Party Like It’s 1980 (in 1990)
New wave, shoegaze and my first band Movement
Feb 16th 2016
I played my first gig age 16, December 1989, at the Crafers Community Hall in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. The gig was organised by my dad, an oriental rug dealer, who’d hired the hall for a rug exhibition and got us our first press in the local paper. Performing with me were my best friend Reed Cathcart on bass, my brother Donovan on keyboards and a neighbourhood kid named Stuart Ludgate on drums, who played half the songs; a borrowed Roland drum machine played the others. We called ourselves Exercise One, after the Joy Division song, though it was the Cure we most emulated, covering three songs from their 1980 album Seventeen Seconds (“A Forest”, “Secrets”, “In Your House”) and churning slowly through a handful of minor-key dirges which surely left little doubt as to their lineage. From memory, none of those early songs lasted (one early song, “The Beach”, written when I was sixteen but not played at that first gig, turned up later), but the gig was a template for what would later become Movement, if only because of its core of Reed and I and our dedication to melancholy atmospherics.
So much for origins. In June 1990 (I kept a journal) we met drummer Dexter Campos through an ad in an Adelaide music store, and though he sounded like a bogan on the phone his credentials seemed in order: Joy Division, New Order, the Smiths, Stone Roses. What was our shock, then, when this Filipino in a leather jacket met us in a carpark which, to him, must have seemed like the back of beyond, out towards Balhannah (near Oakbank) where I lived in those days. A Christies Beach resident, Dex seemed to have learnt English from the locals and would pepper every conversation with “maaaate”s. Musically he was a good fit, bringing a Remi-like propulsion to songs that could have gotten funereal, and encouraging our latent pop tendencies over our penchant for seven-minute epics. Probably the first time we clicked was with “Solitude”, a Floydian arpeggio with a Peter Hookish high bass part, which suddenly turned Madchester when Dex revved it up.
By that stage we had a short album’s worth of originals; we’d cut back the Cure covers to “M” (also from Seventeen Seconds) and “10:15 Saturday Night” (the funk version, cribbed from a bootleg circa 1980) and we could turn in convincing versions of “Atmosphere” and “Ceremony”. (Only the major-key Joy Division suited us; Adelaide, 1990, was clearly a happier place than Manchester, 1980.) The final piece of the puzzle was keyboardist Kate Eckermann, who replaced our school friend Andrew Noble (who graduated to lights and sound) in early ’91. Kate was classically trained, which meant she didn’t have to wrestle with the parts I fed her, though she did have to endure the indignity of playing my brother’s Yamaha Portasound synth, with its tiny keys and array of unconvincing sounds. In retrospect I wish I’d let Kate play out a bit, but I knew what I wanted; to me, songwriting was 50% arranging, a belief that would challenge the group’s unity later on.
Recollections of the live scene… We started out at the Lord Melbourne Hotel in North Adelaide, thanks to SCALA (the local songwriters’ guild), who in an unusual twist required that we play at least 80% originals. After a few gigs, we booked the Lord Melbourne ourselves for a weekly residency. Meanwhile our first demo – “So Deep Inside”/“Solitude” (recorded via eight-track to reel-to-reel tape at M&G Productions in Hindmarsh) – was getting airplay on Adelaide community radio station Triple M (no relation to the corporate version on the east coast; it later became 3D Radio after conceding defeat in the branding contest), and in those days, before Sydney’s Triple J went nationwide, Triple M had clout. Suddenly we were somebodies – or so it seemed to us – and when local shoegaze stars the Mandelbrot Set offered us a support slot at Le Rox (home of British-styled club the Time Tunnel, with a dancefloor, lights and a mirrored ceiling over the stage) we thought we’d hit the bigtime. Within a year, we’d played every Adelaide venue we could think of, and headlined Le Rox on our first birthday to a crowd of 600. (Thanks to the support bands for padding the crowd out – they sure weren’t all our fans!)
For a while there, according to my journal, we were playing on average once a fortnight, sometimes twice a weekend, which as the Mandelbrots would have said, was probably a surefire way to outstay our welcome. Added to this, we’d fallen in a rut. My habit of total control had increased to the point where I was playing the drums to Dex to show him what I wanted, and by the time Kate left (mid-’92? my diary stops here) the fun was over. Ironically, some of the later songs – “Amelia Remains”, “Morning Light” – are among my favourites, but by being so adamant about their arrangements I’d risked ruining them. The drum-stutters in “Morning Light” and “Em68” aren’t Dex’s fault; that’s just what happens when you force a drummer to play outside his style, and – I shit you not – in “Approach” I overdubbed cymbals for him, and played them out of time! Also, whereas once Reed and I would swap ideas freely (the chords to “The Drowning Waves” are Reed’s, also the middle part of “So Deep Inside”, and of course the high bass-parts in “Solitude” and “With You”), when we tried later we were cynical or glib. “Planetary”, for eg, is a down-the-middle collaboration, and an effort to give listeners (not Movement fans, but indie fans in general) what we thought they wanted: shoegaze by numbers.
But maybe Movement was never going to endure. Why? It was too narrow. All along, Reed and I had worked on side-projects; Dex had another band too (Fireside, later Tupelo, featuring Mick Bullen and Marcin Kobylecki). And as soon as Movement broke up, we cranked up the volume. Our Hills buddy Chris Jones (who’d taken over from Kate in ’92) joined Reed and me in Mr Palomar, a psychedelic-cum-math-grunge band that never quite got off the ground. But looking back, I wonder: was that really me? Or was I just trying, again, to do what I thought listeners wanted? In the beginning, Movement was innocent. We played what we wanted to – if people liked it, great! As a guitarist, I was vehemently anti-distortion, since the Australian pub scene, as far as I could see, had been bathed in distortion since the seventies. Luckily for us, we’d chanced on this “shoegaze” scene – these people liked that we were anti-rock – and we’d taken what we wanted from it. (“Approach” is a straight-up Mandelbrot-grab: “More Than Happy”, anyone?) But when Nirvana hit we were done for. Even the Anglophiles went grunge.
After Movement, I didn’t have the motivation to engage with the Adelaide music scene. I took up writing, published two novels, vanished to Tasmania, turned up in Melbourne in ’98. I kept writing songs, but not until 2000 in Vancouver did it strike me I had enough for an album (Shadow History, I called it). Back in Melbourne, Reed and I got together, but Reed (maybe scarred from Movement) wasn’t interested in my songs, and though we’d have a stab at them now and then it was jamming – as freeform as possible – that really galvanised us. Humbled by my mistakes with Movement, I knuckled down and tried to learn something – how to let go. The results rarely made it to audiences’ ears but I’m glad I had that chance to broaden my music. Since then, after 3 years in Adelaide from 2001-4, I’ve kept moving. Once every few years I’ll go back, jam with Reed, with Dex, with Noble. In 2011 I played a gig at the Metro in Adelaide with Reed and Adam McBeath (ex-Mandelbrot Set) as Shadow History (I also played in Manchester, with ex-Icicle Works bassist Chris Layhe and brothers Leigh and Paul Eaton, under the same name), but these days, here in far northern New South Wales, I’m strictly solo.
As to the other guys, Reed played with Solar in London, took up drums, played with Jackrabbit, Southern Baptist Rebellion and Luzonne in Melbourne – he could be the best musician you’ve never heard of. And Dex? From what I can tell he’s an indie star, at least in Adelaide: Straight to Video, No Through Road, Blood Plastic, his solo stuff with Dental Jams – he’s a pro. Kate? We lost touch in ’99; I never saw her again. But I send her my love.
Oh, and the name? Movement was New Order’s first album, released in – you guessed it – 1980.