The Suburbs That Shape Australia's Sounds From Freo to Fitzroy: Behind our musical hotspots

The suburbs that shape Australia’s sounds

Brought to you by Optus' Sound of the Suburbs

By Andrew P Street, 11/11/2016

Brought to you by Optus’ Sound of the Suburbs

Some Australian suburbs just have a certain something. Maybe it’s a spiritual confluence of time and place uniting in mystical harmony; more often it’s bored people and cheap rent in an area the council are happy to overlook noise complaints. Either way, there are certain places that have been disproportionately influential on the development of Australian music.

Demographics change, of course, and last decade’s rat’s nest slum is this generation’s multi-million fixer-upper. So we need to celebrate these places while we’ve got them.

Surry Hills, NSW 2010

For decades Surry Hills was the beating heart of Sydney’s live music scene, and while the pressures of skyrocketing property values and inner-city gentrification mean many of the old venues are now silenced, there are plenty of ghosts still rattling their chains.

It’s easy to lament the past of Surry Hills – especially when the past was so gloriously storied, and involved seeing X, Ratcat or Youth Group in a room the size of a kitchenette. However, if you scratch beneath the surface of hip bars and unaffordable apartments you’ll soon find that there’s still plenty of culture being created, in spite of the lockout laws that swept through the CBD like a plague of venue-closing locusts.

The gloriously scuzzy Hibernian House has been home to generations of musicians, artists, dancers, writers and other creative types, a proud tradition it carries on today (indeed, the Preatures self-recorded their debut album within the graff-covered walls). Former guerrilla venue 505 has become Sydney’s premier home of live jazz on Cleveland Street, and there are still new bands taking their tentative first steps at venues like Brighton Up Bar on Oxford Street, right at the Surry Hills/Darlington border.

Fortitude Valley, QLD 4006

In the early-‘90s Brisbane did something remarkably far-sighted: as Fortitude Valley’s burgeoning music scene threatened to burst into conflict with residents and businesses, the local government designated the area a “special entertainment precinct”. The result was pretty much everything that happened since.

It’s a hive of venues and clubs, and things get mighty… um, colourful there as the night rolls on, but it remains the centre of Brisbane’s music scene. The Valley is  home to annual industry conference BIGSOUND and key venues like the Zoo, Ric’s Bar, the Triffid (technically just outside the Valley’s borders, and co-owned by former Powderfinger bassist John Collins) and Black Bear Lodge (on the site of the legendary Queensland venue the Troubadour). It also hosts the annual Valley Fiesta, with 20-plus bands on the one night.

In recent times bands like DZ Deathrays and Velociraptor have made the leap from mid-bill slots in Valley venues to national headline tours.

Radio station 4ZZZ broadcasts from the heart of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. (Photo: JAM Project/Flickr)

Fremantle, WA 6160

Fremantle has always been a rock’n’roll town – it was the home of AC/DC’s mighty Bon Scott, after all – and it’s been the launchpad for generations of WA music royalty. It’s as though Perth decided that the Melbourne and Sydney inner-city live scenes were too far away, so they built one next door.

The reason for the area’s impressive legacy is at least partially down to it being the home of some of the nation’s best live venues – most notably Mojo’s Bar and the legendary Fly By Night. It’s where several generations of artists got their start, from John Butler and the Waifs through to the likes of Little Birdy, Eskimo Joe and Jebediah. More recently it’s been responsible for the remarkably ascent of Tame Impala and the many, many bands formed around that creative axis (Pond, the Growl, Mink Mussel Creek et al), and triple j darlings San Cisco.

Fitzroy, VIC 3065

Melbourne’s music scene has always had a north/south divide, with fierce rivalries based upon which side of the Yarra a band is from. So it’s necessary to at least acknowledge that Melbourne’s scene is healthy and interesting (you happy with that, St Kilda?) before suggesting that it’s really all about Fitzroy.

That’s principally because The Evelyn Hotel, The Old Bar and The Workers Club are all within staggering distance of one another, with the Tote just over the Smith Street border in Collingwood. In other words, every Melbourne band you’ve ever heard of has unloaded gear from a car parked in a loading zone on a Fitzroy kerb. It’ also got plenty of wider pop culture heft: the suburb was home to the late-’70s “Little Band Scene” that formed the backdrop of Richard Lowenstein’s cult film Dogs In Space. Underground Lovers even named their fourth album after North Fitzroy’s Rushall Station.

Melbourne’s Fitzroy is home to live music venues The Evelyn Hotel, The Old Bar and The Workers Club. (Photo: Rene Cunningham/Flickr)

Blacktown, NSW 2148

Western Sydney has historically been home to working class families, a meat-and-potatoes sort of a region far from the cool inner-city haunts that gave birth to indie rock and dance music scenes. It’s always been an area that loves rock – it’s where the archetypical pub rock band The Radiators was born and cut their teeth – and it meant that by the mid-’80s the region was ripe for a musical renaissance thanks to three important elements: 1) A generation of bored teenagers; 2) Houses with garages in which said bored teenagers could form bands; and 3) A keen understanding of how to make one’s own fun.

Blacktown has long been synonymous with the many genres of music with the suffix “-core”, thanks in no small part to the international attention garnered by Thy Art Is Murder and Northlane. UNFD labelmates Hellions call the region home, while the far poppier Tonight Alive are also from that neck of the woods. Venues are thin on the ground – most gigs are DIY affairs in community halls, parties or other makeshift spaces.

(Lead Image: JAM Project/Flickr)

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