#900: ‘Theophilus Thistler… An Exercise In Vowels’ – Sonic Animation

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that electonic music in Australia wasn’t exactly up to the standards that the rest of the world had set. We didn’t have an equivalent of Frankie Knuckles, and God knows that our music scene wasn’t exactly on par with that of Detroit or Brussels, so we were off to a bad start. Then there was the fact that most bands that did attempt to have an honest crack at tackling the genre had a tendency to insert humour into their work, seemingly as a means to deflect from their wholehearted attempt to break into the genre. In fact, this humour is where Sonic Animation comes into it.

While Sonic Animation had been around since 1994, their earlier work tended to sound similar to a lot of their electronic contemporaries from the ’80s, such as Severed Heads and the like. Their first record took on more of a trance feel, but by the time their second record was released, acts such as The Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers had taken off, giving Sonic Animation some niche in the genre to latch onto.

When the group released their second album, Orchid For The AfterworldLove Lies Bleeding, it was an ambitious double album. While the second disc included remixes and different tracks than the first, it was still an ambitious task for a relatively new group to take on. Thankfully, they delivered, with tracks such as ”, ‘Didley Squat’, and ‘Theophilus Thistler… An Exercise In Vowels’.

Building much of the song around a sample from Influence’s ‘Baby That’s My Bag‘, from 1968 (a band which featured Andrew Kellier, father of Sonic Animation’s Rupert Kellier), the track was quick to gain recognition from not only the Australian dance and alternative scene, but from mainstream music consumers as well, who seemingly enjoyed the quirky nature of the song.

While many have viewed the song as being something completely nonsensical, it turns out that the track’s name is actually somewhat true to its origin, as Kellier said in an interview in the late ’90s. “I just happened to stumble across the lyrics one day from some singing lessons that I’d had a few years before,” he said. “He didn’t like the way I said certain words and he’d ask me to sing ‘Theophilus Thistler’ to get my mouth into the correct position. It’s actually an exercise in vowels.”

The casual and laidback nature of Sonic Animation, combined with their immense musical ability, saw them as mainstays of the Australian music scene for quite some time, featuring at a number of Big Day Outs until their demise in 2006. The group have since reunited, performing together again since 2011, but to date they have not yet managed to deliver a song as intriguing or as fun as ‘Theophilus Thistler… An Exercise In Vowels’.

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