Sounds You Need In Your Ears
Episode 7: The Quickening
The Quickening were:
Chris “Fazz” Farrer // Guitar & Vocals
Dave Bell // Drums
Jim O’Donnell // Bass
During the late 90s and early 2000s, Brisbane’s punk and hardcore scenes were a flurry of activity that was not seen previously, and honestly, hasn’t been seen since. Gone were the old guard that had followed on from the golden era of the 1970s and 1980s with bands like The Saints, and in their wake were the dejected youths that had grown up with their tunes. One such outfit, The Quickening, stood — for me at least — head and shoulders above the rest.
Brisbane’s port region hasn’t ever exactly been a hotbed of culture. Serving as a consequence moreso than a destination, it’s a bit of a rough-and-tumble industrial neighbourhood that doesn’t really sleep on account of continuous shipping and production activity. In many ways, it looks like it served as both the inspiration for and filming location used in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome: rusted out, partially-integral cars stacked, smokestacks spitting flames high into the night sky, and a sickening asbestos airglow from the fumes being belched out from one-too-many plants.
One of the suburbs within its borders, Pinkenba, is one such place. At the end of a train line out of Brisbane’s core, it doesn’t have a lot going for it. Briefly, however, it did. Like diamonds forming from dust, this barely-hospitable place somehow managed to give rise to a musical outfit named Nob. And like those same diamonds, they shined bright.
Formed by three mates — vocalist/guitarist Chris “Fazz” Farrer, bassist Jim O’Donnell, and drummer Dave Bell (brother to Tamara Bell, chief axe-slinger and general rad chick for well-respected Brisbane outfit, Gazoonga Attack) — their sound of the time could be best described as anarchipolitico-punk masquerading behind riffs and distortion. Being that Fazz was a bit of an art wanker political nerd who’d spent time in London early after the turn of the millennium, it was only to be expected that their music would have a fairly savage bend towards things like calling the then-incumbent Liberal government fascist pricks and protesting the return of western forces to the Middle East. Hey, it worked well for them – their music was incredibly listenable, and on the back of it, they became something of gods amongst the local scene where I grew up.
Finding information about this period is a bit of a hard ask – pretty much every resource that did exist at some point has long since gone offline, and frankly, I’ve consumed one too many chemicals and had one too many brain knocks to recall off the top of my head much of it. With that said, I was able to dig up some snippets from Wayback Machine, which was both insightful and terrifying (remembering the internet as it existed in the early 2000s is haunting – especially the part populated by self-funded, DIY rockers). It offers up such snippets of wisdom as:
“The Quickening (who predate The Vines, The Hives, and The Strokes but not The Bangles, The Eagles or The Who) are essentially a three-piece band comprising of Jim (bass), Dave (drums), and Chris (guitar/vox). We all started playing with each other in high school, but when our mums caught us, they called us dirty, so we started the band instead.”
“I’d lie to say ‘yeah man you can’t really define our sound, we’re genre defying” but I can’t. I can’t say much at all really without sounding like a wanker.”
And of course, who could forget,
“I think the band is great, but that doesn’t count for shit because I’m in it.”
These were truly golden times. This was when they were at the height of their gigging, tagging along behind outfits of as lofty acclaim as The Bouncing Souls and Strung Out, and as questionable as Frenzal Rhomb, in a series of hole-in-the-wall shitholes and international venues alike. It also saw them produce two releases in fairly quick succession: AWOL, and Making The Maladjusted (sidenote: if anybody has copies of these, please for the love of god send me a copy xoxo).
When I first heard them, I was freshly minted “into” a band (let’s be honest, membership was a bit of a fickle thing in those heady days) who just so happened to idolise them. As soon as I heard the snare roll-and-attack guitar intro for the track “Death of a Salesman”, I near-on shat my pants, and, perhaps more notably, discovered that I really enjoyed their sound. It was an immensely visceral experience… thanks in no small part to it being fucking blitzkrieged at me loud enough to turn water into goat piss. Their sound of this era was definitely a bit oddway to what it eventually became – carrying a distinctly pop-punk edge behind it. Pop-punk for the politically enraged.
Sometime along the way, as should be well and truly obvious by now, Nob was no more — at least in name anyway. With the change arrived a new recording venture, Good Missiles, Good Manners, Good Night, carrying a much less “recorded on a pocket note recorder in a damp garage” aesthetic. By which I mean it was mastered and actually done in a studio. They may as well have sold out. Poseurs.
