Adrift For Days‘ debut album, The Lunar Maria (released 2010), is undoubtedly my favourite Australian album of recent years. With it’s sedate, psychedelic, doom-laden sludge, infused with blues and tribal elements, it’s safe to say very few Aussie albums have impressed me both immediately and to such an extent that I had to ask just where the hell this came from; and by that token, what else I’ve been missing out on in this vast country of mine.
Who better to ask than the guys responsible for making me a born-again Oz music noob? Mick (Kaslik) and Lachlan (R. Doomsdale) were kind enough to spend a little time answering some questions, starting with how this all came to pass in the first place.
There were a couple of deciding factors when it came to making the choice to talk specifically about Australian hip hop – the first one being that it’s my younger brother’s main area of interest. The other one I’ll get to in a moment.
As I write this, I have one of my brother’s CDs sitting on my desk, called Aerosol Era by Bias B, released in 2009. According to him, this is one of the best Australian hip hop albums ever. I listened to it the other week and I can’t say I’m convinced. The entire album is, as the title may suggest, a fairly nostalgic journey of the days the artist spent stealing cans of spray paint and graffiting trains. At one point he fondly reels off several names of favoured colours. Me, I don’t get it, but of course my brother does, it’s like someone sat down and wrote an album about his own youth.
I need to back track a little first and admit hip hop, rap and most other associated genres are far from being the kind of music I feel well versed in. While I do have a couple of albums, for the most part my interest ranges from mild to almost non-existant, with the odd song here and there piquing that interest.
That being said, I would have had to be both completely ignorant and deaf not to notice that the last decade or so has seen what was once primarily mimicry of US rap and hip hop, develop into something that is uniquely Australian. While I’m no expert, I do think that hip hop in particular is a genre that traditionally uses culture-specific subject matter. As a means of social and personal commentary, I think it becomes an incredibly significant artform whether I dig the tunes or not. Thankfully, there’s a decent number of them that I do. In point of fact, though I often can’t listen to it from any country for much longer than the average album, I still seriously dig on hearing the Australian accent in hip hop.
I’m going to go out on a (not very long) limb and say Australia’s most successful group is Hilltop Hoods. I do have a little history with these guys, having seen them live before the release of their first album, so I’m not completely out of my depth. Could be that and the fact that they’re local that fosters an extra soft spot, but I’ve listened to their first two albums – particularly The Hard Road and the subsequent Restrung version – more than enough times to be able to say they offer up Aussie hip hop with serious substance and style. I’ve always been partial to the restrung version of The Hard Road, so here they are in a live performance with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Ok, so that was an easy one – the rest…not so much. I thought since I made a point as to its cultural significance, it was essential to enlist a little extra help in the form of a 17 year-old fan of Oz hip hop, who was not only willing to talk about the music he listens to, but did so enthusiatically. Much thanks goes out to Jordan for his extra insight. Initially, I just asked for a few names I could look up, thinking I would figure out for myself which ones to include after taking a listen to some tracks, which resulted in a bit of hemming and hawing alongside some vague offerings. So I asked if he thought any of them typically sing about, or in his mind represent, Australian culture, and without hesitation he said Reason. Thus, Reason became the voice of the nation’s youth (or at least one of them – also resisting the temptation of the obvious joke there).
This resulted in a nice little education on some Australian hip hop, some of which I’ve heard of I’m relatively pleased to say. Interestingly, the following was pointed out as one of the most Australian hip hop songs.
I say interesting because of our differing ideas about the things that represent Australia and its culture. There’s little point in my making an assessment (and by virtue, judgement) on our varying ideas, if only because it’s our experiences of culture that form those ideas of it. I will, however, offer the following…
For me, some of the most classicly Aussie lyrics I’ve heard was in a song called Scallops by The Herd. The track itself is typically boastful of the artist’s skills (or skillz, as the case may be), but it’s the laidback delivery and ultimately self-effacing language used that I think neatly encapsulates a characteristic common to many Australians, plus it makes me smile every time I hear it, particularly: Like a $3.40 bag of fresh hip hop from your local fish and chip shop. Ah scallops! With dollops of flavour on top…
No matter what else there is to be said about hip hop, arguments about the genre’s origin and so on, once adopted and then adapted, it becomes less an example of one country’s musical influence on another, and more an example of some of the most Australian music there is. These guys – as both musicians and lyricists – are poets, storytellers and chroniclers of culture, and they do it in a way that speaks to and for the youth of this country. Not just the youth – my brother is only two years younger than me. As far as I’m concerned that makes them more than noteworthy when it comes to talking about the music of Australia.
