What has happened to Australian rock? What happened to the days of big hair and bigger dreams, trench coats and ambition, running off to Sydney with a blatant lack of direction compensated only by sheer luck? I’m sure in hindsight it may have seemed impulsive and wild, but what- that is worthwhile- isn’t? It appears that these days, the sole requirement to make it onto Australian radio is a couple of blazed mates with questionable hairstyles, a garage, half-decent gear and an elementary level of guitar experience. Yep, just those four chords. Whilst Australian ‘surf rock’ creates the perfect atmosphere for getting pissed by the beach with your mates – partly due to alcohol softening the blow of what the present day classifies as ‘music’- there’s only so much substance and pleasure until they all eventually blur in their similarities.
Sure, back in the 80s during the peak of bands such as INXS, Cold Chisel, Crowded House and The Angels, it wasn’t unfamiliar for backstage or a studio to be infested with the oh-so-pleasant cloud of cigarette smoke and the everpresent stench of celebrity destitute. The groms who carry so-called rock music on their sun-blistered backs have taken this to the next level. The culture of drug influenced music is not what I am degrading- of course not- we wouldn’t have the legendary Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band if it weren’t for some weed and a few tabs of acid here and there. I may even contradict myself and ask, “is there ever really a limit to drug/music influence experimentation and persuasion?”. Obviously not.
Over the years Australia has seen some grand comebacks of fashion and music, from 80s day-glo and synth to 70s flare jeans and strats, it appears we’ve reached the dreaded and grey period of the 90s, full of skaters and surfers, banding together to make some loud noise. Why couldn’t we have rebirthed ska into the fourth wave, or bring back powerful girl rock groups? Australia seems to have drawn the short straw on that one.
Despite the slashing of these preschool-rhyming bands, I must say they have done extremely well. A whole world of Australian coastal music festivals – which may soon be extinct thanks to our pal, Gladys – and becoming icons with their 90s-esque style and grotesque button downs, the surf rock era in Australia has taken over the minds and lives of struggling uni students and teens, looking for their very own sweet release. From surfing to seshes, to skating to your mates’ garage to play loud and off-key lazy rock, the age of Australian surf rock is in full swing, and I wholeheartedly (and regretfully) commend the artists of this movement in their fiery and unexpected success. Who would’ve thought this is all it took?
Aside from those spotlighted and listed previously, Australia does still provide some quality acts.
Our great southern land continues to thrive in one way or another, aided by the likes of alternative pop/rock groups Tame Impala and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. As a supplier of Aussie sound to American shores, I have compiled a list of recommendations for your untouched ears, young grasshoppers.
As an introduction, Australia’s alternative rock scene cradles some of Australia’s internationally unsung stars for almost 10 years. Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Tash Sultana, the tatted out and flat cap-wearing one-person band that shocked Youtube and our radios with their 2016 single “Jungle”, which made the Top 40 on the Billboard alternative chart in the US. The same year, Sultana’s psychedelic-meets-reggae style and killer technique earned them, rightfully, two of their tracks listed on Triple J’s Hottest 100 (“Jungle” and “Notion”).
Similarly to Sultana, Central Coast rockers Ocean Alley vibe the psychedelic, modern reggae sound in cruisy fashion. Influenced by greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Dire Straits, the boys from The Beaches have successfully captured the minds and souls of young Australians- as a band that is equally as groovy as it is hard to dislike. The easy love of these dreadlocked lads shone through in the victory of their 2018 track “Confidence” topping Triple J’s Hottest 100 in January 2019. The boys’ earned themselves four tracks on the Hottest 100 the same year, having the synthy and melancholy “Happy Sad” at number 100, the possibly-better-than-the-original “Baby Come Back (Like a Version)” at number 16, and the powerful and jaw dropping “Knees” at number 10. For a taste of the trippy and, for lack of a better word, sexy magic, click here to listen to Ocean Alley’s 2018 album Chiaroscuro.
My own personal favourite, Ball Park Music, have been around since way way back in 2008. Eep! The less than likely Indie-rockers shaped ‘happy music’ for Australia with their 2011 album Happiness and Surrounding Suburbs, featuring cheerful tracks “Literally Baby” and “It’s Nice to Be Alive”- a track that’s music video received a Channel [V] Ripe Clip of the Week, overtaking The Kooks’ “Junk of the Heart”. The five-piece’s 50s/60s surf inspired rock- vastly different to the genre critiqued prior- will without a doubt take you to a happier place. Sydney based indie rock group The Preatures carry a similar approach and methodology to Ball Park Music, experimentally taking on rock music and challenging the mainstream easy road. Listen here for a taste of Izzy Manfredi’s angelic voice and 70s goddess vibe.
As for some lesser known acts, Sydney clan Fripps and Fripps flex a bit of The Strokes and Oasis sound, producing their first EP Feeler On The Roof in 2017, a strong introduction into the music world and jumping right in with their best foot forward. South Coast pop/rock queen Bec Sandridge classily rocks a strat with her style culmination of Modern English, Pat Benatar and Nena, classifying herself in-jest as ‘Cock Rock’- being a strong female icon in the LGBTQI+ community in Australia and challenging the rock patriarchy. Catch Bec’s newest single “I’ll Never Want A BF”.