Article categories: Issue 72
November 27th, 2009

Always a difficult act to categorise, Severed Heads are perhaps best known for a handful of oblique dance hits in the 1980s and early ‘90s. They were also associated with that bleak genre known as industrial music, if only because of their name, which was chosen as a joke. However there is much more to this groundbreaking band than either of those categories would suggest.

Vinyl-On-Demand, Germany, five LP box-set, 2009, rrp $270

Vinyl-On-Demand, Germany, five LP box-set, 2009, rrp $270

Severed Heads emerged from the post-punk era of the late 1970s, a movement which sought to overthrow the conventions of popular music. The band possessed a restless intelligence that resulted in rapid stylistic mutations. They seemed to have creativity on tap.

Post-punk has seen a revival in recent years. These days all the cool kids are imitating post-punk music. While Severed Heads has undoubtedly been influential, their body of work contains many directions that few others have dared to explore. Their uniqueness comes from their celebration of the absurd and a willingness to embrace both easy and difficult listening – often simultaneously. The vibrant Sydney post-punk scene of which Severed Heads were part has now assumed legendary status, and so it is timely to reassess its musical significance. To this end there have been a number of recent re-issues and compilations featuring Sydney post-punk luminaries such as M-Squared, Systematics, SPK and Severed Heads.

Severed Heads’ Adenoids 1977-1985 is a five LP box-set from the German label Vinyl-On-Demand, which has released a similar retrospective of the M-Squared label. The box is a gorgeous grey artifact, its cover image a humorous and disturbing anatomical collage suggesting both mutation and quaint scientific documentation. Within the box are the five records, each with its own informative cover, plus a sixteen-page booklet containing archival images and core member Tom Ellard’s witty and insightful narrative of the band’s history. My copy also came with that most important item for music fans: a T-shirt.

Shannon O’Neill
Shannon O’Neill is a sound and media artist. He has directed the Electrofringe and Sydney Liquid Architecture festivals, runs the netlabel and teaches media arts at the University of Technology, Sydney.

[For more, read the special Arts of Sound November 2009 Issue of Art Monthly Australia]

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