This is where things could get really messy if I let it, as when it came down to it – despite some of the reasons that prompted this series – my awareness of, and exposure to, music has hit a peak this decade, which hasn’t excluded Oz music as much as I may have indicated (more that I don’t tend to hear about much unless they’ve caused a buzz in some way – and of course many have). So I’ve decided to keep the focus strictly on two specific aspects post-2000.
By the time I got to this point , I noticed a distinct lack of female artists, which would appear to suggest it was rare for me to notice and/or appreciate their contribution to Australian music. Whether that’s true of the past or not, the first decade in the new millenium has seen a whole host of them coming onto the scene that really struck a chord with me, and audiences in general. While I wouldn’t usually make a special point of it, I do feel their absence thus far should be redressed, and I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think I could back it up with some good music. I’ve already raved on plenty of times here about Inga Liljeström and her album Elk, so I’ll leave that out of this.
The first clip is a neat little tie in, I suppose, as it’s a cover of an old Cold Chisel song called Flame Trees, done beautifully by Sarah Blasko (whose own work is indeed part of my current collection). I love the fact that she hasn’t changed any of the lyrics in order to adapt it for a female artist, as it really changes the context of much of the song. I have to admit to an intrigue when artists do that – that being the interpretation of songs generally considered “for” one gender by the other. I can’t really say as to why, perhaps I’ll look into that further at a later stage. Once again, I was restricted to only showing a live version. (Oh, and here’s the original Cold Chisel version – top song).
I guess while I’m on the subject, I’ll divert slighty for a moment… As fascinated as I am when they get it right, I’m a little unsettled when I really don’t think it works. One of Australia’s most successful bands of the last couple of decades, Powderfinger, just didn’t pull off their take on Portishead‘s very female song, Glory Box – which you can listen to here if you so choose.
I mentioned the loss of my CD collection in the last post, and in all reality it’s only been a few years since I started avidly paying attention to music and buying CD’s again, but one of the first I sought out was Clare Bowditch‘s What Was Left. The song I Thought You Were God was my immediate favourite on that album, and I feel sure that I’m not the only one out there that thinks Clare’s wonderfully fond and nostalgic reminiscence is just as much theirs as it is hers, as it sums up so perfectly and poignantly the way many young people feel about their first love(r). I don’t think it needs further explanation than that, so…
As a rather stark counterpoint to that song, classicly-trained pop vocalist Kate Miller-Heidke, sings about what happens when that God-like person doesn’t fill you with such fond memories, then comes back to haunt you years later. (This song – Are You F*cking Kidding Me – has yet to make an appearance on a studio album, but is on 2009’s Live at the Hi-Fi. That’s not my censorship of the title, by the way).
I’ve mentioned other family members in terms of the influence they’ve had on my listening habits, so for the final part of this series, I’m taking a cue from the other members of my immediate family and I’ll be focusing on Australian hip hop.
So yesterday I spoke about a few artists from the 90’s I listened to at the time, but don’t anymore. Seems like the logical thing to do is talk about the ones I still listen to now. Unfortunately for Australian music, but lucky for me in terms of keeping this nice and easy, there’s not actually that many – which is true of music from all over the world in reality, due in no small part to the fact that very late in the decade I lost all but a very small percentage of my CD collection, not many of which I’ve actively sought to replace.
Which means that you can consider this post more or less a testement to the most prolific of Australian artists, Nick Cave.
I acknowledged back in the 70’s that Nick Cave and his associated projects are of quite high import when it comes to Oz music, and there’s probably very little about his music and career that I can say that would be anything new to most people, but I can tell you that I had no interest whatsoever until Do You Love Me? was released from 1994’s Let Love In.
That song did very strange things to my head. I wrote a bunch of stuff in order to try and explain those things, but in reading it back I realised it got wildly divergent and veered distinctly into 18+ territory (probably not in the way that you might immediately think – I was talking about a common social phenomena and certain concepts that are treated as separate entities, when – while they’re not the same thing – can be part of one thing… Maybe not so much ‘strange things’, but something new to me at the time). So I think I’ll just omit it and say that I found it curiously evocative.
