Ages ago I remember one of The Horrors talking dead seriously to me about how jealous he was of Australian bands. Over there, said Horror reasoned, there was no press intrusion, no real touring structure and no lamo London record label spin-cycle scene for bands to get swallowed up in. Instead, there was a real sense of freedom: all that isolation and endless space meant you could get on with doing whatever you wanted as an artist, putting the music firmly first.
This was around the time Tame Impala were peaking with Innerspeaker, so it made a whole lot of sense to me. But since then everything Antipodean has snowballed, to the point where I now think the Aus and NZ scenes are, to be honest, kicking everybody elses arses. Royal Headache, Lorde, Total Control, Pond, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Salad Boys, Kirin J Callinan, Courtney Barnett, Jagwar Ma, The Preatures, Splashh, DZ Deathrays, Fraser A Gorman, DMA’s… and that’s just scratching the surface.
With that in mind, this week’s buzz is focussed around BigSound festival, which took place in Brisbane recently and is widely regarded as Australia’s version of SXSW – the place where any new band worth their salt goes to get ahead. BigSound’s most recent success story? Courtney Barnett, who hasn’t done too badly in recent years, has she?
With that in mind, here’s my pick of the bunch from the 2015 programme…
Gang Of Youths
A juggernaut of a live act, the Sydney fivepiece have been on my radar for a couple of years since dropping an early version of the beautiful ‘Evangelists’ ages ago. I even saw them at CMJ 2013, where they were wide-eyed and giddy on their first ever trip to the US. Now, following two years of solid touring, they’ve become proper road dogs, and grown into a thrilling prospect. Their headline showcase at BigSound is loud, heavy, sweaty, shouty and anthemic like early Arcade Fire, with every track of their set screamed and elongated into what seems like a 10-minute epic. If they can convert that passion onto their next record the sky’s the limit. Here’s a ripped cover of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’ from earlier in the year:
Cosima Jaala could be a perfectly abstract popstar. Away from Jaala she fronts the frankly mental Mangelwurzel, a sprawling, unpredictable live act who combine space jazz, prog and 5/8 rhythms to headspinning effect. It’s almost too dizzying, but Jaala is more refined – and all the better for it. With a voice that’s childlike like Kate Bush yet also vaguely reminiscent of Amy Winehouse circa Frank, there’s an impressive confidence to ‘Hard Hold’ that’s difficult not to appreciate.
City Calm Down
New on Sydney’s I Oh You label are City Calm Down. They take to the stage at BigSound dressed completely in black, barely saying a word to the audience. There’s a brooding mentality throughout the show too, which is odd because musically they’re an ambitious proposition – New Order synths bubble away as singer Jack Bourke croons like Brandon Flowers doing his best Springsteen impression.
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There are several mesmerising moments during Gabriella Cohen’s set at the Press Club, which feels more like a weird house party than an industry showcase. The best bit comes when she and lead guitarist Kate Dillon bop around the tiny stage, staring the audience out and knocking into each during a blissed out song called ‘Sever The Walls’. Unlike so many BigSound acts, they don’t seem to be playing for cool points, and their onstage demeanour reminds me of The Libertines in 2002 before they got big. It’s almost as if they’re performing in a glass house, and if you happen to be looking in, then fine. If not – fuck you. Musically, there’s bits of Mazzy Star, Nick Cave and the Velvet Underground to devour, as well as an amazing pop song about Saturday nights/Sunday mornings called ‘I Don’t Feel So Alive’:
Perth’s Methyl Ethel came away from BigSound having picked up booking agents in both the UK and US – basically the aim for most acts here – so expect to see things move fairly quickly for them. The hype’s justified too, although people in Brisbane saying they’re ‘the new Tame Impala’ might be slightly wide of the mark. Whereas that band were always happy residing in the place where psych and prog meet, there’s a woozy, delicate vibe to ME which recalls I Am Kloot in places. Album Oh Inhuman Spectacle is out now in Aus and I’ve been listening all week – ‘Rogues’, with all its shimmering beauty has a Postcard Records air about it, while ‘Twilight Driving’ pilfers guitar lines from Warpaint and boasts a chorus as huge as the Sydney Opera House itself. Take a listen: