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TISM – Greg! The Stop Sign (90s – 94)

September 10, 2010

Looking back, TISM was the band which led me into Australia’s Indie scene.

Previously I had missed so much. I remember catching Video Hits one Saturday morning, and they showed a brief selection from the “Alternative Charts”. I heard the Clouds for the first time, but also the last time until their career was well and truly over. All those bands of the early Nineties – Tumbleweed, the Hummingbirds etc – passed me by.

Commercial radio wouldn’t touch these bands. Triple J, the national youth station, didn’t appear in my home town until my last year of high school. In fact that year I heard more of the looped test signals than I did the likes of Helen Razer and Debbie Spillane once they finally hit the airways. Somewhere during the major distraction of the HSC, I heard Trout Fishing in Quebec, but I cannot remember any other bands in this brief period.

After exams were over, I moved to Armidale for university. Armidale wouldn’t receive Triple J for another year, but I did receive relief in the form of the studio radio station: 2UNE.

I would join the station the following year, but until then it’s hodge-podge of previously unheard delights was a lot to take in. We’ll come to the electronica in due course, but within the mix of retro and rock was a large slab of Australian alternate music. And the band which made the most immediate waves was TISM.

Subversive but obvious. So dismissive of middle-class life, but so obviously living it at the same time. Rude and shocking, but in the Michael Collings way – not that shocking when you think about it. That was TISM. The balaclavas, the rumours of their identities (when they were really nobodies), outlandish video clips and gigs. These were TISM too.

But best of all was the music. Hitching their wagon to pretty straight rock, rockabilly, and later dance, they produces some of the catchiest tunes underneath their “shocking” lyrical hooks.

Greg! The Stop Sign was taken from a line of a Victorian road safety ad, spoken just before a car crashes into something. Being New South Welsh-kids, and before Youtube, we never saw the original ad, but the story of the song’s background reach us all the same. “Life? Could be gone in an instant”, TISM could be saying. “It doesn’t matter what you do.” Which is both true and not true – a typical TISM moment.

Work hard and you might die at 40. Don’t work hard and you might too. Or either way you might live a long crap life. Go figure. Best not think too much about the philosophy. Just watch the clip.

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