Tagged: Mikey Young

Why Eddy Current Suppression Ring disappeared

Last December, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, the beloved garage-rock four-piece from Melbourne, released their first album in a decade. It was knowingly titled All In Good Time. Old fans got excited, but the band kept schtum. There were no pre-release streams for review, and apart from one brief spot on community radio station 3RRR announcing their new single, Our Quiet Whisper, there were no interviews.

Starting with their obtuse name – a copper ring around an electrical transformer which, indeed, suppresses eddy currents – ECSR don’t make things easy. But their guitarist Mikey Young, who also manages the group, denies they’re elusive. “If anyone wants to talk, all they’ve got to do is write to me,” he says cheerfully.

In 2010, ECSR were on the cusp. Larger independent labels including Sub Pop were courting them. Their second album, Primary Colours had won the prestigious Australian Music Prize for 2008, and their third, Rush To Relax, was enthusiastically received. It was launched at the Old Metro in Melbourne, which holds around 1,800 people. But for Young, enough was enough. “I had to question whether I’d want to go see a band like mine at a show that big,” he says.

The response of the crowd scared him. “I remember looking out and seeing how intensely passionate people were about it while we were playing, and it was a bit weird for me. I was humbled, but a bit weirded out at the same time.” There were also less welcome aspects to the band’s growing popularity: “The bigger it got, the more macho aggressiveness came into elements of our crowd.”

So they went off to do other things. Singer Brendan Huntley (stage name: Brendan Suppression) is an acclaimed visual artist and was also in the band Boomgates. Drummer Danny Young (Danny Current), Mikey’s brother, started a tattooing business. Bass player Brad Barry, AKA Rob Solid, juggles three kids, a printing day job and a hip-hop alter ego, Slab Knackers. Mikey – the band’s guitarist, and titular Eddy Current – formed band Total Control and is one of Australia’s most in-demand recording engineers.

ECSR, which in grand punk tradition had made a lot of noise with a defiantly minimalist approach, appeared to have done their dash. “I felt like we’d had a really good run, and put out three good records that seemed to belong together,” Young says. “It’s a very limited sound we have, so how long can you milk that sound and have it still be valuable? So, at the time, taking a break from it was the right thing to do.”

The first renewed signs of life came in a one-off gig headlining Golden Plains in 2016. By 2018, ECSR were hanging out in the studio as they had begun: four friends, jamming, seeing what might happen. Young had missed the band’s loose magic. “Years of not doing it, and being in bands like Total Control, where making records is a bit more of a process, I just longed for the simplicity of it all again.”

Rush To Relax had stretched the boundaries of ECSR’s sound, and occasionally went beyond them. All In Good Time is more contained and not as explosive as their first two albums, both of which were recorded in a matter of hours for a pittance. Young claims All In Good Time probably cost around $150, not including the lost working hours it took him to mix it. (“If you add $1,000 for mastering it sounds less romantic,” he says.)

Then he emailed John Dwyer from California-based Castle Face Records. That’s when Young’s real reticence becomes clear: “I said, ‘Can you just put it out without advertising or anything?’ And he wrote back and said, ‘I’ve got to sell it somehow, mate.’ And I was like, yeah, fair point … It wasn’t until the single came out that we all went, oh fuck – this is not going to be as simple and low-key as we thought.”

In a song from Rush To Relax, Anxiety, Huntley sings about being “a little scared I might fail”. Turns out the singer’s fear was shared by the guitarist, who worried that ECSR might ruin their small but significant legacy, which you can hear in the many Australian garage bands that followed them, from Royal Headache to Cable Ties. At least, he says, “we’re not embarrassed” by All In Good Time.

As for future plans, who knows? “It’s probably fear,” Young admits. “When things get to a certain size, I just want to run away and start something else.” For now, with ECSR touring in April, we can be grateful to have them back. Young is grateful, too. “To go back to something like that, where something can be so simple, and joyous, was great, and that’s all that matters.”

First published in the Guardian, 14 February 2020

The Great Australian Songbook III (30-21)

Following on from the previous thread, as the title suggests, here’s tracks 30-29.

30. YOTHU YINDI – Treaty (1991)

Did this song start a national conversation, or just get people dancing? Actually, scarily, it managed to get politicians dancing, spurring some very awkward shuffling by certain members of the ALP after Paul Keating’s famous “victory for the true believers” in 1993. I’m sure there’s incriminating evidence of Ros Kelly and Gareth “Gareth” Evans out there somewhere. But buried under the Filthy Lucre dance remix is a great song sung in both English and Yolgnu/Matha, written by Mandawuy Yunupingu with help from Paul Kelly and Peter Garrett. It was the first song by a predominantly Aboriginal band to chart in Australia (reaching number 11), and peaked at number six on the Billboard dance charts in the US. In 2009, the song was added to the National Film and Sound Archive.

29. DADDY COOL – Eagle Rock (1971)

I’m nowhere near as crazy about this song as those who routinely put it in the top 10 of these kinds of lists (APRA had it right up there at number two, behind Friday On My Mind), but I’m not about to deny its charms either, from Ross Wilson’s opening exclamation “NOW LISTEN!” down. Word is that Sir Elton John was so inspired by the song after an Australian tour that he wrote Crocodile Rock in response. It’s also considered traditional at the University of Queensland to drop your daks when it’s played on the local campus bars. Maybe that’s why it, too, is in the National Film and Sound Archive. You just can’t argue with that level of cultural significance, can you?

