Sydney: Ebury Press 2012, 361pp.
Reviewed by David Mayocchi, March 1st, 2014
It’s rare that a book on the Australian music industry provides a perspective from behind the mixing desk. That’s why Sophisto-Punk, the biography of award winning producer Mark Opitz, is so valuable.
Co-writers Luke Wallis and Jeff Jenkins met Opitz when they interviewed him for the Triple M radio network. Opitz had so many stories to tell they decided they wanted to write his biography! He agreed and the result is an interesting and refreshingly candid memoir. Sophisto-Punk is written for the broad community of music fans and offers an anecdotal and personal slice through the history of Oz rock rather than technical discussion about music production. (If you want technical advice about compressors and equalizers, get his iPhone app ‘Mark Opitz’.)
Opitz was born in Melbourne in 1952, though spent his school years in Brisbane. Movies, music and rugby league helped him through some difficult times and after leaving school, Opitz moved to Sydney and found work with ABC TV. He started with Mr Squiggle and then joined music show GTK as a sound assistant.
After three years, Opitz decided it was time to move on and landed a job with EMI as the ‘studio shit-kicker’. Soon after and almost accidently (someone else declined at the last minute), he was appointed head of EMI’s Capitol Records label in Australia. The insights and perspective he gained in that role were clearly critical to his later work.
An unfortunate misunderstanding (a credit on a friend’s record on another label) led to Opitz’s sacking from EMI, however Harry Vanda and George Young at Albert’s Productions agreed to take him on as their apprentice producer. Opitz worked closely with them, watching and helping as they put together John Paul Young’s international hit Love is in the Air and engineering the AC/DC albums, Let There Be Rock and Powerage.
In February 1978, Opitz was given his first production job. Vanda and Young invited him to produce The Angels, an Adelaide band that had released one album to little success. Opitz thought the time was right to craft a sophisticated punk sound and developed it with the band. The resulting album, Face to Face, is regarded as a classic of Australian rock. Its blend of powerful guitar texture, radio friendly vocals and short songs helped earn Opitz his first gold record. It also established him up as a key shaper of the Oz rock sound.
Opitz’s work with Cold Chisel producing their acclaimed albums East and Circus Animals is described in detail. The chapters are also interspersed with quotes from the band’s vocalist Jimmy Barnes and songwriter Don Walker. In other chapters, we hear from and about many of the other bands Opitz worked with including the Models, Divinyls, The Reels and Australian Crawl.
During the 1990s, Opitz worked extensively with INXS at the height of their international success and excess. He then moved to Mushroom Records as head of A&R. Opitz is now working as a record producer again, still learning from the artists he works with and still passionate about music.
Sophisto-Punk is a fascinating long-term journey through the Australian record industry provided by one of the key contributors.