Saturday 16 October 2010

Toxic - First Time 7" XTO? VUT-004, 1979

A band so mysterious, even its label appears to be having an existential crisis. For the benefit of those whose Cyrillic is a little rusty, "XTO?" translates to "WHO?" in Ukrainian (y'know, as in "Toxic...WHO?". Perfect). XTO? was a small Sydney advertising and production company which, in collaboration with a four-track voiceover/jingle studio called Fly By Night, entered the fray as an independent record label in the late '70s – this fuzzed-out, amateur hard rock 45 is the last of the four singles in its catalogue.

Sometime in early 1979, Toxic laid down the single's two tracks at Winkfast (how's that for an Ivor Biggun-inspired spoonerism?), a small studio more orientated towards the folk pop practiced by its owners than to recording actual rock and roll bands. Unsurprisingly, the band was unhappy with the results, and Fly By Night head honcho (and former Bad Boy) Kim Humphreys was approached to remix the tapes. It's uncertain just how Fly By Night came to be chosen to rescue the project (after all, its output of radio commercials hardly screamed rock and roll either), but we're sure glad it was. The recording itself is suitably raw and loud, but the real stars of this show are the numerous "oh shit" production elements. Check out the much-too-loud, slap-back reverbed backing vocal leaping out of nowhere; or the nasty phasing on the drums; or the Sir Lord Baltimore/Tapeworm-style stereo-panned guitar solo. Indeed, in this instance "WTF?" may have been a more suitable label name. Recalls Humphreys:
"To be honest, the wild mix was to cover up the performance of the band which was a bit loose and out of tune. I just went bananas with the phaser, the flanger, echo and panning".
Kimbo, we salute you. In reality, though, nothing short of an electromagnet applied to the master tape could have masked the looseness of the band. Notes are flubbed, and rhythmic irregularities abound. Now, we're not talking Afterbirth-level ineptitude here, not even close, but it's fair to say that any self-respecting "pro" hard rock band would have recycled the tape rather than immortalise it on plastic. Thankfully, Toxic had the testicular fortitude to follow through.

Having satisfied themselves with the final mix, Toxic requested help in pressing the record, and XTO? was more than happy to oblige. 500 copies were pressed through Powderworks, and like all XTO? releases, distribution was handled solely by the band. The 45 wasn't actively sold through record shops, which perhaps explains its elusiveness.

Musically, First Time sits firmly in the realm of hard rock, though not exactly in the '70s Oz tradition. And though the song has a definite metallic edge (especially in the lead guitar tone), neither is it attuned to the riffs, speed, and anthemic aspirations of the emergent NWOBHM. It's more Sleaz Band than Soundhouse Tapes - think Midnight Man with a bulldozer approach to dynamics and guitars set to "peel paint".

So that's all very well and good, but just who were these mystery men, anyway? Good question. As it turns out, Toxic occupies a place in Australian punk rock history for being, under their former moniker Hot Spurs, the other band on the bill at the infamous Paddo Town Hall gig. If you were lucky enough to catch the Saints and Radio Birdman that night in April 1977, chances are you first had to endure a rendition of First Time at maximum volume. Though the reaction of the hippies, Hell's Angels, and other assorted freaks in attendance remains undocumented, Hot Spurs must have impressed someone as they managed to score a gig at the Oxford Funhouse the following month. And as stylistically disparate as the lineup appears on paper, it's unlikely that our heroes would have felt too out of place among the other longhairs on the bill - we're picturing a band of four Kym Bradshaw lookalikes. Footage of their set would surely confirm. Does it exist somewhere in the ABC's archives?

And finally, what of the rest of the XTO? discography? Unfortunately, those expecting more of the same are likely to be disappointed. The other singles are: Metropolis (XTO? creative directors Val Udowenko and Tony Wong performing lite pop and '40s swing); our man Kim Humphreys (two instrumentals, including an Atlantics cover, which were precursors to his Brave New Wave LP); and Ian Betteridge and the Ramblin' Country Band (work that one out for yourself).

First Time

1 comment:

Robin Wills said...

I actually really like this. The mix is a real hoot and makes it in my book