Music of Australia

Music of Australia

The music of Australia is the music produced in the area of, on the subject of, or by the people of modern Australia, including its preceding Indigenous and colonial societies. Indigenous Australian music is a part of the unique heritage of a 40–60,000 year history which produced the iconic didgeridoo. Contemporary fusions of Indigenous and Western styles (exemplified in the works of Yothu Yindi, Christine Anu and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu) mark distinctly Australian contributions to world music. During its early western history, Australia was a collection of British colonies, and Australian folk music and bush ballads such as Waltzing Matilda were heavily influenced by Anglo-Celtic traditions, while classical forms were derived from those of Europe. Contemporary Australian music ranges across a broad spectrum with trends often concurrent with those of the US, the UK, and similar nations – notably in the Australian rock and Australian country music genres. Tastes have diversified along with post-World-War-II multicultural immigration to Australia.

Notable Australian musicians include: the opera singers Dame Nellie Melba and Dame Joan Sutherland; country music stars Slim Dusty (Australia's biggest selling domestic artist) and John Williamson; solo artists John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John, folk-rocker Paul Kelly; Dance group The Avalanches; jazz guitarist Tommy Emmanuel; pioneer rocker Johnny O'Keefe, global folk-rock band The Seekers, global rock and pop bands the The EasyBeats, Bee Gees, AC/DC, INXS, Little River Band, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Midnight Oil, Dragon, Silverchair, Youth Group, You Am I and Powderfinger; the "pop princess" Kylie Minogue, Pendulum, Pop Rock duo Savage Garden and alternative music stars the John Butler Trio and Xavier Rudd.


Indigenous music

Performance of Aboriginal song and dance in the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney with traditional instrument, the Didgeridoo.

Indigenous Australian music refers to the music of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Music forms an integral part of the social, cultural and ceremonial observances of these peoples, and has been so for over 60,000 years.[1] Traditional Indigenous music is best characterised by the didgeridoo, the best-known instrument, which is considered by some to be the world's oldest.[2] Archaeological studies of rock art in the Northern Territory suggest people of the Kakadu region were playing the instrument 15,000 years ago.[3]

Contemporary Indigenous Australian music has covered numerous styles, including rock and roll, country,[4] hip hop, and reggae. Jimmy Little is regarded as the first Aboriginal performer to achieve mainstream success, with his debut 1964 song "The Royal Telephone" highly popular and successful.[5] In 2005, Little was presented with an honorary doctorate in music by the University of Sydney.[6] Despite the popularity of some of his work, Little failed to launch Indigenous music in the country—from the 1970s onwards, groups such as Coloured Stone, Warumpi Band, and No Fixed Address would help improve the image of the genre.[5] It would be Yothu Yindi that would bring Indigenous music to the mainstream, with their 1991 song "Treaty", from the album Tribal Voice, becoming a hit.[7] would go on to reach #11 on the ARIA Singles Chart.[8] The band's performances were based on the traditional Yolngu dance, and embodied a sharing of culture.[5] The success of Yothu Yindi—winners of eight ARIA Awards[9]—was followed in by Kev Carmody, Tiddas, Christine Anu, and numerous other Indigenous Australian musicians.[5]

Indigenous Australian music, is unique, as it dates back more than 60,000 years to the prehistory of Australia and continues the ancient songlines through contemporary artists as diverse as: Jimmy Little, Warumpi Band, Yothu Yindi, Tiddas, Wild Water, Christine Anu, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Saltwater Band, Nabarlek, Nokturnl, the Pigram Brothers, Coloured Stone, Blekbala Mujik, Kev Carmody, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter.

Folk music

Cover to Banjo Paterson's seminal 1905 collection of bush ballads, entitled The Old Bush Songs

For much of its history, Australia's bush music belonged to an oral and folkloric tradition, and was only later published in print in volumes such as Banjo Paterson's Old Bush Songs, in the 1890s. The distinctive themes and origins of Australia's "bush music" or "bush band music" can be traced to the songs sung by the convicts who were sent to Australia during the early period of the British colonisation, beginning in 1788. Early Australian ballads sing of the harsh ways of life of the epoch and of such people and events as bushrangers, swagmen, drovers, stockmen and shearers. Convict and bushranger verses often railed against government tyranny. Classic bush songs on such themes include: The Wild Colonial Boy, Click Go The Shears, The Eumeralla Shore, The Drover's Dream, The Queensland Drover, The Dying Stockman and Moreton Bay.[10]

Later themes which endure to the present include the experiences of war, of droughts and flooding rains, of Aboriginality and of the railways and trucking routes which link Australia's vast distances. Isolation and loneliness of life in the Australian bush has been another theme.

Waltzing Matilda, often regarded as Australia's unofficial National anthem, is a quintessential Australian folk song, influenced by Celtic folk ballads. Country and folk artists such as Tex Morton, Slim Dusty, Rolf Harris, The Bushwackers, John Williamson, and John Schumann of the band Redgum have continued to record and popularise the old bush ballads of Australia through the 20th and into the 21st century – and contemporary artists including Sara Storer and Lee Kernaghan draw heavily on this heritage.

A number of British singers have spent periods in Australia and have included Australian material in their repertoires, e.g. A. L. Lloyd, Martin Wyndham-Read and Eric Bogle.

Folk rock

Australia has a unique tradition of folk music, with origins in both the indigenous music traditions of the original Australian inhabitants, as well as the introduced folk music (including sea shanties) of 18th and 19th century Europe. Celtic, English, German and Scandinavian folk traditions predominated in this first wave of European immigrant music. The Australian tradition is, in this sense, related to the traditions of other countries with similar ethnic, historical and political origins, such as New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. The Australian indigenous tradition brought to this mix novel elements, including new instruments, some of which are now internationally familiar, such as the didgeridoo of Northern Australia.

