In late 1983, on the back of triumphant shows, the super well selling Swampland/Happy Hour single, and the classic Blood Red River album and video, Au Go Go commissioned another single. Kim was not resting on the laurels of success to date, and he continued to refine the band's vision, pushing the band to find something new to challenge the audience. If ever there was a band that was going from strength to strength...

Every gig got bigger and better and more like what we were aiming for. We were evolving to the point where we just had two notes, weird drumming and a whole lot of guitar and the singing was just like a trainwreck. The whole thing was just a twisted wreckage really, sort of like a car crash in motion (Kim Salmon).

The recording process was challenging as Kim was chasing an elusive sound, something different but still true to the primitive mantra he had laid out for The Scientists. A reworked older song, We Had Love, was the perfect potion. For this recording, English BBC producer Peter Watts was behind the desk; a professional who diligently captured the band's sound. Everyone was pleased with the takes, but Kim was not satisfied. "I said to Tony [Thewlis, Scientists guitarist] 'Come on let's turn the treble off,' so he got this really thick fuzz, it was quite an exercise in pulling teeth to get him to do that ‘cause we just played the way it was, but This Is My Happy Hour I really wanted this muddy sound." Tony was up to the challenge – "Kim thought of making my guitar really bassy and with as much amp distortion as possible, which immediately worked" (Tony Thewlis). Kim was impressed – "And then for the solo he must have seen what we were doing ‘cause he was magnificent. It does not sound like a guitar at any point in the song. It goes from sounding like a weird synth to a vacuum cleaner!"

If any Kim Salmon song is aligned with Seattle grunge, it's We Had Love. Built on the motif of a simple three note riff, We Had Love was operated by the loud/soft dynamics that would be used, with less discretion, by many of the grunge bands of the early 1990s. "That's one thing that has a bit to do with grunge, it's only got dynamics to work with." The dynamics were controlled by the archetypal Scientists two-guitar sound.

Tony is a great guitar player and I saw myself as a songwriter, but in those days I wasn't a lead guitarist, I was just a guitarist. I didn't use effects, I went straight in to an amp and Tony had all the fuzz. It was natural to have a two-guitar sound. It was a very three-dimensional soundscape. It didn't occur to us to have the guitars pressed together doing dual harmonies, it wasn't Blue Oyster Cult!

I'm really proud of that and Sonic Youth ended up doing that and we were in that mindset at the time, the sonic experimentation of the guitars. And I'd try and hide the harmonic element and make it look like I just picked up a guitar and made some noise, but I thought long and hard about it, and all those really simple riffs took me forever to write (Kim Salmon).

The sonic experimentation kept The Scientists' sound plummeting towards the minimal. In November 1983, they returned to the studio and put down a further five tracks for another 12" EP. Titled This Heart Doesn't Run On Love, the new record mapped out where the band was heading. If anything, it's even more minimal than Blood Red River, and there was some very off-the-wall timing going on. Kim explains, "Nitro was in 5/4, Solid Gold Hell is in 3/4, 5/4 and 6/8 or something and it just goes from section to section and maybe you don't even notice it. The lyrics were throwing in as much about snakes and swamp and fire as I could, just having something to hang the riffs off. But musically there is quite a bit going on."

In Bruce Milne, The Scientists had a sympathetic ear and soul: "They were moving and refining, making it hard to sell records obviously, I mean give me an album of Swamplands or We Had Love, but by the time we get to This Heart... it's like this is just a ferocious throbbing roar, but it's the reason I set up doing records, I want the thrill of working with this kind of thing" (Bruce Milne).

The new mini-LP was in the can and set to be released the following year. The Scientists were now hot and in demand. Their appeal was stretching beyond the inner-city pubs and out to new markets, and by late 1983, agents were bashing down Kim's door. Playing was still ferocious, and Sydney was still fun, but discontent was starting to surface at the back of the stage. "We pretty much conquered the scene in the inner city. We were doing gigs on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, getting to be popular in different places. I know Brett [Rixon, Scientists drummer] didn't like it, having surfies coming to our gigs and saying, 'You guys are dead set. You guys are the shit.' He really wasn't keen on that."

In fact that wasn't all that was bugging Brett. He had been increasingly frustrated with his role in the band, which was at once aligned with Kim and critical to the Scientists sound, but did require some personal ego repression. Brett may or may not have been a budding artist with his own creative voice, time didn't give its fullness for that to be revealed, but in 1983 he was starting to feel like his avenues for expression were limited by just playing Kim's beats. "And he was the one in the band who needed to be kept happy, he was going to be moody and stomp off. So keeping him in the band was key, I thought, 'Oh God, if we lose him that would be the end'… He was the lynchpin of the sound. He really did those things that were beyond the guitars."

