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The Birthday Party

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The Birthday Party (originally known as The Boys Next Door) were an Australian post-punk band, active from 1978 to 1983.

In 1980, The Birthday Party moved from Melbourne to London, where they were championed by broadcaster John Peel. Disillusioned by their stay in London, the band's sound and live shows became increasingly violent. They broke up soon after relocating to West Berlin in 1983. Despite limited commercial success, The Birthday Party's influence has been far-reaching, and they have been called one of "the darkest and most challenging post-punk groups to emerge in the early '80s."[3] In his lyrics, Nick Cave frequently used Old Testament imagery, combining "sacred and profane" themes.[1] Their 1981 single "Release the Bats" was particularly influential on gothic rock, a tag which the band rejected.[4]

The creative core of The Birthday Party went on to acclaimed careers: singer and songwriter Nick Cave, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mick Harvey, and singer, songwriter and guitaristRowland S. Howard.

History[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Early years and The Boys Next Door (1973–1978)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The nucleus of the band first met at the private boys school Caulfield Grammar School, in suburban Melbourne, in the early seventies. A rock group was formed in 1973, with Nick Cave(vocals), Mick Harvey (guitar), and Phill Calvert (drums), with other students John Cocivera, Brett Purcell and Chris Coyne (on guitar, bass and saxophone respectively). Most were also members of the school choir. The band played under various names at parties and school functions with a mixed pre-punk repertoire of David BowieLou ReedRoxy MusicAlice Cooper and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, among others.

After their final school year in 1975 the band decided to continue as a four-piece group, with friend Tracy Pew picking up the bass. Greatly affected by the punk explosion of 1976 which saw Australian bands The Saints and Radio Birdman making their first recordings and tours, The Boys Next Door, as they were now called, began performing punk and proto-punk cover versions, such as "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Gloria", and a few original songs.[5] By November 1977 their set was dominated by fast original New Wave material, such as "Sex Crimes" and "Masturbation Generation".[6]

The Boys' second guitarist, Rowland S. Howard, joined in 1978, and about this time, the group's sound changed dramatically. The addition of Howard's guitar was certainly a catalyst (his later use of audio feedback being a hallmark of the group) but there were other changes, as well: their sound drew upon punkrockabillyfree jazz and the rawest blues, but defied concise categorisation. Many songs were driven by prominent, repetitive basslines and frenetic, yetminimalist, drumming. Though the band was tightly rehearsed, the instrumentalists often sounded as if they were on the verge of collapse, this quality only emphasising the newfound mania of Cave's singing, and his expressionist lyrics. In producer/engineer Tony Cohen they found a willing accomplice to their experimentation and their refusal to repeat themselves; and in manager Keith Glass they found an enthusiastic financial backer. Glass' label Missing Link Recordsreleased all of the early Birthday Party records.

Name change and relocations (1978–1982)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The Boys Next Door's best known song, "Shivers," was banned by radio stations because of a reference to suicide. After recordings and moderate success in Australia (including hundreds of live shows) they headed for London in 1980, changing their name to The Birthday Party and launching into a period of innovative and aggressive music-making. Some sources say the band took its new name from the Harold Pinter play The Birthday Party;[7] others (including Ian Johnston's Cave biography) state it was prompted by Cave misremembering, or intentionally misattributing, the name to a non-existent birthday party scene in the lengthy Dostoevsky novel, Crime and Punishment. They resided in London, with trips back to Australia and tours through Europe and the U.S. before relocating to West Berlin in 1982.

Above the barely-controlled racket, Cave's vocals ranged from desperate to simply menacing and demented. Critics have written that "neither John Cale nor Alfred Hitchcock was ever this scary,"[8] and that Cave "doesn't so much sing his vocals as expel them from his gut".[9] Though Cave drew on earlier rock and roll shriekers; especially Iggy Pop and Suicide's Alan Vega, his singing with the Birthday Party remains powerful and distinct.

