11 Bands Leading the '90s Alt-Rock Revival in Australia

Photo by Ashley Mar

Since the late 2000s and early 2010s, there's been a particularly strong revival of heavy guitar music in Australia. In a lot of ways this music is reminiscent of early-'90s grunge, though, like grunge, the range of musical styles is actually pretty broad.

A similarity is the attitudes of the bands involved, with a focus on a do-it-yourself ethos and a community mentality. Bands in the Australian scene tend to support one another, with any quick glance through music videos showing members of other bands cameoing frequently. Likewise, there's been plenty of co-headline tours and surprise on-stage guest appearances.

This scene doesn't include some of Australia's best-known exports of the last few years. Although both Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett use guitars as a core part of their sound, neither write in a particularly heavy style. Likewise, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard can get pretty heavy, but there's no discernible trace of the grunge element that characterises most of the bands below.

The biggest bands in this scene are Violent Soho, Dune Rats, The Smith Street Band, and DZ Deathrays. Each is a major player in Australia, frequently appearing at the top of festivals and drawing enormous crowds. You'd be hard-pressed to find a rock gig in Australia—at the local or national level—that doesn't feature a solid proportion of the audience proudly wearing shirts of any of these bands. But there are also many smaller, up-and-coming groups that could be said to make up this scene as well.

Check out each of these bands below for an introduction to Australia's '90s alt-rock revival.

Violent Soho

Sounding like a mix between The Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, Violent Soho's first release brought them to the attention of Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, who promptly signed them to his Ecstatic Peace! label in 2009. Although they recorded their self-titled follow-up in 2010 with heavy-hitting Pixies and Foo Fighters producer Gil Norton in the UK and moved to the U.S. with the intention of making it big, frustration with the results of their heavy touring led them to return home to Brisbane. In 2013, they released the album Hungry Ghost.

As their breakthrough album, to say that this release was enormously popular in Australia would be an understatement. It produced an instant classic in the song "Covered in Chrome," and the massive "hell fuck yeah" chorus generates a huge crowd shout-a-long.

Violent Soho - "Covered in Chrome"

The band's followup 2016 album WACO was popular as well, with five songs from the album placing in national radio station Triple J's Hottest 100 countdown of the songs of the year.

Dune Rats

Dune Rats' sound is like if you took late-'90s pop-punk and added a whole bunch of drug references. Although they risk becoming a caricature (among the usual t-shirts and hats for sale among their merch is an official Dune Rats grinder, and their social media makes no bones about their drug use), there's an excellent sense of pop hooks behind the showmanship.

Dune Rats' first (and self-titled) album was released through their own label, Ratbag Records. This album did well nationally, and the trio's next album, The Kids Will Know It's Bullshit did even better. Produced by Zac Carper from Fidlar, the album debuted at number 1 on the ARIA Albums Chart.

Dune Rats - "Red Light Green Light"

Their videos are well worth seeing, too. Dune Rats' video for "Red Light, Green Light" pays homage to DZ Deathrays' "The Mess Up." The original DZ Deathrays video was simply a static shot of the two band members continuously taking shots of Jägermeister while the song plays. Naturally, Dune Rats' homage replaces shots with hits from a bong.

The Smith Street Band

The Smith Street Band exemplify a current trend in Australian punk music, with singer Wil Wagner performing with a broad Australian accent. In his sometimes funny and sometimes devastating lyrics, Wagner describes Australian life with a definite focus on important social issues.

The band is clear about their political beliefs, having released a single called "Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face" about ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott—definitely not a band that minces their words. The band's popularity spiked with the release of their third album, Throw Me In The River, in 2014.

The Smith Street Band - "Death to the Lads"

Their fourth album, More Scared of You Than You Are of Me, was also highly successful, with the single "Death to the Lads" achieving number 21 in the 2016 Triple J Hottest 100.

DZ Deathrays

Dance-punk duo DZ Deathrays' musical ethos is straightforward. In drummer Simon Ridley's words, "We started the band for house parties and we've not really changed that much since. I think we've gotten better at playing our instruments and writing songs. We just want to make music that ultimately brings a great vibe to parties, and we try to make our performances exactly that."

The band found success quickly, with their first album, Bloodstreams, winning an ARIA Award in 2012. Their second album, Black Rat, produced the single "Gina Works at Hearts," which, like Violent Soho's "Covered in Chrome," guarantees an instant mosh-frenzy whenever it's played.

DZ Deathrays - "Gina Works at Hearts"

Their most recent album, Bloody Lovely, produced several singles and a terrific music video for the song "Like People." The video features former member of The Wiggles' Murray Cook, who recreates several of his signature Wiggles dance moves before ultimately head-banging with the band.

Ridley sums up the appeal of the scene by saying that "guitar music is generally at its best when it's a bit sloppy, there's feedback, notes can bend just out of key and it feels like it's all about to fall apart, but it doesn't, and that's what makes it exciting to me. Also, there's just nothing quite like seeing someone blast an entire cranked amp stack in the audiences' face watching people go crazy for it."

Other Bands of Note

Skegss

Skegss are signed to Dune Rats' Ratbag Records, and the two bands often tour together, although they don't really sound particularly similar. Skegss are more chilled-out, with an air of nostalgia to their sound that sets them apart. "Got on My Skateboard" wound up at number 39 in Triple J's 2017 Hottest 100.

Skegss - "Got on My Skateboard"

Hockey Dad

Two-piece Hockey Dad are essentially the perfect soundtrack for a summer surf or skate. They've got plenty of pop hooks, but pack enough punch to keep you listening. Their song "Homely Feeling," taken from their 2018 album Blend Inn, scored number 54 in Triple J's 2017 Hottest 100.

Hockey Dad - "Homely Feeling"

Clowns

Pure punk. Clowns are pretty heavy, with a vicious snarl coming from singer Stevie Williams. Their 2017 album, Lucid Again, shows the band firing on all cylinders. After more than 800 gigs, they're tight as anything, even at killer speeds.

Clowns - "Destroy The Evidence"

WAAX

The star of the show at any WAAX gig is undoubtedly singer Marie DeVita, who prowls the stage with an animalistic intensity and a heck of a glare. There's a touch of dance-rock in their style, but with a heavier, grungier twist. Their recent EP Wild & Weak attracted some seriously positive attention, and they've recently signed with record label Dew Process.

WAAX - "Same Same"

Tired Lion

Hailing from Perth on the distant west coast of Australia, Tired Lion are pretty open about their love of the '90s—see their music video for "Not My Friends," which riffs on a whole bunch of '90s TV shows. Produced by Violent Soho's singer Luke Boerdam, their debut album, Dumb Days, has anthemic choruses and hooky riffs aplenty.

Tired Lion - "Not My Friends"

West Thebarton

Expect riffs, headbanging, and partying. Put it this way, their original band name was West Thebarton Brothel Party. After a probably well-advised name change, West Thebarton have recently signed to Domestic La La Records, run by Violent Soho's guitarist James Tidswell.

West Thebarton - "Moving Out"

Dear Seattle

With a name like Dear Seattle, you know what you're in for—it's the grunge sound of punchy verses followed by big singalongs in the choruses, in this case with an Australian touch. In fact, it's the sort of music that perfectly fits drinking a beer with your mates. Like West Thebarton, they've recently been signed to Domestic La La Records.

Dear Seattle - "The Meadows"

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