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The Birthday Party was an Australian post-punk group, active from 1976 to 1983.

Despite being championed by John Peel, The Birthday Party found little commercial success during their career. Though often indirect, their influence has been far-reaching. They've been called one of "the darkest and most challenging post-punk groups to emerge in the early '80s."

While their early music was sometimes classified as gothic rock, the band disdained the term, and their sound was very different from most goth music, closer to No Wave at the time. However, the Birthday Party did have an influence on deathrock, a genre of music related to gothic rock.

Despite their limited commercial success, the creative core of the Birthday Party have gone on to acclaimed careers: singer and songwriter Nick Cave, multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey and singer, songwriter and guitarist Rowland S. Howard.

The Boys Next Door

The nucleus of the band first met at the private boys school Caulfield Grammar Schoolmarker (in suburban Melbournemarker) in the early seventies. A rock group was formed in 1973 with Nick Cave (vocals), Mick Harvey (guitar), and Phill Calvert (drums), with other students John Cochivera, Brett Purcell and Chris Coyne (on guitar, bass and saxophone respectively). Most were also members of the school choir. The band played under various names at parties and school functions with a mixed pre-punk repertoire of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, among others.

After their final school year in 1975 the band decided to continue with friend Tracy Pew picking up the bass. Greatly affected by the punk explosion of 1976 which saw Australian bands The Saints and Radio Birdman making their first recordings and tours, The Boys Next Door, as they were now called, began performing punk and proto-punk cover versions, such as "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Gloria", and a few original songs. By November 1977 their set was dominated by fast original New Wave material, such as "Sex Crimes" and "Masturbation Generation".

Rowland S. Howard joined in 1978, and about this time, the group's sound changed dramatically. The addition of Howard's guitar was certainly a catalyst (his later use of audio feedback being a hallmark of the group) but there were other changes, as well: their sound drew upon punk, rockabilly, free jazz and the rawest blues, but transcended concise categorisation. Many songs were driven by prominent, repetitive basslines and drumwork that sounded like an angry Gene Krupa. Though the band was tightly rehearsed, the instrumentalists often sounded as if they were on the verge of collapse, this quality only emphasising the newfound mania of Cave's singing, and his expressionist lyrics. In producer/engineer Tony Cohen they found a willing accomplice to their experimentation and their refusal to repeat themselves; and in manager Keith Glass they found an enthusiastic financial backer. Glass' label Missing Link Records released all of the early Birthday Party records.

London and beyond

After recordings and moderate success in Australia (including hundreds of live shows) they headed for Londonmarker in 1980, changing their name to the Birthday Party and launching into a period of innovative and aggressive music-making. They resided in London, with trips back to Australia and tours through Europe and the U.S. before relocating to West Berlin in 1982.

Above the barely-controlled racket, Cave's vocals ranged from desperate to simply menacing and demented. Critics have written that "neither John Cale nor Alfred Hitchcock was ever this scary," and that Cave "doesn't so much sing his vocals as expel them from his gut". Though Cave drew on earlier rock and roll shriekers; especially Iggy Pop and Suicide's Alan Vega, his singing with the Birthday Party remains powerful and distinct.

Calvert was ejected in 1982; he was reportedly "unable to nail down the beats for 'Dead Joe' to everyone's satisfaction" , and Harvey moved to drums. When Pew was jailed for drunk driving and petty theft also in 1982, Barry Adamson and several others replaced him on records or live appearances. Pew rejoined the band, but died some years later during an epileptic seizure.

In 1982 a spin-off group with Lydia Lunch, Honeymoon In Red, recorded an album which was eventually released in 1987. Harvey and Cave were reportedly so unhappy with the mixing and overdubbing done after their involvement, that they requested their names be withheld from its liner notes. Howard and Pew apparently had no objections to being credited by name.

