Mikey Young is a good guitar player, but he also has a talent for being in the right room at the right time with the right people.
His best-known group, the Australian garage-rock quartet Eddy Current Suppression Ring, was formed as a lark during the final throes of an office Christmas party.
“That was definitely an accident,” the guitarist says of the party at the record plant where he worked. “It wasn’t even ‘Let’s get together and jam.’ It was just people who happened to be in a room with some instruments.”
As impromptu, drunken jam sessions go, it proved productive. Eddy Current wound up releasing three albums, touring internationally and, in 2008, winning the Australian Music Prize.
The origins of Total Control — one of Young’s many recent efforts — are slightly more intentional.
The group wasn’t formed by accident, but it also wasn’t meant to be a band in any formal sense. During the late ’00s, Young and vocalist Daniel Stewart (who also performs in the post-punk band UV Race) met up to knock out a few songs using a sampler and synthesizers, hoping to strike a balance between ’80s sci-fi synth-pop guru Gary Numan and punk band the Adolescents. They took the results, which were recorded in Young’s home studio, and released a handful of 7-inch singles. After that, the full-band version of Total Control slipped into existence through the back door.
“Once you put out records,” Young says, “people start asking you to play live.”
When the time came to play a show, however, they realized the band needed more members. The live incarnation of Total Control includes a drummer, bassist and two more guitarists — a big jump from Young and Stewart’s synth-driven starting point.
“Bands with drum machines and three synths are just not as much fun to watch as bands with drummers and guitars,” Young says. “We realized it couldn’t be good live, so we tried to adapt the songs to work in a rock-and-roll band.”
In Eddy Current, Young and his bandmates took familiar garage-rock and punk riffs and put them into a fresh context — ditching retro-minded nods to the ’60s and ’70s and writing songs that concentrated on the banalities of day-to-day suburban life. Their best, most aggressive songs tended to be about such unlikely subjects as television, wake-up calls and dessert. “Chocolate, vanilla, whatever / I just want to eat you for dinner,” hollered vocalist Brendan Suppression on one of Eddy Current’s most enduring tunes, “Cool Ice Cream.”
In a similar sense, Total Control takes elements of electronic music — minimalism, simple harmonies and repetition — and re-applies them by supplanting groovy rhythms with the grind of hardcore punk. On the band’s debut record, “Henge Beat,” the song “Love Performance” is built on lush, cyclical synthesizer patterns and, in a different time, might have been a contender for “The Breakfast Club” soundtrack. But to perform it live, the band swaps out keyboards and mimics the melodies with dueling electric guitars. The result is rock music that sounds strangely and subtly informed by computers.
“Henge Beat” came out two years ago, but Young says Total Control will record material for a new album once the band’s tour ends. They are waiting, he says, in the hopes that they’ll sound better after getting off the road than when they got on.
“Between the last American tour and now, we took a year off, so our fitness level is pretty low,” he says. “Nobody is in the band full time, and everybody is pretty busy.”
Including Young. Over the past several years, he has become a sort of genre-spanning multipurpose player in Australian underground music. He has engineered and mixed records for a number of bands, performed in a backing group for San Francisco pop-maestro Kelley Stoltz and produced electronic dance music in a project called Lace Curtain, which released a single through the New York-based dance label DFA earlier this year.
These projects share few overlapping stylistic threads, and Young wants to keep it that way.
“I probably don’t want them to be united. The reason they exist is that I have one to try to run away from the other for a while,” he says. “I make music best with other people, and even getting together with four people in a room is really inspiring. I’m looking for them to stay separate, though, so I can maintain an interest in making music.”
Leitko is a freelance writer.
Appearing with Parquet Courts and UV Race on Saturday at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. 202-667-4490. www.blackcatdc.com. Show starts at 9 p.m. $13.
For a sampling of Total Control’s music, check out:
From “Henge Beat”: “Love Performance”
From “Scene From a Marriage”: “Scene From a Marriage”