- TextTom Connick
A wave of exciting new acts is emerging out of Australia, from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever to Amyl & The Sniffers and Emerson Snowe
While it might boast a musical heritage that stretches from the louche sounds of Nick Cave to the blistering riff-rock of AC/DC, Australia’s music scene is no has-been legacy act. Half a world away from the British fans that are currently lapping them up, there’s a huge number of emerging Australian acts, all musically diverse, who are working on solidifying their home country’s musical reputation for decades to come.
Just off a delayed, 36-hour flight from Melbourne, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are at the forefront of that pack. Understandably exhausted, with jetlag nipping at their heels, they’ve gone straight from a trio of hometown shows at Melbourne’s iconic Corner Hotel to the airport. This is their second UK run this year, with the rest of the world filling in the gaps in that spiralling schedule.
Those Corner Hotel shows were a “pretty big” deal for the five-piece, according to guitarist and vocalist Tom Russo. “It’s a nice, iconic venue in our hometown – and those were the biggest shows we’ve ever played in our hometown,” he says. “When you’re growing up in Melbourne and going to shows, playing the Corner, that’s a big deal!” That Melbourne scene is core to Blackouts’ being. “It’s a really supportive city. I’ve heard people say that somewhere like London can be a pretty competitive city, whereas Melbourne is very much a supportive music community. There’s lots of stuff going on – lots of scenes, and sub-scenes, and you end up making friends with a lot of other bands. It’s a nice way to grow up – good venues; good community radio that supports local music; tonnes of people turn up to shows. It’s a little ecosystem for producing good music, at the moment.”
Fellow Melbourne breakthroughs Amyl & The Sniffers are equally admiring of their hometown. “Melbourne is like blood and bone for bands, no one would push against it,” says Amyl guitarist Declan Martens, speaking from The States just a few days after a debaucherous London headline show. “We got inspiration from the other bands around us, and the scene and culture of it all just helped us get better.”
“Melbourne is like blood and bone for bands, no one would push against it” – Declan Martens, Amyl & The Sniffers
Head north, though, and the prospects aren’t quite so rosy. Sydney’s widely-criticised, heavy-handed licensing laws have left the local scene “up against it,” explains Gang Of Youths’ Max Dunn. “We have a government that has enacted laws that have closed a lot of the places we cut our teeth on.” It’s not all doom and gloom, though: “Somehow, all these bands keep coming out of it, making impactful music.” Citing newcomers like Planet, Middle Kids, 100, and Triple 1, it’s that desire to make impactful art that’s helped Gang Of Youths hit arena-level in their home country.
“It’s about finding meaning in the mundane, where it sometimes feels like there is no meaning,” he says of their 2017 LP Go Farther In Lightness, which was recently nominated for a whopping eight ARIA Awards, winning four of them. “[We’re about] loving people without apprehension, and seeing the beauty in the hard and small things we experience as human beings,” he continues. The grand scale they operate at home hasn’t blinkered them, though – recently, more intimate shows in the UK have only made their fire burn brighter, if anything. “If you can’t turn up to a tiny club and leave nothing out there, giving your all, you’ve lost a lot of the magic of what it is to play live music,” Dunn says. “Every show has to be like your last.”
Every one of these musicians has found a home from home in the UK. Whether it’s sold out shows in the capital, or rave reviews across the board (as with Blackouts’ debut Hope Downs LP earlier this year), Australian artists have captured British hearts and minds like never before with their musical eclecticism and riotous live outings, with Australia swiftly becoming the go-to destination for exciting guitar-based music, in the same way the UK once was during rock and punk’s 80s glory days. Despite the time difference, the cultural bond between the two nations has never been stronger.
“We come from an imperfect place, where a lot of people are hurting in a lot of different ways – I think people connect to real music, and people who care about their music” – Max Dunn, Gang Of Youths
“I came over just because my girlfriend was living in Paris,” says Brisbane pop prodigy Emerson Snowe, who cut his teeth in Australian cult faves The Creases. “I came over to the UK and do some shows, and they were sick!” Connecting with audiences on the other side of the world, he relished the freedom of being 10,000 miles from home. “Because no one really knew who I was, or any of the songs or anything, it was just super real. At one point my tape machine stopped working in one of the sets, and I kept singing, but it was cool – it added to it. It was real.”
Emerson Snowe’s sound is another string in the bow of Australian music – a melting pot of psychedelia and warped pop that feels completely freeform – an expression of one-man-band Jarrod Mahon’s mutating creativity. “Because it’s just me, there’s no way I could fool anyone – even if I tried to put on a façade” he says with a laugh. It’s an honesty-first approach that’s found him favour with – and support slots alongside – Another Man stars like Ariel Pink and King Krule, and playing surprise sets at So Young magazine events in London. Globetrotting since day dot, he’s relishing that international acclaim. “Maybe because I listen to a lot of British and European stuff, I felt like, ‘Oh, I don’t need to stick around in Australia’ – it’s totally freeing,” he admits. “There’s no one I can compare myself to [in Australia] – right now, in Australia, I don’t put myself up against anyone.”
On the flip-side, it’s the similarities between the “pub culture” of Britain and their home nation which make Amyl feel most at home, says Declan. “The UK shows have all been absolutely crazy,” he says, “We played [Camden bar] the Lock Tavern and the guitar amp broke during our set – we had to do impromptu improvised stand up. Then I got to crowd surf… which never happens.” Emerson Snowe and Rolling Blackouts have had similarly packed-out appearances in London, while Gang Of Youths recently near sold-out a UK run in theatre-sized venues. “I think it’s just about different perspectives,” says Dunn. “We come from an imperfect place, where a lot of people are hurting in a lot of different ways – I think people connect to real music, and people who care about their music.”
It’s a new breed that looks set to confirm Australia’s spot as an underground musical hotbed. With labels like I Oh You and Poison City, and radio stations like Triple J to back up the talent, Australia has fast become the go-to for worldwide audiences seeking exciting new sounds, whatever the genre. “There always has been a high quality of music coming from Australia,” says Russo, “and now, with the internet, it’s a lot easier for international audiences to access that. There’s a lot of guitars everywhere [in Australia], and guitar music is alive and well, where other places it might be ‘out of fashion’, in a way.”
Above all, these bands thrive off their eclecticism. Be it the warped pop of Emerson Snowe, the anthemic, driving indie of Rolling Blackouts, the whisky-soaked rock n’ drawl of Amyl & The Sniffers, or the stadium-ready rock of Gang Of Youths, there’s little calling back to Australia’s musical history – instead they’re driving forward, with growing UK audiences helping them every step of the way. “We've come here for a long time and the fact that people are connecting is so humbling and beautiful,” says Dunn. “When you grow up in the Pacific, you don't wanna play for Sydney FC – you want to play for United, or Everton. It’s like that with music.”
Gang Of Youths’ new album MTV Unplugged: Live In Melbourne is out now; Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever tour the UK this month