NoKTuRNL first came to national attention when they toured with the top Australian band of the time, Spiderbait, in April/May 1997. The previous November NoKTuRNL, at what was only their second live performance, had played at a Festival in Alice Springs headlined by Spiderbait. Spiderbait were so impressed they asked NoKTuRNL to join them for their forthcoming tour. It was a dream start for the band.
During the Spiderbait tour, the band played live on the ABC’s national television youth program Recovery. A set of dates followed through suburban NSW with Nitocris. The same year NoKTuRNL also played the Pushover Youth Festival in Melbourne and the Manly Youth Festival in Sydney. They made three video clips with national multicultural broadcaster SBS, recorded ‘live’ for Triple J’s Australian Music Show and appeared on ABC TV’s Songlines program.
In 1998 their performance at the Stompem Ground Festival in Broome W.A. was featured on a national live ABC television special of the event. They also performed that morning on Recovery, via satellite from Broome. On Federal election day (1998) NoKTuRNL again appeared on Recovery, meeting fellow guests Public Enemy. In the week prior to the election SBS TV aired a controversial interview and clip by the band that had them burning the Australian flag and speaking out about conservative forces like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. In 1998 SBS also produced a widely screened half hour television documentary about the group.
In early 1998 NoKTuRNL had travelled to London to record with German/English producer Zeus B. Held (Nina Hagen, Transvision Vamp). One of these songs, Sage, was used in the short film Saturday night, Sunday morning. Another NoKTuRNL song Unveiled, recorded in 1997 by JJJ, was used in the critically acclaimed and AFI award winning film Radiance. Also in 1998 the band performed at the Pacific Circle Music Convention, the Woodford Festival and Mudfest in Nth Queensland. To the disbelief of the band, the year ended with NoKTuRNL proving their street level popularity by winning “Band of the Year” at the 1998 Deadly Sounds Australian Indigenous Music Awards. NoKTuRNL, had won this peoples’ choice award over other well established acts, despite having no released recordings, no radio play and only a handful of live gigs under their belt.
In May 1999, not long after signing to Sony/ATV publishing, NoKTuRNL recorded two songs, Neva Mend and No Respect, with Kram and Whit from Spiderbait. In June they also recorded two songs, Machine Gun and New Era, with Chris Thompson from JJJ. Machine Gun was soon being played regularly by JJJ. NoKTuRNL was then booked for the National Big Day Out Tour. This was the first time in the eleven year history of the event that a band had been booked for the national tour without having released any recordings. New Era, was included on the compilation album of the 2000 Big Day Out and this became NoKTuRNL’s first commercially released recording.
What followed was a fierce bidding war between several of the major labels. NoKTuRNL signed with Festival Mushroom Records off shoot Sputnik. A three song CD was quickly compiled from existing material. Entitled Neva Mend it also included No Respect and New Era. Top engineer/producer Magoo helped remix Neva Mend and No Respect and it was released hot on the heels of their critically acclaimed performances at the Big Day Out. The Age, Melbourne’s daily broadsheet, described NoKTuRNL’s performance as “…the most exciting set” of the Melbourne BDO.
Neva Mend received glowing reviews and high rotation on Australia’s national youth broadcaster Triple J. The mind blowing video had the storm from the desert setting fire to the city. It immediately became Channel V’s “Ripe Clip of the Week”. Neva Mend was nominated for two ARIA awards: Best Alternate Release; and Best Video. New Era followed to radio and also received high rotation and remains one of the bands most popular songs.
In April 2000 NoKTuRNL toured nationally with the Rollins Band and appeared live on Channel V’s the Joint. In May they began recording their next release with help at times from producers Kram and Magoo. They also travelled to Darwin to headline a concert supporting international condemnation of the Northern Territory’s racist mandatory sentencing laws. They then headed off on a 19 date national tour, billed Stylewars 2000, with label mates 28 days and MotorAce. During the tour NoKTuRNL’s photo was used as the cover for 3 capital city music magazines. NoKTuRNL took time from this tour to perform at Corroboree 2000, reminding Australians that you can’t have reconciliation without respectoration. Their performance was broadcast nationally on TV.
Whilst in Sydney for Stylewars, NoKTuRNL briefly recorded with artist producer Josh Abrahams. During this time the band was also developing their own ability to record, using little more than a sequencer in a hotel room.
