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Flashback: Sydney’s Gerling Get Caught Up in Post-9/11 Controversy

Most bands usually don’t have to worry about terrorist attacks when it comes to releasing a big album, but 20 years ago, that’s exactly the problem that Sydney’s Gerling faced.

Image of Gerling

Sydney trio Gerling.

Tony Mott*

Ever since the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 in which America found itself the target of terrorist attacks, much has been said about the synchronicity of events around that time. While some have looked for clues and conspiracy theories, some have turned their attention to the world of music for tell-tale signs that the world’s artists – of all people – had prior knowledge of the attacks.

Famously, The Coup’s Party Music was side-eyed for its initially-planned artwork which showed the group bombing the World Trade Centre. Meanwhile post-rock band Explosions in The Sky had their album Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever thrust under the microscope, with rumours that its original release of September 4th had in fact happened six days later, making the image in its artwork – of a plane with the caption “this plane will crash tomorrow” – seeming like a prescient forewarning.

But while many bands and artists dealt with the fallout of releasing their albums around a time when the majority of the general public weren’t exactly feeling like purchasing music, one name that often gets forgotten is Sydney’s Gerling.

Having been a staple of the Aussie music scene for close to a decade by this point, 2001 was set to see the group release their second album. With lead single “Dust Me Selecta” gathering airplay, and the record featuring names such as Kylie Minogue and Kool Keith, it was on track to be the group’s big breakthrough. Unfortunately, controversy arose ahead of its September 17th release, namely due to its title: When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun.

The original artwork for Gerling’s When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun.

Speaking to Rolling Stone Australia 20 years on from its release, founding member Darren Cross remembers the time in the lead-up to the record’s release as one of excitement and positivity for the group.

“We were psyched,” Cross explains. “It had come out in Japan on a big label over there, like one month before. We had just played Fuji Rock with Neil Young, Eminem, Mogwai, New Order, and Squarepusher [in late July].

“We went over to Japan and it was a massive deal, and we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re feeling good about this’, so there was a big buzz around the album.”

With a title such as When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun and a track called “High Jackers Manual” on the record, the album’s was never intended to be some sort of grand sweeping gesture in regards to global terrorism or anything like that. Rather, it was simply a mixture of elements which was supposed to focus on the group’s approach to their craft.

“Presser [Paul Towner, drums] used to write all this weird stuff down, and the title was two things that he’d written down, and I kind of did a word collage with it,” Cross recalls. “So that’s where the title came from. Then it was also a whole metaphor for us challenging mainstream music by doing an album [like this].

“It was also a whole metaphor for us challenging mainstream music by doing an album [like this].”

“We thought people would get into it and at the time it was quite diverse and everything. Presser did the artwork inside, but I did the front and back covers as well, which alludes to the idea of the album title, which was even weirder. It was real freaky, like the synchronicity of it all.

“I thought that people would go the other way and go like, ‘These guys are crazy psychics’ or whatever. But with song like the ‘High Jackers Manual’, which was track three on the album and stuff like that, it was really weird.

“And around that time, 2001 there was a lot of talk about No Logo by Naomi Klein, and people talking politically about stuff in popular culture,” he adds. “But there were bands like Primal Scream which were really influential on what we were doing, and they were doing similar sentiments, and it was just like, ‘Oh shit, we didn’t know this was going to happen. We’re Gerling!'”

Two days after the attacks on New York, Gerling penned a press release from Darwin, addressing the events and distancing themselves from the tragedy which had occurred in recent days.

“We at Gerling have all been geared up for the most exciting and hectic time of our lives,” it began. “However due to the tragic and unforeseeable events that have occurred in the USA, we, along with our record company, have decided to delay the release of When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun out of respect of the victims, their families and loved ones of these atrocities.

“We would like to assure all that the title of our album WHEN YOUNG TERRORISTS CHASE THE SUN is in no way an endorsement of violence or acts of terrorism such as those that have caused such devastation in recent days.”

“We would like to assure all that the title of our album WHEN YOUNG TERRORISTS CHASE THE SUN is in no way an endorsement of violence or acts of terrorism such as those that have caused such devastation in recent days.”

The press release added that the band’s intent had solely been to “challenge and defy the ‘mainstream’ and break down barriers through our music, art, attitude and ethics”, or simply, to “fuck shit up artistically speaking (in the spirit of the Clash and the Sex Pistols)”.

As Cross recalls, the press release was released as the band felt themselves going through a period of pure shock, unaware – like the rest of the world – what would happen next.

“We were in Darwin at the time, which is one of the biggest navy bases in Australia, and everyone was freaking out, to be honest,” he explains. “They didn’t know if there was going to be a war or what was going on. Everyone was just like, ‘This is crazy, and we’re stuck in Darwin with Regurgitator.’

“We were talking to the record company, and respect to them because they had to sort it out, and they had to come up with ideas on how to do it. But we were just mainly in shock. Like, ‘This is our big record’. It was such bad timing, this whole thing.”

Ultimately, the record’s release was delayed only slightly, with the ARIA Report for September 17th still listing it as a new release, and the album debuting at #41 on the national chart just two weeks later. While a longer delay might have been an ideal scenario, Cross explains that by the time of its release, Gerling had put so much time and effort into it that they were eager to get the album out as soon as possible.

“We’d worked so hard on it, we’d worked on it for more than one or two years,” Cross notes. “We’d worked with Josh Abrahams, he’d helped us produce a few of the songs. We went in with Magoo, went to 301 Studios in Sydney; it was all top notch. We had Kylie Minogue, too.

“We’d finished the record months before, about four or five months before [the attacks]. But that was the way that labels do it with the marketing, so all that got derailed as well. All the hard work that the people had done, they were all freaked out. It was full-on, crazy.”

“It was just like, ‘Oh shit, we didn’t know this was going to happen. We’re Gerling!'”

In the immediate aftermath, international markets found themselves somewhat wary of releasing a record with such a title. Websites such as Discogs note that the UK market saw a release of When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun in 2001, albeit under the amended name of Headzcleaner, with alternate artwork and “High Jackers Manual” amended to “The Manual”.

As Cross recalls though, the exact memory of its release in the UK is somewhat hazy, though its alternate title and artwork were intended for the record’s Japanese issue.

“I came up with the name [Headzcleaner], and me and Presser did new artwork for that. “[Japan] were really freaked out about it. They were like, ‘Oh you guys were only here a month or so before.’

“With England, I don’t know what happened. We were on Infectious Records, with Muse and Ash, and bands like that. We were just so psyched about Japan because it was crazy how successful it was over there.”

Image of 'Headzcleaner' by Gerling

Shortly after its release, When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun was given the alternate title of Headzcleaner for international markets.

While most bands usually don’t have to factor in international terrorist attacks or tragedies on a global scale when it comes to the release of a big record, Cross explains that ultimately the synchronicity of the events didn’t particularly harm the album’s reception and if anything, it was the rise of filesharing that would’ve had a larger impact.

“I think that was an interesting time because of what was happening with filesharing,” he recalls. “That was a big deal around that time, the whole Napster thing, and everyone started doing it. So I think that would’ve affected it more than [the title].

“But we went on and did Bad Blood!!! afterwards, and that’s quite a negative, cynical record. We just got on with it, really. We were just like, ‘Oh well, let’s make another record, I guess.'”