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Press

 
“Brisbane’s Sky Needle make cult music. Primitive. Music to dance around a fire to. On a scale of Wildling to Lannister, it’s north of the wall.” TwoThousand

Articles

Uneasy Listening: An Interview With Sky Needle by Sanjay Fernandes (The Quietus, November 19th, 2013)

Megan Johnston: Strange, spontaneous sounds in the night (Sydney Morning Herald 2011)

Everett True: Song of the day – Sky Needle (Collapsed Board 2010)

Sarah Werkmeister: Anxious Objects (Independent Press 2009)

Reviews

——–Rave Cave LP” released on Negative Guest List——–

David Keenan – Volcanic Tongue TIP OF THE TONGUE 29 APRIL 2012
The first couple of broadcasts from this amazing group from Brisbane Australia were some of the most defiantly original sides of outsider rock/pop to reach these ears in many, many years so it was with some excitement that we unpacked this one, the debut full-length from Joel Stern, Sarah Byrne, Alex Cuffe and Ross Manning playing all their own invented instruments. The feel is still of a fantasy Godz-play-Moondog session but given the space to really stretch out the group reveal themselves as equally proficient in radical free improvisation. Byrne’s vocals are particularly boggling, ululating all over the honking, scraping, huffing rhythms and melodies with an elastic a-formal approach that has few parallels but that orbits a similar universe to Meredith Monk and Amy Sheffer. The group’s tonal palette is truly singular odd, with brokedown rhythms illuminated by percussive tones and sawing folk drones in a way that sounds like Tago Mago played with nothing but Harry Bertoia’s sound sculptures. Indeed, their evisceration of song is every bit as far-reaching as Damo-era Can, building to peaks of nowhere with a hands-on tactile feel that is supremely satisfying while Byrne works mysterious/evocative tongues around every starry shape.

This is atavistic folk music w/a heady hobbyist edge and the kinda sublimely out atmosphere that says ESP-Disk like nothing else. If the newly activated ESP really had an ear to the underground then they would have snapped this group up: Rave Cave is easily the equal of any of the original label’s wildest avant/rock releases. Right now Sky Needle are one of the most radically original and self-sufficient performance units in the world and this is one of the most beautifully skewed releases of the year. Truly, you never heard such sounds. Simply can’t recommend this enough.

Shaun Prescott in Mess and Noise
Sky Needle should’ve sucked. Time Hammer, the Brisbane group’s first 7”, was an instrumental affair performed on homemade instruments. It had its charms, but it was difficult to imagine ever loving the group because the concept was far too cerebral. The group laboured to draw attention to its means, and as great as it sounded, you couldn’t help but imagine three guys playing strange instruments in a room somewhere. Probably with sheet music, as inapplicable as that imagery may be. If music can only conjure visions of it being performed, then it has failed.

Sky Needle is no longer about the instruments. Rave Cave’s liner notes bear no mention of an elastic dust shovel or latex pump horn. With the release of their Neckliner cassette last year, and the introduction of Sarah Byrne on vocals, Sky Needle has become a mood: a set of hazy, amorphous imagery. And while they don’t sound much like their label mates Mad Nanna, the mood conjured here is similarly narcoleptic, like the weird lucidity one experiences just on the edge of sleep. Sarah Byrne seems to (because who knows, really) trade in the kind of nonsense one speaks if awakened sleepwalking. That’s just the way it sounds.

Sonically, it’s reminiscent of the zones Hi God People or Sunburned Hand of the Man explore: it’s ambiguously foreign-sounding music that suggests an affinity with methods and traditions far beyond the group’s ken. There are vaguely Eastern-sounding string drones purring beneath Byrne’s vocals, but there are also brass-reminiscent timbres lurching in the mix, normally in step with the group’s stalking, low-tempo temperament.

The band definitely sound like they have “jams” rather than songs. Each track seems derived from some blank-stare hypnosis, a kind of lumbering inertia wrought by the ensemble’s tendency toward persistent tempos and barely perceptible crescendos. Yet each song has its own set of colours and its own subtly different way of achieving these ends, and the record has a sense of momentum as a result.

