Kev Eddy moved to Australia a year ago to discover a land that, surprisingly, isn't all AC/DC cover bands and Jet. Here's the first in a series of columns investigating the Australian music scene.
Ah, festival season. Nothing quite brings home a sense of nostalgia quite as much as hearing and seeing the likes of Glastonbury, Reading, Download, Truck et al ringing in the British summer from afar.
You see, camping festivals are quite rare here in Australia. Perhaps it's the massive distances people need to travel in order just to attend one. Perhaps it's the fact that, if you go camping in a field in the Australia, there are many, many more creepy crawlies that will kill you with just a bite. Or perhaps it's the heat, which in the Australian summer makes the melting pot of even European festivals like Benicassim pale in comparison - especially in the northern half of the country.
Even so, camping festivals are making inroads into the Australian consciousness - and probably the biggest of them all is Splendour in the Grass. Established ten years ago, it takes place in late July each year (thus somewhat circumventing the heat problem, although it's still pretty warm). Originally taking place near hippie paradise/retirement hotspot Byron Bay, it's moved in the last couple of years to a location just north of Brisbane.
Splendour's garnered a reputation as the Glastonbury of the Antipodes in its shortish lifespan - a reputation that's only been reinforced by the choice of Coldplay and Kanye West as headliners this year. Even so, it wouldn't be a proper Aussie festival if there weren't some balls-out rock, and Jane's Addiction fit the bill here nicely. Swingeing ticket prices have also helped cement that similarity with the UK's biggest event - although Splendour makes Glasto look like a steal, weighing in at $523 (£330 - yes, £330) a ticket.
So what do you get for your hard-earned? First, there's a pretty good international line up, with Pulp, the Mars Volta, Regina Spektor, Mogwai, Modest Mouse, The Kills and more besides making the plane trip over with the headliners. However, you also get a fair spread of Australian indie favourites, from up and coming acts (Children Collide, Hungry Kids of Hungary, Sydney Amy WInehouse-alike Lanie Lane) to old hands like The Living End, Architecture in Helsinki, The Vines). But who are the five homegrown bands that I reckon you really must see, if you were to find yourself in Queensland with nothing to do and $500 spare in late July? Well, here are the answers, sport.
Seeker Lover Keeper are Sarah Blasko, Holly Throsby and Sally Seltmann: three successful Australian singer-songwriters in their own right who 'went to the pub and discovered they got on famously' in Sydney a few years ago, and 'who vaguely arranged' to make an album together. That album finally emerged this year, and by Steve Irwin's ghost it's good. Layered harmonies, throaty melodies and handclaps aplenty pepper their songs, striking just the right balance between froth and pathos. Here's 'Light All My Lights' which features said handclaps to great effect (and a slightly worrying old fella dancing).
One thing you learn living in Sydney is that them what live in the Blue Mountains (about two hours drive east of the city) are a bit funny in the head. It's probably the thin air. Some people like to express that funniness by attacking people with axes. Others like to make music that's insistent, repetitive, featuring chanting and a tiny bit like things you've heard but also a bit like nothing you've heard before. That's Cloud Control. They've recently been peddling their wares in the UK, too: this is one of the more semi-Gregorian moments on their debut album, Bliss Release:
Alpine don't come from the mountains. No, they come from Melbourne, Australia's home of culture, coffee and Neighbours. They make glossy, shiny electro-pop with two girl singers and a bouncing, frenetic energy. It's not the most original effort, but what they do they do with passion and smarts plus enough of a twist to make you cock your head as you move your feet. This is lead single 'Villages' from first EP Zurich:
Hailing from Townsville in far north Queensland, The Middle East aren't what you'd normally expect from a climate that's famed for being hot and tropical (albeit quite wet for several months of the year). While originally producing pretty, if slightly run of the mill Christian folk ballads, their sound has matured significantly into something deeper and more reflective, and which is utterly enchanting in its understated mournfulness.
Here's 'Blood', one of their better-known songs from their 2009 EP, Recordings From The Middle East.
Last but not least are Sydney electronica quartet Ghoul. A little bit dark, a little bit glitchy, very choppy and a bit dubby , they've been described as 'Antony Hegarty meet Radiohead'. While a bit of a superlative comparison, they're dark and disconcerting, and simultaneously appear to be able to kill a tune stone dead while beating out a hypnotic rhythm. I sincerely hope they're playing after dark, as I don't think they'd make any sense at all playing before sunset.
Check out 'Milkily' and '3MARK for a taste of Ghoul's creepy sound.
Click on splendourinthegrass.com for more about the festival.