Notable Australian exponents of the folk revival movement included both European immigrants such as Eric Bogle, noted for his sad lament to the battle of Gallipoli "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", and indigenous Australians like Archie Roach and Paul Kelly. Kelly's lyrics capture the vastness of the culture and landscape of Australia by chronicling life about him for over 30 years. David Fricke from Rolling Stone calls Kelly "one of the finest songwriters I have ever heard, Australian or otherwise.". In the 1970s, Australian Folk Rock brought both familiar and less familiar traditional songs, as well as new compositions, to live venues and the airwaves. Notable artists include The Bushwacker Band and Redgum. Redgum are known for their 1983 anti-war protest song "I Was Only Nineteen", which peaked at #1 on the National singles charts. The 1990s brought Australian Indigenous Folk Rock to the world, led by bands including Yothu Yindi. Australia's long and continuous folk tradition continues strongly to this day, with elements of folk music still present in many contemporary artists including those generally thought of as Rock, Heavy Metal and Alternative Music.

Popular music

Country music

Australia has a long tradition of country music, which has developed a style quite distinct from its US counterpart. The early roots of Australian country are related to folk traditions of Ireland, England, Scotland and many diverse nations. "Botany Bay" from the late 19th century is one example. Waltzing Matilda, often regarded by foreigners as Australia's unofficial national anthem, is a quintessential Australian country song, influenced more by Celtic folk ballads than by American Country and Western music. This strain of Australian country music, with lyrics focusing on strictly Australian subjects, is generally known as "bush music" or "bush band music." The most successful Australian bush band is Melbourne's The Bushwackers, active since the early 1970s.

Another, more Americanized form of Australian country music was pioneered in the 1930s by such recording artists as Tex Morton, and later popularized by Slim Dusty, best remembered for his 1957 song "A Pub With No Beer". Dusty married singer-songwriter Joy McKean in 1951 and went on to become Australia's biggest selling domestic music artist with more than 7 million record sales.[11] Australian country artists including Olivia Newton-John and Keith Urban have achieved considerable success in the USA. In recent years local contemporary country music, featuring much crossover with popular music, has enjoyed considerable popularity in Australia; notable musicians of this genre include John Williamson, Gina Jeffreys, Lee Kernaghan, Troy Cassar-Daley, Sara Storer, Felicity Urquhart and Kasey Chambers. Others influenced by the genre include Nick Cave, Paul Kelly, The John Butler Trio and The Waifs.

Popular Australian country songs include Click Go the Shears (Traditional), Lights on the Hill (1973), I Honestly Love You (1974), True Blue (1981), and Not Pretty Enough (2002).

Children's music

Children's music in Australia developed gradually over the latter half of the 20th century. The most recognised performers in that period were those associated with the long-running Australian Broadacsting Corporation series Playschool, including veteran actor-musician Don Spencer and actor and singer Noni Hazlehurst.

Children's music remained a relatively small segment of the Australian music industry until the emergence of groundbreaking children's group The Wiggles in the late 1990s. The multi-award-winning four-piece group rapidly gained international popularity in the early 2000s and by the end of the decade they had become one of the most popular children's groups in the world. The Wiggles now boasts a huge fanbase in many regions including Australasia, Britain, Asia, and the Americas.

In 2008 The Wiggles were named Business Review Weekly's top-earning Australian entertainers for the fourth year in a row having earned A$45 million in 2007.[12] They have been called "the world's biggest preschool band" and "your child's first rock band".[13] The group has achieved worldwide success with their children's albums, videos, television series, and concert appearances. They have earned seventeen gold, twelve platinum, three double-platinum, and ten multi-platinum awards for sales of over 17 million DVDs and four million CDs.[14]

By 2002, The Wiggles had become the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) most successful pre-school television program. They have performed for over 1.5 million children in the US between 2005 and 2008.[15] They have won APRA song writing awards for Best Children's Song three times and earned ADSDA's award for Highest Selling Children's Album four times.[14] They have been nominated for ARIA's Best Children's Album award fourteen times, and won the award eight times.[16] In 2003, they received ARIA's Outstanding Achievement Award for their success in the U.S.[14]

R&B and soul music

Guy Sebastian and Jimmy Barnes 6 March 2008 State Theatre

R&B and soul music had a significant impact on Australian popular music, although it is notable that many seminal recordings in this genre by American acts of the late 20th century were not played on Australian radio. Anecdotal evidence suggest that racism was a key factor—in his book on the history of Australian radio, author and broadcaster Wayne Mac recounts that when a local Melbourne DJ of the 1960s played the new Ike and Tina Turner single "River Deep Mountain High" it was immediately pulled from the playlist by the station's program manager for being "too noisy and too black".[17]

As a result, many local soul/R&B hits of this period were cover versions recorded by Australian acts. Despite radio's relucatance to play American soul/R&B originals, these styles were avidly adopted by local performers however and covers of soul/R&B standards were staples in the setlists of many acts including Max Merritt and the Meteors, Doug Parksinon, Jeff St John, The Groop, The Groove, The Twilights, Renee Geyer and many others.

Renee Geyer is an Australian singer who came to prominence in the mid-1970s, has long been regarded as one of the finest exponents of jazz, soul and R&B idioms.[18][19] She had commercial success as a solo artist in Australia, with "It's a Man's Man's World "Rock historian, Ian McFarlane described her as having a "rich, soulful, passionate and husky vocal delivery".[18] Geyer's iconic status in the Australian music industry was recognised when she was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame on 14 July 2005.

