Noise in My Head
This volume, subtitled Voices from the Ugly Australian Underground, is clearly a labour of love. It took more than four years to compile, involved interviews with 50 bands, and is presented as a beautifully produced hardcover complete with a striking three-quarter dust jacket, two-colour layout, and an extensive collection of glossy photos. The lavish production is pleasingly at odds with the lo-fi, stringently independent aesthetics of the bands profiled inside.
As an active participant in Australia’s underground music scene – having played in Slug Guts and White Hex – and a professional journalist, Jimi Kritzler is an ideal documentarian of this scene. A personal friend of many of the band members interviewed inside the volume, he has enviable access not only to the bands themselves but also to stories they might not wish to share with an outsider.
Some of these stories are truly remarkable, particularly the harrowing account of drug addiction that led to Circle Pit’s Jack Mannix performing double shifts of transvestite sex work. Untimely deaths from suicide or drug overdoses also hang heavily over the book, which includes a touching tribute to the late Brendon Annesley (author of the seminal Negative Guest List zine) and a frank discussion with Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang of HTRK about the suicide of their fellow band member Sean Stewart. One of the book’s virtues is that it doesn’t resile from painting a full and accurate picture of the devastation wrought by drug abuse and mental illness on the relatively small community of Australia’s underground music scene.
The volume’s most significant flaw may well be its ambition: by interviewing so many subjects, and providing a long list of those who declined his invitation, Kritzler can’t help but give the impression that Noise in My Head is intended as an encyclopaedic overview of the scene, despite claims to the contrary in the introduction. Such a broad scope has left Kritzler open to criticism (most notably from Pikelet’s Evelyn Morris) that the book omits many female artists and their contributions. His writing style, too – hyperbolic and adjective strewn, symptomatic of street press – doesn’t lend itself well to such a long volume.
Despite this, Noise in My Head remains a fascinating document of Australia’s underground music scene. I can only hope it inspires others in the same milieu to shed light on what it overlooks. SZ
Melbourne Books, 520pp, $59.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 31, 2014 as "Jimi Kritzler, Noise in My Head". Subscribe here.