Monday, 27 August 2007

Australian Electronica: A Brief History

Thanks for the tip off Derridata about this one, I can only hope you're able to get a new computer soon so I can look forward to more of your postings!
Although their study goes back to early important Australian precursors such as composer Percy Grainger, I've copied and pasted a brief excerpt (link pasted below) to the section where they discuss the '80s scene. Anybody interested in earlier stuff can find a fascinating compilation in the August issue of The Wire, while the following piece reads like an exciting companion piece to some of the territory Frith covers in Art into Pop, and Simon Reynolds in Rip It Up, And Start Again. This is a useful supplement in the sense that Reynolds was forthcoming about how space and problems of organising a coherent study prevented him from covering comparable Australian developments.
The initial intrusion into rock and the beginnings of electronica

"The mid-1980s saw many changes in the composition of the electronic music scene, internationally, which was preceded by another extremely fertile period within popular music cultures during the late 1970s. This period presents a very significant break within the history of popular music, and is often portrayed (in a restricted manner) as the punk rejection of the pseudo-baroque complexity (many would say pretentiousness) of musical fusions that arose in the mid-1970s (such as jazz- and progressive-rock). Examples of the latter include Australian bands Spectrum, Ariel and perhaps even Blackfeather — although, like much music of the 1970s, some of this found a uniquely Australian flavour in its tinges of blues and boogie (for example, in the music of Matt Taylor and Chain). Punk did play a significant role in Australia via bands such as The Saints, The Boys Next Door, Radio Birdman and many other groups that emerged in the late 1970s in reaction to the stilted nature of the rock establishment. However, Australia has often seemed happier to mix musical styles than many other places, and this was true of punk. First, although much of the punk ethic was imported, there did seem to be many instances of ‘authentic’ Australian punk music, which were themselves transformed, as these imports settled into Australian spaces and mixed into Australian milieu. Secondly, as we shall see, punk was quickly accompanied by, and mixed in with, the rise of electronica. This once again suggests that the often noted vastness of space within Australia, together with its distance from many of the places from which it imports rhythms and refrains, are not necessarily the problems they are sometimes taken to be. Both allow for a complex series of shifts in the events of rhythm and refrain.
Wherever it came from, and wherever it went, the punk ethic was liberating, and not only for punk itself. This was in part because of the rejection of overly slick production methods which had the advantage of taking popular music out of the hands of the record companies and ‘their’ bands (who could afford the studios). Yet, as we have begun to suggest, the events of the late 1970s in Australia were much more diverse than this particular punk reaction.
Other mutant musics, rhythms and refrains — along with structural innovations — were also emerging. All these together lay the ground for what was to come. So it is important to note that punk was accompanied by several other emergent musics. One of these musics was found in rap and hip hop. [2] Punk was also accompanied by the beginnings of another, very different version of the do-it-yourself music ethic — electronica. Indeed, punk, hip hop and electronica were mutually enabling at a structural level. They shared an ethic of DIY self-production that could be turned towards musical experimentation by those able to create their own electronic devices and sounds in a manner not premised on traditional musical abilities. They opened popular music more to the joy of playing with ‘noise’. They often worked against the mainstream reception (and use) of popular music in favour of diverse minority groups — or simply the disaffected. Again, the significant role that punk did play for these other musics was that it made a break with major labels possible. This allowed the development of 'independent’ labels more able to release local and experimental deviations from mainstream music. Bruce Milne's Au Go Go label in Melbourne, Phantom Records, and Steven Stavrakis's Waterfront Records in Sydney were among the most successful. As we shall see, significant early electronic labels such as Innocent Records in Melbourne and Volition in Sydney provided the model for producing and selling electronica that has proliferated into the present. That the late 1970s contained all these tendencies is perhaps best seen in post-punk's immediate embrace of excess — even if in a somewhat ironic manner in groups such as Essendon Airport, Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast, Tch Tch Tch, and Scattered Order. Indeed, this was the moment when electronic music (that is, music that began to foreground synthetic sounds) made its first incursions into mainstream and alternative rock in Australia via many bands, such as Not Drowning Waving, the Reels, INXS and Brendan Perry's Marching Girls (and later Dead Can Dance). This moment was a perfect example involving a set of refrains that ‘opens the circle not on the side where the old forces of chaos press against it but in another region, one created by the circle itself’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 311).
So the cradle of electronica in Australia is found to have a diverse number of hands rocking it".

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