Brett was grumbling more and more and making noises about wanting a change of scenery overseas. Around this time, The Scientists got a good review in the British music magazine NME, who were not known for their charitable views of Australian bands. Forces were converging when Boris [Sujdovic, Scientists bass player] had dinner with his parents one night who said: "'We're going back to the old country, do you want to come?' and all of a sudden it dawned on me — 'Fuck, what are we doing here? Why don't we just go overseas?' And I bumped into Kim and said, 'Why don't we go overseas?' And he said, "Yeah, alright.'" (Boris Sujdovic).

So there was a plan. London made the most sense to us, we didn't speak German! It seemed like London was the place to go. Linda [Fearon, Kim Salmon's wife] was into that idea being English, and Tony was the same. They had hung onto their English-ment, so going back to England was quite significant for both of them (Kim Salmon).

Preparations were made for the trip to England. A farewell tour in late 1983 was quickly thrown together to help fund the journey. The band did a series of shows across Australia to great response and general uproar. But one show in particular has gone down in Scientists folklore: The Parramatta Leagues Club.

In October 1983, The Scientists were paired, somewhat oddly, with The Angels for a show at the Parramatta Leagues Club in Sydney. The club was barely a band venue and was more accustomed to hosting jubilant rugby crowds celebrating a Parramatta victory. But not this night. The thousand-strong crowd were not celebratory, they were pissed off. Their team had gone down earlier that day and now here they were, assembled wholly to see The Angels, the epitome of Aussie pub-rock, and instead they were being subjected to four long-haired, oddly attired, surly freaks who barely looked up and made noise, not music. The Scientists, it must be emphasised, were on a very different trip to The Angels. The club was already soaked in beer and crackling with machismo and hostility when The Scientists took to the stage. ‘It started when we introduced a Captain Beefheart song to the crowd, which was not really going to win them over when their footy team had just lost. 'Who the fuck is this? Scientists? They haven't got a brain between them!'"

The packed crowd booed and jeered, swarming and moving to let patrons loaded up with bottles from the bar back and forth through the throng. Scuffles broke out, but the antipathy was well and truly directed towards the stage. It was a scene that stuck with Tony. "The Parramatta Leagues Club experience was, at the time, pretty terrifying — we really could have died for our 'art'."

As The Scientists moved into another song, a beer bottle, then another, flew from the angry horde at the stage. The first slid harmlessly across the stage, past Brett's drums and into the dark recesses of the Club. But the crowd were inspired by the wayward throw and started hurling their own bottled missiles.

More and more bottles were thrown. I was arcing it up, it was a bit of theatre. Dave Faulkner told me off saying, "You did that on purpose. You can't complain, playing Beefheart up there, what did you expect?" Whatever we did, it wasn't going to work, so I thought we might as well make it worse rather than just fizzle out. I started a riff in 5/4 time, and as we were busy being bottled off stage I said, "Hey guys, let's turn it up a notch, here's this riff!" It was this completely unstructured thing, so to turn it into a song I yelled some unintelligible lyrics and it had all these crazy guitar and drum bits in it. (Kim Salmon).

This was taking songwriting to a new place entirely. "Some of the songs evolved out of adversity. At Parramatta, he'd just make up a riff, and he'd say 'Just play this, guys,' and infuriate the audience! And then a song would come out of it. The more antagonistic the audiences got the better it was for us" (Boris Sujdovic). That song would later morph into Nitro and be the anarchistic, thundering doomsday centrepiece of This Is My Happy Hour many Scientists shows thereafter. "So we did Nitro and made it worse! A full bottle of wine nearly hit me in the face, and I thought 'That would have hurt!'" Sensing that the mood had turned from dangerous to deadly, the band stuck their fingers up at the crowd, spat back some insults and skulked off stage, leaving a near riot of outraged Angels fans behind them.

The band took this near-death experience not as a setback, but as validation. "It proved my point that the establishment could not help us. That's a key moment for us, proving that we're going to do things on our own terms and that for The Scientists that was going to be the only way." It showed the ferocious potency of the band, in attitude and form, they were un-paralleled in Australia. They had built up a fearsome live show, recording success, a loyal following and an expanding footprint. The doors to success were open.

"Nine Parts Water, One Part Sand: Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge" book extracts courtesy of Melbourne Books


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