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Why Is Australian Music So F**ing Good?

Updated: Feb 5

Australia. Located in between the Pacific and Indian Ocean, home to vegemite, kangaroos, koalas, 42 Wallaby Way Sydney, and a petri dish of kick-ass punk/indie music. Courtney Barnett, The Chats, Julia Jacklin, Amyl and the Sniffers, Kee’ahn, Tame Impala, The Saints, Stella Donnelly, Camp Cope, The Birthday Party, Scientists, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Dojo Cuts, Hiatus Kaiyote, ACDC, and Skeggs. All Australians. So, what is going on in Australia? Is Australia the new Seattle? Is it the punk influence of England and America? Their politics? Their geography making sweet little pockets of indie gold? Are Australians just cooler? Everyone is asking, “Why is Australian music so fucking good?” I’m on a mission to find out. 


Punk, as a genre, as a sense of style, as an adjective, has always provided a space for misfits. It’s revolutionary music, community, subversive, and underground. It looks like zines, smudged eyeliner, shaggy haircuts, and the braces of Poly Styrene in the X-Ray Spex. It sounds like shrill screams, heavy guitar, political commentary, off-kilter sounds, and lyrics swirling and counteracting the mainstream. But, Johnny Cash can be punk, Courtney Barnett can be punk too. Punk can be everything. That’s the cool thing about punk. It displays itself as a space for everyone (although mosh pits would say the opposite).  


Following the downfall of hippie peace and love coupled with empty promises of equality made by the 60s–the 70s and early 80s were met with a punk slap in the face. They plucked the flower with a fist. The punk cough infected the whole world. A counterculture of noisy guitars and loud voices erupted, and its shockwave rippled all the way down under. Early punk in Australia can be traced back to bands like The Saints, Scientists, and The Birthday Party (originally known as Boys Next Door and also led by the iconic Nick Cave). In Keith Cameron’s article “Come the Revolution,” he cites Australian punk coming to fruition for the same reasons as American and British punk, “a sense of disillusionment with what was on offer, musically and socially.” Okay…so far, we have this anger at the status quo–a punk staple and necessity. 


The geography of Australia is not something to discount in its funky and unique music. Because the continent is isolated and huge, cities are scattered coast to coast. Punks and creatives are spread out in almost a sea of punks–from Perth to Sydney to Melbourne. These cities acted as a microcosm of New York, arguably Seattle, and London music scenes, creating small clusters of punk that would ultimately leak and impact the culture of indie/punk music for the next five decades. Isolated places create insane music, we’ve seen it again and again. Punks in these cities were often forced to take inspiration from others, creating their own version of grassroots, Aussie, punk. This weird geographical concoction is why we have the Perth psychedelic rock of Tame Impala working in tandem with the classic punk of Melbourne’s Amyl and the Sniffers.



One of my favorites in the Australian punk game right now is Amyl and the Sniffers. I think they are the clearest example of how Australians now are carrying the legacy of bands like The Birthday Party and Bikini Kill. Lead singer Amy Taylor thrashes, jumps, and erratically moves like punk icons of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Her appearance with a blonde mullet, dresses, and leather calls to the Riot Grrrls challenging the blur between feminine and masculine performance. This is punk. This is anger. This is fun. Taylor latches onto the mic like every show is her last. The band as a whole carries this energy of unleashed raw emotion. Amyl and the Sniffers mix and combine British, American, and Australian punk energy creating an explosion of in-your-face noise, not shying away from their uniqueness, and I don’t give a fuck (but I do) mentality. 


Aussie punk is the music we are missing in the indie scene. They’re bringing a new sound, a new energy, a new attitude. This weird cross-section between British punk rock and American indie, grunge, and folk allows Australian artists to create their own sound that departs and expands on every branch of music. Like Seattle, Australia could claim this new niche section of the indie market.


Now, we’re facing the same distrust, anger, disgust in politics, and empty equality promises that the world saw in the 90s. What followed the Riot Grrrl revolution and Nirvana was a complete shift in indie, punk, and grunge music. Australia carries that legacy today as a personification of a misfit–its location leaving it to its own devices, its musical culture as a mod podge of its nation with American/British influence infiltrating its politics and punk status quo. Amyl and the Sniffers said it best...Australia is putting its “freaks to the front” for the music world to see. Get to the front and pay attention (or don’t, but don’t let me say I told you so).














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