This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Australian Krautrock - rediscovering early Hunters & Collectors

It was back in 1981, at a time when I thought myself broad-minded in my music tastes because I liked early Wagner almost as much as I liked late Wagner, that I was dragged along by some friends to an obscure pub in Melbourne for a gig by an obscure local band called Hunters & Collectors. In those days, my ears were closed to anything that didn't have a leitmotif and a few umlauts and yet, despite the fact that there were shadows of both in the early music of this krautrock-influenced pub-rock/art-funk band, the striking originality of their music was lost on me and, even today, I can remember my relief - and my friends' regret - when the gig eventually came to an end.

But now, as I listen again to their music - and especially to their early music - the even bigger regret is now my own: that I didn't give this incredibly interesting band more of a chance when I had all those opportunities, way back then, to walk into a pub and hear them live.

The early music of Hunters & Collectors was undoubtedly much more interesting and groundbreaking - although much less popular - than their later music. With a name that was inspired by a track from an album by German experimental krautrock band Can, Hunters & Collectors started their career with music that was characterised by the most unlikely mix of ingredients: the motorik beat of krautrock, the industrial clatters of metallic percussion, the nihilistic post-punk vocals of Mark Seymour, and the blazing brass of the Horns of Contempt, kicking into the music here and there to give even this sweaty pub music a kind of bold, blistering nobility.

The first two albums - their self-titled debut in 1982 and The Fireman's Curse, under the inspired guidance of German krautrock producer Conny Plank, in 1983 - are, I think, Hunters & Collectors' best. It's there (despite the comparisons my friends made back then, and my nephew makes now, to Talking Heads) that they were at their most original, their sound most distinctive and daring in the way it broke ranks with the more traditional rock that was playing in Australia's pubs and gig venues at the time.

Music like this had not been played very much in Australia at the time and even in other parts of the world it was heard much more on the fringes than in the mainstream. It was music that produced different sorts of sounds because of the instruments and tones it brought together, and because of the role it gave to percussion - not just to drums - and the way it let those unrelenting, ostinato beats drive things along. It was music that belonged, no doubt, to pubs - but to pubs where people came to hear interesting music, not just loud music.

It is, at least for me, a bit of a disappointment, then, that most of the work of Hunters & Collectors after these first two stellar albums, became rather more geared towards the popular market, albeit still with the band's original stamp very much there - rather like a rebellious idiosyncratic child who has grown up to be a quirky, but nevertheless compliant, adult.

I suspect it's the pressures of a commercially driven music industry, rather than any lack of original inspiration, that leads bands like Hunters & Collectors to trade the fascinating chaos of their underground origins to the more predictable safety of their careers in the limelight - and it's a shame, in both senses of the word, that they are commercial interests that so often end up dictating the directions of music.

I would love to be able to go back to that pub, wherever it was, and shout my approval for the fantastic boldness and innovation of Hunters & Collectors that night back in 1981. It wouldn't have made one iota of difference to the direction of their music, obviously - but it would have at least meant that I wasn't inadvertnetly contributing to the collective indifference to originality and innovation, and a love for the fringe, in modern music.


  1. Hi Ian,

    Jenny here. I LOVE Hunters and Collectors. You've reminded me of this and I'll definitely bring some in to Peebs soon.

    Love the new blog, keep up the great work!


  2. Thanks so much Jen ... always love it when I discover someone is reading the blog!! Mind you, I guess going down this new Bent Music path is probably going to reduce the readership a tad, but I thought a change would be as good, or almost as good, as a holiday.

    Thanks for the encouragement. And, as always, thanks for the Peebs mornings!