If you grant for the moment that I'm writing this in June 2008, then everything you are about to hear on these recordings would have occurred anywhere between 26 and 30 years ago - I can only speak for my erstwhile self with the vaguest assurance, let alone presume to speak for any of the work my erstwhile colleagues in the Systematics were more significantly involved with than I was, outside perhaps of a few general observations. You'll notice however I carry on regardless. I mention something along the following lines somewhere below, but it bears stating upfront: feel free to ignore or contradict anything I have to say on any subject if it interferes with your enjoyment of the music, or even if you're just feeling contrary.
1.'PULP BABY' - 2 / 2 / 2 – i.e. disk / side / track
Balgowlah, New South Wales, 1978: This is the sound of 5 overdubs which have finally come to rest after bouncing back and forth between 2 domestic, or more exactly, Original Bedroom Quality radio cassette recorders - one had a lovely teak veneer, the other a nice silvery finish - and yet, considering that every time I made a mistake, which was more frequently than I'd like to admit, and that I'd have to stop each time and rewind everything back to the beginning, those poor tapes would have run across those poor heads between 50-100 times the official estimate before I was satisfied, and I have no reason to exaggerate. That's what I did in the afternoons after school. I loved it.
The lyrics for 'Pulp Baby', which were scribbled during an Economics lesson I probably should've been paying more attention to, combine adolescent problems and punch lines with surrealised Australiana, to wit:
I feel like a ratbag when I'm in
The kitchen of our home
And I love my peeled banana poked
Into the blender of your Mixmaster
We were so surprised to find the baby
In your Mixmaster
And we had the television on, but
Baby made the picture fill with snow
Now, the Mixmaster was (and let's just grant this for the moment) an unmistakably phallic object mounted on a pedestal, with 2 rotating metal blades depending from one end into a lovely round white womb-like bowl, and at the other end, a ridged black plastic glans covered with tiny white lettering. This latter device allowed you to select from a seemingly infinite array, the perfect RPMs for any imaginable mixing project, from sponge to meringue to infant. Snow was a colloquial term we had for the interference to television reception caused by, amongst other things, poorly shielded electric motors. And there you have it: puerile double entendres, household appliances, electromagnetic fields in conflict, errors in logic and grammar, a Velvet Underground reference, and the real low-down on where babies come from, At the time, this is what I thought pop music should be all about.
2. PULP BABY EP – 1 / 1 / 1-3
William St. Sydney. 1979: I played the Original Bedroom Recording of 'Pulp Baby' to a friend of mine one Saturday afternoon, a certain Tony Barrell, who also happened to be a presenter and producer for the most happening radio station in town at the time, 2JJ. I reasoned thusly: they play weird shit, this is weird shit, and ergo they will play it. Mr. Barrell suggested that that may happen; however the thing would have to be rerecorded in a studio, the prospect of which both excited and terrified me. And so, after one or two false starts due to my inexperience in any recording environment which wasn't also where I happened to bed down for the night, I lugged the good old Roland 101 into the city for a third and final time to record 'Pulp Baby' onto 4-track with the able and patient assistance of Graeme Bartlett at the levers. And yes, they did play it which surprised and excited the bejeezus out of me, and it fit in so well with the other weird shit that it was mooted around the place that possibly the thing should even be released on vinyl!
