Formed in 1998, the women-only queer anarcho punk collective Scooter has achieved that rarest of Sydney phenomena: an enduringly popular and uncompromising monthly music event. Still going strong today, the Scooter collective remains focused on its original ideals: providing a forum for more and less established girl musicians to perform, share knowledge and in the case of Rose Turtle Ertler, put out an album via the group’ not-for-profit label Scootstar.
In fact Tryhard Trailer Trash is Ertler’ second solo release on the Scootstar imprint, the first being Ping Pong Princess in 2002. It is, it must be announced from the outset, an album featuring the ukulele, which seems something of an obsession for Ertler who, in addition to being a founding member of the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective which boasts a membership of 30, is also researching a book on ukulele players in Australia.
Having not been to Scooter, but hearing plenty about it over the years from punk-loving friends, I put on Tryhard Trailer Trash wondering how Ertler was going to make the ukulele sound in any way punk, only to find she doesn’ try. Instead Ertler seems to have a go at almost every musical genre apart from punk, dabbling in pop-infused folk, post-rock style experimentations, electro-clash and even musique concrÃ¨te-style industrial banging. It’s an approach which certainly makes for invigorating listening, but with little more than the presence of the ukulele to cohere such a wide-ranging work, it is easy to feel a bit lost amongst all the eclectic quirkiness, a feeling which was exacerbated for me by the fact I couldn’ locate a track listing for the CD anywhere.
Nevertheless this hurly burly of a release is not without its charms. Ertler, a veteran of Sydney’ underground performance scene having been involved in both Frumpus and Toydeath, brings a sense of fun and easy humour to her work. In the album’ more noise-based industrial tracks she combines sped-up vocals and heavily distorted beats with the almost comic sounding ukulele to create a dead-pan wonderland, you could imagine being peopled by lots zombie-like Alices. When working in this genre, Ertler, particularly in the final two tracks on the album, manages to achieve the slightly menacing absurdity of Toydeath at their best in startingly original and disturbing works which hint at the power of experimentation on the fringes of existing genres.
Less successful are Tryhard Trailer Trash’ more straight-up folk style offerings which seem to lean too heavily on the novelty-factor the ukulele brings to Ertler’ output. In these instances the instrument, rather than opening up new musical possibilities, overshadows and limits Ertler’ work.
With folk music and folk instruments beginning to emerge as one of the next big hybrids across a range of genres, including electronica, this album offers a glimpse of both the potential and pitfalls of such an approach.