True Radical Miracle/Dead Boomers
Termites/The Pig In The Python
Two new records featuring Melbourne musician Mark Groves lay down the gauntlet for other practitioners of brutal art-noise, writes RENÉ SCHAEFER.
True Radical Miracle’s musical approach recalls some of the classic brutalist noise rock of the mid-1980s, such as Venom P Stinger, The Jesus Lizard and Big Black, while Mark Groves’ vocals echo the bleak post-industrial growls of Godflesh and Ministry – a kind of exasperated, exhausted, nihilist exhalation of loathing for contemporary reality, which is nevertheless tinged with a hopelessly romantic utopianism.
Watching Groves (aka Grover) in action, flailing about the stage, berating the audience like the demented hillbilly evangelist Fitz Linkhorn in Nelson Algren’s novel Walk On The Wild Side, is to witness a man exorcising his own private set of demons. Except that in Grover’s case these demons are the ghosts of the capitalist bourgeois post-hippie dream – the forces that drive the boomer generation’s aspirations for wealth, comfort and political power.
As a disenfranchised, alienated and terminally riled up human, Grover seizes the opportunity for expression that experimental rock music allows people within the margins of pop culture: to hurl forth his disgust at the insidious power structures and inequalities that dominate everybody’s lives. Here is a man slamming his body, mind and soul against the prison walls of society’s norms. To witness Grover in action, fronting TRM or the noise duo Dead Boomers, is to feel in danger of one’s own safety, in danger of losing one’s mooring in the safe comfort of entertainment and spectacle.
The engine room of TRM is made up of drummer Evelyn Morris (of Pikelet fame) and Leith Thomas on bass. Even more than on previous releases Cockroaches (2006), Roaches (2006) and Taste The Rainbow (2008), these cats really know how to swing. There is an elasticity to their groove, which raises them above the kind of mindless bludgeoning that often passes for intensity in the noise-rock genre. The metallic clang of Thomas’s strings merges with Morris’s idiosyncratic syncopation to form a rhythmic bed of nails on which writhes the minimalist guitar of Scott O’Hara. With very few strokes he conjures worlds of difference from an instrument that should by rights have reached the limits of its expressiveness by now.
Not unlike The Stabs’ Brendan Black, O’Hara favours the sea-sick, see-sawing sway of two-chord riffs, but discovers within these seemingly reductivist patterns a wealth of overtones, discordant scree and warm washes of distorted joy. Having cut his teeth in sadly under-valued Adelaide lo-fi mavericks Hardy Coxon during the early 2000s (Fans of early Dead C would be well advised to track down their EPs Eniwetok Atoll 1 and 2), O’Hara now is the unassuming Zen master of controlled chaos, a wizard of wig-out, who bows to no known guitar gods.
On Termites, the juggernaut that is TRM lumbers through a set of generally brief missives, sometimes with furious velocity, sometimes with a tight-lipped, seething menace. In typical fashion, they never overstate their points or labour a particular musical motif for too long, but at the heart of their noise there are always strong songs.
Surprisingly, songs also feature more prominently on the new album by Grover and Thomas’s extreme noise duo Dead Boomers. Initially this group was conceived as a side project, in which the two musicians, who also run the Sabbatical record label together, could more fully explore their appetite for abstraction. The Dead Boomers concept emerged out of Melbourne’s fertile experimental music scene, based around the tiny lounge room and warehouse gigs that have become a regular part of the city’s live music scene over the last few years.
Instead of utilising a PA, the duo would set up a monolithic tower of heavy-duty bass amplifiers in the centre of the room and generate bone-crushingly resonant sound scapes. For this, they used an array of electronic effects to manipulate the harsh sounds created by a de-tuned and floor-prone bass guitar, which usually received a good kicking from Thomas, and a contact microphone enclosed in a tin full of nails as a percussive device. On top of the resulting din, Grover’s stream-of-consciousness rantings would be distorted beyond recognition.
For many noise performers, this kind of mayhem might have been an end in itself, but having created something so violent and pure, the pair contemplated exactly what this improvised roar could become a vehicle for, and how to translate it into a recorded format without losing too much of its visceral impact. As a result, Dead Boomers have twisted and hammered their extremism into something that almost resembles songs. The Pig In The Python incorporates silences and dynamics into their music, and thus situates them closer to the pioneering industrial sounds and Wagnerian romanticism of Germany’s Einstürzende Neubauten than the relentless assault of Whitehouse or KK Null.
Crucial to this development is Thomas’s jettisoning of the bass guitar as noise generator in favour of a custom-built device that consists of an amplified piano wire mounted on a length of galvanized iron tubing. The sound this instrument creates can be in turns sharply metallic, yet also warmly resonant, adding an unexpected dimension of subtlety to Dead Boomers’ noise.
To capture this expanded arsenal of textures, Grover and Thomas decided to record with engineer Neil Thomason at his reputable Melbourne studio Headgap, rather than follow the customary DIY route of home recording. The relationship had already been established with TRM, but applying more conventional approaches to sound recording to their sonic explorations has been a a genius move that’s really paid off. The result is an album of baffling scope, that defies the hermetic one-dimensionality often associated with the more extreme end of the noise genre.
It’s still almost impossible to make out what Grover is singing about, but it hardly matters really. As with the anarcho-punk of Crass, or the ultra-velocity of Napalm Death, the sentiment is conveyed in song titles or a few semi-decipherable phrases on the edge of audibility. More than Dead Boomers’ previous cassette releases Sharon Stone/Michael Douglas (2009) and Family Money (2010), The Pig In The Python marks them out as serious contenders in the small, but highly esteemed field of cutting edge experimentalism in Australia.
Truly, this is music that goes beyond the safe and acceptable margins it is supposed to inhabit and busts the field wide open. Somewhere over there in no-man’s land, they are waiting for everybody else to catch up. It’s a challenge that deserves to be thrown out there, and one that needs to be taken up by other artists.