Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice burst onto the scene in 2018 like an unsolicited but much-needed firecracker.
Since then, they’ve made a name for themselves as one of the most important bands in Melbourne. 2019 saw the release of their debut LP ‘The West’, a twitchy manifesto of technological paranoia that taps into an unspoken contemporary unease. Part Dr Frankenstein, part pulpit politician, frontman Dougal Shaw sings prophecies of doom atop a bed of dissonant instrumentation that is best compared to Tropical Fuck Storm. But it is by no means downbeat. Their new EP ‘Remember The Future?’ is for all purposes a cathartic affair. Discarding the fearmongering of previous releases, the EP presents four tracks of blistering garage rock that are celebratory at heart. I called up Dougal to ask how he found the fun in the madness.
Your music as Dr Sure has always been quite dystopic. How does being the prophet of doom feel?
It feels strangely appropriate. But a lot of the time when I’m writing I’m just filtering the news. There’s a little bit of or exaggeration, but for the most part, it’s just a documentation of the times from my perspective. Documenting the absurdity of the present. So while it is dystopic, it’s more of a dark comedy, y’know? If it was a film, there’s a lot of comedic moments with Trump and Boris and Scomo. It’s like the three stooges. Fumbling their way through various crises. So it’s hard to take it seriously. But then obviously it’s not funny, because it’s not a film and it’s scary, and it’s very real; and on a human level, trying to exist and go about your life in these times is getting harder and harder. And on a personal level, just managing my anxiety at the moment is like a full-time job. But luckily making music is one of the best ways for me to do that.
There’s a certain silliness in your music. What’s the deal there? Ie: what informs a satirical over a sincere approach to heavy subjects?
I guess it’s that thing of people don’t wanna constantly be consuming depressing things. So, I guess I’m trying to take subjects that could be pretty depressing and… not trying to make light of them, but make them more palatable. It’s why you see satirical newspapers becoming more popular than actual newspapers, because while the messages behind them are sincere, you have to read beneath the satire to find it. So, taking that sort of approach and applying it to music.
So you’re a musical Betoota Advocate!
Yes! And taking the piss is important. It’s a fundamentally Australian thing to do, trying to find light in the dark.
Chickens. I fucking love chickens! What’s a chicken doing on the cover of your new EP?
There is indeed a chicken! It was just this image I had in my head for the cover. I wanted there to be some sort of comic juxtaposition. You look at the cover and go, ‘Ok, there’s the globe, Australia’s on fire, there’s a flag-pole and the flag turns into a rooster.’ It’s some weird connection to nationalism. This outspoken sorta thing. But first and foremost, it’s just something that I like to look at.
What’s the deal with the stop motion the two covers create?
So on the insert is an alternate cover where … after drawing the finger, I had this urge where it was just so close to the eyeball, and you want to know what happens. So I had to draw it, see what happens when the eyeball cops the finger. I had to follow through with it.
The way you sing is quite operatic. Nearly taking the piss again. How come? Is that about being scared of how your voice sounds if you sing sincerely?
Potentially. I feel like I just sing to the song. So sometimes it’ll be more yelly, sometimes it’ll be more melodic. But yeah… I never had guitar lessons or anything like that, but when I was about twelve I did singing lessons, so I guess coming through that I started to use my voice as an instrument, playing it in different ways. There’s this idea of ‘finding your voice’ and… I just don’t really subscribe to that idea of ‘a voice’ that needs to be your own unique voice, y’know? You figure things out by taking them apart and putting them back together.
Your brand of dystopia is essentially a sci-fi one: you describe your music as ‘robopunk.’ Where did that come from?
Just observing what feels like some kind of crumbling personal autonomy. And I guess I touch on that in the latest single, ‘Super Speedy Zipper Whipper’, as well. Again, it’s a song that is about personal autonomy and this feeling that the pre-COVID world was moving at such a fast pace, it’s just go-go-go and it’s constantly kind of buffering. This feeling that you have less and less control over the things that you’re doing, and you’re more just trying to keep up. So, I guess it’s comical that as soon as we dropped that song, everything stopped. We fixed it!