Dwarves. Take No Prisoners.
"Everything you need to know about the Dwarves, I'm here to tell you…" Enigmatic Dwarves frontman Blag Dahlia is on the phone, and I'm not sure I'm prepared for the onslaught to come. Dwarves are a band that at their worst are derisive, polarising, and offensive. At their best, they are quite simply terrifying. It's punk rock at its most visceral, and it's far from easy listening.
Since the late 80s they've carved a niche for themselves into the cultural psyche by simply doing whatever the fuck they want. It's simplistic to view the band as outcasts operating on the fringes of any established scene, but it's this very outsider perspective that allowed the band to steamroller through any pre-conceived notions of what is, or is not, socially acceptable.
"We've really evolved beyond good and evil. It comes naturally to us. Sometimes in our daily lives we have to try figure things out based on the normal human scale. But when it comes to making a Dwarves record or doing a tour, you just blow all of that it out of the water. It becomes about how foul can we really be? How much can we convince everybody that we really are the scum that they fear?"
"It has to be almost like an iron machine of insanity. You don’t want to show any actual human attributes. Anything that shows any kind of human sentiment really isn't good for Dwarves, you know?"
Stylistically it's hard to mash the Dwarves experience into a convenient pigeonhole. There is an undercurrent of nastiness and even misogyny, but it's liberally peppered with a sly sense of irony, and their collective tongue planted firmly in cheek.
"We have entered a PC time in rock & roll, when, you know, people don't really know what to do. They are fronting like they really play rock and roll, but they're looking over their shoulder to make sure it's OK with everybody."
"So it's kind of the Dwarves job to say no. The buck stops here. You know a Dwarves song when you come to it. If it is vicious enough, then it's a Dwarves song. If it maintains a high enough standard of hatred, it can be a Dwarves song. This is where rock and roll is, this is where it has to go. There is no further it can go from this point."
Obviously Blag is well aware of intrinsic value in taking people to the places they fear, and has a keen appreciation the band at this point in the career is a beacon of resistance against the status quo.
"Absolutely; that's what rock and roll is for. As soon as it's safe and you can understand it and you know where it's going, then it's failed in its job, you know? That's why most rock and roll is so tedious."
I ask Blag for this take on the gentrification of rock, and its place within the overwhelming hype and money behind the processing of talent through reality TV, "I think there are two sides to that, you know? I think this generation, just like everyone else, needs to come to terms with how commercialised and bullshit they want to be."
"This is a generation that has been starved of money. They are starved of value. So it's hard to think about setting up a rock & roll scene and making something cool. It's much more tempting to just have someone come along and just hand you something, so you see a lot more people jumping for that, instead of making something of their own."
"To build your own scene is really challenging and difficult. To come along and take something that already exists, that's sort of the lazy dream of the modern social media person. I'll just sit here and do nothing and wait for everyone to notice me."
"Why would anyone even try to stand up to the marvel that is the Dwarves recorded canon. You know what I mean? Other bands can sort of bow down, and live in hope."
Do you feel an obligation to push back against this, to be more involved in the message as well as the music? "I think we push against it just be being who we are, if you know what I mean," Blag muses. "We came up in a different setup, where there was no room for people like us in the mainstream. They didn't want us, so they didn't really have to think about joining in. Now there are people who are looking to embrace the freaks of the music industry for the commercial value they might have. So those kinds of decisions come up for people much earlier."
"All I can really say is that people need to navigate that stuff for themselves, you know? It's like you can take a really mediocre rapper from Australia, and bring her over to America, and suddenly she's a big star, so you never know - sometimes doing very little can yield you very much, I'll leave that to all the different performers out there."
The new Dwarves album, Dwarves Invented Rock & Roll, is yet another reactionary full throttle assault on the senses: an uncomfortable and trashy mix of underage sex, drug abuse and misanthropic egotism, "We are the Alpha and Omega of rock. So for us it followed that we were obviously the inventors of it," he laughs. "My feeling was, if not us then who? And if not now, then when?"
