method records and music - The I-94 Bar
The under-appreciated heroes of the mushrooming Sydney underground scene of the 1980s were the women. Some will say it’s always been the case and continues to be so. For every Chrissie Amphlett there were many others - like Juliet Ward (Shy Impostors), Julie Mostyn (Flaming Hands), Jo Piggott (XL Capris), Annalise Morrow (The Numbers) and Angie Pepper (The Passengers) - who never made it to international mainstream stages.
This exhumed live set by Sydney’s Fast Cars’ underlines this fact. Fronted by Di Levy (vocals and guitar), Fast Cars were habituates of the small but vibrant mod scene that grew in the sweaty pubs of Sussex Street in the Sydney CBD. They occupied a place where ‘60s pop mixed with soul and the sound of what was lazily dubbed New Wave.
Sound of Sydney Volume 4 - Various Artists (Method Records and Music)
What is “the sound of Sydney”? It’s a rhetorical question, if not an outright non sequitur.
If you asked 20 different people, you’d get as many different answers. Someone young might say it’s Triple J - which would be laughable but it’s, you know, it is somebody’s reality. You can fight media fragmentation but it’s like yelling at a cloud. Boomer.
“Sound of Sydney” was a series of compilation albums- appearing in 1983, ’84 and ’86 - and the work of Method Records’ Fabian Byrne, of mod-pop band Fast Cars. They were fine records - and very diverse and that in itself was reflective of what was going on in the underground.
Jangling pop on one side and rocking power pop on the other.
Love Minus Zero were a Sydney band from the second half of the 1980s, active on both the Waterfont label and Green Fez, the Citadel spin-off. Their lineage came via mods Division 4, Suicidal Flowers and the (later) Bambalams.
Both cuts are on a forthcoming compilation of their output - if you were on the ball, you might have caught their recent reformation show - and you’ll need to be quick if you cherish vinyl singles; as this is in a run of just 100.
“Mary Mary” gets positively Beatle-esque in its employment of a trumpet over its Rickenbacker jangle. Just like the label says, it cajoles rather than confronts and has a nice psychedelic edge. “Don’t Bring Me Down” is not the Animals song. A smudge of backward masked guitar announces the song itself, a stellar pop tune led by guitarist Dario Becego's melodic vocal. The guitars rock and Joe Genua’s drumming is right on the money, too. A gem.
Life At Night 1982-1984 – Rigid With Desire/Helter Skelter (Method Records and Music)
For every band that made an impact on Sydney's fevered 1980’s underground music scene, there are a thousand that left a fleeting impression.
Rigid With Desire was the next vehicle for Fast Cars singer-guitarist Di Levi after the first, mod-pop incarnation of that band dissolved. RWD melded ubiquitous (and very underlying) ‘60s melodies with a thick applique of fashionable post-punk, neo-Goth sounds. Their impression was more than fleeting and they made a mark on the then-serious Australian indepdent charts.
“Life At Night” compiles their five recordings, including the indie chart single “Nightlife”, and two by Helter Skelter, their re-jigged, latter-day line-up.
In case you haven't noticed, trans-global duo Fast Cars kissed their mod past goodbye a long time ago. moving into dreamy shoegaze and pop-psych. On their second full-length album, “Soft – Songs of Love. Distance & Destinations”, the core of Di Levi and Fabian Byrne has staked its claim on folk-pop.
“Soft” leads with the A and B side of the seven-inch single that preceded it. “Real Love?” and the slightly acerbic “Stainless” grow with each listen, reverberating with echoes of Britpop and the faintest strains of the Church. It’s Di Levi’s elegant vocal that’s the distinctive take-out here and that rings true for all 13 songs.
Expect no in-your-face rockers on “Soft”. Fast Cars are aided and abetted by an array of guests in Australia and the UK and there's some quality playing. Melody lines and musical textures abound. On this one, Fast Cars seek to beguile rather than badger.
Revived Sydney record label Method Records and Music is crowd-funding a collection of unreleased and rare recordings by some seminal Australian artists.
“Sound of Sydney Volume 4” reprises the compilation series the label issued in the 1980s and so far includes tracks from Ups and Downs, Deniz Tek, the Hard-Ons, Happy Hate Me Nots, Even As We Speak and Fast Cars.
“The purpose of this crowdfunding is essentially a pre-sale for the latest volume of the Sound of Sydney,” says label owner Fabian Byrne, also part of Fast Cars.
“We want to press on vinyl as well as CD and print a really cool T-Shirt based on the album design which will feature one of legendary artist Peter O’Doherty’s brilliant paintings of Sydney."
A taste of the forthcoming new album, this double A-sided single single puts Fast Cars in a place of their own. It's elegiac dream pop with an edge and a long way removed from their mod and powerpop beginings.
Those Sussex Hotel days are long gone. The band is now a core duo of Sydney multi-instrumentalist Fabian Buyrne and UK-domiciled vocalist-guitarist Di Levi. The songs are children of the digital age, worked up in disparate studios and assembled across the Internet.
"Stainless" is pop song of sharp contrasts with sarcastic lyrics ("nothing sticks to you") elegantly rendered by Di Lev,i atop a bedrock of flint hard, buzzing guitars. There's plenty of space in the production.
"Real Love?" Is instantly sunny, thanks to chiming guitar, Di's lilting vocal and a lusher backing. Piano and a pulsing bass-line, buried deep in the soundscape, round things off nicely. It's a song about being alive while savouring your surroundings. Pop with a capital 'P'.
Mod was a prominent part of underground music in Australia in the ‘80s - especially in Sydney and Melbourne. While their obsession with fashion was both a defining trait and a limiting factor, the mods had a great collective ear for what made British music great in the ’60s. The same goes for Adelaide band, The Sons of Mod.
Led by expat Pom Andrew McCulloch (lead guitar and vocals) and with ex-Ratcat bassist Amr Zaid in the ranks, The Sons Of Mod evoke the sounds of freakbeat, a retrospective term for music from the harder-edge of the original mod spectrum. Think The Move or The Creation as prime examples.
No Limit: Collected Works 1985-89 – Love Minus Zero (Method Records and Music)
From the Never Quite Made It Department comes this collection of gems.
Love Minus Zero was a Sydney pop-rock band that was around in the mid-‘80s who managed to release some tracks on Waterfront label compilation and a self-titled EP on Citadel spin-off Green Fez before packing their tent.
“No Limit” is a pubic service of sorts, not the least reason being that it serves as a reminder of the embarrassment of riches that was the Sydney music scene 35 years ago.