I’m at Camden, Dingwalls in London, its a Wednesday night in May. This sold-out show was originally slated for Oslo in Hackney, a 375 cap venue. Owing to demand, it was shifted to Dingwalls in Camden, a room that hosts 500. Anyone who has heard 2018’s debut Tropical F*ck Storm album, A Laughing Death in Meatspace will be able to explain to you why exactly this show is sold out. Put simply, it’s brilliant. Without a doubt my favourite record from last year. At its heart, a dirty Indie guitar record for purists of the genre but for further colour, its steeped in surrealism, off-kilter, uniquely Australian observations and a crude, barbed sense of humour.
Making the venue change from the decidedly more ‘hip’ East London, to the tragically diluted former subcultural axis in North – adjacent to the market and the lock no less – doesn’t sit right for me. Perhaps its my view of what Camden always was to me back in the day… baggy jeans, CyberDog, ‘Take Me to Your Dealer’ shirts, army surplus, mushrooms, Nag Champa etc. The shadow of an Amy Winehouse memorial doesn’t feel like the appropriate venue for what we’re about to witness.
Openers, three-piece Punk outfit, Cable Ties do a decent job in the position of “warm up act”. Their live show has plenty of energy. Lyrics are spat with pith and vitriol but their punchy performance offers little in the way of the extraordinary.
A quick changeover and we’re on to the main attraction. I’m a couple of rows from the front so it isn’t until I turn around to scan the room that I can see that the place is full. Packed. People really are stoked to see this show.
The band open gently with sludgy debut single ’Chameleon Paint’, a whammy bar heavy, wobbly track which contains a closing lyric setting the tone of their output perfectly for me… “Life’s beautiful/So why do I feel like I’m dying?” It speaks of hypocrisy, political and social ignorances, the many contradictions in the way we live and judge one-another, and our choice, more often than not to simply turn a blind eye and scroll to the next image. Recurring themes and ideas throughout the album.
They move on to back-to-back killer tracks, ‘Anti-Matter Animals’ and ‘Soft Power’. Violent, clashing guitars writhe and synth bass tones pulse and undulate like some kind of slow-moving molten lava; the organic, glowing motion is hypnotic to observe but touching it will surely burn you to death. Both pieces are vehicles for more polemic outbursts on the genuinely terrifying temperature of international affairs of state. Frontman Gareth Liddiard lets loose his embittered words, tumbling and shaking like a Christmas-drunk uncle ready to collapse, as soon as he’s told you just what he thinks of you. He is encouraged and propped-up by choral chants throughout from flanking bandmates Fiona Kitschin and Erica Dunn whose rhythmic vocal input almost embodies those encouraging guttural heckles you’d hear around a playground fight as a kid. It’s kicking off. Of all the targets of the lyrical attacks, Trump doesn’t come out of it particularly well. Easy prey for liberals no doubt but it’s still funny to hear him branded as an ‘Oompa Loompa with the nukes’ or better still, referring to him as a ’t-rex’ both mocks his outdated views and his fucking ridiculous affectation of waving his tiny arms. This juvenile mud-slinging amuses me no end.
The crowd are pumped from the last two songs; stand out album tracks both. The pace slows a little for ‘Lose the Baby’, a humble and honest version of a track by Melbourne band Lost Animals. This has been played out a few times and appears as the b-side to Soft Power. Some of us know it but an equal number are unfamiliar. Perhaps a risky move to play a relatively obscure cover version in the set on the first date of your tour.
If that last song lost anyone, the next one finds them again. It’s the big hit. The band wrestle through the track but the unearthly post-apocalyptic narrative and catchy chorus of ‘You Let My Tyres Down’ make it the perfect sing-along moment and the performance is shared with the audience as much as those on stage.
Next, is another b-side and cover version. The idea of slotting in this type of lesser-known track being a risky approach is now gone from my mind. This isn’t a mistake. This is a band who don’t give a fuck and are choosing their set for themselves. It’s supposed to be fun right? Fiona and Erica share vocals on the 80’s Divinyls hit ‘Back to the Wall’. As before, they add little in the way of embellishment to the original and instead it serves as a fitting tribute to the sadly departed icon Chrissy Amphlett – who you might know better as the singer of ‘I Touch Myself’. Liddiard takes a back seat for this track and it subtracts nothing from the effectiveness of the group; it becomes evident here that he’s not the “front man” with supporting cast, he’s the lead singer. The talent and uniquely styled playing of these two women could easily steer this ship in his place. The fact that they don’t is testament to the clarity and vision of this project.
