Where some artists base their work on personal self-reflections, others hurl themselves into eccentric forms of abstract social commentaries. If these philosophies were to be arranged on a Venn diagram, multi-media connoisseur Mick Gristle would sit in the sweet spot intersecting the two. Operating under the eclectic guise of Dr Chicken Gristle, his swirling synth-pop debut Experimental Pornography has just received a re-release on cassette via Stargazed Records four years after its birth. Following a detour of debauchery in the intervening years, Gristle is refreshed and armed with new music and musings to awaken the muted masses.
Born in the UK before moving to Macedon, Gristle first penned his highly textured amalgam of new-wave and electronica throughout High School. Whilst Gristle describes Experimental Pornography as “40 minutes of manic rambling and unapologetically juvenile fears”, a high degree of self-analysis was necessary for in its inception; “It was, at the time, a reflection of my own experience but also a critique of my own reflection. A way of saying, ‘this is how I feel but I don’t really know if I’m happy about feeling that way’”. Beneath a carefully crafted electronic soundscape, Gristle actively sought to subvert a commentary on the manufactured melancholia pervasive through mainstream music; “I feel like its sort of takes the piss a little bit of how sobby some music is”.
The 2018 standalone single ‘Boyz In Plastic Resurrection’ completes Gristle’s current catalogue, offering up darker tones from the preceding record. Amid brooding and looming electronic orchestration, it details the dulling of oneself via medication amid the false happiness of suburbia and gives a glimpse into Gristle’s future output; “I think that’s the sort of material I normally write. I just had to put everything into Experimental Pornography and close that and not come back to it again. That was a more internal work whereas ‘Boyz In Plastic Resurrection’ and newer, unreleased material is a bit more general in its approach and what it’s commenting on”.
Following the single release, Gristle moved to Melbourne with the intention of diving deeper into music but was soon cast into an unexpected, hedonistic sojourn; “It was a rough two years from that last track. I can’t really remember the bulk of it in all honesty. It was just two years of intense partying and pure, unbridled sloppery, which was a real shame from an artistic standpoint because nothing I made was of value”. The drought of output wasn’t had in vain, however, with Gristle gaining a clearing understanding of his artistic direction; “I think if I kept making stuff, it would’ve been a lot more pop oriented in nature and teetering on the been-there-done-that areas. I’m making stuff now that feels more like me rather than an incohesive or bland attempt at trying to make something poppy”.
Performing under the alias of Dr Chicken Gristle is a defining aspect of his art. Its significance lies in its ability to liberate him as an artist from external and personal over-evaluation; “It creates a sense of a smokescreen. A lot of the ridiculous or outlandish things you do, rather than be directly attributed to you, are more a manifestation of someone else. Its ultimately about a sense of personal freedom, to almost negate self-critique”.
The height of this artistic freedom was exhibited at Liquid Architecture with Gristle’s LSD-infused delivery of a PowerPoint presentation responding to John Berger’s essay, ‘Why Listen To Animals?’; “I was studying Fine Arts, Majoring in Sound at the time and I wrote a PowerPoint whilst on LSD about the end of the world and how pigeons were gonna be the heir to mankind. There was something about Ray Romano and we had a Scone of Higher Spiritual Understanding. I presented the presentation on acid and I think there was probably about 3 people in the room that really enjoyed it but the rest of them they totally hated it”.
The opportunity to expose audiences to experiences like these drive Gristle more artistically than anything else; “We are oddly a bit conservative (in Australia). I feel like there is an air of self-consciousness and there’s so many people here who still have conservative values towards the Arts and maybe read it the wrong way”. The ability to express himself more dynamically in settings outside of those offered with a gig made live music a rarity for Gristle for some time; “For a while, none of the performances in the realm of music were that interesting to me. I had less enjoyable gigs than enjoyable ones and it just felt like I was creating near carbon-copy reprisals of pieces. For a long time, I had a bit of an issue with playing live music”. A recent 360-degree live stream gig shows Gristle has devised new ways to make playing live a more engaging experience for himself. With a newfound enthusiasm for marrying his love of production with theatricality, the Dr Chicken Gristle’s Sweet 16th offered up a memorable experience underscored by Gristle asking a stranger to sit discontentedly at a table for its 30 minute duration; “My heart always lies with producing, that’s where I think I can get most of my ideas out but I love getting up on stage and talking absolute dog shit to people”.
A serendipitous signing to Stargazed Records has led Gristle not only to a physical re-release but a revitalised artistic outlook; “I feel like this re-release has really got the ball rolling. I’ve really gotten healthy through quarantine and I’ve got a whole heap of new material ready to drop in the next few months and even years if I don’t critique it too heavily”. With a cleaner and clearer sense of control and direction, it would seem Gristle has only too firm a grasp on his future’s fate; “I feel like I’ve lost the copywrite to my own existence at this point, so I feel like I’ll be suing myself for stealing my own existence eventually. But that’s a story for another day”.