The seeds were sown with the formation of the band Scattered Order by self-taught musician / ex Barons, Michael Tee and self-taught sound engineer / ex art school, Mitch Jones in late 1979. Armed with a recording studio (well a 4-track tape machine and borrowed microphones in Tee's front room) and huge sonic ideas, Jones and Tee decided they could do it themselves. It was the right time to set up their own organisation that would record and release the kind of music that they themselves would search out and buy.
Within weeks Patrick Gibson (Systematics) was directed to the studio by Roger Grierson to record tracks for the B side of the "Pulp Baby" single for the independent Doublethink label. Jones and Tee had now found a likely ally for Scattered Order and the label. M Squared became a three legged beast and recording started in earnest.
Equipped with a bent sense of humour, ideas were formed, manifestos written and the good ship M Squared officially launched. Artists were to be given complete artistic control and encouraged to participate in the whole process. From recording, packaging, releasing and distributing, everything that could be would be done in-house. To achieve this the small group of friends pooled their diverse talents. Art school friend, Mark Tremlett supplied the logo and the slogan "World Domination" while Dru Johnson / Jones was responsible for the visual direction of the label.
It was us against the big record companies, with their ideas of "Oz Rock".
During most days the studio was filled by young bands recording demos and independent releases (initially for our close neighbour Doublethink Records). Studio production and engineering for this was undertaken by Michael, Patrick and Mitch under the collective alias of Scattered Order. But at night Systematics, Scattered Order and the various hybrids (Height / Dismay, Pleasant Peasants, ACRA, Gibson Tee etc) emerged to experiment and record.
Michael Filewood, an inventive guitar player from Sydney's northern beaches, joined Patrick for the Systematics recordings which became the "Rural" EP.
An early setback occurred when the studio was broken into and all the equipment (some borrowed) stolen. Swapping a second hand truck for recording gear quickly saw the studio operating as a 4 track facility again but it meant walking more.
Mid year radio station 2JJ sent Shane Fahey around. He arrived with an armful of cassettes of wonderful tunes that he had recorded at home with various friends. We fell over ourselves to be involved, immediately suggesting a 7 inch single and LP release and giving them free rein in the studio. They moved their upright piano into the front room, started recording and became The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast.
After a lot of tireless work by everyone involved the first three records were released on the 13th October. "Rural", a 12 inch EP from The Systematics, "Just not True" / "Red TV", a 7 inch single from EST (Martin Farrington) and a 12 inch compilation EP, "Growing Pains". Reaction in Australia was mixed but overseas they were received more favourably to everyone's astonishment.
Local distribution meant finding the best salesman among us (this may have involved straws), loading the car up with records and hunting down the shops that would stock our ideas of "pop music". A number of independent record stores interstate were also very supportive. Fairly successful initially, this method soon revealed its limitations. It was just too slow and time consuming with both records going out and any returns coming in. This began the label's ongoing struggle to find suitable distribution for their releases in Australia and overseas.
One way to speed the process up and to keep costs down was the limited edition cassette (100 copies or less). Initially hand dubbed ("Rural Side 3" and "More songs ..."), then later high speed dubbed, these cassettes were packaged in one colour sleeves (some in 7 inch tape boxes) and became an outlet for some of the most challenging and exciting music M Squared released. These were available through mail order and selective stores.
"Tael of a Saeghors / The Dumbwaiter", the first single by The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast, was released in December to enthusiastic reviews. "Tael of a Saeghors", a nautical treasure, was played constantly over the summer on alternative radio (2JJ Sydney, 3RRR Melbourne, 4ZZZ Brisbane) propelling it out to a larger world, where it became M Squared's biggest selling release and convinced us that there was an eager audience for different / challenging music.
The idea of playing live in front of an audience never really occurred to anybody until Systematics, now with school friend Fiona Graham (vocals and synthesiser) played their first show at John Blades' 21st birthday party in December. Taking an even bigger leap into the unknown, both The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast (now Greg Addison - guitar, Steven Couri - bass, Shane Fahey - synthesiser / voice, Peter Richardson - piano / percussion and Tim Schultz - saxophone / percussion) and Systematics played a show on new year's eve at the Sydney venue ICE with Negative Reaction.
The live appearances by Systematics and The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast over the summer started the fascinating challenge of trying to win over Australian pub audiences with M Squared's versions of "rock" music. Michael Tee cheerfully took on the onerous task of talking to promoters and venue owners and convincing them that an M Squared night was conducive to a lot of punters buying beer. By the end of the year he had built up a network of suitable venues around inner Sydney which regularly held these nights for eager audiences.
An initial success was a weekly residency at "Brownies", a small room upstairs at the Paddington Green Hotel. These mid-week M Squared nights showcased a range of different bands (including Spendid Mess - a sort of frightening studio big band, Systematics, The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast, Scattered Order, Wild West, Nervous System, The Goat that went Om, Pel Mel, Moving Parts and many others) to appreciative and growing audiences. The cassette release "Boxed Brownies" documents some of these bands and nights.
