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Bring The Ruckus: Which Music Is Superior, Australian or English?
The Quietus , April 9th, 2009 09:08

Ashes to Ashes! The Battle of the Antipodes is to be carried out between Andrew 'G'Day Cobber' Mueller and David 'What-ho Old Boy!' Stubbs over which country has the finest pop and rock music, England or Down Under

Which music rules the waves? Music from England, or from Australia? Two mighty adversaries got into the swing of things by indulging in a spot of badinage, which is published in full here.

Andrew Mueller, country and western expert, journalist and owner of many migraine-inducing shirts, has written a hilarious travelogue, I Wouldn't Start From Here, which is available in book shops now.

David Stubbs, Krautrock fanatic, journalist and bon viveur, has an engrossing book called Fear Of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen out in two weeks.

David Stubbs:

Very well, the Battle of the Antipodes is declared. On April 11, at the Mucky Pup, 39 Queens Head Street, London, N1, England shall do battle against Australia in the musical stakes. Stubbs versus Mueller. The Englishmen has thrown down the gauntlet to the Australian. The Englishman has had to explain to the Australian that what has been thrown at his feet is a “gauntlet”, lest he, in his infinite puzzlement, pick it up and throw it on a barbeque, assuming it to be a piece of raw meat, or the roadkill remains of a lesser wallabong, or some such creature.

Australian music has undergone but scant evolution. First, AC/DC, then Men Without Hats – who turn out, on closer inspection, to be Canadian. It is Andrew Mueller's invidious task to muster some sort of set from this tawdry fare. It is too much to hope that he will turn up in shoes on April 11 – these, he uses as drinking vessels. It is feared, however, he will turn up in what he considers to pass for a shirt.


Men Without Hats - Safety Dance

Andrew Mueller:

The Wing Commander is correct in declaring that on April 11th, the Mucky Pup will host an Australia vs England DJ smackdown, by way of preface to this summer's ritual reiteration of Antipodean sporting superiority. About everything else, he is wrong to a degree that would be faintly amusing were he not so tragically deluded - wronger, indeed, than Mike Gatting was to offer a half-hearted forward defensive stroke to Shane Warne's first delivery on English soil. Among the many accomplishments of people has been the refinement of popular song to something approaching perfection, the glistening sonic cathedrals of, for example, The Hoodoo Gurus and The Hummingbirds erected atop the rugged foundations laid by - credit where it's due, as is the fair-minded, egalitarian Australian Way - such relative clodhoppers as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

As for Stubbs' sneering at AC/DC let the record show that he has already, with characteristic Albionish perfidy, asked our host to impose a limit on the numbers of their tracks I may play, much in the manner of some snivelling pommy batsman whining to the umpire about Dennis Lillee bowling too many bouncers.

David Stubbs:

AUSTRALIAN "MUSIC" - A BRIEF, IGNOMINIOUS HISTORY (1)

Electric guitars were introduced to Australia in 1976 by benevolent British backpackers – until then, Australians had had to amuse themselves for the best part of two centuries by wobbling sheets of hardboard in close formation. It was only in 1978 when electricity was finally introduced to Australia that the natives of the “lucky country” were able to plug the instruments in (being in a perpetual state of cerebral and existential untroubledness is a form of “luck”, I suppose). The initial results were dismaying – several young Australians were electrocuted, having made the mistake of trying to play the guitars and surf at the same time. This culling of the mentally slow-moving of the herd did at least have the effect of pushing the national average IQ into double figures.

AUSTRALIAN "MUSIC" - A BRIEF, IGNOMINIOUS HISTORY (2)

Eventually, however, the combo AC/DC were formed, and they did succeed, with the careful sound engineering guidance of imported representatives of Civilisation, to put together a “long playing record” of sorts. Its crude, rudimentary hollerings are of principally anthropological interest (the master tape of the album is exhibited at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford). However, it did introduce, in its title, the concept of a “Highway” to Australians at large, which had hitherto been a far-off, science fictional notion. Eventually, the first “highway” was indeed built in Australia and opened in 1981, between Sydney with Melbourne, in lieu of the dirt track which had previously connected the cities.