Despite the wielding of never-before-wielded instruments, Sky Needle’s actual approach isn’t reinventing the wheel. But there are colours and textures here you’ve never heard the likes of, which makes this record essential listening if you like staring at walls and imagining things. Which you all should, every now and then.

Little Big Chief
“more home made fried greatness. expands upon the sound found in the second 7″ greatly. dunno how to place this in the current pantheon of music coming out of the amazing AU. cataclysmic and far reaching? hell bent on individualism, this refuses to be placed correctly. it’s got some bangers in the mix for sure, but spaced out enough to connect with the audience that has already been wrapped up in the first two releases. what the fuck do you want? another VU comparison?”

Lee Parker – The Thousands
Rave Cave, Sky Needle’s new longplayer, is a totally organic music experience. If you like to ingest a fairly steady diet of rock/punk/electrically powered music, you will be either delighted or irritated to take part in this reprieve from said rabble. While that good stuff is indisputably, ‘good stuff’, dependency on only the good worries me, and thus, Sky Needle’s LP is a welcome deviation. It was an awakening to hear this while lying on the couch in darkness. But then it didn’t work whilst driving, and maybe I hated it for that particular commute. I wagered that this recording could transform the dullness of grey car interior to Rave Cave; it didn’t. But heard in the right mindset, this music consistently triggers thoughts of tropical landforms, ornithology and a vague image of the ghastly home-made instruments that have produced these sounds. Sky Needle present us with a hypnotic, tonally therapeutic creation, both bizarre and ingenious. A full range of frequencies clanging against pulsing, wobbly bass-like thumps (all created by unidentifiable sources), all mingling with crystalline, haunting vocal incantations. But it’s not avant-garde fluff, like I’ve made it sound. The groups penchant for repetition and relative brevity means there are ‘hooks’, ‘riffs’, and ‘licks’, although they’re in an alien musical language. Good to listen to at high volumes and have your ear drums exfoliated by tones you forgot existed.

Matt O’Neill – The Music / Inpress
Sky Needle beggar belief. The Brisbane quartet define their sound through self-made instruments. Joel Stern plays parping horns made from soft-drink bottles and bike pumps. Alex Cuffe has wrought some kind of bass-related instrument out of a speaker box. Ross Manning is credited solely with ‘string panels’. Rounded out by vocalist/percussionist Sarah Byrne, their rumbling, primitive sound is impossible to ascribe to any specific instrumentation. Forget genre.
It’s fantastic, though. This is why Sky Needle are so unbelievable. A description such as the above fills the mind with images of noise, abstraction and self-indulgence – or, worse still, quirky kitsch. Sky Needle, though, simply rock it. There’s an unpretentious streak of fun and funk that runs through the band’s work that makes it hard not to love everything they do. Rave Cave is arguably their best work yet. Released strictly to vinyl by respected local imprint Negative Guestlist (the label run by the much-missed Brendon Annesley), the band’s latest album finds them condensing their sprawling sound into nine concise nuggets of sound.
The formula is fundamentally the same for the majority of pieces – Sarah Byrne’s washed out vocals echo over noisy, percussive soundscapes – but it’s amazing how many variations in mood Sky Needle can find for their raw, ephemeral sound. Radical Fire rides a rumbling, swampy, primal bass figure into a hypnotic, unwholesome groove; Rest In A Well sounds both jazzy and pastoral in its seesawing horns and plucked string textures; Two Way Solo slithers menacingly by in a six-minute drawl. It’s not music easily described – but it is music easily enjoyed. It’s music that’s as immediately filthy as it is undeniably artistic. Music very much deserving of your time, in other words.

Tribal trashcan hootenannies direct from the cavern by Spencer Grady in Record Collector
This debut long-player, from Brisbane’s premier proponents of homemade instrumentation, makes little sense. If anything, it’s even more perverse than the group’s recent Creepertown 7”, which cast a lineage tracing back to Captain Beefheart and a bunch of ESP-Disk’ outsiders.

