Brisbane’s Clag may be the greatest Australian punk band you’ve never heard of, writes SHAUN PRESCOTT.
Clag must have killed it live during their short career in the early '90s. Following a live rendition of 'Scum Manor' at the Empress in Melbourne, dedicated to some guy called Greg (“because he's fucking scum”), the Brisbane-born group is met with hoots, shouts and derisive clapping. Several males in the audience urge the band to play some more “cock rock”, while others demand they take off their pants. In her brutally and beautifully ocker accent, vocalist Bek Moore promises she will do so, as long as the audience does first. Then she sticks it to 'em: “Fuckin' bunch of perverts. Girls get on-stage the first time tonight and all of the sudden the crowd are saying take your pants off! And I notice 90 percent of yas are boys.” A guy in the crowd points out that it's only because they – the crowd – are desperate. A dozen or so men laugh in implicit agreement. Then Clag crack into 'Shithouse' by The Midget Stooges.
Now is probably the appropriate time to point out, as critics are redundantly inclined to do, that Clag were a female punk group (the band had one male member for a time, if you want the stats). It's true that Clag's music carefully avoided the sweaty, macho, sexed-up histrionics of rock music, but so did several other male artists in the early '90s. There's nothing overtly feminine about Clag, unless you're stupid enough to conflate twee-ness with femininity. Sexlessness, then, is the theme here: note how Moore calls her hecklers “boys” instead of men. Note how the lyrics proceed in a slack story-like way: exploiting obvious rhymes, celebrating chips and gravy ('Chips and Gravy') and meditating on self-improvement via squillions of free daydreaming dollars ('Buy Myself'). If you strip away sex, the having of and pursuit of (if even via love), then what is left?
Sex is foreign in the world of Clag. There is absolutely zilch physically intimate human contact related on this disc. Also absent is any overt sense of anger, frustration, or urgent catharsis. Clag scream over the top of heavy, distorted punk songs sometimes, but the then-established context and purpose isn't there. That's not radical nowadays given the onslaught of indie rock in all its guises, but in the early '90s it must have been really weird wedged between Mudhoney and Tad on a community radio station. In fact, it must have sounded delirious, mental, inherently spastic, and I'm happy to report that Clag still sound like all these things. This was a time when “twee-ness” wasn't a desperate bid to reclaim youth, but instead an answer to the uber-savvy posturing of male-dominated guitar music. Siphon these elements from the guitar and it's nought but another texture, and a perfectly malleable one at that. Clag bashed it and several other instruments into shapes that never before fit into the jigsaw board of rock music.
“This is for all the scum and scruffies alienated, disgusted, or temporarily tired of the entitlement to sex and the monopoly on angst so embedded in rock music.”
Clag weren't just a curiosity though, and if you pick up Pasted Youth, which collects their whole back-catalogue as well as a live performance and radio appearance, you'll probably fall in love with the songs rather than what they may represent. Their cover of Sonic Youth's 'My Friend Goo' is a beautiful example of a synth not properly communicating with a rock ensemble – notes are slightly off in that maddening but ultimately effective way, all the more perfect for gentle slam-dancing with the wind. 'Scruffies' is a mission statement borne of a mother's stern outlook, but is as maddeningly catchy as mum's favourite tunes.
Members of Clag went on to play in more “sophisticated” Melbourne indie bands like Minimum Chips, Panel of Judges and Beaches, but Clag is better than any of those bands. Clag is one of Australia's best punk bands, even if (and because) they will annoy the living shit out of you, until you finally succumb to and/or understand the way they operate. This is for all the scum and scruffies alienated, disgusted, or temporarily tired of the entitlement to sex and the monopoly on angst so embedded in rock music. The more things change etc.
Clag’s ‘Pasted Youth’ is out on March 9 through Chapter Music.
Listen to ‘Pasted Youth’ by Clag: