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The history of Aussie punk told through ten iconic albums

From the '70s to today, this is the sound of legends being made. 

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Cassie Stevens

Punk music swept Australia off its feet in the ‘70s as the idea of roughing rock’n’roll became an epidemic worldwide. Michigan fortress Detroit was rife with distortion as musicians began pushing their guitars to the limit. The Stooges and MC5 pioneered the genre and it wasn’t long before the word got out. Queensland’s capital latched on first behind early forerunners, the Saints, while Sydney’s Radio Birdman followed soon after. Then the Cheap Nasties and the Victims rose from Western Australia and suddenly the punk movement was real.

Through the ‘80s, punk had to jostle for position as technologically inspired genres, new wave and glam, came to the fore. Nevertheless, Painters and Dockers and Cosmic Psychos continued to steer the ship. Grunge made the genre prominent again in the ‘90s behind Frenzal Rhomb and the Hybernators while garage punk decorated the 2000s as Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Ooga Boogas and the UV Race manipulated the tempo.

Into the present day and skate punk is walloping bandrooms while the likes of Cable Ties, Ausmuteants, Amyl & The Sniffers, Private Function and more propel Melbourne’s contingent. Closer to the surface, the likes of The Smith Street Band, Luca Brasi and Bad//Dreems are doing the genre no harm. 

Proven conservatively unjust, it’s the irony of punk’s cynicism and brutality preserving it as a quintessential music escapade. From the revolutionary (I’m) Stranded to the adored keepsake Primary Colours, it’s time we celebrated ten of Australia’s most important punk records by era.

 

The Saints ­­– (I'm) Stranded (1977)

At the time of (I’m) Stranded’s release, Australia didn’t even have a national anthem. The LP was released at the height of nationalistic furore surrounding our patriotic jingle and only on regal occasions would God Save the Queen be voiced. An anti-anthem mirroring the oppression felt under Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s tyrannical reign, (I’m) Stranded was coincidentally derided by Australian labels. Little did people know, this would be Australia’s first real taste of melodic freneticism and rawness.      

Radio Birdman – Radios Appear (1977)

Sydney’s pioneering four-piece delved into hard rock musicality more so than punk but that’s not to say they weren’t influential to the punk movement. The six-piece were quintessentially DIY – heck, Radios Appear was initially distributed out the back of band members’ station wagons. The ten-track release unearthed a doyen of force and energy in frontman Deniz Tek and introduced us to the versatility of punk at its core. Murder City Nights and What Gives? investigated blues while Non-Stop Girls was lathered with pop inspirations.      

The Scientists - Blood Red River (1983)

When The Scientists emerged from The Invaders in 1978, their sound ran alongside the boisterous power pop dynamos of the Buzzcocks and the Troggs. While their self-titled debut piece was quintessential in the early makings of the outfit, it was The Scientist’s Blood Red River which possessed the greatest industry leverage. One of the first capsules of the band’s second coming, the six-track mini-album instituted the grunge genre before Nirvana or Mudhoney could get there, drawing admiration from Kurt Cobain and Mark Arm in the process.

Cosmic Psychos – Blokes You Can Trust (1991)

If you were to describe Cosmic Psychos’ influence on Australian punk in four words, it would be by the name of their third album. Blokes You Can Trust is the archetypical Cosmic Psychos capsule – typically sardonic in its narrative and savagely grated in its musicality. Across their nine albums, the Melbourne boys have never been strangers to whimsical mockery but it was this LP that laid the blueprint – tracks Dead Roo and Hooray Fuck broad-chested at the fore.

The Living End – The Living End (1998)

Shrewdly self-titled, The Living End’s debut album uncovered a burgeoning Melbourne trio beaming with vivacity and zeal. The band’s sound has come a long way but this is The Living End in a nutshell. It encapsulated the splendours of what it is to be a new band – naivety and technical shortcomings justified by vitality and it brought us one of Australia’s greatest-ever three-minute explorations, Prisoner of Society. Call me Scotty Owen if you haven’t bounced around to the frenetic hooks of this timeless banger.

Frenzal Rhomb – A Man’s Not a Camel (1999)

Many punk bands operated away from the limelight, imparting their acumen on trusted crowds without confronting the mainstream. As if they wanted to juxtapose, Frenzal Rhomb lapped up the attention, appearing on all kinds of conventional mediums – Recovery, Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday, you name it. As if Cosmic Psychos’ Ross Knight took them to school, tracks Let’s Drink a Beer and Methadone don’t shy away from the truth. A Man’s Not a Camel is regarded as the complete Frenzal Rhomb album and continues to orbit turntable belts and inspire DIY musicianship around the country.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Primary Colours (2008)

From the grunge to the garage, Eddy Current Suppression Ring were the catalyst to the revival of shed-ringing lo-fi noise rock in Australia. Their debut self-titled album ignited the spark but Primary Colours fuelled the blaze. The unbridled energy which sprawled 2006’s Eddy Current Suppression Ring had been freed so when 2008 came along it was time for Brendan Huntley and his men to sand the jagged edges. Wrapped Up marries the rhythm of melody and vocality with divine while Which Way To Go is like a preppy on the first day of school – perfectly rounded, clean, polished and ready to learn. One for the ages.

Royal Headache ­– Royal Headache (2011)

Just as Eddy Current was slowing down, Sydney’s Royal Headache were firing up. Frontman Shogun began forging his identity as a dynamic mastermind behind effortless yet visceral vocal delivery and a rambunctious stage presence. Just as the garage punk genre was set for a nosedive out comes Royal Headache with an unrivalled commitment to the cause. Akin to the early ESCR 7” single Get Up Morning, Royal Headache is raw and fleeting without a track beyond three minutes. You could argue their sophomore LP was just as momentous, but this record bolstered punk right when it needed it.   

Check out our review of Royal Headache here.

Violent Soho – Hungry Ghost ­(2013)

If you didn’t know, Violent Soho played their first gig at a friend’s birthday party in 2004. Yes, that’s 13 years ago and nine years before they created the timeless Hungry Ghost. So what were they doing all those years? Well, they were trying to make it without actually making it. They resided on the pub circuit for years to little acclaim and then they moved to the US with starry eyes. Just when you thought the four-piece had run out of puff, they produced something the skate punkers of today hold dear. Dope Calypso is raucous, Saramona Said is gorgeous and Covered in Chrome is the archetypical Soho track. Beware, the Hungry Ghost could still have an appetite in 50 years time.

The Smith Street Band – More Scared of You than You Are of Me (2017)

Wil Wagner is the prototypical punkman – opinionated, raw and prolific. Yet it’s the relatability of his music that’s made him the icon he is today. Faced with many personal upheavals, Wagner’s candidness and clear conveyance has brought throngs of people out of their own adversities – his ability to edify is his greatest asset. If this was a list of the most important singles, 2015’s Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face would be top of the list, as it cemented Wagner’s credentials, nevertheless, we uncover More Scared of You than You Are of Me for its clarity and temperament. Wagner has blazed his fiery trail and now he’s perched up on a park bench with stories to tell. 

Check out our review of More Scared of You than You Are of Me here.

What do you reckon? Let us know your picks.