My Personal Journey through Post-punk, Art, Music and Radio
1.The Influence of 2 double J Radio and The Start of My Life in Radio
2 double J grew partly out of a late-night radio program called "Room to Move" which had introduced me to such things as Carla Bley's "Escalator Over the Hill", which I clearly remember listening to while doing my Technical Drawing project at high school in 1975. The program was presented by Chris Winter. Double J became Triple J in about 1981, which sadly these days is a
pathetic fairly mainstream pop/rock personality based radio station where no innovation exists apart from the arts presenter Fenella Kernebone. The music is mainstream alternative pop and rock music, with little or no variation.
2 Double J was like the breath of fresh air that people like me needed who had been swamped by disco, American soft rock (Eagles, the Doobie Brothers), rock opuses like Rick Wakeman's "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" as well as the mushy electronic opus by Mike Oldfield called "Tubular Bells" and the English Glam rock of Garry Glitter, The Sweet and T Rex. Double J. came
to save us from all this which was saturating the radio airwaves. Their agenda was to provide a real alternative to the mainstream soft rock. The most important occurrence musically in the Seventies and ever since was The Punk Movement which started in America with The Ramone's in 1974 and in England a year or so later. The punk agenda, in America was loud machine-gun style guitar and in England was the same sound but with an added political element which promoted the cause of workers and especially unemployed young working class kids who had been downtrodden by the
conservative Labor government of James Callaghan and even worse, later, under
the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, at the start of
post-punk. Musically, the slogan was "anybody with a guitar could start a band". It also promoted do-it-yourself recordings to bypass the major record label stronghold and the growth of small, independent record labels. Double J totally embraced punk music and its ethics. They had punk reports from London and Sydney as the movement (started by the Saints) was growing here also. Much innovative music was played on double J including Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, which further encouraged my new musical landscape which totally obliterated the likes of Heavy Rock like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Slade etc as well as those mentioned above. Double J in fact provided me, in 1977, with my first on air radio presentation experience when with a group of fellow high school students we were invited to present our favourite music on air one Saturday morning. The announcers at double J who most embraced the avant-garde pop music ethic were Mac Cocker, Tony Barrell and Peter Doyle. The other crucial element in Double J's musical palate was reggae and particularly dub music from the mid-to-late Seventies. And which post-punk and Double J embraced.
Peter Doyle did a very influential three-hour radio program weekly on Double J and the early days of Triple J. By the time his show started in 1978, post-punk music had begun and this is where my interest and love of experimental music really took off. The music incorporated the punk ideal with new elements such as electronic noise and rhythms, spoken word, dub, electronically processed voice and experimental acoustic and electronic sound. Through Peter's radio show, which was very informative and a real education to many people now involved in experimental/electronic music, I also learnt about many aspects of experimental music including sound text, avant-garde orchestral, minimal, tape music etc. Much of this music was also labelled as "Art Music". The word Dada was also introduced and I read all about that very important art movement of the very early 20th-century. Much experimental music at the time incorporated the ideals of Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, Expressionism and abstract painting. I also became very informed about experimental art such as performance art. Peter also talked about the 1979 art Biennale of Sydney which included many of these aspects in a modern context. My interest developed more and more deeply into conceptual arts (music, performance, film, painting, collage and writing). I learnt to listen to music as collections of sounds and so abstract musical adventures such as Yoko Ono's "Fly" were incorporated into my musical fabric. Probably the most influential of this new Dada movement was industrial music with labels such as Factory Records and Industrial Records and groups such as Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle (from England) and Non, Monte Cazazza (from America) and SPK (from Australia). A multitude of Fanzines and books supported the proliferation of this new experimental music which also incorporated audio collage (cutting sound up into bits in a similar way to collage in the visual arts). The 1979 Biennale of Sydney was very important to the developments in my interest in avant-garde art, I soon discovered that my real passion was in the extreme expression of artistic output, in film, visual arts and music. This Biennale included the work of Joseph Beuys, visual and performance artist from Germany and the extreme visual and performance artist Hermann Nitsch from Vienna. There were also many other performance and visual artists as well as film and video, I was all eyes and ears. During 1980 I accompanied Peter Doyle in the radio studios of 2 double J. while he was on air. We also worked on creating sounds in the radio studio using basic things such as a vibrating wooden ruler, elastic bands rolling a hollowed glass perfume bottle top. We microphoned and recorded these sounds to accompany a radio feature which Peter was doing on Futurism. I was very pleased to be involved. All of this was going on while I was studying civil engineering, seemingly two different worlds inside the one brain. I also loved engineering and would not trade it for anything.
In 1979 I also attended several performance art events with and without music. The first improvised music and performance event which I attended was by Jon Rose and Luis Burdett at the Sculpture Centre in The Rocks in Sydney, using strings, percussion and performance art. There was a very small audience and I felt I was in a very select group within the art world, other fellow engineering students would have been totally repelled by such events.