Parallel with Geyer's success, American born vocalist Marcia Hines emerged as one of Australia's most successful solo singers. She first came to prominence in the early 1970s with critically acclaimed roles in the local stage productions of Hair' and Jesus Christ Superstar (in which she was the first African-American to play the role of Mary Magdalene) before launching a solo career. By the late 1970s she was one of Australia's top singing stars, winning several Queen of Pop awards and hosting her own national TV variety series.

Following their initial dissolution in 1982 Cold Chisel lead vocalist Jimmy Barnes embarked on a successful solo career that has continued from the 1980s to the present. Many of Barnes' albums have featured versions of songs from these genres and his chart-topping album Soul Deep (1991) consisted entirely of covers of classic 1960s soul/R&B covers.

Australian soul singer/songwriters like Daniel Merriweather, has after several successful collaborations with artists such as Mark Ronson, released his official debut album, Love & War, in June 2009. It entered the UK Albums Chart at number two. After launching his career as the winner of an early series of Australian Idol, soul singer/songwriter Guy Sebastian has also made an impact on this genre in Australia winning awards at the Urban Music Awards Australia and New Zealand for Best Male Artist and Best R&B Album. Sebastian's recent release "Like it Like That", was the highest selling Australian artist single in 2009 and charted at #1 for two consecutive weeks[20][21]

R&B singer, Jessica Mauboy made her musical debut in 2008 with the R&B hit, "Running Back" which featured American rapper, Flo Rida and peaked at #3 on the ARIA Singles Chart[22] Her debut album, Been Waiting earned her seven nominations at the 2009 ARIA Music Awards, winning the award of "Highest Selling Single" for "Running Back"[23]

R&B and Pop singer Cody Simpson has achieved international acclaim and has been compared to the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus[citation needed], and Simpson's music has charted all over the world[citation needed].

Rock and pop

Johnny O'Keefe, the Wild One.

Australia has produced a wide variety of rock and popular music, from the internationally renowned work of the Bee Gees, AC/DC, INXS, Nick Cave, Savage Garden, the Seekers, or pop diva Kylie Minogue to the popular local content of John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes or Paul Kelly. Indigenous Australian music and Australian jazz have also had cross-over influence on this genre.[24]

Among the brightest stars of early Australian rock and roll were Col Joye and Johnny O'Keefe. O'Keefe formed a band in 1956; his hit Wild One made him the first Australian rock'n'roller to reach the national charts.[25] While US and British content dominated airwaves and record sales into the 1960s, local successes began to emerge – notably The Easybeats and the folk-pop group The Seekers had significant local success and some international recognition, while the bands the Bee Gees and AC/DC had their first hits in Australia before going on to international success.

Pub rock was immensely popular in the 1980s, and the era was typified by AC/DC, Divinyls, Mental As Anything, Midnight Oil, The Choirboys, The Angels, Noiseworks, Air Supply, Cold Chisel and Icehouse. INXS and Men at Work also achieved fame worldwide, and the song "Down Under" became an unofficial anthem for Australia. Australian hip hop began in the early 1980s, primarily influenced by overseas works, but by the 1990s a distinctive local style had emerged, with groups such as the Hilltop Hoods achieving international acclaim for their work.

The 90s saw an increase in the popularity of indie rock in Australia. AC/DC and INXS continued to achieve commercial success in the United States, whilst a multitude of local bands, including Jebediah, Magic Dirt, Spiderbait, The Superjesus, Regurgitator, You Am I, Icecream Hands, Powderfinger, Silverchair and Something for Kate, were popular throughout the country. A small electronic music scene emerged around Sydney and Melbourne, with Severed Heads, Ollie Olsen's No, and Foil all peaking in the 90s.

Australian music experienced somewhat of a rock renaissance in the 2000s with groups such as The Vines, Corey Russell, Jet, Airbourne and Wolfmother charting internationally. Hilltop Hoods were the first Australian hip-hop group to reach the top of the ARIA chart. Channel 10's Australian Idol program was highly popular locally, as were the many "idols" produced.

First wave of Australian rock

In the mid-1950s, American rock and roll spread across the world. Sydney's independent record label Festival Records was the first to get on the bandwagon in Australia, releasing Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" in 1956. It became the biggest-selling Australian single ever released up to that time.

American-born entrepreneur Lee Gordon, who arrived in Australia in 1953, played a key role in establishing the popularity of rock & roll with his famous "Big Show" tours, which brought to Australia many leading American rock'n'roll acts including Bill Haley & His Comets, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly & The Crickets and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Gordon was also instrumental in launching the career of Johnny O'Keefe, the first Australian rock star, who rose to fame by imitating Americans like Elvis Presley and Little Richard. O'Keefe and other "first wave" bands were popular until about 1961, when a wave of clean-cut family bands took their place.

Though mainstream audiences in the early sixties preferred a clean-cut style – epitomised by the acts that appeared on the Nine Network pop show Bandstand – there were a number of 'grungier' guitar-oriented bands in major cities like Sydney and Melbourne, who were inspired by American and British instrumental and surf acts like Britain's The Shadows – who exerted an enormous influence on Australian and New Zealand music prior to the emergence of The Beatles – and American acts like guitar legend Dick Dale and The Surfaris. Notable Australian instrumental groups of this period included The Atlantics, The Denvermen The Thunderbirds, The Planets, The Dee Jays, The Joy Boys, The Fabulous Blue Jays and The Whispers.

Jazz was another important influence on the first wave of Australian rock. Unlike the musicians in bands such as The Comets, or Elvis Presley's backing band, who had rockabilly or country music backgrounds, many musicians in Australian rock'n'roll bands – such as Johnny O'Keefe's famous backing group The Dee Jays – had a solid background in jazz.

Second wave of Australian rock

The "second wave" of Australian rock is said to have begun in about 1964, and followed directly on the impact of The Beatles. In the immediate wake of The Beatles' momentous Australian tour, many local groups that had formerly played guitar-based instrumental music recruited singers and took up the new 'beat' style. Some of the best-known and most popular acts in this period were Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs and Ray Brown & The Whispers, The Easybeats, The Bee Gees, The Masters Apprentices, The Twilights, The Groop, The Groove, The Loved Ones and cult acts like The Throb and solo star Normie Rowe, who quickly became Australia's most popular male pop vocalist. During this period a wave of acts also came from New Zealand, including Ray Columbus & the Invaders, Max Merritt & The Meteors, Dinah Lee, Larry's Rebels and The La De Das.

Many Australian bands and singers tried to enhance their careers by moving overseas, in particular to England, then seen as the mecca of popular music but few bands were successful and of those who relocated to the UK only The Seekers and The Bee Gees (who were actually born and raised in the UK) enjoyed any lasting success. Others that made the journey were The Easybeats (the first rock band to crack the UK market), The Twilights, The Groove, Lloyds World and the La De Das.

Third wave of Australian rock

AC/DC performing at the Ulster Hall in August 1979

The "third wave" of Australian rock began around 1970, by which time most of the major local pop groups of the 1960s had dissolved and former solo stars like Normie Rowe had faded from view. Few acts from this era attained major international success, and it was even difficult to achieve success across Australia, due to low radio airplay and the increasing dominance of overseas performers on the charts. A pivotal event was the 1970 radio ban, which lasted from May to October that year. The Ban was the climax of a simmering "pay for play" dispute between major record companies and commercial radio stations, who refused to pay a proposed new copyright fee for playing pop records on air. The dispute erupted into open conflict in May 1970—many commercial stations boycotted records by the labels involved and refused to list their releases on their Top 40 charts, while the record companies in turn refused to supply radio with free promotional copies of new releases.

An unexpected side-effect of the ban was that several emerging Australian acts signed to independent label (who were not part of the dispute) scored hits with covers of overseas hits; these included The Mixtures' cover of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime"[26] and Liv Maessen's cover of Mary Hopkin's Eurovision song "Knock, Knock, Who's There".

Despite commercial radio resistance to the more progressive music being produced by bands like Spectrum and Tully, acts as diverse as AC/DC, Sherbet and John Paul Young were able to achieve major success and develop a unique sound for Australian rock. From 1975, key agents for the increased exposure of local music were the nationally broadcast ABC-TV television pop show Countdown, which premiered in late 1974, and Australia's first non-commercial all-rock radio station Double Jay, which opened in January 1975. Hard rock band AC/DC and harmony rock group Little River Band also found major overseas success in the late 70s and early 80s, touring all over the world. Meanwhile, a score of Australian expatriate solo performers like Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton-John and Peter Allen became major stars in the USA and internationally. Icehouse also formed in the late 1970s.

This period also saw bands like Skyhooks moving towards New Wave music, and the late 1970s saw the emergence of pioneering punk rock bands like The Saints and Radio Birdman, as well as electronic musical groups, such as Cybotron, Severed Heads and Essendon Airport. Perhaps most influential of the 'underground' scenes, however, was the burgeoning Australian pub rock circuit, which developed in the early 1970s and played a key role in the emergence of major bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Cold Chisel and The Angels, and in Sydney Midnight Oil.

From the post-punk music scene which had sprung up in Melbourne came The Boys Next Door featuring Nick Cave. The Boys Next Door would eventually become The Birthday Party.

The Australian Music Industry as a business began to formalise during the late 1960s and the 1970s. Although not taken seriously by the mainstream business community in those early years, none could discount the pioneering spirit and business acumen of the likes of Michael Gudinski, Michael Chugg, Ray Evans, Dennis Charter, Glenn Wheatley, Harry M. Miller, Harley Medcalf, Michael Browning, Peter Rix, Ron Tudor, Roger Davies, Fred Bestall, Lance Reynolds, Alan Hely, Frank Stivala, Sebastian Chase, Philip Jacobsen, Peter Karpin, Roger Savage, John Sayers, Ernie Rose, Bill Armstrong, Kevin Jacobsen, Phil Dwyer, Ken Brodziak, Denis Handlin, Stan Rofe, Jade Johnson, Terry Blamey and Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum. These were the people largely responsible for promoting and developing the Australian music ‘business’ during those formative years.

Clubs and venues catering for the demand of live band entertainment flourished in capital cities all over the country, however, the central development of the Australian Music Industry during these years was in Sydney and Melbourne. Clubs such as Chequers, the Bondi Lifesaver and the Coogee Bay Hotel in Sydney, and the Thumpin Tum, Catcher, Berties, Sebastian’s, the Hard Rock Cafe and the Q Club in Melbourne were synonymous with the biggest names in Australian Rock & Roll.

In 1970 the first ever outdoor music festival, modelled on Woodstock, was held at Ourimbah near Sydney, and several other followed over the next two years, but most were a financial failure. In 1972 the first festival that proved successful enough to be repeated was the 1972 ‘Festival’ which attracted some 35,000 music fans from across the country to Sunbury, Melbourne.

‘Pop’ magazines such as Go-Set (which began in 1966), the Daily Planet, RAM, and Juke, and television programs such as Countdown, Uptight, Sounds Unlimited and Happening 70 promoted Australian popular music to a youth market who had never before experienced such media exposure of their idols and stars. ‘Pop Stars’ were now being created by direct marketing to a targeted teenage audience. Recording studios such as 301, Alberts’ and Trafalgar in Sydney and Armstrong Studios and TCS in Melbourne became legendary. Independent label Mushroom Records was founded in 1973 and although it struggled to survive for its first two years of existence, it was saved in early 1975 by the nationawide commercial breakthrough of Skyhooks, whose debut LP became the biggest-selling Australian rock album ever released up to that time; this success enabled Mushroom to become a significant player in the Australian music industry and compete with established companies like EMI, CBS and Festival.

The bands and solo artists who shaped Australian Music during these seminal years were: – The Choirboys, INXS, Noiseworks, Skyhooks, AC/DC, Renée Geyer, Spectrum, Chain, Daddy Cool, Marcia Hines, Zoot, The Masters Apprentices, Dragon, Air Supply, The Radiators, The Angels, Axiom, Kevin Borich Express, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Carson, Cheetah, Richard Clapton, Cold Chisel, John Farnham, Healing Force, Lobby Loyde and the Coloured Balls, Hawking Bros, Flake, Buffalo, Bjerre, Wendy Saddington, The Seekers, Ronnie Charles, Company Caine, Trevor Spry, Radio Birdman, Buster Brown, Little River Band, Ray Burgess, Mental As Anything, Marty Rhone, Ariel, The La De Das, Peter Allen, The Dingoes, Babeez, Mondo Rock, Icehouse, Midnight Oil, Doug Parkinson, Jon English, Blackfeather, Ronnie Burns, The Ferrets, Mike Brady, Martin Gellatley, Hush, Tully, Madder Lake, Supernaut, Russell Morris, Allison Durbin, Olivia Newton-John, Ross D. Wylie, The News, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Debra Byrne, Rose Tattoo, The Reels, The Saints, Sebastian Hardie, Lash, William Shakespeare, Sherbet, Silver Studs, John St Peters, Jeff St John, Stylus, Jim Keays, Tamam Shud, Ted Mulry Gang, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Ol' 55, Mark Holden, Lyndon Hart, Stevie Wright, John Paul Young, Helen Reddy, Redgum, Hot City Bump Band, Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, Colleen Hewett, Linda George, Ayers Rock and Brian Cadd.


Nick Cave performing in 1986

The 1980s saw a breakthrough in the independence of Australian rock—Nick Cave said that before the 80s, "Australia still needed America or England to tell them what was good".[27] An example of Australians breaking free from convention came in TISM. Formed in 1982, the band is known for its anonymous members, outrageous stage antics, and humorous lyrics. In the words of the band, "There's only one factor left that makes us work. And that factor, I think, we've burned away, with the crucible of time, into something that's actually genuine."[28]

Men at Work, Divinyls, and Hoodoo Gurus, all formed between 1979 and 1981, would go on to be hugely successful worldwide. Men at Work's "Down Under" hit number one in Australia, Europe, the UK, and the United States, and was considered the theme song of Australia's successful showing at the 1983 America's Cup.[29] Hoodoo Gurus, meanwhile, hit it big on the US college circuit—all of their 80s albums topped the chart.[30]

In the 1980s, numerous innovative Australian rock bands arose. These included Hunters & Collectors, The Church, TISM, Divinyls, Hoodoo Gurus, Mondo Rock, The Sunnyboys, Men at Work, The Go-Betweens, The Triffids, The Celibate Rifles, the Cosmic Psychos and the Hard-Ons. During this period a number of Australian bands began to reflect their urban environment in songs dealing with day to day experiences of inner-city life e.g. Paul Kelly & the Coloured Girls perhaps best exemplified in his songs "From St. Kilda to Kings Cross" and "Leaps & Bounds", John Kennedy's Love Gone Wrong in songs such us "King Street" and The Mexican Spitfires in tracks like "Sydney Town" and "Town Hall Steps." This decade also saw the rise of world music groups like Dead Can Dance; of special importance is Yothu Yindi, who helped found the field of Aboriginal rock. In 1985, the Newsboys emerged and produced the hit albums Not Ashamed, Step Up to the Microphone, Devotion, and more. Then soap star Kylie Minogue began her music career in the late 1980s and released The Loco-Motion which became the biggest selling single in Australia for the decade and quickly catapulted her to worldwide stardom.

The first annual ARIA Music Awards were held in 1987. John Farnham and Crowded House were the most successful artists at the event.

1990s: indie rock

Psychobilly group The Living End were successful internationally in the 90s

The 1990s saw continued overseas success from groups such as AC/DC,[31] INXS,[32] Men at Work, Midnight Oil, The Bad Seeds,[33] and a new indie rock scene started to develop locally. Sydney-based Ratcat were the first new band to achieve a mainstream following,[34] while bands such as the Hoodoo Gurus got off to a slower start; their debut album Stoneage Romeos earned a small following but failed to captivate a mainstream that at the time "didn't get it".[35] Later reviews would describe the band as "integral to the story of Aussie indie music", influencing bands including Frenzal Rhomb and Jet.[36] The band would go on to become an ARIA Hall of Fame inductee.[37] The Church, meanwhile, was highly successful in the 1980s, only to see their careers diminish in the next decade; 1994's Sometime Anywhere saw the band recede from a mainstream audience.[38]

Alternative rock began to gain popularity midway through the 90s, with grunge and Britpop styles especially popular, resulting in a new wave of Australian bands. Some, such as Savage Garden and Silverchair, also gained quick success in the United States,[39] while You Am I, Jebediah, Magic Dirt, Something for Kate, Icecream Hands and Powderfinger gained more success locally.[40] Bands such as Regurgitator and Spiderbait were hit heavily by the post-grunge backlash, losing in sales and critical acclaim.[39][41]

