If it wasn’t 1981, and was instead 2017 it’s hard to imagine how Asphixiation’s music could be any different. It’s possibly because these days one of the quickest ways to garner credibility is to use (and fetishise) many of the exact synthesizers that created this album. Though there are links too in the form, in the structures of the music too, perhaps again also due to the hardware.
This kind of lost Australian synth artefact should have an incredible backstory of lost tapes and tireless investigation, yet it’s not the case, it doesn’t need to be. The reality is that Australia doesn’t seem to value its culture that much, and either we never knew about Asphixiation or simply forgot.
Perhaps its understandable, as it came out of the post punk experimental netherworld of 1981, a one off project by a 20 year old Melbourne artist Phillip Brophy, better known as part of → ↑ → (pronounced with three clicks of the tongue). He apparently wrote the music in 5 days, these drawn out komische style electronic jams that draw on everything from Yellow Magic Orchestra to Giorgio Moroder. With → ↑ → members Ralph Traviato writing lyrics, and Leigh Parkhill on guitar and vocals shared between all members,including visual artists Maria Kozic and Jayne Stevenson, their recordings were done over 7 graveyard sessions at Latrobe University studios, engineered by David Chesworth (Essendon Airport) and Chris Wyatt.
The results are this unique form of mutant art disco funk, a raw edgy yet deceptively diverse collection of electronic music.
The tone varies, often the vocals are coy or downright silly, such as ‘Self Denial’ which begins with the words “I have a list of many things that I intend to never do,” and lauds the beauty of self denial. Or ‘The Crush’ which is cloying with the chanting of the word ‘crush’ over squiggly synth runs, a repetitive baseline and female vocals annoyingly detailing the object of her crush. It’s quite cheeky and comes off a little gimmicky, demonstrating that they weren’t taking themselves too seriously. There are links here to fellow Melbourne synth enthusiasists The Metronomes who also periodically tinkered with quirky vocal humour.
The instrumental pieces tend to be more atmospheric, more overtly funky, yet still possessing an experimental playful feel. It’s this combination that makes this collection so impressive as you try to get a bead on what Asphixiation were on about. One moment they sound like A Certain Ratio, the next The Flying Lizards. There’s no doubt Brophy et al were playing around with the perceived artificiality of electronic music, yet they were doing it with such humour and inventiveness that it not only holds up some 36 years later, but it feels criminal that they didn’t become household names. It’s another great missive from Australia’s forgotten electronic past.