Image: Tropical Fuck Storm by Jamie Wdziekonski.
Author: Melody Menu
A natural evolution from The Drones, Tropical Fuck Storm contains many of the elements that you would come to expect, namely Gareth Liddiard’s apocalyptic balladry and the rhythmic heft of Fiona Kitschin’s basslines, undercut by a chilling catharsis. But in the case of Tropical Fuck Storm, this is overlaid with a metallic sludge that is uniquely TFS, a petroleum rainbow of pedals and errant time signatures, solidified by new bandmates Erica Dunn of MOD CON and Harmony, and Lauren Hammel of High Tension.
Over the phone from somewhere in Regional Victoria, Fiona Kitschin tells me how TFS originated. “I guess me and Gaz just wanted to do something new. We’ve been doing The Drones thing for 17 years, and that’s just been our last focus. So we wanted to do something new, got the girls on board and – yeah!” Singer and guitarist Erica Dunn had toured with The Drones twice as a part of Harmony and seemed an obvious choice. “When we were thinking of adding another person to be in the band, Erica seemed like a good idea because she’s a friend and a great guitarist and great singer.”
However, when it came to on-boarding Lauren Hammel on drums, they did things a little differently. “What is it called in the corporate world…headhunt! We saw her play in High Tension and we were like ‘wow!’ So we set up a meeting with her through a friend of a friend and then met in a bar and told her we wanted her to join our band, and we got really drunk and she agreed to it. It’s kind of like a weird blind date because we were really nervous.”
With the line-up cemented, the band were free to get creative, invariably concocting an entirely new sound. Kitschin’s basslines provide their debut album A Laughing Death In Meatspace with an ambivalent groove, which makes for an uneasy listen when paired with Hammel’s erratic drum patterns. When you layer chaotic guitars and Liddiard’s damning lyrics over the relentless rhythm section, you get exactly what the band name implies. “I guess we don’t want to do them [the songs] in just the normal way you usually approach songs, which is just drums, bass guitar, here’s the song – play. So Gaz comes with a song, and then we spent a lot of time trying to give it an interesting arrangement, not just playing regular guitar chords or basslines or drum beats. It’s doing something quite unnatural I guess, so it did take a lot of time to get all of those songs together.” The result is a punishing and invigorating experience.
Conceptually, the album reads as a list of the all-too-numerous-now horsemen of the apocalypse: now known as technology and the Internet; environmental disaster; consumerism; and genetic manipulation. It’s an album that feels as though it could only be made now. Kitschin agrees. “It’s really a reflection of what happens – art is a reflection of what is going on in the world at the moment.” However, she foregrounds social media as an equally disastrous factor, worthy of its own category. “It really plays a big part of the themes of that album as well, because that is the world now, that is what’s going on.”
Early on, TFS made the particularly clever decision to dismantle The Drones’ Facebook page and re-name it ‘TFS Records’, thereby theoretically keeping their fans in the loop with their new project and offering up a big ‘fuck you’ to the all-seeing Algorithm. Despite this, utilising social media hasn’t been as straightforward as you would expect for a band with tens of thousands of followers. “You can’t actually reach your fans. You can’t do that anymore because you have to pay for it. So through social media you’ve gathered all of these people that like your music and that want to hear about you and follow your shit, but you can’t actually reach them unless you pay for it now, so it actually stops you from reaching them.”
“And that’s what we do – we have to pay. I think [The TFS Records Facebook page] has got 27,000 followers or likes or whatever, but if we just put out a post on Facebook or something, it will probably get to about 300 people, if we paid for it. So as for bands now, I think social media sucks unless you pay for it.”
For a band with three female members and one male, Tropical Fuck Storm turn the ‘token female’ usually found in such groups on its head. Kitschin, Dunn and Hammel are each extremely skilled musicians in their own right, and aren’t relegated to performing as Liddiard’s backing band. As a 17-year stalwart on the Australian music scene, Kitschin is pleased to say that the scene has improved tremendously for women in bands, since her years of being the only woman in band rooms in the early 2000s. However, she articulates a clear lack of support for women in music.
“I still think that festivals still don’t support women enough. I think they’ll say ‘well, we’re putting on the big bands that pull the punters’ but a lot of those festivals are also what make those bands big in Australia – they’re the ones that make those Triple J bands or whatever huge. And so they actually have the power to make bands with women in them, by supporting them, bigger. And I don’t think that’s done.” In articulating this imbalance, Kitschin joins the likes of Camp Cope and more in spreading word on this issue, with bands and punters alike watching festival lineups closely, opening dialogue, and challenging preconceived ideas of fairness, in the hope of affecting change.
Despite the disquieting themes of the record, the songs become energising in a live setting, as songs about the end of days become affirmations for life. Hammel bludgeons her drum kit as if she herself is under attack, between gnashing guitars and a cacophony of distortion, each member wrangling their instruments with malignant force. When I ask about the previous Australian tour in 2017, she laughs that in the short months between tours, they have double the amount of songs, and have just celebrated their first birthday as a band. “We were thinking the other day, ‘oh my god, everything takes so long’ but then we realised that we’re literally just a year old and we’ve put out four 7”s, and are about to put out an album and tour the US. And we’re like ‘oh actually we’ve done pretty good for only a year old!”
At literally Two Minutes to Midnight on the international Doomsday Clock, this makes perfect sense, with no shortage of inspiration for TFS – and quite possibly only a limited amount of time left to deliver.
A Laughing Death In Meatspace Australian Tour
- Thursday May 3, The Foundry Brisbane QLD (With guests Orlando furious and Ascot Stabber)
- Friday May 4, The Cambridge Newcastle NSW (With guests Fourteen Nights at Sea and Hey Lady)
- Saturday May 5 Oxford Art Factory Sydney NSW (With guests ORION and Fourteen Nights at Sea)
- Thursday May 10 Howler Melbourne VIC (With guests Jacky Winter)
- Friday May 11 Howler Melbourne VIC (With guests Sugar Fed Leopards, School Damage) – SOLD OUT
- Saturday May 12 Howler Melbourne VIC (With guests Hexdebt and No Sister) – SOLD OUT
- Saturday May 19 Badlands Perth WA (With guests Calmly and Nerve Quakes)
- Sunday May 20 Mojo’s Fremantle WA (With guests Peter Bibby’s Dog Act and The Pissedcolas)
- Saturday May 26 Theatre Royal Castlemaine VIC (With guests Hexdebt and Bitch Diesel)
- Friday June 15 Dark Mofo Hobart TAS