Tagged: Royal Headache

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

Iggy Pop: World’s forgotten boy just wants to be loved

“Hey! Turn the lights on, I want to see everybody,” shouts Iggy Pop. And he grins that huge, irrepressible grin. Here he is, on the lip of the Concert Hall stage of a sold-out Sydney Opera House, with thousands of ecstatic fans cheering back at him. And he can’t get enough: he extends his hands, accepting everyone’s love and joy, touching that famously bare, Florida-tanned and now ever so slightly pot-bellied torso, as if to smear it upon himself.

“You’ve made me very happy,” he says, in all sincerity. But he’s no happier than anyone else in the room, after 21 of the greatest songs of all time that were never hits. Well, Lust For Life almost was, after its immortal tom-tom rhythm jump-started the film of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting. But that was in 1996, 19 years after its original release. Nothing else, other than Candy (not played this evening) ever came close.

I’ve started this review at the end of the show for the sake of some context. How could Lust For Life not have been a major hit in 1977, the year punk broke? The answer is that the death of Elvis Presley meant that Iggy’s label at the time, RCA, poured its resources into reissuing the King’s catalogue at the expense of promoting what should have been the biggest success of the World’s Forgotten Boy’s career, just when he thought his Chinese rug was at hand.

At the Opera House, Iggy pulls out this eternal opener or showstopper (it’s not really an in-between sort of song) fourth in the set, right after The Passenger. Most of the remainder is drawn from the deep well drilled by the Stooges, whose three pre-punk albums between 1969 and 1973 sold bugger all, except to those who had their minds so blown that they formed their own bands, who duly passed the torch to the next generation, et cetera. And so, here we are.

There are so many layers of improbability about this – Iggy Pop at the Opera House – that it almost defies belief. The first, of course, is that Iggy is still alive, having outlived not only his closest peers and mentors, David Bowie and Lou Reed, but all but one core member of the two original Stooges line-ups (James Williamson). Not to mention countless less fortunate musicians who shuffled off this mortal coil after sustaining seemingly far less damage.

This Sunday, the man born James Osterberg celebrates his 72nd birthday. He looks as healthy as a horse, an obvious limp from a bad hip notwithstanding, meaning that supple physique of his can’t move quite like it used to. Iggy’s voice, however, is in unbelievably good shape, whether he’s deploying his rich baritone on the sleazy dancefloor crawl of Nightclubbing or summoning the terminally bored teenage whine of No Fun.

That song sees Iggy invite dozens of fans on stage with him, in scenes reminiscent of a similar crowd invasion at a Royal Headache gig in 2015. This time, though, no cops are called to break up the party. And here, some scepticism is understandable. Has the man who wrote Gimme Danger lost his edge, now his songs have reached a level of mass acceptance that allows him to perform at a venue such as this?

One promotional poster for this gig features a famous image of the youthful Iggy Stooge photoshopped standing atop the sails of the Opera House. The Opera House is intimate enough that, had he chosen, Iggy could have stepped straight off the stage and had the crowd hold him aloft by his ankles, in a recreation of the iconic scene from the Cincinatti pop festival in 1970 (before he started smearing himself with peanut butter).

Really, as he sings on a cover of Bowie’s Jean Genie, he just “loves to be loved”. So much so that it’s easy to forget how deeply shunned Iggy Pop once was, decades before he became an object of adulation. Now, he can open with I Wanna Be Your Dog and close the set with Real Cool Time – two songs that defined the fine line between stupid and clever long before Spinal Tap – and, well, it’s like hypnotising chickens.

For the encore, Real Wild Child is a clear nod to his Australian audience (both for its debt to Johnny O’Keefe, and the Generation Xers who have grown up with it as the theme from Rage), followed by a much bigger surprise, as Iggy’s band bulldozes their way through Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand. Everyone is beaming, none more so than the superhuman on stage. It’s totally life affirming. Call it hip-replacement rock if you want: he’s Iggy Pop, and you’re not.

First published in The Guardian, 16 April 2019