Everett True vs The Australian Music Press

A quick non-photo post for a change.

I was interested and slightly bemused a couple of months ago when I heard that Plan B creator/editor and ex-Melody Maker writer Everett True was relocating from Brighton to Brisbane. As weekly Melody Maker readers back in the day, we all used to hate ET with a passion, largely due to his constant self-referencing in his articles. Having said that his review of Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted made me go out and buy it, so some good came out of his writing.

He has been blogging for New York’s Village Voice website, including writing about the Brisbane scene since his move, and started blogging last week for The Guardian. Being new to Brisbane he obviously wanted to get off on the right foot, make friends and influence people, and so chose to write about Australian music press

Although I agree with a lot of what he has said in his first Guardian blog I think he is covering a number of slightly different, if related, topics and, as such, there is some degree of confusion and a resultant weakness in his overall argument, even though there is truth in most of the points he makes.

The most interesting comments for me are the ones that deal with the lack of criticism in Australian music press, as it is a subject very close to my heart.

There is a lack of real criticism in Australian music papers and magazines, although I think JMag and Rolling Stone are probably even worse than street press, who his blog seems to be mainly aimed at. Australian Rolling Stone is one of the poorest excuses for a music magazine I’ve come across. And I’ve flicked through the pages of Q magazine in the newsagent in recent years… JMag is far too close the bands via Triple J, far too tied up with indie coolness, and with having bands/singers actually contribute to the magazine is never going to be anything but a large Sydney-centric celebratory circle jerk, much like the radio station.

As far as street press goes, one of the main troubles, especially in somewhere with a music scene as small as Brisbane, is that a lot of the writers know the local bands. On one hand you’ve got street press reviewers saying that it’s not worth the grief and abuse they get every time they leave the house if they ever criticise a local band. On the other hand, when you get reviewers reviewing singers that they used to manage and are good friends with, editors reviewing their housemate’s album and singers writing their own reviews it does make a mockery of the whole thing.

I did comment on TOMB that if ET was going to write a regular blog on the Australian music scene that he was on a hiding to nothing. If there’s one thing that gets your average Australian’s back up more than telling them that their shit stinks, it’s when they get told it by someone English, and so I feared that his blog would just end up looking like a typical comments page on the Courier Mail’s website.

Much to my amusement, the Courier Mail and its sister-site http://www.news.com.au picked up the story and really went to town on it. Funny, you’d think ET wrote for them and they were milking it for all it’s worth. Oh…

In typical xenophobic Courier Mail-style they couldn’t help themselves but push the ‘Whinging Pom Hates OUR Bands’ angle (I was always very disappointed that Grant McLennan let them use ‘Streets Of Your Town’ for their TV ad…) and they were joined a day later by the Sydney Morning Herald, pushing the same angle.

Fighting words from Brit critic (the front page headline link was more sensational and, from memory, based on the ‘Brit says Silverchair = Abomination’ comment)

Having made the papers, all the Australian music forums have also picked up the story:

But it’s quite interesting and somewhat surprising that despite the usual ‘Love it or leave’ and ‘whinging Pom’-type comments you would expect in the Courier Mail and Sydney Morning Herald, a large number seem to be agree that he has a point when it comes to a lack of criticism.

I think a good example of the lack of criticism in the Australian music press can be seen in UK music website Drowned In Sound ’s review of Powerfinger singer Bernard Fanning’s solo album and single. Would any Australian publication give Bernard Fanning a review like DiS’s?

The correct answer is no, not in a million years: He’s Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger, he’s a true blue Aussie, salt of the earth, down to earth bloke – as that press release in the DiS review points out, he is a “total legend”. So it would be “un-Australian” to even dare to suggest that his music is a bit shit. And that’s a large part of the problem with Australia; a good review from a mainstream music media publication is weighted more on whether the artists in questions are good blokes and whether you’d want to share a few beers with them down at the pub, than the music that they actually produce.

I think there are a number of reasons for all this; firstly, Australia does this whole siege mentality when it comes to its country, a real Us Vs The Rest of the World, small, isolated, underdog and the need to be seen as punching above its weight. Secondly, although connected, is that so much of what Australians are subjected to on the TV and radio – programs, adverts, news and sport reporting – and in what they read in the newspapers and magazines is about reinforcing ‘Australian-ness’, what it means to be ‘Australian’ and the ‘values’ that being Australian entails. But all this has done is create an atmosphere of fear where it is ‘un-Australian’ to criticise anything Australian.

Australian’s will retort to this with an argument based on the use of Tall Poppy Syndrome, but this has less to do with being good or bad at something and a lot more to do with getting ideas above your station, ‘values’ that again are considered ‘un-Australian’, and needing to be cut down to size.

Although not music related, the treatment of Jana Rawlinson reflects this; she might be a current World Champion but through her injuries in the last and current Olympics she is considered by a sizable majority of the Australian people to be nothing more than an egotistical, whining drama queen, to the extent that she was essentially made to apologise for being such recently when she pulled out of the current Olympics through injury. In addition her cause has not been helped by moving to the UK, and selling the stories/photos of her marriage and birth of her child to magazines, further alienating her from an Australian public that virtually demands that it celebrities remain accessible and keep their feet firmly rooted to the floor.

