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A crowd of people watching a performance outside of the Opera House by Sydney Harbour.

10 albums that have defined Repressed Records

Before Repressed Records opens each morning, Chris and Nic arrive early to listen to records. The door is locked but the jungle sounds of British electronic artist Burial can be heard outside. Repressed is best known as a hub for DIY, punk and alternative music and is celebrating its 15th anniversary as the vinyl mecca of Sydney’s underground, nurturing bands from all over Australia and often ahead of the major label system.

Founder Chris Sammut opened Repressed Records in Penrith before moving to its current home in Newtown in 2008. ‘We push artists who would otherwise go missing. I think that’s the whole purpose of this store,” he says.

“I don’t see the point of having a store that just sells reissues. It’s not exciting and you want to engage people and sell Australian music - get them involved and create a community.”

He gave Nic a job after he walked in one day wearing a Stooges t-shirt. “I was looking in the White Pages for a job in a record store,” says Nic. “And this was the only good one.”

Ahead of their anniversary bash at the Opera House this week, Backstage asked Chris and Nic to identify ten records that have shaped their tastes and challenged their ideas about music. Here are some of the crudest and weirdest sounds that define the sound of Repressed Records.

The Stooges – Funhouse (1970)

Nic: The first time I walked into repressed it was in Penrith in an arcade. I’d moved from far north Queensland. I had a Stooges t-shirt on and it must’ve been a signifier to Chris. I bought a couple things, maybe the Rolling Stones, Richard Hell, The Wire.

Chris: I started the shop with these strange ideals, that I could convert people into music that I like. But we were out in the suburbs and it obviously doesn’t work like that. So it was great when someone walked in with a Stooges t-shirt.

Nic: It wouldn’t be that big of a deal today because everybody loves them. They didn’t have that same counter-cultural importance in the mainstream.

Chris: I still think Funhouse is one of the wildest albums you’ll ever hear.

Total Control S/T 7” (2011)

Chris: Zephyr from the band used to come to our Penrith store and buy lots of hardcore CDs before moving to Melbourne and joining the band. As soon as they’d put something out we’d stock it, so it really feels like they’ve evolved with the shop. They’ve always been interesting and have gone from post-punk to this weird paranoid sci-fi thing, but it’s still got a punk physicality and it meshes really well. I think they’re one of the best bands to come out of Australia in a long time.

Nic: We tried to tell everyone to listen to the first Total Control record but it was a hard slog. They didn’t have a fancy press release or a Myspace account. A lot of people bought it because it was in the tradition of what we think we should sell and we always had that core audience. In the same way people wanted to buy Wire or Swell Maps records in 1977, that’s that same type of counter cultural tradition that we think we’re focussing on.

Angie – Shyness (2017)

Nic: This is her third record. The first two were quite rock’n’roll but this one’s made up of piano, acoustic guitar and vocals. It still definitely sounds like Angie but there’s all this space and emotional heaviness in it, reminding me of Nico or John Cale. No matter what tides happen in music she’ll keep doing stuff and go through numerous phases of visibility.

Chris: She’s had a long association with the shop as well. It’s the same with Total Control in that all her bands like Circle Pit and Straight Arrows we’ve supported. Her last album was a bit more reflective and reminded me of Chris Bell in some parts – this latest album is a great follow up.

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Royal Headache – Self Titled (2011)

Chris: One of their first shows was in our old shop up the road and straight away people were really excited by them. Then we put a show on at the Sandringham Hotel and they were third on the bill and the other bands were like “woah”. They’ve got this real resonance and underdog thing about them. The record is really melodic and catchy but still has a DIY spirit and a lot of energy. They’ve twice been our best-selling album of the year and when this record came out there was a queue out the door - the cops came and everything.

Nic: They’ve also always been self-managed. I released their first record – a 7 inch - which I licensed out overseas in good faith just via a digital handshake I guess. We knew they’d sell a lot of records so we pressed a lot. I think it’s a great example of the way a band can operate and how unnecessary how a bunch of things that are considered the industry standard actually are.

