Jake Robinson: What Makes An Australian Sound?

Posted on April 17, 2013


There is a difference between a artist who originates from Australia and one who makes Australian music. This difference could be seen through the simplistic lens of popularity. Silverchair and Powderfinger were two of the most popular and successful bands in Australia, yet they struggled to gain any real popularity overseas.

It could be argued that some of the more internationally popular artists to emerge from our shores have deliberately sought to universalise their sound and remove the particular traits of their origin. Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother was criticized for speaking with an American accent at their stateside gigs and refusing to associate them with the Australian contingent at the South By Southwest festival in Austen, Texas. There’s also the famous story of Icehouse being instructed to tell the music press that their song ‘Great Southern Land’ was actually about South Africa, hoping this would somehow boost the song’s attractiveness to foreign listeners.

But then again, there are bands that have obstinately embraced the accent as well as the cultural themes; arguably, groups like the Drones or the Go-Betweens have enjoyed a greater level of appreciation overseas than they ever did at home.

I believe that what defines an album or piece of music as inherently “Ozzie” is in a certain sense intangible. It can be through the sonic evocation of the land and the environment, encrypted in the accent and language of the singer or through songs which describe a distinctive cultural lifestyle.

Here are a few albums that I believe could not have sprung from any other place on earth:

The Triffids—Born Sandy Devotional

Led by David McComb, The Triffids harnessed the epic rock sound of the ’80s in a way that only a band from the most remote city on the plant could.

The Go-Betweens  – 16 Lovers Lane

Grant McLennnan and Robert Forster found a muse in the towns and countryside of the sunburnt land; no better was this exemplified than in this gem of an album.

Key track – “Streets Of Your Town”

You Am I – Hourly, Daily

A beautifully constructed album that chronicles a day in suburban life.

Key track – “Good Mornin’”

The Drones – Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By

Gareth Liddiard’s lyrics, often harsh yet always poetic, speak of a rustic colonial country and the people who tried to tame it.

Key track- “Shark Fin Blues”

The Middle East – Recordings of the Middle East

The Townsville group had a short and eventful history; and they certainly made the best of their time.

Key track – “Blood”

Jake Robinson is You’re Dripping Egg’s music columnist. His fortnightly column, Stereo In A Forest, premieres every second Wednesday. 

What do you think makes an “Australian Sound”? Sing out in the comments