15 Bands That Defined Australia’s Mid-2000s Indie Scene
Led by acts like Cut Copy and Architecture In Helsinki, the indie explosion dominated airwaves and festival line-ups for almost a decade.
If you listened to triple j any time between 2005 and 2012, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Australia’s primary musical exports were women in Peter Pan collar dresses and boys wearing skinny jeans.
With the garage rock revival firmly behind us, and the blurring of genres by streaming still years away, indie rock, pop, and dance dominated radio airwaves and festival line-ups for almost a whole decade.
It kicked off in earnest, as it often does, with a Hottest 100 win. On January 26, 2005, Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ topped the triple j countdown with almost double the votes of any other song, a record that is yet to be surpassed. Festival bookers, radio programmers, and A&R executives rushed to find more fresh “indie” sounds, and labels such as Modular Recordings became central in the genre, responsible for pivotal acts like Cut Copy and Architecture In Helsinki.
The early days of social media on MySpace, LiveJournal, BlogSpot, and Tumblr, as well as the likes of Polaroids of Androids, Who The Hell, The Dwarf, Mess + Noise, and FasterLouder (the latter two being direct predecessors to Music Junkee) were the tastemakers of the era. With both iTunes and Spotify in its infancy, MP3 file sharing (some of it less-than-legal) was rampant among an entire generation.
This era had its fair share of faults: It was nowhere near as diverse as music is today (and the list of bands that follows reflects this) and more than a couple of bands had names or lyrical content that wouldn’t dare be repeated today.
But, in a way, there was something more real about how music spread during this era. Spotify, TikTok, and many other innovations in music and technology were still years away from development. There was no algorithm to help you if you wanted to find new music. Just some people behind a keyboard, or a radio station, or a mixing desk at an indie bar, or your friend burning a CD.
The Aussie indie band explosion had genuine, lasting effects on the Australian music scene. The likes of Tame Impala, Angus and Julia Stone, The Presets, San Cisco, and Ball Park Music, among many others, have found longer-lasting success from their humble beginnings in the indie scene. Ditto Touch Sensitive, Kirin J Callinan, and studio producer Alex Burnett, who all found their starts within Aussie indie bands.
But for bands and artists who had the majority of their success between 2005 — when Franz Ferdinand topped the Hottest 100 and when the first Laneway Festival was held — and 2012 — when Spotify launched in Australia — they are now encased in amber. Or, more realistically, encased in whatever godforsaken liquors went into those teapots they sold at World Bar.
Art Vs Science
Art vs Science are among many bands from this era that can vaguely grouped as “indie party bands”: bands whose sole purpose was to put some nonsensical lyrics over a catchy beat and throw random party supplies at everyone and anyone. You were never entirely sure if these bands were doing all of this ironically or not, and maybe that was the point.
Depending on where you landed, this three-piece were either the zenith or the nadir of the scene. Were their songs incredibly annoying after the umpteenth play on triple j? Yes. Were they all instant earworms that demanded you stop everything and dance to chant French phrases and random nonsense about fountains? Also yes.
Whether you loved or loathed Art vs Science, they took indie-dance sensibilities and the irony-drenched culture of the mid-noughties to the logical conclusion, and they did it with an admirable amount of skill that you don’t see in similar acts today.
Stav and Jake, the duo that formed Bluejuice, were the type of cheeky that just straddled the boundary between genuinely interesting and bad taste. Their music was made for audience singalongs, and their live shows, one of which notoriously ended in a broken leg for Jake, were miles more interesting than their recorded material.
You can see traces of what Bluejuice brought to the Australian scene everywhere from Hot Dub Time Machine to Client Liaison, who continue the tradition of bombastic live performances that Bluejuice carried throughout their careers.
An indie-goth five piece from inner Sydney whose emotionally charged music — with liberally applied violin — gained them accolades from such luminaries as Nick Cave and Pulp.
There was something raw, if juvenile, about their lyrics, led by vocalist Holiday Sidewinder (who now makes some incredible pop music in her own right) which was fitting for a group of teens who were still in high school when they had their big break. Hearing the transcendent ‘Brown Paper Bag’ today feels like a song out of place and time, more reminiscent of the likes of Lorde and Billie Eilish than little else from the mid-noughties scene.
Sure, this Sydney five-piece wore their inspirations — Granddaddy, The Flaming Lips, Super Furry Animals, among others — proudly on their sleeve.
But at its best, Dappled Cities produced music that soared well above their station, placing themselves among the best of the genre of indie pop. ‘Peach’ (from their debut, when they still went by ‘Dappled Cities Fly’) and their second album Granddance are the standouts in a career that continues to this day.
Rivers Cuomo wishes he could write pop as emotionally resonate while still so fun as Faker did. From their shout-at-the-top-of-your-lungs lyrics, to their always-danceable instrumentation, to their raucous live shows that often led to vocalist Nathan Hudson scaling stage scaffolds, Faker were almost genetically engineered to be the perfect festival band.
Their lead singer Nathan Hudson was one of the few queer figures in the scene, and never shied away from imbuing his lyrics with sexual references — which was, at the time, a brave undertaking.
The Grates weren’t just an indie party act, they were a kid’s birthday party where everyone’s had too much sugar, the hired clown was hiding scared, and your drunk uncle has just bellyflopped into the jumping castle.
With all the indie-pop brilliance and shine of their contemporaries with just enough punk anarchy sprinkled in, the Brisbane three-piece made being loud, wild, and free a competitive sport, with lead singer Patience Hodgson (whose blood is probably 70 percent red cordial) as their team leader. The Grates fucking ruled.
A band who, like Bridezilla, produced music way beyond their years, and at their height were playing some of the best alt-pop around to some enormous crowds. The fact that a band producing music as lyrically dense and interesting as they were, was as popular as they were felt like an anomaly, and still kind of does.
