SCIENTISTS - GRUNGE GOING GLOBAL, from Rolling Stone, 1983
The news that the Scientists are about to leave Australia — as permanently as is possible — will doubtless barely cause a ripple in Oz-rock’s Halls of Acceptance. Which, of course, is part of their reason for leaving. It’s the same old story — the same as experienced by the Birthday Party, the Go Betweens, the Moodists — a group makes an original noise, records independently, finds a limited audience, but eventually becomes frustrated because there’s nowhere else to go, within Australia at least. So they head for greener pastures.
The Scientists’ brand of post-punk neo-rock & roll is a snarling, wild beast, a tooth-and-claw attack that Australians at large don’t seem to appreciate at all. When the group played a support gig with the Angels at a suburban Sydney RSL club late last year, they were greeted by a barrage of abuse and beer cans so thick they were forced to leave the stage. But there’s no doubt the Scientists are an important Australian group who deserve better treatment than that (anybody would!) and will just as likely find it in England.
‘We’ve done about as much as we can do here,” Scientist-in-chief Kim Salmon told me. ‘1 think because we play to a minority — a large minority — we’re a band that’s musically on the move, our sights are set ahead of us. You often find that people will come in at a certain time and identify with what you’re doing, and then maybe not appreciate the changes you’ll make. That’s a gross over-simplification; what I’m saying is that it gets frustrating, you need to play to a wider and more varied group of people.
Indeed, the Scientists are a group that’s undergone a lot of changes through their six-year life-span. Originally formed in Perth in l978, they moved from a brash, New York Dolls-influenced base to a (power-)poppier conclusion, cutting a couple of singles and an album before they broke up in 1980. Drummer James Baker would eventually join the Hoodoo Gurus in Sydney, while singer/guitarist Kim Salmon set to assembling a new Scientists. With Tony Thewlis on guitar, Boris Sujdovic (formerly of the Rockets) on bass and Brett Rixon on drums, the group left Perth for Sydney late in 1981, a different group to the Scientists of yore.
They looked different, to begin with, different to everything, a quartet of shaggy-topped, lean torsos wrapped in supremely tacky, psychedelic outfits. The Scientists had wilfully grown ugly.
I asked Kim Salmon if he thought it was a different group.
“Not in ideals,” he replied. “The approach and the sound were different, but the ideals were the same.”
“Ideals” is a word that crops up a lot in conversation with Salmon, as does “spirit”; even though he’s shy and a reluctant orator, it’s obvious he’s a man totally dedicated to realizing his vision of rock & roll, a vision shared implicitly with the rest of the Scientists.
It was l982’s “Swampland” single (on the Melbourne independent label Au Go Go) that really established the Scientists (in fact, it’s still sitting near the top of the indie charts). Comparisons with the Stooges, Suicide, the Cramps, even the Birthday Party, were to be expected but the Scientists occupied a niche of their own, and they were digging deeper.
“There’s a Scientists’ sound itself. Some people have just got it. There was an awful lot of them in the Fifties, and,” he laughs, “there’s been less and less ever since. You listen to something that’s got that style about it, that class, and you identify with it. And it inspires you; you think, I’d like to do that. But you don’t do it by copying, you do it by trying to capture that spirit.”
And that spirit abounds in the Scientists. The Blood Red River mini-album, released early last year, was a consummate achievement, the Scientists’ coming-of-age. Bass and drums thundered, guitars wailed, Salmon howled. A great part of the Scientists’ strength lies in the chemistry, for want of a better word, that exists within the group; their rapport makes possible musical flights — the Scientists actually do improvise on stage — that transcend the structured. The Scientists are a driven group.
Song titles like “When Fate Deals Its Mortal Blow,” “Burnout” and “Rev Head” tell part of the story. “Anybody who writes songs sets out to convey some sort of feelings,” Salmon admits, “but if you asked me what a song was about I couldn’t tell you. Besides, the songs are supposed to do that; that’s what they’re for.”
Since the release of Blood Red River, the Scientists have maintained an accessible profile, but it’s because so few challenges remain, or present themselves anymore in Australia, that the group must leave. They played an under-publicized farewell tour late last year, so there won’t be another opportunity to see them. But a new single, “We Had Love” — possibly the most relentless racket the Scientists have yet made — has just been released, and a new EP is completed, for release shortly. The recent tendency with the Scientists is to shorter, more concise songs; how would Salmon describe the EP?
“Well, really, it’s just closer to what we’ve always wanted to do: it’s a process of perfection. It’s got a sense of humour about it, and it’s really wild and over-the-top, and it’s irreverent — the way we’ve always liked to do it really.”
Finally, on the eve of the Scientists’ departure, what sort of hopes does Salmon have?
“I’d like to be big,” he smiled. “Successful! Isn’t that what everybody wants? And to make money our of it as well. I mean, devotion, and love of what you do, can get you so far, but the rewards have got to start coming in soon.”
They should. It’s just a shame the Scientists have to go to England to look for them