Melbourne-via-London’s HTRK sound like a comedown, a bad trip, a hip romance, “a motel room, a tyre print in the rain, an alibi” (Plan B). 808 beats, evocative basslines, texture on texture. Jonnine’s wry, androgynous slur melts on top – sliding the masculine into the feminine. People say it sounds like Suicide and Swans, but more beautiful.
HTRK’s vision is mainly about emotion – having just the right amount of expression versus restraint. They could unleash a sonic nightmare – how they temper their power is what makes them unique.
Introductions: bassist Sean Stewart met guitarist Nigel Yang through music school in Melbourne. Inspired by David Lynch, protopunk and noise, they dropped out and decided to start Hate Rock Trio. Art director Jonnine Standish noticed Stewart’s good looks at a bar one night and charmed her way into band rehearsal. This was 2003.
Their first release in 2004, the Nostalgia EP (self-released, reissued by Fire Records), has since been used as a soundtrack for live suspension hangings by performance artist Kareem Gnoheim, and described by Allmusic (in a four-star review) as “an agitated haze of addictive ambivalence instead of the swagger and violence of their influences, the overall feeling is of beautiful disharmony”.
Their strangely detached live shows caught the attention of post punk legend Rowland S. Howard (ex-The Birthday Party), who invited them to record their debut at Birdland Studios. The result, Marry Me Tonight, was their ‘pop’ album, designed explicitly for teenagers and described by brainwashed as “an almost purely emotional experience… a wet dream”.
They moved to Berlin in 2006 and cut their teeth touring Europe with Liars. They’ve played Glasgow’s famed Optimo club, the unfamed but equally as potent London anarchist squat party Behind Bars, and toured Ireland briefly with Shellac. They half-moved to London, signed to Blast First Petite and played with personal heroes Alan Vega, Lydia Lunch and Martin Rev. Their slick DJ sets at Dalston club ‘Faction’ further revealed their talent at creating (and sustaining) a mood; their mixing of Vangelis and Coil with choice cuts from Basic Channel, Sahko and Muzique gave hint of their new synthetik direction.
Marry Me Tonight finally got released in 2009, sans hype, but got listed in Wire magazine and NME (8/10) and somehow found its way into the hearts and bedrooms of the disaffected youths (and young at heart) they were aiming for. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs took them on tour, as did The Horrors. In January 2010, wanting to start something new, HTRK organised a “tech-noir” party at Cargo London with Factory Floor and unsung electro genius Andrea Parker.
After years of living on a slippery slope, Stewart committed suicide in March 2010. Standish and Yang’s resolve strengthened. They completed their album in the months following and played a comeback show at the ICA described by the NME as being of “purging redolent beauty”. Stewart’s death will not help HTRK shake the common description of them as dark, despite their intentions. But the new album Work (work, work) is a record of heartbreak, finding another world, with soft allusions to the future. Darkness has been overplayed; it’s too representational now. HTRK do not aim for pitch black or lights off… it’s a murkier, more mysterious, heavy space.