SKUNKHOUR are celebrating the 25th anniversary of release of their influential, self titled debut album with a series of shows in Melbourne, Adelaide and Byron bay. The legendary alt-funk kings of Australia will be rolling out an 8 piece band to play their eponymous release track for track, to be followed by a greatest hits set.
Back in 1992, the Sydney live music scene was in upheaval. Cover bands were getting more gigs than real bands. Clubs and underground rave and RAT parties were drawing tens of thousands of pill-poppers away from the live music every weekend. Grunge suddenly made every Oz rock act pre-’92 look prehistoric, so every record rep in town, and every other city in the rest of the world, went psycho trying to sign the next Nirvana.
Into this chaos and flux came a trio of killer young players, brothers Dean and Michael Sutherland, on bass and drums respectively, and mate Warwick Scott on lead guitar.
They called themselves Skunk, played a razor-sharp brand of funk, with a bunch of other influences mixed in, and quickly established their own little space in the fractured Sydney scene. Guest vocalists and freestylers would join them on stage, laying down lines and rhymes. No one else in the country was doing this sort of stuff at the time.
The band’s earliest songs, along with the band itself, started taking a cohesive shape when Scott and the Sutherland bothers met another pair of brothers, Aya and Del Larkin, who shortly joined on vocal and MC duties respectively, late in 1992. And so Skunkhour was born. Within a few months, the new line up would be recording its self-titled debut album.
The expanded line-up began to worked on the tracks which became the cornerstones of that album: “Back To Basics”, a rolling, soulful track,which singer Aya describes as possibly the most complete song that Skunkhour has ever produced, and “Do You Like It”, an immediately infectious groove that backs Del’s memorable lament about his love/hate relationship with dope.
The self-produced SKUNKHOUR by Skunkhour was released in July 1993. A smoking brass section, and keyboards from Australian titan Chris Abrahms, set off many of the stand out tracks including the full-funk assaults of “Sheep” and the “Echidna” trilogy. There was the darkly mellifluous social consciousness of “Pullatickin” and the celebratory, forward thinking funk of “Booty Full”.
What immediately followed was a freakish and unexpected expediential expansion in Australian metropolitan tastes. Skunkhour suddenly found itself spearheading a mini-music movement, part of a loosely-linked bunch of groovedriven outfits.
It went crazy. Skunkhour was suddenly getting invited to open shows for all sorts of big name local and international acts, from INXS, Beastie Boys and Roy Ayers to Ice Cube and Cypress Hill, all the while drawing big crowds of their own. Within about 18 moths the scene around the was, for the most part, gone, with many of Skunkhour’s contemporaries disbanding. Meanwhile, Skunkhour endured for a decade, heading off to bigger and better things, signing deals at separate points with Sony and Universal, touring overseas, releasing another three studio albums, and achieving gold record sale status.
But all these years on, the band’s debut retains pride of place for the men of Skunkhour, and their fans, with the record’s key songs remaining favourites of the band’s live sets to this day.
“It’s vibrant, that first one,” says lead vocalist Aya Larkin. “It’s direct, not overwrought, and though it’s earnest it’s also got a lot of great emotion. That set of songs carved out our early loyal fan base, even though we moved away from
that sound to a darker and fuller sound on the next album (1995’s Feed), it’s the framework of our sound right there.”
Historically, musically and sociologically speaking, probably the most enduring element of these earliest Skunkhour tracks was Del Larkin’s introduction of rapping in a natural Australian accent, while duelling with his brother over the band’s sinuous funk rhythms. Not only was Del delivering his unique take on issues close to home for us in the early ’90s, he actually also sounded like one of us. While it’s now the norm, back then, when Australian hip-hop was very much in its infancy, virtually every other pioneering local MC was still freestylin’ in put-on American gangsta accents.
Exactly how much of an impact this had on opening doors for the superstar Australian-ised hip-hop acts to follow – such as 1200 Techniques and Hilltop Hoods through to 360 and Bliss n Eso – Skunkhour prefer to leave that to others
“We were pushing the funk thing – with a more raw or organic sound in our instruments and arrangement,” explains Aya. “Then the hip-hop elements we had with Del was something that at the time hadn’t been anywhere near Tripe J from
a local perspective, let alone the commercial stations. We were expressing music that we really loved that not a lot of other people were into, so you’re trying to turn people ears into this stuff and into those styles. “
“Now, whether or not that paves the way for anybody else…, maybe it does, but everyone has so many different influences. But in our way we were blazing a trail for a while.”
Most importantly for the Skunkhour members themselves, the self-titled debut brought them everything they wanted at the time – the opportunity to continue making and playing music together for many years to come.
“The band came together,” says Aya, “and things took off for us so quickly around those songs, in terms of a career beginning, and that was a wonderful thing. To be able to play music with people you liked, music you’d created, where people are clamouring to see it – it was the dream to us.
“It was amazing, and that’s what that first record represents to me. It was a very special time when all this beautiful shit started happening. I feel it was lucky to have met the guys and to play with them. It was cool. Still is!