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Nun Redefine Synth Punk Psychosis

The first time I heard Nun I couldn’t believe my ears. Haunted BBC samples repeated over washes of synth, thudding analogue bass lines and a punishing drum machine. It was dark, brutal and exciting—reminding me of an unholy combination of Iron Curtain, Do

by Miles Brown
18 September 2013, 12:24am

Nun L-R: Tom Hardisty, Steve Harris, Jenny Branagan, Hugh Young

The first time I heard Nun I couldn’t believe my ears. Haunted BBC samples repeated over washes of synth, thudding analogue bass lines and a punishing drum machine. It was dark, brutal and exciting—reminding me of an unholy combination of Iron Curtain, Doris Norton and Beta Evers.

In the past twelve months these Melbourne synth punks have become one of the most popular acts in town, releasing a 7” on cult label Nihilistic Orbs and supporting the likes of Gatekeeper, Forces, and Iron Lung.

Live, three shadowy dudes tending to mountains of vintage equipment are offset by Jenny Branagan’s unhinged vocal performance. Sounding like a possessed Dickensian orphan (screaming through the helmet of a decapitated Dalek), Branagan shrieks and howls and scares the living shit out of the first three rows of the audience. No wonder that Nun are appealing to audiences far outside the boundaries of their underground scene.

As the band gear up for the release of their debut album, I had breakfast with Branagan to find out what all the bloody screaming is about.

Noisey: Nice Cars t-shirt:
Jenny Branagan: Thanks, Candy-O, one of my faves, although Panorama is ace too.

Sure is. So, the members of Nun come from really varied musical backgrounds: punk, hip hop, goth, and indie. How did you all end up making music together?
I moved here from Ireland and started working at Missing Link Records. My coworkers and I got on this whole tip of obsessively listening to Iron Curtain, then lots of Gary Numan, Christian Death, Coil, KMFDM, Young Gods, and Ministry. Tom (synth) was doing a sound course at university and needed to put a project together, so he invited some of us to come down and jam. We went in knowing that we all shared this similar circle of music, and we just made it up on the spot. We recorded a couple of tracks and people seemed to like it. We played a gig, and nobody pelted anything at us—so we decided to keep going.

How important is the analogue instrumentation to your sound?
Very important, I think. I really like physical elements—I like something to feel like I’m wrapped inside it—and I think the analogue sound gives you that. You feel like you’re in the middle something and it’s warm. I guess there’s a sense of authenticity, the authenticity of sound. There is some kind of responsive relationship to do with the feel of analogue and the aesthetic of what that does to me personally.

Everything Nun-related has a very solid aesthetic attached—from artwork to visuals and web presence. How are these related to your vocal content? Are there underlying themes to all this?
Yeah, absolutely. The esoteric is a huge influence. I’ve always been really interested in the unseen, or the idea of the fantasy of the unseen. Its not that I 100% believe in anything supernatural, but if something exists in your head you should explore those ideas. Exploring the sense of wonderment of what is the other—the ghost, what is unseen—is lovely. It’s cool to have a sense of wonderment in an age where everything is scientific fact.

Your live performance comes across as a kind of ritual catharsis. What is it that you are exorcising onstage?
That’s quite personal. I don’t know exactly how to describe that. It’s more trying to drive the idea of an atmosphere. I don’t know what happens when I am onstage, I don’t know what it looks like or feels like, but I do like the sound and the vocals, just trying to get across the aesthetic of sound.

There’s an experimental coldness to lots of your music, yet also surprising moments of unashamed pop sensibility. Solvents, in particular, is almost pure synth pop. How do you see the combination of those two worlds in Nun?
Everyone in the band has done noise projects. The sonic sphere of Nun can be noisy and experimental and go wandering. But we collectively thought we’d also just like to just write a good pop song. All of us have such broad music taste. It’s not like when you’re a kid and you say: “I only listen to Einstürzende Neubauten”. These days I’m just as happy to listen to classic hits radio.

What would you say are your chief influences as a front person?
Probably Al Jourgensen from Ministry. I’ve seen them three times in my life and they have continually blown me away. He has this amazing filth and power. I know I’m a girl and I’m really short, but sometimes I wish I was a big threatening dude, it would be so amazing. I also love Margaret Roadknight, Rod Stewart, and the power of Tom Jones. I guess its all cathartic emotional spilling.

How soon can we expect your debut album to be released?
We’re hoping the end of the year/early next year. It’s coming out in Australia on No Patience Records. Hopefully people like it and we don’t get killed on stage when we play the songs. That’s all you can ask for.

I’ve heard that you sleep hanging upside down from the ceiling and can do the Exorcist crabwalk down stairs. Does that take a lot of practice? It must be good for the quads.
(laughs)I don’t sleep upside down, I have flannelette sheets at the moment and I wear comfortable pajamas, thank you, like a Nanna. I can do the Exorcist crab walk though. I’ve always been able to do it. It’s kinda fun going upside down and stretching out.

Follow Miles on Twitter: @M1le5Br0wn

Noisey Blog
BBC samples
Nihilistic Orbs
Jenny Branagan
synth punks
Missing Link Records