The Scientists - Biography
By Oliver Hall
The Scientists originally formed as a punk band in Perth, Australia in 1978, and then reincarnated as a primal noise/trash/blues outfit in Sydney in 1981. The band’s second incarnation has been particularly influential in the world underground rock scene where their visceral, minimalist music continues to inspire imitations and occasional elaborations.
An article published in NME in the mid-1970s about American punk rock led Kim Salmon, an art student in Perth, to seek out records by the Modern Lovers and the New York Dolls. Those records inspired him to form his own punk band, The Cheap Nasties. After The Cheap Nasties broke up, Salmon joined the Invaders, which had been formed by Nasties’ fans Rod Radalj and Boris Sujdovic. In 1978, after drummer Johno quit the Invaders, Salmon, Radalj, and Sujdovic acquired drummer James Baker from Australian punk group The Victims and together they formed The Scientists.
Sujdovic left before the band recorded its first single, the pop gem “Frantic Romantic” (1979 DNA), in 1979 with short-term bassist Dennis Byrne. Radalj and Byrne were replaced by guitarist Ben Juniper and bassist Ian Sharples by the time the four-song 7” The Scientists (1980 White Rider) was recorded and released in 1980. The band appeared on the Australian pop music TV show Countdown to perform “Last Night” from the EP.
In 1981, after Juniper left the band, the Scientists recorded their debut full-length, self-titled album as a trio with Salmon playing all the guitar parts. By the time the bright pink-sleeved The Scientists (1981 EMI Custom) was issued that summer, the group had already broken up. Baker and Radalj formed the Hoodoo Gurus in Sydney later that year with ex-Victim Dave Faulkner.
Salmon went in search of the origins of rock and roll with Louie Louie, the band he formed in Perth with Kim Williams and drummer Brett Rixon. Louie Louie dropped the lovesick 60’s pop qualities of The Scientists’ music, focusing instead on the insistent primal beat of trash-rock. Toward the end of 1981, Sujdovic convinced Salmon to reform The Scientists in Sydney. Salmon recruited guitarist Tony Thewlis (in the liner notes to the compilation Blood Red River 1982-1984 [2001 Citadel], Salmon writes that he saw Tony Thewlis “playing some absolutely superb guitar with some absolutely godawful band at Hernando's Hideaway in East Perth.”) and Salmon, Thewlis, and Rixon drove across the country to Sydney to reform the band with Sujdovic.
The new version of The Scientists sounded more like Louie Louie than like the old Scientists; insistent blues riffs, guitar noise, and Rixon’s precise rhythmic timing figures behind Salmon’s demented shamanic vocalizing. The single “This Is My Happy Hour” (1982 Au-Go-Go) was the first of several releases on the Melbourne Au-Go-Go label. The B-side “Swampland,” written by Louie Louie, is one of the classic songs of The Scientists’ discography. The six-song EP Blood Red River (1983 Au-Go-Go) is somewhat reminiscent of Mirror Man-era Captain Beefheart, whose “Clear Spot” The Scientists cover on the B-side of “We Had Love” (1983 Au-Go-Go).
The Scientists moved from Sydney to London, England in 1984. The group’s last recordings in Sydney were issued on the mini-LP This Heart Doesn’t Run on Blood, This Heart Doesn’t Run on Love (1984 Au-Go-Go). The Scientists cut off their relationship with Au-Go-Go, who responded by issuing unauthorized compilation albums, tapes, and singles, as well as the whole of The Scientists’ new album for a different label. Au-Go-Go’s version of the album is titled Atom Bomb Baby (1985 Au-Go-Go), and apparently does not feature the band’s mixes of the songs. The Scientists’ authorized version of the album was released by UK label Karbon as You Get What You Deserve (1985 Karbon). Belgian label Soundworks issued the four-song Demolition Derby 12” (1985 Soundworks), recorded in Brussels late in 1984.
Brett Rixon left after You Get What You Deserve, and drummer Phillip Hertz filled in on The Scientists’ next single “You Only Live Twice” (1985 Karbon), their cover of the James Bond theme. Drummer Leanne Chock joined The Scientists on Weird Love (Karbon 1986), an album of new recordings of older Scientists’ songs. Sujdovic left the band after Weird Love was released, and Salmon and Thewlis recorded the last Scientists LP, The Human Jukebox (1987 Karbon), in London with drummer Nick Combe. The Scientists broke up after a 1987 Australian tour. Salmon immediately formed a new group in Australia called Kim Salmon and the Surrealists.
Brett Rixon died of a heroin overdose in December of 1993. Most but not all of The Scientists’ discography has been reissued on the CD collections Pissed on Another Planet (2004 Sympathy for the Record Industry), Blood Red River 1982-1984 (2001 Citadel), and The Human Jukebox 1984-1986 (2001 Citadel). Salmon toured The Scientists’ material with a new band to promote the release of Blood Red River 1982-1984, and reunited with Thewlis and Sujdovic in 2002. Salmon, Surrealist Stu Thomas, and drummer Leanne Chock toured Europe as The Scientists in 2004, and in 2006 Salmon reunited with Thewlis, Sujdovic, and Chock at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, which was curated by Mudhoney. That show is documented on the live album Sedition (2007 ATP). The Scientists played in Australia later that year, and again with Sonic Youth in 2007.