Much of the success of rock in Australia is attributed to the non-commercial Australian Broadcasting Corporation's radio station Triple J, which focuses heavily on Australian alternative music, and has done so since its formation as 2JJ in 1975.[42] Throughout the station's history, they have helped jump start the careers of numerous bands, through programs such as Unearthed, the Australian Music program Home & Hosed and the Hottest 100.[43] The Big Day Out festival has showcased Australian and international acts, with line-ups spanning multiple genres, with an alternative focus. It has become highly popular amongst musicians; Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl said "We play the Big Day Out because it's the best tour in the world. You ask any band in the world – they all want to play the Big Day Out, every single one of them."[44] Other festivals, such as Homebake, Livid, and Splendour in the Grass, are also rock focused, and together with Big Day Out are "united by the dominant presence of the indie-guitar scene".[45]

Electronic and dance music

Australian duo The Presets
Pendulum bassist Gareth McGrillen. The band mixes numerous genres, including electronic.[46]

Electronic music in Australia emerged in the 1990s, but takes elements from funk, house, techno, and numerous other genres.[47] Early innovators of the genre in Australia include Severed Heads, who formed in 1979 and were the first electronic group to play the Big Day Out.[48] The band achieved long term success, winning an ARIA Award in 2005 for "Best Original Soundtrack" for The Illustrated Family Doctor, where lead singer Tom Ellard said the band would never fit into mainstream music.[49] However, not all contemporary Australian music is electronic; bands such as Yves Klein Blue continue to expand the indie rock genre with their innovative punk-style tunes such as "Polka", "Soldier", and "About the Future".

The Avalanches received widespread acclaim across the globe for their debut album Since I Left You and it has been considered one of the greatest Australian albums ever made.

The genre has developed a wide following, to the point the University of Adelaide offers an Electronic Music Unit, teaching studio production and music technology.[50] Traditional rock bands such as Regurgitator have developed an original sound by combining heavy guitars and electronic influences,[51] and rock-electro groups, most notably Rogue Traders, have become popular with mainstream audiences.[52][53] The genre is considered to be most popular in Melbourne, with multiple music festivals held nationally in the city.[54] However, Cyclic Defrost, the only specialist electronic music magazine in Australia, was started in Sydney (in 1998) and is still based there.[55][56] Radio still lags somewhat behind the success of the genre—producer and artist manager Andrew Penhallow told Australian Music Online that "the local music media have often overlooked the fact that this genre has been flying the flag for Australian music overseas".[57]

Recently, bands such as Angelspit, Cut Copy, The Presets, The Potbelleez, Art vs. Science, Polo Club, Empire of the Sun and Pnau have made a name for themselves in the genre. The success of The Presets at the ARIA Music Awards of 2008 and the Potbelleez in the mainstream media was indicative of the rapidly growing popularity of electro house in Australia. Cut Copy frontman Dan Whitford has attributed the band's success to a change in public attitude as much as the band's quality, explaining "It's a case partly of timing and a growing awareness of electronic music in Australia".[58] Pnau's first album, Sambanova, was released in 1999, at a time when many in Australia considered electronic music to be a dying breed. Nonetheless, the band travelled around the US and Europe, and slowly made a name for themselves, and for a rebirth of electronic music in the country.[59][60]


In recent years, Australia has become known for Hardcore bands such as:


Further to this, the Australian Metal scene has gained prominence in the past number of years with bands such as:

Alternative rock

Australia has also witnessed the creation of many alternative rock bands in recent times such as:


Most recently the Australian hip-hop scene has begun to gain national momentum through bands such as:

Art music

Classical music

Portrait of Dame Nellie Melba GBE by Henry Walter Barnett

The earliest western musical influences in Australia can be traced back to two distinct sources: in the first settlements, the large body of convicts, soldiers and sailors who brought the traditional folk music of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland;[61] and the first free settlers, some of whom had been exposed to the European classical music tradition in their upbringing. Very little music has survived from this early period, although there are samples of music originating from Hobart and Sydney that date back to the early 19th century.[62]

The establishment of choral societies (c. 1850) and symphony orchestras (c. 1890) led to increase compositional activity, although most Australian classical composers of this period worked entirely within European models and many undertook their training in composition in Europe or the United Kingdom. One of the earliest known composers was George Tolhurst, whose oratorio Ruth was the first composed in the then colony of Victoria in 1864. Some works leading up to the first part of the 20th century were heavily influenced by folk music (Percy Grainger's "English Country Gardens" of 1908 being a good example of this).[62]

From the time of Australia's Federation in 1901, a growing sense of national identity[63] began to emerge in the arts, although a patriotic attachment with the "mother country",[63] that is Britain, and the British Empire continued to dominate musical taste. In the war and post-war eras, as the Australian national identity continued to build, composers looked to their surroundings for inspiration. John Antill in his famous ballet Corroboree, Peter Sculthorpe and others began to incorporate elements of Aboriginal music, Richard Meale drew influence from south-east Asia (notably using the harmonic properties of the Balinese gamelan), while Nigel Butterley combined his penchant for International modernism with an own individual voice.[62]

By the beginning of the 1960s other strong influences emerged in Australian classical music, with composers incorporating disparate elements into their work, ranging from Aboriginal and south-east Asian music and instruments, American jazz and blues, to the belated discovery of European atonality and the avante-garde. Composers like Don Banks, Don Kay, Malcolm Williamson and Colin Brumby epitomise this period.[62] Others who adhered to more traditional idioms include Arthur Benjamin, George Dreyfus, Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Robert Hughes. In recent times composers including Julian Cochran, Gordon Hamilton, Liza Lim, Nigel Westlake, David Worrall, Graeme Koehne, Elena Kats-Chernin, Carl Vine, Brett Dean, Martin Wesley-Smith, Georges Lentz, Richard Mills, Ross Edwards, Stephen Leek, Matthew Hindson and Constantine Koukias have embodied the pinnacle of established Australian composers.