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Wolf Eyes – Stabbed In The Face 12” (2004)

Nic: This is what I wanted from music in 2004, something that was seemingly blurring all these previous things and creating what I think quite inclusive and strange world. It came from this sensibility of industrial music, free jazz and hardcore punk… and I guess metal as well. Chris put it on one day and I immediately thought it was the weird and assaulting music I wished a lot of thing that were supposed to be scary or weird actually were. We were both laughing at how bizarre it was, but also I was obsessed with it and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I was just 18 my band and I played with them and it was one of the best days of my life. 

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Public Enemy – it Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

Chris: When this came out I was a kid driving around with my P plates in a Toyota corolla in Blacktown. For a suburban kid with Maltese parents I was really into that pro-black militant thing for some strange reason. It meant a lot to me. I found it so rousing, the minimal beats and ferociousness of it. They’re such a highly underrated band in the whole music spectrum. I guess hip hop is sometimes dismissed but I’d say the first three PE albums are on par with anything anyone in the history of rock music has ever done. I think it converts you and makes you look for something else in that genre, I thought it was a really important album.

Nic: It was the first time I thought something nasty or abrasive can be good. I got into it when I was about 15. I bought it from Sanity in Cairns Sheridan Street. I feel it was the first truly countercultural music I got into that paved the way into Black Sabbath and stuff like that. 

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Miss Destiny – Self Titled LP (2016)

Nic: Miss Destiny are one of the bands that will play at our 15th anniversary night. I guess it shows that rock music can be fun and that it’s not redundant if it isn’t pushing any envelopes. It’s a feel good record but it has undertones of real feeling and there’s a lot of content on this that I think is subtly feminist or about societal issues of class and stuff like that. It kinda shocked me how urgent and good this felt, in a time that I wasn’t expecting to be kicked in the balls by a rock record

Chris: I’d be surprised if  a lot of people aren’t excited when they see Miss Destiny. It’s really melodic and gritty.

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Kitchen’s Floor – Look Forward To Nothing LP (2011)

Chris: They’re a band that have had a really long association with the shop and this album cover has become iconic – Matt Kennedy in a dirty bedroom with stained curtains. When I first heard it I thought it sounded like Kurt Cobain, but living in housing commission in suburban Brisbane! I find it really engaging in that suburban guy standpoint - looking to fit in. There’s a lot of self-loathing in this and it’s pretty despondent but also catch and it doesn’t push you away. He used to come to the shop and you couldn’t get a word out of him. There are some really bleak songs like ‘Kidney infection’ which always makes me laugh.

Nic: The house the photo is taken in is Paddington in Brisbane. So many people who played in the shop or had their records in here, or even toured Brisbane have been through that house: 116.

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Royal Trux – Singles, Live, Unreleased Box (1997)

Nic: The reason I think they’re the best band of the 90s is because they feel like rock’n’roll in that traditional Stones or Stooges sense, but embracing everything else that came around it – funk, avant-garde, sound collage – and they just threw all these ideas together that shouldn’t have stuck, but did. They can make a total mess of weird sound collage records and they’ll be great or something like a bombastic rock record and always feel like the same band. They’re what I wish the 90s were. Everyone will eventually look back and be inspired by something but I wished they’d look back the same way Royal Trux did, which is through some bizarro vision goggles where everything gets given a red hot go.

Chris: You always get the sense with them that they’re not trying to impress everyone. They’re just trying to impress each other which I find I really cool.

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Burial – Burial (2006)

Chris: It was a real changer for the shop that sent us in a slightly more electronic direction. I found it so engaging but it’s still really in the spirit of DIY culture, which is what the shop is all about. This is just a guy in a room moved to make music and there’s so much personality to it. He can put across a real sense of longing and to me, it comes across as outsider music. It’s  London, grimey, dark, midnight music. I find him and Aphex Twin to be pivotal artists for me because they’re able to get their personality across in their music.

Nic: I never would’ve thought I’d listen to so much electronic music ten years ago. What I think was interesting about it was that when we opened in Newtown, we stocked more niche, garage and experimental rock, but this was something that a lot of people bought. I remember sophisticated university types coming in wanting to know about it.

Chris: Hyperdub is such a good mysterious label - really on point and really interesting. I think the internet has kind of killed that sense of mystery about artists which is something I always liked.

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Repressed Records 15th Anniversary with Total Control, Severed Heads and more took place during Vivid LIVE 2017 on the Northern Broadwalk. Photos by Prudence Upton.

Find more about Contemporary Music at the Opera House