Perhaps more strangely, I maintained that Do You Love Me? was the only good Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song, and it wasn’t until years later I realised how wrong I was with the release of No More Shall We Part in 2001. I guess you could call it the slowest seduction ever, and I played hard to get in the extreme because even then I was happy enough with a Best Of collection and NMSWP right up until last year. Thank God music doesn’t ever lose patience with listeners and just remains quietly persistent in sending out the signals to take notice. I’ve informally named The Mercy Seat (from 1988’s Tender Prey) as one of – if not the – greatest Australian songs of all time for a few years, but Let Love In is now my favourite of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ albums thus far.
Since it doesn’t feel quite right simply leaving it at that, I think Regurgitator also warrants a mention. Just because Tu Plang is the only Australian album from the 90’s I can remember literally hanging out to get my hands on. Wikipedia asserts it was released in 1996, but I’m almost sure that can’t be right (i.e. I could have sworn it was a year or two earlier than that). Other sources corroborate Wiki, so I guess my brain’s making up history.
Not that it matters, really. Kong Foo Sing was the debut single from Tu Plang, and I thought it was the best. song. ever. the moment I heard it. In part novelty, though they had more going for them than that and have quite a few choice tracks to their credit. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll see this one’s about fortune cookies, named after the restaurant they came from.
Smiles abound – the cookie has spoken. Classic.
I did follow the ‘Gurge beyond their debut ( ! (The Song Formerly Known As) from the follow-up album Unit still gets a look-in every now and then), but from the 90’s, Nick Cave is the only Australian artist I (kinda) listened to then that I still play consistently. That might actually get a little disconcerting if I think more about it.
The first important thing about the 90’s to mention is that there was a significant paradigm shift right from the start. Less than a week into February of 1990, I moved from the country to the city and began attending a Catholic school, sans my older brother’s presence. I took this as an opportunity to completely re-invent myself, and judging by the results… I really shouldn’t invent things.
In terms of music, I again rejected most of the styles I had been fanatic about (namely the glam metal) and thoroughly embraced Goth culture, along with all the associated music, which is probably a logical step all things considered. Sadly, I don’t have any Australian bands to talk about in that regard, as all the artists I remember obsessing over are pretty much just the usual suspects and not-a-one is Aussie (not even a google prompted some long forgotten memory of an old Oz Goth band from the 90’s).
In 1991, however, an ‘indie rock’ band by the name of Ratcat released an album called Blind Love. Two tracks from that album – That Aint Bad and Don’t Go Now – were the first songs I ever adopted as personal anthems, and Blind Love became the soundtrack to my ’91/’92.
I also seriously fell in love at first listen with You Am I and the song Berlin Chair (from debut Sound As Ever, 1993). On a sidenote, this was the first clip of many that I looked at for this song that could be played back anywhere other than on YouTube (same with the original clip for Ratcat’s Don’t Go Now, and quite a high number of other clips I wanted to post here for that matter – it’s gotten to be exceedingly frustrating and I’m not sure I understand what the freakin’ difference is).
For reasons I don’t quite know/remember other than to put it down to being a typically fickle teenager, both of those loves fizzled out pretty quick and I never paid either of them any attention after those first albums. I do remember once saying to a friend of mine, in specific reference to You Am I, something along the lines of that I could recognise that they’re a really good band, but I just wasn’t into it anymore (the old ‘I love it but I’m not in love with it’ schtick, maybe I should look You Am I up again after all these years and see if we still spark).
I think there was quite a lot of that going on in the 90’s, now that I think of it – not just with Aussie bands and definitely not just on my behalf. Some of it was their own fault. When The Whitlams released this utterly and (at times) oddly beautiful song, I and the rest of the country fell in love with it. 1997 saw it voted into the #1 position of a national radio poll – JJJ’s Hottest 100 – for very good reason.
Actually, listening to these songs now, I’m still pretty partial to them, so I’m pleased I haven’t had to reveal being into something like Roxus. (I refuse to mention they were the support act when I saw Poison live in ’89. Wait…)
Here’s where things can get a little more interesting and flexible, as I’ve taken a slightly different direction in terms of music that had an impact on me, as well included some stuff I find more interesting now than I did then, with the focus on underground music that I’m not so sure many Aussies are aware of these days let alone anyone internationally – plus I want to elaborate on something I only hinted at yesterday.
