Various Artists

Closed Circuits: Australian Alternative Electronic Music Of The 70s & 80s Volume 1

A entertaining and illuminating compilation of electronic music from Down Under, long ago

The baby steps of punk didn’t only mean the pitter patter of a new undisciplined form of rock & roll, but also the more important beginnings – for the long term – of DIY in the music industry. The idea that punk bands sprang up everywhere and all fought their way onto Top Of The Pops, conquering the hit parade, may have been dispelled somewhat by reruns of the show; punk was small and fairly insignificant, and if you lived somewhere rural hundreds of miles away from London like I did, then it didn’t exist at all, certainly not on any radio station you could tune into.

Making your own pop only became truly egalitarian with the marketing of affordable keyboards in the early 1980s, thanks to companies like Yamaha and Casio. With their dodgy presets and tinny inbuilt drum loops, you didn’t need a band around you and you only really needed one finger to turn yourself into Depeche Mode (you wished). Nevertheless, as a pop obsessive growing up in a small town in the southwest of England, it never occurred to me that exactly the same thing (teens writing songs on inexpensive Casiotones) was probably going on on the other side of the world too – and pre-internet, why would it?

Closed Circuits: Australian Alternative Electronic Music of the 70s & 80s Volume 1 proves there was a vibrant inchoate electro scene Down Under. Historian and culture critic David Nichols has done the hard work, curating a double disc of underground synth sounds. Okay, nothing here quite sounds like it was bashed out with one finger, though none of the tracks collected on this collection are songs made by musos or virtuosos. There’s a freshness and an energy as well as an innocence that only really comes from youth discovering something anew (older people tend to be too inhibited or think it all through too much). Closed Circuits is a youthquake dancing to the unfaltering metronomic click of a LinnDrum.

As luck would have it, Metrognomes open the compilation. The music is spacious and intriguing, and the track – ‘A Circuit Like Me’ – lends the comp its name, or at least one of the words is borrowed. The similarly badly named Whirlywirld sound as though they might have imported some Joy Division records, while And An A didn’t release nearly enough material – just two singles – according to the sleevenotes. The only real stinker on the first side is ‘Shout and Deliver’ from The Reels, which is like ‘Just Say No’ by The Cast Of Grange HIll without Mmoloki Chrystie’s rap.

On side two, German Humour sound like early Depeche Mode, while Anne Cessna & Essendon Airport came together for their brief collaboration when the singer apparently volunteered her services during a conversation in someone’s front room (“I wasn’t at all sure I could sing,” she recalls in the very helpful sleevenotes). Voight/465 from Sydney have an appealingly manic Slits/B-52’s thing going on, while Models’ 1982 track ‘On’, with its catchy chant, sounds a bit too pleased with itself. The disc is completed by Distant Locust’s 1991 version of ‘I Feel Love’, which was obviously never going to be as great as the original, but you can’t knock them for having a go, and for bringing along fuzz bass and arbitrary siren noise. And if you’re wondering why a 90s track has smuggled itself onto a 70s and 80s compilation then you’ll have to take it up with the compilers.

The musical art brut continues unabated on the second disc, beginning with ‘Rock Rock Daddy’ from Jules, the only solo single released by the New Zealander, although, apparently, she sang in various bands and worked in the music industry. Bring Philip make an intrepidly rhythmic and slightly desperate, absurdist racket, while W.H.Y. do lo-fi plastic soul in a wry and knowing way that leaves you thinking it’s smart one moment, irritating the next,. Finally, Informatics sound like how you’d imagine Big Audio Dynamite might if they only had 20 quid between them.

Asphyxiation win the prize for most pornographic cover art on side four, and also most pretentious song name (‘L’Acrostique D’Amour’), though they win prizes for having an Andy Mackay-style horn parping throughout. And if you’ve ever wondered what Jean-Michel Jarre would sound like if he’d made music on the Commodore 64 and worked with a female vocalist around the time he recorded Les Chants Magnetiques, then The Dugites might be as close to that thought as you’re ever going to come in this lifetime. Shower Scene From Psycho are a bit like Shampoo, and when they sing "Cara-Lyn" it actually sounds like they’re singing "heroin:, which is more gratifying. Meanwhile Scribble – with ‘Silly Girl’ – sound as though they’re imitating Tango In The Night-era Fleetwood Mac three years ahead of its release. Scattered Order bring the most tenebrous and echoey track to the table with stabs of white noise and the lingering threat of feedback, and to finish off with, ‘Pumping Ugly Muscle’ from 1987 by Primitive Calculators sounds exactly like 1987.

Closed Circuits is an entertaining and illuminating peek into another subculture in a different time and place, and if you didn’t realise it already, you’ll happily discover a thriving, ridgy-didge independent scene that bears no relation to Kylie and Jason or Kick by INXS. And one hopes volume 2 doesn’t go walkabout for much longer.

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