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I don’t go to parties, baby August 29, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in fangirl, music.
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Any street cred this blog ever had is going to go out the window, because I am about to write about Regurgitator. That’s right, you read that correctly. Regurgitator. My non-Australian readers are probably scratching their heads right now, befuddled. If you don’t want to read about a rather popular 1990s Australian electronic rock band who sang about apathy, agoraphobia and video games, I give you leave to tune out. My Australian readers are probably scratching their heads in befuddlement for a different reason. Why would I want to write about Regurgitator?

Quite simply because I think they were one of the best bands in Australia in the 90s. Their music, in particular in the albums Unit and …Art was a sign of the times as much as the adolescent shrieks of Silverchair and the melodic, barely suppressed anger of the Whitlams. These three young nerds from Brisbane (and why is it that so much of the best Australian bands came out of Brisbane? I can’t for the life of me think of anything else to recommend the place) captured something essential about the experience of teenagers and twentysomethings in the Howard years.

Our esteemed former prime minister claimed when he came to power in 1996 that he wanted Australians to feel ‘relaxed and comfortable’, not angsty about our past and frightened about our future. The burning debates of his predecessor, Paul Keating, about reconciliation with the Stolen Generation of indigenous Australians, about Australia’s relationship with Asia, about the environment, about the importance of the arts and intellectual life in Australian culture, were swept under the rug, out of sight but certainly not out of mind. And people were not happy.

One of the big differences between my generation and previous generations (aside from Gen X, whose attitudes and tastes did much to shape the tastes of us Gen Y types, much as both generations would prefer to deny it) is that we reacted to unhappiness and dissatisfaction not with protest and action, but with despair, withdrawal and ennui. Not for nothing are we known as the ‘whatever’ generation. We certainly weren’t relaxed and comfortable – in many cases we were simmering with rage, but we preferred a quieter, less public, form of revolution. We retreated inside. And for the first time, we had the technology to help us.

Regurgitator tapped into all of this. They were, now that I think about it, one of the first bands to recognising the potential for the internet and video games to exacerbate depression and disconnect. Take the lyrics for the song ‘Virtual Life’, the final song on …Art. It’s about a television, but it might as well be about the internet:

I’ve got everything
That I could ever need
It’s under lock and key
Just survive all alone me and my screens

(I hasten to add that this is only one way the internet might affect you. For me, the internet has been nothing but a joy, a source of many fantastic new circles of friends and a place that has taught me so much.)

What about ‘Everyday Formula’ and ‘Black Bugs’, which riff on the same theme, but in relation to video games? Again we find this same emphasis on raising the drawbridge, dropping the portcullis and closing the curtains as a reaction to profound fear of, and disgust at, society:

I got killed by black bugs on my video game
And although to myself it doesn’t mean too much
I keep dying and dying over and over again
But I feel I’m alive so I’ll just pretend

People think that because Regurgitator’s music is full of cheesy electronic notes that wouldn’t be out of place in an old school video game, because they recorded an album in a plastic bubble in the middle of Federation Square and because they pepper their albums with silly, scatological songs, that they are incapable of being serious. But they’re deadly serious when they’re talking about the plastic, fakeness of celebrity and society, as in ‘Polyester Girl’, ‘Happiness’ and ‘Freshmint!. Right when they’re at their most humorous, they’re at their most cutting:

I love pointless effluent
It seems to love me
It’s sticking to my heart like polythene glue
Making everything seem so sweet

Big wide world of bitterness baby
Poisoning up this tongue
Giving this life its sweet respite
Let’s rip that packet of fun

Rotting my brain once again
It’s always the same and never ends (x2)

Love me lovely cathode-ray
Mother me in your glow
I’ll do anything you say
If you tell me I’ll never be alone

Touch me shiny magazine
Touch me way down there
I can’t help but imagining
That you really care

Powerful stuff.

Regurgitator’s appeal always lay in the fact that we knew they were a trio of basement-dwelling nerds. But they were basement-dwelling nerds with something to say, deeply worried about what was going on in society, able to sum up the fears, passivity and neuroses of a generation which had collectively decided that what was going on in the world outside was intolerable, unendurable, and impossible to change. They never spoke about our dreams, because how could such a generation possibly dream? They were deeply, deeply daggy, and revelled in their dagginess. How could one forget ‘The Song Formerly Known As’, a riot of rejection, door-closing and denial?

