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Magic Dirt are an Australian rock band, which formed in 1991 in Geelong, Victoria, with Daniel Herring on guitar, Adam Robertson on drums, Adalita Srsen on vocals and guitar, and Dean Turner on bass guitar. Initially known as Deer Bubbles and then The Jim Jims, they were renamed as Magic Dirt in 1992. Their top 40 releases on the ARIA Albums Chart are Friends in Danger (1996), What Are Rockstars Doing Today (2000), Tough Love (2003) and Snow White (2005). They have received nine ARIA Music Award nominations including four at the ARIA Music Awards of 1995 for Life Was Better - their second extended play. Turner died in August 2009 of dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (a soft tissue cancer). As from 2011, the band is on hiatus with no immediate plans to tour or record.
Early days (1989-1993):
Magic Dirt were formed as Deer Bubbles in 1991 in Geelong, Victoria with Adalita Srsen on vocals and guitar, and Dean Turner on bass guitar. Srsen and Turner were romantically involved at that time. By 1992, they started a new band, The Jim Jims, with guitarist Daniel Herring. The Jim Jims provided a cover version of The Velvet Underground's "Heroin" on Check This Action ... Let the Fun Begin, a compilation CD of local Geelong bands released in 1992. After the addition of drummer Adam Robertson, they became known as Magic Dirt. Srsen told a fanzine in 1996, "The way we formed was that Dean and I used to be going out together, and before we used to be in a band before Magic Dirt called Deer Bubbles. Dean knew Daniel from skating, and then he moved in with us, and we'd play like one song for forty minutes, we just loved it. Then we wanted to find a drummer, and we went through about five, then we found Adam through a mutual friend and that was it. We only used to have three songs we used to play for an hour".
Early in 1993, the band supported Sonic Youth and Pavement on their Australian tours. Later in the year, The band issued its debut single, "Supertear", for Fellaheen Records. By the time of its release in July, the band had broken up. However, they soon regrouped and signed with Au Go Go Records in November. Their first extended play, Signs of Satanic Youth appeared in December, with the track "Redhead" receiving airplay on Triple J radio.
The Au Go Go years (1993-1999):
Life Was Better EP:
In April 1994, Magic Dirt split when Srsen and Turner's romantic relationship ended. However, the group again reformed and released a second EP, Life Was Better in November. The EP included the tracks "Ice" and "Amoxycillin" and debuted at No. 1 on the Australian alternative music chart. It remained on that chart for 75 weeks, eventually selling 20,000 copies. Life Was Better went on to receive four nominations at the ARIA Music Awards of 1995.
In early 1995, the band performed on the Big Day Out festival tour across Australia, with Hole (Magic Dirt also supported their other Australian shows) and Silverchair. The success of Life Was Better had attracted international attention and Geoffrey Weiss, of Warner Music in the United States, traveled to Australia to see the band perform at the Big Day Out. Weiss negotiated a deal with their manager, Gavan Purdy and the band signed a two-album deal with Warner. In August 1995, Daniel Herring left the band. His final recording with the group was the 10" vinyl single, "I Was Cruel", which featured the words "Thankyou, Daniel. Goodbye" etched onto the vinyl. Dave Thomas, of fellow Geelong band Bored!, who had managed Magic Dirt at the early stages of their career, was recruited as Herring's replacement on guitar.
Friends in Danger:
In February 1996, Dirt Records released the band's debut album in the US. The album was a compilation of their first two EPs, along with the track "Goofy Gumb", and titled simply Magic Dirt. In March, Magic Dirt began recording their debut album proper, Friends in Danger, in Sydney with Paul McKercher (You Am I) producing. The music style was a reaction to the accessibility of their earlier material. While Warner had expected more songs in the vein of "Ice", the band offered tracks like the 8-minute "Bodysnatcher" - a chilling tale of child abuse. Warner were less than impressed, and went so far as to offer the band additional time and money to re-record the album. The band refused, and when Friends in Danger was released in September, the label put little effort into promoting it. According to rock music historian, Ian McFarlane, "it matched the band's fearless experimentation with a dark, unhinged sound that went from moments of eerie near-silence to full-tilt guitar noise".Friends in Danger peaked at No. 25 on the ARIA Albums Chart, and went on to sell 10,000 copies in Australia, helped along by "Sparrow", the album's most accessible track and only single.
