Melbourne’s Primitive Calculators met as teenagers in the early 70s, growing up in the grim outer suburb of Springvale. The Velvet Underground and The MC5 were there early heroes, but they were also inspired by lesser known (at the time) bands like The Fugs, The 13th Floor Elevators and The Godz (they went on to dedicate their album to Godz singer Jim McCarthy) as well as the writing of obsessive rock journalist Lester Bangs.
By 1977, they had deserted Springvale for the more musically liberated environs of St. Kilda, where they fomed a band called The Moths. Well-known figures like Nick Cave (The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party) and Ollie Olsen (Whirlywirld, No) would often come by to listen to records, but the Primitive Calculators’ suburban origins always made them outsiders in Melbourne’s punk scene.
A move to Fitzroy in 1978 helped Primitive Calculators cement their own identity and develop a network of likeminded friends. The band set up a series of gigs called Little Band nights, where up to ten hastily-formed bands, with names like Too Fat To Fit Through The Door and Thrush & The Cunts, would play sets of fifteen minutes each.
Their debut single was released in 1979, featuring the songs I Can’t Stop It and Do That Dance. Pressed with plain black labels in a stark monochrome sleeve, the single introduced many to the impassioned, atonal, electronic chaos that was the Primitive Calculators’ trademark, and it has gone on to become a highly collectable classic of Australian post-punk.
The following year the band attempted to relocate to London, but seeing how difficult life was for fellow expats the Birthday Party and Whirlywhirld, they decided instead to take an indefinite break. A live recording of a gig supporting the Boys Next Door in 1979 turned out to be Primitive Calculators’ swansong. Released by friend and supporter Alan Bamford in the early 1980s, Primitive Calculators is a crucial document of a band whose originality, power and humorously belligerent Australian mindset has never since been duplicated.
But the story didn’t stop there, as Primitive Calculators had an unexpected renaissance in 1986, when filmmaker Richard Lowenstein included them in his feature Dogs In Space (starring a young Michael Hutchence). Primitive Calculators reformed to appear in the movie and recorded their song Pumping Ugly Muscle for the soundtrack.
The Primitive Calculators revival continued a good fifteen years later when Chapter Music released the pioneering Can’t Stop It! compilation CD of Australian late 70s/early 80s post-punk. The CD took its name from the Primitive Calculators track I Can’t Stop It and included an original 1979 recording of Pumping Ugly Muscle.
Chapter Music’s reissue of Primitive Calculators, twenty-five years after its original release, includes six bonus tracks (four by the Primitive Calculators, one by the Moths, and one by a nameless Primitive Calculators/Whirlywirld hybrid, recorded in the UK.