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Various Artists – Knife Culture: Buried Melbourne

These days, it seems that there are few compilations in the bottomless abyss that is post-industrial music that stand out from the crowd, let alone many that try to accomplish something important for their respective scene(s) outside of a typical collection from a label’s roster or a simple genre run-down.  Earlier this year, Germany’s L. White Records unleashed a three-disc compilation in “Bestial Forces” that took fifty of America’s best (and a few not so great) power electronics artists and featured them in one place — a feat that was celebrated as one of the most extensive and, frankly, best compilations ever to feature abrasive artists from a specific region.  While the celebration of this compilation was certainly warranted, a year earlier, a small Australian label in Sabbatical was quietly already taking it one step further by compiling a two-disc set of quality artists in the noise/industrial and experimental underground from one specific city — Melbourne.  Certainly one could imagine an effort like this coming out of Chicago, Houston, or New York City, but Melbourne?  Pleasantly surprised we were, and you may be as well.

This compilation was realized in order to showcase some of Melbourne’s best, whom unfortunately, whether self-induced or not, have both suffered and thrived in what amounts to anonymity in their city.  It should be noted that every artist on this compilation has lived in Melbourne for quite some time, making this release a very specific dedication to the essence of the most raw side of their city.  None of the artists selected for this collection are well-documented or widely recognised, so don’t be surprised even as an avid noise fan if many or none of these names ring a bell.  That said, unlike the “Bestial Forces” release, this collection sticks to the experimental side of noise which, unlike power electronics, opens up a wide area of sound exploration.  Hence you can expect everything from elements of drone ambient to industrial, and a healthy serving of harsh noise.  But, genre aside, what’s more important is that this compilation seems to attempt to accurately represent the social situation of Melbourne youths whom find themselves in an increasingly violent society.  Well-known Melbourne outreach worker Les Twentyman has long sought to educate the youth of the city through graphic advertisements.  Premier John Brumby has launched a literal war on knives.  Both figures are indirectly mentioned in the album artwork in which they seem to be mocked by their mere presence — smirked at by the hooded dagger-wielding youths whom hide in the shadows in the paranoid minds of these city leaders.  The upcoming generation is one of brutality as is evidenced by the rise of violence across the board in the Western world, and if this world-wide generation could be personified and deemed the apocalypse generation, then Melbourne is undoubtedly the dripping blade swinging loosely between its fingertips.

Every artist on Disc I from Bleachboys all the way down to Wife take this violent urban vision and plug it directly into aural manifestations.  From the fragmented glitched ripping of Kristan M. Roberts to the impressive drones and noise of James Rushford and Toe Talia’s viola and percussion approach, “Knife Culture” spans a gauntlet of emotion from pure abstract fury to absolute desperate despondency.  It isn’t until Jaurez’s track “Totem” that things finally cool down for a moment in favor of a solid visceral droning effort that represents a surreal intensity towards something modestly spiritual.  Bunyip Trax artist Krystoffkrvstoffiston takes over directly after, bringing back the abrasive nature of the rest of the compilation but also continuing the lineage of surrealism that Juarez began through a blackened industrial noise track that is filtered with some bizarre effects — an otherworldly atmosphere that inevitably continues but ends with Psychward Cult free jazz freak-out style.  Justin K. Fuller (Zeond)’s track is without a doubt my favorite on the album, featuring a single six-minute drone that builds out of the void in excruciatingly lethargic fashion only to eventually become one of the fullest, most dense sounds ever recorded as a single harmonious entity — a light that unfortunately burns out far too soon as a tone that rich could be listened to for hours.  The second-to-final track also mirrors the impressive nature of Fuller’s, with Automating offering a unique take on sci-fi through experimental industrial noise with samples galore. Rob Mayson closes out this disc by giving a clinic on epic live weirdness, though the track leaves a bit to be desired through a rather unimpressive creation full of untextured multi-toned squeaks.

This sets up the opening down-tempo mood of Disc II which begins with the free percussive technique of Sean Baxter and the eerily similar sound of Mitchell Brennan & Fjorn Butler whose track again is percussive in nature but seems to indulge in field recordings.  A return to the normality of destructive sound isn’t realized until Dead Boomers makes their appearance on the album with “Adult Children Refuse to Leave” — an artist whose inclusion was imminent considering their then-forthcoming impressive LP debut “The Pig in the Python”.  Bone sheriff and Dick Threats both offer an interesting route to tonal exploration while Matthew Brown offers up the first and only hint of rhythm in the entire two disc set with a subtle effort of minimal IDM.  Aux Assembly solidifies this disc as more of an ambient dedication with an impressive soundtrack of ethereal atmospheres that follows up the only other flop on the compilation in Rod Cooper’s badly performed “2 Stroke”.  Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security through Default Jamerson’s harmonies and Dotabata’s minimal sound as Screwtape will offer one last blast of dense harshness with “Microblivion” — a track that unforgivingly arrives without notice and wastes no time kicking in your speakers which will undoubtedly by now be turned up to experience the full mix of the previous low-volume tracks.  Of the final three tracks, the crowning achievement is Ebola Disco’s cover of SPK’s “Germanik” which has a little more than an interesting take on the original.

It’s both a statement and a collection, an overall unique work that represents the label’s serious intent to support their surrounding noise brethren, a bleak social commentary that solidifies their stance as a link in the chain of a violent generation that elicits an involuntary fear from the generations ahead of them, and the criminally overlooked talent that resides in one city alone in Australia, albeit surrounded by a few unavoidable bad performances.  I’d consider this one essential for any fan of noise music with a geographical mindset, as well as those simply interested in the most underground of artists.

Track List:

Disc I:
01) Bleachboys – Bloed
02) Judith Hamann – Auxesis
03) James Rushford & Joe Talia – Battlement
04) Kristan M. Roberts – Carpet Music
05) Steve Law – The Guttural Fedement
06) Cleaninglady – MS20 Solo (Excerpt)
07) Wife – Slender Calves
08) Juarez – Totem
09) Krystoffkrvstoffiston – Blaad Poerty
10) Psychward Cult – Up Shit Creek with One Oar
11) Justin K fuller – Capital
12) Automating – Seereise
13) Rob Mayson – Drum Stool Live 20th October 2010

Disc II:
01) Sean Baxter – A.E.K.
02) Mitchell Brennan & Fjorn Butler – Heavy Trotting
03) Marco Fusinato – Knife
04) Dead Boomers – Adult Children Refuse to Leave
05) Galactagogue – Latus Rectum and his Pungent Parabola
06) Bone Sheriff – Chris Moore Jr
07) Dick Threats – Schnitzel Ears
08) Matthew Brown – Morning Star
09) Rod Cooper – 2 Stroke
10) Aux Assembly – Air
11) Default Jamerson – Higher Dimensional Space
12) Dotåbåtå – The Lithosphere Drawn Asunder (Chthonian Release)
13) Screwtape – Microblivion
14) Ebola Disco – Germanik (SPK Cover)
15) FTRG – Sliced Tape
16) Worng – Freitag

Rating: 3.75/5
Written by: Sage
Label: Sabbatical (Australia) / SBB016 / 2xCD Box
Noise / Experimental