Client Liaison: Post Mortem

Photo by Megan Cullen

by Jake Cleland

I didn’t know what kinda interview I was gonna do with Client Liaison, which is why it reads kinda disjointed. I thought, at first, it was gonna be what folks in the press tend to call ‘a profile’, which is most of the long-ish form coverage in STRINE WHINE: research, quotes, and analysis presented like a story. That’s why you get all the questions about background: where Harvey Miller and Monte Morgan grew up, what they were into as kids, etc. Ultimately I settled on presenting it as a Q&A for a few reasons.

The first was we didn’t have much time. A lot of the interviews you read in STRINE WHINE are conducted over hours but this time the band only had about 40 minutes. The second is we were talking about some fairly complicated stuff and I didn’t get to talk to them about it as transparently as I’d like, and when I tried to contextualize their statements after the fact, it felt unfair to do so without their replies. The band deserves to be debated about these issues, so it felt important to be transparent about failing to do so. Nevertheless I wanted to explain why I did this interview in the first place, and where I stand on what we were discussing.

Client Liaison represent a lotta what I can’t stand about Australia and pop music. ‘Australiana’, the concept of romanticizing national identity, seems pretty repulsive — it’s typified by longing for a period in Australian history when marginalised voices were even more silenced than they are today, propped up by signifiers of the rich white male hegemony. How that applies to Client Liaison first appeared in the ‘Feed the Rhythm’ video, where Miller and Morgan stand at the top of the world as a sweeping shot portrays them looming over stolen land, and close-ups luxuriate over the bodies of the voiceless women which surround the band, establishing them as props as much as the cheese and wine they’re sharing. The track itself opens with a sample of a didgeridoo, an instrument fetishized by white Australians as a signifier of authenticity.

As a white man removed from the production, I can’t fairly speak to the subjugation the women in the video or Indigenous people might feel about the ways they’re used in Client Liaison’s performance. Those women, for example, are friends of the band, and their agency in appearing in the videos has to be respected. And as you read, the band have gone to some lengths to understand whether their use of the didgeridoo is appropriate, and not appropriative. Whether it’s considered so or not will likely vary from person to person. Similarly, I know queer people who find Client Liaison’s insistence that their music isn’t political to be a form of erasure, but other queer fans of Client Liaison reportedly resonate with their performance. Nobody can dismiss those experiences, but those who’re critical of it can’t be dismissed either.

That’s ultimately why I find so much of the press around Client Liaison to be so dangerous. It’s not enough to take the reports of two rich white men at their word regarding the progressiveness of their music. Morgan and Miller have done some work to understand this — more than a lot of acts in similar positions, which ultimately constitutes Doing Anything At All — but I left the interview feeling like they had a long way to go. Queer dance music fans are still subject to mass murders, refugees are tortured in internment camps by those who beg for us to feel Australian pride, the country’s poor are being exploited by the same people who pioneered the fantasy Client Liaison are trying to sell. None of that is their fault, but indifference is. When you have a national platform, one as allegedly inclusive as Client Liaison’s, what responsibility do you have to influence public discourse? It’s great that Morgan liked Reclaim Australia, the new A.B.Original album, but I wonder what Briggs would think of their performance given his criticism of Client Liaison pals Flight Facilities after Hugo Gruzman attempted to defend blackface.

I’m still not convinced that remaining silent isn’t a tacit vote for this atrocious state. Sure, this opens a can of rabbit holes, like what the fuck are we doing reviewing pop bands instead of sneaking a pair of bolt cutters onto Manus Island? I don’t know, although not an issue goes by where we don’t try to figure that out. Probably the answer is we’re all complicit to various extents and at the end of the day you gotta get right with yourself about how much you can afford to do to help the vulnerable, and how much you can’t. Morgan and Miller seem more or less content with their level of engagement. Are you? Morgan wondered if Daft Punk would get asked the same questions about appropriation, but Daft Punk came up at a time when these questions were rarely asked of musicians full stop. By the time these discussions became a part of mainstream criticism, they were collaborating with Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams — they were crediting their inspirations as directly and respectfully as possible, introducing Nile Rodgers to a new generation as a bonus. Client Liaison, despite their resources, don’t have Indigenous people sharing their stage, even to give a Welcome to Country. That a Welcome to Country isn’t flashy enough for their show is an explanation that rings somehow insufficient.

(Also on the point of questions re: Kirribilli House and Scott Morrison, that was taken from unpublished interviews conducted by separate journalists over the past couple years. Given Miller’s support of the Liberal Party in the last election and the Morgan family’s ties to politics, those accounts seem as plausible as they do facetious.)

I went into the interview hoping Client Liaison could offer convincing answers to these questions because I want to like them without complications. There was a time before any of this had occurred to me, when I was going to their shows after ‘End of the Earth’ came out, that I was telling American friends they were The Best Band In Australia. There’s something thrilling about a band who put so much thought into presentation and performance and between their Princier, disco-ier capital-S Songs and nightclub liberation proclamations, their records are captivating. They’re also pretty charming guys, and them and their manager Adam have always been polite to me regardless of three years of sustained criticism. But it’s a lot easier to be charming when you’re sitting in a ninth floor office bigger than most houses inside a Collins St building owned by your family’s company — when, as Morgan and Miller put it, they’ve lived lives without hardship. It’s a beautiful building, by the way, but if the last few years of conservative government have reminded me of anything it’s those kinda digs come with a certain disconnect. Those problems don’t seem so immediate when they’re so easy to escape, which is why it takes a concerted effort on the behalf of people with privilege to stay connected in spite of it.

The third reason I presented the interview as a Q&A is I wanted everyone else who might be in a position to speak to or write about Client Liaison to see the full breadth of their answers and ask the follow-ups I couldn’t. Everyone in the music industry should be held to account for their impact on the world — it’s the whole job of music criticism — whether it’s the Rolling Stones standing on the shoulders of pioneering Black artists or anyone following their trail half a century later. This band has wicked ambition and they exist in one of the most turbulent and exciting periods of Australian history. If they’re as invested in this country as they suppose, they’ve got plenty of opportunity to help define its cultural identity. Whether it’s for the better or worse is on all of us.

Originally published in STRINE WHINE: ISSUE SIXTEEN