In 1983 Blixa Bargeld from the German band Einstürzende Neubauten played guitar on the track "Mutiny in Heaven", tension between Cave and Howard came to a head. The Birthday Party disbanded in late 1983, due in part to the split between Cave and Howard, and work and drug-related exhaustion.

Legacy and influence

Several groups rose from the Birthday Party's ashes: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (featuring Cave, Harvey, Adamson and Bargeld), Crime and the City Solution (featuring Harvey and Howard, later just Harvey) and These Immortal Souls (featuring Howard).

Due in part to their legendary status and to the continuing success of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party's back catalogue has been re-released on CD several times. In recent years Mick Harvey has overseen releases of rare or previously unissued recordings.

The Birthday Party's initial impact was on the Gothic rock genre. According to New Musical Express, "The Party have been indirectly held responsible for the rise of a visceral new hardcore, ranging from The Sex Gang Children, through Danse Macabre to March Violets."

Rock acts that have cited The Birthday Party as an influence include White Zombie, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Coil, My Bloody Valentine, Deerhunter, Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello, Cocteau Twins, The Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid, Melt-Banana, Chop shop, 16 Horsepower, Big Boys, Dinosaur Jr., Billy Raygun, Tindersticks, The Horrors, The Witch Hats, Turn Pale, The Wahas and The Devastations, and Frog Eyes.

Brooklyn, NY punk soul orchestra The World/Inferno Friendship Society quote the intro to "Sonny's Burning" in their song "Me V. Angry Mob" on the Red-Eyed Soul album.

U.S. Indie label 31G Records has released a tribute album to The Birthday Party called Release the Bats.

In October 2007 Cave alone was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, Cave took it upon himself to 'induct' the Australian members of the Bad Seeds (including Harvey), plus Howard and Pew from The Birthday Party.

Band name

Some sources say the band took its name from the Harold Pinter play The Birthday Party; others (including Ian Johnstone's Cave biography) state it was prompted by Cave mis-remembering, or intentionally mis-attributing, the name to a non-existent birthday party scene in the lengthy Dostoevsky novel, Crime and Punishment.


Band members

Touring guest musicians

  • Chris Walsh - bass (February 1982)
  • Barry Adamson - bass (April-May 1982)
  • Harry Howard - bass (June-July 1982)
  • Jeffrey Wegener - drums (January 1983)
  • Des Heffner - drums (May-June 1983)
  • Blixa Bargeld - guitar (1983, in-studio guest)



The Boys Next Door

The Boys Next Door/The Birthday Party
  • "The Birthday Party (LP 1980). Originally credited to the Boys Next Door. Later re-released and attributed to The Birthday Party. Re-released on CD in 1988 with the band's early recordings, under the title "Hee Haw" (see below; not to be confused with the "Hee Haw" EP of 1979).

The Birthday Party

Singles and EPs

The Boys Next Door

The Birthday Party

Video and DVD

Further reading

  • "Inner City Sound", Clinton Walker (Wild & Wooley, 1981; revised and expanded edition, Verse Chorus Press, 2005)
  • "Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977-1991", Clinton Walker (Pan MacMillan Australia, 1996) ISBN 0-7329-0883-3
  • "Bad Seed: A biography of Nick Cave", Ian Johnstone (1996) ISBN 0349107785
  • "The life and music of Nick Cave: An illustrated biography", Maximilian Dax & Johannes Beck (1999) ISBN 3-931126-27-7
  • "Kicking Against the Pricks: An Armchair Guide to Nick Cave", Amy Hanson (2005) ISBN 1-900924-96-X
  • "Nick Cave Stories", Edited by Janine Barrand (2007)


  1. Allmusic
  3. "Lethal Weapons" 30 Years On, by David Nicholls
  4. Trouser Press
  5. Allmusic
  6. Allmusic
  7. New Musical Express, December 25, 1982. Cited in Jennifer Park, "Melancholy and the Macabre: Gothic Rock and Fashion," Gothic: Dark Glamour by Valerie Steele and Jennifer Park, p. 141, 143.

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