Photo by Glen Schenau
And yet in the article, we are ashamed to say, we never quite spent enough time on McLellan himself, so publishing this interview is an attempt to rectify that.
Since rising to prominence in Brisbane (and occupying a space wholly his own) in around 2007 Cured Pink has remained fiercely experimental – the music frequently defies any traditional structure, at times even refusing to be named (such as in the case of the 2010 album Cured Pink). Does this kind of art defy naming or can language simply not capture adequately the collection of sounds? The beauty of this kind of project is that it forces us to ask the questions in the first place.
Though largely a solo entity, McLellan has also collaborated with Soft Power, Greg Boring and Kitchen’s Floor, and at times he has taken on band members (such as for ’11 Put Aside, the second release for Melbourne label Another Dark Age. This was a collective creation from Glen Schenau, Mitchell Perkins (Per Purpose, Psy Ants) and later Stuart Busby of the Deadnotes and the collective have just finished a European tour following their latest release As a Four Piece Band on RIP Society Records.
To the common man, some of McLellan’s work might seem messy and incomprehensible. But, like all the artists we came across, the meaning is deeply considered. Jason Dean of 7 inches beautifully describes his music as being in a “perpetual state of falling apart". This isn't being different for the sake of it, he is testing the boundaries of expression through art and in doing so is playing a valuable role for music in general (intentionally or not): he stretches the workspace – giving the more mainstream artists room to try things themselves.
Is relocation ever unemotional? Our email correspondence took place just as he was relocating to Sydney – a move perhaps seen as controversial by some. The question of being faithful to the scene was a recurring theme in all of our interviews.
Below is the full interview in which he explains how the music sometimes operates across borders, how it differs in Brisbane compared to the bigger Australian cities, why seminal nights Audiopollen and Real Bad Music were so important, as well as his influences growing up.
Which were the most influential bands for you starting out?
I grew up in Cairns, a regional city 2000kms north of Brisbane. There weren't really any developed live bands performing that I would consider an influential force which is something some kids who grew up in the capitals had access to - you know, a local hardcore band. All music that inspired was consumed from CDs, Mp3s, and some vinyl, but all in absentia of the actual musicians behind them. It would be a long list to name bands that really inspired growing up - I have fond memories of The Prodigy, This Heat, Joy Division, Aphex Twin as a youth.
What got you into making music?
I thought all the music I was into around age 11 - mostly electronic - was created by DJs. I didn't really have a concept of how that music was made beyond turntables and a DJ mixer. I wanted to buy turntables and DJ gear but the guy at the store grilled me about what I wanted to do with them. He convinced me to go with a much cheaper purchase, so I was bought a copy of Acid 2.0 and began making songs on a computer. As I began listening to more guitar music as a teen the guitar found its way in there. Perhaps mid high school there were enough people with just enough of a similar idea to form a live band.
Is there something specific about Brisbane (geography or people) that produces a strong underground scene?
That's difficult to say for a couple of reasons. The first is, sans live shows most bands have their strongest presence online or through media that is distributed online so the geographic divide is narrower to what it once was. Brisbane bands regularly travel and bands from other scenes visit regularly enough that Brisbane's resembles just a really great node in a matrix of Australian bands with a cross-over of identity, aesthetic or audience.
Also some bands have members that live in other cities but seem to reunite often enough when that person returns or the others travel: Nite Fields and Cobwebbs for instance. The second is, I can only compare it to the other cities of Australia - and I've only ever lived in one other city and that is my regional hometown. But I feel Brisbane finds its strength in its divergence. Typical line-ups - of the sort I'd think are the underground shows - traverse a range of styles and influences so that a band that is indebted to Goner Records will appear next to one indebted to Italo Disco. But there isn't enough of an audience for any of these niche tastes to have a dedicated lineup or dedicate audience - so everything gets infected. New groups start out of the existing ones.
How does underground music in Brisbane compare to the rest of Australia?
