When Thug founding member Peter Read passed away from liver cancer in August 2016, it not only signified the death of yet another musician in a year littered with mortality, but also the death of a Sydney underground icon.
Thug were the standout of that city’s already manically experimental Black Eye scene. That’s saying something. They set the bar for abrasive weirdness in a clique that ate abrasive weirdness for breakfast and then vomited it up again. Abrasively.
Forming in 1987 and rapidly earning themselves a live reputation for their challenging, fast-paced, off the wall shows, Thug were very quickly snapped up by Black Eye Records -a subsidiary of Sydney stalwarts Red Eye Records- and promptly force-fed an unsuspecting art scene a debut single to end all debut singles, ‘Fuck Your Dad’.
With a title like ‘Fuck Your Dad’ spearheading the band’s promotional campaign, it would have been safe to suggest that Casey Kasem and Barry Bissell need not be bothered for this one.
The teeth-clenching harshness of the debut single was a far cry from the swampy, country-tinged twang of fellow Thug founder Tex Perkins‘ main project, the Beasts of Bourbon, and nobody in their right mind could have ever guessed the commercial success and icon status that Perkins would eventually go on to obtain. But weaving through and around Tex’s ultimate vision were a slew of side projects including Tex Deadly and the Dum Dums, Salamander Jim -with Scientists founder and fellow Beast, Kim Salmon- and Furry Men From the North to name a few. And it was the latter that earned Perkins the reputation of a workaholic who will actually stop at nothing to create either great music, or in this case, noise and hilarity for the stupid sake of noise and hilarity.
“I like looking at naked men, when they have erections
I like looking at… naked men
Naked men… with erections!
Naked men… in the raw!
Naked men… give me twenty!
Naked men… give me more!”
This song -and a questionable multitude of others- went on to form one of the most perplexing playlists of all time, the Leather Donut compilation. Tracks and artists included on the album were The Sexy Dwarf ‘Rape Scene Music’ –an immature yet upbeat seven-dwarfs type zaniness that in no way represents its grim title- a solo effort from Peter Read called ‘Kill Me’, Justinstink ‘Cassetin Giftieg’ and of course, Tex’s Furry Men from the North.
In fact, over half of the “bands” on the compilation were indeed Tex Perkins side projects. Thug of course found its way onto the playlist with a track called ‘Thug Rap’, a track that actually does resemble a sort of Afrika Bambaataa proto-style rap as if performed in reverse by Satan’s worst behaved child, Larry. In fairness to Thug, ‘Thug Rap’ was one of the more accessible tracks on the album. And in all seriousness, ‘Leather Donut’ –along with its predecessor, Black Eye’s debut compilation release, ‘Waste Sausage’, was an important step, a portal as it were, into the antagonistic, forthright and utterly contemptuous scene that Black Eye would eventually become.
But it was Thug who became the mainstays, providing the fabric of a template for other crucial acts to work around. The release of their debut LP, 1987’s ‘Mechanical Ape/Proud Idiots Parade’ and the following year’s ‘Electric Woolly Mammoth’ saw the Sydney underground music scene explode with brand new acts, all of which featured many familiar faces from other, less successful bands around town, and most of which went on to eke out either successful, or at least influential dynasties.
Many bands already mentioned in this Sniffing Dirty Laundry series, Lubricated Goat, King Snake Roost and even on occasion Kim Salmon and the Surrealists, drew many influences from Thug’s catalogue and live performances, creating a common thread of confrontation and experimentation all across the incestuous scene. This explosion of creation meant that third and final Thug founding member Lachlan McLeod was able to skirt around and play with many of these great acts, including Lubricated Goat, and ultimately seeding a pretty damn impressive body of work in his own right.
*The following clip from 1987 was recorded at King’s Cross’ Piccadilly Hotel and features a switched on Thug performing at the Black Eye Records’ launch.
Aside from the oft-mentioned influence on early Seattle grunge, and a symbiotic influence with the increasingly avant-garde Adelaide music scene, Black Eye, led by Thug for a portion of the late 1980’s, spread its wings up and down Australia’s east coast, particularly inner-city Sydney and when budget provided, Melbourne. This lead to the birth of perhaps one of the more culturally spectacular and downright insane onslaughts of experimental bands the world had seen to date. From the west was Thou Gideon, a band known around town for their brutally in your face live shows, a band known to be not adverse to the odd act of defecation on stage, a band eventually banned from many venues Australia wide. From the south, Bloodloss were still chug-a-lugging along in Adelaide, while in Melbourne, bands including Fungus Brains, God Guns & Guts and Venom P. Stinger were making their own waves. And in Sydney it was the irrepressible Slub, who by 1990 had taken over the experimental reins while other Black Eye bands were either following an alternate, more rock-centric path, or disbanding altogether.
With heroes Thug disbanding by the end of the eighties -Tex Perkins had his hands full with an incredible Beasts of Bourbon album plus commercial success with his latest band The Cruel Sea– the Black Eye scene was starting to show its innate ability to evolve with the times; a time yearning more for twang than thwack! At the forefront of the evolution, natural selection had handed Earth the beast that was the Kim Salmon and the Surrealists groundbreaking third LP ‘Essence’. This monster represented a monumental shift into the world of swamp/sleaze rock for Black Eye and saw the Surrealists themselves find popularity in Europe, the U.K. and to a smaller extent, the U.S. Testament to the popularity and formula of “grunge” and swamp rock was the release of the Surrealists’ 1993 landmark album ‘Sin Factory’, produced by the recently deceased Tony Cohen -Boys Next Door, Birthday Party, Bad Seeds- and an album of considerable influence.
But it was Thug, Tex Perkins, Peter Read and Lachlan McLeod, oh Thug, with their mechanical loops, intimidating stage dancers, bizarre gimmicks and anti-music rhetoric who blasted the crater for a scene that was sorely needed in the scheme of Australian music at the time. A scene that in the eyes of many was perhaps one of the last great ones before the catastrophic emergence of grunge-lite, pop punk and eek! nu-metal. And aren’t we glad that that’s all over?
So, let’s drop to our knees in a display of humility and grace, and thank the Avant-Gods that we can always fall back on recordings like ‘Fuck Your Dad’ and ‘Mechanical Ape’ for a soul reboot when the going gets all FM drab and icky.
Thank the Avant-Gods indeed.
*Peter Read passed away from lung cancer on August 16th, 2016. The same date as Elvis. R.I.P. brother.
*Tony Cohen passed away from health complications on August 3rd, 2017. My man, may you R.I.P. also.