The debut album by Sydney punks Low Life is wild and abrasive, offsetting each dose of escapism with a fierce dose of reality, writes MAX EASTON.
In [true Low Life form](/articles/4611696), the recording of their first LP, Dogging, has been storied and tumultuous. A substance-fuelled mess of [thrown-up thickshake](http://alowlife.tumblr.com/post/13688419359) damaged the first recording session back in 2011, while further delays followed the initial plan to release the record through Negative Guest List in honour of Brendon Annesley (whose request that Low Life cover Gary Numan’s [?M.E.?](https://www.youtube.com/watch’v=Wea8ZQ0II4g) was eventually granted in a characteristically rugged version.) Their sporadic gigs in the meantime were known to derail at a moment’s notice or were cancelled altogether, creating a three-year period that left the album in a confusing state of flux.
Through the split effort of Disinfect and R.I.P. Society, though, Sydney’s most unreliable punks finally have their record on the shelves. But it’s not like there was ever a perfect time for a Low Life release – Dogging was always going to be more timeless than timely.
There’s an escapist allure to this album. Its world can take off into something that can feel fantastical or exaggerated, but it always comes back to a place that’s very grounded. It’s like blearily flicking through the channels of primetime TV: the cast of Friends* appears reimagined as scumbag passers-by, members of the NRL commentary team take the field and the album’s maniacal characters feel like those the middle class watch distantly on *A Current Affair. But with each dose of escapism comes a fierce dose of reality. If you’re ever lost in their comedy-punk mire, you’re promptly snapped back to focus with what sounds like someone drunkenly yelling down your alleyway at two in the morning.
Dogging* is an abrasive document of Sydney’s most fucked-up characters. They lie glassy-eyed on the floors of housing commission flats, start fights at the greyhounds and then go home to stare at film clips with their pants around their ankles. There’s not a character in any of these songs that you wouldn’t consider crossing the road to avoid, and they’re represented with a voice so convincing that you don’t know whether they’re being celebrated or condemned. If in the past Low Life’s sense of humour had been mistakenly suggested to be the result of inauthentic bravado, the moments that take the piss on *Dogging are unmistakable, but the laughs don’t make it any less confronting.
?It’s all part of a fearless approach that gives no consideration to bad taste.?
From the bent highs and soccer hooligan vibe of ?Hammertime? to the rabid desperation of ?Speed Ball? (which seemingly glorifies the practice of directly injecting a mixture of heroin and cocaine), Dogging steps defiantly into uncomfortable territory. It asks you to get carried away with some things you may find morally challenging and then, once you give in, it stares at you blankly and asks why you would do such a thing. But that’s satire, and it’s all part of a fearless approach to songwriting that gives no consideration to bad taste. You just have to trust that when Low Life chant, ?Three big men doing three strong things/Lots of little women doing lots of little things? on ?DNA?, they’re mocking the patriarchy rather than laughing from the top of it.
Beyond the comedy and menace lie moments of sad clarity, like the desperate fantasising of Rihanna on ?Dream Machine? and hints of hesitance behind the aggressive deliveries (?I never asked for this,? the family man of ?Dogging? spits before beginning his tirade.) Truth is, it reflects the world around them more honestly than anyone really has in Australian music for a long time. This brand of skewed masculinity, thuggery and self-abuse is usually mimicked or mocked without understanding. Instead of overworked performance art, Low Life trade all the extraneous bullshit for ferocious gusto.
Dogging is a wild record, aggressively taking society to task while it subverts and reflects it through a haze of ragged guitars. All the caricatures and wayward musical ideas come together in this ball of satire and filth that is a lot smarter than the larrikin fa’ade the band present. After all, the inner-sleeve circles a pair of inverted southern crosses with the words ?Low Life. Thug Life. Punk Life. Lad Life,? while the cover features a CCTV screenshot of frontman Mitch Tolman blowing bassist Cristian O’Sullivan. Harbor city gutter trash indeed.
####?Dogging? is out now through [R.I.P. Society](http://ripsociety.bigcartel.com/)/[Disinfect](https://www.facebook.com/disinfectrecords). Low Life launch the album at Boney in Melbourne on [Saturday, June 28](https://www.facebook.com/events/1429423287325803) with The UV Race and Ill Winds, and support Ruined Fortune at Newtown Social Club in Sydney on [Friday, July 11](https://www.facebook.com/events/1428163687454539) along with Holy Balm, Point Being and DJ Hydro Majestic.