It's mostly different to Melbourne I think where there is a huge network of people operating within each niche interest, and are supported by a wider network of venues, with many more potential audience members (people who don't listen to Nova) etc. But for Brisbane, there's a great network of people with recording skills to make demos, EPs and LPs appear. There are always people putting shows together, taking a small financial/anxious risk to see some bands play. There's a great community broadcaster that provides a wealth of access for people wanting to get their music heard. But I think the character of this 'scene' is its size, perhaps which contributes at times to a splintered audience - you really notice it when two great gigs are on the same night. Typical turnouts fall around the 60-100 people mark and a successful night could be around 200 people for a typical 3-5 band lineup. Which is probably fair to say for the peer scenes of other cities too. You can see I'm struggling to come up with Brisbane's distinction, but I think there's something that struggles a bit more to get heard and supported outside of Brisbane compared to other cities and perhaps contributes to some kind of modesty at times on the part of the artists.
But with the limited amount of venues and perhaps relative lack of people into underground music (compared to total population I mean) I think it's somewhat similar to the Sydney scene. Bands, promoters and labels seem to have to same headaches there. Or maybe they're just a bit more vocal about the hangups.
What music venues in Brisbane have been particularly influential for you?
The good ones come and go. Audiopollen was a coming-of-age Social Club that took place each Sunday night behind a fruit store in West End around 2006-2008. It was an experimental music night but anything could go - so it wasn't unusual to have a near-silent jazz-tradition free-improvisation trio share a bill with a touring grindcore band, a doom drone soloist, and a wacked-out electronic DIY beats duo. It was curated by guests almost each week. It wasn't anything goes strictly speaking, but I haven't really seen that level of freedom awarded anywhere else. You could really fail at what you were trying and it was the best place to do so.
Audience etiquette was quite stretched too - I guess I'm thinking of comparable experimental/improv/noise nights in other cities, audience didn't simply shut up but could often become part of proceedings. On that expero/improv/noise note, that wasn't a strict stylistic guideline either. Rehearsed bands and songs were quite common, and would be infected with the chaos that surrounded them. Sometimes something just wouldn't fit but you could do a lap of the block if you weren't into it, and come back for the next thing. It was just weekly - and that consistency is what allowed it to keep 'social' in its name. It was a hangout.
The place a lot of people will miss the most - like me - is Real Bad Music which is wrapping up around 6 or so years of hosting chaos and lineups collaging entire swabs of different people next to the Moorooka train station. Matt Earle and Nicola Morton (Club Sound Witches) have been operating their house as a rather open venue in a crumbling Queenslander flat on a Magic Mile of used car yards. Like Audiopollen, there is a genuine risk in all proceedings which you miss in the sanctity of a licensed venue.
I'm personally not into big venues. There are heaps of other venues I really loved in Brisbane over the years but that one has a special place in my head. Burst City was a great DIY all-ages venue/rehearsal space that lived two years I think? The Waiting Room in West End held their ground really well for a long time. Ahimsa House in West End held some great punk shows/festivals for a while too before gentrification took its toll. The Underdog is a current one that has provided good access for a while, as have the Beetle Bar in the CBD and The Bearded Lady in West End.
What have been your best and worst moments associated with the music scene in Brisbane?
I can't say what the best is, there's been heaps of things over the years. The lowest note was the passing of Brendon Annesley who had built something that was just beginning to create bridges between people who would otherwise stick to their friend-circle or their chosen look/sound. Also, I don't think there's been such a great written document of the Brisbane underground in the last 10 years as Negative Guest List.
Reading about Brendon Annesley - it was said that the music was sometimes the only thing that could get him out of bed. Is the music a therapy for people in that sense?
It has been suggested that there is tension between conservative authorities and the underground scene with gigs being banned.
Banned gigs? You mean cops responding to a noise complaint? That's about it as far as I've seen it in the last couple of years. I wouldn't say it's much more severe than other cities in Australia, though because of QLD's questionable political past - and present – it’s becoming quite lucrative to link and incident to a conservative status quo. I haven't seen a gig or venue outrightly 'banned,' though around the G20 noise complaints seemed to be attended to much more readily than usual. These things are always going to be anecdotal however. The Waiting Room really severely limited their operating hours to assuage complaining neighbours.
What is it that allows you to constantly evolve and stay relevant with your projects?
Regarding your move to Sydney - is that a permanent move and any reflection on Brisbane?
Brisbane is great. People always come and go from here I suppose. Some people have a disdain for this, perhaps viewing it as detrimental to a healthy and productive scene were people establish and work at things for many years, but a lot of things are always going on, perhaps just not the exact thing you really loved before you left.
What's in the future for the Brisbane underground scene?
Cured Pink's latest release As a Four Piece Band is out now on RIP Society Records