So, with a letter of introduction clutched in my hot little hand, I appeared one morning in a state of terror and excitement on the front doorstep of Doublethink, the most happening recording label in town at the time. They took one look at me, fetched the brandy, and once we had all calmed down a little, suggested that I meet with Mitch Jones and Michael Tee, who ran a small recording studio called M2 from the front room of a terrace house just around the corner, and it would be there that I could record a B-side to go along with this A-side. This I proceeded to do, and provisioned with a thermos of milky tea and a small fund of biscuits, and supplied with a trusty Doublethink compass, I made my way around the comer to Wilshire Street - and have never been quite the same since…
It was at M2 that 'Nuts to You' and 'Product' (along with a few other things you'll hear in the fullness of time) were recorded, the former featuring the lyrics of Fiona Graham (soon herself to become a member of the Systs) and Joanne Fowler. I had known both Joanne and Fiona since primary school, when the 3 of us were educated at a Catholic establishment dedicated, would you believe, to St. Cecelia. F and J were kind enough to allow me to compose a setting for their words, which deal with teenage girl rebellion and the explosive frustrations young people feel with a corrupt and self-serving adult world that just won't understand. In this regard, the whole thing comes across like Poly Styrene on barbituric acid, but this is the Systematics after all - stay tuned, don't be concerned, you'll get used to it. 'Product' mixes more of my surrealised Australiana with a stab at some good natured self-reflexivity, and introduces us to The Beach, which was a bit of a sub-subtext for us, as it's where we all came from, ultimately. The title refers to a type of hair dressing some of our more ardent surfies resorted to back in those days, along with some reflections on waterborne hepatitis, infection and disinfection, an awful, awful pun that deserves to work only in English, and the prescient echoes of Alf Stewart, the resident curmudgeon of Summer Bay, shrieking Ockerisms to the billy-o into a blustery off shore wind.
3. STAY TUNED (You'll Get Used To It)
I had an idea - nothing grand enough to be called an aesthetic, but an idea for how pop music could be made more interesting, by which I mean of course more to my liking. It involved subversion of content and form, theft and mutation, some outside-inding, irony and jolly ludic merriment, some inside-outing, a dash of thought and whole heckuvalotta luck. Oh, and a Zeitgeist that was ready not only to generate but to encourage such an idea in the first place - which is to say that despite any originality it may have possessed, it was not at all a unique idea for the time. It was just such a Zeitgeist, too, that provided also for the manufacture and distribution of commercially available electronic musical instruments of some little sophistication, and the one in my possession, and crucial to my nefarious schemes, was the Roland 101. The good old Roland 101 (henceforward the g.o 101), no matter its perceived attributes or shortcomings when used in its capacity as an analogue of a 'real' musical instrument, was capable of a few interesting non- or extra-musical accomplishments, gimmicks, some might say, but abilities nevertheless its manufacturers seemed hell-bent on engineering out of their newer, more cosmetically tuneful designs over the ensuing years. On 'Nuts to You', for instance, it performs a most exquisitely pointless solo for applied voltage during the middle-8; the cris de coeur it provides throughout 'Pulp Baby' would do La Callas proud, and have nothing to do with anything except themselves. Was there anything, then, that the g.o 101 couldn't do? Oh, my word there was, a great, great deal really, but that's not altogether the g.o 101's fault - there were outboard modules and such available to increase its abilities, but considering the way family finances were at the time, I was lucky just to have the basic unit.
4. RURAL E P. 1 / 2 / 1 - 8
Wilshire St. Sydney, 1980: With the exception of 3 tracks, Rural was recorded and produced entirely at M2 by Michael Filewood - another school friend, high school this time - myself, and Mitch Jones at the circuit breakers. Michael acquired a guitar around the same time I acquired the g.o 101, and as we were both of like temperament (Ted Nugent and Roy Buchanan on his side, Rick Wakeman and Mothers of Invention on mine - go figure) we decided we were going to form a band, as you do, for it is one of the secret purposes of high school to get people of like temperament together to form bands, or gangs, as the case may be. In any event, as Pulp Baby had attracted more attention than anyone would have believed possible, and also as I had meanwhile donned the colours of Scattered Order, the gang Mitch and Michael Tee had formed atM2, and since they both thought it might be interesting (it sure was) to function not only as a recording studio but as an outlet for what was recorded there, to release certain things under the imprint of M2 the label, and since an as yet non existent 12” EP of Systematics material had already been advertised in M2's Spring Catalogue for 1980 - well, it did seem best that Filewood and I get together and form that band in earnest, the better to collaborate on this new project. This we proceeded to do. My favourite contemporary review of Rural (although I seem to be the only one who remembers it) suggested that it sounded like a meeting between John Cage and Captain Beefheart in a darkened recording studio; all I can say there is that with all due respect, neither of us aspired to be either of them, and I feel safe in presuming that neither of them aspired to be either of us.
