Sounds You Need In Your Ears
Episode 3: King Mungi
Benjamin Whitecross – vocals
Clayton Barnard – drums
Ryan Swierczewski – bass
Nathan Parmigiani – guitar
Ross Newman – guitar
I can still vividly remember the day I got my hands on King Mungi‘s Fear The Little People. Not because I had any idea who or what King Mungi were. No, I remember it because I had literally no fucking idea.
It was a burned copy that I had gotten from my cousin Jeff, somebody I spent a lot of my youth and musical upbringing with hanging out under his house while my mum visited her sister. Being the slightly elder statesman of the duo, he often had access to music I could only dream of — this was one such offering which seemingly was handed down from the gods. It was hidden amongst various other samplings, including One Dollar Short‘s Eight Days Away and Superheist‘s The Prize Recruit, and 28 Days‘ upstyledown (all bands I would see in the ensuing years; I guess I was fated to it by that point), and god-knows-what other wank pertinent at the time.
Shuffling through the miscellaneous debris, I came across a name that sounded interesting. Fear The Little People? Sounds kind of… discriminatory… but I’ll give it a run anyway. My adolescent ears had no idea what the hell had hit them; was it an atom bomb, or was it a tsunami, or was it a freight train steamrollering my entire head? Whatever it was, it was like nothing I’d heard before.
Hailing from the Gold Coast, they were pretty entrenched in the Queensland scene. I was lucky enough to get to see them twice in the ensuing years — for the hard-to-argue price of absolutely free no less – before, as far as I knew, they went on what seemed would be a permanent hiatus until the release of their 2016 eponymous release. In my more youthful days, I only ever really got to go along to free shows, so the fact they were playing youth festivals was a great way to access them.
The first of those two times was Rapid Festival, a youth engagement festival run annually by the Pine Rivers City Council to try to get ~the youth~ off the street and positively engaged. I really didn’t know what to expect of it — I had this recording, which was at the time my very favourite of all time (dethroning the long-time champion, Tool‘s Ænima – a frankly Herculean task), but how would that translate into a live show?
Would Ben Whitecross‘ vocals live up to the resonant power he held on tracks like ‘Smile‘ and ‘K-Wire’? Would the seemingly gigantic tower of drums sat in front of Clayton Barnard‘s throne hit with the fury and intensity on the record? Would Cory Absell‘s surging low-end, and Luke “Wolverine” Attrill‘s screaming guitars really flatten me in the same way the record had?
Are you serious? Of course it would.
Standing within feet of what had become one of my biggest musical influences was a formative moment in my life. I’d seen about 8 hours of free live music at that point, so I was pretty worn down… but when the boys arrived, all sins of the day were rapidly (… lol) absolved.
Some months later, they released a hotly anticipated follow-up on the heels of a fairly intense social media blitz (by which I mean MySpace, which was pretty much the sum total of social media at the time) touting the name, Something/Nothing. I liked the sound of it so much that I later had a blog by the same name. It may have just been me screaming into the void with a total readership of 3 (of which I’m not convinced I wasn’t one…), but I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen.
Everybody had been expecting a full-length release, so when a single arrived (featuring two acoustic versions of previous songs – ‘Languish’, and ‘Bozo’ – both lifted from the previous release), it was a bit of a WTF for all parties involved. It may have been a good single, granted, but it was still a single nonetheless.
It was significantly different in sound to Fear The Little People, benefiting from much higher quality setup and production, and in some ways redefined their sound to rub the sharper edges off. It was, for all intents, King Mungi as they were made to be.
The second time that I saw them was at a youth engagement festival for the opening of a shopping centre in the middle of nowhere. Being the degenerate youth I was, public transportation was the only way to get anywhere (… well, that and my getaway sticks), and it certainly made me work for it that day. After fully 3 hours travelling, we arrived to the sounds of Butterfingers — who I saw again the next day at an in-store at the now-infamous Skinny’s Records, my spiritual home as a teen.
The band had just been through a bit of a lineup upheaval, with Luke Attrill leaving the fold. In his wake, we found Chris Burt — similarly intense, but wholly distinct. The change was transformative, providing a much more melody-driven high end to compliment Barnard and Absell‘s brutal low-end. I believe this was the first show that they’d played under the transformed guise, so it was pretty special to be there for it. As before, it was a good show. A great show. Worth every penny… of the zero that I paid.
