How did a bizarre TV show from the ‘90s become a badge of underground cool in the Australian music scene?
This article was originally published for ABC's Double J website
This article was originally published for ABC's Double J website
Twin Peaks was a popular show in 1990-91 with a US audience of 34 million. The show’s co-creator David Lynch was already an Oscar-nominated auteur when he set about writing it with Mark Frost. While its game-changing cinematic qualites were appreciated at the time, what is truly remarkable about Twin Peaks is how this otherworldly creation influences other art forms, now more than ever.
The cult TV show, set in 1989, concluded with an enigmatic quote from Laura Palmer’s doppelganger: “see you again in 25 years”.
In the show’s fictional world, that time is now.
The Sound From Another Place
Ever since Australia became the only country to send Julee Cruise’s 'Falling' to the top of the charts in 1991, local bands have been looting the show for inspiration in a way only matched by the Scandinavian metal scene. Why this is fictional town is yet to release its grip on the Australian imagination is one of its most profound mysteries.
"There’s something very exotic about a small town in America," says singer-songwriter Sophia Brous, ahead of her performance in the star-studded In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited show at London’s Barbican Theatre. "It’s a like an inverse version of Crocodile Dundee. We like stepping into the cold austerity of a town like that, it’s like a holiday."
Isobel Knowles, member of the Icypoles and formerly of Architecture in Helsinki, thinks of Twin Peaks in similarly cinematic terms.
"Australian cinema often tells stories about people and places which seem light and happy on the outside but have dark undercurrents," Knowles says. "This darkness goes very deep and it’s never resolved. It’s not necessarily as overt as Twin Peaks, but it’s always there."
Knowles also links the show’s setting to its Australian appeal.
"In Twin Peaks, the forest is a giant aspect. The Australian wilderness is inherently creepy, and having grown up in Australia it's impossible to dissociate environment from history. Maybe this is another reason it's so appealing to Australians."
Brous agrees. "In Australia, we’re on this island on the other side of the world and there’s a sense of inquiry from being far away. We’ve gravitated towards different scenes, like the growth of punk, or industrial…the development of someone like Nick Cave for instance. In Melbourne especially, because of stations like RRR that represent new and interesting forms of music, there’s been platforms for new and interesting stuff."
That Show You Like Is Going To Come Back In Style
New and interesting stuff is what grabs attention in local band scenes and Easter eggs for Twin Peaks fans litter current gig guides. Psych rockers Vicuna Coat and hardcore combo Flesh World are both named after clues in the show. The big mystery of the series ('Who killed Laura Palmer?'), led to the name of pop-punk act Laura Palmer.
Psych band White Lodge and defunct shoegazers Ghostwood (whose members turn up in Jagwar Ma) both take their names from locations in the show, while post-rockers Laura and Adelaide country-pop quartet The Audreys are happy to let their names suggest it. Less-obsessive fans can spot the influence in electro duo Peak Twins.
Songs like ‘Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes’ by Ben Frost and ‘The Fish in the Percolator Song’ by Hobart new wavers hMAS – both created away from a world populated by bands looking to drop hip references – are particularly interesting examples.
But it’s not just about clever pop cultural references - bands are mining Twin Peaks for musical inspiration.
Melbourne indie-pop group the Icypoles recently grabbed international attention for their cover of 'Just You', a saccharine love ballad written by Lynch and played by three of the show’s troubled teens.
"'Just You' is this pop song stuck in the middle of this beautiful, moody world," says Knowles.
"To most people, a song is just a snapshot or a short moment, but at the same time, it becomes its own thing after that point. This mix of pop music and cinema matched with a lot of the work I’d been doing as an artist."
Diane, make a note
For those who directly work with Lynch – such as the headliner of this year's DARK MOFO festival, Chrysta Bell – there is the danger of being reduced to a muse, of his identity overtaking their own.
"There will be a risk of that if I don’t kill it on the new record," Bell says, "But there is no downside to the endorsement. If I didn’t enjoy discussing him so much then the only downside would be being asked about him more than people ask about me. But I truly care for him and respect his talent, so that’s not an issue. It’s a win-win."
Jazz legend Jimmy Scott, who sings Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch’s Sycamore Trees in the series' surreal final episode, is similarly confident about working with Lynch.
"David Lynch saw me and wanted to use me," Scott says. "He said he liked my aura. I didn’t understand the storyline at all. He had me in a dark room, in a suit and bow tie singing to a dwarf," he laughs.
Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song
The show’s soundtrack lives on in music by artists like the Dunes, the Paradise Motel, early HTRK and most bands described as ‘dream-pop’. Brous says it’s the liminal state between dream and reality Lynch explores that so many find appealing.
“He’s someone who’s very into the threshold between the subconscious and the conscious. He often uses these ethereal, bell-like voices that flow in and out of… that through you, it’s like music flowing through you. He’ll have someone like Jimmy Scott with a strange and beautiful tone, and use these unusual sounds. He knows the voice is naturally the most expressive instrument there is, and that we respond to it unlike any other.”
The unusual, always appealing to a creative and subversive arts scene that feeds on a revered international influences like Lynch, is still yet to become usual. With Lynch himself increasingly focusing on his own music instead of film, his appeal to an Australian artists isn’t dying anytime soon.
As Bell says, “any artist that really digs Lynch’s thing and delves into his work will probably end up with some influence in her own creations. It’s such a strong spice, it can’t help but make it’s way onto your dish. At least a few sprinkles. Sometimes more.”