Thursday, 5 September 2013

Aktion Unit albums on bandcamp

Since my last post, Aktion Unit (Dan Lewis and myself) have released two albums on bandcamp.   

Trance Mutation (2012) compiles four live recordings from 2008 - 2011, some of which came out as very limited edition runs of CDRs. This album charts our early (non-)career.

In April 2013 we unleashed a cassette, Responsibility. This beast mainly documents Aktion Unit's tour of New Zealand in 2010, but also includes a rather wonderful live-to-air performance on Melbourne's community radio station 3CR, recorded as a tribute to recently deceased music and visual art legend Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. Needless to say, the result of this cover version bears very little resemblance to the original.

Track listing:

1. Blues For Thatcher (7.03)
2. Ruth Norman (8.14)
3. Astrology School (1.24)
4. Countdown To Ecstasy (4.06)
5. Zig Zag Wanderer (27.48)


1. Recorded at Wunderbar, Lyttelton NZ, 2010
2. Recorded at Chick’s Hotel, Port Chalmers NZ, 2010
    Mike Dooley: drums
    Sarah Kate Stuart: guitar
3. Recorded at Astrology School, Melbourne, 2011
    Yuko Kono: bass
4. Recorded at Bar Open, Melbourne, 2010
    Lisa Mackinney: acetone organ

    Nicole Hurtubise: percussion
5. Recorded live to air at 3cr radio, Melbourne, 2010
    Jess McCann: piano, voice
    lyrics by Don Van Vliet

Robert McDougall made a brilliant video for the track 'Blues For Thatcher' from Responsibility. Viewing may induce epileptic fits, so be warned!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Bites - I'm Not Coming Down video (2004)

This is a rather cool video of The Bites that our friend Simon Strong from Pink Stainless Tail shot at Melbourne's Tote Hotel in 2004. Kirsty had recently acquired a video camera and we thought it would be fun to get someone to shoot some footage of us, so we just handed the camera to Simon... little did we realise that this would not actually stop him from dancing. Either that, or he was trying to make some kind of artistic statement here. Or maybe he just had the shakes.

No matter, we really dug the result. Of course the sound sucked completely, so we used the studio version of I'm Not Coming Down. It doesn't sync up properly, but that makes it even better. Whenever I watch this, I start feeling seasick - but in a good way!


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Scale Models - Scale Models (2012)

Scale Models formed in Melbourne some time during 2010. I had met guitarist Ross Adam at a show by a prog-rock band called Alexandria, for whom he was playing bass. We got to talking about music (as you do), and discovered that we were both interested in the same kind of jangly pop groups from the 1980s. Naturally, we decided to form a band.

We wanted to capture some of the shambolic energy and sugar rush of the early Flying Nun sound, the reckless abandon of The Wedding Present, as well as the muscular power pop of the likes of Guided By Voices. Of course the resulting songs sounded nothing like those inspirations, especially after we  roped in singer, lyricist and trumpet player Clare Hourigan (Go Spot Run, Hissy Fit) and drummer Danny Martinov (Dogs Of Thomas Park).

Clare added her darkly wistful take on romantic relationships to the mix, while Danny contributed a powerhouse rhythmic approach, which guaranteed that things never got too twee.

Scale Models started gigging as soon as we had a handful of songs. We were played a bunch of gigs, including some with musical heroes of mine, such as Robert Scott (The Bats, The Clean) and Harry Howard & The NDE. 

Engineer James Alexander Dean recorded eight of Scale Models’ songs at his home studio in the waning days of 2011, and we launched the resulting CD in February 2012. The hand-printed limited edition of 200 CDs is still available via mail order from Scale Models’ bandcamp page, for those who like to hold physical artefacts in their hands.

Clare’s recent move to Brisbane makes it a bit hard for us to play at the moment, so I’m glad this recording exists. It’s pretty polished-sounding, and my contributions to the songwriting definitely hark back to the style of The Bites and Hand Hell. Having spent the last few years immersed in more experimental ideas, it was fun to get back to writing 3 minute pop tunes, and I couldn’t think of a better bunch of people to do it with.

1. Standing Tall
2. This Is The Time
3. Hey You
4. Keeping Busy
5. Things That You Reject
6. 180 Degrees
7. Appearances
8. Midnight 

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Lamefoot - Live At The Old Bar (2010-11)

Lamefoot resulted from jams I started having with my housemate Dannie ‘Bean’ Johnston during 2008. Initially we were a duo, with Bean on drums and myself on guitar. I’d known Bean since the late 90s, when I first shared a house with him and his sister Linda, whose bands Little Ugly Girls, The Dacios and Bulls remain among my all-time favourites.

Bean and I were both listening to a lot of Krautrock at the time. We were especially enthralled with the relentless motorik beat of Neu!, and sought to emulate this somehow. As a fan of Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio (1977), and repetition in music in general, I could see the potential of just playing one chord, over and over, slowly building up intensity, but never “rocking out”, so to speak.

Eventually, Matt Bailey (ex-Paradise Motel) and Evan Purdey (Twin Vickers) joined on bass and electric organ respectively. That’s the line-up that appears on the recording made at Melbourne’s Old Bar (my home away from home) on 24 July 2010.

Soon after, when Evan decided to travel overseas for an extended period, Lisa McKinney took over organ duties. As a solo improviser under the name Mystic Eyes, and a fellow devotee of Rhys Chatham, Lisa was perfect for the role, as can be heard on the track recorded in April 2011. 

Unfortunately, plans to have both organists perform at the same time never came to fruition. With Lisa moving to New York in 2012, this is now a remote possibility. Lamefoot is likely to make further sporadic live appearances in the future though.

1. 24 July 2010
2. 1 April 2011

Aktion Unit - Harsh Shit Reality (2008-11)

Dan Lewis and I formed Aktion Unit in 2007, with the intention of making loud, messy experimental noise music. I think we succeeded.

The music is always completely improvised, which is perfect, as we never have to rehearse, write songs, or even talk about what we are going to do on stage. This appeals to my sense of spontaneity and (more importantly) my laziness.

To keep things fresh, we usually invite guest musicians to play with us. Again, we don’t give them any instructions as to our game plan – there just isn’t one. Anything can happen, and it usually does. Depending on our mood and the circumstances of the performance (venue, crowd, other bands, sound facilities), Aktion Unit’s sound can range from “pretty” ambience to complete cacophony.

Dan is the master manipulator of gadgets, pedals, loops and keyboards, while I usually stick to bass or guitar. My approach to these instruments can be percussive and rhythmical, or as tools to create drones and textures. I tend not to use many effects though, preferring to use the sonic capabilities of the physical instrument and over-driven amplification.

Whenever possible, I’ll document our performances on a little digital recorder. Dan has put a lot of these recordings up on Aktion Unit’s blog. Occasionally, when we venture out on tour, we might burn a few CDs to sell, but never in huge numbers. Thus, our output and very existence as a group are kind of ephemeral – and we like it that way.

We like to confuse people. The name Aktion Unit deliberately references an American experimental outfit by the name of Dream/Aktion Unit, and of course, the title and graphics of our CD Harsh Shit Reality (2008) appropriate the classic noise-rock album Harsh 70s Reality by New Zealand band The Dead C.

This download compiles four performances that took place between 2008 and 2011, and feature some of our regular collaborators, such as Dimitra Bucolo (Aux Assembly), Matt Gleeson (The Stabs), Leith Thomas (Dead Boomers), and vocalist Daisy Buchanan. The four pieces go for around 15 minutes each, which is the average length of our shows, and are quite different to each other in mood and musical approach. 

1. Harsh Shit Reality
2. Angel Smear
3. Cardboard Crown
4. Nest Of Vipers 

Bad Cabin - Low Frequency (2007)

Bad Cabin’s music is an exercise in stark minimalism. Simone Marie and I were inspired by the harsh sounds of New York’s No Wave bands of the late 1970s, the stripped-back approach to songwriting of British post-punk, as well as the intensity of Tasmanian groups like Sea Scouts.

Initially we started writing songs on guitar and a borrowed electric organ, but soon found that this set-up still sounded too conventionally tuneful. I swapped to bass, limiting my playing to two or three notes, repeated ad infinitum. Simone played a stand-up drum kit, consisting of snare, floor tom and one cymbal.

Her lyrics explored the darkness of the subconscious and this darkness became the essence of the group, as Simone developed her distinctive vocal approach. Bad Cabin was deliberately anti-melodic, reduced to splintered, brittle rhythms, low bass frequencies and melancholic cries.

Unfortunately we never got around to playing these songs in front of an audience. These rehearsal room recordings remain the only documentation of the set we had assembled. In a way their lo-fi primitivism suits the music perfectly though, sounding subterranean and forlorn. Music from a bad cabin, somewhere out in the woods.

1. Admire
2. Light Fun
3. Mess
4. Systems And Configurations
5. Silence
6. Low Frequency
7. Face Up In The Water
8. Teeth
9. Tunnel

Hand Hell - 3 Demos (2007)

Following the release of Phonography in 2006, Kirsty and I got the urge to play live again, so we recruited Ricky French to play drums with us. A bit of a multi-instrumentalist, this expatriate kiwi came to us via local outfit Actor/Model.

For the next couple of years, we played heaps of shows in Melbourne, building up a small, but enthusiastic following. We always figured that it was better to have a few people like our music a lot, rather than a lot of people liking it a bit.

During this incarnation of Hand Hell, we didn’t do much writing. I had become more interested in experimental music, despite still loving to play in a pop band. For some reason, our new ideas just didn’t gel that well. Only two new songs made it into the set, but we never got further than recording them as rough demo versions, before the group finally broke up. They’re cool songs though. 

'Scotland' of course is an old favourite, and the version here presents it in its most stripped-back form.

1. Amnesia Hotel
2. Northern Lights
3. Scotland