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V/A - Strewth!: An Abstract Electronic Compilation from Australia & New Zealand

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Artist: V/A

Album: Strewth!: An Abstract Electronic Compilation from Australia & New Zealand

Label: Synaesthesia

Review date: Oct. 17, 2002

Rarely do compilations arrive with such an appropriate title. Strewth!, when last checked not a formally recognized outlet of expression, perfectly encapsulates the experimental enthusiasm contained within. Like most abstract electronica, the music here does not make for easy listening, but the pretension level is lessened by an overarching sense of joy. From the exclamation point to the decorative album notes, it’s evident that the musicians behind Strewth! are quite proud of their accomplishment. And they have every right to be.

This glorious assemblage, produced by Melbourne label/record store Synaesthesia, showcases the electronic out and out sounds of Australia and New Zealand (sorry, no Dead C. in attendance). The variety of sounds present runs the gamut from CoolEdit drone to electro-acoustic swarm – just don’t expect anything in a recognizable time signature. The artists on Strewth! abandon all lifejackets and floating devices on their way to abstract depths previously unheard. Unrecognized electronic lifeforms on the bottom of the Tasmanian Sea.

Many of the compositions here would make wonderful soundtrack material for deep-sea documentaries – a sort of modern-day electronica stripped of superfluous pop fashioning to reveal the central nervous system of its primordial heritage. Beacons of piercing light blink intermittently on Dion Workman’s “for i/x”. Netochka Nezvanova’s “poztgenom!knuklearporekomplekz” creeps along the ocean floor, encountering various illuminative bacteria along the way. David Franzke’s “CC kid” explores similar territory, submerging hums and fizzles under 5000 feet of salt water.

Not all of Strewth! resides under the water. Candlesnuffer’s opener “bathe him in paper” is as dry as the title implies. Armies of ants come upon a guitar in the middle of the Outback and devour it whole. The track’s six minutes documents the carnage quite well. Cray, one of the compilation’s bigger names, offers up “untitled I/O”, an ominous, if goofy, laptop creation that brings to life the grayscale heroes of 1950’s sci-fi and lets them take the Merzbow Mercedes 230 out for a spin. For those who feel the need to boogie-woogie, Xonk’s “Primate Training” veers closest to dancefloor.

Strewth!’s most recognizable name to Northerners is Oren Ambarchi. The Sydney guitarist writes this in the album notes: “This is the first time in my life I have attempted to do a computer track. It quite possibly might be my last….One night after going through numerous bottles of Kozel beer, I staggered towards the computer and ‘produced’ this track.” Ambarchi’s drunken state while composing “kozel” is a hilarious confession, and, honestly, a bit more interesting than the piece itself, which doesn’t emit the élan of Strewth!’s other compositions.

That is to say, most of Strewth! defies the hater’s typical perception of the avant-garde. Noise, can in fact, be rather fun. In fact, the compilation’s peak performance exists via an old baseball telecast. Phillip Samartzis’s “NHK Tokyo,” which transforms a Japanese sports broadcast into a hypnotic pinwheel of sound, is actually livelier than most baseball games. And like the majority of Strewth!, it hits a home run. Go Kiwis!

By Otis Hart

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