The swirling sea mist
drifted into the Crystal Ballroom in St. Kilda in 1981. Through the haunted
house atmosphere the singer's curly bonce appeared. Pasty faced, mouth
tight like a cats' arsehole, he was crouching down in a pool of beer,
moving back and forth like a one legged seagull, warbling Orbison like,
calling up dead spirits from the bottomless lake of his hometown.
The guitarist stood on top of the PA stack, a never-before-invented chord
ringing out from his upside down semi acoustic. The bass player - string
singlet, leather pants - jaw jutting out like he was protecting the little
singer, pounded the bass strings - his forearm a 'Machine Machine'.
The drummer, painted lips sneering, rusty locks glowing, sent jungle messages
from her tom tom drum - out into the seedy metropolis of Fitzroy Street
where hash dealers, speed freaks, taxi drivers, bent business men, drunks,
toerags, transsexuals, prostitutes, the
homeless, the psychotic and the bewildered yabbered and marched up an
down the street until 4 AM.
When the Moodists tore off their 'Pure Gold Flesh' country drunks visiting
St Kilda for the weekend and art students quivered and convulsed together
on the dance floor below them.
They argued "They played it too slow"
"That's their best song"
"No it isn't"
Kids in new black threads stared -'not getting it' - as the bass player
began playing his mesmerising bass lines backwards.
Like a colonial outpost of decaying Rome the Crystal Ball room still throbbed
to the pulse of the punk rock shock administered from the other side of
the world. This morphed into an orgiastic feast of bands outdoing each
other in displays of Style/anti Style/dumb rock/ robot rock/ fem funk/tribal
techno/awkward flower pop/violence as art/noise as art/ jazz horns with
The Crystal Ballroom had stages upstairs and downstairs and music every
night of the week. You could always find a twerp in an op shop suit selling
drugs and glamour hags holding court in the Birdcage Bar. Nearly every
one wanted to start up a band.
To this scene the Moodists appeared as inbred country cousins playing
a thrilling and regressive primitivism. 'Gone Dead' was a teenage hellride
we took again and again. You couldn't hitch a ride in 'Chad's Car' because
it was full of beer cans.
The Moodists slotted in perfectly with a wildly diverse group -The GoBetweens,
Ed Kuepper's Laughing Clowns, the Birthday Party - who all played with
an exhilirating intensity. They often played on the same bills and we
followed them to other parts of town; The Tiger Lounge, The Venetian room,
The Chevron. Eventually, and naturally, the Moodists took off for greener
pastures and we only had 'Thirsty's Calling' & 'Engine Shudder' to
call upon when we wanted to drink and dance and jump around.
Malcolm Hill (musician - solo performer. At the time of the Moodists
he fronted Buick KBT and Headon)
In Melbournes late-1970s underground
culture, Nick Cave was a "Face"; in the Mod sense, a prominent
stylist. If artists were attracted to Cave, it is because they were propelled
by similar desires and trafficked in similar myths, which appeared as
a Melbourne mood. All were intent on crafting a new cultural identity
in a fusion of popular music, literature, film, theatre, art and fashion.
Identity became a kind of performance; the slippery politics of the symbol
and the psyche replaced the old politics of party and class.
When the theatrical style of Glam displaced the non-style of pub rock,
the real cultural impact of dressing up and striking a pose was recognised.
Style communicated; it transgressed boundaries, it broadcast ones
attitudes and became an attitude in itself. David Bowies many personae---alien,
soul boy, Berlin bohemian--set the benchmark, but rocks great stylists---delinquents
like Gene Vincent and wannabe poets like Jim Morrison---were rediscovered.
Dressing up inevitably meant playing a part as well. Members of Melbournes
subcultures acted out their identity, drawing inspiration from rock, art,
literature and film. Rocks most mannered performers were favoured---Bowie,
Roxy Music and the Stooges---as were those cultural precedents whose theatricality
challenged the conventions of everyday life---Dada, Surrealism, Expressionism.
In the tradition of the Romantics, the fusion of style and performance
saw a constant, theatrical articulation of subjectivity. Costume, grooming,
language, behaviour, the emotions and the intellect were joined in a celebration
of the aesthetics of outsiderism. Melbournes mood was a bohemian
one, both nostalgic and contemporary, articulated across diverse media.
The boundaries between art and life, performer and audience, amateur and
professional blurred, with the whole held together by the common realisation
that it was symbolic language that mattered, not the medium itself.
This symbolic language drew on the great modernist precedents; romanticism,
film noir, the gothic novel, black humour. Strong emotions, cathartically
expressed. Passion and intelligence struggling to be heard over each other.
Darkness and violence, poetry and machismo, along with a good deal of
bluff and name-dropping made up Melbournes bohemian pantheon. The
Southern Gothic novels of William Faulkner and Flannery OConnor
found favour. Artaud, Rimbaud and Captain Beefheart formed a new Holy
Trinity, stacked with eccentric poets.