Although I’m anything but a fan of Silverchair, and they were by far and away the worst band I saw at this year’s Big day Out and one of the worst bands that I’d seen in a long time, the comments responding to ET’s blog posting are essentially following a similar train of thought; if Daniel Johns had stayed the same as he was when he was 14 then everything would be ok, but instead he’s far too pretentious, far too flamboyant, wearing makeup, moving away from the dull, derivative plodding rock music of his youth and trying to stretch himself as a songwriter and musician to endear himself to the average Australian. He’s no ‘legend’ like Angry Anderson or Jimmy Barnes that’s for sure…

Criticising anything Australian is like waving a red flag to a bull, even more so when you’re not Australian, and especially so when you’re English and have just moved to the country. But if the whining Australians spent more than 2 seconds to have a bit of a think about it they would surely realise that having a noted music journalist move to Brisbane and write in international publications about Australian bands might actually be a good thing in helping them get some overseas exposure. Like recent articles by a certain new Brisbane resident such as:

But maybe that’s just asking too much from your average Australian… 

No good non-photographic blog should be without a list, and in keeping with this blog’s theme here’s a list of Australian bands/artists off the top of my head that I think are really shit, and who make me despair with the undeserved, positive and fawning column inches that they receive in Australian newspapers and magazines:

  • Wolfmother
  • Powderfinger
  • Silverchair
  • The Vines
  • Missy Higgins
  • The Living End
  • Grinspoon
  • Little Birdy
  • Kate Miller-Heidke
  • Pete Murray
  • Van She
  • Faker
  • Cat Empire
  • Hilltop Hoods
  • Thirsty Merc
  • Rogue Traders
  • Sneaky Sound System
  • Expatriate
  • Airbourne
  • The Galvatrons

Feel free to remind me of all the ones I’ve missed…

20 Responses to “Everett True vs The Australian Music Press”

  1. That’s so un-Australian!!! I can’t believe my beloved Airbourne made the list (actually I can but…) Do you think the lack of negative reviewing etc is due to the whole scene being so small and incestuous in Australia? Can’t piss anyone off as it may stop your rise to the giddy heights of the Oz music biz? Or do we all just secretly want to be Molly Meldrum? Don’t really know as I have never written…Its good that you can’t pick up opinions from photos I guess.

  2. Had a quick look around. Did find it amusing that the folk who seemed to be most offended about ET’s ramblings were the same ones claiming that he was irrelevant. Are we that precious? In all fairness, I have been hanging shit on Poms and the ‘mother country’ on every topic imaginable since the day I was born…it’s just how it’s done. Surely we can cop a little bit of stick in return.

  3. Nice article mate. For mine, Van She are the most talentless bunch of hacks on the scene at the moment, followed closely by Sneaky Sound System. The mind boggles.

    I wrote a response to this whole discussion at my blog, if yr interested: http://niteshok.wordpress.com/2008/08/17/music-journalism-opportunistic-idiot-baiting/

  4. Stephen says:

    I think there’s more than a grain of truth running through ET’s words, but I don’t see the situation changing. The shit floating at the top of the pond sells, and sells an awful lot. I think that that places a some pressure on street press to bump their reviews, which probably contributes somewhat to keeping these people at the top of the slag heap.

    There’s another element to this as well, one that ET doesn’t really seem to acknowledge. Bands like Powderfinger (I’d add Josh Pyke and The Whitlams, who seem to be slowly degenerating into an AM band much to my sadness, plus frakkin Evermore to your list) are polished enough that their music is what I’d call bland, rather than terrible. You don’t get to that level by being a shit musician, and a passionate live performance can lift average songs above the pack too. (The cynic might say this is the only reason JBT is so popular).

    So what you really have is a bunch of average bands writing averaging songs. That’s a lot harder to effectively and honestly critique. Drowned in Sound did it to Fanning with a whole lot of sting in the tail that I’m not entirely sure was fully deserved.

    Because, you know what? Sometimes I /do/ want to listen to that stuff. Sometimes I don’t want challenging. Not always, but sometimes. And shit, i think that’s ok, as long as I understand the “limitations” of what I’m listening to.

    Just because you like sushi doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally indulge in some fairy floss.

    If that makes sense.

  5. Justin says:

    @ Adam. It’s an issue when you’ve got a small scene. I’ve seen bands with street press reviewers who have slagged off what they’re seeing as we watch the band but then written a positive review. They say you just get too much grief if you give local bands bad reviews. But if it has become like that, and any semblence of criticism is removed, then essentially the reviews might as well be “good on ya for turning up” for what they’re worth. Do we secretly want to be Molly Meldrum? What, bald, old men with bad hats, still living in the 1970s?

