye revels in the same energetic music as the ‘70s punks (although their brand of musical attack has a melodic wash applied, a la the Sunnyboys). “Alternative Animals”: is a clear nod to that punk past; and a means of getting a taste of it if you weren’t there or recalling it if you were.
We're on the same page as Anderson; The I-94 Bar’s Mission Statement is the preservation of the stuff of the underground, the alternative and the musically diverse, especially from the 1970s and ‘80s. We also selfishly love foisting it onto you, the web-surfing public. But we can only sit back and gape in awe at the way he's presented this package.
Delving into "Alternative Animals", you won’t see the whole picture immediately so it’s good to have some working knowledge of the incestuous chronology of Oz Punk. Then again if you don’t, it’s not that much of a problem as the package includes family trees for the more notable acts. “Alternative Animals” works as a roadmap – a colourful one littered with the great, the bad and the ugly – that should inspire novices and amuse and sometimes inform the well-versed.
Approaching this package, it’s advisable to have some working knowledge of the incestuous chronology of Oz Punk. Then again if you don’t, it’s not that much of a problem. The CD-ROM component includes a surprising number of family trees for just about anyone that counted. “Alternative Animals” works as a roadmap – a colourful one littered with the great, the bad and the ugly – that should inspire novices and amuse and even inform the well-versed.
The menu is logical (I initially struggled to find the “back” button, but that’s me) and the graphics are perfectly pitched to complement the gritty contents. Once through the intro (that sounds like Rob Younger’s dulcet tones expounding on the worst of Billy Thorpe, no punches pulled), you click through the scene city-by-city, and into sub-menus offering interview grabs, artwork and zine articles.
There’s no bias to one particular city and coverage extends to everyone from Radio Birdman, a pre-Birthday Party Boys Next Door and the Saints to their antecedents and offspring (the News, Babeez, the Victims, the Visitors, the Scientists, the Psychosurgeons, the Leftovers and the Other Side).
If anything, the content is a bit light on for Nick Cave and Co, although the early footage of them in their art-glam days is among the rarest stuff here. On balance however, the Melbourne content leans to arty, Sydney is depicted as being in the thrall of the Radios on one level and the infiltration of UK-inspired safety pins on the other, while Brisbane and Perth are shown as developing their own street-level scenes in splendid isolation form almost everything else. Fair call.
Have you ever seen the Manressa Hall footage of Sydney’s infamous Filth, the band that spawned the Lipstick Killers' Peter Tillman? Although it lacks a soundtrack it’s clear and jaw dropping stuff. Ash Wednesday of JAB provides enlightened commentary. Some of the clips suffer through being contained in tiny boxes that are artfully worked into the storyboard and most leave you craving to see the whole reel.
There are some inspired interview grabs. Peter Tillman’s Lipstick Killers and Psychosurgeons commentary is witty, and also draws a scary parallel between the former band's lyrics and the plotlines for "Seinfeld" (they were both about nothing). Ed Wreckage (The Leftovers) still comes across as punk as all fuck with a smouldering intensity that lives up to his band's reputation. It's a near run thing but Hellcats (and later Died Pretty) singer Ronald S Peno probably stands out for his sheer presence alone, with Rob Younger and Kim Salmon dead on the money with their matter-of-fact incisiveness. James Baker’s grabs say a lot about his ability to bring a healthy trash aesthetic to whatever band he's part of and he rightly gets his dues.
Ed Kuepper's revelation that EMI actually sent a punk clothing designer along to outfit The Saints after their scruffy arrival in London in 1977 is terrific stuff. Ron Peno delivers some great lines too.
While Radio Birdman’s presence on the disc is substantial it’s a pity that the vaults didn’t yield some of the wonderful live stuff that remains, mainly under ABC-TV’s tight-fisted lock-and-key. Rob makes the point that the Visitors could have been more than a passing meteoric presence and lifts a bit more of the lid on what his own (largely unheard) Other Side was all about.
Let's Talk About Girls: Liz Dealey's contributions add weight to the Adelaide content which, on balance, weighs in on the lightweight side, but that's the weakness of limiting the period to 1976-78 as things took a little longer to grab a hold in the City of Churches. The Passengers rate only a passing mention, but it's good to see the Flaming Hands grab some spotlight. Julie Mostyn looks ageless.
There are sections on zines (you can scroll through some of their pages), fans and venues. The fans I can take or leave and the latter is a bit hit or miss. I mean, how can you talk about Sydney without mentioning the Funhouse? Not a big deal, so don't let this or any other quibble rain on your punk parade.
There’s not much I hadn’t heard on the accompanying audio CD but that’s not to say it’s not eminently attractive to the vast majority of Oz Punk junkies that don’t own 2000 bootlegs. The Saints cuts are from Paddington Town Hall (the 1977 double bill with Birdman) and have been issued elsewhere twice, and the Radios song (“Breaks My Heart”) is from the Triple J live-to-air from the same venue eight months later, three tacks of which have been officially released. The Rocks, Psychosurgeons and Lipstick Killers songs are all hard to find, and Birthday Party fans will take to the Boys Next Door demo of "Sex Crimes" (which may or may not have been previously released - I'm not a big enough fan to know).
While limiting the period examined to just three years does mean some notable punk and post-punk acts miss the cut (no Go Betweens, Tactics, Fun Things, 31st, The End, Birthday Party, latter day Scientists, Thought Criminals or Moodists - and I'm only warming up), it does make a compelling case for "Alternative Animals Volume 2". Anyone out there a venture capitalist? Anyway, instead of worrying about who missed out, we need to look at who made it in. There must be a garageful of equally great footage out there that simply wouldn't fit in.
The only precedent that springs to mind is the ABC/Powerhouse Museum "Real Wild Child" CD-ROM (1998), which was a potted history of Oz Rock. For mine, "Alternative Animals" leaves it for dead. Make no mistake - this is a landmark release and damned near unmissable for anyone with more than a passing interest in Australian music's underground.
– The Barman
TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR