As a music fan, it’s a great time to be alive. Whatever genre of music is your bag, there’s a group of people out there making it, appreciating it, reinventing it or appropriating it and better yet, it’s all at your fingertips (or eartips).
At the moment if you’re a psych rock fan then Australia is your Mecca. Once upon a time Australia was known for Vegemite, kangaroos, being unknowingly far away and baby-masticating fauna. Now, the land down under is known to many as the home of Tame Impala. Thankfully Kevin Parker hasn’t had a munch on anyone’s first-born lately, so his brand of dreamy-groovy psych rock is generally what draws the attention.
This is the best* record of the past two or three years. Proven many times over in my mind. Think Radiohead 1996. Coldplay 2003. Phoenix 2008. Melody heaven. If I ever got broken up with by a girl for the guy in Tame Impala I’d be like, “I understand, and if you don’t mind, could you maybe bring him to a show of mine sometime?” *my opinion duh
Once you begin casting an eye over the great southern land it doesn’t take long to see a trend developing. Australia has a plethora of high-quality, established and emerging artists who fall under the ever expanding psychedelic umbrella. By the time you finish this sentence another Australian band will have read the words ‘expanding psychedelic umbrella’ and been inspired to record a new album. So what has given rise to the latest psych rock bonanza in Australia?
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are the latest Australian exports to blow up on the international stage. Having set out on their first US tour in 2014 they’ve now built a massive fan base and are arguably better known outside of Australia than within. Perhaps it’s the sheer prolificacy of Australian psych rock bands that gives rise to their success. The Giz have released eight albums in the past four years with no sign of slowing down, while Pond managed to release six albums in as many years. With the way music is released and how quickly fans digest each new release in the digital age, having an album or two out every year keeps you in people’s minds amongst the onslaught of new music.
— Stephano Murohombre (@_neurotronix) July 31, 2016
Having said that, Coldplay could release and album every minute but it wouldn’t make me like them and it won’t make them any more interesting or relevant. In fact, it would absolutely have the opposite effect. So what is it about Australia that breeds psych bands who continuously release quality album after quality album that deserve international attention?
Essentially it comes down to the idea of just wanting to have a good time with your mates. And probably a little bit about drugs. But mostly the mates thing. If you get a bunch of musical mates who grew up on a diet of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd (as many do) together for a jam, a variation of psych rock is usually what is going to come out of the amps. If all of those mates happen to be as talented as Kevin Parker, Nicholas Allbrook or Stu Mackenzie then you have a perfect storm that ends up creating some of the finest music Australia currently has to offer.
Tame Impala, Pond and Mink Mussel Creek began as just one interchangeable roster of friends playing around Perth (or Pserth as it should now be known), similar to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and The Murlocs from Melbourne who incestuously share members and often tour together. They were born from a group of music lovers who enjoyed jamming with each other and had a mixed bag of influences that resulted in a psych-rock sound. With so many crossovers in bands, one could argue that there isn’t a psych scene, but just a small bunch of guys with so many projects to their name. Kevin Parker was asked by The Guardian whether he thought there was an Australian psych scene…
“I don’t think there is. We’ve got our friends in Perth, like all the guys from Pond. We’ve all lived together at some point, a circle of friends of maybe 10 or 15 people. And you know what, Jay [Watson, of Tame Impala, Pond and Gum] lived with the guys from King Gizzard when he was in Melbourne and they’ve got their own thing as well. I think our kind of clans merged for a little there.”
It’s also worth mentioning that explaining the Australian rock music scene as ‘psych’ heavy is a bit of a cop out. What Australia has at the moment is a rock scene based in creativity and exploration. It’s far too simplistic to pigeon hole every rock band that uses guitars and synthesisers to make non-traditional sounding rock music as ‘psychedelic’. Tame Impala’s Currents is just as close to disco as it is to psychedelic rock and King Gizzard even made an album based entirely on acoustic instruments. These two albums are so vastly different from each other that to label them under the same genre is absurd.
However, whether you want to call it psych rock, psych pop, shoegaze, roogaze, stoner rock, synth rock or even polka we can be thankful that these music mafias have given rise to a scene that’s developed in Australia and will hopefully see many more emerging bands take to the international stage. Bands like The Babe Rainbow, Parading, Orb, Fierce Mild and Lowtide are definitely worth looking out for if you haven’t already.