Featuring Silverchair, Magic Dirt, Tumbleweed + more Australian grunge icons
If there’s one era in music Australians tend to fetishise more than any other, it’s the 1990s. The rise of touring festivals like Big Day Out and Homebake and the expanding influence of Triple J’s tastemakers resulted in more and more listeners being exposed to genres like grunge, indie and alternative rock, providing a fresh breath of air for those who were growing tired of the boozy pub rock and cheesy new wave that dominated the airwaves only a decade prior.
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What struck a chord with Australian listeners, however, wasn’t so much about how these alternative bands looked or even sounded, but about how it made them feel. Grunge was deeply rooted in feelings of isolation, boredom and teenage angst, and for young Australians growing up in the suburbs or in regional areas, grunge offered itself as a genre that many teenagers could relate to on a personal level – the fact that it was coated in fuzz and a ‘fuck you’ attitude only helped to seal the deal even further.
Today, we’re tapping into the angst of this era, lacing up our Docs and trekking back in time to revisit seven of the best Australian grunge records of the ’90s.
Magic Dirt – Signs Of Satanic Youth EP (1993)
Although Magic Dirt wouldn’t encounter significant commercial success until they embraced a more radio friendly sound in the 2000s, their first few releases were about as grungey as it got in the early ’90s. Released in November 1993, the band’s debut EP Signs Of Satanic Youth is a masterclass in sludgy, fuzz-drenched grunge, with Adalita’s vocal performances and Dean Turner’s bass playing elevating Magic Dirt’s sound far above anything else coming out of Australia at the time.
From front to back, Signs Of Satanic Youth is brilliant – even the hyper-indulgent 24 minute reversed guitar closing track is cool – but there’s nothing quite like ‘Redhead’, a grossly underrated gem in Australia’s rock canon and a testament to the raw power of the Geelong quartet’s earlier works.
Silverchair – Frogstomp (1995)
Grunge was already thriving in Australia by the time Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies, and Chris Joannou banded together to record their seminal debut, but you’d be damned if you were to say that these kids didn’t put us on the world map.
Frogstomp is a true relic of the grunge era: from the chugging, drop-tuned intro ‘Israel’s Son’ to the angsty arpeggios of ‘Suicide Song’ and the anthemic tones of ‘Tomorrow’, Silverchair’s debut sounded just as authentic as any effort that came out of Seattle in the mid ‘90s – not a bad first effort for a bunch of 15 year olds from Newcastle.
Nitocris – Screaming Dolorous (1994)
If Frogstomp proved anything, it was that angsty teens did grunge better than anyone could. However, years before Silverchair’s debut hit shelves, Sydney was witnessing an adolescent phenomenon of their own in the form of Nitocris: an all-girl group with an average age of 16 whose raw power and conviction took the underground pub scene by storm – even if their mums did have to accompany their underage daughters in some venues.
With an energy not too dissimilar to the ‘grot grrrl’ acts of the era and a sound that centred around all things fuzzy and raw, Nitocris’s raucous 1994 debut Screaming Dolorous brought the band into the national spotlight, making it very clear that scuzzy riffs and moshpits weren’t just for the boys.
Grinspoon – Guide To Better Living (1997)
Before skyrocketing up the charts with radio hits like ‘Chemical Heart’, Grinspoon were putting out grunge rock records that proved to be pure moshpit Ethanol for crowds in the ‘90s.
Sure, Guide To Better Living might have moments that sound closer to alternative metal or punk, but you can’t deny that that the guitar tones on ‘DCx3’ and ‘Pedestrian’ aren’t grungey as hell, and Phil Jamieson’s vocal inflections on ‘Sickfest’ and ‘Post Inebriated Anxiety’ are ripped straight out of the plaid and torn jeans playbook.
Spiderbait – Ivy & The Big Apples (1996)
Spiderbait’s third album is undeniably the pinnacle of mid ‘90s Australian alternative rock.
As well as featuring the sub-two minute Triple J Hottest 100 winning single ‘Buy Me A Pony’ and the finger-picked/fuzzed out clusterfuck of ‘Calypso’ (which was made infamous through its appearance in the beloved Shakespearean teen flick 10 Things I Hate About You), Ivy & The Big Apples packed more bangers than a Bunnings sausage sizzle on a Sunday morning, with cuts like ‘Don’t Kill Nipper’, ‘Chest Hair’ and ‘Hot Water And Milk’ seeing the Finley trio dial in the fuzz and slam the skins to make for their hardest studio effort yet.
Violetine – Small Speaker Joyland (1998)
After forming in 1995 and releasing two hugely hyped EPs via Mushroom imprint Bark in the years that followed, this Melbourne trio shared their full-length debut Small Speaker Joyland in 1998, which was packed with some of the best-written alt-rock jams of the era.
Despite achieving moderate commercial success and cultivating a passionate live following, Violetine never eventuated a follow-up to Small Speaker Joyland, with many considering it as one of the greatest ‘what-if?’ Australian albums of the ‘90s. Nevertheless, Violetine reunited last year to support fellow ‘90s act The Superjesus on their 20th anniversary tour behind Sumo, and by all accounts, it seems like the boys have still got it in the bag.
Tumbleweed – Return To Earth (1996)
Once described by famous Australian musicologist as “the ultimate stoner’s band for the 1990s”, Tumbleweed’s penchant for gritty punk and filthy, fuzz-drenched riffs saw them become a wildly popular live act on the gigging circuit throughout the ‘90s.
While their 1995 LP Galactaphonic proved to be their most successful chart entry, it was on the Wollongong band’s third full-length follow-up Return To Earth the year after where they really started to come into their own. From the atonal stomp of ‘Sweet Nothing’ to the slamming sounds of ‘Dr. Collosus’ and album standout ‘Silver Lizard’, Return To Earth is an essential addition to any devoted ‘90s fetishist’s record collection.
This article was originally published July 9, 2020.
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