Shortly after, they started generating hype with talk of a new album. They even released a teaser track, ‘Attack of The Clones‘ via their social channels. And then… nothing.
So we waited.
And waited some more.
I honestly lost track of how long it was until we finally were graced with To Celebrate This Last Day, but at the time it felt like eternity. Being held on the hook for so long was exhausting, to the point a lot of the hype surrounding it more or less had dissipated.
The result was an altogether different affair to what the precursors were — production was at the forefront, and the music itself had changed into something else. Where Fear The Little People had been varied and scathing in its sound, demonstrating their relative youth as a band, the follow-up was largely driven by a more adult outlook. They’d clearly grown as a group, and in many ways that showed in the songwriting itself. With Fear The Little People feeling like it straddled the line between clinical depression at the hand of corrupt Papuan police officers and drug-induced nihilism, To Celebrate This Last Day was coming from a place of righteous indignation and fury. You basically slide from one with tears of despair and leave the other with clenched fists and tears of rage.
Songs like ‘Tsunami’ and ‘Ten Minute Man’ absolutely ravaged your ears, shredding through them easily with razor-sharp guitars and chaotic drums. Whitecross‘ vocals were even more trained than they ever had been previously (in both King Mungi, and his side project, the Ben Whitecross Band), and generally, the band absolutely had their phasers set to kill. After taking so long for things to arrive, it makes sense that they would take this part of proceedings as seriously as they did.
… and then, there was nothing.
MySpace more or less fallen into obscurity overnight, and with it, it took a significant of independent artists and their direct link to their fanbase. Facebook stole the general populace and became ubiquitous — but it’s never really offered a venue for bands like what MySpace did before it. The collateral damage here is that so many bands seemingly fell off the map. Among the casualties — King Mungi.
I’d all but given up on them ever coming back.
That is, until about 2 years ago when I was searching for an outlet to buy new copies of the 3 releases I’d since lost through the course of various house moves. I noticed a result which wasn’t like the rest — a familiar name that echoed of a time long before — Facebook?
As it turns out, while I didn’t find availability of the original releases, I did find the band alive and well. And touring. And releasing a new album. In fact, they’d apparently been around for more or less the entire time. It’s amazing how bifurcating a means of connection like that can totally remove something from your life.
2016’s eponymous King Mungi is much of what the band was before the nearly decade-long absence from the studio, but blends it with updated sensibilities and production techniques to brilliant effect. In many ways, to listen to it almost sounds like a natural progression from To Celebrate This Last Day — Whitecross‘ voice has remained almost untainted by the intervening years, and his mostly-renewed support players have the same attack as those whose spotlights they step into.
Where they were without peer previously, their sound has through the rigors of time become less unique. It has elements of The Butterfly Effect — another band that I saw at a later incarnation of Rapid Festival, Grinspoon (circa New Detention), and Something With Numbers. The songwriting itself is perhaps less emotional and fury-driven than previously, instead reverting to a more marketable appeal — is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.
Tracks like ‘Take What I Have’ and ‘Over You’ are absolutely stand-outs here. They feel somehow bigger than the sum of their parts (especially in the case of the latter, which deviates massively from their usual sound), and really stand above the rest. Then there’s one of the first tracks they sent to the public as the album arrived, ‘Ex Prime-Ministers’. Cut in with a scatter-shot of audio snippets from a news programme and a much faster tempo, it offers a different listening mood to the rest. These are the real picks for me that I find myself regularly heading back to first when I listen.
I’d be lying if I said that King Mungi sits with me as heavily as the prior releases; it absolutely doesn’t. But that’s because I’ve changed and my musical perspective has grown, not because of anything bad they’re doing. I’ve gotten considerably less ‘omg I am very angry >:(((‘ about life, so where it may have quaked me before, I’ve sort of grown impervious to what for the longest time made their music resonate with me. That’s to be expected, though — those albums were easily some of the biggest motivators that I’ve yet had, striking me in a way that can only be described as critically.
In the context of what came before it, production-wise it’s easily the best. Musically, it’s also definitely up there. The players are tight and they’ve really benefitted from the years of playing. I almost envy those coming into it with fresh ears, as I’m sure it would be a significantly different, wholly better experience.
That’s not all to say that they’re just another one of the east coast’s long list of players in the cast of rock — they absolutely deserve their pride of place, especially in the context of where they’ve come from and where they’re headed to next. Above all, they deserve to be heard. They deserve, fully, to be in your ears.
Feature by Benji Alldridge