When Aussie punk revolutionaries X first emerged in 1977, they stepped out in solidarity into a world disenchanted with its social and political state; a world sick of absolutism.
X wanted change, and from a basement in Glebe, they plotted revolution. In the peak of punk, the band took to painting red Xs across Sydney – something that at the time would have been seen as an eye-opening act of anarchy. With a weighted sigh, last living original member Steve Lucas explains the band’s true reasoning for its graffiti. “The whole point with the red X, [anarchy] wasn’t the initial concept.
“It was a symbol, it wasn’t a name at all. By being a symbol, the gigs were more than gigs, they were a gathering of like-minded people. Kind of how like Christianity uses the fish. It sounds pretentious but we weren’t trying to create a new religion but we wanted to have a symbol that represented something we thought was lacking at the time in society.”
Fast-forward to 2017 and those things X sang about are still a common issue today. Lucas has compiled X-Citations: Best Of X. The Early Years 1977-82, in the hopes that it will revitalise a message about the band and a message about our world.
“It sounds a bit wanky but over 40 years, stories get distorted, history gets distorted,” he says.
“The point we may have been trying to make 40 years ago gets lost in the retelling or the interpretations of journalists over the years … drunken conversations. I just wanted to set the record straight and go, ‘Look. This is how it started, this is what we were about.’ Also to demonstrate how little had changed in the world. False advances. The political climate is just ridiculous, music is just as important [today].”
Nobody is better qualified to provide historical social commentary than Lucas. In his 40-year career, his observations have left him disenchanted, enraged and tired. More than this, Lucas has a firsthand knowledge of the impact that the global climate has on the music scene, particularly in Sydney.
“Even back in the ’80s, the death knell was ringing for Sydney. You could see it everywhere – at the time we thought the government was trying to make a revenue out of the black market money that live music was – and it generated a huge amount of money back then.
“I suppose the worst thing was that we coincided with the punk movement and whatever that was – by the time it got here via the headlines and sensationalism, people had already seized upon it as a new commercial enterprise. Punk wasn’t punk here.”
The style of music and the performance setting by which X played in their heyday is but a shade of what it once was. This generation can’t appreciate the camaraderie and excitement that came with pub rock in the ’70s and ’80s in the same way, and when asked about that particular climate and if there’s still the same demand and atmosphere around music today, Lucas interrupts with a firm response.
In Sydney we were banned from 32 gigs consecutively and still playing on a regular basis.
“No. No, no, not remotely. With the advent of the internet giving people the notion that they’re part of a much broader global community, it’s lies. [In the ’70s and ’80s] people were out in droves. People today have no idea how physically we were supporting pub live music and it’s not like we played half a dozen gigs – in Sydney we were banned from 32 gigs consecutively and still playing on a regular basis. I’d be flat out trying to name 30 gigs in Sydney and Melbourne [today]. It’s crazy really.”
The face of music in Australia has certainly changed, but perhaps in looking to the past, we might find our way forward. Taking to the road for a 40th anniversary tour, Lucas says that while the sociopolitical climate is much the same as when X first performed the songs featured on X-Citations, the only real difference is time and age. “It’s probably more tempered, more confident,” says Lucas.
“I don’t get up there and pretend I’m 20 years old but I’ve been playing for 40 years. I’ve gone out of my way not to become too polished, but then I’m not going to get up there and play like crap just to be punk – I’m gonna do what I’ve always done.
“I’m gonna get up there and channel the same emotions and passions and I’m going to deliver it as best as I can. I mean, it’s not going to be the same but it was never the same from one gig to another even back in the day – every audience has its own vibe, what they give back to you, you hand back in return.”
Lucas still hopes that people relate to the band’s ethic and take something away from their performances. “They’ll be taking it away and putting it in their own life context,” he says. “There’ll be things they can relate to, experiences they’ve had like we had as a band when we wrote it – if they can understand how that felt, then I think they’ll be walking away feeling pretty much the same. But I can’t assume anything, I’ve got to get out there, deliver the songs, put the ego aside and be there for the music.
“There’s a relationship and you realise there’s a peak moment and when you’re there peaking, it’s very powerful. People use words like ‘passionate’ but sometimes I wonder if they know what it actually means.”
X-Citations: Best Of X. The Early Years 1977-82 is out now independently. X play the Factory Theatre on Friday July 21.