… it was bloody good, though. I still listen to that album pretty regularly, and it’s honestly only through sheer laziness that for the first time in over a decade I don’t have a copy on my phone. It riffed on older works like the aforementioned “Death of a Salesman” and “De’Fonte”, and introduced us to takes like “Ego” and “Red Spite For Blue”, bringing a much angrier indignation to replace the pop-punk sensibilities of old. This was truly laying the foundations for being taken seriously.
Not a huge amount of time later, in early 2005, their follow-up arrived. Following in the footsteps of such auspicious titles as, “The Beatles”, “Weezer”, and “Peter Gabriel”, they delivered their penultimate release – The Quickening. The cynicism contained was palpable — speaking to what can only be assumed was a fury fuelled exclusively by the advent of needing to get real jobs and the spread of a modern era of interconnectedness at the expense of personal critical thought. “Fight For The 8 Hour Day”, for example, offers the following wisdom, “this is a country / where working class people deserve better / than sucking the arseholes / of imperial masters who never had it better than this”, and “just another scrap on the pile / and this is what your life has become / another private act of consumption / SMS the end has begun”, driven by a series of tempo changes and melodic stings courtesy of each member’s proficiency being rammed in your face.
The album also saw the re-recording of their earlier works, “Tienanmen”, “Spoils to the Wicked”, and “You Pay for Kaka”, as well as what would prove to be a final re-working of “Death of a Salesman”. Hearing the evolution of these songs brought about by years of constant evolution in skill and vision is pretty amazing, you can almost dissect the sound and look across the core like the cross section of a tree and see the rings deposited by years of playing together. It also marked the last time that they would be a three-piece on record.
It wasn’t actually until after this period that I got to see them for the first time, sometime in 2008. I was very drunk in a very shitty pub in a suburb worse than that which spawned them, on a very fucking humid Brisbane evening. Normally this wouldn’t be remarkable – Brisbane is always humid and very drunk in shitty pubs was more or less my default state – except for the fact that Fazz saw to it that it was. Donning a hybrid luchador/gimp mask for much of the set, (ostensibly to hide the fact that he turns bright purple while singing/screaming), he treated us to an evening of sweating on us like the trash we were. He even did acapella covers of Khia‘s classic hit, “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)”, and Kelis‘ “Milkshake”. After hearing, at length, about the plight of capitalist society from a dude that used to have whiteboi dreads, it was a somewhat stark contrast. I loved every damned second.
Ultimately, having seen the zenith of their excellence that evening, their days were numbered.
Let’s be honest. Covering Kelis in a lucha libre mask probably wasn’t the catalyst for their ultimate demise some years later, but I’m telling the story and I will make every effort to interject frivolity where I can.
Some time in the months that followed, they slunk back into the studio for one last bite at the cherry. Recruiting another guitarist into the fold, their sound was set for its final evolution. Drawing heavily from the iconography of the works of Tolkien, notably the Lord of The Rings series, they set about their most ambitious project of all. Under the title White Blossoms, and adorned with a black and white cover featuring a custom-designed wreath, visually it was their most mature work by far. And rightly so – the music contained was also far beyond anything that they’d delivered previously. The addition of a second guitar offered many more creative possibilites, leading to potential for rocking out and shredding at the same time. The threesome was now a foursome, and boy were they angry. “Conjurer of Cheap Trick”, “The Blase are Kicking Arse”, and “Yamaraja’s Abode” are especially furious, like a punk that just snorted a bunch of cheap sushi train wasabi for laughs. This, honestly, is the band as they were born to be – powerful, dejected, but precise.
I was lucky enough to see them for their final show. Dave had found himself a woman and decided to move to Canada, effectively killing the band – without his cymbal-destroying stick work (I’m not kidding, he literally cracks his cymbals from hitting so hard), The Quickening may as well have been Ollie Olsen. Seeing them for the last time was a pretty overwhelming experience after a decade-long journey, serving as an insight into where they came from and the grave in which they were to be lowered.
And so that was that. One of the most talented bands ever to emerge from the swamps of Brisbane’s outer shores, torn down in a mere ninety minutes. Their collective works their only relic – some still extant, but many lost to the sands of time. I guess in many ways that is a bittersweet end to a career built on talent and fun – but like so many journeys, the ending had to arrive.
At least they didn’t get boring.
Look them up, you might just see what I mean.
Feature by Benji Alldridge