Various Artists

Alternative Animals: An Interactive Documentary on the Australian Punk Scene 1976-79

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Accurately billed on the front cover as "an interactive documentary on the Australian punk scene 1976-1979," this two-disc set combines a CD of rare and unreleased tracks from the period with a CD-ROM containing graphics, interviews, and video footage. On some levels, it's a thrilling multimedia overview of an obscure (certainly on an international level) but interesting genre for aficionados. Yet at the same time, it's a somewhat frustrating viewing and listening experience due to some limitations and shortcomings in the packaging and presentation. The CD component, for one thing, doesn't identify which tracks are "rare" and which ones were previously unissued. Nor are many details provided about when they were recorded, except for the two Saints cuts, identified as live recordings from April 21, 1977. On its own terms, the CD is decent and quite energetic (if somewhat derivative) early punk music, mixing a few names known to international punk collectors with others that even experts might have never heard. The Saints, Radio Birdman, and the Boys Next Door (who evolved into the Birthday Party) are all represented, as are the Australian band named X (not to be confused with the more famous Los Angeles act of that name), as well as less celebrated groups like the Manikins (whose "Premonition" is the lone cut to approach pop-punk), the Chosen Few, and the Leftovers.

More interesting, and more frustrating, is the accompanying CD-ROM. Its assets include a wealth of video and audio interviews with members of dozens of bands, as well as vintage video footage of musical performances by the Saints, the Chosen Few, the Boys Next Door, and the Manikins. This must be among the earliest, if not the earliest, footage of Nick Cave, who performs two songs as singer of the Boys Next Door. (There's also an interview clip from the period in which he's asked if he has anything to say, to which he responds, "Yes, but don't ask me what. Which is what you would have asked me.") Also included are interviews with non-musical contributors to the scene (such as Bruce Milne, founder of the Au Go Go Records label); band family trees; illustrations of (and some excerpts from) a surprising abundance of vintage fanzines and sleeves; basic information about late-'70s Australian punk records; and recollections of important venues. Yet for all the stuff to browse through, it's bulky and awkward to navigate, and if there's a way to make the tiny videos larger, good luck finding it. It would also have been a great help if just a little more context were provided -- a basic bio and discography of each band, for instance -- to orient those who might not be familiar with much of this stuff (which would include most rock fans from outside Australia, and quite a number within Australia). Make no mistake -- serious punk fans with a deep reservoir of patience will find enough to keep them interested for hours, so much material is there to investigate on the CD-ROM. With just a little more attentiveness to user-friendliness, however, it would be a more entertaining and informative document of an interesting scene that's not likely to benefit from such in-depth treatment often (or, perhaps, ever again).