Here are some things you probably wouldn't have known about the songs on R unless someone had taken the trouble to sit down and burden you with them. Still, feel free to ignore or contradict anything I have to say if it interferes with your enjoyment of the music.
Numbers in General - The guitar figure and lyrics could only be the work of the
Michael Filewood of the period, although I think we collaborated on the title - something abstract to offset the strange, art naïf style words. The bassline and telegraphic synth are meant to conjure skyscrapers and bustling modern metropolises in a way not dissimilar to the montages you'll see at the beginning of movies made in a certain era and attempts to reference in particular the 'Powerhouse' theme composed by Carl Stalling in the early 1950s. 'Uncle Joe' refers not to Josef Stalin, but to the scheming loafer from that woeful 60s American sitcom Petticoat Junction, who joins the children a few weeks after recovering from a leucotomy. We also enjoyed the inspired assistance of a malfunctioning Roland Space Echo which had been appropriated for our use in the studio that day.
2, 4, 5, T - A protest song, of sorts. Afternoon and weekend tabloids of the day were haemorrhaging over congenital deformities that were being attributed to parental exposure to herbicides - not just the cooling monsoon of Agent Orange dad got caught in one day during his tour of duty in the jungles of South East Asia, but gravid mum-to- be strolling with proto-bub through sunny suburban parks, enjoying the lovely area, weeds kept at bay by liberal doses of those scourges of the vegetable kingdom, 2,4,D and, 2,4,5,T. The burner tube of a Bunsen being scraped across the strings of an amplified guitar simulates the mad social whirl of valency electrons; the g.o 101 carries the souls of unformed baby toes away to limbo on the wings of a synthetic mezzo-soprano angel, and I meanwhile struggle against nature and destiny, trying in vain to sound like Bing Crosby…
When I'm Older - Lyrics and of course the guitar compositions are MF's - I'm singing here, as I did on 'Numbers in General', because Michael wasn't comfortable singing in those days, despite the quality of his voice. Drumming courtesy of Simon Vidale, who played with local up-and-comers The Numbers, whose front of house sound was handled at the time by Mr. Jones.
Vanessa Teratology - As mentioned earlier and above, I had a sinister plan to reshape the mould of pop music into something more, shall we say ... accommodating, and both 'Vanessa' and '2,4,5,T' provide good examples of one of my methods, which was to make lovely music about unlovely subjects, and to do that properly, you have to invest a certain amount of yourself (my anima in this case, I suppose) into the material, lest your purpose be mistaken for mere gratuitous cruelty. In this instance, although the spirit of Gene Kelly tap dances through the first verse, doffing his chapeau and addressing the smiling passers-by (and a friendly cop named Mac, no doubt) with a tale of Vanessa the swell new gal in town, our narrator's adoration goes unrequited, and a callow wistfulness seems to descend and pervade the rest of the song - we find ourselves auditors at another retelling of the eternal Teenager's Lament - picture Mickey Rooney now, or even Gibson himself, head in hands and moaning, "Aw gee whiz Judge Hardy, Vanessa doesn't even know I exist!"
Dinner's on the Table - From one of the occasional ‘jams’ MF and I would have on weekends at his parent's place or mine, when the Systs were more intentional than actual, comes D's on the T, which was rerecorded one Sunday afternoon circa 1978 on the Original Bedroom Recording Chamber of Chateau G. on the teak radio cassette machine, in the presence of an onlooker, our high school chum Gary Flyght. Hello, Gary. Filewood had a beginning and no end, whilst I had a bass figure that could have gone on indefinitely. I liked this damaged pastoral fragment, so what I decided to do a few months later was take the original recording and attempt to 'orchestrate' it, to the extent that my non existent training in orchestration would permit me. A few years later, after Rural had been released, a friend mentioned that 'D's on the T' always made him think of the last day of school before the holidays.
