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The Australian psychedelic revolution as told through eight bands

How Australia crafted a sound that led the world. 

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Illustration by Rui Kinoshita

Psychedelic music is nothing new --certainly not in Australia -- though the past few years have seen an explosion in the scene, with several Aussie bands gaining international success and consequently branding our nation as a highly fertile breeding ground for psych bands. Since the mammoth snowball effect brought on by Tame Impala, contemporary psychedelic-rock outfits seem to be our number one export in the music scene.

This burgeoning demand for synth-fuelled psychedelia has created a space not only for Australian bands to build international audiences in a way that wasn’t possible before, but it has given incentive to up-and-coming artists in a previously predominately underground genre to explore their sound without fear that there is no market for it.

To best try and understand the surging demand for Australian psychedelic bands, particular psych-rock outfits, one must look at the contemporary bands fronting the genre and how this has had a domino-effect for not only the bands, but their audiences too.  

Tame Impala

Irrefutably at the forefront of the contemporary Australian psych-rock revolution is Tame Impala. The Perth-born band quickly went from self-releasing their music to signing with heavyweight international labels and topping charts across the world. The band’s first studio album Innerspeaker, released in 2010, was extremely well-received and had Australia -- and later, the rest of the world -- watching the band intently as they followed up with hugely successful Lonerism in 2012 and Currents in 2015. Kevin Parker’s warm, echoing vocals and the simultaneously ambient and electrifying melodies struck a chord with listeners everywhere, catapulting the band to the top. Anyone not already paying attention to the band joined in on the psych-rock worship when Tame Impala dropped their masterpiece album featuring standout tracks ‘Elephant’ and ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ in 2012.

Pond

Also hailing from Perth, Pond have been frontrunners in the psychedelic rock scene for a decade since forming in 2008, though it’s only now that the spotlight has shifted onto the genre that they’re really making waves. Often compared to Tame Impala, despite the two bands displaying quite different sounds, both groups swapped and shared members in a bubbling pot of experimental psychedelia and mateship during their formative years. Making their debut with Psychedelic Mango, delivering a more chaotic, garage sound than the pristine, synth-heavy melodies now displayed on their more recent releases, Pond has been experimenting and tweaking their sound for a long time. Although the band have inarguably evolved over time, their early tracks like ‘Frond’ and ‘Don’t Look At The Sun Or You’ll Go Blind’ remain fan-favourites and still feature heavily in the band’s live sets.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

Melbourne’s own King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are another band who, like Pond, has an extensive collection of albums to their name. Releasing their debut album 12 Bar Bruise in 2012, featuring a comparatively more rock-orientated sound that the hyper-experimental work they now deliver by the bulk, it wasn’t until a couple of years later in 2014 that a following formed around the band with the releases of both Oddments and I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, trailed closely the following year by their successful Paper Mache Dream Balloon. Since Nonagon Infinity hit in 2016 the band have gone from strength to strength, with 2017 seeing the seven-piece outfit drop a casual five albums, each exploring vastly different sounds and concepts.  

Orb

Originally intended to be a doom rock outfit, Geelong trio Orb found themselves projecting their intense and often lengthy riffs in a way more indicative of prog/psych rock than the heavier sound they set out to emulate. Though their heavy roots are evident across their tracks, Orb has unquestionably embraced their experimental side, as made apparent in their debut album Womb in late 2015, followed closely early the following year by Birth. Rife with fuzz guitar and crashing drum beats, Orb has introduced the characteristics typical of psych-rock with their heavy rock sound to create something unparalleled. Although they don’t yet share the same level of influence and mainstream appeal as some of the genre’s other bands, if their 2017 release Naturality -- featuring the likes of ‘Immortal Tortoise’ and ‘A Man In The Sand’, seeing the band further digress into a more psychedelic sound -- is any indication, it’s only a matter of time.

GUM

Moniker for Jay Watson, of both Tame Impala and Pond, GUM is a solo effort in which Watson explores a more pop-aligned version of psychedelia -- though one which still features rock influences amongst the synth-heavy, energetic melodies. Incorporating everything from electro-pop to elements of funk and disco, GUM is intriguing as both a look at Watson’s extensive creativity and as an effort separate from his other projects. With three albums under his belt and a 2018 tour schedule including stints in Europe and the US, GUM is seemingly following in the footsteps of his other musical endeavours.  Making his debut with Delorean Highway in 2014, followed by Glamourous Damage and Flash in the Pan respectively the following two years, GUM will bring us another album shortly, with The Underdog set for release this year.

Good Morning

Further exemplifying the vast number of forms this genre can take, Melbourne duo Good Morning are purveyors of a low-fi, ambient sound sitting somewhere on the spectrum of dream-pop and psychedelia. Taking a more subdued approach than some of the other bands shouldering the scene, Good Morning are a testament to the perks of dialling back the synths and letting their riffs do the talking. Displaying soft, almost-muffled vocals, Good Morning’s sound is basically the aural equivalent of waking up in the morning - on the right side of the bed. Making their debut with Shawcross in 2014 followed by Glory in 2016 and Ten Years On The Set the following year, we can’t wait to see what the band have in store for us.

Beaches

Yet another band originating in Melbourne, Beaches deliver an eclectic blend of raucous rock and fuzz guitar- laden psychedelia, bringing a range of ingredients to the mix and never quite following the recipe. Beaches provide the kind of experimental sound that means you can’t be sure what to expect from them next yet you sure as hell want to find out. Making their debut in 2008 with a self-titled album, followed by She Beats in 2013 and Second of Spring in 2017, Beaches have made their mark on the scene though they’ve not surpassed their window of opportunity for the world to catch on by any means. Underrated when considering how huge they should be, Beaches are one to keep an eye on.

The Babe Rainbow

Whether The Babe Rainbow is a concept band or just a genuine bunch of musicians who were born in the wrong era, their 60’s inspired ‘free love’ brand of psychedelia is a force of its own - one that is particularly well-received in the band’s hometown of Northern NSW. Embracing a plethora of instruments, specifically percussive apparatus, The Babe Rainbow play with their sound in a way that feels natural and improvised whilst still fine-tuned. They’ve been doing their thing for some time now, releasing their debut EP in 2015 containing four tracks including ‘Secret Enchanted Broccoli Forest’ and ‘Planet Junior’, with their debut album set for release this year. Already climbing the ranks with slots at festivals such as Laneway and Splendour in the Grass preluding the release of their first album, this is just the beginning for this lot.