Written by Ryan Ffrench
It may not have too many kangaroos, a coral reef, or even a postcard-ready opera house-- but when it comes to art, culture, and music, Melbourne is the heart of Australia. The city has long been home to a huge underground music scene, and now boasts cutting-edge musicians representing genres ranging from hardcore to twee, electronica to modern classical. Known as the stencil graffiti capital of the world, Melbourne has gained a reputation as a city entirely driven by arts and culture, taking pride in its creative output, whether it be high art or street. This spirit is ubiquitous: it is even apparent immediately after leaving the Melbourne airport, as huge, primary-colored installation sculptures shoot precariously out over the highway.
The live music scene in Melbourne is as strong and diverse as it has ever been, with hundreds of bands playing across the city every week; it was almost impossible to narrow this article down to fifteen artists, so I encourage you to do some of your own research if you are interested in what you find here.
If visiting Melbourne, expect to find:
--That you are not as fashionable as you think you are
--Hundreds of bars, clubs, and cafés hidden down seemingly abandoned alleyways
--Independent art galleries / exhibits above the hidden bars, clubs, and cafés
--City walls interpreted as public street art galleries
--Four-to-the-floor dance beats in every retail store, supermarket, post office and restaurant
Setting the Scene: Bands You've Probably Already Heard
(and more recently) Grinderman
-Also check out his epic western film script, The Proposition.
-The Daft Punk of the indie dance movement in Australia.
-Still making the double bass and Gretsch White Falcons mohawk worthy.
Recently touted by Justice as their favorite new band on Pitchfork’s Guest List, Midnight Juggernauts are set to explode out of Australia in all directions with their enormously catchy electro pop anthems. Although their sound is heavily influenced by Melbourne contemporaries Cut Copy and Sydney’s The Presets, the obvious nods to late ’70s era David Bowie and Brian Eno are the definitive points of comparison in their first two EPs. A debut full-length is greatly anticipated across Australia—however, even in its absence, Midnight Juggernauts do not seem to be having a hard time selling out every show nationwide.
“Anyone for some no rave?” asks the Miami Horror MySpace tagline— and whether or not this displays more of an in-joke sense of humor than a musical mission statement, the producer’s ’80s-obsessed synths and electro beats suggest a potential to blow up like fellow tongue-in-cheek genre inventors, The Klaxons. Miami Horror has the dance sensibilities of Ed Banger’s best, the eccentric audacity of Prince, and a neon color palette comparable only to a TV series with a similar name. On top of the unstoppable DJ sets that are a staple in the Melbourne dance scene, Miami Horror is working on producing beat tracks for Gameboy/Gamegirl and is rumored to be teaming up with Curtis Vodka to form a project to be known as TIGRTRON.
This is the face of the Melbourne electro-indie-dance-trash scene. Decadence, artifice and style over substance to the grave.
Muscles is a one man avant-pop machine, possessing the type of creative talent that keeps people awake for days at a time, working feverishly, thinking of nothing but their art, hardly alive. He is the type of artist who, after completing a set, is nervous and paranoid— who dodges conversation, alcohol and the lure of sex, and retreats to his studio to make something better, to fix his mistakes. He is the type of artist who is pained by the condition of the indie rock community, as is evidenced when he drones with ironic wit: “Last night I met a girl who said she has connections in the Melbourne independent music community… Drive a one inch badge pin through my heart!” and who desperately wants to change things, to fix their mistakes. He is the type of artist who gives himself 24 hours to entirely write, record and send an album off to promoters. He is, all in all, the type of artist whose consuming passion for art for art’s sake is the driving force of his existence, and for whom very little will be lost if it is, in the end, his work that is lost on the world. How can I further implore you to listen to his music?
