Archiving Australia with Efficient Space

Efficient Space, the Melbourne-based label is a second home and spotlight for obscure Aussie sounds.

A few months ago, Australian minimal wave pioneer Karen Marks played Melbourne Town Hall. It was a big deal made an even bigger deal by the fact that it was Karen’s debut live performance.

“It was the first show she’d played since she’d recorded in 1981, so, what’s that? Forty-two years too late,” says Michael Kucyk, the man who spent six years making the whole thing happen.

Karen Marks

Above, Karen Marks circa 1981 [Image courtesy of Efficient Space]

Michael is the head honcho at Efficient Space, the Melbourne-based record label responsible for outfitting Ace Sydney with a treasure trove of a vinyl library and for archiving and re-releasing obscure, ahead-of-its-time Australian music. He grew up on homegrown music himself, living in a suburb five minutes from what was then the country’s only vinyl factory, Corduroy Records and Detective Agency (“like Willy Wonka”), hanging out while bands like Detroit’s The Dirtbombs cut live sets that were promptly pressed (“a bugged out experience”) and being the best unofficial employee around (“a pretty debaucherous time — it’s no surprise the business went bust in the end”).

At Efficient Space, the mission isn’t burn fast but bright, but rather driven by the careful, occasionally tedious and always time-consuming work of preservation. “Most of the projects we’re uncovering maybe wouldn’t happen if we didn’t instigate it, and that’s the motivation,” Michael says.

“And at the end of the day, I’ve got to be able to listen to it 1,000 times over and it still has to hit me as much as it did the first time. That’s powerful stuff, not everyday experience.”

Above, Waak Waak Djungi’s Jimmy Djamunba at Miwal, a special Dhuawa place close to his homeland [Photo credit: Peter Mumme]

The label seeks out material that possesses genuine purpose but for whatever unjustifiable reason never found its footing the first go-round. One of the most dazzling and culturally significant records in the catalog is a re-release of a 1997 album from Indigenous Australian outfit Waak Waak Djungi. The album shares a collection of stories and traditional Songlines (the oral tradition of passing along important knowledge, often related to landscape, through song)  from three Yolngu elders, who worked on the release with a Melbourne-based new age electronic musician and producer. There’s also the experimental and esoteric compilation “Oz Waves,” the eponymous reissue of Australian jazz artist Singing Dust and Efficient Space’s most recent release, “Late, Late Show” from misfit ’80s sextet pel mel. Just to name a few.


Above, Michael Kucyk at Ace Sydney [Photo credit: Ellen Virgona]

A tireless gospeler of Australian music, Michael’s aim isn’t to rise to the same level of fame recent exports have found. “I’ve never really felt like I was part of that level of industry,” he says. “We exist in our small pocket, and don’t really have those grand ambitions.” Instead it’s about finding room and respect for the past in the present. Like his dream release: a two-track 12-inch from INXS which Michael describes as “the most like, strung-out, fucked up dubtracks … it’s kind of genius, as the least likely sound you would liken to the behemoth that is INXS.” But then, there’s that pesky high-level industry red tape of major labels, managers, publishers, etc. Michael, if anyone can make it happen, it’s you.

As an added aural offering, Michael has curated his “essential Australian listening”, below.

The Reels, “Beautiful

Of the 365 vinyl records carefully picked for Ace Hotel Sydney’s library, this was one of three albums that I insisted on including multiple copies of. Purposefully recorded for tele-shopping giant K-Tel in 1982, Sydney via Dubbo art-pop trio The Reels circumnavigate novelty and aim straight for high art with an incredible concept record of nocturnal synth ballads and easy listening love songs. From the opening interpretation of  David/Bacharach’s ‘This Guy’s In Love’ to ‘Cry’s ambient muzak teardrops and the lounge lizard metamorphosis of prior new wave single ‘Prefab Heart’, The Reels attain national treasure status.

Australian Art Orchestra, Hand To Earth

I’ll never forget first hearing this at Hopkins Creek’s ambient tent The Planetarium — a transformative moment as we collectively basked in nature’s elements (thanks DJ Shio).  In a similar vein to Waak Waak Djungi, Hand To Earth is built on Yolngu manikay (song cycles) from South East Arnhem Land in Northern Australia, fusing the 40,000+ year-old oral tradition with contemporary arrangements. This phenomenal cross-cultural exchange goes one step further by incorporating the Korean vocals of Sunny Kim and minimalist soundscapes that parallel with Codona and Jon Hassell. Remarkable in every way.

HTRK, Rhinestones

Don’t tell them I told you this but HTRK celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.  It’s incredibly rare that I’d sustain interest in a band for this long but HTRK really have managed to impress with every evolution. Painfully short (barely clocking in at 27 minutes) and deserving of instant replays, their 5th album pivots to divine acid-country. Unexpected yet unequivocally them. The duo temporarily moved in downstairs during the recording, only the rising damp wasn’t conducive to their creative process. It was a trip  while it lasted – wandering the corridors with their work in progress leaking from a keyhole.

Sheriff Lindo , Ten Dubs That Shook the World

Spend 5 minutes with me and I’ll most likely chew your ear off about this album – Australia’s very first dub LP, recorded in 1988 by x-ray engineer and studio maverick Sheriff Lindo. A  tectonic collision of Jamaican dub and UK industrial and post-punk, the authentic production remains unrivaled in this continent today. A quiet achiever, Sheriff later made power moves with electronica, techno and rave pair Itch-E and & Scratch-E, sci-fi house project F.C. Europa,  drum’’n’’bass duo Nutcase and Papachubba and destructive experimentalists The Menstruation Sisters.

Rowland S Howard, Teenage Snuff Film

Rowland’s everlasting debut solo album, recorded some 25 years after first surfacing as a 16 year old prodigy in proto-Boys Next Door group Young Charlatans. One of this country’s most influential guitarists, it’s also his lyrical genius and effortlessly cool vocal delivery that equally sting here. Rowland bares his guts, heart and soul, from ‘Dead Radio’s symphonic spaghetti western drama to the tormented feedback squall of closing chapter ‘Sleep Alone’. A cover song chameleon, he even makes ‘60s hit ‘She Cried’ and Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ completely his own.

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