Australian indie rock

Australian indie rock

Australian indie rock is part of the overall flow of Australian rock history but has a distinct history somewhat separate from mainstream rock in Australia, largely from the end of the punk rock era onwards.



Rock and roll in Australia got started in the late 1950s and 1960s, influenced by the sounds coming from the USA and UK. Early on, the surf rock sound dominated, though in the mid-1960s, the beat genre from the UK had become established. Numerous garage bands formed in the cities and suburbs, and a vibrant musical culture began.

Punk and post-punk

The punk movement began in the mid-1970s, and resulted in an explosion of musical activity. Numerous bands formed, as did many independent record labels, often run out of bedrooms. An early band who gained a following in Australia were, The Saints, who grew out of Queensland, then led by the ultra-conservative National Party led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and who recorded one of the first punk singles, releasing a single on vinyl before the Sex Pistols. Another important band who came out of Brisbane were the post-punk group, The Go-Betweens, who relocated to Britain in the early 1980s and were one of the most acclaimed bands of the decade.

Sydney's Radio Birdman were heavily inspired by acts such as the MC5 and The Stooges, and the band defined the sound of the punk and post-punk movement in Sydney.

A vibrant and interesting punk and post-punk scene also developed in Perth, Western Australia. Bands such as The Victims and Cheap Nasties, spawned icons of the Australian music scene such as Dave Faulkner and James Baker, who formed one of the most popular Australian bands of the 1980s, the power-pop band Hoodoo Gurus, and the legendary Kim Salmon, who formed the Scientists, an influence on bands such as Mudhoney and The Jesus Lizard. Kim Salmon claims to have been the first person to use the term grunge to describe music. Kim Salmon and James Baker later once again collaborated in the underground rock supergroup Beasts of Bourbon, also featuring Tex Perkins and Spencer P. Jones.

Melbourne's post-punk scene was much more experimental than any of the other capital cities. If Radio Birdman defined the sound of Sydney for years after they were around, then the same could be said for Nick Cave's band, the Boys Next Door (later to become the Birthday Party) of Melbourne. Melbourne spawned a lot of experimental and gothic rock.

After these initial seeds

Soon the raw energy of punk evolved into post punk, which combined the DIY ethos of punk with rule-breaking, genre-defying artistic experimentation. The profusion of small, defiantly non-commercial and often unhesitatingly experimental bands became known as the "little band scene". Throughout the 1980s, it flourished in most Australian major cities, evolving around venues (such as Melbourne's Seaview Ballroom) and community radio stations such as 3RRR. A few bands, like The Models, crossed over to the mainstream; others, like The Birthday Party went on to achieve critical acclaim abroad.

This era can be said to have ended in the 1990s, when in the wake of the explosion of grunge, alternative music became mainstream. Major labels signed three-chord grunge/punk-style rock bands, commercial radio played them and the 'alternative' sound soon became ubiquitous, ultimately culminating in manufactured pop groups, styled to sound raucously 'alternative' and appearing on television commercials for mobile phones. In this way, this process of mainstreaming echoes what happened in the USA and UK.

1990s to the present

The mainstreaming of alternative music did not kill indie rock in Australia, though did signal a shift in its focus. The form of 'alternative' music that the major labels and commercial radio stations were interested in was predominantly three-chord rock informed by punk rock and Seattle-style grunge; loud, rebellious, and easily marketable to a generation of teenagers. Bands who did not fit this manifest were largely left behind by this process, and did attract smaller audiences (predominantly in their 20s and based in bohemian inner urban areas). In inner Melbourne, a considerable post rock scene flourished, with bands like Art of Fighting, Laura, Silver Ray and Gersey playing more subdued music using the traditional guitar/bass/drums structure; bands in this scene often played at inner-city venues such as the Punters Club and the Empress Hotel. Other bands explored alternative instrumentation, including accordions, strings and chromatic percussion. Indie pop, too, remained largely (though not entirely) out of the spotlight, with bands like Sydney's Sneeze, Melbourne's Sleepy Township and Brisbane's Clag.

Several indie labels of note have operated in Australia around this time. Chapter Music, established by Guy Blackman in Perth but later relocated to Melbourne, released recordings on both vinyl and CD by a wide range of artists, including Panel Of Judges, Sleepy Township and Origami, as well as a compilation of Australian 1970s/1980s post punk titled "Can't Stop It". Sydney's Half A Cow, run by Nic Dalton, released albums by bands like Dalton's own Sneeze, Spdfgh, and Sydney shoegazers Swirl. Fitzroy-based Trifekta, run by Tom Larnach-Jones (and distributed by major label Festival Mushroom Records) also released recordings by various more established Melbourne bands, including Ninetynine. Minimum Chips, Gersey and Architecture in Helsinki, as well as local releases of international bands like Life Without Buildings. More recently, Tasmanian-cum-Melbourne label Unstable Ape Records have been releasing many recordings by independent local bands such as Love of Diagrams, Sir and the Bird Blobs.


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