28. RADIO BIRDMAN – Descent Into The Maelstrom (1977)

Ann Arbor, Michigan native Deniz Tek isn’t solely responsible for bringing the Detroit rock action of the MC5 and the Stooges to Australia when he founded Radio Birdman as a medical student in Sydney in the mid 1970s – there were many other record collectors who had already picked up on it, not least a guitarist from Brisbane called Edmund Kuepper. But Tek still deserves a huge amount of credit. This song, for me, is their finest four minutes. It’s pure excitement, from the rolling thunder of Ron Keeley’s opening drum salvos to Rob Younger’s adrenalised vocals, telling a Tek tale about a surfer dragged out to sea. It’s a pretty good metaphor for the song itself: you think you can ride this monster wave, then Tek’s extended pipeline lead break sucks you under. (Check out the video – half the audience at the Marryatville Hotel in Adelaide is going bonkers, while others can be seen covering their ears!)

27. EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING – Which Way To Go (2008)

There’s something about Eddy Current Suppression Ring that reminds me, inescapably, of Midnight Oil. Like Peter Garrett, Brendan Huntley really can’t sing. Nonetheless, he’s a great frontman, with a unique dance step to boot. And like the Oils, each member of Eddy Current perfectly complements the other. You won’t get a better example of their chemistry than this seamlessly constructed song, where the bass carries most of the melody, the guitar adds texture (until Mikey Young drops in the most exquisitely logical of solos) and the drumming matches Huntley for urgency. There’s something both universal and comic about the singer’s inability to make up his mind, and the fact that he can barely keep time with a band that’s otherwise in perfect lock-step somehow only adds to the charm.

26. KYLIE MINOGUE – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (2001)

Like Which Way To Go, the beautiful symmetry of this song’s arrangement is the key. Like Giorgio Moroder’s production on Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, its strength is its minimalism, reducing dance music to a pulsebeat. At just the right tempo, with just the right amount of melody, and a lyric that seems to be about pop music itself, it’s a song that lives up to its name – but in that good way.

25. THE AVALANCHES – Since I Left You (2000)

A sound collage composed entirely from samples, it’s hard now to divorce this song from its iconic accompanying video – a story of two trapped coal miners which perfectly captured this wistful song’s odd, ineffable beauty. But it still works a treat on its own. Moving away from the late 1990s Big Beat electronica/plunderphonics of the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, the sound of Since I Left You is gentle and nostalgic, conjuring the Beach Boys and obscure French pop records. The song reached number 16 in the UK charts, with the album of the same name featuring high up on end-of-year (and end-of-decade) lists around the world. Oz rock didn’t end here, but Since I Left You finally forced the local industry to recognise dance music’s artistic legitimacy.

24. GOD – My Pal (1988)

Teenager Joel Silbersher had this song’s circular five-note riff in his head for years before one day, in the shower, the lyric came in a rush: “You’re my only friend / You don’t even like me!” Recorded when most of the band were 17 (the video above captures Silbersher with braces still on his teeth), My Pal was GOD’s first single, and it was such a towering feat that, unfortunately, it overshadowed everything else they ever did. Tim Hemensley joined Bored! before going on to form the mighty Powder Monkeys; he died in 2003. Guitarist Sean Greenway, who went on to the Freeloaders and Yes Men, died in 2001. Both barely made it out of their 20s.

23. ICEHOUSE – Great Southern Land (1982)

Iva Davies has always sounded like a poor man’s David Bowie to me, but this song still puts me under a spell wherever I happen to hear it. Like some Antipodean Born In The USA, it’s often mistaken for a cheesy patriotic anthem, but in actuality it’s no more nationalistic than any of Sidney Nolan or Russell Drysdale’s more nightmarish landscapes. Perfectly paced and executed, Great Southern Land’s sparse arrangement and echoing vocals add to the impression of vast, empty space, giving the track a panoramic feel. A few years later, the Triffids’ Wide Open Road replicated this song’s single-note, droning keyboard intro to similar effect.

22. INXS – Original Sin (1984)

For INXS, this was the track that launched them from Australia’s beer barns onto the world stage. Produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, it’s a muscular funk track, underpinned by Andrew Farriss’ opening keyboard hook and with Michael Hutchence’s voice at its best – his falsetto leap at 3.12 remains startling and spine-chilling. This is a song where every part serves the whole, right down to Kirk Pengilly’s excellent closing saxophone break. Check the video for the best collection of mullets the 1980s ever tossed up.

21. NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – The Mercy Seat (1988)

In a word: epic. Nick Cave’s tale of a man facing the electric chair for a crime of which he’s “nearly wholly innocent, you know” is his Like A Rolling Stone, tackling the big questions: life, death, good, evil, truth, guilt and innocence. Sonically, it’s an overpowering assault: leading off the album Tender Prey, the song is seven minutes plus; the single is more powerful for being slightly condensed. Later covered by Johnny Cash, leading Cave to proclaim something along the lines of “Johnny Cash has covered one of my songs, so the rest of you can fuck off.” Fair enough.