One of the first people through the doors at Bloodhound Bar was an older lady. She told us she listens to ABC Radio at 5am every day, and once heard a song she loved, but wasn’t sure who it was by. After an email to the radio host, who she corresponds with regularly, she found out the name of the artist was The Goon Sax. Surely enough one of the last standing CD shops, Sanity in Wynnum, didn’t have a CD of it in stock, so she placed an order and waited for Up To Anything to come in. “You can hear all the words,” she said. “The words make sense of life.”
When Louis Forster got to Bloodhound I told him he had a fan to talk to. The woman put her hands up to her mouth. “Oh, shivers!”
A bill with The Goon Sax, Kitchen’s Floor and Sarah Spencer is an all-star Brisbane lineup. It displays a certain understanding of local music history and sees Goon Sax supported by people that have been in the game for ten years. It’s Brisbane in the key of Comrad Xero, Look Pond and SCRAPS. This understanding is adjacent to, but divergent from, Bigsound Brisbane—your Violent Sohos, Mallrat, and so on. (The failure of language: defining things by what they are not.) This is music by people who will keep at it until they die, and praise is irrelevant. It’s the spot between professional pop and something weirder.
Sarah Spencer of Blank Realm is doing a solo electronic set. It feels inadequate to describe it as atmospheric but it’s ephemeral and pleasant: I lack the understanding to capture it better. She sits there and manipulates the sounds, thanks everyone for coming. There’s not many people because it’s early but the kids sit on the floor or stand around. They’re still paying attention.
Kitchen’s Floor is a revolving door around the lodestone of Matt Kennedy’s songwriting. A chart of membership would not look dissimilar to the Fall’s personnel history. If it’s Matt Kennedy and someone banging his pot, it’s Kitchen’s Floor. Phoebe BMX is the most recent addition. In a different world the structure and lyrics could be for pop songs.
Looking down at the fucking ground/I’m sick of walking down this street. The Goon Sax fan from earlier sums up her impression: “Oh, yes. Die, die, die.” There’s a small enthusiastic mosh to the Kitchen’s Floor hits and heckling about “play a new one.”
Before going out that night, I’d just read To Be Thrown Away Unopened, Viv Albertine’s second memoir. Rather than being a blow-by-blow account of being in The Slits, this is a book that looks at life after you’re in a cool band that tours the world: how to navigate the intractable influence family has on you, how to go on living creatively when you’re not the young woman with a guitar anymore. I lent my copy to Tia, the drummer from Goon Sax-adjacent Soot, which shares most of the same members.
Just edging my way out of the age bracket for “emerging” artists, it’s comforting to see girls/women at the beginning of their creative life, established in it, and still coming out to a show in the Valley because you heard a great song and won’t the grandkids be excited to hear who you met. I feel like I live my time doubly. The day passes—working, waiting, sick of walking down this street. Watching the myna’s shadow in case I get swooped next to the park. But there’s the growing sense of coming up against a limit. I will never live this spring afternoon again. Maybe one like it. And every year the self that meets spring is a little different, and the self that looks back on this time may do so in joy, or sadly.
One thing this young generation have going for them is an acute understanding of context. Comrad Xero vs. Go-Betweens. On the William Jolly bridge in Brisbane CBD, there’s a tag that says “my pal soot bridge” on the side that looks toward the nearby Go Between bridge. We don’t have enough bridges for every band to get one, but if Robert Forster, the dad of Goon Sax’s Louis, can have one, so can Soot (Goon Sax drummer Riley’s other band). Brisbane City Council has probably already cleaned that one off.
The Goon Sax capture moments in bright flashes—the inner landscape of early adulthood that, if unmemorialised, gets forgotten and smoothed over. Their new record, We’re Not Talking, already seems a little out of step with them, if only because things change so quickly at that age. ‘She Knows’ and ‘Make Time 4 Love’ off the new album are gems. ‘Strange Light’ is a standout, and doesn’t need a spot on a Guardian poll in between The Saints and Go-Betweens to stake its claim as a song for Brisbane. It has the heart-full feeling like you’re at the end of some time or place in your life.
Their live shows are a consistent draw with fresh-faced crowds, strangers from the internet. Some of them dance but some of them look a bit confused; are they getting the contemplative pop they expected, or do Goon Sax live veer more towards weird Brisbane?
You can split the divides: Sarah Spencer’s band Blank Realm are universally beloved. They play the kind of shows people don’t question paying $20 for. On the other hand, Kitchen’s Floor lyrics are assumed knowledge on Spicy Underground Aussie Music Memes. Goon Sax have the opportunity to go any way from where they are now, which is what makes them unusual. You can be artistically successful—achieving your own aims—and end up anywhere on the map of critical/commercial success.
Any foray into making is a working-out of the stresses and pressures within the maker’s life. Pearls are a kind of inflammatory response. The irritant is covered, made nacreous, while we grow around it. This is why looking back at older work is so often uncomfortable: you have changed, it has not. Thoughts and time are fleeting and any eloquent testament to them is valuable. Later on it becomes precious, like a picture of a haircut you might have hated, but how different your face was then.
The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking
Released by Chapter Music in September 2018
Alex Gerrans is a nonfiction writer from Brisbane. Her essays and reviews have featured in The Guardian, Meanjin and Overland online, among others. She tweets as @algerrans.