This time the quartet have gone even further, unravelling polyrhythmic interplay into a disjointed slur of junkyard clamour, mining the heart of a particularly fractious garage sale over which vocalist Sarah Byrne contorts like an agitated banshee (equal parts Meredith Monk and an annoying caterwauler I hear busking the London Underground during my morning commute). Beneath a box of coiled springs and industrial wheeze, Joel Stern summons the spirits of Crash Worship and Einstürzende Neubauten on his self-made leg horn, making like a broken Albert Ayler puppet noosing strings to the rotors of a whirring extractor fan.
For a record that sounds as if it’s continually falling apart and occasionally pushes the patience with its oddball cranks, Rave Cave kicks up some pretty vivid shapes when the lights are dimmed. Unlike anything else you’re gonna hear this year. And that’s got to be worth something, right?

STILL SINGLE
This one came through with a lot of other records, and all signs pointed to me to leave it go, but with Negative Guest List showing attention to Australian doldrums seekers Sky Needle (whose singles I punted to other reviewers), how bad could it have been? This bad: bass, clarinet or sax (not gonna bother to find out which), metal percussion and a woman chanting nonsense. Every track sounds like a fit, and this clashing, aimless, repetitive collection of sounds never gets any more appealing at any point in the runtime. Can’t really tell what they’re going for, and to be honest I’m surprised they have enough of an attention span to see an entire album through, Sounds like free, dumb rock to me. Turn it down, please.  (Doug Mosurock)

“like Siouxsie meets Kate Bush” Clearspot

It’s high time to get back to caveman simplicity with the dissonant groove drones of Aussie freak-pop outcasts SKY NEEDLE. In a music scene so chock full of way-out-there dancebeat envelope pushing, the broken clanking of glass bottles and distorted xylophones is a gentle and groovy change of pace to get your brain boppin’ and your ears poppin’. Hailing from sunny Brisbane, Australia, SKY NEEDLE are not concerned with modern conceptions of instrumentation and arrangement, using their deliciously fucked-up “unstruments” like speaker-box basses and leg-horns to rocket up into a stratosphere of rattles, hums, buzzes and vocal flutters like a clunky old car vibrating itself to bits at high freeway speeds. This music defies genre and spits phlegm in the face of categorization — too ambient for pop, too groovy for noise, yet somehow emotional like Ray Bonneville. With their fresh long player “Rave Cave,” SKY NEEDLE take a lunge directly for your puny puppet brain, making you feel exactly what they need you to feel. Check the tune “Two Way Solo” to get a taste for the funkiness, and once you come to terms with the alien sounds, spin “Radical Fire” to start the booty shakin’. SKY NEEDLE will snatch up every little thing you thought you knew about music and fire it all straight to the heavens, dancing to the tune of everything crashing back to earth. – BOSTON HASSLE

——–Creepertown 7” released 11 October 201, Independent Press——–

Volcanic Tongue
Amazing deluxe private press 7” from this unclassifiable Brisbane group who come over like Corwood plays the music of Moondog and The Godz. This amazing single pushes the sound even further into a strange ethno-forged zone where the complex overlapping rhythms of The Magic Band are a given a staggering Reich/Riley makeover, with horns, chugging guitars and brokedown junk instruments propelling the inspired, impressionistic vocals of Sarah Byrne into a weird free country brass hybrid that is somewhere between a stoned, cultic Spontaneous Music Ensemble and a buncha midgets playing the music of Albert Ayler. I’m struggling to put my finger exactly on what these guys actually do, suffice to say this is some of the most original, idiosyncratic and inspired music coming out of Australia today. And that’s saying something. Can’t wait for their forthcoming full-length on Negative Guest List. Deluxe screenprinted fold-out sleeves, edition of 200 copies. Yeah!
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The Wire, February 2012

