Book Review: Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge: Nine Parts Water One Part Sand

If you thought that the true Grunge music style of the early 1990’s was born in Seattle, USA you’d be wrong. It was invented a decade earlier in Perth Western Australia by Kim Salmon and his nascent post-punk band, The Scientists. In 1983, Kim Salmon even used the word ‘Grunge’ to describe his seminal album ‘Blood Red River’ in an interview on 2JJJ.

Kim Salmon has entrusted his life story ‘Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge: Nine Parts Water, One Part Sand’ (a line from the song ‘Swampland’) with his guitar student and self described ‘untried, unknown, non-author’ Douglas Galbraith. His faith was well placed. Galbraith writes with the fluidity of a seasoned professional. The book is a fascinating portrait of an uncompromising non-conformist at a time when the isolation of living in Perth meant that outside influence was so distant that creativity had the freedom to flourish in oblivion.

The underground music scene of the late 70s and early 80s included The Saints in Brisbane, Radio Birdman in Sydney, Nick Cave in Melbourne and Dave Graney in Adelaide. In Perth, Kim Salmon’s band The Scientists were experimenting with a new style of music encompassing the primitivism of punk adding fuzzed out noise, psyched out caterwauling, crunchy discordance, loud thundering pulsation, crooked rhythms, bent time signatures, and anti-establishment sentiment. Not to mention stylish dress sense paired with mop-like hair. Salmon says the band was never about musicianship, just ‘nuance and alchemy’.

Their love of antagonising audiences is best described in the book during a gig at the Parramatta Leagues Club in 1983 when the audience was throwing beer bottles at them. Salmon’s subsequent music collaborations including The Beasts of Bourbon (now ‘The Beasts’) and The Surrealists were not so hostile, yet show no less disregard for convention.

Galbraith peppers the book with quotes from the likes of Tex Perkins, Warren Ellis, Henry Rollins (a huge fan), Kid Congo Powers, Mark Arm, James Baker, Boris Sudjovic, Leanne Cowie, Tony Thewlis, Stu Thomas, Mike Stranges, the late Brian Hooper and, of course, Kim himself. There is huge respect for the man who should be famous for his talent and influence, but isn’t. He’s only a legend.

It’s hard to read this book without pondering a series of ‘What ifs’. What if Kim hadn’t married and had kids so young? What if Mark Arm from Mudhoney hadn’t chanced upon The Scientists’ record at the import section of Tower Records in Seattle? What if they had not been stymied by Au Go Go Records and were able to do a record deal in London? What if Kim had been lead singer of Beasts of Bourbon instead of Tex Perkins?

Douglas Galbraith’s book is about one of the most important influences on alternative music in Australia and globally. Let’s hope it helps catapult Kim Salmon into the limelight where he deserves to be.

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