  6. Justin says:

    @ Andrew. Not going to disagree with you about Van She. No redeeming features whatsoever. That their album debuted at #10 in the Aria Charts this week is unbelievable and so depressing. Who are the people that like them and why? Even if you’re not a big fan of dance music you can look at bands like The Presets and Cut Copy and appreciate what they do and understand why they are popular. I just try to ignore Sneaky Sound System (as much as I can when they seem to clog up every music program on TV). Not sure why they got so much coverage in the more alt press and street press when they’re just a bog-standard pop band.

  7. Justin says:

    @ Stephen. Evermore were on the original list but i had to put in a whole caveat about them being Kiwi which spoilt the line of the list somewhat. I think Josh Pyke was also on the list, as a result of having bored me senseless at Falls a couple of years ago but I decided that Pete Murray was the greater evil… John Butler Trio was considered, but whilst it’s not my thing, having seen him a few times at various festivals I can appreciate him and his playing; he does what he does well, whereas most of my list is bands/singers who I think don’t.

    Bland rather than terrible? Maybe. I think I may have used the term “offensively bland” in my blog before. I guess to me it’s a greater crime, especially when you know there are much better bands out there that pedal a similar style of music but get nowhere near the attention.

    But yeah, not everything you listen to needs to be, or should be, challenging. Despite the seemingly increasing American accent you can’t help but love The Grates. And I did intentionally leave Operator Please off my list – not because I have all the albums or anything, but having seen them play a few times they do it well, they have a few good, fun, honest pop songs that don’t pretend to be anything but, and I do think they cop a lot of unwarranted and undeserved flak in Australia.

  8. Ha, I just need to get a bad hat and I’m there! Fair call.

  9. sneaky says:

    I lament well reasoned comment – simply not enough room, it seems, in print pages these days…and the blogosphere is filled with hyperbole and ego-wanking, so striking this is akin to gold.
    Well done Justin – ever thought of complimenting your shots with written pieces 😉

  10. Justin says:

    @ Adam. I could totally see you there on the Sunrise sofa with Mel and Kochie telling us about the latest news from Elton John!

  11. Justin says:

    @Sneaky. Thanks so much. Sometimes I do think about reviewing and photographing, as it would be a pretty useful skillset to be able to do both, but:

    (a) Sometimes I find it hard to switch off from being in photography mode so I’m always looking at the visuals instead of the properly listening to the music; and
    (b) Coming from an extremely technical background I find it hard to write flowery prose, so I think my writing tends to be quite analytical and maybe not as readable/interesting and maybe doesn’t come over as passionate as someone who knows how to write properly and has a more impressive vocabulary.

    But ask me nicely and you never know…

  12. shishkin says:

    oh how could you forget about the Whitlams ?? oh dear … ): i think i’m feeling some uncontrollable bowel motio

  13. Andrew Stone says:

    I get the feeling that more Brisbanites would like to get in and support original live music, but upon their first step into Brunswick St they are confronted by ‘in crowd’ nonsense and bands that were supposed to be worth the treck (according to their awesome review in the street press), but are instead self-absorbed whiny types with valley contacts.

    Oh well, off to the RE for a jug of draft and a cover band; or a valley nightclub for cheap chemicals, expensive water and lots of bass drum.

    🙁 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    There’s just no middle ground between the street press/JMag knobery you mentioned, and the mainstream austereo money machine.

    Great article – congrats on the coverage it’s received.

  14. r4f4 says:

    That´s a good discussion in music!

  15. Andy says:

    Only just stumbled upon this now, but awesome post.

  16. Justin says:

    Thanks Andrew and Andy

  17. Fray says:

    I believe that you are missing one key idea in this article. Perhaps Australian music appeals to the typical Australian Ideologies and perhaps not to the english or the American. Bands like powderinger have several albums which have been extremely well produced and it is obvious that the band has a phenominal understanding of dynamic within the studio, perhaps better than being a fantastic songwriter with no knowledge of how to involve an audience. Yes there is an element of pride in Australian bands and it is quite likely that it’s within the Australian psyche to encourage people to “have a go” rather than telling them they’re shit and leaving it at that. There is a fine line between critique and insult and perhaps this is something that many australian’s dont want to risk.

  18. Great Site, Thank you for sharing.

  19. Hey there great post, all I can say is give the guy a chance, he has not long moved to the country and so is probably easing himself in before he pulls out the major shit stick and starts stirring it up by going on about how poor all the press is. Which he no doubtedly will in due course as he clearly has such a high opinion of himself that even if they weren’t that bad he would find something to slate them for.

    P.s. What the deal with the apostrophes on here, found that escape code rubbish really annoying.

  20. Justin says:

    Thanks for the comment. Yeah sorry about all the garbage escape code. It was done when my host changed their database setup from PHP4 to PHP 5 (or something). I have investigated fixing it but have read a few horror stories where it’s screwed up the whole database that holds all the blog content so have been a bit reluctant to try sorting it out. I need to though, as I know it looks terrible. As for ET, he’s still stirring with the best of them. It’s genius really; with just one post on a music forum he can cause virtual meltdown amongst the forum members.

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