After a year of using hired session drummers, new recruit Paul Kelly joined NoKTuRNL and the band headed off in early July to tour regional Victoria with Bodyjar. Whilst in Melbourne they performed a 50 minute set for JJJ’s Live at the Wireless program. The blistering set featured the song Haterz, which was later re recorded and released as NoKTuRNL’s third single. Flametal, one of the b sides for the Haterz single, was lifted directly from this JJJ live session. NoKTuRNL returned to Alice Springs in late July to play with Midnight Oil to a packed house at the local pub. It was filmed by cable televisions’ Channel V and formed the basis of one hour special on the band broadcast in October.
NoKTuRNL’s second release Unveiled, was released to retail in October 2000. The five song EP, mixed by Magoo, included material from the Magoo and Josh Abrahams sessions, as well as hotel room recordings by the band. In the opinion of critics, the five song EP cemented NoKTuRNL’s position as ‘Australia’s most adventurous rock band’ and marked ‘their territory as the quintessential Australian 21st century band.’ It was generally considered to be the highlight of their career to date. Australia’s national youth broadcaster Triple J, enthusiastically embraced it, playing not only the title track, but also Just B… and Same Old Song on high rotation.
In another first, at the Deadly Sounds Indiginous Music Awards in October, NoKTuRNL again won “Band of the Year”, the only act to have won the award twice. Lead singer Craig T. had the honour of co hosting the event and NoKTuRNL showed why the fans voted for them, by putting on a typically blistering performance. Other memorable performances in 2000 included the Pacific Circle Music convention, Homebake, and Hemispheres.
Whilst things had been going well, issues that had been there from day one with Festival Mushroom Records, were not going away. It was like Festival Mushroom Records couldn’t get a grip on what it was that had attracted them to NoKTuRNL in the first place. The definitely couldn’t get their head around the Indigenous thing. Every discussion had an undercurrent of confrontation and subterfuge. So when talk started of the band doing another single, the band let the record company do all the talking. They chose the song Haterz, did the artwork, organised the recording session, the producer, the story and location for the film clip, the publicity photos – everything. The band just nodded in agreement. In some ways this worked well. For once the guys got to go into a good studio, with a great producer and work from beginning to end on one track. However, the single proved to be the least successful to date, and even though all the running had been done by FMR, they considered it NoKTuRNL’s failure.
The record company hype was also starting to back the band into a corner. Promoting them as ‘the heaviest and scariest Australian band’ denied the bands eclecticism and their innate worldliness. They were far more than young guys venting narcissistic rebellion. In fact they were telling a story, in a contemporary way, that needed to be told. Ironically the audience most likely to be interested in this, was being shunned by the image makers at Festival Mushroom.
August 2001 saw the commercial release of another NoKTuRNL song, this time in collaboration with Sydney based act Primary. They jointly wrote and recorded the track One by One for the record Corroboration. This track rapidly became the most radio played of all songs on the compilation. October had JJJ, Australia’s national youth broadcaster playing NoKTuRNL’s respectful cover of the well known Slim Dusty song, A Pub with No Beer. NoKTuRNL recorded the song to assist JJJ in promoting the annual National Aboriginal and Islander Music Awards – the Deadly’s. NoKTuRNL was nominated directly for Single of the Year (Haterz) and Album of the Year (Unveiled) in 2001, as well as sharing the award for Yolngu Boy which featured Neva Mend (Excellence in Film & Theatrical Score) and in the nomination for Corroboration (Album of the Year).
Also in October, Ralph (magazine) nominated NoKTuRNL as one of the top 100 Australian and New Zealand bands of all time. An extraordinary ranking for a band yet to release a full length album, or have any sort of commercial radio success. In the article, Ralph described their music as “a new musical form combining rap, metal and rock.”
The year had been enough though for NoKTuRNL’s newest member, drummer Paul Kelly and he left the scene. Cameron McGlinchey, an early collaborator, returned when needed to play drums and, as Cameron does, throw his creative energy into the band.
Over summer 2001/2002 Nokturnl worked on new songs for their debut album. These songs were tested early in the year with a couple of shows in Sydney and Melbourne where the crowds really vibed to the new material. The guys also did a show at the Powerhouse Museum for an exhibition celebrating the history of the band’s label – Festival Records (now Festival Mushroom Records). The museum was so impressed with Craig T’s distinctive green Ibanez Iceman guitar they bought it – it’s now on permanent exhibition!