Stuh Echipidah - No black notes were harmed in the formation of this chord progression, which is based on something called a C maj triad which simply descends through the scale, becoming other things at times. If there's a proper technical term for what I did (and not some wisenheimer's droll rejoinder such as, yes, there is, it's bollocks) then it's evident I don't know it. Of more interest than the music is that it showcases the abilities of Drusilla Jones (nee Johnson) who was kind enough to transliterate the syllabic pattern of my original words into a form of pseudo-Greek she had invented while growing up in areas with a large Hellenic community, during which time a careful hearkening to tone and rhythm assured that command of the power of linguistic mimesis would be hers. Thus, the words I'm singing are meaningless, yet meaningful now precisely because you've been told why they're meaningless! I understand the Greeks have a word for it…
Sometime in 1980, Mitch Jones went on tour with those up-and-comers, The Numbers, payment from which tour would go in part to consolidate M2 in the months to come. But since larceny was in the air down Wilshire Street way, he decided to split what remained of the studio's equipment between Michael Tee and himself, some of which he took on tour with him, some of which he farmed out to me. One of the things given into my care was a Kenwood 2-tracktape recorder. Nice irony: there is a Kenwood based in the US which manufactures audio products; there is also a
Kenwood based in Australia which manufactures household kitchen appliances, one of which, the Kenwood Chef, functions very like an antipodean Mixmaster… but I digress. With the mighty Kenwood at my disposal, I was able to re-establish a Bedroom Recording Chamber, during M2's hiatus, two of the fruits of which rounded out Rural:
Mmmm - A setting for words kindly provided by Drusilla J (nee J). I thought at the time, and still think, it would be interesting to use a loop of the sound produced by a stadium full of Beatle maniacs as the basis for something - I consulted the g.o 101, which did its best with a swarm of angry insects and provided also a kinky moaningflesh- on-inflatable-PVC sort of sound it may have recalled from I hesitate to imagine where. And then there's Gibson to complete the mix - as Johnny Rotten informed my delivery on ‘Pulp Baby', and crooning was something I was never far from aspiring to, so Genesis POrridge contributes his strange, grey Mancunian nullity to my little history of People I Liked the Sound Of.
Flowers on the Wall - The Kenwood allowed me to alter playback speed, and I still had one of those radio cassette recorders, the silvery one, if I'm not mistaken, so what I did was bounce the first verse of 'Flowers on the Wall' (yes, the Statler Brothers hit from 1966, most recently re-popularised by its use in Mr. Q. Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, but known to both Filewood and myself for some years prior to that as being very much of the Systematics temperament), so bounced the first verse of this recording back and forth twixt the mighty Kenwood and the silver machine, halving the speed every second time and, satisfied after 8 iterations, proudly present that segment of the song for you at 1/16 its original playing speed. Continuing the process beyond this point with the equipment I had to hand would soon have reduced the whole thing to inaudibility, but under ideal conditions I imagine it might be possible to produce ever slower and stranger 'soundscapes', soundscapes which, to be sure, would inevitably become totally inaccessible to human perception, but which even so would never quite vanish into mathematical oblivion. Zero hertz or bust, everyone! It's the world's first and very likely only attempt at an asymptotic cover version.
5. MIDNIGHT ON BALANCING DAY' - 1 / 2 / 9
The M2 Spring Catalogue of l980 heralded the release not only of Rural, but of another 12" 45 featuring a galaxy of recordings made by a cavalcade of stars just waiting to expose themselves to a vitamin D starved public. Going by the sitcom-free name of Growing Pains, it sampled from M2's whole sick A&R crew, and 'Midnight on Balancing Day' was the humble offering made by the Systs. The title refers to some metaphysical moment in commerce when all the credit and debit columns in all the balance sheets in all the gin joints in all the world will, for one mystical instant - balance. Since this has never we've been left bereft, still awaiting the Second Coming. The words are partly mine, partly Dru J (nee J)'s; the music gives evidence of my sentimental fondness for a major/minor modulation. The honourable Pimmon, a long time partisan for M2, tells me he has actually made up a cover version of 'M on BD' - I feel privileged, and I'll hear it one of these days, I'm sure.