The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast's LP "The Vessels" was released in April to rave reviews and healthy sales. The release night at the Paddington Green Hotel saw the upright piano and large amounts of seaweed with several live crustaceans installed for a nautical themed affair. With them were Systematics and Scattered Order (an extended line up for their first live show).
In May the label released the debut EPs from Scattered Order and Prod. In a move to keep costs down (now regretted) the manufacturing was moved from EMI to a firm in country NSW. Many of the copies had to be withheld because of the poor quality of the vinyl and label printing. The planned Height / Dismay EP was abandoned completely.
With "easy finance" the studio took the big step to a Tascam 8 track and added some interesting new sound bending devices (Delta Lab DL4 digital delay and UREI 1178 stereo compressor) which were eagerly used and abused on subsequent recordings.
Initial Melbourne tour dates in July for Systematics and Splendid Mess were cancelled at the last minute due to injury.
Michael Tee blagged Systematics onto The Cure tour with 3 dates at the Capitol Theatre Sydney in August. A tape from one night was remastered in March 2009 as a 10 inch EP for the Vinyl on Demand, M Squared box set.
Melbourne dates for The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast were cancelled because of study and recording commitments. It would take another six months to organise the M Squared push south.
In August, the studio-based Belle du Soir released a walk in the enchanted forest of pop with their self-titled EP.
With help from Radio 4ZZZ the first live foray interstate was arranged. Not south as originally planned but north to Queensland, home to Joh Bjelke-Petersen and The Saints. Systematics and Scattered Order borrowed the family car and headed to Brisbane for two shows, one with intelligent pop sensations, The Reels and the other with local band Birds of Tin.
Fulfilling the M Squared idea that music does not have to conform with any one sound or style, the compilation LP "A Selection" was released in November. This LP showcases an amazingly diverse range of songs and sounds from Sydney 1981 with Wild West, Negative Reaction, The Limp, Severed Heads, Tame O'Mearas, Pel Mel, SoliPsiK, Aural Indifference. and label regulars The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast, Systematics, Scattered Order and Splendid Mess.
While the rest of SPK were overseas the SoliPsiK (Neil Hill and friends) single was released in November. No live promotion was undertaken.
Started with the death of the Systematics at the Trade Union Club on the 1st January (wonderfully documented on the "Stall" cassette release).
And the birth of Ya Ya Choral (Patrick Gibson, Fiona Graham and Michael Tee). Ya Ya Choral's live debut was on February 6th at the Mosman Hotel, an "over the water" suburban hotel with a "mod" crowd who were open and forgiving to our ideas of music entertainment. Also on the bill were The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast and No-V-Bleet (formally The Swell Guys) who had recently relocated from Brisbane.
To promote new EP releases from The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast, Systematics and new signing The Same, a tour of the eastern states of Australia was undertaken in February. It was called "Finally Ultimately M Squared comes to Town" because as usual we were late. The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast (including large painted backdrop), Scattered Order, Ya Ya Choral and The Same squeezed into a small bus ably piloted by "Bus Captain" Michael Prowse and set out to claim a wider audience. The tour visited Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney where reactions ranged from enthusiasm and curiosity to confusion and disdain.
The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast retreated from the live stage to the safety of the studio to start recording their second LP "Zoom < Man" in March. Using only studio downtime and because of the intricate nature of the sounds and song structures the progress was slow. Patrick, Michael and Mitch were the engineering tag team.
Brisbane band Xero moved to Sydney and released the 6 track EP "Lust in the Dust" on M Squared in April and began live work.
First overseas release was the double 10 inch EP, "Entrave et Etouffement" on the French label L'Invitation au Suicide. Taking its lead from "A Selection" it contains tracks from Systematics, EST, Scattered Order, Splendid Mess, Pel Mel, Negative Reaction, The Limp and Severed Heads. Reports were that it sold well. But further contact or payment was never forthcoming.
In preparation for their debut release "Such a Dutchman", Ya Ya Choral hit the road in April and May for an extensive series of shows around Sydney with the likes of The Laughing Clowns, Pel Mel, No-V-Bleet, The Same and Wildlife Documentaries.
The Same continued to promote their EP with a number of shows to growing audiences around Sydney, but then break up in May with their last show with Ya Ya Choral and No-V-Bleet at Players (might have been a new name but the carpet remained the same), Paddington Green Hotel on the 29th.
Wildlife Documentaries, a combo steered by Ivor Hay and Howard Cairns released their 4 track debut EP on M Squared in June.
18th June saw the first "Tinkily Bonk Ball" at the local parish hall, around the corner from the studio. An evening of miniature sets from Ya Ya Choral, No-V-Bleet, Hope is a New Coat, Brrr Cold, No Night Sweats, Instant Unit and Splendid Mess was greeted enthusiastically by a friendly audience.
