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Australian indie music

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Photographer unknown, I'm Stranded, The Saints. Image courtesy of Saints Music.

Australian independent (indie) music fills a space left by rock and pop music. It goes with music and dance, radios and i-pods and it is more diverse, creative and real. There is less emphasis on big production values and more emphasis on songwriting and structure than there is with pop and rock music.

Australian indie music labels are important 'because they're usually willing to take a chance with their hearts and not their wallets' (SpeaknSpell).

History of Australian indie music

Indie music is said to have resulted from the punk movement which began in the 1970s. With the punk movement came a formation of a new style of music, new bands, and independent music labels generally ran from backyard operations.

One of the pioneering bands for indie music in Australia was a Brisbane-based punk rock band, The Saints. Sir Bob Geldof labelled 'The Saints as one of the three most influential punk bands of the '70s'. The Saints formed in 1974 and released their first, independently produced, single '(I'm) Stranded', in late 1976. This single was released well before the British punk idols the Sex Pistols.

The Dugites were a Perth indie pop band who formed in 1978 with lead singer Lynda Nutter. The Dugites combined elements of power pop, new wave and electronic with hit singles 'Juno and Me' and 'In Your Car'.

Setting a solid foundation for today's indie music scene

The Go-Betweens.

Photographer unknown, The Go-Betweens pic, The Go-Betweens. Courtesy of Triple J.

The '80s set a solid foundation for the indie music scene. One of the most successful Australian indie bands of this period was The Go-Betweens. The Go-Betweens began with simple pop tunes that had a new-age edge and progressed, in later albums, to a sound consisting of semi-spoken vocals, complex lyrics and melodic guitar pop.

The '80s also brought about many successful Australian indie bands including the Hoodoo Gurus, Radio Birdman and the Beasts of Bourbon. Forming in 1986, the Plug Uglies were described by the Time Off Magazine as inner-city Sydney indie band that stood at arm's length from so many of their peers, while busily forging a distinctive path of their own.

Ben Lee, since launching his solo career in 1995 as an indie singer/songwriter, has celebrated exceptional success world-wide. With his Bob Dylan-esque music, Lee has won several ARIA Awards and had a song featured on hit US drama Grey's Anatomy. Keeping true to the indie music scene, Lee now produces his albums from his own independent record label Ten Fingers.

More recent bands that set the stage for today's emerging indie scene include: indie pop band Sleepy Township (1994 - 2002); Sydney band Sneeze, whose primary member, Nick Dalton, also runs independent record label Half a Cow; and The Art of Fighting, formed in 1997 and still going strong.

Independent labels

As indie bands emerged in Australia so did independent labels. While known as small backyard operations, independent music labels are really competing in a music industry which has become more skewed towards large-scale commercial operations. A clear example of this is Australian independent record label Eleven - A Music Company with their signing of internationally acclaimed Australian artists such as Silverchair, Wolfmother, Pete Murray and Kisschasey. Sydney-based independent music label Laughing Outlaw has managed to broaden its horizons beyond Australia in its signing of Canadian indie band Pony Up.

The new generation that came from punk rock

Architecture in Helsinki.

Photographer unknown, Architecture in Helsinki. Courtesy of Architecture in Helsinki.

The lines where rock music ends and other styles begin is blurring today and true to this, the progression of indie music is increasingly becoming less about the signing label and more about the uniqueness of their sound.

The new-generation indie band Architecture in Helsinki uses a wide range of instruments including the trombone, tuba, clarinet, recorder and glockenspiel to create their unique sound. Bridezilla, with nods to both jazz and folk, use drums, guitar, violin, saxophone, and breathy and growling vocals to. In contrast, solo indie artist, Sarah Blasko's debut album 'The Overture and Underscore' focused on acoustic guitar and utilises both live and programmed drums.

Some of the more successful indie bands, such as the John Butler Trio, are also helping up-and-coming creative Australians to succeed in their fields. The band's lead singer, John Butler, has set up the JB Seed Foundation which offers grants in specific categories to support the nation's vast, dynamic and unique arts community. One category relevant to indie music is Indigenous Hip Hop Competition.

Indie dance music

Australia followed the UK's lead in indie dance music, with a range of genres and mixes covering break, drum 'n bass, dub, electronica, downtempo, funk/soul/disco, hardcore, techno/electro/minimal, hip hop, house, trance and hard dance becoming increasingly popular since the 1990s. DJs and MCs have emerged with the indie dance music scene, with night clubs as typical venues. Indie dance bands and DJs include Kid Kenobi, Resin Dogs, Sneaky Sound System and The Potbelleez.

Support for Australian indie music

LilyWorld.

Sophie Howarth, LilyWorld group, 2007. Courtesy of Big Day Out.

In the highly competitive business of entertainment, indie music would struggle without support. In Australia, support for indie music is primarily given through organisations that facilitate exposure for the artists.

Australian indie bands have gained exposure through Australian radio stations such as Triple J. Triple J is a government-funded national radio station that generally plays more alternative music than commercial stations and focuses on Australian and live music. Triple J also supports the indie and broader Australian music scene through Triple J Unearthed.

The Triple J Unearthed project aims to find hidden talent in regional areas through its regional emerging artists contests. It also showcases new talent through its online playlist, where emerging bands put their music online to be critiqued and the public can listen and download music from those bands. Unearthed has discovered new artists from all over Australia and has launched the careers of indie artists like Missy Higgins and The Young and the Restless.

Festivals such as the Big Day Out, The Falls Festival and The Homebake Festival give Australian bands exposure. The Homebake Festival only stages Australian bands, and every year have had a good representation of bands from the indie music genre.

The key support for indie artists and labels is the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). AIR is a non-profit and non-government association that supports the development of the Australian independent music sector.

Useful links

Music industry

Rock music resources

Band websites

Last updated: 3rd December 2007
Creators: Ngaire Harvey

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