Like any avid aficionado of undiscovered musical gems, I take great pleasure from searching the world for forgotten acts and tracks and bringing them back as spoils for my faithful 80sObscurities audience. Today’s bounty comes directly from deep Down Under, Melbourne’s minimal wave outfit Informatics, an outfit formed in 1978 by two art students (Michael Trudgeon and Valek Sadovchikoff) who “shared the same sonic space and found a common love of sweeping oscillators.”
To understand the band’s history, one must first appreciate the times in which the artists evolved. While former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam may be best remembered by history as the only PM to have his commission terminated by blocked supply following the constitutional crisis of 1975, the former Federal Labor Party leader spearheaded a number of social changes of sizable significance during his time in office. The Whitlam Government abolished the death penalty, established Legal Aid services and created the Department of Urban Development to address substandard living conditions in developing areas of the country.
Yet, perhaps one of his most important achievements – at least as it relates to Informatics and thousands of their peers – was the elimination of university fees, an act that opened up tertiary education to an entire generation of students who otherwise would not have had the means to attend college. Trudgeon and his band mates were all beneficiaries of this development and immediately enrolled at the Preston Institute School of Art in Melbourne.
“This was around the same time that the English were turning American punk into a global phenomenon of energetic and innovative do-it-yourself music,” Trudgeon remembers. “When (DIY and free schooling) collided in Australia, every art college and university cafeteria became a breeding ground for new music.”
“We could even take experimental music as a subject. It was taught by one of Australia’s finest avant garde musicians, David Tolley. He was unafraid of any form of experimentation and incredibly generous with his time and knowledge. He introduced us to a beautiful electronic sound lab and directed us to the best technical texts available at the time. It was a no brainer.”
In was in the lab that Trudgeon would meet future band mates Sadovchikoff and Steve Adam and introduce them to Ramesh Ayar, with whom he was writing plays at the time. Shortly thereafter, from his job at the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Adam would recruit his co-worker, Phil McKellar and Informatics was complete.
“Everybody at the Institute was in a band, so this was pretty normal,” Trudgeon explains. “Every night we would head downtown to see new bands playing at pubs or parties. Making and listening to music was a really important part of life, but I don’t think we were doing anything different from anybody else. The styles of music ranged from Country and Western to politically-motivated electronic noise…and that was just our school.”
As a group, the members of Informatics were more interested in experimentation than they were in keeping in step with their compatriots in the conservative cultural elite; bands like Men At Work, INXS and Midnight Oil, who had already begun to break the barrier of Australia’s isolation and usurp airwaves in Europe and America. For Trudgeon, it seemed that the majority of popular Aussie musicians were more interested in stardom than any sense of “scene,” a perspective that seemed to be reinforced by a pop music machine that included the press, radio and television shows such as “Countdown.”
“We were driven by a love of the possibilities of what synthesizers and sequencers could do,” Trudgeon says. “Quite often the songs were shaped by the textures and rhythms that this new and exciting technology could generate. I think we were more interested in what we could experiment with rather than compete with well-established genres. The future looked exciting.”
There were others like them, bands like Donno Detti, Essendon Airport and Shanghai Au-Go-Go, all part of an energetic - if marginal - minimal electronic movement. The problem was that the country’s masses tended to ignore much of this music and little of it ever made it to vinyl. Those acts who managed to slip under the industry radar and make it to the mainstream charts, such as Mi-Sex or Icehouse, were few and far between.
Yet the members of Informatics were doing things the only way they knew how, by following their hearts…and their influences. Trudgeon’s list of notables is not unexpected: Velvet Underground, La Monte Young, Faust, Thomas Lear, Giorgio Moroder.
Steve Adams took in the music of the times like a sponge, absorbing and appropriating: “almost anything 'electronic' that was accessible at that time. This meant mostly mainstream - or close to it - was a general influence, but more for the sounds than the musical formulations as such.”
“The stuff that I had on record or tape, however,” Adams continues, “was more important. This was because it could be reproduced and emulated. Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Devo, Eno, early Human League & Ultravox, John Foxx, Depeche Mode, Tubeway Army, Peter Gabriel, Japan…how I loved their ‘Tin Drum’ album. Of course, pioneers from previous generations such as Cage and Stockhausen were also of significant influence. Plus, you could always find some good ideas in guitar rock bands, such as the Doors, and these ideas could be ‘lifted’ and reworked into an experimental electronic minimal sound. An example of that is our track ‘Stop it Don’t Dance.’”
The fact that Adam, McKellar and Sadovchikoff all had equipped themselves with home studios - and that the former two were actually trained recording engineers to boot - meant that Informatics were able to record an album’s worth of material in a relatively short period of time. The Institute’s facilities also provided access to tape recorders, mixers and effects machines, which afforded the band the opportunity to experiment with various effects and recording techniques.
“We were masters of the TEAC 4 track tape machine,” Trudgeon proclaims.
The band also benefited from the benevolence of one Bruce Milne, from Aussie independent label Au Go Go Records. Despite the fact that Informatics weren’t typical of the catalog, Milne offered to release their one and only EP, 1982’s “Dezinformatsiya.” The record contained four songs, including today’s 80sObscurities feature, “Proximity Switch.” Named for an electrical motion sensor that activates a response in a neighboring circuit (“Cyborg love,” Trudgeon smiles), the band’s most popular track is better known as “Accidents In Paradise”, a phrase repeated throughout the song.
Informatics supported the EP with a brief tour, but local interest in the EP never materialized. With little prospects for future success, the band quietly disbanded and the members went their separate ways. What they didn’t know at the time was that some way, somehow, “Proximity Switch (Accidents In Paradise” would outlive their short career and find a new audience on a new continent.
“That our music became popular in Germany and Belgium was a mystery to us,” Trudgeon notes. “Unbeknownst to us, it was topping dance charts in parts of Europe even as we were struggling to get gigs in Melbourne. Of course, we did not find out about this until years later. We don’t know how it got there.”
“People started getting in touch with Valek asking to rerelease our material and that’s when we found out about its popularity.” (The most notable of these re-releases were several remixes by Punx Records, the brainchild of German DJ Moguai.)
While Informatics might have gone into hibernation, that would not be the end of their story. Interest in and demand for their material continued throughout the years and ultimately led to the band’s own self-release of the “compilation” “In The Garden Of Euterpe” in 2002. The band performed again for the first time in Melbourne in 29 years in 2012 playing new minimal electronic material, with more performances planned for 2013.
Today – more than thirty years after their debut – Informatics’ history is *still* being written, as the band prepares for the January 29th release of “Dance to a Dangerous Beat”, a comprehensive collection of their work on California cult underground label Dark Entries (www.darkentriesrecords.com).