Melbourne’s Primitive Calculators met as teenagers in the early 70s, growing up in the grim outer suburb of Springvale. The Velvet Underground and The MC5 were obvious heroes, but they were also inspired by lesser known bands like The Fugs, The 13th Floor Elevators and The Godz as well as the writing of obsessive rock journalist Lester Bangs.
By 1977, they had deserted Springvale for the more musically liberated environs of St. Kilda, forming a punk band called The Moths. Well-known figures like Nick Cave (The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party) and Ollie Olsen (Whirlywirld, No) would often come by to listen to records, but the Primitive Calculators were always outsiders in Melbourne’s punk scene.
A move to Fitzroy in 1978 helped Primitive Calculators develop a network of like-minded friends. They released their debut single in 1979, featuring the songs ‘I Can’t Stop It’ and ‘Do That Dance’. Pressed with plain black labels in a stark monochrome sleeve, the single introduced many to the impassioned, atonal, electronic chaos that was the Primitive Calculators’ trademark.
The following year the band attempted to relocate to London, but seeing how difficult life was for fellow expats the Birthday Partyand Whirlywhirld, decided instead to take an indefinite break. A live recording of a gig supporting the Boys Next Door in 1979 turned out to be Primitive Calculators’ swansong. Released by friend and supporter Alan Bamford in the early 1980s, Primitive Calculators is a crucial document of a band whose originality, power and humorously belligerent Australian mindset has never since been duplicated.
But the story didn’t stop there, as Primitive Calculators had an unexpected renaissance in 1986, when filmmaker Richard Lowenstein included them in his film Dogs In Space (starring a young Michael Hutchence), which was based on the Little Bands scene they had created.
In 2001, a 1979 live recording of ‘Pumping Ugly Muscle’ was included on Chapter Music’s landmark Australian post-punk compilation ‘Can’t Stop It!’ (CH37), named after the Calculator’s only studio recording.
This led to a renewed interest in the band and later the 2003 release of the ‘Glitter Kids’ EP, of three live recordings from 1979 by Meeuw Muzik in the Netherlands.
The Primitive Calculators album was reissued on CD by Chapter in 2004 (CH47), with extra tracks from related projects The Moths, other live recordings from 1979 and an unnamed Primitive Calculators / Whirlywirld hybrid recorded in London, 1981).