Adelaide. Little old Adelaide. How often have you heard people bitching and complaining about how nothing ever happens in little old Adelaide. We embrace the tall poppy syndrome.
We take things for granted.
We are often apathetic, unmotivated, entitled and lazy.
We are always happy to look further afield to the bright lights of Melbourne or Sydney for our aspirations.
How many times have I seen people tripping over themselves (and each other) to go and see the latest big thing from Melbourne or Sydney, or London or Detroit while local musicians get no respect, no loving, no audiences and no money? Why, oh why, does nothing ever happen in Adelaide?
Except that isn’t true.
It has never been true.
Adelaide has traditionally often missed out on national tours and the expense of getting here with the tyranny of distance, means often when tours do make it to Adelaide tickets are expensive and suffer as a consequence. Partially because of our isolation has been a thriving subculture of music, bands and creativity that has spawned hundreds if not thousands of bands playing everything from hardcore punk to funky disco, metal to folk. Many people got their start here, The Masters Apprentice, The Angels, Cold Chisel, Bad Dreems, The Mark of Cain, Hilltop Hoods, Twilights, even multi-mega-International Super dooper star Sia started off, in Adelaide’s Crisp. Even given those more well known examples, there are kazillions of bands that in the seventies, eighties and nineties and right through to today are out there doing it, and doing it well. There are a myriad of genres and sub cultures and there is something for everybody. Adelaide’s dance music scene was a world leader, with it’s own promoters, magazines, artists and record labels for instance.
“What’s so special about Adelaide is that is so irrelevant. Here we are on the edge of the desert and nobody else in Australia really gives a shit about Adelaide. But here we just have a ball!” Nathan Dale Hack/Grong Grong
Some of these subcultures have been recognized, and documented, the Greasy Pop era created a whole scene and a catalogue including Exploding White Mice, Lizard Train, The Dagoes, Screaming Believers and more. A now legendary label with many of those records highly sought after all over the world. There is a new book about Greasy Pop coming out early next year from Perth’s Starman Books. But Adelaide has also birthed The Clowns of Decadence, Numbskulls, Young Modern, Blood Sucking Freaks, The Accountants, Fear and Loathing, Irving & The U-Bombs, Devil’s Playground, Grong Grong, testeagles, Green Circles, The Spell, Juliette Seizure & The Tremor Dolls, Sputniks, The Moodists, Devils Cabaret, Kamikaze, Almost Human, The Garden Path, Iron Sheiks, The Skunks, Perdition, Spikes, Meatbeaters, Toyland, Where’s The Pope? King Daddy, Mad Turks, July 14th, The Gels, Reckoning, Primevils, Brillig, The Saucermen, Speedboat, The Seen, Pro-Tools, Lipstick Killers, Baby Doll, Repo, Toxic Shock, Les Goolies, The Acid Drops, Bearded Clams, and countless others. Tex Perkins cut his teeth in bands like Purple Vulture Shit and Bumhead Orchestra. Just the most cursory look at a list like that gives you a hint of the rich history and fertile fruits of the underground music life of the City of Churches.
Last year saw the release of Todwina J Moore’s fantastic documentary about underground Adelaide music, Rock In A Hard Place. With no financial help from any funding bodies, this labour of love was put together on the smell of an oily rag, with some crowd funding support from people in the scene. Put together over a period of almost a decade it covers a lot of ground. Moore is well placed to document the scene as she has played in bands for many years. Involved in the Rim of Hell crowd she played with The Flogging, Wife Trouble, Lumpsucker and the fantastically named Alain Prostitute. Later she was in Operation Octopus, performed solo as Miss Appropriation and since 2005 has been a member of Meat Tray. It may have been made on an extreme budget, like many of the bands covered here, you’d never know it. It is quite simply one of the most important documents of Adelaide’s rich music history ever produced. Along with Tim Kelton’s excellent Underground in the City Of Churches book (published in 1986) it is a essential documentation of this exciting era of Adelaide pub rock. It is testament to the talent, the musicianship, the resilience and love from the people in those bands and their audiences.
