Shoot to Thrill: Fifteen Australian Acts You Should Know
There's more to the place than Tame Impala and knifey-spoony, you ignoramus.
Most Americans are aware of AC/DC and maybe Midnight Oil. A middle-aged British woman in Los Angeles told me she was a huge fan of Yothu Yindi. Over the past few years many smaller acts have broken through to superstar status or at least a Coachella invitation—like Tame Impala, Courtney Barnett, Flume, The Avalanches, Empire of the Sun, Alex Cameron, Gotye, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and Jagwar Ma.
Without an international publishing deal or hit single, most brilliant Aussie music stays on the island. Not exactly to die, but not necessarily to grow either. This playlist represents some gentle flag-waving and captures what it’s like to have your ear to the ground of important Australian music that you didn’t know you were missing out on.
1. Sampa the Great
Likely the most transcendently-skilled emcee Americans don’t know about, Sampa has opened for Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, and Isaiah Rashad, and has quickly become the most respected new force in Australian hip hop.
2. Violent Soho
These Brisbanites have cut four albums of ’90s grunge/garage heaven, featuring anthems that feel like classics the first time you hear them. Their 2016 record Waco was crowned album of the year by Australia’s youth public radio station.
3. Hockey Dad
Something about their sound choked me up the first time I heard them in a similar way to when I first heard Unknown Mortal Orchestra. This duo play psych/soul-infused surf rock about staying friends forever and having crushes on people that don’t want you to kiss them. They deal with relationships we’ve all had—innocent, genuine, and pure; skewered with a maturity that will stop you in your tracks and hit you with an unexpected gem of wisdom.
4. C. W. Stoneking
C. W. Stoneking sounds like the year 1929. He grew up in remote Northern Territory with an American father and gained an affinity and passion for the blues, and has grown into one of the finest musicians in the genre working today.
5. D.D Dumbo
D.D Dumbo is your average freak/funk/rock/disco/theatre act. He sounds like the bastard child of LCD Soundsystem and Cirque du Soleil who refuses his parents’ demand to practice piano and writes dystopian musicals in secret instead. He’s a trip.
6. Julia Jacklin
Wispy crooning has been a staple of safe, adorkable pop over the last decade, much of it affected and inauthentic. Julia Jacklin represents its antidote—an expertly measured singer-songwriter whose voice sounds like truth and whose words will viscerally hurt you.
7. Philadelphia Grand Jury
I hustled to catch so many Philly Jays shows in college that I knew their setlist before they did. They were the band I took my first girlfriend to see. They were the band I freaked out over bumping into in the supermarket. They specialize in elegant, ecstatic, and frantic pop-rock bangers, and I’ve never heard anyone do it better.
This Melbourne trio are earnestly inspired by the parts of Britpop that made earnest, lyrical rock a refreshing change from grunge, with a depth that injects relevance into a genre that has all but fallen away. Try and guess the band logo one of the members has tattooed on their body. You’ll get it.
9. NO ZU
If you think disco isn’t funky or punky enough, meet heat beaters NO ZU. They are tropical, strange, magical, sensual, spiritual. They are an eight-piece band and they make the most of it, as they sound like a symphony booked to play an acid rave. Party starting music for weirdos.
’80s synth pop is hard to do uniquely. But somehow this Melbourne duo make their funky grooves sound like they were the first to do it. Their album Touch feels like the warm, groovy intersection of early Madonna, Hot Chip, and Chromeo.
This Papua New Guinea native has a deeply soulful vocal and lyrical style. Her most gripping work fuses neo-soul and deep house which would hypnotize you if it didn’t make you want to move so much.
12. Bob Evans
The Jebediah frontman’s solo act was the first concert I was sent to as an overwhelmed, underhydrated eighteen-year-old reviewer for my university magazine. He’s a master storyteller in a classic Australian folk style—unpretentious, endearing, and charmingly simple.
Unless you speak Yolŋu Matha, you might struggle to fully understand the folk lullabies that Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu sings so angelically. But you don’t need to be an expert in Australian indigenous language to enjoy his unique vocal purity that has won him the highest critical acclaim all over the word.
14. Emma Russack
Sitting with an Emma Russack record is like getting dumped by someone you know you’re not right for. Her lyrics are raw, her tone is bare, and she has a gift for translating heart-wrenching feelings into stunningly beautiful, slow ballads.
Now-broken-up Bluejuice are the epitome of Australian cheek. They use synths upon synths, shout more than sing, and create the feeling of being air-dropped into a wildly loose, love-fueled house party. They take being silly very seriously, and if you can let yourself live a little for once you’ll be blown away by their musical chops. FL