The Scientists and Grunge: Influence and Globalised Flows
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This essay was first published in Jon Stratton Australian Rock: Essays on Popular Music, Network Books: Perth, 2007.
The Scientists, or at least two of the band’s three members, left Perth for Sydney in September, 1981. By this time Kim Salmon was already redefining the sound of the band. In Perth the first version of the Scientists, with James Baker who subsequently joined the Hoodoo Gurus on drums, had produced what, in retrospect, was the quintessential Perth punk album. Released in 1981, the Pink Album as it came to be known for its pink cover was composed of songs that had a powerful combination of English and American influences. Crudely, you could say the sound amalgamated the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. However, the band’s over-riding influence was the conservative tunefulness of the English power-pop tradition that runs from the Troggs to the Buzzcocks and the Vibrators.The Scientists mrk I had already decided to break up when the Pink Album was recorded. Salmon subsequently formed the short-lived band Louie Louie with the drummer who would later provide the beats for the second version of the Scientists, Brett Rixon. It was during this time that Salmon began to evolve the sound that would characterize the second, and more well-known nationally and internationally, version of the Scientists. ‘Swampland’, a song that will feature prominently in the historical narrative of this chapter, was written at this time with the third member of Louie Louie, Kim Williams. Also written at this time was another staple of the Scientists mrk II, ‘We Had Love’. Evolving this more radical sound, Salmon and Rixon moved to Sydney where the inner city music scene offered more space and encouragement for the more confrontational music that Salmon was beginning to develop. Here, Salmon added Boris Sujdovic with whom Salmon had played before in Perth, on bass and Tony Thewlis on guitarIt is the music from this period onwards, from the definitive reworking of ‘Swampland’ which appeared as the B-side of the ‘This Is My Happy Hour’ single in late 1982 and the Blood Red River six track mini-album of 1983, that forms the basis of the claim that the Scientists precursed, and influenced, the development of that musical form identified with Seattle bands such as the Melvins, Mudhoney and Nirvana, that came to be categorised as grunge. Kim Salmon himself has asserted that: ‘The Scientists were really forging a sound that was later taken up in Seattle’. He goes on to contextualise this, saying, ‘if you think chronologically there was punk in the Sex Pistols, and then the guitar action went to Australia…I always say that Australian music was the premier exporter of grunge’. This is by no means an idiosyncratic opinion. Greta Moon of Au Go Go Records has stated clearly that: “ The Scientists and Lubricated Goat were most definitely big influences on bands like Mudhoney in particular. The Scientists were the first grunge band. They were in existence before any of those US Sub Pop bands came along. It was US Sub Pop bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney that were openly avowed fans of the Scientists.” And, indeed, the singer of Mudhoney, Mark Arm, has himself stated that: ‘By the time Mudhoney began two of our most influential bands were feedtime and the Scientists, along with the Stooges and Neil Young.
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