Reviews

Fuck Buttons + Dead Meadow + Afrirampo

Nick Gunn

By the end of their set I felt as though I’d spent the entire hour with my head stuck between an industrial sander and a jet engine.

Fuck Buttons

Fuck Buttons + Dead Meadow + Afrirampo

City: Sydney, Australia
Venue: Oxford Arts Factory
Date: 2009-01-15

My friend Jerome put it best when he told me, “I walked past Oxford Arts last night, and all I could see was a vast ocean of pretentiousness!” A vast ocean of pretentiousness was an apt summation of the audience gathered for Fuck Buttons' first Sydney show, but what can you expect from the fans of a band that could be described as an arty noise-electro two-piece? And besides, who am I to criticise? After all, there I was front row centre. For once I was early to a show and was able to set up camp right at the front, ready for Afrirampo, whatever the hell that might be. Which is something I’m still wondering, as from the outset it was clear that this was not to be your average support act. Just to give you some orientation, here is the “Profile” taken from their website: “2 young Japanese girls rock duo from Osaka JAPAN!

Naked rock!!!!! Naked soul!!! Red red strong red dress!! Freeeeeeeeedam

paradice rock! Jump! With improvisation.

Sooo fantastic & wild performance !

wowowowowowowowow woooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They are star like shine flash, Interesting funny and sexy cute.... so real. same of in the stages or every lifetime this is great thing I think.” Which I think clears things up a bit. Oni, the band’s vocalist/guitarist, arrived onstage holding up some packaged vegetables, while Pika, the vocalist/drummer, crawled through the audience ranting in half Japanese/half English about koalas and how hungry she was. Eventually she jumped on the back of some hapless punter and refused to start the show until he carried her onto the stage. Then the girls picked up their instruments and all hell broke loose. With so many performance art affectations afoot, it would be easy to assume that the musical content might have suffered somewhat, but Afrirampo made a fearful racket. Punk riffs collided with jazz syncopation, then slid off into grinding metal chords to create sounds that can’t really be compared to anything I’ve heard before. The Boredoms have been floated as a possible point of comparison, but that doesn’t seem to do justice to the inventiveness of this band. After they’d finished their set with Oni on all fours hopping through the audience shouting “Kangaroo,” then leaping to her feet and hugging a random audience member while shouting “Koala,” we raced over to the merchandise stand and immediately bought as many of their albums as we could afford. Later we would realise that we’d been served by Andrew Hung, one half of Fuck Buttons, who explained that he’d stepped in “coz the guy who was supposed to do it called in sick!” I’m still not sure that he was joking. Maybe it was just the band’s name (“Dead Meadow” bringing to mind some dreary hippy-goth outfit), but we managed to miss almost the entire set by standing outside smoking and jabbering on about how much we loved Afrirampo. When we returned the band were jamming out on a few psychedelic wah-wah laden riffs, then took a huge bow and promptly left. Call me a terrible reviewer, but that’s the best I can do for you. For what it’s worth, those few final chords sounded pretty good. When Fuck Buttons took to the stage, it was with little fanfare, and that’s exactly how the show continued. Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung quietly took up their respective posts, facing each other across a bank of mad scientist-style electronic equipment and a robo-scan that divided them clinically with lasers and lights. In a cute touch, Hung’s equipment spilled out of a Get Smart-style suitcase, which only added to the curiosity of the whole thing. They had no time for anything as banal as pauses between tracks, instead concentrating on pummelling the eardrums of those gathered in their honor. While this work ethic is admirable, it also led to some awkward half-clapping and some severe auditory exhaustion. Although frequently jangly and ethereal, Fuck Buttons music can, and usually does, quickly become equally harsh and menacing, with their constant electronic throbbing eventually drilling its way into your brain. By the end of their set I felt as though I’d spent the entire hour with my head stuck between an industrial sander and a jet engine. Despite the aural pain, Fuck Buttons put on as good a show as two guys with a bunch of electronic stuff can. Hung danced about the stage at intervals, banging wood blocks while Power screeched into his vocal distorter about who knows what. Whenever vocals are this obscured I become twice as curious as to what they are, but nothing is forthcoming here, just the odd snatch of what could be wistful romanticising, or else a powerful rant about bathroom hygiene products. After the show we spotted Hung having a quiet smoke amidst the departing crowd. Although they can’t have failed to recognise the performer they had just spent an hour or more watching, no one was talking to him, as they were obviously far too cool. Feeling sympathetic, and having thoroughly enjoyed the show, we stepped up to fill the void and found him delightful. Q: “Seen much of Australia?”

A: “Not as much as we’d like to have.”

Q: “What’s Nick Cave like?”

A: “Intense.”

Q: “Any mad parties after the show?”

A: “Back to Dead Meadow’s apartment for a rager.” Guilty, awkward silence on our part… Q: “So what did you think of Afrirampo?”

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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