6. 'DIE FOR MY HOUSE' / MY LIFE IN THE FIELD OF COWS EP. 1 / 1 / 4-8
Wilshire St. Sydney. 1981: After the wild excitement generated by the release of the Rural EP (do I exaggerate? Very well then, I exaggerate) it seemed inevitable that the Systematics should get out there and wow them with The Living Presence. It seemed inevitable at the time, too, that no such thing would ever occur - I, for one, had no desire to mess it up on stage. However, towards the end of 1980, I was approached by a certain Mr. J. Blades, who planned the celebration of his 2lst birthday (we were so young in those days!) and who enquired whether we might be available to provide entertainment for his guests on that particular date. Well, since he asked so nicely (so nicely in fact that we subsequently became friends) and since Fiona Graham and Michael Filewood seemed agreeable to the notion, and since it seemed like it might all be a bit of a lark, FG, MF & I agreed, and commenced preparations together, under the stern metronomic tutelage of Mme Roland Rhythymcube, with whom we worked for the celebration of Mr. Blades' majority and for about 6 months after, when (outside of amps and guitars and effects pedals) we purchased our first piece of non-Roland equipment (their stocks plummeted), a Korg KR-55 rhythm box. You see one thing led to another, and it turned out that, in more than one sense, we sort of just found ourselves doing live shows after that, and not a few of them, so that by the time 'Die For My House' was recorded for A Selection - a whole album celebrating M2 and its friends - we 3 were seasoned old pros ready for anything, and that included re-visiting the M2 studios to record our posthumous release on vinyl, the My Life in the Field Of Cows EP.
Both 'Die For My House' and 'International Voltage are unmistakably Filewood's, although I made some small contribution to the lyrics. Listen closely to 'IV' and you'll hear a sine tone behaving like a sine wave, representing the sort of insufficiently stable current that scientists try to correct for with specially built transformers – our protagonist is no scientist, however. The shades of Edison and Westinghouse flicker in the wings as Tesla's assistant throws the knife switch, and the stage is illuminated by a blinding, artificial brilliance spelling out the motto: 'Better Recipes for Suicide - through ELECTRICITY!'
'Bovine', 'Fat Cows Go Down An Eastern Beach' and 'BBD' constitute what might be called the Systematics’ ‘4-Stomach Trilogy', consisting of pieces we worked on together during rehearsals and put the final polish to on stage. It resembles in this sense not only 'D for my H' and 'IV', but also 'Suicide Beach', 'Republic on a Shoestring' and 'Look At My Body' (tracks 1,5 & 7 from disc 2, side 1), except that our Trilogy concerns itself exclusively with the female of a certain genus of hoofed, cud chewing mammalian quadruped with an even number of toes and a stomach with multiple chambers. I was responsible for the words to 'Bovine', which sketches a sort of covert operation undertaken by an existential stealth corps of cows, an operation perhaps inimical to humankind, perhaps not. Fiona, their Southern Alpine controller, calls to them every so often from her secret base on Mt. Kosciusko, sometimes to praise, sometimes to scold, sometimes just to say hello, and sometimes, using an old Numbers Station technique, to transmit her instructions via coded musical mnemonics, such as 'FCGDAEB'. As for 'BBD', only Fiona knows for sure, but if I may be allowed to hazard a guess, I would imagine that she is enjoining her roaming operatives to remain focused on core mission values such as fidelity, sorority, clarity of purpose, and to keep their minds off the pizzles in the paddock over the rise.