Latest single ‘The Planet of Straw Men’ is up next. More observations on just how royally fucked-up, rotten and bizarrely curious the world is. Heavily groove-led, this track sees drummer Lauren Hammel hold back with spacious, well placed beats throughout the most part of the song before opening up for the latter part and driving home through the wails of hook line “They want the glory of a grâce”.
The set begins to close with another single, ‘Rubber Bullies’, swiftly followed by ‘Two Afternoons’. Each track offered in a maelstrom of riotous anarchy. Vocals, guitars and drums are all thrashed out more loosely and relaxed than they appear on recordings. Rather than giving the suggestion of a band ill-prepared for a live show, it has the opposite effect; this is a group of artists so confident in their abilities together, that they can allow their individual parts to run away from them to imply chaos and destruction, safe in the knowledge that with a little coaxing, they can reel the performance back in. Tour tight bands don’t play note or beat perfect; they play freely and offer a unified flow and cadence in their performance that can only be demonstrated live. Guitars are bashed, stomp boxes are stomped, Gareth takes to his knees and twiddles knobs on a synth device I don’t recognise, homemade and road-worn in appearance and sounding like some kind of self-oscillating, square wave arpeggiator its the perfect tool for the job. Fuzzy squelches and warbling moans come from every direction. It’s an ugly cacophonous ghost train of an ending kept from derailing by a drummer fully in control of the speeding vehicle. I suppose the buzzing skirmish of angular sounds being created might be surprising of a traditional guitar band but given that I’ve now been pogo-bopped to the front row, I’m able to see Gareth’s tattoo and it now makes sense. He’s almost literally wearing his influence on his sleeve with an Einstürzende Neubauten on his left wrist. This cave drawn stick figure glyph lets me know that the savage distorted mess I’m hearing is only a taster and it could be much more intense given the chance. I really hope they get that chance on the next album.
For me, this is where the show ends. I imagine in some way, it does for the band too. I’m fucking knackered and my shins have been bashed and I’ve been jostled all over the place. I’m not complaining. I knew what I was getting myself in to. There’s no pretend walk-off-and-on-again nonsense, they’e too punk for that. Instead it’s a quick tune-up, swig of a drink, a mopped brow and then the final track. They play ‘Baby’ from the second album by The Drones. For the uninitiated, both Liddiard and Kitschin are (were?) members of The Drones. For my money, they didn’t need to pull this old early noughties favourite out of the bag (for what it’s worth, I’d much rather have heard ‘The Future of History’, a confident and comic Rock n Roll re-telling of the true story of Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov vs Deep blue, the chess super computer… no really… it’s funny and catchy and one-of-a-kind). The crowd loves the Drones song but to be frank, it wasn’t necessary because Tropical Fuck Storm stands up on its own as an original group and doesn’t need to remind people of its origins for the sake of its credibility, but what do I know? They give a powerful rendition of the song and as before tonight, the crowd karaoke it to death. Once again Gareth is on his knees twisting the dials and making washes of pure noise filth, Erica is playing behind the bridge for those Sonic Youth glass stab sounds and Fiona has got some kind of synth pedal making her bass sound nothing like a bass. Together the three leave the stage in strobing lights and feedback loops. Only drummer Hammel is left and she’s literally punching her SPD drum pad to death. It shits out triggered samples and loops we’ve heard as texture and flourish throughout the set only now she’s bit crushing them and destroying their fidelity. It’s glorious.
NOW the show is over.
The enduring message I take from the whole experience is that the world is at times a piece of shit but rather than ignoring it or learning to live with the stench, we can clean it up, be hopeful of change and take some joy instead.
The name with a swear word in it, the humorous and insightful slant on international current affairs, their powerfully manic live show and their Indie family tree will serve them in good stead as a jobbing band as long as they want it. If they continue to deliver like they have tonight, I’ll keep buying tickets.