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Still Single

RECOMMENDED: Brisbane’s Skyneedle plies a refreshing stripe of avant “rock” that relies not on earsplitting electronics or feelbad atmospheres. Driven by an incessant hooting from some kind of pump-driven horn, “Howlway” shambles along in an odd danceable mode. Singer Sarah Byrne juxtaposes a sultry vocal with the mutating caveman rhythm, tunelessly plucked slack-strings and an intermittent low-end grind produced by something else entirely (presumably the “Speakerboxbass” as operated by one of the quartet of noisemakers, Alex Cuffe).vWith instruments like the “Strungpanel,” and the “Latex Leghorn Drum Machine” credited, part of this record’s fun is in imagining what these homemade doodads even look like. Owing to their design and the resulting arbitrariness of the pitches produced, they evoke a crude junkyard/industrial version of far-eastern folk music. And the instrumental B-side “Creepertown” has that in droves, accompanied by a stumble of sheet-metal percussion and more of that rhythmic two or three-note hooting that alternately recalls some of Elliott Sharp/Carbon’s early large ensemble works and/or Canada’s pep-peps of noise, the Nihilist Spasm Band. It would be tempting to pigeonhole this (inaccurately) in some kind of no-wave or even neo-primitive revival, but Skyneedle’s atavism is less ritualistic/confrontational and much more playful. It might be the influence of the medium here, but the unit also deserves credit for keeping these tracks brief, wrapping them up after ideas are explored with sufficient thoroughness and before they would meander into self-indulgence. The whole limited-to-200 copies shebang is packaged in a jacket screenprinted with high-contrast, retina-confounding patterns, only adding to its mutant appeal.  (Adam MacGregor)

Cyclic Defrost
This is something that you don’t often get to come across, something that successfully straddles the divide between accessible and truly strange without sounding contrived in either regard. Sky Needle is essentially something of a junk orchestra made up of Brisbane underground art scene stalwarts Joel Stern, Alex Cuffe, Sarah Byrne and Ross Manning, banging away on a collection of homemade, non and primitive-instruments. The B-side, from which comes the single’s title, is the one that leans most towards the strange, a pleasantly cacophonous mix of lo-fi bass scratch, one-note riffs on indeterminate wind instruments, and clanging rhythm provided by the banging of assorted non-musical objects. The A-side, ‘Howlway’, is the ‘pop’ song, in this context, a similarly single-minded, one note buzz with jagged sax improvisation and, most significantly, Byrne’s banshee wails. I am a sucker for artwork as well and I have to confess to being sold on this one before I’d even heard a note. Housed in a wonderfully hand silk-screened A3 page folded up around the 7″ vinyl, the package is every bit as good as the music. Not so much an added bonus as a reminder that art really is important to music. (Adrian Elmer) 

Danny Venzin in The Thousands
…the medication shoved down your throat by up-and-coming Italian pornographer, Flavio, is really starting to blur your context. Is that a mosquito you hear buzzing? No way, there aren’t mosquitoes in New York. Puta madre! That bloody mozzie sinks into your skin and you realise you’re really in Brisbane and it was all a dream. The only remnant of the lucidity is the Sky Needle record someone left spinning to soundtrack your sleep.

Brendon Annesley in Negative Guest List
If you needed any more evidence that Brisbane’s experimental scene is alive and sweating, here we have the excellent second vinyl release from yet another fantastic local group. ‘Creepertown’ follows a full length cassette (‘Skyliner’) from earlier in the year released by the sharpies over at Albert’s Basement, and is the group’s second release overall to feature the addition of gyrating female vocals. That’s the A-side at least- a tune that on a surface level presents the group as a blazed Young Marble Giants like unit, while a distressed, sinister vibe is diffused as if it were the pulp drip from the rim of a Cooper’s Pale Ale stubbie.

The flip is an instrumental that makes use of the group’s arsenal of home-made “unstruments”; a collection of strange mechanisms that might have been invented in an early draft of ‘Naked Lunch’ (inter-textual references are of course, tricky), and are drawing from Eastern/Asian influences in the way that they carry things out. It is from this Interzone where Sky Needle excel, walking one of the more delicately & deliberately twisted paths of future-primitive noise/ rock conceived in Queensland state since the early reign of the Invisible Empire. These headhunters are sure something fierce!

