This interview was recorded in October 1999 and was published in The Wire magazine in March 2000. It covers the formation of the Avenger Boys from the ashes of 90s techno/fighting collective The Donuts, and the recording of their first album, Destination: Brain.
I meet with the Donut Gringo Avenger Boys by the side of a river near sunset. The jungle is creaking and bellowing with a thousand mysterious noises, and we sit on the hull of an upturned canoe. The Fun Who Hates Man aka blind is extremely animated, pushing back his paper bandanna and throwing handfuls of sweat off his forehead into the river. The Man Who Hates Fun aka mute sits quietly, scraping thin strips of hallucinogenic bark from the trunk of a small Yage sapling and laying them to soak in a bowl of cold water. The Boys are leaving tomorrow morning before dawn on a spirit journey up the river, to source and record new material for their upcoming fifth album: Harsh and Synchronised. At fifteen minute intervals they each take a gulp of the yage infused water. This ritual will go on all night, then sometime around midafternoon tomorrow, the madness will start to descend. Typically, a ritual like this can last anywhere between eight days and a fortnight. As blind puts it: ‘More than enough time to record an album.’
I ask the Boys about their origins, as two of the fourteen members of groundbreaking techno/martial arts outfit The Donuts. Blind explains: ‘You see basically The Donuts were a reaction against the simplicity of DJing in the late 80s. When we started up, in 1990, you could get a synthesiser or a pair of turntables to produce 180 beats per minute, easily. What the Donuts did that was quite innovative was to have six guys on turntables, side by side. All producing beats.’
‘Not particularly good beats,’ interjects mute. ‘It was sort of like a sweatshop of techno. One beat gets created, passed down the line, mechanically reproduced. And with the turntables and sound-systems that were around at the time, particularly in Canberra, Australia, it was an unbelievably inefficient and cumbersome way of working.’
As well as having the most wasteful and ineffective sound setup in the southern hemisphere, the Donuts were famed for the eight martial artists who formed a crucial part of the collective. ‘You’d go to a Donuts gig and you’d think, please, jesus, maybe the martial artists will forget to show,’ says mute. ‘But one of the eight would always remember, and then call the other seven.’ The main contribution of the eight martial artists were their unarmed, unprovoked assaults on their surroundings. ‘Some nights they’d hit each other,’ remembers mute, ‘some nights it was the DJs, some nights it was the audience. If we were doing a forest rave, they used to fight trees and rivers.’
It was this high-octane mix of violence and unprofessionalism that contributed to the Donuts’ spectacular downfall in 1997. ‘Yeah, people talk about the end of the Donuts a lot,’ says blind. ‘It’s like, you’re a band for seven years and you get a little bit of public attention. Then there’s a murder within the group, or two or three murders, and suddenly you’re front page news.’ When the sprawling 21 month court case drew to its close and four of the surviving Donuts were given life-sentences, the group was officially disbanded.
From these ashes rose the Donut Gringo Avenger Boys as we know them today. Says mute: ‘From that point, I think blind and I both needed some time out to punch some children in the guts. So we grabbed whatever instruments we could fit in our luggage and headed to Chelyabinsk, in Central Russia. We’d both heard great things about Chelyabinsk.’ And did it live up to their expectations? ‘Hell yes! Chelyabinsk was great. Then we headed west to Magnitogorsk, and that was fantastic, too. And then blind had always wanted to visit Ufa, and it seemed foolish not to drop by when we were so close, and that turned out to be great as well.’
In the end, blind and mute travelled through Central Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan for two years (1997 – 99). They funded their travel by hiring themselves out as troubadours to political extremists. Says blind: ‘We played some great gigs for Chechnyan rebel organisations, we were really in demand after that. But we both hated – we still hate – playing gigs for groups who claimed to be rebelling, but were actually just bandits or dreamers or idealists. So we made a point of only performing who were willing to kill for what they believed in.’
‘And we made them prove it,’ says mute. ‘We played some amazing gigs that way. When you’ve got a crowd that’s willing to kill their hostages in cold blood just to see you pick up your instruments, you can’t imagine how wild they’ll go when you really start pumping.’
Upon their return to Australia, The Donut Gringo Avenger Boys used the material they’d written and performed over the last two years and forged it into their debut album as a duo: the critically acclaimed Destination: Brain. Lauded as the ‘album to end all albums’, numerous reviewers remarked upon its ability to kill creativity in the listener. ‘There are many albums that take a step forward in terms of style, content or technique. There are very few albums that not only don’t take a step forward, but also hold others back from progressing.’ (The Wire, Sep 1999) I ask the Boys about their feelings on the reaction to Destination: Brain.
‘Well if you’ve had an effect on people,’ says blind. ‘If you’ve affected them through your art, then that’s really all you can aim to do. If the effect has been a negative one – if you’ve created a piece of music that actually damages the brain of the listener and obstructs their ability to exercise their imagination for ever afterwards – then that’s pretty good as well.’