Well-known Australian classical performers of the past and the present day include:

State-based symphony orchestras, originally managed under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) but now operating as separate independent bodies, have played a major role in performing mainstream orchestral repertoire for the general public as well as commissioning new works from Australian composers and ensuring that works by contemporary international composers are introduced to their audiences. These include the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. There are also professional orchestras whose role is related specifically to opera and ballet performance, chiefly the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra based at the Sydney Opera House and Orchestra Victoria based in Melbourne.

There are several chamber orchestras which focus on works for smaller ensembles. These include the Australian Chamber Orchestra which tours regularly throughout Australia and has been well-received overseas,[84] the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra,[85] the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra[86] and the Camerata of St. John's.[87] Orchestral ensembles which concentrate on historically informed performance include the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra[88] and the Orchestra of the Antipodes.[89]

Leading chamber ensembles include the Australian String Quartet, the Goldner String Quartet, the Australia Ensemble,[90] Synergy Percussion,[91] Dean Emerson Dean,[92] TRIOZ,[93] the Sydney Soloists,[94] the Southern Cross Soloists,[95] Guitar Trek,[96] Collusion,[97] the Elandra String Quartet, the Zephyr Quartet,[98] and the Tinalley String Quartet.[99] Chamber ensembles involved in historically informed performance include Marais Project,[100] Accademia Arcadia,[101] La Compania,[102] Ironwood[103] and probably Australia's oldest group of this kind, The Renaissance Players.[104]

Musica Viva Australia, now the largest entrepreneur of chamber music in the world,[105] was founded in 1945 and has provided a major stimulus for public interest in chamber music by organising annual subscription programs of concerts by leading international and Australian ensembles.[106] Further interest has been stimulated by events such as the Australian Festival of Chamber Music[107] which was founded in 1991 and is held each year in Townsville, the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition and the Asia-Pacific Chamber Music Competition, both of which are organised by Chamber Music Australia[108] and held every four years in Melbourne.

Several Australian composers have written chamber works. Among the older composers, Peter Sculthorpe stands out because he has written 17 string quartets up to 2010,[109] with performances in Australia and overseas and recordings by leading groups such as the Kronos Quartet. In the next generation, Brett Dean, himself a violist of note and a composer who has received world-wide recognition, has written several works for various ensembles including a string quartet called "Eclipse" which was commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie[110] for the Auryn Quartet,[111] a string quintet entitled "Epitaphs" premiered in 2010 at the Cheltenham Music Festival,[112] the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival,[113] La Jolla SummerFest[114] and the Cologne Philharmonie, and a sonata for violin and piano commissioned by Midori[115] for performance in 2010 in Stockholm and the Wigmore Hall,[116] London. Dean's near-contemporary, Julian Yu[117] has written over 30 works for various chamber ensembles including conventional trios and quartets, as well as unusual combinations such as a quintet for four percussions and piano, a septet for flute, percussion, harp, violin, viola, cello and double bass entitled "Pentatonicophilia", and an unconventional reworking[118] of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" for 16 instruments.

Other piano and chamber works of special merit include Peggy Glanville-Hicks' Concertino da camera for flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano, Richard Meale's "Las Alboradas" for flute, violin, horn, and piano, Riccardo Formosa's "Vertigo" for flute (piccolo), oboe, clarinet and piano, Nigel Westlake's "Refractions at Summer Cloud Bay" for flute, bass flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, violin, cello and piano, the piano works of Julian Cochran, Ross Edwards' "Laikan" for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin and cello, Carl Vine's String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5, his Elegy for flute, cello, trombone, piano four-hands, organ and percussion, and "Inner World" for amplified cello and tape.[119]

1950 ballet performance of John Antill's Corroboree.

Music broadcasting has played an important role in providing classical music and jazz to the Australian public. Prior to the introduction of FM into the country, the ABC produced classical music programs which were broadcast through their local stations. Professor A.E. Floyd's program "Music Lover's Hour" was heard for over 25 years, beginning first on the local Melbourne ABC station in 1944 before being broadcast nationally.[120] Pianist and academic Lindley Evans[121] broadcast a series of programs called "Adventures in Music" on the ABC, but was probably better known and more influential through his appearances each Thursday under the pseudonym "Mr Music" on the ABC's national "Argonauts Club" program. Ralph Collins, formerly a record librarian at the ABC with an acute knowledge of music, hosted his own national music program for over 30 years from the early 1960s, and he was eventually nicknamed "Mr Sunday Morning" by the general public. John Cargher, a record retailer, avid collector of records and author of many books, presented two programs. The most popular was "Singers of Renown", which began on the local Melbourne ABC station in 1966 and was transferred by public demand to Radio National at the end of only 10 weeks and remained on air for 42 years. The other program, "Music for Pleasure", began on Radio National in 1967 and continued until 1996.

The national FM music network ABC Classic FM[122] was established in 1976 to broadcast classical music, jazz, operas, recitals and live concerts from Australia and overseas, music analysis programs and news about music activities. Its audience is now estimated as being about one million people,[123] not taking into account a growing number of international users who access its programs via its online service.[124] At about the same time, community not-for-profit FM stations were set up to enable volunteers to produce and present classical music and jazz programs. These included 2MBS FM[125] in Sydney, 3MBS FM[126] in Melbourne and 4MBS Classic FM[127] in Brisbane. More recently a similar station, 5MBS FM,[128] has been established in Adelaide.


