‘This Is Brisbane History’: A Kitchen’s Floor Retrospective
“This is Brisbane history/Creeping round the background”
– ‘Sundowner,’ Battle of Brisbane, 2015
Kitchen’s Floor has been a constant of Brisbane’s underground since 2008. Ostensibly the mouth-piece of singer-songwriter Matt Kennedy, the band’s releases have documented seven years of a specific subset of the city through the nation’s bleakest looking glass. In 2009’s Loneliness is a Dirty Mattress and 2011’s Look Forward to Nothing, Kitchen’s Floor delivered a spectrum of negative thought with unashamed honesty, causing storied personal rifts and confused social interactions for the band’s immediate circle. But for those of us outside of it, these albums represented something darkly relatable: archives of dejection built from every warbled, half-shouted lyric.
On their third LP Battle of Brisbane, Kitchen’s Floor make it clear from the outset that this is part of an ongoing document of the band’s home city. “This is Brisbane history,” Kennedy shouts to begin the record, and the band responds with a newly realised vigour. Kennedy’s guitar sounds more like it was pinched from a touring stadium act than picked off the council pick-up pile. Josh Watson’s bass is not just serviceable, but of scope and focus (particularly on the reimagining of ‘Bitter Defeat’), and Robert Vagg’s drums come heavily through the mix. This new cacophony of sound evokes an overzealous terror at the edges, acting to obscure the ruminations of Kennedy’s vocals.
“I think because I’ve been isolated for so long I’ve gone a bit insane. I live alone and don’t have much in the way of friendships or relationships these days.”
As the album’s title suggests, this third LP delivers a new message to what came before it. It pushes outward at a city rather than mumbling underneath it. Even the record’s cover – featuring Kennedy, back to the camera in full military regalia, staring over the expanse of the city – claims the drawing of battle lines. If this is a record that spends its time in the trenches then, it’s clear the sentiment of each song hasn’t travelled far from the dishevelled bedroom that was the setting of records prior. In the LP’s defiant opener ‘Sundowner’, the mid-song calls to: “Defend the streets” fade to a desperate close. “When are they going to leave?” Kennedy asks. “I hate everybody here.”
Brisbane (like most Australian cities) is experiencing an extended period of growth. This development is prevalent in Kennedy’s adopted home, the inner-west suburb of Paddington, which has evolved from the low-rent creative’s paradise of 2008 to a bustling area of young professionals. It’s no secret that this evolution has driven much of this record’s focus, with the high-rise at the centre of the album cover accompanied by the anonymous urban sprawl that leads to the record’s author. “I’ve been witnessing change around me but never taking part in it,” Kennedy tells me over a late-night phone call. “I’ve watched everything get renovated, the rent going up…I’ve had to be at the whim of town planners and watch the horrible people move in around me and just deal with it. So I burrowed in and haven’t left.” The burrow he talks about is, of course, the once storied share-house known as 116.
“I was happy (x 8)/Left me here (x 3)”
– ‘Left,’ Loneliness is a Dirty Mattress (2009)
The bleakest Kitchen’s Floor recordings lay on their first record, Loneliness is a Dirty Mattress. Presented plainly in a black cover with type-written labelling, the songs boiled down complicated personal conflicts into cryptic sniping and shouted ramblings. In its insert, a black-and-white photograph of a broken down Queenslander is presented without comment. This building was Kennedy’s home for nine years, the share-house which itself had a title track on Kitchen’s Floor’s second record, Look Forward to Nothing (“The walls are rotting,” Kennedy sings). In this photo, the paint of a slapped-together fence peels back at the edges of its age-worn timber. It stands as one of the lasting images of a house that only this year was transformed into a medical centre, with Kennedy living alone in a new granny flat fashioned beneath it. “I think the landlord was embarrassed of having the only un-renovated house in the suburb,” Kennedy says dryly. “It has a white picket fence now.”
The most recent visual document of 116 was the film clip for the version of ‘Bitter Defeat’ that featured on a self-titled 7” in 2013: Kitchen’s Floor’s final release on Negative Guest List, the cult Brisbane label run by Brendon Annesley. This version of ‘Bitter Defeat’ featured the tinny acoustic that Kennedy made a hallmark of his earlier recordings, and, undercut by the mournful organ of Cured Pink’s Andrew McLellan, was a surprising downer for a band that tended to simmer more often than stifle. On Battle of Brisbane, Kennedy gives ‘Bitter Defeat’ the same treatment his landlord gave to 116. This re-recorded version does away with McLellan’s organ, doubles the tempo and makes an overdriven and overzealous bassline its centre-point. Taking the previously hallowed version to a near frenzy, this new lick of paint extends its aural scope, but is unable to hide the emptying sentiment of the original: “The window is open to a nothing day,” Kennedy moans.