Does it lay waste to all rock & roll that's come before? "Not before, you know, but it definitely lays waste to all rock & roll that will come after. We have laid waste. I think we have made a barren landscape. Why would anyone even try to stand up to the marvel that is the Dwarves recorded canon. You know what I mean? Other bands can sort of bow down, and live in hope."
The aforementioned canon of work has seen the Dwarves organically evolve from their scum punk origins into a band that fearlessly mashes genres and concepts together. Taboo subject matters float effortlessly between hardcore and pop punk while drawing in flavours from country music, and punishing metallic industrial sounds.
Early releases are renowned for a take no prisoners approach to song writing. The now classic Blood Guts & Pussy slams 11 tracks into just 13 minutes of insanity, a flagrant slap in the face of the developing grunge ethos of then label Sub Pop. While the band has long since left the label, the release is long time stalwart of the Sub Pop catalogue. Dwarves have been working through their largely unavailable catalogue for new vinyl reissues.
"It's great to see the old stuff come out. The one that really turned people on was the reissue of Dwarves Are Young & Good Looking (entitled Dwarves Are Even Younger & Better Looking). That was our biggest record. Recess just re-did it as a double album with heaps of new material. Free Cocaine is going to come out again, that was really early pre Blood Guts 80s Dwarves; that was a really vicious record."
"Recess is the perfect place for it because they're a punk label. People still remember us from the 80s punk scene, so we'll stake our claim to that as well, you know? As long as you're making cool new records there's no harm in re-releasing those old ones. You know, I look at it like, we made all these records, and people like whatever they like. If you like Blood Guts, then go get that one. If you like something earlier look for that, if you like the later stuff then go and get that. For me it's like, I won't put out a record unless I think it's great. So anything you may come across, for me, has some value to it. But the more people can avoid bullshit labels like Sub Pop, the better I like it. But you get what you get."
It's now been five years since the Dwarves last graced out shores, and Blag is acutely aware of the void left since their last visit.
"Well, you know, basically it was time to return. Every once in a while we have to come back to Australia to show you how rock & roll is done. This record, The Dwarves Invented Rock & Roll is the genesis of this project. We have to get back there and give a little tutorial on rock."
"It's always fun when you've got a new record to show people what you've got you. Get a chance to play some new stuff. That's always the challenge. You've made a new classic record, but are the people responding to it? And in this case people are going gaga for it. It's the perfect time for some exotic locales."
You've been to Brisbane before, I'm sure you'd agree there is nothing too exotic about it...
"Australia in general is very exotic. When you're coming from far away, the very idea is exotic… all those weird marsupials. There is no point going to exotic far flung locations if you're not going to check out some of what the people are experiencing. Get a feel for the real nation."
You do need to be aware that pretty much everything here will kill you or eat you... are you looking forward to an opportunity to put the fear of the Dwarves into Australia's wildlife?
"We're very accommodating towards the wildlife. We figure they haven't done anything to deserve our wrath, you know. Those who dare to play rock and roll and really upset us; those are the folks we have to set straight on this trip. It's a good opportunity to get some squares juicing up and angry. Because that is going to be the realest thing you are going to encounter."
The sense of realism is pervasive element of the Dwarves live experience. Early shows were notorious for the band's confrontationist ethos. Gigs often cut short after the band and their audience came to blows, and all out brawls shut down the venue. Blag is happy to provide some context.
"I've always felt a really great show needs a really great audience, you know? When the audience is just kinda hanging out and waiting for a show, it's never as good. When people have that rage that they're carrying around, that's what you want to see. That's what makes it work."
For anyone attending the upcoming Australian tour, what's the perfect preparation to see the Dwarves? How can everyone get themselves really worked up and pissed off?
"Oh man!" he laughs. "Just do a big hit of coke, smoke some dope, drink your face off, shoot up heroin, smoke some PCP... and then beat your children!"
"At that point, you're ready to get your happy ass to see the Dwarves."
Words by Eden Howard
Dwarves Australian Tour Dates 2014
Thursday, Oct 16th – Geelong – Barwon Club
Friday, Oct 17th – Melbourne – The Evelyn (18+)
Sat, Oct 18th – Sydney – Bald Faced Stag (18+)
Sun, Oct 19th– Brisbane– Crowbar (18+)