X was one of the most notorious bands ever to emerge from the Sydney (Australia) inner-city music scene and among the leading lights of the original Sydney punk movement.
Driven by the ferocious bass lines of Ian Rilen, the raucous bawling of lead singer Steve Lucas and a melange of screaming guitars, X played rock ‘n’ roll stripped down to the bare essentials of noise, raw power and pure energy.
The band was constantly banned from venues, subjected to regular harassment from the local constabulary, and suffered several lineup changes – but X was persistent enough to eventually release a number of records.
Ian Rilen had been instrumental in getting the original Rose Tattoo off the ground. He left that band mid-1977 just as they were establishing a formidable reputation as an influential streetwise hard rock band.
Rilen unveiled X in September 1977 with Steve Lucas (vocals), Ian Krahe (guitar) and Steve Cafiero (drums), laying down a sound that was short, sharp, loud and brutally honest.
In May 1978, Ian Krahe went to bed after a packed Bondi Lifesaver gig and never woke up, the victim of a heroin overdose, with asthma possibly a contributing factor. After his death, X recruited guitarist Geoff Holmes as his replacement.
The band then recorded three demo tracks – Home Is Where The Floor Is, Hate City (originally written for Rose Tattoo) and TV Cabaret Roll, which later appeared on a compilation album of Sydney punk bands called Why March When You Can Riot? (1985).
Peter Coutanche replaced Holmes for a while but, in 1979, Steve Lucas took up guitar (to replace Coutanche) and the band continued as a three-piece.
This lineup recorded in late 1979 with the legendary Lobby Loyde producing, resulting in the single I Don’t Wanna Go Out and the album X-Aspirations (1980) – recorded in just five hours.
X then brought Coutanche back into the lineup, and the band held down a residency at Sydney’s Heritage Hotel for a few months, but by mid-1980 they had called it a day.
Ian Rilen switched to guitar and formed Sardine V with his spouse Stephanie Rilen (on vocals and keyboards), eschewing the aggressive assault of X for a more refined and melodic yet brooding approach, recalling bands like The Cure, Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd.
In 1983, Rilen broke up Sardine V to revive X, issuing a second independent single (a cover of John Lennon‘s Mother). The group also relocated to Melbourne where Cathy Green replaced Cafiero on drums.
X recorded its second album, At Home With You, in early 1985, once again produced by Lobby Loyde. For the next five years, X built up a reputation as one of Melbourne’s finest bands.
Signing to the White label in 1987, the group released a version of Roy Orbison‘s Dream Baby, but fans had to wait another two years for the third album, And More (1989).
The album was dedicated to the memory of the late Steve Cafiero, who died in December 1988 when injected with a dye prior to an X-ray for a back complaint.
Rilen broke up X again, forming a band called Hell To Pay with Cathy Green and Spencer P Jones from The Johnnys.
US label Amphetamine Reptile re-issued X-Aspirations on CD for the North American market and in June 1993, Rilen and Lucas reformed X once more with new drummer Stefan Berg.
The band held a residency at the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda, attracting hordes of dedicated fans, then supported The Damned on their Australian tour in April 1997.
Ian Rilen was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006. He left his hospital bed to attend Rose Tattoo’s ARIA Hall of Fame induction on 16 August and he died on 30 October 2006. He was 59.