The group toured North America supporting Archers of Loaf and promoting Friends in Danger later in 1996. Warner still refused to promote the album and they were dropped by the label. Since the band had a two album deal, Warner paid them for the second album, despite the fact that they did not release it.
Young & Full of the Devil:
In January 1997, Magic Dirt again performed on the Big Day Out tour. In July, Thomas left and his replacement on guitar was Spanish-born Raúl Sánchez - former front man of Melbourne band, Muffcake. The group began recording its second full-length record, Young & Full of the Devil, at Birdland Studios with producer Lindsay Gravina. They followed with a three week tour of the United Kingdom (where they appeared on John Peel's BBC radio show) and continental Europe in the later half of the year. Subway Records in Germany released an updated version of the band's US debut, with new artwork and two additional tracks. The group ended 1997 with a new single, "Rabbit with Fangs", and a national tour supporting Silverchair, playing large arenas around Australia.
April 1998 saw the release of Young & Full of the Devil, which failed to reach the top 50., stalling at No. 98. The album continued the unsettling, fuzzy sound of the debut, and sold 10,000 copies in Australia - Turner later claimed on the band's website that it was the band's lowest selling album. Another single, "She-Riff" was released - in a new and more polished recording - with a video depicting Srsen re-enacting a scene from the 1975 Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Young & Full of the Devil was the last release by the band on Au Go Go Records. Turner and Srsen undertook two side projects. The first was Seaville - a project with Mérida Sussex from The Paradise Motel, which issued the Swan Song EP in 1998. The second project was with Ronin System, which resulted in the single, "Expectations" in 1999. Without a label, the band supported themselves by touring throughout much of 1999.
The Warner years (2000-2006):
What Are Rockstars Doing Today:
In 2000, Magic Dirt signed a recording contract with - ironically - Warner Music Australia, and began recording their third album, What Are Rockstars Doing Today with Phil Vinall (Placebo) producing. Released in October, What Are Rockstars Doing Today reached the top 40. It signalled a dramatic shift in the band's sound. Gone were the fuzzy guitars and feedback. In its place was slick production and poppy hooks. Longtime fans of the band weren't sure what to make of lead single, "Dirty Jeans", with its hand claps and sing-a-long chorus. Tracks such as "Pace It" and "City Trash" proved that the band could still rock, however they did receive some backlash, with some fans labelling them "sell-outs". Triple J put "Dirty Jeans" on high rotation and it reached No. 12 in the year's Hottest 100. The year ended with national tour supporting Powderfinger and Jebediah.
2001 and 2002 saw the band touring in the wake of What Are Rockstars Doing Today. They launched their Love Ya & Leave Ya Tour - the largest the group had done up until that point - which saw them on their first trip to New Zealand. The City Trash Tour with The Nation Blue and Girls Against Boys followed in June-July 2002. They started recording demos for a fourth album early in the year - tracks such as "Love Me" and "Sarah May" from these sessions were later released as B-sides. Later that year, the band made its second trip to the UK, where What Are Rockstars Doing Today had been released on Cargo Records. In 2002, Magic Dirt appeared on the "World of Instruments" segment of John Safran's Music Jamboree, where they played "Dirty Jeans" using Indonesian gamelans - struck instruments including metallophones and xylophones.
In early 2003 Magic Dirt started recording its fourth album, Tough Love, at Birdland Studios in Melbourne, again produced by Lindsay Gravina. It was released in August and peaked at No. 15. It carried on the band's new slicker sound, although tracks like the epic "Brat" recalled the band's early days. Originally, no commercial singles were to be released from the album. After the success of the radio-only singles "Vulcanella" and "Watch Out Boys", Warner commercially issued "Plastic Loveless Letter". It became the band's biggest hit to date, reaching No. 16 on the ARIA Singles Chart.Tough Love was nominated at the ARIA Music Awards of 2003 for 'Best Rock Album'. It was re-issued in 2004 as two disc set containing their Live at the Wireless session on Triple J in 2003.
In 2004, Sánchez issued a solo album, Midnight Woolf, a self-recorded swamp blues instrumental release on his own Crossbone Recording Company. Sánchez formed the Midnight Woolf band and performed several gigs in Melbourne. In August, Turner produced the debut album, Peapod, for Sydney-based group, theredsunband.
In September 2005, Magic Dirt released their fifth album, Snow White, which peaked into the top 30. It received critical acclaim, as a combination of the band's pop sound, their noisy early material, and new elements such as acoustic guitars. Lead single "Locket" made an impact on radio and music video channels, but its exposure was limited due the explicit language in the song's chorus. "I Love the Rain" followed as the second single from the album. Neither single charted into the top 50.