Andrew Mueller:

Of an Englishman making fun at the expense of another country's infrastructure, it may at least be said that he is heaving gravel about his glasshouse with impressive abandon - or surmised, perhaps, that on a visit to Australia, Stubbs fell victim to a common mishap of English tourists, in mistaking some museum exhibit on laughably quaint plumbing for a currently functioning convenience, and is still embittered by the memory of the subsequent embarrassment and/or legal action. It is also richly ironic that Stubbs should choose 1976 as the year in which he "amusingly" claims that my kinfolk discovered the electric guitar. That was the precise year in which The Saints, of Brisbane, put said instrument to such sterling use on "(I'm) Stranded" - the very first punk rock single, harbinger of a movement which uncountable lesser English types would build profitable, if inferior careers on. Still, you lot have never been shy about ripping off the natives . . .

David Stubbs:

There will come a point in this back and forth in this cultural contretemps – indeed, I sense the moment lumbering tediously over the horizon as I write – when Mr Mueller will dredge up the whole business of the “bodyline” scandal of the 1932/1933 cricketing test, in which the English team devised a new bowling strategem which was, effectively, to chuck the ball at the batsman rather than bowl him out, as a means of nullifying the threat of Australian batsman Don Bradman. This, he will invoke like it's supremely relevant and has the remotest thing to do with whether Men At Work were any bloody good or not. Yes, it was ungentlemanly, this I concede. However, we were not playing gentlemen. We were playing Australians.

If you have set an apple pie aside on the window sill to cool and some cawing, uncouth creature of the wild comes flapping in to peck at it, do you play by the rules of the MCC? You do not. You bean it with whatever throwable object is to hand. So it is with Australians. The correct response to the Antipodus Pestus, whether it be Bradman, Men At Fucking Work (as minicab drivers nowadays, one suspects) or these necktieless razor dodgers as a whole, is to throw things at them. Hard.

Andrew Mueller:

While conceding that life would become rapidly intolerable for any Englishman of conscience - possibly a contradiction in terms, granted - who confronted history's truths, my adversary does need putting right on a few accounts. The "Bodyline" scandal - and scandal it was - unfolded not over a "test", but a Test (note capitalisation) series. A series won, it is true, by England, but the victory was as hollow as that of, say, a disc jockey who triumphs in a contest such as the one scheduled for April 11th by means of heaving his opponent's decks into the street. While nothing less should be expected from the Pom, as devious as he is ruthless, one hopes to avoid the necessity of paraphrasing Bill Woodfull, Australia's doughty captain during the infamous summer of 1932-33, and observing that "There are two DJs in here tonight. And only one of them is playing music."

David Stubbs

Ah, Mr Mueller. So invidious will be your task on April 11 that I almost pity you. Indeed, to give you a chance, a sort of head-start, I'm thinking of playing some English country & western for the first half hour. Then on you will come with your AC/DC, followed by AC/DC and then, some, er, AC/DC, before concluding with an unexpected medley of AC/DC, after which I shall soar away and take flight, only for you to look on with an expression of awestruck bewilderment, like a citizen of New South Wales staring and pointing at an aeroplane. I'm also thinking of allowing you to play stuff from New Zealand, Australia and New Zealand being pretty much of a muchness anyway.

Andrew Mueller:

For reasons surpassing my understanding, you seem determined to prove the truth of that old joke about the difference between a 747 and a 747 full of Englishmen - which is, of course, that the 747 unburdened by your fellow snaggle-toothed tea-slurpers ceases whining when it reaches the terminal. You will notice that I have not, as yet, engaged in any outright mockery of the music you intend to inflict on the foregathered on April 11th. This is reflective, naturally, of the abiding respect for foreign cultures for which my countryfolk are so justly renowned, whereas yours have always insisted on taking their cuisine and sports with them - a practise which would appear rather less risible were the former any good, and were you any good at the latter. Of your final crack, Sir, I will retort, with all due recognition of the gravity of the remark, thus: I would rather be a Kiwi than a Pom.

