Melbourne: Post Punk Revival
An early article mentioning The Jetsonnes, from which Hunters and Collectors formed.
Author: Andrea Jones, Rolling Stone.
Date: 21 August 1980.
Original URL: N/A
It’s a drizzly, slushy all-together foul winter night in Fitzroy St., St.Kilda. But the weather is not enough to stop the pulsating, seductive, neon-coated carnival of thrills that rages, rain, hail or shine along this most infamous of streets every night. It’s around 11:30pm and from a once stately white building in the centre of the hubbub spills a time-warp of youths in ripple-soled shoes, bomber jackets, mini-skirts and lethal looking stilettoes.
For the past four years, the Seaview Hotel here in downtown St.Kilda has been the heart of the new music scene in Melbourne, a witness to its initial explosion and the various permutations since. The crest of the new wave in Melbourne has long since broken and the last ripples are now trickling along the beach. Minor through the wave was, it has left legacies to which the new generation of bands are indebted: a strong well established independent record network and a series of independent venues offering ample opportunity for the young musician on the street.
At the start of this year, about 50 new bands surged onto the Melbourne underground scene. Interestingly, these new bands were a fusion of the remnants of the original new wave: Saints, Boys Next Door, Jab, etc., and a larger “wave after the wave” of newcomers whose average age is about 20 and who were weaned in the pub scene, watching these early bands.
A large portion of the new surge has already disappeared but in the course of the commotion, the new wave movement splintered in a variety of directions. A small minority still cling to the angry punk ideal and there’s a substantial revival of sixties pop. But the big push now is towards art music or as the Jetsonnes, one of the most popular of the art-orientated groups see it, “trying to create aesthetics within the music”. The vogue stance is to flex a bit of mental muscle in your music.
Melbourne’s first new wave venue was started at the Seaview in 1977 by Dolores San Miguela. “At that time the only venues around were venues being booked by agencies and there were a lot of new bands around like Jab and Teenage Radio Starts (sic). I felt there was a big need for them to be able to play somewhere, plus there was an audience, which hadn’t been tapped, that would like to see them”, Dolores explains. She now operates the Seaview and the lounge-room sized Exford Hotel in Little Bourke St. Perhaps more than anyone else, Dolores has been closest to the roots of the movement. “I see the main difference between what was happening in those early days and what’s happening now as being that people are more enthusiastic about doing their own thing rather than copying . When I started they were all punk, the dressed punk and they were feeling that way. But they (both the bands and the crowds) have developed.”
The independent scene right now is flourishing, she says. “Everyone wants to be part of it”/ People who have been coming to her venues for years are suddenly donning guitars and joining bands.
It was this mood, she says, that was responsible for the sudden surge of new bands in early 1980. For those that are left, competition is still fierce with only three venues, The Seaview, the Exford and the Market in Prahan. It’s a game at which a very rare few can afford to be full-time professionals, because success on this circuit is playing one or two gigs a week.
The most successful of the art wave is The Jetsonnes, a six month old band who walk that very fine tightrope between commerce and experiment with almost perfect balance. At the outset, The Jetsonnes had every intention of being a pop band, and their early material is just that: light, sixties style dance music with bouncy guitar and synthesiser and a female singer, Margot O’Neill, who isn’t trying to be the next Debbie Harry but who is simply a very good pop singer. As the band has found its feet, they have become more experimental: “taking the best parts of styles and then giving them added conceptual depth” explains bassist John Archer. In reality, their experiment is more one of sophistication than obscurantism.
The Jetsonnes average about one performance a week. By day, the band become doctors, mechanical engineers, teachers and dole-recipients. John Archer maintains the band is “a very serious hobby. Our level of dedication is higher than most bands hungering for success.”
Like most of the new bands, they hold a particular loathing for the corporate music industry. They have steered away from the interest shown by major record companies. Their first appearance on vinyl, a joint venture with International Exiles, was a limited edition independent single distributed free at the Seaview several weeks ago.
International Exiles, unlike the Jetsonnes, are clearly eager for major success. But they too want to avoid being caught up with major record companies and thrust onto the national circuit. They are ambitious for strong support on the underground scene which they will use as a springboard to England. It’s a path which they see as logical for many of the new bands. Some people align International Exiles with the art push because of the theatrics vocalist Laine McReady employs to act out her lyrics. But the audience that follows the Exiles loves the opportunity to dress-up, go-go and pogo. Songwriter-lead guitarist Rob Wellington says the band aims to be a good pop band like “the original hum-along sing-along pop that was born in the sixties”.
It’s a stance far removed from the angry young pink scene from which the band originated. Wellington admits that even the Exiles have softened since coming together late last year. “But what’s the point?” he asks tossing back his blond dyed hair. “We’ve already been through bands like The Zoros”.
“We get more of a kick out of playing. Hopefully we’ll be round long enough to make a record. But it’s a big thrill to play for an audience. It’d be an even bigger thrill to play and make money”, Nic says. The band is very cynical about the softening of the new music. They are adamant that it will be rapidly followed by a resurgence in aggression and when that happens, The Zorros will be the front runners.
Teetering at the other end of the Spectrum is Melbourne’s controversial intellectual music extremists Tsch, Tsch, Tsch.
But in fact a fundamental revolution is taking place as members of the new scene challenge some of the fundamental laws of the rock system. Their approach totally upends the assumption that major recording contracts and appearances on Countdown are things to be coveted. And isn’t thumbing the system what rock and roll is all about?
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!