In early 2002 the band went into the studio and recorded the basis of a whole album. However, things were getting worse with Festival Mushroom, not better, and Festival Mushroom withdrew their support completely from the project. Despite the huge critical acclaim the band had received since the release of their debut in Dec 2000, it just wasn’t happening. Things had moved on musically and what had been seen as cutting edge, was post Limp Bizkit, viewed as rehash. Further work on the album was postponed and NoKTuRNL went back to the drawing board, involving themselves in as many other musical projects as possible, while writing a whole batch of new songs and continuing to expand and challenge their already diverse range of styles.
In August the band was the support on the NT leg of Grinspoons ‘New Detention Tour’. Of the songs recorded earlier in the year Woomera was going down especially well. Boyd by the good times had at these shows, and the great response to demos of some other new songs, the band decided it was time to start work again on their stalled debut album.
However, the New Dentention Tour, turned out to be long term band member and bass player, SoRBZ’s last outing with the band. He just stopped turning up to things. Nothing was ever really discussed – it’s like he’d lost the dream. NoKTuRNL decided that they would no longer try to bring in rhythm players as permanent members. From now on the band was to be Craig T. and Damo, with other creative collaborators, as needed.
Cameron McKenzie, had been helping the band on and off for a while with the development of new songs. He was bought in to finish the stalled album. The tracks chosen would take the band in a new direction and broaden the band’s audience, whilst still keeping all the things that had bought NoKTuRNL to attention in the first place. To some degree all the material had already been recorded, so mostly it involved finishing and polishing existing recordings. Woomera, and the brand new song Reason to Live, were the only songs completely rerecorded.
Work began first thing 2003 and the new recording of Woomera was released to radio late January, while work continued on the rest of the project. Woomera was the bands way of dealing with the past. It had been one of the songs considered instead of Haterz as a single and although it was an oldie it obviously had a current resonance. With a militaristic marching rhythm, crunching guitars and layered textures, Woomera observes the modern world and the human condition from a distance. Full of double meanings it is open to mixed interpretations. Woomera is one of twelve songs included on the album Time Flies, which was finished by late March and released July 21 2003.
Time Flies received good reviews, including four stars in the Sept 03 Editon of Rolling Stone by Robyn Doreian. She wrote that Time Flies… “moves comfortably from the shimmering melancholy of Prism to the minimal funk of All I See, up a notch to the restrained chug of Kruel World, closing with the bitter sweet melody of Reason to Live. NoKTuRNL’s true skill lies in their ability to coat poignant social commentary in palatable, groove driven tunes. During the course of 12 tracks, they wrestle with the human condition, addressing themes of oppression, refugees, disillusionment, life lessons and Woomera’s spectre of war readiness. Time Flies will surprise those used to the assault of Same Old Song, but it’ll creep up on you like a python warming under the midday sun.”
Despite good critical acclaim, it was very obvious within days of it’s official release, that Festival Mushroom Records had absolutely no interest in the record. Even with the track ‘Sail Away’ the most requested song on the local commercial radio station, the local records stores orders for the disc where backordered by FMR. After all they had gone through to get a finished record released, this was tuff stuff for the band to deal with.
Things are never all bad. The band was honoured to win another Deadly Sounds Band of the Year award.
Never ones to give up easily, the guys decided on a new tact. It had always been an ambition to get overseas and potentially away from the fairly narrow preconceptions of what Australian “Indigenous” music should be about. There couldn’t be a better time. With no resolution in sight of the destructive stand off with FMR, it seemed to be a positive way to keep moving forward. So Matty G, NoKKeR’s manager, called an ex German employee and friend, Michael Zeiss, who had returned to Germany. They also contacted their old buddy, Zeus B. Held, now living back in Freiburg Germany. With their help, a tour was organised and a German rythym section was arranged.
In November 2003, Craig T., Damo and Matty G headed off to Germany. The rhythm section of David Lang and Peter Zettl, immediately sparked, and any doubts about having fun playing music went out the window. 13 dates followed, some were very successful and some not so, although the band always played well. The guys also squeezed in a recording session with Zeus in Freiburg. One of the songs, Calling, has become a live favourite.
Matty G, probably wasn’t having as much fun as the others. He was on a pretty steep learning curve and some Germans didn’t seem to understand his ‘no worries’ approach to business. Still some valuable contacts were made, and it was assumed that Michael Zeiss, and his partner Heiko, would be able to rise to the challenge of managing the band for Germany.