There’s a notable shift in the language of Battle of Brisbane compared to the previous records. Only once on the entire album does anyone else appear (on ‘Aches’: “I have no idea what you’ve been through”). The rest of it settles on themes of Kennedy’s self-loathing and a growing disgust for the city that houses him. “This place used to be good,” Kennedy spits on ‘Strength,’ and sums up all the sentiment of latter-day Kitchen’s Floor in the entirety of ‘Down’:
Looking down at the fucking ground
I’m sick of walking down this street
I’ve nothing left to give
But they won’t even think about me
Waking up your dead friends
The wine has done its job
Finally I won’t think about this
“When I first moved [to Paddington] things were happening, I could put house shows on, but now I don’t have any of that,” Kennedy says. “I think because I’ve been isolated for so long I’ve gone a bit insane. I live alone and don’t have much in the way of friendships or relationships these days, so there’s nothing to write about in that way. So why not make this record about humanity in general, and write the most nihilistic, fucked-up rock album I could?”
If Battle of Brisbane is that fucked up rock album, then the track that opens its B-Side is its biggest moment. Featuring howling violins, Blank Realm’s Sarah Spencer on backing vocals, and an undeniable melody, ‘Doomed’ is the most conventional Kitchen’s Floor song ever recorded. It’s one that Kennedy says was his “attempt at writing a Gotye-like hit single so [he] wouldn’t be broke anymore”. He’s self-aware enough to note that this effort in itself was doomed, with the repeating mantra, “Everybody will leave you/Nothing to love,” hardly a chart-topping sentiment. It’s clear that on this record, Kennedy’s been unable (or unwilling) to shy away from his existential dread, maybe because the battle came to him without his asking for it. “If you stay somewhere for long enough, and you keep doing what feels natural, and you think that something good will come of it: that’s not the most satisfying way to go about life. The frustration and self-loathing comes into it and you get down about your choices of sticking around too long.”
“How did I let this happen to me?”
– ‘Observer,’ Battle of Brisbane (2015)
Feeling disenfranchised by the gentrification of your city is hardly a novel concept, but Kennedy has always had a uniquely honest take on how events like that translate to feelings of isolation. In a way, Kitchen’s Floor has always been dedicated to expressing loneliness and its side-effects through an absurdist bent. On Look Forward to Nothing, that was evoked on the album cover by the yellowed image of Kennedy sitting hungover and dejected in his nicotine-stained bedroom. On Battle of Brisbane, this arises in the fantastical war on a city that doesn’t even know the band exists. By remaining in Brisbane, even as it changes into something increasingly unsavoury, Kennedy has shown a strange loyalty to the city (“If I left it would feel like betrayal,” he says). It’s this kind of stubborn resilience in contributing to a town that breeds the bitterness; you’re rarely rewarded for perseverance.
“I wanted to get a point out there, about that disconnect between ordinary life and feeling the usual angsty clichés about the world,” Kennedy explains. “Not having anyone to be close with here, or being able to have those close relationships that make life fun…I think it’s kind of a comment on all of those things, from my own point of view living alone in the most gentrified suburb in Brisbane, wondering how the fuck I’m going to keep paying my rent.”
There’s a continuity to Kitchen’s Floor that can be drawn across six years of recordings, “like a conspiracy,” Kennedy jokes. The more obscure threads aside, the connectivity is clearest on the closing track of each LP. Like a timestamp, each track declares Kennedy’s age at the time of writing each record. “I think it’s important to embrace your age,” he says. “I’m obsessed with how time progresses; I have been ever since I was a kid.” Each of these tracks demonstrates the evolution of Kitchen’s Floor, in a way, showing exactly what led to the waging of a silent war on Battle of Brisbane. Broken down by a failure to upkeep personal relationships on ‘Twenty-two’; pure stagnation on ‘Twenty-four’ (“This backyard is never going to change”); and rumination on ‘Twenty-eight’ (“Why have you hung around? / Haunting my thoughts”), it’s a tidy way of demonstrating the ongoing document of Kitchen’s Floor. “Depending on how I go, the last song on the next album might be ‘Forty-two,’” Kennedy laughs. “If I live that long.”
‘The Battle Of Brisbane’ is out now on 12″ vinyl through Bruit Direct Disques, or online through Bandcamp.