Also in those years, of the late Seventies, the new post-punk movement spread to Sydney and I fully embraced it, attending many performance evenings by groups such as The Systematics, The Severed Heads, Scattered Order, Negative Reaction, Nervous System, Voigt 465 and Pel Mel. In 1980 a new art gallery space opened in Sydney, called the Institute of Contemporary Events (ICE) run by Ian Hartley who became almost like the Godfather of the new experimental music scene. He incorporated live performances (such as the first-ever by Severed Heads), films, performances and exhibitions. He also ran a punk magazine called Spurt and a clothes shop called Skin Deep which sold fashions for the new wave post-punk generation, for whom fashion was important. I totally immersed myself in all of the avant-garde art, film and music which Ian had at the gallery. I was even more receptive to all of this after my high school experiences. It was at the first-ever live performance of Severed Heads at ICE that I first met my future collaborator in The Loop Orchestra, Richard Fielding. This performance took place during the first-ever exhibition at the gallery. The exhibition was the Death Exhibition. Bleakness seemed to be the order of the day. This was in 1981.
There were two main underground music labels in Sydney, one being "M
squared" (with bands such as Systematics and Scattered Order) and the other was Terse (with The Severed Heads). "M squared" was really electronic experimental pop while Terse was more pure electronic and experimental (at least in the beginning). I became so immersed in this scene that in December 1980 I had the first-ever live performance by the Systematics in my backyard for my 21st birthday party. Radio 2 Double J. and 2 Triple J. (which Double J. changed to in 1982) also nurtured this new music and in fact produced some, including the first Systematics single, in their studios. I was determined to make my 21st birthday party very different and provide people who attended with a variety of things to look at, listen to and ultimately talk about rather than pursuing trivial conversation. On the large glass windows of our Veranda I placed numerous collages from art magazines and record inserts. I also had a projection of slides by an art school student friend of mine of walls throughout Sydney, also in the backyard, with music by Throbbing Gristle. The front yard, on the front Street had an art installation set up by my artist friend Charlie. I invited people at the party to move from their comfortable seats to the front yard to view the installation.
I started writing, inspired by the music, ideas and Peter's radio show (he was like the John Peel of Sydney radio) to several members of these new music groups overseas. I used to send my poems (which I was writing at the time), collages and ideas. The people I exchanged correspondence with included Richard H. Kirk (from Cabaret Voltaire), Industrial Records, David Thomas (from the American band Pere Ubu), Monte Cazazza and Jean-Pierre Turmel from Sordide Sentimental. Mail Art was also very important and there was free exchange of writings, ideas, photos and print media in collage form. All this time I was studying civil engineering at Sydney University (a very Conservative faculty with a very Conservative group of students). I always thought of my brain being cut down the middle with one side arts and the other side science. Most engineering students have no interest in the arts whatsoever and unlike me most did very poorly at English literature at high school. I guess I was a fairly rare breed.
I mentioned briefly in the previous paragraph, Jean-Pierre Turmel, he ran a small independent record label in Rouen in France. He released music by some of the groups I was listening to always with accompanying art work, essays and photographs. I was writing poetry at this time and sent him some as well as others I was writing to. Much to my surprise and delight he used
part of one of my poems as the introduction to his essay printed on the jacket of perhaps his most famous release, Atmospheres, by the English group Joy Division. This was in 1979 when my interest in all this new art and music was burgeoning. In the record label in Rouen was called Sordide Sentimentale.
I was further inspired in this area of conceptual arts and music by my high school friend Charlie Sheard who had gone on to Alexander Mackie art school and was fully pursuing performance art, many performances of which I attended. He became more and more obsessed with Salvador Dali, his wife Gala and of course, Yoko Ono and also Brian Eno. Much of this brushed off on me.
Peter Doyle and I subsequently became good friends after meeting for the first time at the Sydney concert of the American art band Talking Heads in 1979. We share many common interests in the arts, music, film and literature. I cannot stress too much the incredible importance to myself and many others involved in the Sydney experimental music scene of his radio shows. We formed an experimental music group in 1980 called the East End Butchers. We used synthesiser, tapes and our own voices, we played live once in 1981 at Sydney University (this was my first-ever live experimental music performance) and made several recordings which were released on two limited-edition cassette compilations, "More Songs That Will Never Be Released" on M squared and "One-stop Shopping" on Terse Tapes.
During 1981, my final year of University, Ian Hartley, who was doing an experimental music radio program called Disc Noir invited me into the studio to play some of the music which I had been collecting and listening to and had become quite knowledgeable about. I played music and gave information received from my overseas writing contacts, such as addresses, recording and performance information. This was really the start of my own radio program. The radio station was 2 MBS FM, a community-based subscriber funded radio station.