The Wizards of Oz
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It took a tornado to whisk Dorothy away to the fictional world of Oz – and a pair of magic red shoes to bring her back – yet, far from that fantasy world, a very real type of magic has begun to grow. This is the magic of music, emanating from a land way beyond any rainbow, conjured by the true Wizards of Oz.
As a typically ignorant Brit I’d assumed that the Aussie music scene was dominated by the likes of Jet, Men at Work and, of course, Kylie Minogue. Now don’t get me wrong, ‘Down Under’ is an Antipodean 80’s triumph (one which never fails to entice wedding guests on to the dance floor), but it’s certainly not a track you would use to champion exciting progressions in music. More by luck than judgement, my initial curiosity in the Australian music scene was prompted by a dear friend, the delightful Lady Red, upping sticks and settling in Sydney. Of course, my first thoughts were to source the best music available from authentic Aussie origins… I was certainly not disappointed. Unbeknown to me, Australia has become the hub of a thriving music scene, brimming with examples of new and electrifying music. Australia, you had my curiosity; but now, you have my attention.
Funnily, the very track that started my love affair with intricately produced electronic music was created by an Australian duo, a fact I had been blissfully unaware of. Flight Facilities’ beautifully moving ‘Clare de Lune’ is the masterpiece of Aussies Hugo Gruzman and James Lyell; the perfect example of Australia’s progressive music production, right under my nose. It doesn’t stop there either. You don’t have to be Captain James Cook (that’s right, I just took my references naval) to discover how many top Australian’s have crossed oceans, establishing themselves as mainstream musicians. Look no further than Chet Faker; originating from Warrnambool on the south-western coast of Australia, Chet – or Nicholas to use his real name – has grown from strength to strength following the success of his debut album Built On Glass. The downtempo nature of his music, on tracks such as ‘Gold’ and ‘Talk Is Cheap’, ooze electronic vibes and raw soul; music that has endeared him to a diverse, worldwide audience. This successful assimilation of Aussie artists into mainstream music isn’t genre specific either; producers like Flume, Hermitude, Alison Wonderland and Carmada are awakening inner euphoria through an eclectic mix of hip-hop, trip-hop, trap and electronica. Indeed, if you ever need a Monday morning pick-me-up on your commute to work, look no further than Flume’s remix of Hermitude’s ‘Hyper Paradise’ – to coin an Aussie-ism, it’s an absolute ripper.
Following these initial electronic pioneers, there is now a fresh wave of vibrant Australian Wizards hot on their heels and, luckily, I’ve been able to speak to two of the most exciting prospects. The first is Brisbane-based Danny Hartley, an alternative electronic artist and producer who performs as The Kite String Tangle. His breakthrough single ‘Given The Chance’ – a delicate track, weaving an intricate layer of drum beats, synths and ambient electronica around Danny’s deliciously soft vocals – featured in the top 20 of the 2013 Triple J Hottest 100. And it’s clear to see why; Danny produces music that engulfs you, that immerses you into the world that is The Kite String Tangle. The second is the talented Will Cumming, a Melbourne singer-songwriter and producer who operates under the alias of LANKS. With an elegant affinity to his guitar, LANKS marries subtle electronic beats and intricate guitar play with a vocal range, reminiscent of the enigmatic Thom Yorke. For proof, just listen to his latest offering – ‘Golden Age’ is a cocktail of cascading guitar riffs, electric snares and Will’s haunting falsetto vocals. Glorious.
Undoubtedly, Danny and Will are two fantastically innovative and individual musicians, but what sort of environment has helped culture this musical inventiveness?
In the nineties and noughties, much like the UK, Australia had a big pop-punk scene; one which Danny was a part of, “It always felt like a healthy scene. I was pretty into pop-punk in my early teens, there was a huge scene for it back then. There were obviously big international pop-punk acts, but Australia had a pretty healthy scene too with bands like Frenzal Rhomb and One Dollar Short”. Alternatively, Will found himself more involved in the very prominent Aussie rock and grunge scene, “Two of the Australian albums I loved as a kid were Silverchair’s Neon Ballroom and Powderfinger’s Odyssey Number Five. Silverchair were not afraid of making sounds that were raw and expressive, sometimes even grotesque. But it never compromised the song.” A fearless attitude, still evident amongst many Aussie artists as they continue trying to push musical boundaries.
As somebody at the beginning of a successful future in music, Danny has always been inspired by career artists, “I love the idea of growing with an artist and witnessing a journey. When I was really young my parents introduced me to The Beatles and I remember being fascinated with the different stages they’d been through.” Interestingly, Will was also reminiscent about Liverpool’s finest, “I listened to The Beatles on repeat until my grandparents cassettes of them were just a squiggly mess of tape.” When considering the imminent waves of gifted Aussie artists, waiting to crash on to our shores, it’s nice knowing that British musical legends have had their part to play in the ascension of Australian music.
Reflecting on the here and now, it’s clear that Danny has a huge love for Australia’s music scene, “Australians are an interesting crowd to play to. They’ve a very happy-go-lucky kind of energy, it’s great as they’re willing to give anything a shot and party to it.” This Aussie energy is perfectly illustrated by Will, “I think one of my favourite moments was at one of my first LANKS shows in Sydney. In a big jam section during the penultimate song, ‘Green Light’, I pulled out a flute and did a jazz flute solo – the whole room lost it. When we finished everyone was chanting ‘Ron Burgandy! Ron Burgandy!’ That’s why I love music.”
Clearly, their live performances have attained the adulation of Australian audiences; but what’s the secret behind the musical spells being cast? Whilst discussing Big Scary and Canary – two of Will’s favourite Aussie artists – his comments were particularly poignant, “lyrics that ooze sincerity and melodies that can soar and become a part of something lush – but then, they can usher you in real close, whisper to you in their most fragile moments and it breaks your heart in two. In reflection, the music I have connected to most over my life all comes down to strong, simple song writing ideas. Simple songs can still be extrapolated into magical and lush arrangements, as long as the song stays at the forefront.”
Yes, electronic music can sound deeply complex, however I feel that Aussie musicians keep the simplest – and most important – of ideas at the heart of their music; that it should be fun. Enjoying the journey is as important as arriving at the final destination, and when listening to the multitude of different Australian musicians it is evident that they are all enjoying themselves thoroughly. I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface, but I’d like to end on Danny’s words, “I could quite happily live on a diet, solely of Australian music.” I couldn’t be in greater agreement. I implore you to embark out upon the yellow brick road and discover for yourself, the magic that is behind the Wizards of Oz.