Moore has gone with a really clever device of not having a central narrator, instead she lets the people in various bands tell the stories of their own bands, their mates bands, the bands they loved and were inspired by. So you have band X raving about how they were inspired by band Y. How band Y joined forces with band Z. There are battle stories, a lot of memories, a lot of humour. There is a lot of ground covered of the 30 years covered in Rock in a Hard Place. The earliest days of Adelaide punk scene, art rock, the down South surf bands, the hardcore bands, grunge, Greasy Pop. Anybody in and around live music in this town will be familiar with many of the faces testifying in this movie. Suzy Ramone, Harry Butler, Doug Thomas, The guys from The Gels, The Mice, Liz Dealy, Nazz, Pete The Stud, Dave Manning, all turn up and their stories and knowledge is shared in a conversational and personal way. Making you feel you are just at the pub with the people, having a chat about this Adelaide band from years ago, or that legendary gig you both saw or played at.
There is a lot of archival footage, much of previously unseen. Hundreds of gig flyers, band posters and photographs that help set the tone and time for each section. It pops along at a good pace, not racing through things with too much haste. While it’s impossible to cover every single band that was involved in all of the disparate scenes in SA over three decades, they have done an excellent job of capturing the essence of each significant scene.
I was really happy , for instance, to see a section about Rim Of Hell Records. Rim of Hell were almost the alternative to the alternative scene. With more avante garde/arty bands like Ugly Ugly Ugly, The Purple Caesars, , The Iguana Twins, The Johnsons, Guns of Krishna, many of whom I spent a fair bit of time going to see at the time. In the same way it’s good to see Dominator Records get some props for releasing some of the more hardcore Adelaide bands. Also very well deserved praise from all quarters for Harry Butler, the man behind the D.N.A. fanzine. The longest running fanzine in Australia and quite possibly the entire world. His passion and enthusiasm for local music stretches back close to forty years and he has been in bands like Fear & Loathing and Hack, and even run his own record label (EC Productions) the thing he is most known for is his chronicling of the scene. He is a good egg. In fact there are so many good eggs in this documentary, you’d think you were at a (free range) egg place.
Dave Manning, who started out doing fanzines, played in some bands and has been a mainstay on three-d radio for decades, showing his encyclopaedic knowledge of Adelaide punk bands. Karl Melvin, who likewise has been on three d radio forever, as well as running a record label, playing in countless bands (Tupelo/Truck Train Tractor/Bleeding Hearts) and who these days is in ownership of an extremely impressive beard. Suzy Ramone, three d announcer, bass playing Ramones loving all round top ace person. “
My entire personality was formed by pop music. All of my morals and ethics, education and anything that was important in my development actually came from listening to the radio, reading rock magazines, playing records and going to see bands.” Suzy Ramone.
These are all people I’d happily share a drink in a bar with to talk music. And I don’t even drink. It’s a pretty long list and even Pete The Stud Howlett and Dick Dale are surprisingly well behaved during their interviews!
The over riding feeling you get from Rock In A Hard place, a quite possibly the thing that makes all of the people in it so engaging, is the punk rock ethos of participation and involvement being more important than any conventional talent, skill or knowledge. Time and time again we hear people talking about starting punk bands in the 70’s when they literally had never picked up an instrument. This lack of virtuoso chops was not seen as a deterrent in the slightest. In fact it was seen as a badge of honour. The joy of being in a band, or making a zine, or making a documentary about bands you love, or indeed writing about that documentary, is in the doing. It’s a participation. It is pushing yourself and your friends in directions you were unaware you wanted to go. A recent experience I had in the UK, very clearly defined this idea for me. You can be a passive bystander, a static audience waiting to be entertained. Or you can throw caution to the wind, decide you don’t care what other people are going to think, and just flippin’ go for it. Participate, create, make and build. Even if those things are completely transitory. Even id they are silly or objectively stupid. Your band doesn’t have any music degrees and you are just making a hell of a racket. So what? Some of the best nights I’ve ever had have been with a bunch of people in dark rooms making a hell of a racket. Participation is the key. Would you rather look at a picture of an ice-cream, or actually eat an ice-cream? It is a valuable thing to consider in all aspects of your life.
Towinda J Moore’s documentary Rock In A Hard Place in now available on DVD through the project website, and they are looking to have it in select music stores shortly. Available from http://www.artsendup.yolasite.com/SHOP-NOW.php
Review by Ian Bell