Words by Melissa Griffin and Imogen Hindson
Over the past few years, the Australian music scene has been edging its way onto the world stage, with musicians like Courtney Barnett, Tame Impala (hello, Coachella), and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever dominating festival line-ups around the world. However, back home a subculture has been growing out of small pubs and live music venues across the country. Soundtracked to local bands singing in an Aussie twang about the streets we grew up on, this subculture is growing traction among the youth of Australia, but it isn’t an entirely new scene. The original participants in this culture were called ‘Sharpies’, and they paved the way for a unique Australiana genre of music back in the late 60s and early 70s.
The style has since changed only slightly and seems to be more of a reinvigoration of what came before, as audiences both at home and globally are more accepting of what Australian music has to offer.
The Sharpie culture grew from a rebellious movement to remove Australia’s music industry from American and British influence during the 1970s. They are theorised to be Australia’s only truly homegrown culture stemming from working-class Melbourne, and you can find distinct parallels between the Australiana gang and current subcultures flourishing in our pub scenes. The ‘sharpies’, named for their sharp sense of style, dressed in Levis, cardigans, tucked in T-shirts, and sported a series of home job tattoos; not unlike what you see within youth culture attending local gigs today.
The Sharpies were uniquely Australian and reclaimed something that was otherwise considered not intended for the working class. The mullet, often shunned in current middle and upper class Australia, was at the forefront of style. However, this style, stemming from isolation from the American and UK scenes, was not limited to fashion. The Sharpies focused heavily on Aussie boogie rock; they had all of the elements of growing glam-rock without the bravado. The Sharpies had a conscious intention to reclaim what it was to be a working-class Australian through their in-your-face production of sound.
We can see such strong correlations between the Sharpies and the growing Australiana low-fi sound, however, the strongest link is the rejection of any attempt to don a faux American accent to please a habituated audience. The thick Australian accent may sound crass to some, but it’s finally having its moment in the music industry. Maybe this is because the youth are searching for an identifiable voice, especially given how unrelatable the commercialised American industry is becoming. Inside the pressing reality of a hyper-consumer society, the youth are looking for something real, something relatable. While Courtney Barnett’s Depreston struck a chord with young house hunters in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, local bands like Ricky Albeck and the Belair Line Band have created familiar favourites with songs about Midnight Spaghetti at the Crown and Anchor. The new sound growing from our local scenes is providing something for young Aussies, and creating a unanimous sense of culture and pushback against the overly palatable and emotionally distant aspects of the music industry.
This type of familiarised music has paved the way to a resurgence in a subculture, one that is not constrained by a specific genre, but rather a fusion of different influences to create something uniquely Australian. It may be a concept that’s been around since the late 60s, but with each successive generation, it has adapted and grown. One aspect of this subculture, however, will always stay the same. It is a movement that allows the youth of Australia, from big cities to small towns, to gather and socialise around a shared love of music and be part of a community. In this technology-driven age, we lose the chance to have face-to-face connections on a daily basis, but music continues to bring us together, as it always has.
Only now, we’re seeing a new generation come through with their own unique sound; one that’s relatable at this point in time because of our shared experiences. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like nobody’s listening to what we, as the youth of our society, have to say. But it’s encouraging to see a crowd nodding along in agreement.
The music industry has always been heavily influenced by the US, but with a growing subculture behind us, Australia’s is gaining traction. The voices of our youth are being heard loud and clear in pubs and live music venues across the country. Perhaps it’s finally our time to take the lead.