I’m familiar with this music. I’m familiar with the semi-legal venues and house parties and late-night drinking sprees that help fuel it. I relish the sound, the fact no one feels the need to turn their music into somebody else’s idea of ‘good’ to gain acceptance. Some call it punk rock. Royal Headache themselves certainly do. This means it traces a lineage from Nirvana and Sonic Youth (year zero) through Black Flag and back on to the Buzzcocks … which is interesting, because I would have called out all these bands, to lesser or greater degrees, as culpable of modifying their sound for acceptance. Also interesting, because none of these bands are boy-boy (um, the Flag excepted). Clearly, though, it ain’t about that. It’s the attitude, the knowledge that it’s better to choose your own path. It’s a fondness for sticking to the brief: the idea that great rock’n'roll – ultimately – is simple, no bullshit: excitement, melody, tunes, energy, a good riff. Keep it short. If you want.
More than anything, the way Royal Headache’s guitars shake and buzz on ‘Surprise’ (and most of this Sydney band’s really excellent debut album, as well) reminds me of Factory Records’ Great Lost Pop Band Of The 70s, The Distractions. That was pop, out and out. Did The Distractions play house parties and semi-legal venues like Royal Headache, Kitchen’s Floor, Blank Realm, The Deadnotes and dozens of other fine Australian pop/garage/punk bands of 2011-2 do? Did Buzzcocks? I dunno. It seems that the underground is as focused as it’s ever been: one crucial difference, though. No one wants to be their generation’s Nevermind. They already saw what that did to a band.
Incidentally, few of the groups mentioned above sound like one another. It so happens they know each other, play the same venues. It’s a similar approach to the one that Katy Kickball – La Sera, The Vivian Girls – mentioned to me a few weeks back while she was talking about receiving her schooling in the do-it-yourself venues of New Brunswick, NJ. Punk in 2012 is an attitude, not an entrenched-in-photographs haircut. We’re talking under 30s here.
Sometimes, it feels that Royal Headache have been set up in opposition to Kpop, Australian Idol and a thousand other wannabe money-rakers: their cleanness, their uniformity, the determination to make sure no one stands out in a crowd. Of course I know this isn’t true, but Royal Headache’s music can feel so compressed, tightly wound, economical. There’s no wastage. None. One song, ‘Really In Love’ reminds me vaguely of Violent Femmes’ debut album. Another (‘Down The Lane’) echoes with the same betrayed anguish as Bitch Prefect or The Records. Great fucking references.
But not really. Of course not really.
Damn. This music is so fine. One minute 30. Why do you need more? Apologies to anyone who thinks I’m being too obvious – and rather late – for drawing your attention to it today. We all have to play make-up sometimes.