On returning to Australia, NoKTuRNL successfully negotiated their way out of the Festival Mushroom deal, with ownership of the bands recordings returning to the band. The plan was hatched to finish the still born album, canned by FMR. They were encouraged in this regard by Tronador, a Brasilian label run by an expatriate Australian. Tronador had released the NoKTuRNL track Neva Mend on one of their compilations.
In March 2004, they finished the tracks begun in early 2002. The tracks were now completed for an album, the guys just needed to find a way to get it released. From May to July they travelled again to Germany. As well as doing a number of shows they wrote and recorded a number of tracks with their German buddies, incorporating these new songs into their live set. Whilst they achieved a good amount of publicity, played some biggish festivals, some of which were broadcast on t.v., the potential German management team was faltering. Fortunately the band was firing and having a good time playing music.
Next stop was Brasil. Tronador had arranged for Damo and Craig T. to do some acoustic shows at a trade fair in Sao Paulo. This was the first time that NoKTuRNL seriously worked with acoustic guitars and it is something they still do today. Ironically, whilst Matty G’s ‘no worries’ attitude had perplexed the Germans, the Brasilian’s wanted him to chill. Things were definitely done differently here to Germany. Even major tv channels appeared to organise things last thing the day before the program was due to go to air.
The guys worked up a Brasilian rhythm section of Adal Fonseca on drums and Luciano de Andrade on bass. Adal and Luciano joined the guys for a number of these gigs as well as travelling south to Porto Allegre in Rio Grande de Sur for some tv appearances. Adal and Luciano, brought something new to the music and one day, the guys hope to be able to play with them again.
In October and November they returned to Germany. Unfortunately, the relationship with the German managers to be, was not to be, and they parted company whilst there. Fortunately, despite the difficulties, the friendship and musical relationship with the rhythm section of David and Peter remained very strong.
Two thousand and five was a slow year for the band. Resources were non existent and gigs scarce. However, they were invited to perform at the Riddu Riddu Festival in the far Nth. of Norway in July. They travelled via Frankfurt to pick up their German buddies and headed on to play one of their more memorable gigs. A long way to go for a single show, but nobody was complaining.
Significantly they played their first gig as an ‘acoustic act’ at the Alice Desert Festival in Sept. As a two man acoustic show, it made it possible to start playing regularly in Alice Springs, something they hadn’t done for a long time. As well as rehearsing an ‘acoustic’ NoKTuRNL show, they started a covers band side project they called ‘Fly 990’. Occasionally Doug Pipe, the bands first drummer, joined them. They then got a serious offer to do some rock shows in Sydney and Melbourne and decided it was time to rehearse up a new rock band. Two highly regarded young lads from Melbourne were bought to Alice for rehearsals. Unfortunately, it didn’t gell and the performances were lack luster, the promoter didn’t pay the full fee, and NoKTuRNL were wondering why after all this time, they were still paying to play. The idea of NoKTuRNL being a four piece electric rock band was shelved and Doug came on board more seriously. The guys had an invitation early in the New Year to play at Yabun on Australia Day. Again the guys started working up a new show.
The year began with Yabun, the first interstate performance as a 3 piece ‘acoustic’ act. It was a good feeling to come home with some money in the bank. The new format seemed to be opening doors and invitations to play started to come in. The art world, which had mostly shunned the band, started expressing interest. Talks began about doing a tour of the Top End of the NT, with the government touring organisation Art Back. A deal had been done with Shock for the release of NoKTuRNL albums and for the first time in a long time, it seemed the band had a way forward. A couple of licence deals were done for the use of NoKTuRNL music in some short films. In July they performed at the Dreaming Festival in Queensland. Feedback was good. NoKTuRNL also became involved in an Opera about the life of Ted Strehlow. This is a long term collaborative project with the first performance scheduled for 2008. In August they did the Northern Extremities Top End Tour culminating with a performance at the NT Indigenous Music Awards. Both this and their performance at the Kalkarindji Freedom Day Festival were filmed and recorded for television. Fly 990 was working whenever there was time and things seemed to be ticking over nicely. Music hadn’t consistently been this much fun for a long time.
Finalising details around the Shock releases seemed to drag on forever, although it wasn’t due to any delays by Shock. Things take so much longer to achieve with limited resources. February finally sees the release of Time Flies and Unveiled the album. As they say, ‘better late than never.’