In 1983 The Birthday Party called it a day. Not that many people noticed that one of the most harsh and discordant post-punk bands had disbanded. The Birthday began in the early 1970s with school friends Nick Cave and Mick Harvey and the final line up coalesced around 1978 with Tracy Pew and Roland S Howard. Just the names alone give you some image of the band following its own path cut through an undergrowth of urban decay, body disassociation, psychosis, biblical horror and Baudelaire intoxication.
To my mind The Birthday Party represent a high point in Australian post-colonial culture. There is little that is referential in the body of work left to us by them in regards to the antipodean largely pan-European culture of white Australia. I see the theater of Bertolt Brecht and Dada and its roots (Rimbaud, Lautréamont) as possible inspirations for the songwriting and performance of The Birthday Party. However works such as Nick the Stripper leave one wondering what the hell was going on in St. Kilda in 1981.
While Nick Cave has made his mark on the world of music since The Birthday party dissolved, I have grown more and more interested in the work of the recently deceased Roland S Howard as I get older. Nobody played guitar like Howard, who seemed to turn it into a weapon, stabbing out out into the air with vicious chords that somehow crystallized into strange rainbows of color he invented himself. This is the aural equivalent of absinth.
A documentary has been made about Howard, "Autoluminescent Rowland S. Howard" (2011).
From myth to legend Rowland Howard appeared on the early Melbourne punk scene like a phantom out of Kafkaesque Prague or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A beautifully gaunt and gothic aristocrat, the unique distinctive fury of his guitar style shot him directly into the imagination of a generation. He was impeccable, the austerity of his artistry embodied in his finely wrought form, his obscure tastes and his intelligently wry wit. He radiated a searing personal integrity that never seemed to tarnish. Despite the trials and tribulations of his career, in an age of makeover and reinvention, Rowland Howard never ‘sold out’. With recent and moving interviews, archival interviews and other fascinating and original footage, AUTOLUMINESCENT traces the life of Rowland S Howard. Words and images etch light into what has always been the mysterious dark.