Australia can certainly boast its share of big-name, stadium-filling, chart-smashing, internationally successful bands. We’re the land of AC/DC, INXS, The Bee Gees, Crowded House, and Savage Garden, but we also claim some cult bands, too.
But we’ve also got a lot of bands who are just as influential and important, but who never crossed over into the mainstream for whatever reason. Some just never got that push, some were just too challenging for the masses.
Either way, to us and to many Australian music fans out there, these bands are just as big and important as AC/DC. We’ve decided to put together a list with some of the ones we most cherish and ought to be remembered.
Before we had the likes of friendlyjordies and Client Liaison using satire to make us face up to the worst of Australian culture, TISM were the trailblazers. Fearlessly political and fiercely funny, TISM, which stands for This Is Serious Mum, used a chameleonic musical persona to skewer Australia’s trashy pop culture and obsession with celebrity. Man, we could really use them now.
As the authors behind mesmerising cultural staples like ‘My Pal’, it’s no surprise God are cited as an influence by Australian bands to this day. Violent Soho are fans and have even covered their songs live and on releases. But they never quite attained the level of success so many fans thought they were destined for.
Beasts of Bourbon
The story goes that as this supergroup comprised of some of some of Australia’s dirtiest rockers was preparing the release of their volatile 1991 album The Low Road, their label touted them as “the next Cold Chisel”. The lead single off that album? A propulsive tour-de-force whose opening lyrics discuss smuggling heroin into Australia through your rear end.
Radio Birdman are easily one of the most important bands ever to spawn from Australia’s punk scene. But unlike The Saints, they’ve never inspired the same degree of editorials and documentary specials. But if you ever happen to catch that distinctive logo spray-painted on somebody’s guitar case, you know you’re dealing with a cool customer.
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You’d think with all of this desert about, Australia would have its own answer to Kyuss and Fu Manchu, right? We do. They’re called Tumbleweed and they’re an absolute tour de force of down-tuned Australian rock and roll. Yes, you can call them an Australian Kyuss, but Tumbleweed are so much more.
Machine Gun Fellatio
This band’s creative direction can best be encapsulated in four letters: NSFW. Everything about them was X-rated, from their band name to their song titled and lyrics. They got some mainstream attention thanks to their album Paging Mr Strike, but for the most part this brainchild of the always mischievous Pinky Beecroft was something people secretly enjoyed under the covers like a nudie mag.
The Birthday Party
They really don’t come much more influential than The Birthday Party. The visceral, haunting lyrics of Nick Cave and the pioneering guitar work of Rowland S Howard have influenced everybody from My Bloody Valentine to Sonic Youth. A national cultural treasure in every sense, The Birthday Party are one of Australia’s most important yet underexposed cult bands.
Few bands are as beloved in Sydney as cult outfit The Preatures, and after bolting out the gates with a nomination for Best Pop Release at the ARIAs after the success of their sophomore EP Is This How You Feel, they swiftly became worthy successors to hold the Aussie pop rock mantle formerly held by the Divinyls – to the point that frontwoman Izzi Manfredi was even chosen to take the legendary Chrissie Amphlett’s spot at the front of the band for a special reunion show once.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
This list is mostly made up of older bands, so we thought it’d be good to have some young guns in here and who better than cult band King Gizzard? Through sheer dedication and relentless hard work, King Gizz have managed to forge a ridiculously committed fan base who immediately snap up their limited edition vinyls and go out in droves to seem them. All this without any kind of major label involvement or even major triple j play.
Cosmic Psychos are the very definition of a cult band. The relatively small fan base they command is fiercely rabid, they never quite made it to mainstream success, but they’re cited by countless bands as a formative influence. Their music is also still vital and relevant. And seeing as they sing songs about tractors and dead kangaroos, they’re the very definition of an Australian band too.