9th March 2009
I first witnessed Melbourne/Berlin noise-makers HTRK in action at a time where any favourable impression would not come forthwith. This was in a dingy low ceilinged East London venue that should’ve had ‘CONDEMNED BUILDING’ written all over it. It was as if someone had kicked open the doors, installed a shitty bar that served drinks in white plastic cups and then allowed the first band to walk in off the street to set up. That band was HTRK (pronounced Hate Rock). They came on stage and engaged in a sound offensive that quickly became a test of endurance. Drum machines, sheet metal guitars, malevolent basslines, this corroded noise spewing forth and being beaten into shape by woman using a maraca on a floor tom like a fist on a face. And I’d just dragged my ass across town during winter for this? Fuck that.
This time around in a state of extended hangover fug, HTRK made sense, as if a dark veil was removed and the band suddenly shot into focus. Whatever the case, be it being sufficiently attuned to their frequency or my 12 months in a HTRK hiatus, this trio assumed complete control and where before seemed like an odd marriage of manipulated noise and blank emotion, they pulsed with raw energy and were mesmerising. The occasion for the show was a special one for the band, a launch party for their debut album Marry Me Tonight [review], which for a band that formed in 2003 and has only an EP entitled Nostalgia in 2005 and a 12″ single to their name, has been a long time coming.
If they were to ever remake the Australian cult movie Dogs in Space, HTRK would be the logical connection between the first wave of Melbourne’s post-punk/avant-garde innovators and the present. On first listen they remind me of Lydia Lunch backing the Sisters of Mercy around the time of their drone-like Reptile House EP. Vocalist/Percussionist Jonnine Standish carries a dispassionate, unenthused blank stare persona. Sandwiched either side are guitarist Nigel Yang and bassist Sean Stewart who wears his bass on his hip in a low-slung stance reminiscent of The Birthday Party’s Tracy Pew. Yang and Stewart together make a noise akin to listening to a stereo with one busted speaker that spews out textured noise while the other plays these brooding basslines. In-between you’ve got a drum machine offering a nearly flat-lined beat over which Jonnine sings in monotone and accents the beat on the floor tom.
Their stage act is almost an anti-presence. Smoke from an overworked smoke machine casts a thick veil across the stage. Jonnine barely moving, barely blinking, while Sean locks his bass into a never-ending groove and Nigel bends over his pedals modifying the noise in waves. Their set climaxes with “Ha” taken from their Ha/Panties 12”, Jonnine standing dead straight, left arm rising and falling as it connects with the drum, repeating “Ha” over and over as if the joke just didn’t cut it. There’s nothing funny about HTRK. If anything the joke is on us. We should’ve been at the bar with our backs turned listening, not standing agape and applauding. Having encamped in London for the last few months biding their time, HTRK have come up for air at the right moment, and Marry Me Tonight might well provide the exposure and attention that the band deserve.