Norwegian-born, Melbourne-bred musician Ian `Ollie' Olsen is recognised as one of the key figures in the Australian post-punk electronic movement of the late 1970s. Ever the experimentalist, Olsen's eclectic career in avant rock has taken him from The Reals, one of the original Melbourne punk combos of the late 1970s, through to the acid-house/techno/trance outfit Third Eye. He was also the driving force behind the innovative Psy-Harmonics label.
The Reals comprised Olsen (guitar), Gary Gray (vocals), Chris Walsh (bass) and Peter Cave (drums). The band played the odd gig around Melbourne, and alongside The Boys Next Door, Babeez/News, ÄìÄ and The Obsessions were the only punk bands in town. At the end of 1977, Olsen left The Reals, and Gray, Walsh and Cave recruited Mick Holmes (guitar) to form The Negatives. Meanwhile, Olsen assembled the now legendary Young Charlatans which comprised Rowland S. Howard (guitar; ex-Obsessions), Jeffrey Wegener (drums; ex-Saints) and Janine Hall (bass). As Clinton Walker pointed out, Young Charlatans had inner-city `supergroup' status from the outset and helped pioneer post-punk rock in Australia.
Young Charlatans' existence was brief but intense. They played a total of 13 gigs and earned a considerable reputation on the inner-city scene in the process. Olsen left and rejoined a number of times and by May 1978 the band had fallen apart. Young Charlatans did not record anything comprehensive, although a version of the Rowland S. Howard song `Shivers' (later made famous by The Boys Next Door) appeared on the cassette-zine Fast Foward (#4). Howard went on to join The Boys Next Door/Birthday Party, Wegener played with The Last Words before joining Ed Kuepper's new band Laughing Clowns in April 1979, and Hall later turned up in The Saints and Weddings, Parties, Anything. Olsen had moved on again, forming the equally legendary Whirlywirld.
Whirlywirld grew out of Olsen's dissatisfaction with conventional guitar-based rock, and his desire to transcend its limitations. Like Suicide in New York and Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire in the UK, Whirlywirld was a pioneer in the field of post-punk synthesiser electronics. Whirlywirld was not the first electronic band in Australia (Cybotron has that distinction), but it was the first to apply the form to the punk ethos. The original Whirlywirld line-up (August 1978) comprised Olsen (vocals, electronics, sax), John Murphy (drums, electronics; ex-News), Dean Richards (guitar), Andrew Duffield (electronics) and Simon Smith (electronics). Olsen refused to play live, but Whirlywirld did issue the three-track maxi-single Whirlywirld (`Window to the World', `Moto'/`Signals') on the Missing Link label in April 1979.
The record's startling, hard-edged electronic sound was embellished by Richard's `electrical' guitar work and with Murphy bashing away on a variety of percussive devices, electronic and otherwise. By January 1979 Philip Jackson had replaced Duffield (who later joined Models) and the band commenced playing gigs. By mid-1979, Richards, Smith and Jackson had left (Richards went on to front cult combos Equal Local and Hot Half Hour). Greg Sun (bass) and Arnie Hanna (guitar) joined and the band issued the four-track 12-inch EP Whirlywirld (the first 500 copies of which contained a bonus 7-inch single `Sextronics'/`Eyebrows Still Shaved'). By the end of 1979, after having played only 14 gigs, Whirlywirld had run its course. Olsen and Murphy left Australia in early 1980 bound for the UK.
In London, Olsen and Murphy formed The Beast Apparel, played a few gigs and eventually issued a single, `Grand Life for Fools and Idiots'/ `Beat Up the Old Shack' (on the Prince Melon label, 1982), which came out under the name Hugo Klang. The band recorded a second single, `The Wheel of Fat'/`Mouse Runner' in Berlin. The Au-go-go label issued the single in Australia, by which time Olsen had split Hugo Klang. Olsen and Murphy returned to Australia in 1984 (after Murphy had played with a number of UK outfits like The Associates and Shriekback).
They formed avant-garde outfit Orchestra of Skin and Bone and issued a self-titled album on the Major label in 1985. The line-up on the album included Olsen (vocals, guitar), Murphy (drums), Arnie Hanna (guitar), Marie Hoy (keyboards; ex-Thrust and the Cunts), David Hoy (cello), Tom Hoy (sax), Lochie Kirkwood (vocals, sax), James Rogers (trumpet), Peter Scully (guitar) and Dugald McKenzie (vocals, harmonica). Orchestra of Skin and Bone proved incomprehensible to local audiences and rarely played live. By 1986, Olsen was working as musical director on Richard Lowen-stein's feature film Dogs in Space, which was set in the Melbourne post-punk wasteland of the late 1970s. Murphy went on to form The Slub and Stress of Terror, and to play in bands as disparate as The Wreckery, Box the Jesuit and Dumb and the Ugly.
