We tend to think of country music as a domain of the Americans. The imagery it evokes – the vast landscapes you see, the families you come home to, the beliefs you hold dear – seem to be distinctly American. It was a bit of a surprise to me, then, to realize that the Australians also have a very strong country scene, and one that isn’t exactly a beat-for-beat copy of what their neighbors an ocean away do. Unlike with most of the country’s pop music, country music down under has developed on a track of its own. While music from other parts of the world also served as an inspiration, the country’s idyllic landscapes – and sometimes harsh conditions – informed and developed the movement as much.
It was inevitable that hip-hop would be bubbling under in Australia, as it had around the world. As with most music movements down under, hip-hop there also took a nudge from its popularity in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1980s. But here, it took just a little bit longer. We’ve talked for the past few weeks about how the development of Australian music centered around bands performing in local venues, and how they grew after some sort of national infrastructure – critical support on radio and TV – was locked into place. Well, that infrastructure got complacent for a while – then again, the 80s were big for many of these bands – and hip-hop barely got a look-in, even by the time the 1990s came in and tastes were starting to shift all over.
Australians love to have a good time, or so the stereotype goes. Musically, it shows, with a lot of dance acts – DJs, producers, everyone else in between – making lots of waves, with some lucky enough to sneak out of the country and make it big globally. But since the development of Aussie pop music centered mostly on rock and pop, it took a while for the electronic scene to break through to the mainstream and become an essential part of the landscape – well, essential enough to make me feel old, because this never really was the music of my youth. But soldier on we must.
This is when I will admit, upfront, that I am bound to miss a lot of names here. As we shift our focus to Australia’s indie scene, I will admit that I didn’t quite know where to start, in part because this was my entry point to the country’s music, after over a decade of listening, on and off, to Triple J. The radio station is an important factor in unearthing (yes, that is a pun) a lot of Aussie talent from the underground scenes of the capital cities, and later the whole nation, and bringing them to the forefront, just as these bands began to explore all the new styles coming out of the US and the UK. Outside of the pub rock that the more prominent rock bands of the time were peddling, the influence of punk and its offshoots were moving a lot of bands to directions nobody had imagined before.
The history of Australian rock and Australian pop are so intertwined, I had a bit of difficulty figuring out who to put where. That means, yes, I know I did not mention two bands I would typically be mentioning on the rock column – but then, that’s partly down to how I’ve perceived those bands from my perch here in the Philippines, both of which are still staples of retro playlists, or what’s left of them.