7. RECORDINGS 1981 - 2 / 1 / 1, 4, 5, 7, 8
Wilshire St. Sydney: We recorded these demos (1, 4, 5 &7) at M2 with Michael Tee at the potentiometers, a task he had also been handling admirably for us during most of our live performances that year. The songs were mostly written around this time and appeared frequently in our shows, all except 'J the G', which dates back probably to 1977 or '78 and only made it onto a few set lists. More about 'Washing Dogs' (8), the runt of the litter, below:
Suicide Beach - The beach in question has little to do with the beaches that I'm told make Australian productions like Home and Away popular all over the world, or the 'Endless Summer' of Herr C. Fennesz, which I've enjoyed as something like the Last Year at Marienbad of beaches, or even some of the later, bleaker beaches that Mr. B. Wilson has so beautifully and painfully described for us. No, for me this beach is more like a black lagoon frequented by handsome young men in open-necked shirts, starlets in sunglasses and conical bikini tops, monsters disporting themselves in outlandish latex neck-to-knee bathing suits, with the added presence of one tiny but crucial ingredient that sets this Malibu of the imaginary apart from your typical, run-of- the-mill, low-budget beach blanket frolic: the presence in the water of something that just makes people want to top themselves.
Jazz the Genius - A couple of Eastern scales - ragas, I'd imagine - that we found in one of MF's ‘How to Play Guitar’ books, performed with arbitrarily chosen measures. It amused us to think of this as some kind of ultra-sophisticated dinner music - and it is pretty smooth, if I do say so myself.
Republic on a Shoestring - Our first and only adventure in 5/4 time, both this and 'L at my B' were composed by Filewood, although the lyrics for 'Republic' are my responsibility, and are a meditation on the normally impenetrable theme of ahem, 'existential vegetables'. (True, I had 'done weed' by this stage, but the existential veg I was talking about were the overcooked variety found on the side of the average meat course). Don't look for a connection between the name of the song and its subject matter - there isn't any. Incidentally, the title comes from one of the articles listed on the cover of the Oct 1973 issue of National Geographic, which just happened to be asleep on the coffee table that day when we were around at Filewood's rehearsing the song for the first time. And what was name of the republic in question? Chile, which, with the help of one of Lady Thatcher's mates, Augusto P., was sadly more of a Republic Dangling at the End of a Hempen Rope, in those days.
Look At My Body - Composed by Mr. F., I am responsible for the lyrics to this as well, which deal with, amongst other things, a.) High school cruelty and the pecking order associated with it, and b.) a game fashionable at the time with certain members of the local 'Industrial' set to see who could swipe the best images of autopsies, burn victims etc. from university, medical even public libraries; my own involvement in a.), both active and passive, my tacit involvement and troubled feelings about everything to do with b.).
Washing Dogs - A very lo-fi recording made at one of our rehearsals of a tune that didn't make it onto set lists even as often as 'J the G'. I like it, though - it has a certain Young Marble Giants-y sort of charm. I don't suppose it really goes anywhere, but when did that ever stop us? It was, as I recall, dedicated to Fiona's dog, Fred, who must be enjoying herself (sic) immensely up in Dog Heaven now that she has a ditty to rival Ol' Shep's.
Wilshire St. Sydney: We backtrack now about 18 months to when I next ventured into M2 after my initial meeting with Mitch Jones and Michael Tee, this time with the g.o 101 tucked under my arm as well as the invaluable experience gained from working in a strange recording environment with a patient Mr. G Bartlett at 2JJ, to record the B-side for 'Pulp Baby' and, since I was there anyway, anything else I might happen to have up my sleeve - which was 'Golden Age', 'John Robinson', 'ASI0' and 'Going to War'. 'Hippie Happening’ was recorded a few months later when Filewood and I went in to record some mostly unusable demos for Rural - a ‘When I'm Older’ that falls to bits, a 'Vanessa' that trips over its feet even more clumsily than the one that was released - except for a rather interesting version of 'International Voltage', which I'll tell you more about when we come to it.