HTRK (pronounced ‘Hate Rock’) developed amidst - and probably as a reaction to - the garage rock revival that dominated Australia circa 2003, but while Jet and The Vines were practicing their air guitars in front of mirrors, HTRK (then a two-piece, hTRKRTIO, or ‘Hate Rock Trio’) were citing Robert Bresson, David Lynch and John Cage as major influences and playing dark, instrumental psychedelic rock. Now they have moved to Berlin, added Jonnine Davis’ detached but incredibly sexy vocals, and are one of the most unique and effortlessly cool bands to ever come out of Australia. They play highly textured guitars over deep, groove-laden bass lines and insanely down-tempo drum machine beats that are sure to attract fans of bands from Joy Division to My Bloody Valentine. A new LP, Marry Me Tonight, is out soon on Fire Records, and is sure to establish them as main players in the international art rock scene.
Offering an interpretation of the dance-punk movement that is a little less inauspicious than the Rapture in their eighties pilfering, a little more fun than the Blood Brothers with their scum-punk riffing, and just as likely as Death From Above 1979 to lose their songs into complete chaos, the Damn Arms have already toured seven countries, are supporting The Klaxons across Australia, and are poised for international renown. Look for their first EP, Patterns, and their latest CD single, Home Wrecker.
In a contemporary scene where “post-hardcore” usually means “Oh, I am past my hardcore days—I’m indie now”, this is a band who are taking the term back to its roots. The Young and Restless guitar attack is as energetic and chaotic as anything ever recorded by The Refused or The Blood Brothers, and singer Karina Utomo yelps and screams with a presence that announces her as a challenger to Karen O’s Queen of Bitch Rock crown. A national tour with Midnight Juggernauts will bring their cathartic live show to an audience of indie-dance kids forgetting for the time being that their days of hardcore dancing were supposed to be buried under ten feet of ironic color.
Listen: if Love of Diagrams were to play your hometown opening up for Fugazi, Blonde Redhead, Slint, Hüsker Dü, or even Sonic Youth, I feel confident that, on the journey home, you and your friends would be talking about nothing but how much each of you needs to put into a pool to buy this band’s newest LP, Mosaic. Their convulsive post-punk noise aesthetic won’t win awards for being pretty or organized, but Love of Diagrams are doing something with the indie rock genre that, in the wake of one too many Death Cab for Cuties in the world, has been quietly forgotten: they challenge the listener. Their call-and-response style vocals (singers Antonia Sellbach and Luke Horton constantly echo each other’s phrases) evoke a cold disinterest in the progress of the modern world while hinting at a subtle, catalytic passion that lies behind the surface of their music. It didn’t surprise me at all that they were snapped up by Matador Records (The Ponys, Pavement) early last year—nor will it when they develop a reputation to match some of the bigger names on the label’s roster.
Ned Collette’s delicate baritone weaves its way through his whisper quiet folk progressions like a river through a small town in the English countryside, circa 1962. Sounding like a Bert Jansch flavored Leonard Cohen, Collette harkens back to the good old days of folk while touring the world opening for the likes of Joanna Newsom, Akron/Family, and Camera Obscura. Despite citing Mondrian, Antonioni, Truffaut, and Kundera as his influences, his music is decidedly unpretentious; it is personal, intelligent, and absolutely earnest. Also check out Ned’s seven-piece noise rock collective, City City City.
It is difficult to gauge the popularity of The Avalanches outside of the Australian electronic music scene, but regardless of any recent waves of success overseas, it is safe to assume that they are one of the most underrated in the genre’s history. Their brilliant debut album, Since I Left You, is compiled of approximately 3,500 individual vinyl samples – ranging from religious zealots impersonating parrots to unknown R&B vocal loops to spoken word psychological jargon – and manages to craft beautiful pop songs that focus on melody as much as they do on starting the party. Their complete control of song craft defies the disparate and often jarringly incongruent sources by creating a pastiche full of sonic subtleties brilliant enough to make DJ Shadow jealous. If I have yet to convince you, perhaps a glowing 9.5 rating on Pitchfork will?