The single "Release the Bats" came out during the emergence of the gothic scene.[2] This song about "vampire sex" was promoted by an advert with the words "Dirtiness is next to antigodliness".[1]

Their 1982's Junkyard album was inspired by American gothic imagery, dealing with extreme subjects like an evangelist's murdered daughter.[1] Certain songs like "She's Hit" have bluesy qualities but the atmosphere was both decrepit and sinister.[1]

Final years (1982–1983)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

For the Party, things had changed. Calvert was ejected in 1982; he was reportedly "unable to nail down the beats for 'Dead Joe' to everyone's satisfaction",[10] and Harvey moved to drums. When Pew was jailed for drunk driving and petty theft early in 1982, Chris Walsh, Barry Adamson and Howard's brother Harry replaced him for live appearances and brief studio work. Pew rejoined the band in July.

The Mutiny EP contained lyrics evoking blasphemy, words which were as dark as the gothic poems of Lautréamont.[1] The title track portrayed a dirty heaven with rats and trash.[1]

In 1982 a spin-off group with Lydia LunchHoneymoon In Red, recorded an album which was eventually released in 1987. Harvey and Cave were reportedly so unhappy with the mixing and overdubbing done after their involvement that they requested their names be withheld from its liner notes. Howard and Pew apparently had no objections to being credited by name.

A tour in January 1983 found the group return to a five-piece, with Jeffrey Wegener playing drums and Harvey returning to second guitar. Wegener did not remain with the group, however, and they returned to a four-piece soon after. Later this year, Blixa Bargeld from the German band Einstürzende Neubauten played guitar on the track "Mutiny in Heaven". Tension between Cave and Howard soon came to a head, but it was Harvey who first left the group – their final tour saw Des Hefner on drums. The Birthday Party disbanded in late 1983, due in part to the split between Cave and Howard, as well as work and drug-related exhaustion.

Post-breakup, legacy and influenceEdit

Several groups rose from the Birthday Party's ashes: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (featuring Cave, Harvey, Adamson, Bargeld and briefly Pew), Crime and the City Solution (featuring Harvey and Howard, later just Harvey) and These Immortal Souls (featuring Howard).

Pew died from injuries caused by an epileptic seizure in 1986.

Due in part to their legendary status and to the continuing success of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party's back catalogue has been re-released on CD several times. In recent years Mick Harvey has overseen releases of rare or previously unissued recordings.

The Birthday Party's initial impact was on the Gothic rock genre. According to New Musical Express, "The Party have been indirectly held responsible for the rise of a visceral new hardcore, ranging from The Sex Gang Children, through Danse Macabre to March Violets."[11] Rock acts that have cited The Birthday Party as an influence include LCD Soundsystem,[12] White ZombieThe Jesus And Mary ChainThe Mars VoltaCoilMy Bloody Valentine,[13] Deerhunter,Eugene Hutz of Gogol BordelloCocteau TwinsThe Jesus LizardScratch Acid16 HorsepowerBig BoysDinosaur Jr., and Tindersticks. In 2006, US indie label 31G Records released a tribute album to The Birthday Party, Release the Bats, featuring bands such as Ex ModelsMelt-BananaThe Chinese Stars and The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower.

In October 2007, Cave alone was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, Cave took it upon himself to 'induct' the Australian members of the Bad Seeds (including Harvey), plus Howard and Pew from The Birthday Party.

Rowland S. Howard died 30 December 2009 of liver cancer.[14] In 2012 Howard's early songs were played live as a tribute in Melbourne: a four-piece band played consisting of Harvey, Calvert, Ron Rude and Rowland Howard's sister Angela.[15]

Members[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Band members
Touring and guest musicians

Discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The Boys Next Door
The Boys Next Door/The Birthday Party
  • The Birthday Party (LP 1980). Originally credited to the Boys Next Door. Later re-released and attributed to The Birthday Party. Re-released on CD in 1988 with the band's early recordings, under the title "Hee Haw" (see below; not to be confused with the "Hee Haw" EP of 1979).
The Birthday Party

Singles and EPs[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The Boys Next Door
The Birthday Party

Video and DVDs[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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