Hippie Happening - The satiric intent couldn't hide itself if it wanted to, and if I told you I'd never even heard of We're Only In It For the Money before writing 'HH', I'm pretty sure you'd know I was fibbing, but I think this is a great little pop song, and I'm really pleased it's finally found a release somewhere, and on vinyl too! The g.o 101 performs a remarkably creditable bubblegum Farfisa and Filewood's backward guitar solo offers everyone a chance to groove to the sound of the colours, unless of course it triggers terrifying flashbacks for those of you who, in your incautious youth, went ahead despite the warnings and dropped a tab of that fabled Brown Acid anyway…
Going to War - A song for the Ring-a-Ding Reich that never was, to be performed ideally during the supper show in the lounge of a deluxe casino in a parallel Las Vegas where Frank and Dean and Sammy and Joey and Peter (and Angie and Shirley, et al.) are members of Die Packratten, rather than the Rat Pack. Note the clean, minimal lines of the solo for telegraph key, austere yet swingin'.
ASIO - A memento of late '70s Cold War paranoia dedicated to our own humble players in the secret police game, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and realised through the prism of the Syst's take on the musical tropes and clichés of the spy/thriller genre, mixed up with, of all things, dub. When I came up with this piece around '78 or thereabouts, I'd only just encountered dub music for the first time, and having no access to an echoplex, or whatever was used, I enquired of the g.o 101 whether it could do anything about replicating, if not the effect then possibly the affect, which is what those things which ended up sounding like cloudy explosions are trying to do, albeit not too well.
John Robinson - When an avid childhood fan of the TV series Lost in Space grows into adolescence under the influence of Punk, this is what you get, the further beer and amphetamine fuelled adventures of the Space Family Robinson. The g.o 101 came with a user's manual, which included a number of suggested 'patches', as settings on the synth were called, so you could set it up to sound like a flute or an oboe or a violin or an etcetera. The one I used for 'JR' was called 'Fuzz Guitar'.
Golden Age - Well, the lambs were a'flyin' that day and the scansion was smooth - well, for the most part, anyway, and the Systs really got up and got down with this one - the g.o 101 has never sounded funkier, and Giorgio Moroder would be weeping in his grave, if he were dead. (Is he? If so, would this phenomenon hasten his canonisation?) Once again, the satirical intent of the song is not only its surface, but whatever depth it may possess to (shake your) boot(y). 'Death to Disco' was the party line coming down to the rank and file from the ideologues in those days, and it's no accident that Australia's own Robert Stigwood is identified and denounced during that aimless monologue 3/4 of the way through the song, for we all knew at the time that he was responsible for everything- Everything! If there's anyone out there who remembers Robert Stigwood, raise your hand. There's the irony, you see. If it weren't for songs like 'Golden Age' recounting his perfidious exploits for a new generation, Stigwood would have been safely consigned to the dustbin of history by now, or to Wikipedia as it's much the same thing. (Sorry, Wikipedia).
IV Unplugged - Recorded at an abortive demo session for Rural whose only salvageable material was this and 'Hippie Happening'. Considering the song's terminal subject matter - man goes to Paris and electrocutes himself - as well as the almost acoustic quality of the recording - whether or not he had them at the time, Michael certainly didn't use any effects pedals here - this interesting early version of 'International Voltage' virtually re-titled itself.
1978 - 1982 - THE MISCELLANEOUS YEARS – 2 / 2 / 5-9
These final 5 tracks cover the whole lifespan of the Systematics, from conception to extinction, and even a little beyond. From Balgowlah 1978 to a practice session recorded possibly as early as 1980, before we'd played at the Blades residence, to a couple of things done at M2 after we broke up at the end of 1981, one of which came out on cassette in 1982, the other never before now. No prizes for fitting piece to timeframe.