David Stubbs:

Come with me now, on a journey to the sparsely forested regions of southern Australia, to the Cape York Pensinsula. As we tread gingerly and quietly through the thickets of the woodlands, flies buzzing about our eyes and ears, weighed down by our backpacks and the effects of the humidity and the mid-30 degree temperatures, we alight at last upon our quarry. For there, in yonder treetop, sits the Koala. Keeping as silent and still as possible so as not to frighten the marsupial, we observe as it stares blankly. Fleetingly, however, its expression intensifies. For the animal is in the process of passing a bowel movement. Slowly it excretes, the upshot of a diet of foliage, squeezing from its intestine a brown stool which lands with a gentle plop at the tree's base. And that, there, that still-warm waste product, seized upon by the flies, coiled and steaming, is what Andrew will be playing at the Mucky Pup on April 11.

Andrew Mueller:

. . . while Stubbs is kept back with the rest of the remedial geography class until he gets it into his Marmite-addled brain that the Cape York Peninsula is, in fact, the northernmost tip of Australia.

David Stubbs:

Ah, so it might seem to you, standing down there in Wagga-Wagga looking upward. However, you must bear in mind that I am looking down upon Australia, from the perspective of Western Europe and Civilisation. Therefore, what is northern to you is southern to me. Upside down. Or downside up.

Andrew Mueller:

You're going to have considerable difficulty looking down your nose like that after April 11th - for that is the date upon which said proboscis will be comprehensively bloodied by the combined might of Hunters & Collectors, Ed Kuepper, Radio Birdman and Midnight Oil, among others.

David Stubbs:

Oh my gosh, Mueller, forgive my delay in responding to your latest missive but – I'm giving very serious thought to throwing in the towel! I imagined that when you entered into this thing, we'd be sticking to conventional weapons, you know, me The Beatles, you AC/DC – I never realised you'd roll out the nuclear option of Midnight Oil! You'll blow me out of the water and you know it! I beg of you, please, to keep the thing sporting, please don't push the red button marked “Midnight Oil” and annihilate me! I'd have no chance! Why, as long as there is a universe, as long as there has been a universe, there never has been, never will be as good a band as Midnight Oil! In case you haven't noticed, folks, and Mueller, being Oceanically disadvantaged is only on the point of noticing, I'm being sarcastic! Midnight Oil! You'll clear the postal district if you play that windsock full of bilge!

Andrew Mueller:

A full eight days remaining before the contest, and the fear - verging, indeed, on outright panic - in my adversary's tone is palpable. As is so often the case as Englishmen prepare to take the field against Australians, he resorts to mockery, in the deluded hope that this will distract himself and others from the fact of his inferiority, and the certainty of his defeat. Little does he realise that his contumely is all as billabong water off a duck-billed platypus's back. Like all my kinfolk, I've come to understand such sneering as essentially a cry for help, a plea for delivery from the neurotic despair which is the richly-deserved birthright of every Englishman. I'm also graciously willing to concede that, as a means of venting the repressed furies catalysed by your atrocious weather, dismal diet, and lamentable dentistry, making appalling popular music, often while wearing white socks, is at least preferable to forcing the entire world to play croquet at musket-point.

David Stubbs:

You know, Andrew, there are actually two good Australian musical acts. Yes, two. I'm not going to tell you what they are, because it's not my job to fire your peashooter for you, so to speak - but here is the thing. You wouldn't play them anyway. This is because you, sir, being of your particular, unfortunate genetic disposition are an aesthetic disaster zone. You, sir, are a man who would barbeque a crumpet. You, sir, are a man whose shirts are in dire need of some sort of volume control on the side. You, sir, are a man who, if they made Crocodile Dundee IV, would go and see it. You sir, are, in short, an Australian.

Andrew Mueller:

I'd never have picked you for a fan of Silverchair or Noiseworks, but to each his own. As to the rest of your dispatch, it seems, like a curious quantity of your pre-match rhetoric, to be founded on an assumption that my people are a fretting litter of obsequious serfs, desperately concerned about the mother country's opinion of them. Such may have been the case, back before flagrant chicanery on the cricket field, a couple of World Wars and the advent of mass air travel alerted us to the chronic moral and cultural turpitude of England - and, specifically, of the English. Today, however, we know better - in every sense of the phrase. My set on Saturday night will be, as the admittedly substantial presence in your country of my countryfolk generally is, an effort - probably futile but nevertheless worth a try - to enlighten and educate a people we now regard as more to be pitied than blamed.

