Dig It Up!: Hoodoo Gurus + The Sonics + 5, 6, 7, 8s @ The Tivoli, 20.04.2012

When it comes down to it, Australian music is a bit of a strange beast in that despite the advantages of the English language it doesn’t travel well.  It always seems to be years behind musical movements in the UK and the USA, so often has little to offer. Growing up, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of Australian music around, although it was only later that I found out that Joe Dolce (Shaddup Your Face, almost better known for keeping Ultravox’s Vienna from number one that for the song itself) was Australian (even though in typical fashion, Joe Dolce was born in the USA and didn’t moved to Australia until he was in his 20s). It was a complete surprise to come to Australia and find that the country has placed little flags in musical acts that I never knew it had any claim in and where that claim is a bit spurious, Crowded House and The Bee Gees being a couple of bands that spring instantly to mind. Crowded House are a New Zealand band in the UK and The Bee Gees come from the Isle of Man via Manchester. To anyone of my age growing up in the UK, in the mid-1980s, Australian music was Men At Work, a one hit wonder with amusing video that showed everyone what real-life Australia was like, Midnight Oil, a one hit wonder with a song sung by a scary looking bald bloke with a funny voice, Mental As Anything, famous in the UK for a song on the Crocodile Dundee soundtrack and John Farnham yet another one hit wonder with You’re The Voice.  Despite the column inches, I don’t expect Goyte to be anything other than a one hit wonder overseas, although he’s guaranteed everlasting success in Australia now. At the time I don’t think I even realised the extent of Australia’s stake in AC/DC given the strong Scottish connections in the band, that the current singer was a Geordie and that they always seemed to be in the UK anyway.   INXS changed everything though and Kylie and Jason blazed a trail for Australian soap stars to become successful singers.  Sometimes I wonder if we should all blame Australian soap stars for all the Idol/X Factor-type shows.  If an ongoing soap opera can create stars and make money for record labels, why not create a talent competition soap opera (or three) with the same plot on annual repeat and take more control over the starring cast.

I can remember years ago having a conversation in The Troubadour about who the best Australian band were. For me, don’t think there is a better Australian band than The Triffids. There’s something so magical about the depth, breadth and strength of David McComb’s songwriting abilities and his stunning voice. There’s something of the Springsteen’s in his voice in that the sheer passion in it makes you believe every single word he sings. Someone (I was convinced it was my friend Brad, but he denies he would have ever said it so I don’t know who it was) put forward the Hoodoo Gurus as the act he considered to be the best Australian band. I had previously seen and photographed the band when they played at Falls Festival in 2005 or 2006 but without knowing anything about them and they didn’t come over as a band that someone would be proclaiming as the country’s best band. It was such an odd choice that I’ve always remembered it, even though I can’t actually recall who said it now.

Having investigated a bit further via songs and videos on the internet, they still never, ever convinced me of they perceived greatness. As with so many Australian bands, even today, they sound years behind the musical trends that were happening in the UK and the US. They’re a mix of post-punk and glam but with their debut album (which they play tonight in its entirety) coming out in 1984, it was years after the event. Having said that, my musical tastes weren’t exactly formed by 1984 and for me the year’s memories would have been of Michael Jackson, Prince, Duran Duran, Band Aid and a whole lot of bands on the Now! That’s What I Call Music compilations. But then it’s a similar thing with Midnight Oil. Having bought $10 copies of Diesel and Dust and 10,9,8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 there’s nothing that obvious that makes them stand out to an outsider as being one of the country’s prominent rock bands. Having topped a Best 100 Australian Albums list a couple of years ago, Diesel and Dust is a pretty good album and yet it disturbs me a bit that an album that sounds not a million miles away from Big Country is treated as the standard bearer for Australian albums. It’s a good listen, but the best? Not that music is a competition, but if you compare a Top 100 albums list from the UK or the US, the disparity between Australia and the others is huge when you compare just about any ranked number in those 100 records across countries and you wonder if you were to create a Best 100 from the three lists, how many Australian albums would would make it into the list. I think there would be a handful (I’m Stranded, 16 Lovers Lane, Wide Open Road spring to mind) but would expect them to be in the lower reaches of the list.

Being an obviously well liked and respected band, I expected the gig to sell pretty well but it was a surprise that it sold out so quickly. It was even more of a surprise that Brisbane and Perth were the first Dig It Up! shows to sell out given that both cities got a very stripped down version of the event, whereas Sydney and Melbourne got a full day, multi-stage festival for not much more money. The ultimate surprise was that despite the quality of the line-ups in Sydney and Melbourne, neither of those shows sold out. A recent piece about the travelling festival on Mess+Noise referred to it as a “gamble” but I never considered that it was. One of the main factors in its success was a bill of bands that don’t exactly play very often, making it more of an event, more so than the usual Australian music festivals where any overseas big-name, must-see acts are heavily diluted by the same rehashed Australian acts time after time. One of the other factors in its success was price, with tickets for Brisbane being under $70, less than what you pay there for your normal international touring act, for example, cheaper than the following night’s Mark Lanegan gig.

What Dig It Up! did show is that people over 30 have an interest in music and still go out to see live music. Obviously if you are in that age demographic, the propensity for nostalgia is greater and as Rave’s official photographer of old time acts, I see an older generation of music fans at a lot of the gigs I cover, whether it be Duran Duran, Dirty Three, or even the pitiful number of people watching New Order at Future Music festival while everyone under the age of 25 was crammed in to watch Swedish House Mafia press the play button on their iPod. Popular music culture has always been obsessed by youth, even from the very start and the comparisons between the youthful Elvis and the aging Bill Haley who was a whole 29 when he made the big time with Shake, Rattle and Roll and Rock Around The Clock, ten years older than Elvis.

But what the success of a festival like Dig It Up! highlights is the need for an Australian radio station that caters for not just music fans over the age of 25 but also for acts over the age of 25 who struggle to get much in the way of airplay on triple j. There is middle ground between triple j and classic rock stations and a need for a new radio station in the mould of 6Music where the music played is more eclectic, where if doesn’t have to take a short-term, narrow-viewed obsession with “new music” and the latest fad bands who’ll be long forgotten in a few years and where it can admit that music existed before 1991. There is the scope for a real national alternative radio station in Australia that isn’t being realised.

Back at Dig It Up!, the 5,6,7,8s are excellent as too are The Sonics. The Sonics are a real surprise, as based on what I’d read, I was expecting the worst. Just goes to show that you can’t trust opinions on the internet. As for Hoodoo Gurus, they have the benefit, typically for the headline act, of the best sound of the night, but can’t really escape my previously established view of the band. Whereas there’s a timeless quality to both what 5,6,7,8s and The Sonics do, the Hoodoos just sound like a band, like a lot of other ‘heritage’ Australian acts, that I probably had to be there at the time, back in the day, to appreciate. I’m not sure what the logistics would be in terms of venues, but if Dig It Up! comes back, it would be nice if next time Brisbane could get the full complement of bands that no doubt Sydney and Melbourne will be treated to.

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