Years before Lorde and BENEE crossed the Tasman, fellow Kiwi Ladyhawke’s tunes were, for a short while at least, the soundtrack to every indie club night in the country. With good reason: Phillipa Brown’s self-titled debut is almost wall-to-wall bangers.
‘My Delirium’, ‘Paris is Burning’, ‘Dusk Till Dawn’, ‘Magic’ — if you wanted a party then (hell, if you want a party today) you could do worse than play this entire album start-to-finish.
Aside from ‘Rock It’, most people couldn’t name a single song by Little Red if their life depended on it. But that’s okay, because ‘Rock It’ is as perfect an indie pop song as you could ever hope for.
A massively successful song that brought joy and spontaneous fits of dancing wherever and whenever it was played, and probably still can today. Little Red rightfully got the number two spot on the 2010 Hottest 100 for their efforts — and while their impact as a band doesn’t equal many of the acts on this list, ‘Rock It’ remains one of the defining songs of the indie explosion.
I like to imagine that the Midnight Juggernauts were the Evil Mirrorverse version of Art vs Science. While Art vs Science were all fun times and recording Will Smith covers ironically, Midnight Juggernauts were more interested in making theme songs for their imaginary cyberpunk dystopia with a level of serious that could come off as trite to the outside observer.
But just like AvS, the Juggers became favourites of the festival scene thanks to their ability to frame their haunting soundscapes around easily accessible — and killer — beats. Their debut, rightfully titled Dystopia, holds up till today, and their dark outlook on the world feels more suitable for our current day than when it was released.
One of the coolest looking bands to ever come out of Sydney, Red Riders were always slightly more style than substance — a sad trend of the post-garage rock revival era (see also: Mercy Arms, The Vasco Era, Starky).
The point of major difference for Red Riders was that they actually turned out some excellent songs. The dirty, riff-filled ‘Slide In Next To Me’ or the bouncy pop of ‘Ordinary’ may be their standouts, but it’s the throaty refrain from ‘A.S.P.I.R.I.N’ that is arguably the most memorable, if only for teaching an entire generation of Sydney teens how to correctly spell “aspirin”.
Based solely on songwriting ability, Alex Burnett and his band Sparkadia would probably be one of, if not the, best band to come out of the indie scene. Their songs, inspired equally by Talking Heads and Burt Bacharach, brought some mellow sophistication to the Australian airwaves and festival circuit.
Alongside the likes of Angus and Julia Stone and Megan Washington, Sparkadia helped form a bridge between genres such as folk and adult contemporary with the guitar-driven indie realm. Thankfully for us, Alex’s skill hasn’t gone to waste in the years since: he’s now a renowned producer and songwriter, working with everyone from DJ Snake to Thelma Plum on last year’s magnificent Better In Blak.
Architecture In Helsinki
During an interview in 2007, actor Bruce Willis was asked what his three favourite new bands were. His answer: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Strokes, and Architecture in Helsinki.
Putting aside how very 2007 that answer was, there’s a reason why Architecture in Helsinki were so revered worldwide as to get the attention of John McLane himself. Halfway between indie-dance and multi-instrumental art-rock, their music overflowed with jovial, positive energy that honestly feels sorely needed in 2020.
Whether it was the simplicity of the rhythm in ‘Do The Whirlwind’, or the chants in ‘Heart It Races’, it remains extremely difficult to listen to any of their songs without breaking a smile, let alone a dance. They were childish, but not in a demeaning way — they took the feeling of being a kid and placed it perfectly into music and lyrics that spoke to every age, gender and class. To put it simply, Architecture in Helsinki were a gift.
The Middle East
In a just world, The Middle East would have released more music — they’d be as revered as one of the best bands to ever grace our shores, alongside such luminaries as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Crowded House and The Go-Betweens. They sculpted beautiful, haunting soundscapes — with an ability to claw deep within you and lay themselves to rest there, bringing even the most stoic person to tears.
Alas, we don’t live in a just world. Instead of a decades-long career that garners praise from every corner, we’re left with one album, a short reunion tour last year, and the memories of what should have been. It isn’t hyperbole to say that The Middle East were the best band to come out of this particular era — hell, there’s an argument to be made that they may be among the best Australian bands of all time.
There’s reason to believe that, without them, so many of our current crop of musicians, from Gordi to Odette to Gang of Youths, would have faded into obscurity or even simply would not exist. If this strange time in the Australian music scene gave us anything of worth, it should be the time we had with The Middle East.
Growing up as an Australian indie kid in the mid-to-late noughties meant many things: festivals, horrible alcohol from the pre-alcopop-tax era, a fortnightly tour by The Wombats, oh, and Cut Copy were the coolest band around.
Cut Copy are still active today — they actually just released a new album, Freeze, Melt, that’s excellent. But few can deny the influence they had on the local scene in the mid-noughties, both as one of the most interesting and popular acts of the era, and as one of the few bands to garner international acclaim — In Ghost Colours was named the fourth best album of 2008 by Pitchfork.
They explored genres and sounds while retaining a pop sheen, a marriage labelmate Kevin Parker would emulate to turn his (at the time) average indie-psych-rock outfit into the global superstars they rightfully are today.
They also invigorated the local indie club scene in a way few other bands could; who knows how many bands, producers, and DJs wouldn’t exist without Cut Copy leading the way. Cut Copy were pioneers in a scene often criticised for its lack of originality, and their fingerprints are all over the Australian musical landscape of today.
Albert Santos is a pop culture writer based in Sydney. Follow them on Twitter here.
Photo Credits: Bluejuice by Stuart Sevastos via Wikimedia Commons, all others supplied