Possibly the most enchanting discovery to come out of my researching this article, New Buffalo is Sally Seltmann, a gifted indie-folk-pop songstress recently signed to Canada’s Arts & Crafts label and married to Darren Seltmann of The Avalanches. Her music calls to mind the whimsical, softer side of label mates Broken Social Scene and exudes the same warmth and intimacy that makes Leslie Feist so alluring. In fact, the comparison to the latter may be the most relevant: Seltmann wrote “1234”, the newest single from Feist’s album, The Reminder. New Buffalo’s self-recorded LP The Last Beautiful Day beautifully captures her tender folk aesthetic, while proving that she is comfortable experimenting with electronic texturing and beats. Unique and intoxicating.
It seems difficult to me to describe The Drones without referencing them kicking the shit out of someone—preferably another musician, and preferably someone who is really tough. Their garage bombast is as well versed in the history of blues as it is straight up punk rock, and as a result, The Drones sound as if they could line up alongside Neil Young, Nick Cave (The Birthday Party era), The Cramps, and Bob Dylan, and still steal the show. Gareth Liddiard’s rasp is equal parts whiskey, blood, and smoke as he sings, unsurprisingly, about drunkenness, fighting, and smoking. The Drones have a huge, violent sound, but they know when to hold back, slowly building space around Liddiard’s climactic howl - and, conversely, when to throw their empty bottles at the crowd and let loose. Makes you forget it’s 2007— and not just because you’re wasted.
DJ, producer, and electronic music virtuoso Lewie Day is basically everything that you wish you were. Not only is he one of the most in-demand DJs in all of the hippest clubs in Melbourne, but he is just as proficient in the studio, writing and producing his own material. Renowned for his progressive trance track “Striptease”, which topped charts in 2006, Day has eased his way into the hearts of clubbers, lovers, and DJs alike. His music ranges from peak-hour anthems to progressive house, and always remains anthemic yet subtle, atmospheric yet precise, and always ice cold. Lewie Day is the essential Melbourne DJ experience— but good luck getting on the guest list.
Chardy is one of Melbourne’s most prodigious and proficient DJs, with residencies at almost every top club in the city and a self-proclaimed ambition that sees no limits to his potential as an international artist. Known for his dirty electro remixes of house classics, Chardy impresses me more with his ability to reveal the funkier side of 4/4 dance beats and, in particular, his ability to read, interpret and react to a live crowd’s atmosphere. His taste and temperament is, admittedly, more suited to European dance sensibilities—but, given the aforementioned capacity to adapt, I will not be surprised to see him taking over dance floors all across George Bush’s very own backyard.
At the age of 30, Tirren Staaf has become a legitimate hip-hop impresario. Better known as the acclaimed MC Pegz (a contraction of his former stage name MC Pegasus), he is the owner and founder of Obese Records, Australia’s largest hip-hop label, which is also a retail store and major touring and distributing company. Add to this the recent purchase of Zenith Records, the only record pressing facility in the Southern Hemisphere and the chart topping success of Obese Records group, The Hilltop Hoods, and Pegz has become the benchmark of Australian hip-hop. He is dedicated to providing a voice for upcoming talent across the nation and works tirelessly both searching for and promoting new artists. If almost-embarrassingly-thick Australian accents over well-produced, jazz-influenced hip-hop sounds like your thing, Pegz is your man. Also check out TZU.
RANDOM AND COOL:
Let the dancing speak for itself. Theres even a DVD.
Electro-clash-trash online community
Stencil Graffiti Capital Melbourne
A comprehensive guide to the Melbourne stencil graffiti scene, detailing the works of Meek, Psalm, Prism, Meggs, and more.
Written and compiled by Jake Smallman and Carl Nyman
A 2006 documentary exploring the beloved Melbourne underground music scene
Created by Mark Butcher, Glenn Waterworth and Pip Stafford