'80s Aussie Alt-Rock Essentials

'80s Aussie Alt-Rock Essentials

The ’80s is often regarded as a decade of excess—greed was good, but big hair and big shoulder pads were also high on the priority list. In Australia’s alt-rock scene, though, its bands were delivering a furious, feral response to such mindless extravagance, while helping the nation develop a social conscience and awareness of its ancient roots. The latter came in the shape of Indigenous acts such as Yothu Yindi and their song “Djapana (Sunset Dreaming)”, which introduced instruments such as the didgeridoo and clapsticks into mainstream pop music and drew on traditions from the ceremonial repertoires of the Gumatj and Rirratjingu clans for its lyrics. The Warumpi Band, meanwhile, released the first rock song recorded in an Aboriginal language (Luritja) in “Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out From Jail)”, while reflecting on racism in Australia and the need for harmony in “Blackfella / Whitefella”. While the Desert region was fuelling such important musical milestones, the country’s dingy pubs and clubs were breeding a different kind of movement, one populated by unhinged acts that married musical malevolence with onstage bedlam far removed from the decade’s all-that-glitters-is-gold ethos (Beasts of Bourbon, The Scientists, The Birthday Party, Lubricated Goat). Slightly less frightening were the acts carving out a new, internationally recognised Australian indie sound, such as The Church (“The Unguarded Moment”), The Go-Betweens (“Streets of Your Town”) and The Triffids (“Wide Open Road”), while the decade’s legendary pub rock scene yielded groups that filled the nation’s radio playlists, such as Boom Crash Opera (“Great Wall”), Divinyls (“Science Fiction”), Uncanny X Men (“Don’t Wake Me”) and the New Romantic-indebted Pseudo Echo (“Listening”). The ’80s was also the decade in which one of Australia’s most celebrated artists—Nick Cave—well and truly emerged as a force in his own right, eschewing his past with The Birthday Party and The Boys Next Door to pursue a solo career with The Bad Seeds (“The Mercy Seat”). By the end of the ’80s, Oz rock was no longer an easily identifiable sound or concept, with Australian music now a melting pot of influences and genres, as the acts on this playlist attest.

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