A month or so ago, I went trolling on an Australian indie music blog with my opinion that Australia doesn’t punch its weight in the rock and roll fight.
Apparently, this opinion means I’m stupid. I’ll live with that, I’ve been called much worse and in far more colourful and inventive vocabulary too. And many different languages; my offensiveness is clearly universal.
But I can’t help think that the follow-up article by “Whaley” then goes on to prove my point when he asks;
Notice how none of these bands rarely tour overseas? Can you imagine Eskimo Tony playing at the Bowery Ballroom in New York the night before Deerhunter and the night after Drake?
Precisely, young Whaley, precisely.
In fact, the only home-grown talent (cough) that ever leaves these shores to ply their wares elsewhere could all fit together in seats 1A to 12B in the first class compartment of a regular 747 with the roadies not even having to spill out of Premium Economy. Let’s list ‘em; Kylie, ACDC (yeah, they’re Scottish but we’ll let that slide for the sake of this exercise), The Wiggles and the half of Crowded House that you can’t recall the names of because their surnames aren’t Finn. It’s not exactly a wave to challenge the English invasion of the 60’s or the invention of Glam Rock or Punk in the 70s, New bloody Romanticism, Grunge or BritPop, is it?
Inquiring minds might ask why is it that a country with a large population with Irish and British roots should not produce internationally-important (let’s not even use the words “successful” or “popular”) acts to the same level as a country of similar demographics and numbers like Canadia? I use the adjective “important” so as not to get the indie shoe-gazing crowd throwing rocks at me about how most people have shite taste in music (must be Socialists, eh Bardon, because they secretly hate people). Try to find a single example of “important” bands from Australia, ones that have influenced or altered the course of music significantly across the globe, and you’ll get an idea of what I mean. Where’s the Aussie Beatles, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Clash, Nirvana or even fucking Oasis?
I’ve got a theory on this, of course.
Firstly, let’s discount the geography; if you’re a budding Damon Albarn trying to get some international exposure for your nascent quaint-estuary English-speaking band, a flight to New York is only marginally cheaper from London than it is from Melbourne in the comparative scheme of things. The phone calls to arrange the venues and press in advance cost the same. Maybe that was a valid reason that the rest of the world never heard of Australian music prior to the 80s but it doesn’t wash now.
Next, what about local demand? Well, I’ve hung around with plenty of Australians in London and they all seemed to fill their boots with the gig scene there, heading out to anything and everything like they’d never witnessed live music prior to landing at Heathrow and getting the injection. Nope, Australians like music just like the Brits, Bogtrotters, Canuks and Yanks.
Maybe it’s simply a lack of musical talent? It’s well documented that the brave Aussie battlers battle bravely with the intricacies of the rules of grammar and spelling, perhaps they are musically dyslexic too? Yes but…. a lot of really great bands could barely play a note; the Stooges, the Sex Pistols, Echo and the Bunnymen, Milli Vanilli, for example. Nope, not lack of ability or talent.
No, my theory is that the venue landscape is to blame. A drive around Sydney will give a clue to the problem; there’s a couple of mid-sized venues in the centre and “zone 2” (say, Surry Hills or Newtown) but all the other suburbs have nothing much but RSL clubs that might have a space suitable to host a live gig. If you’ve never been to a “Returned
Servicemans‘ ServicePersons’ League” club, think British Legion Club crossed with a pub that doesn’t ban pikeys or patrons dressed in soiled building attire. The new Nick Drake isn’t going to thrive in this environment until he learns to blast out a mean version of Hi Ho Silver Lining and Back in Black. If you go along with the theory in Outliers, a band needs 10,000 hours of practice to become exceptional talent and you simply aren’t going to get that if the only places you’re going to be invited on stage at are filled with people like your Mum and Dad but not your Mum and Dad and they all came out tonight to talk loudly while Brothers in Arms; the Australian Dire Straits, go through the motions.
In the final analysis, the Australian music scene has probably reached its equilibrium, its appropriate level of incompetence. There are enough tribute bands to satisfy the RSL crowd and enough obscure indie bands to keep the shoe-gazers happy. And, luckier than the shoe-gazers in the UK, the Aussie ones are never faced with the dilemma of whether or not it’s still cool to like the band they’ve followed since the first album once the 3rd album goes Gold and they are hanging out with Bono and Madge. So stop whinging, Aussie music fans, that’s us Poms’ job.