Five Bands To Watch: Wollongong
There’s more to Wollongong than just Tumbleweed. BEN HESSION of community radio station VOX FM maps out five divergent corners of the seaside NSW city’s robust local scene, with an eye trained on variety.
Mess + Noise are no strangers to Wollongong music. Ohana once featured on the cover, one scion of a very vibrant scene which was – to use the cliché – “punching above its weight.” Ohana are no longer together, sadly, but the city that spawned them continues to be musically robust, breaking out beyond its geographic hemming in between the mountains and the sea.
The Walking Who
The first act that comes to mind is a psych-rock trio, The Walking Who. Their sound is powered along with an almost bluesy sort of melody line and delivers a full energy both on record and on stage. If you check out ‘Lepathon’ and the title track from their 2011 album, Candy Flu, you’ll know what I mean.
The Walking Who always get good crowds in a town that gave birth to Tumbleweed 20 years ago. Angus Stone has been a fan too, having poached guitarist and vocalist Rohin Brown for his own solo outfit when he toured Europe towards the end of last year and earlier this year. Rohin is presently co-writing material with Angus and The Delta Riggs as part of a new side project. The Walking Who, meanwhile, just released the EP Mansions and a video for the single ‘Rita’. They’re supporting now on The Delta Riggs’ ‘America’ single tour.
For those who prefer soul and funk with jazz and sometimes reggae infusions, they’ll join a crowd liking Beaten Bodies. Formed in 2011 for a party and winners of the 2012 University of Wollongong band competition, they are probably best known for their ‘hits’ ‘My Mantra’ and ‘Fifty Ways’. The band is one of a few local acts who possess a solid section of brass, which in their own case is well complemented by the confident phrasing and softly smoky inflections of Marli Wilde’s vocals.
Even people who aren’t usually accustomed to the local live scene know about Beaten Bodies. And there is a sense that their appeal is set to grow, with a couple of successful tours now. Beaten Bodies currently have a self-titled EP and are looking to have a full album ready early next year.
Wollongong is home to a few singer-songwriters making a name for themselves, attracting interest wherever their music can be heard, either virtually or in person. Bec Sandridge is one of these. An ex-member of local folk-pop outfit Mad Polly, she gigged solo for a while around town before heading to London in 2010 for a four-month sojourn, playing shows that drew praise from the British press. In 2012 she spent two months in the US, playing shows in Los Angeles and New York, where she found a supportive environment.
Bec’s EP is called Lyons and Bees, and her vocals are probably best described as a cross between Joni Mitchell and Regina Spektor. Over the past year Bec has also signed a publishing deal with Grant Gillies’ Gaga Music (Holly Throsby, The Black Keys), which has seen her material being heard on such disparate television shows as The Time of Our Lives and Dance Academy. Apart from the exposure Bec has received, there’s been a financial reward as well: enough to pay for her new EP Wild Heart, which launches October 24 at Brighton Up Bar in Sydney. Bec has embarked on a busking tour that so far has covered Sydney, Wollongong and Canberra, but which she hopes to extend to Byron Bay and Brisbane.
Then there’s the solid, no-nonsense, rock-and-punk alloy that is Born Lion. They began with a rebirth during July last year, when the frontman John Bowker and the guitarist known only as Red from The Watt Riot – who had won a support slot for the Eagles of Death Metal – wanted to reinvigorate an outfit that had begun losing momentum. Together with their last drummer, Dave Murphy, they picked up bassist Nathan Mulholland, and the result is a more muscular beast, eschewing any previous pop-like tendencies.
On stage Born Lion deliver without pretension, and this makes them a definitely satisfying band to watch live. This year they released a self-titled EP, produced by Dave Hammer (The Snowdroppers, Gay Paris) at Def Wolf and containing the singles ‘Adolescent Oaths’ and ‘Livin’ Tough’. They are currently on an East Coast tour, with stops remaining in Canberra and Melbourne. Their latest single is ‘D for Danger’.
An entirely new act altogether are Hockey Dad, who were inspired by local heroes Mother and Son to be a surf-influenced two-piece. Consisting of Zac Stevenson on guitar and Billy Fleming on drums, they began only last autumn, and have already scored a number of gigs around town (including at Rad, the venue formerly run as Yours & Owls). And whilst Mother and Son have veered into the tenebrous territory explored by The Cramps, Hockey Dad have taken the wistful melancholy of Santo & Johnny and charged it with a Buzzcocks kind of angst or soaked it with a slow fuzz-blues to create a wiry soundtrack to youthful yearning.
Hockey Dad have uploaded a few demos onto Bandcamp. They are about to record with Matt Clarke, also at Def Wolf, with the aim of releasing a 7” in the near future.
Again, these are just a few of the artists who are doing big things. There are more besides. The Wollongong scene, like those in other Australian cities, has survived the closure of a number of prominent venues. Luckily new places keep popping up, and there is always a wealth of talent to play in them. Catch it soon, when it visits your neighbourhood.
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