From classic punk to forgotten funk
Whether it’s a raucous, down-picked riff or walking soul groove, there’s no denying the power of a great bassline. Sure, we might not have a Bootsy Collins or Carol Kaye to claim as our own (unless Flea being born in Burwood counts), but that definitely doesn’t discredit the role of the bass in Australian music – in fact, there’s a tonne of key examples of absolutely killer basslines in tracks from local artists.
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At risk of causing minor controversy, we’ve compiled some of the finest examples of how Australian acts have finessed low frequencies to create some of the most vital bass moments in Australian music history. Dig in!
The Saints – ‘(I’m) Stranded’
’(I’m) Stranded’ is a true Australian classic that put the local punk scene on an international stage and kicked down the door for countless bands.
The Saints’ 1977 anthem is powered by a chainsaw guitar tone, but it’s Kym Bradshaw’s descending bassline in the chorus that makes it as hooky as it is.
The Vines – ‘Get Free’
Another simple, yet effective Aussie rock slammer. ‘Get Free’ tends to be a go-to song to cover for many local bands, due in part to Patrick Matthews’ hypnotic two-fret-bend bassline that chugs through the track.
Chuck this in your next covers set at the pub for instant results on the dancefloor.
Bee Gees – ‘Stayin’ Alive’
Put some damn respect on the Bee Gees!!! Disco fever aside, ‘Stayin’ Alive’ absolutely knocks, and it’s a crying shame that people don’t celebrate the Bee Gees as Australian artists when they really should.
Maurice’s bass playing on this track oozes swagger while remaining rigid at a tempo of 120bpm, and undoubtedly laid the blueprint for the next 40 years of good dance music.
Camp Cope – ‘The Opener’
‘The Opener’ is easily one of the most poignant tracks to be released by any Australian group in the last ten years, and Kelly-Dawn Helmrich’s melodic bass playing plays an undeniable role in making the track hit as hard as it does.
It’s also got the best self-aware bass moment on this list, with Georgia Maq’s ‘Show ‘em Kelly!’ shout going down as a defining moment in Australian musical history. Spine tingling ‘till the end.
Tame Impala – ‘The Less I Know The Better’
An obvious pick. ‘The Less I Know The Better’ is by far one of the most successful Australian tracks of the decade, mainly due in part to Kevin Parker’s irresistible bassline.
It’s both melodic and bouncy, and laced with just enough overdrive and compression to make it stand out as one of the most vital textures in the song. With Hofner in hand, Kevin really can’t go wrong, but shout out to Cameron Avery for laying this one down onstage.
Kylie Minogue – ‘Spinning Around’
I honestly don’t know if this list would be valid if it didn’t include Kylie Minogue. There’s been more than a few notable instances of killer basslines across her discography, but none stand out quite like ‘Spinning Around’, the pop sensation’s 2000 ‘comeback’ single.
To be fair, I’m pretty sure this line was actually recorded by English bass player Phil Spalding, but it deserves every bit of attention nonetheless.
JET – ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’
Look: ’Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’ technically isn’t very complex, and it’s obviously lifted straight from the Iggy Pop playbook. However, you can’t listen to this track and not be pulled in by that subby head-nodding bass groove.
Whether you’re all aboard the JET plane or tend to subscribe with Pitchfork’s analysis of the band, it’s still pretty iconic as far as Australian basslines go.
Karnivool – ‘New Day’
As far as local progressive rock goes, you can’t beat Karnivool’s fusion of songwriting, arrangements and technical chops, and for that reason, bassist Jon Stockman is often considered a king amongst men in the Australian bass community.
His playing on Sound Awake highlight ‘New Day’ epitomises everything that’s loved about his work with the Perth group, fusing intricate upper-fret chord voicings with booming polyrhythm low-end riffs to make for one epic performance. Plus, his live tone is second to none – at all times.
Magic Dirt – ‘Ice’
Dean Turner’s bass playing on this track is so, so good – it’s everything a grunge bassline should be. I first heard this track at some ungodly hour in some ungodly state on Rage, and the power of the bassline in this track floored me.
That snarky, gritty Rickenbacker tone and the filthy fuzzed-out ending make for such a golden moment in ‘90s Australian alt-rock. Rest in peace Dean Turner, you absolute legend.
‘Need You Tonight’ – INXS
Realistically, you could have picked just about any INXS bassline from their ‘80s output for this and it’d slot in perfectly: ‘What You Need’ and ‘Original Sin’ were also hot contenders here.
However, if push came to shove, I don’t think you could top the low-end on ‘Need You Tonight’. It’s the epitome of less-is-more playing, with Garry Gary Beers laying down an irresistible simple pulse to help create one of Australia’s funkiest tracks of the ‘80s.
‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’ – Hiatus Kaiyote
Paul Bender is an absolute funk monster – seeing him do his thing on his six-string Bongo and armed with an array of effects pedals is about as inspiring as you can get. Literally any Hiatus Kaiyote track could have made this list, but ‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’ takes the cake here.
Every groove on this cut is so futuristic: whether he’s walking up the higher register or stomping down on that Dilla-inspired passage four minutes in, ‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’ is Melbourne neo-soul at its best.
‘Electricity’ – Something For Kate
Something For Kate aren’t really known as a band where the bass is a point of interest, but you can’t knock Stephanie Ashworth’s contributions in their back catalogue.
The lead single from their 1999 album Beautiful Sharks, ‘Electricity’ sees Ashworth at her most dynamic, propelling the song and allowing for Dempsey’s guitars to bounce in and out of the track to maximum effect.
‘Treat Yo Mama’ – John Butler Trio
John Butler might be one of the best acoustic guitarists in recent years, but it’s the rhythm section that tends to make for a lot of the best moments in his tracks. Case in point: ‘Treat Yo Mama’.
There was an era in Australian music where it was really cool to rock a double bass, and this track personifies that time so well: it’s almost like Shannon Birchall is channeling Rage Against The Machine into the biggest, baddest bass he could get his hands on, and it sounds sick.
‘Talking To A Stranger’ – Hunters & Collectors
Sometimes, all you need as a bassist is enough attitude, a dangerous tone and a steady groove to let loose on. Case in point: John Archer’s bass playing on ’Talking To A Stranger.’
There’s better Hunters & Collectors tracks out there, and it’s arguable that their early art-funk era is weak in comparison to their later material, but Archer’s playing in this song is just too cool. Also, check out The Avalanches’ own cover of this track – incredible.
‘There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight’ – Cloud Control
An absolute standout from the Cloud Control canon, and an extremely clever and unconventional bassline to boot.
Sometimes, it’s not all about laying down the low end, and ‘There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight’ shows just how deadly an upbeat bassline can be when used effectively in the higher frequency range. A certified Australian indie gem
‘Kill The Doubt’ – The Cactus Channel w/ Chet Faker
Boasting 10 members and a formidable ‘70s funk/soul sound, The Cactus Channel are easily one of Melbourne’s most understated ensembles, and there’s some golden moments across everything they’ve put out.
In ‘Kill The Doubt’, the band’s collaborative effort with Chet Faker, bassist Henry Jenkins throws down a groove that’s heavy on the melodic front and immediately reminiscent of classic licks from James Jamerson. Listen to it again and again and again.
This article was originally published April 20, 2020.
Want to learn an easy walking bass exercise? Check out this recent bass lesson.