Australian ‘80s Underground

If there was an unspoken rule for Australian underground, independent groups in the 1980s, it was – “to make it, you’ve got to go overseas.” There was some truth to this claim. It certainly worked for Nick Cave, who relocated first to London, then Berlin, with The Birthday Party. Other groups followed – The Go-Betweens and Laughing Clowns, in quick succession, though Ed Kuepper of the Clowns had also made the move with The Saints, in the late seventies. The Church, Crime & The City Solution, and The Triffids would follow.

Many of these groups are now iconic figures within Australian music discourse, and rightly so. But what I want to do here is shine a spotlight on the groups that didn’t quite make that leap – groups who achieved some degree of success in their home country, who may or may not have had limited success overseas, some relocating for a time, some not, but who didn’t quite achieve the infamy and continual critical hosannas of a Nick Cave or David McComb. The albums mentioned below were often released on one of a small, loosely defined network of labels that helped to keep Australia’s independent music scene afloat, often attached to record stores: Au-go-go, Waterfront, Phantom, Citadel, Greasy Pop, Aberrant, Rampant. (You can dive into the catalogues of any of these labels and discover much more, too.)

The sound? Well, I’ve attempted to keep it open here; there’s acoustic melancholy and folksiness (The Apartments, Not Drowning Waving, The Lighthouse Keepers), and indie-pop (The Cannanes, The Particles, Love Positions), but also noise-rock (King Snake Roost, Lubricated Goat, Bloodloss), proto-grunge (The Scientists, feedtime, Cosmic Psychos), and psychedelic pop (The Stems, The Moffs, The Garden Path). What isn’t present is the thornier, knottier end of post-punk, DIY, experimental and electronic music – that’s a whole other list unto itself. But this is a good entry point into one of the most feverishly creative ‘scenes’, of sorts, of its decade.

Jon Dale

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If there was an unspoken rule for Australian underground, independent groups in the 1980s, it was – “to make it, you’ve got to go overseas.” There was some truth to this claim. It certainly worked for Nick Cave, who relocated first to London, then Berlin, with The Birthday Party. Other groups followed – The Go-Betweens and Laughing Clowns, in quick succession, though Ed Kuepper of the Clowns had also made the move with The Saints, in the late seventies. The Church, Crime & The City Solution, and The Triffids would follow.

Many of these groups are now iconic figures within Australian music discourse, and rightly so. But what I want to do here is shine a spotlight on the groups that didn’t quite make that leap – groups who achieved some degree of success in their home country, who may or may not have had limited success overseas, some relocating for a time, some not, but who didn’t quite achieve the infamy and continual critical hosannas of a Nick Cave or David McComb. The albums mentioned below were often released on one of a small, loosely defined network of labels that helped to keep Australia’s independent music scene afloat, often attached to record stores: Au-go-go, Waterfront, Phantom, Citadel, Greasy Pop, Aberrant, Rampant. (You can dive into the catalogues of any of these labels and discover much more, too.)

The sound? Well, I’ve attempted to keep it open here; there’s acoustic melancholy and folksiness (The Apartments, Not Drowning Waving, The Lighthouse Keepers), and indie-pop (The Cannanes, The Particles, Love Positions), but also noise-rock (King Snake Roost, Lubricated Goat, Bloodloss), proto-grunge (The Scientists, feedtime, Cosmic Psychos), and psychedelic pop (The Stems, The Moffs, The Garden Path). What isn’t present is the thornier, knottier end of post-punk, DIY, experimental and electronic music – that’s a whole other list unto itself. But this is a good entry point into one of the most feverishly creative ‘scenes’, of sorts, of its decade.

Shfl