’88 and ’89 were my first two years of high school – a place where hundreds of still-forming identities are vying to establish and distinguish themselves from the masses – but, and here’s the kicker, at the same time, those identities are yearning to identify with and be accepted by their peers. High school is a place where, in amongst the swirl of other things, music often forms part of the language that is developed to help forge a separation from the ‘other’ (i.e. parents, siblings, or pretty much anyone in a position of authority) while still capable of eliciting an immediate understanding between two peers – quite a powerful thing when you think about it, and in retrospect I can see that at first, that phenomenon did influence what I chose to listen to back then.
In those first two years, I had no identity in high school other than “Bomber’s little sister“. My brother was infamous, considered slightly dangerous, and therefore ultimately ‘cool’. I was mousy, hardly spoke a word, and had stones thrown at me because I sat at the bus stop reading books instead of gossiping about which boy I wanted to kiss (for the record, it was the guitar player in the school band. I don’t remember his name, I just remember that he walked around the school in a trench coat and played the guitar).
My first solution to this was to steal my brother’s Black Flag t-shirt and wear it to school, only I felt like a complete fraud for the entire day. Instead of getting nods of approval, stares of admiration or awe (as I thought would be the case), I wound up interpreting even the slightest hint of a sideways glance as containing contempt and a general laugh at my expense for the failed attempt at being ‘cool’.
Anyway…music. Initially, it was something I tried to use to connect to my friends, but as focus for them became more and more about things like who was the cutest member of New Kids on the Block, music became something I used to connect to something else entirely, and in terms of my peers it was something I was completely alone in – which is probably what I wanted. As my taste evolved, my interest in what my brother listened to gradually became genuine instead of an attempt at hi-jacking some of his street cred. Most of this took place post-’80’s, and in some cases there were artists I only remembered a year or two ago and started listening to them.
One of the most important bands to my brother back then was Massappeal, who released their debut, Nobody Likes A Thinker, in 1986… Bloody hell I thought it was awful, to the point where I considered there just might be something wrong with him for listening to it (in that conceited way most young people have of thinking they’re in a position to judge things they don’t understand). I looked at the picture on the cover, heard this aggressive mess of noise coming from the general direction of his room and just shook my head. This leaves me unable to relate first-hand what an album like NLAT meant to the youth of Australia at the time, but I can say that I now have two of their albums and I play them more than I play the Black Flag albums I also have.
There’s very little online that I could turn up, but here’s a track from NLAT, one of my (now) favourites Can’t Forget. Turn it up loud.
The following clip is a 2006 performance of a song called What Are Man’s Fears by Box of Fish, for the launch of an album called Box of Fish Invented Grunge 1984, which was when the song was first released…perhaps obviously. True enough I paid no attention to this when it was released, in fact, I can’t even promise you I heard it in the 80’s, but in listening to the entire album, I found it interesting as a distinct blend of goth punk, grunge, industrial and noise, which is kinda cool for something that while taking a few cues from The Birthday Party and even one or two from Dead Kennedys, pre-dates the explosion of the latter few genres later on in the 80’s and early 90’s with bands like The Jesus Lizard. (NB the two minute clip is unfortunately not the entire song and cuts out unexpectedly, but it’s long enough to get the general jist).
Finding that clip reminded me of another Aussie box-y band, Box The Jesuit. I remember reading about them in the aforementioned magazine Hot Metal, in which they explained where they got their name from and what it meant. I found this a high source of amusement at the time and didn’t really pay much attention to anything other than that, but I decided to look them up – I’m relieved to report that what while they look a bit ‘Adam Ant‘ on the cover up there, they’re again a bit more on the seedier, gothic punk side of things, so here’s their track Sniffing At The Tailpipes of Hell.
Lastly, though I was trying to keep it at only two clips per post owing to load times etc, I think I really need to make special mention of a band called Lubricated Goat. This is one song I remember very well indeed (watch the clip and guess why!) In The Raw was one of those songs that has the capacity to tear a nation in two… Ok, so that’s getting a little far-fetched, but when they appeared on Andrew Denton‘s show Blah Blah Blah, there were generally two kinds of reactions: those who found it disturbing and offensive, and those who found it awesome and hilarious. I’m not sure if I’m embarassed to admit that I belong to the ‘awesome and hilarious’ camp or not. The main reason I’m putting this up, though, is because by some fairly unexplainable reasons, a bunch of naked dudes growling ‘In the raw! Rawr!‘ is so utterly, undeniably, classicly Australian.
For further exploration of 80’s Australian (let’s just say) alternative music, I recommend looking up Hard-Ons for punk / power-pop, Cosmic Psychos and Celibate Rifles for garage punk / rock, The Church for vaguely Joy Division-ish new wave, and if you can dig it up from somewhere (I’ve had no luck myself other than the linked, fairly low sound quality live clip) Hot Tomatoes for a taste of 80’s punk, Adelaide style.
I had to be fairly strict with this decade, as it spans my age of 5-14, and therefore quite significant for me in terms of awareness and developing my personal taste. It’s probably a blessing that it wasn’t until the latter part of the decade that I started to form a more complex interest in what I listened to, as this might be more than a two-parter otherwise.
The first few years were largely spent listening to Patsy Biscoe (a very wholesome children’s singer), and soft pop/rock. However, as I mentioned in the 70’s posts, Cold Chisel featured fairly consistently, and it was singer Jimmy Barnes’ album Barnestorming that was ultimately to become my first Australian LP purchase in 1988.
It was 1985 when I formed my first obsession with a song, and by virtue the band. Unfortunately, the more I’ve delved into the old songs I want to show, the more I find Sony doesn’t want anyone watching these clips anywhere except at YouTube, so if you want to see Wa Wa Nee and their song Sugar Free in all its 10-year old heart-capturing glory, you’ll have to click this link.
Around 1987 I began taking music a little more seriously. In the beginning this meant developing fandoms for certain artists, though I was never they type that put posters of people on the wall – I was much more likely to put lyrics up instead. Initially, still very much favouring pop music, Kylie Minogue was just the most awesome thing in the world to me for a little while. I won’t bother putting up any of her clips though, as I’m sure most people would have heard something by her at one point or another.
Sometime during ’88-’89, some unknown factor triggered the complete rejection of most pop music and instead I formed a pretty hardcore dedication to almost anything that could be remotely described as metal – some of which if you attempted to call it metal now would likely see you laughed at quite a lot. I can’t say it was typical teenage rebellion, as it actually brought my music taste closer to my mother’s. Also, when I say unknown factor, if I think about it with the benefit of hindsight, it meant I – as a young teen – found a distinct appeal in bands that were singing about other aspects of that subject teens are quite keen on, namely love, and presenting a decidely less wholesome image while doing so. ( 😮 Don’t know what that says about me, really. Probably absolutely nothing).
In terms of Australian music, it started with the four strapping young lads from a band named Pseudo Echo, and suffice to say I adored them. Their song Over Tomorrow was kind of a step between the pop I had formerly liked, to the hair metal that became my obsession for a couple of years. Oddly enough, I wasn’t so keen on their biggest hit (a cover of Funky Town), but I went mad for this, in the way only 13 year old girls can… (The three guitarists totally hog the limelight in this clip, so I can understand why the drummer decided to have his shirt off the entire time).
Not long after, I started buying a now defunct Australian magazine called Hot Metal, and secretly stole my older brother’s skater magazines, reading them under cover of darkness and learning about Australia’s punk music scene (which I deftly covered up by treating his music taste with severe derision). My first real taste of Australian metal was a band called Mortal Sin, and the thrash metal song Mayhemic Destruction (from their ’86 debut of the same name, so while it pre-dates the Pseudo Echo song, it was a couple of years after that I cottoned on to it).
This was a pretty important song just in terms of my own history. I heard this and actually wondered why I liked it so much. It was unlike anything that had appealed to me before, and most of the other similar bands that one was ‘supposed’ to like didn’t do much for me. That makes it the first time I realised music can reach you on a level beyond (and outside of) the pre-set parameters one tends to impose on oneself (or at least back then, I did have pretty specific ideas about what I should and shouldn’t like).
I still have that on vinyl somewhere, worn out to the point of only being good for sentimental value.