Cult Aussie garage punks The Scientists bring their Negativity to The Barn in Portsmouth | Interview

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​One thing the Scientists’ frontman Kim Salmon is not short of is self-belief.

Formed in splendid isolation in Perth in western Australia in the late 1970s (aka “the most isolated city on Earth” at the time), The Scientists’ first iteration took on punk, but that version split in 1981, only for them to reform a couple of months later with a new sound. These brooding swamp-rockers helped influence the first wave of grunge acts who would go onto conquer the musical world.

The band split in 1987 with occasional reunions in the interim – notably playing at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2006 at the invitation of Mudhoney – and have been a going concern again for several years now. ​

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When asked by The Guide over a Zoom call to his Melbourne home whether they knew how influential their sound had become in their absence, Kim says: “Do you want my honest answer or what I'm supposed to say? Of course we knew! We put a lot of thought into what we were doing – we knew what we were doing and we figured someone would cotton onto it.

The Scientists play The Barn, Milton on October 7, 2023The Scientists play The Barn, Milton on October 7, 2023
The Scientists play The Barn, Milton on October 7, 2023

“Or: Nooo, we wouldn't have had a clue. Us? Who would have thought it! Pick your answer...”

Looking back at the scene in Perth during the 1970s, Salmon recalls: “The music scene I was in as a student was covers – it was totally unoriginal. The idea of even playing original material... or of bands even worth checking out was beyond me. You'd occasionally get an international act make it to Perth, but not often. And bands there didn't have enough confidence to write their own material. The idea of playing original material wasn't frowned upon, it just wasn't done.

“There was one artist called Dave Warner who played his own material and he was doing stuff that was like a precursor to punk music. And sometimes there were people doing prog stuff, but there wasn't any kind of scene...”

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It was through the weekly music press that Salmon first heard about the music that would change his life: “I read about this punk music and this club CBGB and I liked the way the writer, Charles Shaar Murray wrote about it in NME – it was very romantic and dark alleys, and ‘noir’, they all had pseudonyms and wore leather jackets. I was very attracted to this whole notion, so I went searching for punk. That was ground zero for music for me – 1975. I bought Horses by Patti Smith and checked out The New York Dolls, Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. I went through my collection trying to work out which ones were aligned to this new music – King Crimson had to go!”

The Scientists’ first run released just one self-titled album, but it was the second version, with cult classic album such as Blood Red River and Weird Love that cemented their legacy.

For a while they were based here in the UK – relocating here in 1984.

"When we first landed in the UK it was surprisingly easy for us to get really good gigs. We walked into a couple of European festivals just based on a photo of the band! I think there was enough novelty going on about us, and the loudness and brutality of the sound that we made an impression.”

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They also landed prime support slots on shows and tours with the likes of New Order, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and Gun Club.

“We walked into a whole load of stuff that you'd never be able to do these days just through the chutzpah of it and not knowing that you couldn't do it. We had a lot of things going well for us at the start, but then the pendulum swung backwards and things kind of fell apart – but that was then...”

For many years the band didn’t record any new material, but over time others in the band wanted to test the waters. There were a couple of singles, and an EP in 2019, 9H2O.SiO2 (“nine parts water, one part sand”, a line from their 1982 single Swampland, and since jokingly referred to as the “formula for grunge”).

But in 2021 they released Negativity, their first album since 1987’s The Human Jukebox.

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“Ah yes, the dreaded new material that we had to be wary of, and foist on people and actually believe in,” says Kim.

Acutely aware of how other acts have ruined their legacies with sub-par reunion albums, he gives his theory: “What really tends to happen is that everyone says: ‘Ah, they’re just as great as ever!’ and they make a fuss, a pretence of thinking it's really good, and then the truth sets in about six months later and everyone knows that the last decent Stones album was Sticky Fingers...” When we talk, the veteran rockers are in the news for announcing their forthcoming new album Hackney Diamonds – their first of original material in 18 years.

"We're the exception, of course!”

So how did the album come about?

"It was a long and convoluted process and I was dragged into it kicking and screaming, I have to admit. I really thought: nah, what's the point?

“It was always fine to do reunion tours, it was just like adding water and the whole chemistry occurred again – just like it was fresh, and I didn't want to really ruin that. That was good enough for me. But because we did find ourselves doing lots more touring from 2017 onwards, it necessitated having product out there to promote.

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“I thought we'd do it in little steps, so we'd do a single here and there - Mini, Mini, Mini, Braindead - these were half-old, half-new songs anyway, and then we did a thing with the formula for "grunge" shall we say (the EP), which had a few nice songs we managed to write together via the internet. That was good to take on the road with us and have some merch to sell, but I remember Tony (Thewlis, guitarist) saying on the first US stint we did in 2018: ‘It would be better if we had the chance to play this stuff in, it always sounds better when we all play in the one room’.

“I thought about it and I took it to heart and thought: ‘He is actually right there’.

“I went back home, and I've been teaching myself to play the drums – I'm still the worst drummer in the world – but I think I've got an idea as to how the rhythm of The Scientists works. And maybe because I can't quite play the drums, that’s how I can come up with a lateral-thinking groove to it – that's what we hinged on Brett Rixon's rhythmic approach."

Rixon had been the band’s drummer since 1981 through many of their key releases, but tragically he died of a heroin overdose in 1993.

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“Leanne (Cowie) was the only person who was able to replace him because she wasn't really a muso – she was our tour manager. She wanted a bit of rock'n'roll action and eventually got herself into the band! She didn't bring anything that wasn't already there – there were no foreign cells there for the body to reject. She's not a muso but she can really play.

“If we tried to do it without her or that particular nuanced drumming, it wouldn't work.

“I figured if I could come up with some beats that were Scientists-friendly, we could build on that. Having written all the two-note riffs I possibly could by 1985, I passed that baton on to Tony Thewlis in London who came up with the riffs for Negativity. It was a completely different process, but it's based on how the band works – all of us get credit on it.

“I'd invite Boris (Sujdovic, bassist) and Leanne to come down from Sydney to Melbourne and we'd have a few days jamming out to help me knock those songs into some kind of shape that they were happy playing. It was a joyous process and then we were all in the same room when we recorded it. It took us about a week.”

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When The Guide mentions that they sound as abrasive as ever, Salmon quickly replies: “I thought we'd mellowed a bit – I thought we'd sold out!

"I thought we had a few pop hooks in there... Outsider's an out-and-out pop tune, The Kinks' could have written it! The Kinks would have loved to have written it!”

The Scientists, supported by Milton Underground Resistance play The Barn in Milton on Saturday, October 7. Go to

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