The history of jazz and related genres in Australia extends back into the 19th century. During the gold rush locally formed 'blackface' (white actor-musicians in blackface) minstrel troupes began to tour Australia, touring not only the capital cities but also many of the booming regional towns like Ballarat and Bendigo. Minstrel orchestra music featurics including improvisatory embellishment and polyrhythm in the (pre-classic) banjo playing and clever percussion breaks. Some genuine African-American minstrel and jubilee singing troupes toured from the 1870s. A more jazz-like form of minstrelsy reached Australia in the late 1890s in the form of improvisatory and syncopated coon song and cake-walk music, two early forms of ragtime. The next two decades brought ensemble, piano and vocal ragtime and leading (mostly white) American ragtime artists, including Ben Harney, 'Emperor of Ragtime' Gene Greene and pianist Charlie Straight. Some of these visitors taught Australians how to 'rag' (improvise unsyncopated popular music into ragtime-style music).

By the mid 1920s, phonograph machines, increased contact with American popular music and visiting white American dance musicians had firmly established jazz (meaning jazz inflected modern dance and stage music) in Australia. The first recordings of jazz in Australia are Mastertouch piano rolls recorded in Sydney from around 1922 but jazz began to be recorded on disc by 1925, first in Melbourne and soon thereafter in Sydney.

Soon after World War II, jazz in Australia diverged into two strands. One was based on the earlier collectively improvised called "dixieland" or traditional jazz. The other so-called modernist stream was based on big band swing, small band progressive swing, boogie woogie, and after WWII, the emerging new style of bebop. By the 1950s American bop, itself, was dividing into so-called 'cool' and 'hard' bop schools, the latter being more polyrhythmic and aggressive. This division reached Australia on a small scale by the end of the 1950s. From the mid-1950s rock and roll began to draw young audiences and social dancers away from jazz. British-style dixieland, called Trad, became popular in the early 1960s. Most modern players stuck with the 'cool' (often called West Coast) style, but some experimented with free jazz, modal jazz, experiment with 'Eastern' influences, art music and visual art concept, electronic and jazz-rock fusions.

The 1970s brought tertiary jazz education courses and continuing innovation and diversification in jazz which, by the late 1980s, included world music fusion and contemporary classical and jazz crossovers. From this time, the trend towards eclectic style fusions has continued with ensembles like The Catholics, Australian Art Orchestra, Tongue and Groove, austraLYSIS, Wanderlust, The Necks and many others. It is questionable whether the label jazz is elastic enough to continue to embrace the ever-widening range of improvisatory musics that are associated with the term jazz in Australia. However, mainstream modern jazz and dixieland still have the strongest following and patron still flock to hear famous mainstream artists who have been around for decades, such as One Night Stand players Dugald Shaw and Blair Jordan, reeds player Don Burrows and trumpeter James Morrison and, sometimes, the famous pioneer of traditional jazz in Australia, Graeme Bell.A non-academic genre of jazz has also evolved with a harder"street edge" style.The Conglomerate,The Bamboos,Damage,Cookin on Three Burners,John Mcalls Black Money are examples of this. See: Andrew Bisset. Black Roots White Flowers, Golden Press, 1978 Bruce Johnson. The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz OUP, 1987 John Whiteoak. Playing Ad Lib: Improvisatory Music in Australia: 1836–1970, Currency Press, 1999

Contemporary art music


Major organisations involved in funding or in receipt of funding are:

Funding Agencies
Music: Not-for-profit Organisations
  • Youth Orchestras Australia
Music: Symphony Orchestra
Music: Orchestra (Pit)
Music: Orchestra (Youth)
Music: Chamber Orchestra
Music: Chamber Ensemble
  • Australian Brass
  • Australia Ensemble
  • Australian String Quartet
  • Clarity
  • Collusion
  • Compass Quartet
  • Dean Emerson Dean
  • ELISION Ensemble
  • Ensemble Liaison
  • Flinders Quartet
  • Freshwater Trio
  • Goldner String Quartet
  • Guitar Trek
  • Jouissance
  • Kammer
  • Kingfisher Trio
  • Kurrawong Ensemble
  • New Sydney Wind Quintet
  • Overlander
  • Seraphim Trio
  • Shrewd Brass
  • Southern Cross Soloists
  • Sydney Omega Ensemble
  • Sydney Soloists
  • Synergy
  • Tetrafide
  • The Australian Trio
  • Tinalley String Quartet
  • Zephyr String Quartet
Music: Competitions

See also

  • Category:Australian musicians


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Further reading

  • Susanna Agardy and Lawrence Zion (1997), 'The Australian Rock Music Scene,' in Alison J. Ewbank and Fouli T. Papageorgiou (eds.), Whose master's voice? the development of popular music in thirteen cultures, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, Ch. 1. ISBN 0313277729
  • Susanna Agardy (1985), Young Australians and Music, Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, Melbourne. ISBN 0642098050
  • Warren Bebbington, (ed.) (1998). The Oxford companion to Australian music. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-553432-8.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, “The Swiss-Germans in Melbourne. Some Considerations on Musical Traditions and Identity”, Schweizer Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft, Neue Folge, XXV(2005), pp. 131–154.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, “La Swiss-Italian Festa a Daylesford-Hepburn Springs in Australia. Osservazioni etnografiche e un po’ di cronaca”, Cenobio, LV(2006), pp. 329–341.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, “Transplanting multiculturalism: Swiss musical traditions reconfigured in multicultural Victoria”, in Joel Crotti and Kay Dreyfus (Guest Editors), Victorian Historical Journal, LXXVIII(2007), no. 2, pp. 187–205.
  • Edited by Shane Homan and Tony Mitchell (2008). "Sounds of then, sounds of now: Popular music in Australia", ACYS Publishing. ISBN 1875236602.

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