 

——–Neckliner CS released 01 January 2011 , Albert’s Basement——–

Volcanic Tongue
Hand-numbered edition of 100 copies cassette from this great Brisbane quartet who play toy and homemade instruments with alla the mystery and elan of Harry Partch’s song-studies or the first two Godz LPs. Featuring Joel Stern and Sarah Byrne of Greg Boring, Byrne’s vocals get all the way out into the kind of post-tongue vectors of Amy Sheffer or Patty Waters while the group dunt and rock behind her, confusing fourth world timbres with punk primitive chops and really odd/hypnotic sound structures. Pretty singular: if the latest incarnation of ESP-Disk really knew what they were doing they’d snap these guys up for a full-length. Recommended.

Collapse Board
When I tried to simultaneously listen to and write about Sky Needle’s cassette album Neckliner, I found it extremely difficult to do anything but just listen. It was halting. It was all circular movements and the sounds from inside of a junk drawer. It could have been the lost soundtrack to a Jan Svankmajer short film, or it could have been something more sinister. I stared at the computer for 21 minutes and 41 seconds. I decided to sleep on it.

Byron Coley in The Wire Magazine July 2011
This new cassette seems to add a female vocalist to the extant Brisbane trio’s line up, with delirious results. They take your basic Partch/Theoretical Girls pump and cross it with Beme Seed or something. Quite a pick-me-up!

Shaun Prescott in Mess and Noise
Wherein this Brisbane group, whose selling point is that they create their own instruments, transcend their status as mere-curio and become a band you’ll want to listen to more than once. The emergence of vocals helps, with Sarah Byrne’s sometimes shouty/sometimes moaning/sometimes crooning(!) vocalisations pushing some moments here into Pel Mel territory, albeit ones brought to life with speaker box bass and “leg horns”, rather than anything you can buy at Billy Hyde. Hopefully this will get a proper CD or vinyl release at some point because this deserves more than a run of 100 tapes. You can dance and sing along to this, which is a welcome development indeed. Experimental pop where the “experimental” pretence is gloriously beside the point.

Eggy Records
Pop music in that the snare lands on the downbeat and that the vocals are upfront, but what a strange beast Sarah Byrne’s vocals are, lithe and wordless, making strange figures in the air, and there’s also that saxophone to account for, freely providing dissonance and skronk. But aside from some passages of scrabbling improvisation, this isn’t wild, indulgent music — actually reminds me a lot of a looser, more organic Art Bears, minus their rock and roll indulgences. Fresh new sounds from Australia, cool stuff for sure.

 

——–Time Hammer 7”, released 01 November 2009, Independent Press——–

Mess + Noise
Evocative of a backwater shanty horror, whose moonshined-to-the-eyeballs antagonist wields – you guessed it – an elastic dust shovel. It creeps and pounces forebodingly with an air of barely restrained lunacy.

RealTime Arts Magazine
…a joyous, wonky kind of sound, curiously reminiscent of 80s post-punk, crafted into two reasonably tight tracks that are not so much funky as kind of…thunky.

Volcanic Tongue
Deluxe edition of 200 copies 7” in a gatefold sleeve from a trio coming out of the Brisbane underground that features Joel Stern (Other Film et al) Alex Cuffe and Ross Manning playing invented instruments and appliances: speaker box, elastic dust shovel, latex pimp horns… this a fabulously weirdo recording, with aspects of pygmy music, Tori Kudo, hypnotic homemade psych, toy orchestra plays The Shadow Ring…

Mimaroglu Music Sales
…goes for a kind of primal tribalism, savaging their self-built instrumental arrays (“latex pump horns”, “elastic dust shovel”, “bass speaker box”) in a monochord kinda way that recalls the monks inasmuch as it does terry riley …

Still Single
Aussie weirdos haunted by Silver Apples, Shadow Ring, Sun City Girls and human flatulence, the inappropriately-named Sky Needle is not heavy at all.