Difference was the constant theme; new values, new media, new venues,
new hybrids, new stars. But hadnt the 60s counterculture,
and the Beatniks before them, already grafted lifestyle with aesthetics?
Werent all those allusions to modernisms avant-gardes just
the latest chapter in bohemianisms long narrative? Perhaps so, but
there real difference in artists sense of escalation---the sheer
diversity of the hybridisation---and above all in dissemination---the
rendering popular of what was once a highly specialised mix of art, ideology
and lifestyle. What began as a Melbourne mood is now a new form of culture;
a distinctively Australian voice fusing romanticism and irony, invention
and citation, energy and humour.
Dr Chris McAuliffe, Director of the Ian Potter Gallery at the Museum
of Contemporary Art ( from catalogue for the Nick Cave exhibition/shrine
at Mornington Peninsula Gallery)
I saw the 83-85 scene
in London through thick beer goggles (which may or may not prove to be
helpful). My favourite memory is drinking with you guys at the ICA during
the Gene Loves Jezebel gig, meeting John Cale there (who you kept calling
'Jack' as I recall), then getting in a car with you, Clare, and Bleddyn,
and going to some hotel near Marble Arch for after hours pints with all
those Welsh people.
I can't wait for the comp- my vinyl of Thirsty's and Shudder Engine are
starting to show their age.
The greatest plans sometimes go astray. . . Lots of pints but not the
bartender who lets me spin whatever I want. So now I am home, listening
to Thirsty's Calling, and I can see you guys before the Fall (no pun intended)-
I see you, indistinguishable from the microphone or the words coming out,
Chris not just playing bass, he was a bass, body language projecting every
note, and Clare, looking so small and sounding so huge behind the kit.
I first met you guys at that bar that ran off the side of the main room
at the Electric Ballroom in Camden- you introduced Steve (I think) as
being from Hoboken, New Jersey- "Same place as Frank Sinatra"
as you said at the time. I have no idea how I remember this stuff, but
I have a pretty good memory for good things, and for some reason I remember
lots of Moodists stuff. As I listen to Thirsty's Calling, for the first
time in probably 6 months, yeah, you guys were amazing in London 83-84,
not only musically but as people too.
Jay C. Bond, resident of Canada.....
Member since 1983
The early 80's were rough on touring club bands.
The venues were more often than not, depressing and ill-equipped for bands
and their music. As a player, you had to be tough and grind it out show
to show. Although I would not like to return to such environs to ply my
trade, I think that time spent treading the boards in places like this
really make you a better musician and gives your playing a real edge that
you can't get in the posh joints. I remember those grimy times fondly
and would not trade the education I got in those places for anything
Henry Rollins, musician.
Dave used to dance around
on stage like a dyslexic ballerina. Some called him "Pixie-Toes",
and the name stuck (though I doubt he ever heard it).
Grinding rhythm section (in the days when a female drummer wasn't out
of the norm). Handsome Steve playing his guitar as though it was a big
game fishing rod. I wonder what ever happened to the pointy shoes Dave
used to wear. I had no idea what the Moodists were on about (most of the
time), but it sounded soo damn interesting that I wanted to know more.
And so did a lot of other people. Where the trees walk downhill??!!??
The Moodists didn't come from inner-city Melbourne. I don't think anyone
could work out whether the were unbelievably cool, or just, umm, very
....the following is from Bruce as well...from
an interview at the release of the 80's compilation "just can't stop
it" early in 2002.
so I started working out of Missing Link in late 79, putting out Augogo
singles. The bands paid for everything at that stage, and got all the
money in return, so they were on Augogo in name only. I was also working
on the Fast Forward cassette magazine, and by the time Keith sold Missing
Link, I started to get serious with Augogo, putting out 12-inches by the
Scientists and the Moodists."
"There's not even a hint, on any of those tracks, of trying to have
"Gone Dead" was NME's single of the week, and they were off
overseas not long after that. The exciting thing about it was that anyone
who had anything going for them could go overseas immediately. They would
think, 'Hell, we're only going to sell to 0.0001% of the Australian record-buying
public, so we're got nothing to lose."
"There'd been a little wave before that with Radio Birdman and the
Saints, and at another level up, concurrent with this era, the Birthday
Party and the Models were making serious inroads.
"A lot of these bands couldn't play at any of the normal venues,
apart from the Crystal Ballroom, so they'd play at church halls, and at
parties in share households. It was a social scene as well - as social
as it was musical.
"Rock's a lot older", It's become more entrenched in various
systems, and there's more avenues to success within Australia now.
It was easy to break the rules. We were all involved in something we knew
no-one gave a fuck about."
Bruce Milne , Musical activist/ Au Go Go records/ Reliant Records/
Clare Moore, Steve Miller...1981
picture Bleddyn Butcher