Decent into the Maelstrom

The shadow of Radio Birdman looms large over my music collection. Whilst my first great love was, and still is to an extent, heavy metal, the high powered Detroit influenced rock and roll they play had a massive influence on me. It was about 2 minutes into the first song I heard of theirs when I knew I was hooked and it’s a passion that still burns brightly, almost *cough* years on. So when I heard a documentary on the band was incoming, I was a little nervous. Would it be like End of the Century, that showed the Ramones as artistically gifted but miserable gits, or more like Gimme Danger, which was a very well made but somewhat toothless love letter to the Stooges?

Rest easy – they’ve done themselves proud. As director Jonathan Sequeira commented at the Q&A tonight (attended by band members Pip Hoyle and Deniz Tek), they cut out anyone talking about the music, and just let it play. Wise move that. I could rhapsodise about the quality of the performances for hours, and will do if you’re unlucky enough to ask me about it in the flesh, but you don’t need that – just listen to the music. The opening drums of Descent into the Maelstrom still thunder away, What Gives rips away like a chainsaw and the opening of Do the Pop can blast roofs off, as I can testify to the last time I saw the band, at the Gaelic in Sydney. They walked on stage, singer Rob Younger mumbled a hello or two, then screamed “12341234!” and everything exploded. And that was the opening number.

It’s a well made tale, with a god mix of new and vintage footage and pictures, with any gaps illustrated by bassist Warwick Gilbert. What get’s the most respect from me is that everyone is allowed to tell their story – it’s real warts and all stuff. Nothing’s off the table as regards inter band feuds and bitterness, a welcome contrast to some band docos I’ve seen in the past. Guitarist Chris Masuak reading his termination email and drummer Ron Keeley recalling his sacking hit hard and rightly so. But at the same time, it’s balanced by frequent hilarity, such as the story of a certain person on the Big Day Out 96 who needed a doctor, or the story of the live brain surgery gig, prompting Younger to quip to the effect of ‘If you can clear a room of fans you must be doing something right.’

What really shines through is the sense of just how much they loved their music, and the fierce determination to do their own thing, in the face of a music industry that despised them (Tek was once accused of facist sympathies by Red Symons, something that’s only gotten funnier given a recent radio interview of Symons.), and in doing so helped create a scene that exists to this day, influencing dozens, if not hundreds of bands worldwide. They’re Radio Birdman, and long may they rock. If you can see it in cinemas, then do so, it sounds amazing. If you can’t, then no matter where you are play it loud. Such amazing music deserves nothing less. Book em Danno, 5 out of 5.

(I do have one small regret, and that’s not working up the guts to ask what the hell Man with Golden Helmet is about – it’s been more years than I care to think about and I still can’t make head nor tail of the lyrics. Great piano work though.)

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