Chatter within Brisbane’s The Bearded Lady had one common topic: the Nazi flag incident. The previous week, a punk band caused outrage when two dim-witted members unveiled a Nazi flag. It reeked of desperate attention-seeking, especially compared to the sonic provocations of Melbourne noise legends Primitive Calculators.
Formed in 1978, Primitive Calculators existed for two years in their first incarnation; releasing a tiny recorded output and featuring in the Michael Hutchence-starring cult film Dogs In Space. Since reforming in 2009, they’ve continued exploring the ugliness of electronic music and Australian culure (singer/guitarist Stuart Grant holds the distinction of offending commentator Andrew Bolt for, um, drinking tea). In support of their latest album, On Drugs, Brisbane fans embraced the ugliness made by the band Louis Foster of The Goon Sax called “the most important Australian band this century”.
Primitive Calculators’ legacy was felt in local duo LILITH. Singer Diana Plaza took her mic to a metal sheet as musician Raquel sampled the wobbles and taps. The sounds merged together into an industrial grind, and Plaza slowly prowled through the crowd. In the centre of the room, Plaza barked and moaned, and the audience’s intrigue grew alongside her intensity.
Local trio The Goon Sax further refined their scrappy indie pop with their second album, We’re Not Talking, and their musicianship has since become tighter. Riley Jones has become an impeccable drummer; her cowbell gallop gave a frazzled energy to “She Knows”. “This song’s from when we were little,” said Foster as he introduced “Boyfriend”. Their talent enhanced their debut single and showed just how far they have come.
Screeching synths and a jackhammer beat signalled the arrival of Primitive Calculators. Instead of the original line-up, Grant was joined by singer Mo Louise and noise maker Chris Wenn. Grant stood on the lip of the stage with his toes hanging over. As Wenn’s fists slammed his devices, Grant’s strumming hand convulsed and overwhelmed the room with deafening static.
Grant’s misanthropic sense of humour was on display throughout. He introduced “Evil” as written for Justin Timberlake. “When you hear it, you’ll hear its groove’s got JT baby written all over it,” he joked. His proclamation was met with laughs, but underneath the howls of guitar distortion was a beat that had fans moving as Grant screamed, “I am Hitler!”
This new focus on grooves was apparent on their classic track “Pumping Ugly Muscle”, a song he wrote “when I was fucking 18 before most of you cunts were born, which means that I’ll probably be dead soon”. Wenn contorts his electronics into violent blasts of static and a thumping beat that’s felt deep inside the chest. Grant’s angry Dalek-voice is joined by Mo Louise belting out the song’s refrain. The combination of Mo Louise’s diva vocals and the quickening beat mutated the song into a mongrel dance track. It’s different to its original recording, but both the song and the band are ugly beasts that move unpredictably.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The reviewer attended the performance at Brisbane’s The Bearded Lady on Saturday 12th January 2018.