The Birthday Party hailed from the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, in 1978. They had originally been The Boys Next Door and set tales of death, bats and car crashes to a kind of decapitated jazz-punk.
When Nick Cave and Co relocated to London in 1980 they were disgusted by the anti-rock New Pop, to which their debut album, Prayers On Fire (1981), was a chaotic corrective – its doomy squalls sounding like rock’s furthest, most testing extreme.
In Britain, they gleefully wrought havoc with blood-spilling live shows and biblically angry record releases. Their records came with swastikas on the sleeves and titles like Drunk On The Pope’s Blood. Violence was routine, as was heroin.
Their second album, Junkyard (1982), was a record that sounded at once lobotomised and freakishly smart. Circumstances surrounding the recording of the album were chaotic, to say the least: Bassist Tracy Pew was jailed in Australia for three months for theft and drunk driving, and drummer Phil Calvert was slowly being ousted (he ended up in the Psychedelic Furs).
The chaos was mirrored in the raw and powerful music, which often sounds as though each member is playing a different song to the others.
By 1982, the group’s thirst for heroin and confrontation had seen them alternately at war with their audience, the music press, and each other. The kamikaze logic peaked on Dead Joe – a madly ecstatic depiction of a car smash.
Tracy Pew joined The Saints but was to die in 1986 of an epileptic fit at the age of 28.
Rowland S Howard