Magic Dirt: Signs of Satanic Youth
Au-Go-Go Records (1993)
Sadly, on August 21st Dean Turner, the quiet-achieving bassist and part founder of Australian rock legends Magic Dirt, succumbed to cancer. He was only 37.
Not to focus on the local music industry’s loss, let’s praise a band that shaped an exciting era in Australian music. In particular, Melbourne’s scuzzy indie rock scene of the 90’s, when this gem of an EP hit the iconic shelves of Au-Go-Go records.
In a shroud of beer and bong smoke, Magic Dirt burst forth from Melbourne’s far outer suburbs, wrapped in Blast First/Geffen era Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr fuzz. Amplifiers were shredded, guitar strings were broken, and every 15 year old that saw Magic Dirt on stage during this period lost their shit inside dingy clubs during sweaty all-ages gigs.
Grunge had well and truly exploded in ’93, and while Magic Dirt maintained the second-hand, unwashed appearance that was all the rage at the time, they steered away from Metal infused Punk and trawled through cobwebbed corners of sonic deconstruction and pop hooks instead.
At the time of this EP’s release, Magic Dirt derived inspiration from Sonic Youth and other fragmented guitar bands of the time. Track three, Touch that Space owes a lot to the Youth’s Silver Rocket, the way its fuzzed out hook crashes into exploding amps and then winds itself back into a killer crescendo. Meanwhile, the haunting Supertear is lyrically reminiscent of Kim Gordon’s prose on female anxieties.
However, Magic Dirt were always more rooted in Blues and early rock n’ roll than Sonic Youth have ever been. They were unafraid to throw a wah-wah solo into the scree, and as a front woman Adalita channelled Suzi Quattro against Kim Gordan’s praying mantis allure. And where Sonic Youth has always been a guitar band, Dean Turner’s warm, slinky bass playing is an integral element of the Magic Dirt sound, which anchored the band in 70’s inspired stoner rock.
At a time in Australian music when indie bands were dropping EPs and singles left, right and centre, Signs of Satanic Youth rose above the racket. It was moody, slightly un-hinged, melodic, rocking and noisy. And in case you missed the point, it ended with a 36-minute drone of reverse-played guitars to remind you that this wasn’t your average rock band.
Over their next few releases, Magic Dirt polished their noise into a shiny fibreglass wall of guitars. The major label records they released during the last decade secured them a mainstream audience at the expense of the creativity and mayhem found in their earlier work. However, 2008 saw Magic Dirt release the highly experimental Roky’s Room (featuring members of Grey Daturas), Beast and Girl all of which harked back to earlier times, when their pop was decayed, sludgy and bad for your teeth. There was excitement around the band again.
As such, it’s sad that we mightn’t get to see what they were capable of in this next phase of their career. If this is your inspiration to pick up some Magic Dirt albums, dig way back to Signs of Satanic Youth for a glimpse into Australia’s 1990s underground, and to understand why more than 16 years on this band weren’t slowing down.