You like Flume, right? Those stuttering beats, those marvellously synthetic yet organic washes of sound, the breathy voice of Kai on the global smash hit Never Be Like You – there’s something deeply intoxicating about those sounds, and the dozens upon dozens of artists doing similar laptop-based tracks in his wake.
Turn on community radio and you’ll hear no shortage of local acts blending beats and keys, with vocals tending toward the twittery and whispered – almost as though the artists are working on their music late at night in rooms with thin walls and restless housemates.
It’s definitely been the sound of the past few years and here’s hoping you like it because that’s pretty much what Australian music is going to sound like, for the most part, for the foreseeable future. At least, as far as the big cities are concerned.
Once upon a time Sydney was a city of rock, first with the pub-rock explosion of the ’70s and ’80s, which gave us the hard-gigging likes of AC/DC, Midnight Oil, INXS, the Sunnyboys and Baby Animals.
When the big suburban beer barns became pokie palaces after strict drink-driving laws, music moved to the inner city and birthed the late ’80s /early ’90s indie-guitar renaissance of Ratcat, the Hummingbirds and Clouds through to Smudge and You Am I.
It wasn’t all guitars, of course – there was also the piano-based Whitlams; guitars’n’beats crossover acts such as Caligula and Def FX; and the indescribable genre-mashing weirdness of Machine Gun Fellatio. But all those acts were linked by a common thread: they were energetic, they were great at festivals, and most of all, they were loud.
And that was possible when the inner city was a neglected mess of cheap accommodation and grungy pubs. Artists and students could cluster around the venues who could put on bands until all hours, secure in the knowledge no residents would complain since they were all in the band room.
Fast-forward to 2017 and things are very different.
The inner city is desirable real estate, filled with apartment developments and well-heeled home owners who bought their terrace for a song in the ’90s and don’t want loud music spoiling the peaceful ambience of their Newtown gold mine.
Venues are shutting, and those that exist do so under pressure from noise complaints. Artists and students are being dispersed further out, preventing the formation of those fertile enclaves that used to birth music scenes. And with Sydney rents being what they are, folks can hardly form garage bands when they can’t afford a place with a garage.
So you’d expect that most of Sydney’s metropolitan-based artists would be quiet and solo since forming a big loud band either requires one to be way out in the hinterlands where one can make a racket (the Rubens, Northlane, all the outer-west metal bands) or have access to a regular gig in an evangelical church where neighbourhood noise complaints won’t get nearly as swift a response from the local council (and congratulations on the ARIA wins, Gang of Youths!).
So now’s the time to get into laptop-based artists, Sydney music fans; unless the demographics of our city start changing pretty quick smart, that’s going to be the only music that’s left.
Andrew P Street’s The Long and Winding Way to the Top: Fifty (or so) Songs That Made Australia is out now through Allen & Unwin.
To see Street in action, he will be hosting The Double Disillusionists’ Christmas Panto with Dom Knight on Wednesday 14 December 14 at 8pm. Guests will include political commentators Lenore Taylor, the editor of the Guardian Australia, and Sean Kelly, the Monthly’s political editor and daily columnist.