Kirin J Callinan is the best thing in Australian music right now

Before I say anything meaningful, it is necessary that you watch this clip, to set the tone and get a little understanding, you see: I wish I could watch it right now. The internet I am using is being an asshole, isn’t loading things quickly- it’ll be a stretch to even get this week’s column sent off. So instead of watching the film clip, I’m going to listen to the three songs I have on my computer by Kirin J Callinan on repeat as I write. And you know what? I doubt I’ll get sick of them, even after an hour of those same three songs playing over and over, because I am totally into everything about this guy.

I watched him perform his solo work live for the second- or possibly third- time on the weekend. The time before that was a few months ago. That possible first time was yeeeeears ago, maybe 5 or 6, back when I played tambourine with Will Stoker and the Embers (the last time I checked, this fact was supported by Wikipedia. Haaaahaha.) and we visited Melbourne for a band competition. I don’t know what the deal was with this supposed Kirin J show… I don’t recall a single thing about it, other than the fact that I was completely blown away. So blown away that it was the only time in the last 15 years that I have purchased a tape. I’m not even sure if it’s still in my collection of cds and records, thanks to living in a thousand houses for less than 6 months in the last few years. But it was there for years, in a box with all the other random musical acquisitions, and I know I listened to it a couple of times on my housemate’s tape player when I got home from that trip to Melbourne, but I don’t know what it sounded like, and it got put into the box and didn’t come out again and I forgot about it.

Then last year I stumbled upon the “New Weird Australia” compilations (which are fucking great by the way, do yourself a favour and look them up), and a track named “She” by Kirin J Callinan oozed into my ears. I recognised the name, and the track was fascinating. I’d never really heard anything like it, certainly not from contemporary musicians, and whatever his influences are were obscured by the bizarreness of what was happening. Opening with what sounds like something from the Blue Man Group, smooth yet laboured vocals, a voice so at ease with discomfort, making words like he’s about to hiccough, a proper Australian accent, dark and simple and distorted guitar chords, moments of high pitched electronic undulations… it took me a while to understand what the fuck was going on, but I knew I wanted to figure it out because that voice, that guitar, those sensibilities, holy shit. Everything was so mismatched and complimentary. I had a bit of an inkling that this guy was pretty special.

A little while after that, a friend of mine who lives in Sydney told me he was coming down to Melbourne to play a show for the Melbourne Festival with a bunch of guys from Sydeny and Melbourne. He started talking about this guy who he was working with on stuff that was exciting and immensely satisfying. Turns out it was this Kirin J fellow. I went to the show, and it was loud and experimental, out-doors in the venue made of water storage things with lights changing colours imbedded in them, with Melbourne’s cityscape as backdrop, about 7 dudes on stage, and I was smiling like an idiot because I’ve always had a huge talent crush on this drummer friend of mine from Sydney and he never fails to impress when his long hair goes mental over the drum kit. The dude can drum. But then Kirin came on stage, and from that point on I couldn’t look anywhere else. It helped that he looked like he was a woman in drag, with slicked back hair and big glasses, maybe a bow tie? I was taking photos at the gig, and my favourite shot was a dark one of Kirin. Oh Kirin. My camera, she snaps only for you.
For photos of that gig, go here:
Earlier this year, I met a few people who have lived in Melbourne their whole lives (a rare breed), and through various conversations I discovered that Kirin played guitar in Mercy Arms and Jack Ladder, bands I have heard of but never listened to… so while the information didn’t really mean anything to me, I got a little context out of it. Maybe it will mean more to you. It’s worth mentioning anyhow. And I also learnt that as an acquaintance and/or a friend, Kirin is an interesting dude to party with. His sense of dress is the most striking thing about him, and even to my untrained eye I could tell his “identity”, whatever that means, is constantly changing. I perceive characters, costumes, versions of himself that change constantly, and according to people who know him, these changes happen from day to day. A whole new persona to match the outfit, varying from barefoot in a sheer, clingy dress to a wife beater singlet tucked in to huge cargo pants which are in turn tucked into huge work boots.

This outfit I just described was what was on display at the show I saw in June, a part of a tour he was doing to promote the release of his new 7” record, where my long haired drummer friend was playing drums and twisting knobs, all dressed in black and wearing a surgical mask. He and the other guy in the band, who was dressed exactly like him, blended into the stage- leaving Kirin in the full glare of the lights, projecting his hypnotising presence into the realities of the packed audience, and it was fucking awesome. I lost my mind. For photos of that gig, go here:
I have since decided to stop taking photos of live music for a while, so I can’t link to any of mine from the gig I saw this weekend just gone, but I almost wish I had taken some because god DAMN this guy is the most photogenic weird looking guy I have ever encountered. His facial expressions are tantalising, cute in a kind-of-creepy way, intense and instantly engaging. His body is tall, slim, visually arresting, strange little tattoos all over the place; the movements his torso and limbs make are that perfect blend of awkward and solid. I don’t know if I’m making sense. The show was a different attitude to the last one in Melbourne. There was only one other person on stage with him this time- my buddy the drummer, and he was allowed to dress normally, and the stage was a bit smaller, and the lights were a little less dramatic, and the crowd was a little smaller, a little more refined, but seemingly more drawn in to this world our Kirin was letting out of himself for our viewing pleasure. The standout for me, just like the last gig, was the song “Thighs”, which is on the aforementioned 7”. I’ve had it stuck in my head as soon as I wake up ever since the gig, and it’s mainly because of his voice. That fucking voice. The man’s voice is gut wrenchingly fragile and intense, and it is beautifully Australian. There aren’t enough Australian vocalists who utilise their accents to heart breaking perfection. In fact, I haven’t heard any except Mr. Callinan. And it’s already changed the way I perceive every other Australian band I listen to, because you know what? I can’t think of anything currently that is more original, more intense, and more fascinating that what Kirin j Callinan is doing musically. This guy, this fucking guy, is doing something GOOD. I think it goes without saying that I am a huge fan, and I am hoping that anyone who reads this will do the google searching to the bandcamp or the soundcloud or the whatever and get yourself a copy of the 7” and wait patiently for the album (it’s coming soon) and get just as creatively turned on as I am by this ridiculous fucking talent.

So take off your dancing tights, and I’ll hold you by your hips. Your dad won’t know. You’ll be my girl, I’ll be your girl. We’ll marry behind the sheds. We can tattoo our inner lips. Your dad won’t know. You’ll be my girl. I’ll be your girl.