The successful "Tinkily Bonk Ball 2" with Ya Ya Choral, Pel Mel, Hope is a New Coat, Instant Unit (Michael Filewood from The Systematics new band), Those Difficult Belgians and Terror the Time was held on 27th August at the same hall. "Be early or you could miss something" was the blurb.
August also saw Wildlife Documentaries undertake a short tour of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to promote their debut EP.
A second anniversary show for the label was held in October at the Sydney Trade Union Club (our favourite 3 level "Palace of Entertainment"). On the bill was Ya Ya Choral, Wildlife Documentaries, Dead Travel Fast (the name may have been getting shorter but they still needed coaxing out of the studio to appear live again) and No Night Sweats (the wonderful duo of Phil Turnbull - ex Voight/465, Wild West and Patrick Gibson).
Tangled Shoelaces, a young Brisbane pop band spent their school holidays at M Squared recording tracks for their first EP. This was released eventually in May '83.
Scattered Order's "Prat Culture" LP was released in November without a band to promote it. Patrick and Michael had Ya Ya Choral commitments and Mitch, live sound work. The record sank with little trace. It was all getting a bit disheartening. The priority and timing of new releases was becoming more difficult. The label had taken on too many projects and without the necessary time and finances things were being left unfinished and delayed.
Two Seperate / Is the truck on fire? - Patrick Gibson / Prod was the last cassette release for the label when it came out in November.
1982 ended with Ya Ya Choral playing to bigger and bigger audiences in Sydney and Melbourne while waiting for the release of "What's a Quaver?".
Scattered Order made a rare public appearance with Ya Ya Choral, Essendon Airport and Brrr Cold at The Trade Union Club in March. This was the last performance of the Jones, Tee, Gibson, Prowse lineup.
Over six months late The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast second LP "Zoom < Man" was released to great indifference. The band had retired from live performances and had lost any excitement they had for the LP by this stage making any sort of promotion difficult. Radio was reluctant to play it unlike "Tael of a Saeghors" or tracks from "The Vessels" and sadly a fantastic record went largely unnoticed. The band broke up and Shane Fahey later joined Jones and Prowse in Scattered Order.
During all this gloom the studio was renovated. Finally the two rooms were reversed (no more knocking on the door and interrupting a recording) and a new 16 channel mixing board (Soundcraft) acquired. Outside studio hire increased which staved off the creditors for the time being.
In May, after a long delay the "What's a Quaver?" EP was released to warm reviews which briefly brightened the spirit on the label front. But later that month and after 52 shows, M Squared's hardest working band Ya Ya Choral played their last. Patrick Gibson left to work on other projects (including No Night Sweats, Moral Fibro and recording a radio play) while Michael and Fiona continued with the lot less "tinkly bonk" Zeee Toons (Ya Ya #2) with Paul Abrahams (The Reels) and Tony Martin.
Do you notice a pattern developing here? Records with no bands and bands with no records.
By the end of the year the label was finding it harder to garner interest from radio, press and the music industry in Australia in general. Distribution had slowed to a trickle. The records were not being heard. The "three legged beast" of M Squared was looking shaky.
"I feel so relaxed with you" a darkly introspective release from a reconstituted Scattered Order ended the label's releases on a down beat.
Live performances started in January from a now 6 piece Scattered Order (Jones, Prowse, Fahey, Robertson, Holmes, Johnson / Jones), including one show with Severed Heads, Moral Fibro (with multiple guest vocalists) and Instant Unit at the Trade Union Club. Looking back you could say this was the last M Squared live night.
Projects in the pipeline for 1984 included "B Selection", a second compilation LP and "Retreat", the third cassette release for A Cloakroom Assembly (delayed from 1983). Sadly things did not go exactly to plan.
Nobody is quite sure how and exactly when it all ended. The details are all a bit hazy. Mitch, Michael and Patrick were all involved with their own musical projects, lives and dreams. The energy and enthusiasm needed to run the label, studio, distribution and live booking was now harder to find. The fun had gone out of it.
Can you lend me $5 till Tuesday....
By mid year M Squared was over. 1 Wilshire Street was abandoned and the three friends drifted apart.
For another more personal view you should read the excellent account from Michael Tee at M Squared Memoirs
For their support of the M Squared exploits ...
Roger Grierson, Doublethink, Chris Morrow, Tom Ellard, Phil Turnbull,
Ed Kuepper, Ken West, Martin Hardy, Rod Pobestek, John Blades,
Peter Doyle, Mark Mordue, Robert Miller, David Cook, Andrew Neil, Katie Yeowart, Tim Whitten, Fay & Judy (PA), 2JJ, 2JJJ, 4ZZZ, Fast Forward cassette magazine, El Faro Printers
and the many individuals and bands that were involved with the studio and the label throughout those hectic years.
- Mitch Jones, one leg of M Squared, May 2009.