Olsen included two Whirlywirld songs on the Dogs in Space soundtrack (January 1987): a re-recorded version of `Win/Lose' and the previously unrecorded `Rooms for the Memory'. `Win/Lose'/ `Win/Lose' (re-mix) was issued as an Olsen solo single (April), and `Rooms for the Memory'/ `Golfcourse' came out as a Michael Hutchence (star of the film) solo single. When Hutchence took `Rooms for the Memory' to #11 on the national mainstream chart in February 1987, it only confirmed the commercial potential of Olsen's Whirlywirld material.
Next up, Olsen rejected virtually all musical precepts to form No, a band described as the ultimate crossover act due to its confrontational fusion of hardcore energy, abrasive heavy metal guitar riffs, electro-funk beats and acid-house grooves. The band comprised Olsen (vocals, keyboards, samples), Marie Hoy (keyboards, samples), Michael Sheridan (guitar) and Kevin McMahon (bass). No issued the mini-album Glory to the Shit-for-Brains (November 1987), a self-titled 12-inch EP (which included an incendiary reworking of Jimi Hendrix's `Are You Experienced?') and the album Once We were Scum Now We are God (April 1989) on the Au-go-go label. Sheridan later joined Melbourne singer Kerri Simpson's band Vévé, which also comprised Bill McDonald (bass; ex-Hot Half Hour) and Justin Stanford (drums; ex-Bachelors from Prague). That line-up of Kerri Simpson and Vévé issued the CD EP Vévé (May 1993) and album The Arousing (June 1995). Simpson issued a second album, Speak, in September 1996. Sheridan was also a member of noise terrorists Peril.
At the end of 1989, Olsen collaborated on the Max Q project with INXS's Michael Hutchence, which resulted in the best-selling Max Q album. Olsen also had studio outfit EXP with Kerri Simpson on the go at one stage, but by late 1990 he had launched his most radical project yet, Third Eye. In collaboration with Gus Till (keyboards; ex-Beargarden, Max Q), Olsen issued a techno-house dance version of the Russell Morris psychedelic classic `The Real Thing' (backed with `Behold the Angel of Frequency') as a single on the Regular label (September 1990). Olsen described Third Eye's rendition of `The Real Thing' as `a cyberdelic version featuring much sampling of Timothy Leary' and as `an absolute acid nightmare'. With film- and video-maker Jeff Jaffers on percussion and visual environment creator DVO on hand, Third Eye undertook a series of shows in early 1992. Jaffers' video clip to `The Real Thing' was nominated for an MTV Award in the USA.
The collective's second single, `Pray' (June 1991), and the Third Eye album (January 1992) showed even more diversity. Bluesman Chris Wilson contributed harmonica to one track, `Confusion'. As well as issuing the Third Eye album on CD, Olsen and Till also came up with the novel marketing idea of packaging it as five separate 12-inch singles in a black plastic canister with a booklet. The Ancient Future album followed in July 1993, then Dance of Creation in June 1994. In 1993, Olsen formed acid-house label Psy-Harmonics and techno-trance label Psychic Harmonies. Many of the acts on the labels (Third Eye, LumuKanda, Mystic Force and Zen Paradox) scored international distribution deals through some of Europe's leading dance labels. Third Eye contributed `Dying (Hard)' and a remix of Kerri Simpson's `Vévé' to the Various Artists album Psy-Harmonics Volume One (1994). In 1997, Olsen wrote the theme music for the ABC-TV's youth-oriented television drama series RAW-FM. Third Eye issued a new CD single, `New Life', in October 1997.
By the beginning of 1998, Ollie Olsen had formed a new band, Primitive Ghost. The line-up comprised: Olsen (programming), Bryan St James (programming; also worked as The Spiritualist and Vertigo Hypo), Michael Sheridan (guitar; ex-No, Max Q), Fab (percussion), female singer Baby Lemonade (ex-Limousine) and the tattooed, sword-swallowing, fire-breathing, chainsaw-juggling Lucky Rich. Primitive Ghost issued the CD EP ‘Skin’ in September 1998. Olsen also contributed the title track to the original soundtrack of Ana Kokkinos’ Australian feature film, Head On (July 1998) starring Alex Demitriadis.