The Null Device


As the Triffids' Born Sandy Devotional gets rereleased by super-trendy Indie™ label Domino Records (presumably adding some gravitas to their current roster, which leans towards ephemeral, facile Carling-indie), The Age looks at the phenomenon of how so many Australian bands attained critical acclaim abroad, often succeeding in Australia only after the UK and Europe, if at all:

The curators of Kunstencentrum België are still raving about "the importance of the Triffids (to) musical developments from the '80s onwards, and their influence on diverse musical movements afterwards". The Belgians are flying in the surviving members as guests of honour at a Triffids music and memorabilia retrospective next week. Then the band goes to London, where Islington Council has approved the unveiling of a plaque on the hallowed site where their Born Sandy Devotional album was made 20 years ago.
A lot of the Australian indie exodus, argues Australian popular-music historian Clinton Walker, was caused by Australia's oppressively (pub-)rockist monoculture at the time:
To illustrate why the Triffids left Australia, Graham Lee opens the Born Sandy Devotional CD book to a photo of a Queensland pub's events board: "Friday: stubbies welcome nite. Saturday: Triffids with Phil Emmanuel's Rockola. Sunday: wet T-shirt competition."
Dave Graney also recalls the '80s indie exodus in terms of cultural conflict. "These inner-city bands didn't want to engage in pub rock. They couldn't. Famously, the Scientists opened for the Angels at Parramatta Leagues Club (in 1983) and they were bottled off stage.
(Though what of the famous "little band" scene, as celebrated in documents like Dogs In Space? Was that merely the urban fringe of the rockist hegemony, as unwelcoming to those not sharing its Aussie larrikin values as the audience at a Rose Tattoo gig, an oasis of cosmopolitan bohemianism accessible to a lucky few who found it, or a bit of both?)

Of course, then came JJJ going national, and after the shockwaves of grunge going mainstream in America reached Australia's shores, pretty soon you had Big Day Out, major-signed local "alternative" bands (most of whom were parts of an equally rockist grunge monoculture) on JJJ, and then it's not long until Killing Heidi were selling mobile phones on television. Though then there was sufficient open-mindedness in the new Australia for vibrant and cosmopolitan scenes to flourish in the inner cities (well, mostly Melbourne, with smaller scenes in places like Brisbane and Perth; Sydney hadn't recovered from the two-pronged onslaught of poker machines and its community radio station being ripped out of its heart and refashioned into a deracinated national "youth" broadcaster, though things appear to be much better there these days), producing a rich ecosystem of original bands, which continues to this day.

Even if he was still with us, it's unlikely the Triffids would have been invited to play Wide Open Road at the Countdown arena spectacular in September. Instead we'll celebrate their stay-at-home contemporaries: Kids in the Kitchen, Uncanny X-Men, Mondo Rock, Pseudo Echo, Real Life. In Perth the local heroes will be the Eurogliders.

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In an attempt to remake the ABC in its own conservative, monocultural image, the Australian government has appointed a controversial right-wing historian, known for his ad hominem attacks on opponents, to its board:

Mr Windschuttle has been a fierce critic of the so-called "black armband" view of history and claimed in his 2002 The Fabrication of Aboriginal History that massacres of Tasmanian Aborigines had been exaggerated.
The eight-member board already includes right-wing columnist Janet Albrechtsen and conservative anthropologist Ron Brunton.
Those on the "anvil" side of the culture war, of course, protest loudly.
Historian Stuart Macintyre, who has often crossed swords with Mr Windschuttle, said: "The whole point about a public broadcaster is to be a place of a plurality of views. A precondition for that is that the people who are directing it respect that role and don't try to declare other views to be illegimate in the way that Windschuttle has."
It is unclear how much power the board will have over the ABC's day-to-day operation, though the day is getting nearer when the Australian national broadcaster becomes a big hammer in the culture war, the stern, paternalistic voice of the Howard government, dictating the official party line on issues, from current politics to history to culture, and consigning un-Australian views to the wilderness by omission or one-sided dismissal. Then, once it is a trustworthy organ of the government, maybe it will once again get some decent funding.

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The Irish government has threatened to search all US aircraft landing on its airports after a manacled military prisoner was found on one such flight from Kuwait. This comes in the wake of the "extraordinary rendition" row. Of course, were this to happen, the US could just shift its refuelling to Britain; even if the British government were to do the same (which is unlikely, at least on Blair's watch), British police might not have the jurisdiction to search aircraft landing at US bases.

Meanwhile, new testimony about Howard Hughes' secret night flights to visit a prostitute with a diamond in her tooth looks set to reopen a lawsuit from a former petrol station attendant who claims that Hughes left him US$156M in his will.

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