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Toys will be Toys: Toy Death

If it were possible to record the soundtrack of the subconscious childhood memories of talking Barbie dolls, video games, mini keyboards, Speak and Spells and Godzilla, the resulting hyperactive noise would be the sound of Sydney electronic trio Toy Death. Their sugar-induced, ADHD-fuelled, glitching, screechy soundscape is made up entirely of circuit-bent toys, and reminds us that, in the words of front man GiJoe, making music is “creative, easy and lots of fun!” It’s precisely the sentiment that reminds us to never let go of our childlike enthusiasm.

Forming in 1995, Toy Death have maintained a cult-like status both here and abroad as one of Sydney’s most progressive, outrageous and entertaining DIY bands. When playing live, band members GiJoe, Big Judy and Super Mario Dad are the heavily costumed, disturbing enigmas that brandish a range of reverberating toy instruments, from Hulk fists, Jesus dolls, fairy wands and a twin-neck, button-operated Kawasaki guitar, all while skipping along to choreography with the panache of an Eighties glam rock group.

Recently, Toy Death performed at SuperDeluxe@Artspace as part of the 17th Biennale of Sydney, proving they have earned their reputation as a musical outfit that blurs the boundaries between a band and performance art. Their famed live shows are a subversive experiment in genre-hopping and sensory-overload, and allow for the immediate, interactive approach that the band prefers. As GiJoe says, “I think it really is a live thing. The albums don’t make as much sense unless you have a visual perspective. We are always working on making it as visual as possible.”

Toy Death are aficionados of the art of “circuit bending”, the technique of changing an existing circuit so that it behaves in a different way, effectively making a new instrument out of an old toy. GiJoe says that meeting Melbourne-based musician and fellow circuit-bender, Casionova, on their first European tour in 2000 was “such a revelation,” as Toy Death have a “natural impulse to dismantle things and put them back together.” Armed with a soldering iron, they had found a perfect medium of expression in circuit bending.

By destabilizing audience expectation and sabotaging the intended use of such children’s toys as their talking George W. Bush doll, one is tempted to ponder the seditious motivations of Toy Death, but GiJoe believes that any political message is unconscious, and more broadly, the band’s culture jamming-esque technique represents a notion of musical and performance freedom. As he states, “we love that we’re not bound by a single musical genre and that each instrument is hand-modified and unique.”

Having played shows all over the world, Toy Death have formed a network of like-minded, circuit-bending musicians in places like Italy, Tokyo, and Austria. Communities of creative individuals are very important to the band, and on being based in Sydney, GiJoe says, “we have a great time and get fantastic support from a variety of communities like Game Boy Australia, as well as the whole DIY scene. Sydney is up there with Tokyo and Berlin.”

The subject of Sydney’s cultural life and music scene is one that is consistently and passionately debated. For a band firmly on the periphery of the mainstream, the fact that Toy Death call Sydney home sends a strong message to doubters and self-loathing Sydney-siders. “The DIY warehouse thing is great at the moment. The Red Rattler and the CAD Factory, for example, are great spaces and I hope this continues,” says GiJoe.

For a reminder of why Sydney is still great and for a healthy dose of circuit-bending, hardware-hacking chaos, you can catch Toy Death playing on Thursday the 17th of June at the new and improved Sandringham Hotel, Newtown. Tickets are available on the door. Toy Death will be supported on the night by local act, The Mumps, and Japan’s infamous Ningen Dog Orchestra.

So what should people expect from the show? As GiJoe puts it, “People shouldn’t expect anything and let the colour and noise weave its magic. Then buy us a drink afterwards and tell us how wonderful we are!” That is, if you can recognize them without the helmets and gimp masks.

words: Jerico Lee


August 31, 2011 at 11:01 AM MEECAS said...

You can hear and see TOY DEATH for free at MEECAS 2011 - details at

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