Swell Success - More teenage melancholia from, yes, that's right, 1978. The lyrics were inspired originally by that Talking Heads song, 'Don't Worry about the Government', but whereas the optimism of that song seemed to channel itself into behaviour of a relentlessly civic nature, this is more like the telephone call you receive from a friend a few days before finding out he had hanged himself later that very same night.
Sunny/Marine Boy - Plainly, these are from that early practice session, and both were huge crowd favourites, which may not surprise you: as they're both silly and fun. They were included on the massive 6-cassette compilation released by Terse (see below) in, I think, '81 called One Stop Shopping, which featured material from just about everyone who was anyone at the time who had a microphone, a tape recorder and 2 rocks to bang together. It's well worth searching out.
'Sunny' attempts the old hit from 1966 by Bobby Hebb, who was apparently trying to cheer himself up by composing his song in Iate '63 after the assassination of Kennedy and the death of Hebb's own brother, Harold, took place on the same day. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Hebb; I believe we 'were more familiar with any of the infinite cover versions of this song than your brother's original.
'Marine Boy' was o '60s Japanese anime which may never have made it beyond the Pacific Rim, so in short, the story so far: Mariene, the sea bottom boy, is a very special boy, not because he has eyes as big and round as a gaijin koi - everyone had eyes like that - but because he was a member of Ocean Patrol, and it was he and he alone who was permitted when necessary to swallow a stick of Oxy-Gum and confront the numerous villains of the deep with his trusty undersea boomerang, and aided from time to time by his colleagues on patrol boat Pl, Bolton and Piper (who, like the other members of Ocean Patrol, were for some reason strictly forbidden the exciting Oxy-Gum), his dolphin friend Splasher, his mermaid gal pal Neptina, and various others.
With both this and 'Sunny', I guess you really had to be there.
Electronique - This one is quite the oddity. You see, even though it would seem as if Roland had the Systs in their back pocket (where they kept them along with their wallets), there was a band and label contemporary to us and M2 who disdained Roland a bit and spent their time with Korgs and Commadore 64s - the Severed Heads and Terse. Still, we were on good terms - Tom Ellard and I used to correspond back in the day, and pig's heads would be lobbed gleefully back and forth across Sydney Harbour between Inner City Surry Hills and North Shore Balmoral Beach, using the
Bridge as a net (sometimes M2 would miss the volley). Terse and M2 would often be lumped together by journalists and others who had no clue, as bastard fraternal twins of the Zeitgeist, merely because we were both involved with 'electronic music'. What's all this got to do with anything? Just a friendly tip of the chapeau from one set of bastard twins to the other, and a way of reminding everybody that the Systs and M2 weren't the only culture growing up on the Petri dish at the time, and because this piece was made by treating our Korg KR-55 through a Korg MS-20 that happened to be passing by one day and asked if it could be of any assistance. Of course it could.
Game of Living – It’s 1982 now, the Systematics as we've come to know them are no more, and this piece, the bones of which had been recorded the previous year, is being prepared for inclusion as a bonus item on the cassette release of our final performance. Ever the tricksters, that release was to be called Stall, referencing not only our love for cows, not only what happens when things stop working, but also the post-Ian Curtis, posthumous Joy Division album, Still, which was their output of last recorded performance and rarities. 2 other things at the very least had happened in the intervening years '78-'82 - it was now the age of the 12" 45 rpm extended remix; Death to Disco be damned, I cried, an extended remix is what 'G of L' shall be! Secondly, I had developed a tendency in my lyric writing at the time and inexplicable to me even now, which drove me to include references to Catholic mythology in my pieces. So, with the holy tears of Moroder in a vial next my heart, with the premier jazz guitarist of the day, Michael Filewood, recording his part and giving it his all in the next room, with Fiona and Michael Tee holding hands in the house next door and concocting their own plans for world domination, which would include all 4 of us at one time or another, get on down with me to the funky disco sounds of 'Game of Living', and say goodbye now to your old friends the Systematics…