Flume recently took to social media to make a heartfelt shout out to his electronic music-making brethren Down Under. “Just wanted to say how proud I am to be a part of Australian Electronic music scene right now, and its not just me.” he wrote. “I’ve been travelling the world for the past 6 months and I’m constantly getting asked in interviews about the “Australian sound” and this new wave of producers. I never thought much of it, being part of this new wave and all, but after this trip to the USA I’m starting to see it from an outsiders perspective. Australia, we’ve got something pretty special going on here, we’ve got our own sound, and the worlds [sic] starting to take notice.”
English music journalist Phoebe Hurst can vouch for that. She has become so enamoured with Australia’s thriving scene that she is upping stumps from her home land – the same land where bands like The Smiths, Radiohead and Led Zeppelin don’t even qualify as top contributors to the country’s pop music landscape, such is its superlative depth, breadth and history – and is relocating to Australia. Some people move overseas to follow their hearts. Phoebe Hurst is following the music. Her story is a good reminder of just how terrific that thing both she and Flume refer to as the ‘Australian sound’ really is right now.
A few months ago, I found myself in a nightclub underneath a railway bridge in Manchester, watching a man attach a hexagonal infinity mirror to the front of a DJ deck. It was the fourth UK date in Flume’s European tour and the press hype surrounding the Australian wunderproducer had proved hysterical enough to coax me out of my alternative Thursday night routine (usually involving onesies and an embarrassing number of Real Housewives repeats) and along to the crowded venue.
It’s not often I consider choosing pyjamas and car crash TV over live shows but, being British, I’ve always harboured a slightly imperialistic taste in music. Can anything really compete with a country that gave us David Bowie, Radiohead and Brian Eno? From Prog Rock to Dubstep, music movements are born here and, thankfully in the case of Brit Pop, can be quickly put to death here too. Then there’s the old stuff, the integral vertebrae in the backbone of modern music. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Clash aren’t iconic because of technical ability alone, their sound gets to the very core of British identity (apart from that time Bob Dylan introduced Paul McCartney to pot and he wrote ‘Got to Get You into My Life.’ Thanks, Bob).
I took it as an accepted fact of life that whilst Britain may suck at sport [Ed note: with the exception of football and, unfortunately, cricket] and no longer own a quarter of the world’s total land mass, at least we could do pop music better than anyone else. You can see why I had to think very carefully before ditching my PJs for a producer who could never be better than Disclosure.
But as the lights dimmed, I sensed that something potentially life-changing (or at least more life changing than the season six finale of Real Housewives of Orange County) was about to happen. A moist surge of bodies propelled me towards the infinity prism and Flume entered the stage. The front row went from polite to pit within seconds, LEDs flashed and, at the centre of it all, Harley Streten ducked the bass dives and ecstatically gurned out the peaks. In the midst of the euphoria, with the semi-pornographic visuals of ‘You and Me’ searing into my eyes, I finally admitted defeat: Australia might just have the coolest music scene in the world.
I see now that I was pretty late off the mark with this realisation. Five years ago, the nearest you’d get to coverage of upcoming Australian bands in the British music press was a slow-news-day think piece on Cold Chisel. Nowadays, the Australian buzz band is a well established thing and musos are tripping over themselves to pin down the ‘dreamy, delectable and ever-so-slightly dangerous’ Australian sound.
In 2012, Tame Impala were the first Australian band in 38 years to claim the Album of the Year gong from NME and the Guardian dubbed this year’s Glastonbury as the ‘Australian invasion’, thanks to an Aussie-heavy lineup featuring Xavier
Judd Rudd and Nick Cave. Perhaps the most obvious indicator of a country’s musical prestige though, is the moment when musicians themselves start commandeering its backwater towns for epic album launch parties. Daft Punk shocked everyone, not least the local residents when they premiered Random Access Memories in Wee Waa earlier this year.
Australia’s growing credibility and visibility in the music stakes hasn’t been without its detractors, nor a deluge of over-analysis on the origins of the ‘Australian music scene.’ I’ve lost count of the number of blog posts that start with a variation of the line: ‘Australian music isn’t just about AC/DC and Natalie Imbruglia anymore…’ and a review I read of a Cloud Control gig concluded with the perplexed writer wondering why there were so many Australian exchange students in the audience – he just couldn’t comprehend the fact that an Aussie might actually want to listen to good music. Of course Australia has always had a music ‘scene’ and of course Australians are excited about it; us Brits were probably just too busy willing the Libertines to reunite to notice it until now.
No longer clinging to illusions of a musical British Empire, I’ll now admit that my listening habits have taken a definite shift Down Under. Ninety percent of the stuff I’ve been listening to, writing about and clogging up my friends’ newsfeeds with (if any of my online acquaintances didn’t know who Chet Faker was before, they do now) has been Australian in origin. Jagwar Ma’s Howlin’ is already my favourite album of 2013 and I won’t even mention the debt it owes to the Happy Mondays.
So what does a diligent music journalist/recent English Lit. grad with questionable employment skills do? Go straight to the source. Much to the bemusement of my parents (my mum still doesn’t quite get that I’m taking a 10,000 mile trip because of a band named after a small antelope), I’ve decided to up sticks and relocate to the world’s new music hub.
But don’t think I’ve taken the decision lightly. Moving to the other side of the world is a huge undertaking and one that requires extensive research. I Skyped my friend Katie who lives in Sydney to ask about the gigs she’d been to lately. ‘I saw Whitley at the weekend and I’m pretty sure a hippie imposter pervaded my body. You’ll love it but you’ll need to get yourself a pair of crazy pants,’ she advised. My friends at home have been similarly encouraging: ‘Even if it’s a total fail, at least you’ll get a good beach profile pic out of it.’
Forsaking my place of birth in a potentially disastrous gap year seems like a fair trade off for woven raffia pants and Facebook bragging. I’m tired of having my knowledge of Australian music mediated by Pitchfork, I want to be listening to Triple J and getting beer thrown in my hair at Splendour.
As I was leaving the Flume gig that night, an oddly tanned guy lurched towards me. ‘That was insane,’ he said. ‘I just got back from Melbourne, this is the seventh time I’ve seen him, I’ve got to be at work in three hours. The Aussies know about music, man.’ If that isn’t a sign that I should be in a tropical paradise, listening to electronic music and going out on a school night, then I don’t know what is. Australia, here I come…
Phoebe Hurst is a music journalist based in England (for not much longer) and contributes to The Guardian, VICE and now Pedestrian. She enjoys Australian music and misguidedly is allowing this guy to inform her major life decisions:
Main image by Patrick Stevenson