David Stubbs:

Ah, the first inevitable chink appears in the banged together Ned Kelly-style suit of armour that is Mueller's defence. Already, he admits the probability of defeat, this Saturday at The Mucky Pup, fearing, as he does, the English sense of fair play which will determined that whatever Andrew plays, it will get the raspberry. I have forborne from mentioning the subject of convicts; I know how it upsets you people. However, it should be said that whereas your ancestors were forced to make the journey to Australia with rifles (and manacled, to boot), no one was similarly coercing you at gunpoint to make the journey the other way, from Australia to civilisation. Yet here you are nonetheless. The siren lure of musical excellence, as conveyed through the pages of Melody Maker, drew you to Blighty. And here you stayed. Like many others. Which is why there are now a hundred cane toads per remaining human being in Australia. Indeed, within a generation, cane toads will be your overlords.

Andrew Mueller:

Even if my people were to elevate the bufo marinus to some position of executive authority, it could nevertheless be perfectly plausibly argued that cane toads are, as occupiers of such exalted offices, preferable to a gormless rabble of lackwitted continental inbreeds, of the sort to which you English have cravenly subjected yourselves for nigh on a thousand years. Your wearisomely inevitable references to my convict ancestry, meanwhile, trouble me not in the slightest. It was during their years in chains that my ancestors developed the soul that has since animated the profound and stirring popular song for which my people are widely and fondly known - and which will, this Saturday night, show up the thin musical gruel of Albion for the crock of effete, posturing tosh that it is.

David Stubbs:

Ah, you poor, deluded fugitive from the colonies. Three words. Beatles. Stones. Who. Is it not clear to you that whatever you produce from your backpack - Ed Berk & The Bongholes, or whatever - will be about as much use to you come Saturday night as that tiny umbrella a terrified Wile E Coyote used to produce as the shadow of the giant rock descending on him grew ever larger? You, too, face a similar crushing. Beep, beep! All those years in chains and all you could come up with was "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport"? We should have chained you up a bit tighter.

Andrew Mueller:

Beatles. Stones. Who. Three bands who - as is the case with all English practitioners of popular song - owe whatever bearable qualities they possessed to another of your former colonies. Remove the American influence from any English musician, and you're left, to all intents and purposes, with George Formby - ie, an ingratiating performer of inane novelty knees-ups, with no chin, a whining voice laden with equal parts resentment and repression, and the sort of teeth only ever seen on an Englishman who is yet to have them knocked out by some more civilised person rightly wearied of the fatuous, bumptious whimsy which you people regard as a culture.

Seriously. It is an irony as rich as it is cruel that my forebears were transported and enslaved for nicking the odd loaf of bread, while yours helped themselves to entire national heritages. In a just world, there would be the same pressure upon England to return all its rock groups to the United States as there quite rightly is upon you incorrigible and unrepentant pirates to restore the Elgin Marbles to the Greeks.

David Stubbs:

And so we must offer our final addresses. I scoff at Mr Mueller's assertion that English bands owe all of their properties to the United States - as if AC/DC were somehow a pure and indigenous Australian creation, owing nothing to America. I in turn assert that whereas England has given the world high tea, fair play, gravity, superlative public services, Alan Whicker, civilisation, cricket, Monty Python, salvation from the Nazis, Battenberg cake and Tommy Cooper, Australia has bequeathed us merely sentences that end with rising intonations and dwarf hurling. Get down early to the Mucky Pup on Saturday as the landlord may well call the whole thing off at about 8 30, so obviously will victory have gone to the English, with Mr Mueller forced to slink home, corks drooping defeatedly from his hat, to ruminate on his folly. May you never hear Midnight Oil again.

Andrew Mueller:

Hastings, 1066. La Rochelle, 1372. Orleans, 1429. Medway, 1667. Saratoga, 1777. Castlebar, 1798. Isandhlwana, 1879. Kabul, 1842. Dunkirk, 1940. Singapore, 1942. Suez, 1955. Upton Park, 2003. The Mucky Pup, 2009, will scarcely represent the first blundering, arrogant failure by the English to correctly estimate the mettle of their opposition. When time is called on Saturday night, the Southern Cross will billow as proudly and impressively as the guitar solo in Cold Chisel's "Bow River", while that of Saint George is ignominiously lowered, flapping as limply as Morrissey's gladioli.

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