Vi-Nil retrospective casts a different light on Sydney's underground heyday
Indie Sounds From The Harbour City (1983-87) – Various Artists (Vi-Nil Records)
The Vi-Nil label lurched into life in 1983 with The Klerks and spawned more notable offspring such as the Hard-Ons and the Psychotic Turnbuckles before winding down at the end of the decade. This collection marks the label’s re-birth, and features a representative selection of its first era stable.
There are 20 tracks and it’s a diverse output, ranging from power-pop to acid punk and back to new wave and garage rock. Vi-Nil’s release of “Sockman” by the Lipstick Killers was my introduction to the label and to these ears it still epitomises the frenzied attack of the first era line-up.
The youthful antecedents of label founders John Heath and Mark Fraser don’t escape exposure with tracks from their own bands, The Klerks and The 22s respectively. The Klerks’ “I Need a Pardon” sounds like a cross between a keyboardless Pere Ubu and Tex Deadly and the Dum Dums.
Sydney may have been dancing to a backbeat married to testosterone-charged chords of doom at the time, but the lilting sax of The 22s’ “Don’t You Talk To Me About Love” (previously a cassette-only release) pushes it nearer to the territory of the Laughing Clowns than the Laughing Hyenas.
Not sure about Heath but Fraser was prominent in the street press at the time and well entrenched in the colourful Sydney scene, so the collection reflects that.
It’s the off-beat and naïve tunes that strike the sweetest chords here: “Get Lonely” by The Labradogs sounds positively teenage in its embrace of melody. They may be the band in this lot that got away. The debut Hard-Ons single “Surfin On My Face” is fresh in a way that evaded the nascent Ramones who sounded middle-aged by comparison when they appeared more than a decade earlier.
If Gulf Klub’s “India” was any more mid-‘80s it would be chewing on a Chiko Roll with its arm resting on the wound down window of a late model Monaro. Similarly, Stig Can’t Clap whose funky “Average Man” has aged well.
Howling Commandos were one of those Sydney bands that attracted the barbs of many for being jaw-jutting approximations of their Detroit forerunners and “Walk On By” doesn’t do much to dissuade from that view.
If you’ll excuse a view from close to home, “The Creeps” wasn’t the Psychotic Turnbuckles’ greatest moment but their cover of “The Crusher” remains in their set to this day and merits its inclusion. In a similar vein, the two inclusions by The Conspirators (“Twenty Five Years” and “Feel Good”) show promise that ended up elsewhere.
You won’t need to feel nostalgic to enjoy “Indie Sounds From The Harbour City” but it won’t hurt. It's on CD and double vinyl. Ben Brown’s artwork is a wonderful bonus.