Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Big Music From Machinations

Sydney band Machinations hold a place in history as one of Australia’s most popular artists on the indie-rock scene during the mid 80s. They had started out life in 1980 as a three piece electro-pop outfit playing the club circuit around Sydney’s inner-city. At this stage the line-up comprised vocalist Fred Loneragan, guitarist Tim Doyle and Tony Starr handling keyboards/drum machine.

After adding bassist Nick ‘Nero’ Swan to the line-up, Machinations joined producer Lobby Loyde in the recording studio in late 1980. The result was their debut single ‘Average Inadequacy’ (originally released Sep’81 and charted briefly as a reissue at #98 in May’82), and a four track self-titled EP. The band were soon signed to Mushroom’s White Label. 1983 saw Machinations breakthrough commercially with the release of the single ‘Pressure Sway’. The song peaked at #21 on the Australian charts during July ‘83 and made an impact in the U.S. reaching #40 on Billboard‘s Club Play Singles chart. At the same time Machinations had released their first LP ‘Esteem’ which sold steadily (peak #54) and broadened the band’s profile and appeal. A second single ‘Jumping The Gap’ fell just short of the top 50 but Machinations were on the crest of a wave and soon found themselves as a support act for Joe Jackson’s national tour. By this time Warren McLean had been recruited to replace the drum machine (which was let go due to asking for one to many pay hikes).

The album to follow would in many respects define the highpoint, commercially and critically, of Machinations career. ‘Big Music’ was released in July ‘85 and would realise three hit singles, featuring the slickest synth-pop sound of Machinations career. The first of these ‘No Say In It’ pre-empted the album by nine months and ended up being the band’s highest charting single (#14 late’84). ‘My Heart’s On Fire’ followed in May ‘85 and reached a respectable #27 nationally. Naomi Star had been recruited to provide additional vocals on most of the album tracks, including the third single ‘You Got Me Going Again’ which again broke into the top 40 (#39). ‘Big Music’ went on to spend several weeks inside the top 20.

A mini-album was released mid ‘86 entitled ‘The Big Beat’ (#83), featuring dance remixes of several Machinations singles. 1986 also saw drummer Warren McLean leave to be part of the newly formed outfit I’m Talking. Two more drummers followed in succession (the drum machine not being one of them), before Machinations found themselves back in the studio during 1987 with producer Andy Wallace. The first result of these sessions to see the light of day was the single ‘Do To You’ released August ‘87. The song almost matched the highpoint og ‘No Say In It’, reaching #15 during October. For all intents and purposed Machinations were still on top of their game, and still on the verge of something big. The new album ‘Uptown’ (#46) was well received upon its release in mid ‘88, as was second single ‘Intimacy’ (#44), followed by ‘Do To Me’ (#69) in late ‘88.

Sadly in early ‘89 the band’s grand plans were put on hold when vocalist Fred Loneragan was the victim of a hit and run accident, leaving him with a broken back and hospitalised for several months. Initially other band members intended to continue writing new material, but over time various members left to pursue other projects (including James Freud Band and Party Boys). Machinations were left to be regarded as one of those second-tier Aussie pop-rock acts, always on the verge, but just short of that big breakthrough.

1997 saw a reformation of Machinations for some live appearances but a planned album never came to fruition.
Thanks to YouTube user gnowangerup for uploading the above Machinations videos.


Lan said...

I long for the day when Big Music is released on CD together with some of the their great 12" mixes. Gone but really not forgotten. Mushroom Records-whoever owns the ghost of the label and its rights-are a bunch of cheap bastards for never properly releasing such great music on CD. If you are really lucky, copies of Esteem can be found but for mine, their best was their second.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Thanks for your comment Ian. I'd also love to see Big Music released on CD - there's a lot of Mushroom released stuff that deserves the same. Here's hoping they realise one day there are enough of us out there willing to buy the stuff, to make it worth their while releasing it. I have noticed over the last six months or so that in general a lot more back catelogue stuff is being made available for legal download, so maybe that's a chance too.

David Gerard said...

Big Music CDs are $62 on eBay. WHAT.

I've just been working on the Wikipedia article. I think this potted bio will be a good source ;-)

Thankfully the first and second albums are readily available as MP3s if you know where to look, and lotsa podcasters play "Average Inadequacy" (always the Phantom version - my fave was the version on the B-side of the "Jumping The Gap" 12"). One day I'll get my vinyl copies out.

Who bought the corpse of Festival? Was it Universal? Or is this amongst the stuff Michael Gudinski took with him to Liberation?

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi David,
thanks for your comment. I was interested in your question about whatever happened to Festival, so I did a bit of digging around. There's an Australian music forum (mostly 60s and 70s stuff - but some 80s discussion) - no doubt you'd find some interesting stuff there. Like any forum, what's posted there isn't gospel of course, but there was a bit of a discussion on the very topic of Festival Records.

Here's the link to the forum discussion:

From what's said, it's very interesting, but undoubtedly sad to read of the decline of Festival and eventual take over from Warner Bros. - and why so much great Australian music originally distributed via Festival is scarce to find these days. Thank goodness for MP3's ;-)

A. FlockOfSeagulls