I HAVE PERPETUALLY been perplexed by Australian music. A sweeping statement I know, but one that reveals the seeming desire for the sub-continent to imitate others and follow trends of other countries. It’s a country that likes hard rock and was obsessed with Abba; it’s given us (thank you) the Minogue sisters, Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, and Delta Goodrem.
Crimes, however, that has been committed by every other nation. Australia has often followed western musical interests: AC/DC, after all, could have come from Sheffield, Boston or LA.
But when I jot down the bands I like I am thrown by how Catholic the back catalogue is.
Midnight Oil are the one hard rock band it is possible to adore: sincere and right-on, they wrote about indigenous issues, nuclear disarmament and pollution, almost unimaginable subjects in a rock world, where macho posturing is de rigeur.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are the goth band gone viral. Sure, Cave and cohorts are now European-based, but from the late 1970s Cave has always been the outsider who wants to be loved. The Birthday Party never were, but the Seeds have always held out a hand to the masses, demanding respect, if it be from Kylie team ups, film scores (Red Right Hand) or Elvis covers while writing of religion and murder.
The Go-Betweens were the bodily apposite from both of the above. At times twee, at times folkworldy, their painfully petite tres indie sound lead them to Glasgow. But they always sounded, as The Triffids did, a world apart from the rockist nature of Aussie culture of the 70s and 80s.
The Saints are Class A punks, and one of those acts that took the Stooges attitude and give it a 1977 update.
While attending the Big Day Out on the Gold Coast in 2002 I was taken by Machine Gun Fellatio, an act that challenged the established order with a purile, sex-driven approach, without taking themselves too seriously.
The history goes back a bit. There are two wonderful collections of the Australian underground, entitled, helpfully, Tales From The Australian Underground Vols 1 and 2 featuring The Saints and another group of Stooges students, Radio Birdman. 1977 was also Australia’s year zero with those up-and-at-‘em mobs joined by The Thought Criminals, the Boys Next Door, Teenage Radio Stars, SPK and a plethora of others. Like in other western countries this kick-started a particularly fallow period of post-punk and new wave with the likes of The Birthday Party, Severed Heads, The Laughing Clowns, The Hoodoo Gurus, Hunters and Collectors et al.
Naturally, the sheer size of the country breeds mini scenes, centred around the major cities. If you’re in Brisbane think of the logistics of doing a national tour when it takes days to go between states. Australia hasn’t had a national music press as such, the few that have existed (Juke, RAM) have been dwarfed by city-centric publications like Melbourne’s Beat Magazine. Radio follows a similar localised approach.
Today, Australia continues to throw up oddities. I’m particularly taken by Tame Impala and The John Steel Singers. Take a peek at the link below for emerging talent and acts even porky isn’t aware of.