Aside from joining the Big Day Out tour again in January and February, 2006 was a quiet year for the band. Sánchez continued his work with Midnight Woolf. He re-assembled the band in Spain for a series of gigs, and they released a second album, Electric Deluxe Graveyard Blues. Later in the year, two Magic Dirt tracks, "Sucker Love" (B-side to "Locket") and "Daddy" (from Life Was Better) appeared on the soundtrack for the Australian film Suburban Mayhem, plus a track from theredsunband, which had been produced by Turner. Also included were two solo contributions from Srsen, covers of "Sex Beat" and "Double Dare". "Double Dare" was released as a single in October. The tracks, produced by Mick Harvey (member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, producer for PJ Harvey), were the first solo material to appear from Srsen. Turner, Harvey and Rowland S. Howard also played on the tracks.
Emergency Music (2006-present):
After leaving Warner, Magic Dirt created their own label, Emergency Music in 2006. In October, Srsen announced the band's future activities, in an interview on Triple J's breakfast show. The band would release an EP, a mini-album, and then an album. A report in Sydney street press Drum Media, indicated that the EP would be given away at shows and sold in selected independent music stores. The EP featured covers of The Scientists' "We Had Love" and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Stagger Lee", as well as a live re-recording of "Mother's Latest Fear" from Snow White.
Roky's Room, an experimental noise album featuring no vocals, no melodies and no percussion, was released by Magic Dirt in June 2007. The mini-album, titled Beast was released in July, featuring tracks previewed on their November 2006 East Coast tour. Now free from a major label, Beast harked back to the band's earlier, rawer material and featured original guitarist Herring on two tracks ("Horror Me" and a re-recording of "Sucker Love"). The single, "Bring Me the Head Of...", made little impact on radio, including Triple J, which had previously supported the band. The group spent the remainder of 2007 touring in support of Beast, including an East Coast tour with The Beasts Of Bourbon - who were often joined on stage by Srsen - and Roland S. Howard.
In November 2007, the band began recording their sixth full length album, Girl, which was released in July 2008. The album debuted at No. 7 on the Australian Independent Music chart. However, it did not reach the ARIA Albums Chart top 50. "Romy", lead single from the album, also failed to reach the related singles chart top 50. In support of the album, the group embarked on the No Sleep Til Christmas Tour, starting in July and ending in December 2008. The tour included dates in all major Australian cities, and a number of shows in regional centres. Playing bass on this tour was Melbourne musician Matt Sonic, as Turner was too ill to tour. To coincide with the tour, the band released a limited edition tour EP, available only at the shows. The second in a series of tour EPs (the first being the giveaway EP from 2006), the disc featured a cover of Hard-Ons' "Suck N Swallow", a collaboration with Gareth Liddiard of The Drones, two outtakes left over from Girl and a track recorded at Birdland Studios in 2003.
Death of Dean Turner:
Dean Turner, died on 21 August 2009 of dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a rare form of tissue cancer. He was 37 years old. Turner had been diagnosed nine years earlier. After Turner died, the band released a statement:
For nine years, Dean battled an extremely rare form of soft tissue cancer called dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP). This cancer became life-threatening after it began to metastasize and cause various fatal tumours. Being a very private man, Dean chose to fight the cancer in a quiet and dignified manner. He displayed great courage and incredible stoicism. And above all else he had an unshakeable, positive attitude throughout his long ordeal. His composure and grace during this time will never be forgotten and are an inspiration to us all.
--Magic Dirt, Official Website
Following Turner's death Magic Dirt performed a final tour in honour of his memory. They also released a six-track EP, White Boy, in October, as a tribute. As from 2011, the band is on hiatus with no immediate plans to tour or record. In March 2011, Srsen spoke about Magic Dirt when promoting Adalita, her solo album, "No, no we've not retired. There's none of that at the moment. We're just taking some time off the road, but we do have some plans. We've got a lot of work to do, and a big legacy to fulfill".
Srsen has since embarked on a successful solo career and Sánchez formed a new band, River of Snakes.:
Currently on hiatus
Adalita Srsen - vocals, guitar,
Raúl Sánchez - guitar,
Adam Robertson - drums,
Daniel Herring - guitar,
Dave Thomas - guitar,
Dean Turner - bass guitar (d. 21 August 2009) Fanart Banner