Scratchies, State Bans, & Addictive Rock'N'Roll: Private Function Are Back On Top

31 March 2023 | 2:33 pm | Tyler Jenke
Originally Appeared In

"It’s unlike any other record... we're doing it all ourselves this time."

Pic by Robert Squid Collins

Pic by Robert Squid Collins

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Just over a year ago, in late 2021, the future of Melbourne punk outfit Private Function appeared uncertain. Following the dismissal of their founding guitarist, the raucous group were left somewhat dispirited, unsure of whether their existence would continue into the following year.

“You know what's funny, is that every single one of our albums has a different lead guitarist,” jokes vocalist Chris Penney during a break from packing copies of their new record. “So we're keeping that tradition alive. We're gonna fire Anthony next week.”

“All jokes aside, there was definitely consideration [of splitting], but then to be honest with you, fuck it; I'm glad we didn't,” adds drummer Aidan McDonald. “Here we are.”

Having last released a new album by way of 2020’s ARIA top ten-charting, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Private Function regrouped somewhat at the end of 2021, recruiting a new lead guitarist by way of Anthony Biancofiore (The Tarantinos, Fandango), recording their third album with Chris Wright at Sunset Pig in mid-2022, and then completing their line-up with the addition of second guitarist Lauren Hester (Daddy Issues).

With new album 370HSSV 0773H in the can, and their new line-up completed, Private Function appeared to have rediscovered a sense of confidence within themselves, returning to the stage for more typically-wild shows, and even playing a critically-acclaimed set at last year’s Meredith Music Festival. But most importantly, the group isn't taking anything for granted.

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“I don't really know what to expect anymore about anything,” says Penney. “There's a song on the new album called, I Dunno What I'm Doing Anymore. And I don't, man, I dunno what's going on. And so I’m just taking it as it comes.”

“I don't think there's anything to get ahead of ourselves about,” adds McDonald. “But at least we're having fun.”

From a musical point of view, 370HSSV 0773H is a powerful record for the group. On one hand, it sees the group ostensibly harnessing their new sense of confidence as they belt out ferocious numbers like Time For The Urn, Seize & Destroy (the logical continuation of Metallica’s Seek & Destroy and The Stooges’ Search & Destroy), or their exceptional cover of Coldplay’s Yellow, but as they explain, the songs are more indicative of the past rather than the future.

“These songs were written before Whose Line Is It Anyway? – a lot of them were,” explains Penney. “We've been sitting on these ages because the pandemic slowed everything down. This was meant to come out two years ago.”

But while songs like I Dunno What I'm Doing Anymore and Don't Wanna Go Out On The Weekend do seem to illustrate the mindset of writing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, “a couple of new ones” and “a sad cover song” fill out one of their most explosive albums to date, and hints at what’s to come next.

“It was our weird emo phase,” quips Penney. “Our new album’s already written.”

However, the triumph of Private Function extends far beyond the music contained within their newest album. Having teamed up with Melbourne labels Disdain Records and Damaged for their first two full-lengths, their third album is an independent release shared via the band’s own Still On Top Records. As McDonald notes, it’s something of a triumphant moment for the band.

“This one, it’s unlike any other record, I reckon,” he says. “We're doing it all ourselves this time, we're assembling it ourselves, we had to figure out a way to get a scratchie on the record, we had to figure out a way to save up the money and blah, blah, blah.

“Everything has kind of all been like a million different ingredients that have all kind of come together,” he adds. “And now me and Chris are staring at the hamburger that is this record, and to be honest with you, I can't wait to eat it.”

As McDonald alluded to, one of the more notable aspects of 370HSSV 0773H (apart from its calculator-ready title which drew no inspiration from The Hollies), is the front cover. 

When Private Function announced their new album back in January, they made headlines due to the release of the world’s first scratchie album cover. With three panels on the record’s cover, punters are invited to scratch off the silver panels, and if they’re greeted with three of the same image, they’ll win a $2,999 cash prize, and their own face on future pressings of the record.

“I wanted to have a front cover where it was a pokie machine, and I had another idea for an album called Playing The Machine,” explains Penney. “I thought that would really pay off if this was a number one album, which I don't think it will be.

“I was just playing the pokies and I just started thinking about your own personal philosophy with winning and what that means with the pokies, ‘cause the pokies are fucked. Then the idea of that came into our heads, we talked about it, and we all together finessed the idea.”

“I also personally love it because, after Chris came up with the idea, immediately the whole point, from all of us was just like, ‘Well, we have to put our money where our mouths are now,’” adds McDonald. “You can’t have a scratchie and not have a prize.”

Unfortunately though, the ingenious concept soon drew more publicity than first planned, with the album being banned by the entire state of South Australia due to their laws on gambling. While this was a massive PR coup and instantly inspired legions of record mules intent on running illegal copies across state lines for unfortunate fans, the controversy was soon assuaged after the SA state Government got involved.

“[ABC Radio presenters Stacey Lee And Nikolai Beilharz] actually contacted the Commissioner of Liquor and Gambling, [Dini Soulio],” recalls McDonald. “We had already actually called his office and asked, ‘Oh look, you're the only state that has scratch and play legalities.’”

The group soon discovered that while most states in Australia were fine with the plan for their cover, South Australia required a gambling license if there were plans in place for a scratch to win competition.

“I was gonna go down that route, but then when I looked into it and actually the rigamarole I would have to go through, I was like, ‘Shit, I don't think we can do that,’” McDonald explains. “And we just decided, ‘Well, fuck them. They don't get it.’ 

“But as soon as [Soulio] heard about it, he was like, ‘What's all this about?’ And he actually reached out to us and was like, ‘Okay, you guys have obviously contacted me and now that I see what's going on, the only thing that I think people would get potentially addicted to here is rock and roll.’”

Whether it’s the explosive musical content of their new record, a temporary ban in South Australia that many fans thought was due to the content, or the newly-announced urine-filled liquid disc edition of their new record, it’s clear that Private Function have regained the confidence and the momentum that they had harnessed a few years ago.

Though they admit they won’t be getting ahead of themselves with big plans, a new record every year and even a Private Function movie will likely be at the forefront of their minds. In the meantime, the plan is to simply keep on doing what they do best, seizing the day, and continuing to master their craft.

“With songwriting, songs just kind of happen, and I guess the more you do write songs, the more they just happen,” quips McDonald. “By this point we know how to write Private Function songs, so y’know –  still on top, baby.”