Underground Lovers’ Vincent Giarrusso

Australian dream pop outfit Underground Lovers emerged from a long hibernation earlier this year with Weekend, their first full-length release in over a decade. Critically lauded and universally loved, the Melbourne-based pioneers are primed to leap into fall with a new split 7” on Genjing Records

While not widely known outside of Australia, Underground Lovers have iconic status on their native turf. Since their formation in 1989, the band has won an ARIA Award, toured abroad — including a stretch opening for New Order — released six records on both independent (Shock, 4AD, Rubber) and major labels, including Polydor and BMG, and have had a number of singles enter Top Ten territory on Australia’s Triple J Hottest 100 and the Billboard Top 100.

Throughout their heyday in the mid-1990s, the forward-looking outfit developed a reputation for transcendent live performances: Vincent Giarrusso, the band’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, had a penchant for entering trance-like states while his bandmates — including co-singer Philippa Nihill and guitarist and co-founder Glenn Bennie — concocted a shimmering wall of sound. The addition of psychedelic visuals to the band’s precise, hypnotic rhythm section transformed concert halls into mass shamanistic rituals and the band’s legend was sealed.

This past spring’s announcement of the reformation of the original lineup and the release of Weekend — a record that perfected their characteristic blend of indie rock, dream pop, electronic loops and psychedelia anchored by their trademark ethereal male-female vocals — galvanized the country’s music press and proclamations quickly rolled in like thunderclouds to a drought-stricken wasteland:

“From rhythm and melody to voice-shredding vocals and bubbling energy,” said cultural powerhouse PopMatters, “Weekend is a slice of instant dance rock perfection.

Heavy hitters Mess + Noise called the record “nothing short of amazing”; Stack magazine deemed it “a triumph” and the Sydney Morning Herald proclaimed Weekend a “rapturous” addition to the band’s concrete legacy.

The public agreed. The band’s dedicated fan base, who affectionately refer to them as “the Undies”, helped make the reunited sextet’s first release of the millennium possible through a crowdsourcing campaign that reached its goal within four days. Concertgoers, perhaps surprisingly considering an entire generation had come of age since the band’s last major activity, turned out in droves to support the release tour and Weekend dominated the country’s entertainment news cycle and set the stage for their foray into Chinese waters.

Underground Lovers makes their Chinese debut with a self-titled split 7” with Dear Eloise, the Beijing-based duo who have settled comfortably into their new roles as China’s shoegaze elders.

A vital blend of the best that both countries have to offer, the release, a collaboration with the Melbourne-based indie label Rubber Records, marks several crucial firsts:

The two-song effort is the first split vinyl release between an Australian and Chinese recording artist; it’s the first Genjing Records release that will be widely available for purchase in select American markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, and it’s the label’s first collaboration with IdleBeats, the acclaimed Shanghai design firm that silkscreened the packaging for the release.

And for Underground Lovers themselves, the limited-edition effort neatly completes a 25-year cycle: the band’s first-ever release was a 7” recorded under the name Blast in 1988 while band founders Vincent Giarrusso and Glenn Bennie were university classmates.

Following last month’s rollicking Australian release gig at Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club, we touched bases with Vincent to discuss the band’s DIY ethic, the future of Sino-Australian creative relations and the imagery behind the music video for “Haunted (Acedia),” the A-side to the new release.

Tell us about the release party.
Vincent: It was a huge success! We sold out the venue and delivered a superb performance. “Haunted” was, in particular, a crowd favourite and Julian Wu came on stage to give a rousing talk about the music scene in China, making a lovely rap for Dear Eloise in the process. Julian is a Melbourne music entity: He goes to nearly every gig and has a broad knowledge of both the Melbourne and Chinese music scenes — especially punk and post-punk in China. He also helped us with the concept of the new split 7”.

Julian: I briefly discussed how the Cultural Revolution wiped out the country’s nascent rock scene starting in the mid-1960s and how it rebooted itself several decades later via mixtapes and cutouts. Yang Haisong and PK-14 were, of course, instrumental in this scene. After mentioning that Dear Eloise was Yang’s side project, I displayed a copy of the single and showed the crowd the crystal-clear vinyl, the screenprinted artwork and discussed the limited-edition nature of the release.

How did the crowd react?
Vincent: They bought lots of records and other merchandise, which was exciting. Prior to the show, we played Dear Eloise on the sound system to build anticipation: both the bands and everyone in the crowd really loved their sound and dynamic.

Sounds amazing. Any other highlights?
Glenn had two guitar techs on hand for the tricky open tunings and still managed to blow up a guitar — his blazer guitar blew its pots and we had to borrow a replacement from Alpha Beta Fox, the support band.

Write a haiku about Underground Lovers.
Moody dreamy pop—
a man and woman sing deep
songs of the abyss.

What was it like coming back from the abyss?
Exciting and refreshing. We love to make and play music and we love to play live.

Tell us about “Haunted (Acedia).”
The official video was shot by our friend and longtime collaborator Jason Sweeney and stars an extraordinary actor from the Netherlands, Caroline Daish. Her performance is riveting and Jason has crafted a subtle and beautiful clip set in the hills of Adelaide.

What’s the concept behind the video?
To represent the altered states we find ourselves in.

Underground Lovers has a DIY streak, having self-financed your 1991 debut and crowdsourced Weekend.
We’re very independent-minded. We want to create and make records and music when we are ready. The first line of “Haunted” is “We will wait for no one.” We like to be part of the music scene but not be part of the hype and marketing.

Tell us how you got hooked up with China.
China is very interesting for Australians. A friend of ours told us about the music coming out of the country — bands like Carsick Cars, Streets Kill Strange Animals, Hedgehog and Birdstriking — so we checked it out and liked it. We’re always interested in new and exciting events.

How does the band see its relationship with China evolving in the future?
We’re happy to see our music being released in China and would like to tour there one day.

We’re working on it! Where’s the best place to buy vinyl in Melbourne?
Polyester Records and Pure Pop Records.

The split 7” is available now in Australia. China residents can expect an official release on Sat, Sept 28 at The Other Place, an official Beijing Design Week event that will double as a silkscreening workshop and exhibition by IdleBeats, the Shanghai-based design studio that printed the liner notes alongside an exclusive Dear Eloise poster and Genjing-branded tote bags.

Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Idle Beats co-founder Nini Sum for a detailed look at running a design studio in China.