As the song progresses, the singer rejects parties (‘I don’t go to parties baby/ ‘Cos people tend to freak me out’), discos (‘Won’t see me down the disco mama/ Bright lights really hurt my eyes’), concerts (‘I don’t go to concerts baby/ The music’s always up too loud’) and raving (‘Won’t see me tribal raving/ Cos I won’t ever look that good/ Rather dance in ugly pants/ in the comfort of a loungeroom in surburbia’). It’s the petulant whine, ‘no, no, no, I don’t do that, I don’t do anything, everything is too scary, it’s too much, it’s unendurable’ dressed up as a rousing nerd anthem.

Or is it? ‘The Song Formerly Known As’ is also a nerdy chat up line. (‘Things don’t get no better/ better than you and me’, after all.) It’s a rejection of all the meaningless externalities that get in the way of real relationships. Let’s raise the drawbridge, drop the portcullis and shut the curtains against all those vacuous discos, concerts and parties and stay at home, rejecting the world together. Everything out there is meaningless. Whatever. I don’t go to parties, baby.

I leave you with the video clip for ‘The Song Formerly Known As’. Enjoy!

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Comments»

1. I don't go to parties, baby « Geata Póeg na Déanainn | australianews - August 29, 2009

[…] post: I don't go to parties, baby « Geata Póeg na Déanainn Share and […]

2. Catie - August 31, 2009

Funny that one of the first things I thought of reading this post was Powderfinger not Regurgitator- “I’m not relaxed or comfortable/ I’m aggravation and shame”

3. dolorosa12 - August 31, 2009

Yeah, I thought of Powderfinger too, although I tend to view them as an early 2000s band, not a 90s one (which is ridiculous and incorrect). Also, I’m nowhere near as familiar with their music as I am with Regurgitator’s.

4. jordanrastrick - September 2, 2009

Regurgitator have lots of Street Cred! Nerds can actually be cool musically, through the power of counterculture.

Or something.

I am much more familiar with Powderfinger than Regurgitator. We should compare notes.

5. dolorosa12 - September 2, 2009

We definitely should compare notes. I certainly think a lot of Powderfinger’s songs were dealing with the awfulness of 90s-2000s Australian politics (‘Like A Dog’, for example), but from my superficial knowledge of their music, it seems that they were more direct about their anger with what was going on. Their reaction seemed to be more along the lines of traditional protest than Regurgitator’s attitude of passive despair.

6. jordanrastrick - September 3, 2009

Like A Dog and On the Day You Come are Powderfinger’s two anti-Howard songs, and they are close to my least favourite songs off their respective albums. While they are a politically minded and concious group, it is not a major focus of their song writing.

They do have more general songs about despair with modernity – Passenger is a fantastic example – but largely, their music is optimistic. Take these lines, from Hindley Street:

The Western Ocean breeze kick starts another day
And under-brewed bag tea, no matter where you get it, always seems to leave that taste
The Todd Street Mall cafe is here to save the day
Why should I complain, when everybody else is overworked and underpaid?

Days keep rolling over
Escape to the undercover
Soon, it’ll all be over
And we can start again…. yeah.

So modern life can be tough, endless touring on the road as a musician isn’t exactly easy… but on the other hand, they do get paid to make rock music; things could be a lot worse, and hope springs eternal.

If I want to indulge my negative feelings about the modern world, I listen to Radiohead, who remain the masters of that sentiment.

7. dolorosa12 - September 8, 2009

Sorry it took so long to get back to you, Jordan. I’ve been meaning to reply for ages!

I actually really like ‘Like A Dog’, but this may be because I’ve always been more of a lyrics person than a ‘sound’ person when it comes to music, and I happen to think the lyrics of ‘Like A Dog’ are quite good. Anyway, I agree with you that Powderfinger are (usually) more understated in their songs than, say, Regurgitator.

I agree with you about Radiohead, but Regurgitator have a special place in my heart. It’s not often that a band combines my love of cheesy synthesiser and political commentary in one package!


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