Art into Life
…strung to the shovel shall use a modified cryptic and speaker box. Daniel Higgs content that an anomaly folk / minimalist feeling like playing weird avant suspension system mess! Jake is also facing a special type of design. (translated from Japanese)

Byron Coley in The Wire Magazine Oct 2010
This Brisbane trio built their own sculptural instruments, and the results are full of thick string reverberation and other sounds whose source is not abundantly clear. But they are a rock group, in the sense that Theoretical Girls were. And indeed their work has the feel of downtown NYC of the 1980s.

 

Live Reviews

– – – – – – Incubate Festival, Tilburg Holland 2013 – – – – – – –

Wolf Eyes and Sky Needle bring the desert’s heat-haze

Wolf Eyes and their various solo projects mark some of the highlights of the week; a seething performance from the full group on Friday night drawing its power as much from restraint as aggression (a trait one wouldn’t have necessarily associated with the noise kingpins in the past), and a similarly pared-away, tense electronics set from Nate Young’s Regressions in Paradox. Entirely different, but of a similar oppressively dank atmosphere, are Australian collective Sky Needle. They’re an intriguing sight: a rag-tag group of misfits, several of whom look like they’ve fallen straight off the back of a pick-up truck in the middle of the outback, wringing out sour, off-kilter blues from a series of home-built instruments. There’s a guitar built from what looks like plywood, a short plank strung with metal strings, and a makeshift organ of sorts, built from a pair of footpumps you’d use to blow up an airbed. The music’s weird, lilting rhythms and the naturally unstable tunings of these instruments lend everything an ill, lurching sort of motion, as notes and chords slip in and out of sickly dissonance. That sensation is heightened by vocalist Sarah Byrne, who mumbles, moans and shrieks what sound like words, but never quite resolve themselves as anything more than vague verbal shapes. Everything feels heatsick and changeable, as if caught up in the depths of a fever dream or dehydrated desert hallucination. Far more so than the recorded incarnation on their new album Debased Shapes (a copy of which I pick up after the show) it feels pleasingly snide: ramshackle, sun-scorched blues to soundtrack your worst wilderness nightmare.Rory Gibb

Sky Needle – photo by William van der Voort

——–The Now Now Festival, Red Rattler, Sydney 2011——–

Tony Osbourne in RealTime Arts Magazine #102

This first night finished with Brisbane’s Sky Needle (Joel Stern, Alex Cuffe, Ross Manning and Sarah Byrne) pressing noise into the service of the song cycle. They misappropriated the form with splendid anarchy and without regard for tradition. All objects played by this group are their own inventions. One instrument was a cross between a bass guitar and a mobile angle grinder and another resembled an African thumb piano/dulcimer combination. Stern’s feet pumped for dear life to produce percussive wind sounds at the end of a couple of tubes and Byrne sounded like an out-of-control Siouxie Sioux. This is surely the future of pop!

Rave Magazine – Sky Needle / Deehoof / Tight Slip – January 2012

The home-made instrument ensembleSky Needle follow with a set of what used to be known as ‘industrial’ music before it morphed into the rather more conventional sounds of Ministry and NIN. That said, you wouldn’t mistake these locals for the pioneering clang of Einstürzende Neubauten or the claustrophobic horrorscapes of Throbbing Gristle either. Their music has a more epic sweep, like a mutated traditional Asian orchestra combined with dabs of electronica and surprisingly soulful, even earthy, female vocals. The crowd closes in, intrigued by the transformed air-bed pumps, speaker box basses and pot/pan percussion.” Matt Thrower

Anxious Objects – Sarah Werkmeister

Swingingly caustically between the man made everyday and a primal urge to create a language using what’s at hand, Sky Needle’s improvisational explorations set the stage for a tactile contact with music making. Armed with a resourceful eye and a slight interest in engineering, Alex Cuffe, Joel Stern, and Ross Manning collaborate for this project, …

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Strange Spontaneous Sounds in the Night – Sydney Morning Herald

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