Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dawn Patrol (1989-1992)/Shifter/Riffter (1992-2002)/The Dead Set (2002-2007)

On the eve of Shifter's first peformance in 14 years, vocalist Karl Weber penned this history for Steel City Sound, looking back at what they achieved throughout their career and what it all meant. 
Shifter L-R: Karl Weber, Jamie Cleaves, David Kettley, Steve Krkovski
First forming under the name of Dawn Patrol in 1989, Shifter's beginnings were no different from most other bands: a bunch of pissed off 14 year-olds, making a noise in each others' garages and lounge-rooms. Our aspirations were as basic as our sound: playing good gigs in pubs in Wollongong and potentially Sydney, writing original material, playing support to our heroes and releasing our own music. We took our inspiration from surfing and dirty rock’n’roll (the band name came from a Rip Curl wetsuit and a song by Northern Beaches band The Hellmenn).

Our band was made up of three Corrimal High schoolmates Dave Kettley (guitar), Steve Krkovski (drums), and me - Karl Weber (vocals). Bulli High student Jamie Cleaves joined on bass when we realised we needed something to fill that frequency. I knew Jamie from local student theatre productions and I knew he was keen as he was at that time playing bass in a northern suburbs based metal band, Odium.

Shifting gears as Dawn Patrol
For a short period in the early days we also had a second guitarist – Michael Reay – who was by far the most experienced of us as he played bass in Corrimal High band The Phoenix. We started out practicing in The Phoenix's jam room until Mick quit. We then moved to my parent’s garage.

Our early gigs consisted of playing fundraisers and presentation nights for Sandon Point board-riders and Sandon Point Surf Club. These early shows were lessons in endurance as organisers insisted on three one-hour sets of cover songs, with the encores consisting of crowd favourites. Other types of gigs we played at this time were High School dances, birthday parties and shows we organised ourselves at venues like Thirroul Skating Rink.

Dawn Patrol, Noise Up North rehearsal 17/06/93
Dawn Patrol existed primarily as a party band. We played a bunch of covers by bands like AC/DC, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, The Angels, The Doors and The Hoodoo Gurus. In 1990 we saw the Proton Energy Pills at Thirroul and began to talk about writing our own material. Over the next couple of years we got into pubs and saw bands like The Unheard, Man Bites Dog, Tumbleweed and Zambian Goat Herders, which only reinforced the need to write our own songs. During the transition period between covers and originals, we would sometimes do surf club fundraisers at Bulli Pub under the name The Lovebuttons. Steve Palmer (Bile/Tripe and The Solid Gold Bastards) played second guitar in this covers line-up.

An important step for us was deciding to play in the 1991 Bulli Show Battle of the Bands. We finished in second place and we were talent-spotted by youth worker and former Proton Energy Pill and Zambian Goat Herder Dave Curley. Curley was inspired to take us under his wing, and organised some shows, as well as fed us a bunch of records to listen to by bands like the Stooges, the MC5, The Celibate Rifles and The Hitmen. One of the first shows he lined up for us was ‘Noise up North’, an all ages gig at Thirroul Leagues Club. This gig featured a line up of under-age northern suburbs rock’n’roll bands whose  members went on to form Wollongong bands like Evol, The Merkins, Monstrous Blues and Bung.

After a French techno band had a minor hit under the moniker of Dawn Patrol, we changed our name to Shifter. In 1993 we were invited to submit a song to the Wollongong Youth Centre Socketwood compilation. We recorded the track ‘Lost It’ which was an acidic ditty dedicated to fashion. We also recorded a three-song demo around this point at the School of Audio Engineering in Surry Hills. The engineer was a family friend who was learning his craft and the tapes were lost to the ravages of time and no budget. It was never sold or released but a number of dubbed copies were handed out to friends. The three tracks we recorded were ‘Angels Love’, ‘Sick City’ and ‘Rainshower’.

We re-entered the ‘studio’ in 1994 and put together the four-track Clank Clank demo tape. This was recorded in the back room at Wollongong Youth Centre under the watchful ears of Brent Williams (Zambian Goat Herders/The New Christs). Whilst we only planned to sell these tapes at shows and in local outlets like Redback Records, a number were sent out to small labels, pubs, zines and promoters. The demo had a surprisingly positive reaction, picked up good reviews and helped us crack into the tight Sydney scene after the punk label No Deal Records agreed to give us a go. This gig led to more shows within the burgeoning DIY punk scene of the 1990’s and helped us develop connections with out of town bands and promoters. Whilst we were not really a straight punk band, we weren’t really a straight rock’n’roll band either, so we appreciated finding a foothold with new audiences open to our fast and furious sound.

A bunch of live shows plus some decent support slots were followed by the release of the Red Tide Rider 7" in 1996. The 4 track 7” was recorded by Russell Pilling at Damien Gerard Studios (in the old wool stores in Ultimo) and pressed by Corduroy Records in Melbourne. This release was a special time for us as a band as we proudly paid for and put out our own vinyl record, cutting and gluing covers that were printed by a mate’s local printing business – Print Media. We also had the privilege of getting Ben Brown from the Hellmenn to design the cover art which created a satisfying connection to our origins.

We recorded at the Youth Centre again in 1997 for the No Dress Regulations comp. Our track ‘Goon’ was one of many recorded by Brent Williams and marked one of the heavier tracks our band put to tape. As time went on it became one of the bands more popular live tracks and documented the trials and tribulations associated with limited funds being channelled into cheap wine.

