I know bog-all about music. I had a few guitar lessons in Year Nine, but I also played cricket for three years and somehow Michael Clarke can get a sponsorship deal with Milo and I can't, so there you go. More importantly, I never learnt where to look for good music. I grew up in a town where nightlife is a choice between two shitty clubs around the corner from each other in an abandoned shopping plaza. (One's called Altitude; one's called Down Under. One's upstairs, one's downstairs. The reviews on TripAdvisor are pretty special if you've got the time.) The only source of anything resembling good music was Triple J, which I came to rely on like a saline drip and which explains my torrid late-teens infatuation with Karnivool.
When I moved to Sydney, though, I found the live music scene disappointing for a long time. I ticked big overseas acts like the National and Frightened Rabbit off my bucket list, but there didn't seem to be any local bands to get excited about. Triple J led me to disappointingly vanilla servings like Cloud Control, Boy and Bear and the Jezabels, and the Living End was playing every festival fifteen years after they should've stopped.
There was also an irritating sense of respectability that seemed to infect the punters at big gigs, like everyone was watching each other. I wanted to thrash around like a mad bastard, get sweaty and doused in beer and have fun, for Christ's sake, but there was some unwritten code of etiquette that said such behaviour was not the done thing. I got tired of going to gigs where people were paying north of sixty bucks to stand and nod with their arms folded.
Worst of all, I couldn't find any music about Sydney. Bands from places like Glasgow and Brooklyn wear their hometowns on their sleeves. Whether they're proud or nostalgic or embittered with their city, they engage with it. They tell stories about the streets they grew up on, the rivers they got drunk beside, and those sounds filter back and become part of their city in turn. The Australian music on Triple J, though, sounded like was recorded in some no-place. I was living in Sydney and listening to music that told me more about the Bowery and the suburbs of Ohio than about Marrickville. The fabled Underground Music Scene I had assumed was bursting out of every pub didn't seem to exist.
Then I started living with a guy who is five parts indie music, four parts green politics, and three parts beard. About a month ago he got me onto a Melbourne band called Dick Diver, whose latest LP, Calendar Days, was named the Guardian's best Australian album of 2013. I'd never heard of them and, going on the fact they've only got about 4,600 Likes on Facebook, neither had almost anybody else. They had songs with names like "New Start Again," "Gap Year" and "Keno"; sad, funny little songs about being bored, being poor, fucking and fucking up.
I was hooked, and after a bit of digging on the Interwebz I realised these kinds of bands are everywhere; tiny little ragamuffin outfits playing in dive bars, putting EPs and albums out on Soundcloud and Bandcamp and charging five or ten bucks for their work. They share drummers, bassists, singers; they form and dissipate and re-form as something else just as quickly. Twerps, Royal Headache, Full Ugly, Big Dingo, Total Control, Unity Floors, the School of Radiant Living, the UV Race, the Bed Wettin' Bad Boys, the Stevens - a whole school of them, practically invisible unless you know where to look.
Putting a name on the kind of music they make is difficult; the term "dolewave" is sometimes used, but it doesn't ring true to me somehow. For want of anything better, and because I like how it sounds, I'm going to call it Dadrock.
Dadrock is an acquired taste. It's guitar-heavy, abrasive and usually sounds like it was recorded through an old sock. The singers are aggressively atonal, and often have strong Australian accents where most bands go to lengths to iron any 'Strayan out of their vocals. The bands who play it have a common fascination with the significance of mundane things; the songs are anecdotes about going to the shops and seeing an old girlfriend, staring at the TV and having nothing to do on a Saturday night, and standing on the edge of a circle of people by yourself at a house party.
In Adelaide, Bad//Dreems are making music that explores how dull and generally fucked-up Adelaide is, to the point of it being a kind of manifesto. "Scratch the surface here and you find another world, far removed from the leafy inner suburbs. The empty jail on the edge of the city. A decade long bikie war. The Family. This is the weird murder capital. The weed capital," is how they describe the mindset behind their debut EP, Badlands, and when they sing "I am bored, I am lonely, I am scared, I'm scared" on Tomorrow Mountain, it's Adelaide they're talking about.
Old Mate are another Adelaide band who just write about the boring, crappy things that happen to them. "I got fiiiiiiiiiiiiired! And I didn't know whyyyyyyyyyy!" they sing on one song, surprisingly called I Got Fired. On The Alma, they take about five seconds to capture how fucking dreadful work drinks are: "Dudes in t-shirts and it's ten degrees/I have to get out, I have to get out". I've never been to Adelaide, but after listening to Bad//Dreems and Old Mate I can picture what it must have been like to grow up there.
Same with the gloriously-named Scott and Charlene's Wedding. After writing songs about feeling sad on the Epping Line, the guy behind it moved to New York a couple of years ago and made a whole album about being a quietly bewildered expat where your accent makes people think you're English. Sydney outfit You Beauty have made a concept album about a washed-up footy player who falls in love with a breakfast show host, and is saved from alcohol-soaked oblivion by Ray Warren in a pub.
This kind of stuff isn't everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine, but I can't help but wonder if the reason these bands don't get much attention is how unapologetically Australian they are. Not Australian in a John-Howard's-Little-Battlers kind of way, but just being who they are; young kids from the suburbs making music about stuff that happens to young kids from the suburbs. We like to forget that we're this weird little accident of a country on the wrong side of the world, with our own stories of love and boredom and confusion. We don't have to be triumphalist about that, but we shouldn't ignore it altogether.
That's why I love this music. It says more about who we are - as young people living in crappy sharehouses in the city, scrambling to pay rent, trying to get paid for what we like doing instead of pushing spreadsheets around, staring into our phones - than anything I've heard before. It's honest.
Or I'm full of shit. Either way.