The Dead Set
Unfortunately 1997 also saw the departure of our original drummer Steve Krkovski. Increased work commitments and the reality of not really making any money playing music forced his hand, but the parting was amicable which made it a bit easier for all of us. We asked another Corrimal local, Tom Risorto, who we had known for years. He had been playing drums in local bands Ecological Toilet, Forehead and Dragster. Thankfully he said 'yes' and we sort of started again, using some of our old material and writing a bunch of new stuff.

In 1998 we began work on our second EP. It took us a couple of years to pull it together and we travelled up to Lismore to record with our old sound mixer Michelle Dilevski. She was studying to become a sound engineer at Southern Cross Uni and offered us ‘free’ recording time by doing the graveyard shift of 10pm – 6am. These ‘bed’ tracks were then taken to Russell Pilling at Damien Gerard Studios who did some mixing and we released a self titled EP on local label High Beam Music in 2002. Unfortunately for us, soon after we put out our release, a new band in Queensland licensed the name ‘Shifter’ and threatened us with legal action if we did not change our name. This meant our EP now had an ‘illegal’ title so we changed our name to Riffter in time for the second pressing. This name lasted maybe one gig before we hated it so much that we adopted our fourth name, The Dead Set.

Weber performing in The Dead Set
As soon as we put our EP out we started to focus on recording a full length album. We had a bunch of songs and we convinced Rob Younger (Radio Birdman/The New Christs) to produce the record. He became a master at putting the wind up us and we learnt a lot from his approach to recording. Whilst this seemed to be a really positive step, elsewhere we were on the bad luck streak from hell. As soon as we started recording we faced major troubles and tragedies like my father being killed in a farming accident, members of the band going through serious personal problems, medical conditions leaving members unable to play until they had serious treatment and recuperation time, and the financial issues associated with inactivity. No gigs – no money – no recording. When we actually made it into the studio, our recordings were ‘accidently’ taped over and the final tracking and mixes took a lot of time and energy to finalise. Thankfully with a lot of assistance from master mixer Brent Williams, it was finally completed and we released the Bitter Swill album in 2006 to positive reviews. Ultimately though, the grind of the experience had a profound influence on the band taking an extended hiatus in 2007/2008.

Kettley in The Dead Set
We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have been able to do what we did. Whilst it may not have been much compared to some bands, compared to others we were really lucky. During the twenty years we played in the band, we played in Wollongong venues like Hals Tavern, The Oxford, The North Gong, The Patch, The Ukranian Club, Bulli Pub, The Post Office Tavern, Chequers Nitespot, Sunami, Wollongong Uni, Corrimal Leagues Club, Thirroul Leagues Club, The Rex Hotel, Corrimal Pub, Berry Pub, Kiama Inn (Torys), Bomaderry RSL, Sussex Inlet RSL, Woonona Bowling Club, Headlands Hotel, Thirroul Skating Rink and Corrimal / Coledale / Thirroul / Helensburgh-Stanwell Park / Sandon Point / Austinmer and Bellambi surf clubs. In nearly two decades  of band time we played gigs in three states and one territory, released our music locally and internationally (before myspace!), got some radio airplay, played some excellent gigs with local, national and international bands, got songs on surf movies, raised money for numerous causes and stayed friends through all the shitty times. Upon reflection, it is nice to think we achieved everything we wanted do, and everything else that happened we see as being a bonus.

Some of the bands we played alonsgide: Fugazi, No Use For a Name, No Fun At All, Millencolin, Radio Birdman, The Hellmenn, The Celibate Rifles, The Hard Ons, You Am I, Screamfeeder, Tumbleweed, Zambian Goat Herders, The Unheard, Evol, FUgG, Hy-Test and plenty more.

David Kettley now plays in Super Mojo alongside Steve Krkovski, as well as The New Christs.

Both Karl Weber and Jamie Cleaves spent time in The Pink Fits and LOG and both are currently performing in The Blackwood Chimers. Cleaves also plays in Bulldoze All Bowlos.

Tom Risorto is now a fulltime graphic designer.

On February 5, 2011 the original line-up of Shifter reformed for a one-off show at Hy-Fest, and reissued the Red Tide Rider on limited-run CDR to commemorate the event.

Shifter/Riffter Discography:
1993: 'Lost It' - Socketwood compilation (download)
1994: Clank Clank demo
1996: Red Tide Rider 7" (Plaidos Records)
1997: 'Goon' - No Dress Regulations compilation (download)
2002: Shifter EP (High Beam Music) (download)
2003: Riffter EP (High Beam Music) (see 'Shifter' EP)
2004: 'Road to Demise' - High Beam Music... Vol. 1 compilation (download)
2005: 'Scrambled Eggs' - Fist Full of Rock n' Roll compilation
2011: Red Tide Rider CDR reissue (download)

The Dead Set Discography:
2006: Bitter Swill (independent)

The Dead Set myspace


  1. Best band Wollongong, or that fact Australia, has ever produced.

  2. Yep, The Dead Set album is possibly the best album made in this millenium...
    Thanks from Finland to you guys.

  3. Reckon Shifter was just about the best band I saw in Wollongong. At their flying, sweaty best no-one could touch them. Great story Karl, good luck.

  4. My father Christopher Darren Williams has your promo tape.

  5. My father Christopher Darren Williams has your promo tape.