Melbourne’s indie scene is the musical embodiment of our diversity as a city. Melbourne indie culture is all-encompassing and inclusive, its music infused with a unique amalgam of genres: funk, punk, folk and prog-rock, to name just a few.
Seeing as our live music scene has unfortunately been put on ice, we thought it would be worth taking the time to celebrate some of the quality studio work and artists that have helped define our renowned brand of indie music. So, without further ado, here are our 12 hidden Melbourne indie gems.
‘The Answer’ – Big Words (2017)
Led by creative duo and childhood friends Will Scullin and Kieren Lee, Big Words have quickly gained a reputation as one of Melbourne’s most enthralling live acts. Anyone who’s seen the group perform live will have noticed that most of the members are adept multi-instrumentalists, whose smooth, soulful tones are invariably backed up by a wicked bass and drum pocket.
‘The Answer’, from their 2017 EP Hollywood, a Beautiful Coincidence, showcases some of Big Words’ loose grooves and catchy melodies, as well as some exhilarating tempo changes.
‘Marriage for All or None at All’ – Karate Boogaloo (2020)
Based in Northcote, Karate Boogaloo sit in their own lane of indie. All four members – who also comprise part of jam-funk group The Cactus Channel – record everything on tape, with no plug-ins or edits, and release everything exclusively in mono. This retro approach to recording is ideal in terms of capturing the music they create; ‘Marriage for All or None at All’ is a prime example of this.
Channelling the likes of US funk pioneers The Meters, this cut features some grooves that only the most seasoned of musicians can muster. Guitarist Darvid Thor gives us a jazz-infused take for the ages, while Henry Jenkins shows us why he’s one of the finest bassists in Melbourne: his biting P-Bass propels its way through the sea of Hammond B3 like a Soviet submarine.
‘Sweetness’ – Sweet Whirl (2020)
Esther Edquist, known by her stage name Sweet Whirl, lists the likes of Harry Nilsson and Wilco as some of the influences for her debut album How Much Works. Having drawn inspiration from two visionaries of their respective genres, it’s no surprise that Beats 1’s Matt Wilkinson recently touted Edquist as a musician who had the “air of a classic singer-songwriter”.
Listening to a song like ‘Sweetness’, you can’t help but admire Edquist’s unpredictably clever chord progressions, paired with the retro sound of a Rhythm Ace FR 8L drum machine. Her production is also superb, with her lush harmonies and piano work filling out the mix perfectly.
‘I Fell Over’ – Skyscraper Stan (2015)
I asked Stan Woodhouse through Instagram about the origins of ‘I Fell Over’: “I had a manager for a hot minute; he told me on a couple of occasions that this thing would be a lot easier if I ‘wrote a hit’. I was drinking pretty heavily at the time and generally being an idiot. I felt like his request was bullshit so I wrote a song about failure instead. Ironically it’s the most popular song I’ve ever written.”
Woodhouse’s folky guitar fingerpicking is a standout on this track, while his rich baritone simply needs to be heard to be admired.
‘Maybe’ – RICEWINE (2017)
“I remember listening to Grace by Jeff Buckley when I was around 15, and it just changed my life. I had never felt so touched and inspired by music before and I wanted to create that feeling for other people.”
RICEWINE is a solo project by Thai-Aussie Talae Rodden, whose original blend of lo-fi hip hop production and indie pop songwriting has garnered considerable attention throughout the last few years. ‘Maybe’ consists of no more than three chords; however, add an entrancing melody, some shoegaze guitar vibes and a laid back drum machine, and you’ve got yourself a quintessential lo-fi indie pop single.
‘Unfamiliar Ground’ – Jess Ribeiro (2015)
Ribeiro’s second album, Kill It Yourself, was deemed a departure from her folk-country roots, as she embarked on a sparser, gloomier ambience for her 2015 LP. Who else to call upon to produce such an album than Melburnian indie guitar legend Mick Harvey?
Ribeiro’s misty vocals on ‘Unfamiliar Ground’ are accompanied by a steady rhythmic stomp, as well as some twangy guitar. It’s really an aura that’s quite difficult to evoke: Ribeiro and Harvey do it magnificently, and prove to be a formidable pairing on this haunting number.
‘Flower Tea’ – Franco Cozzo (2018)
Formed in 2015, Franco Cozzo are a five-piece band based in – you guessed it – Foot-a-scray. Much like the iconic Italian furniture salesman whose television ads dominated our city’s airwaves throughout the ‘80s, the band possesses their own, unique way of selling their product.
The third track off their 2018 EP Stopping All Stations Except South Kensington, ‘Flower Tea’ is a funky-as-hell jam, with Alex Wagstaff’s vocals soaring beautifully over Maseta Pratama’s melodic bass part. The music video is also a ripper: Megalo Megalo indeed.
‘The Cruel Millennial’ – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (2019)
What’s a list about Melburnian music without King Giz? While they’re probably one of the better known bands here, it might be worth delving into one of their lesser known songs. The Brunswick East prog outfit released Fishing For Fishies last year, and while it’s the title track that did the rounds on Rage, there’s one song that hasn’t quite received the same attention.
‘The Cruel Millennial’ pretty much sums up the sonic commotion that is King Giz. For starters, the song is in 11/8, meaning it might be a bit tricky to have a boogie to. Throw in some swampy harmonica, some Geddy Lee sounding vocals, and you’ve got yourself a sound that could only be cultivated by seven blokes from Brunswick East.
‘Girls on the TV’ – Laura Jean (2018)
Sydney-born Melbourne-based musician Laura Jean Englert was inspired to start writing 2018’s Devotion after her friend gifted her a keyboard he found on the street for her birthday. One night amongst her mates, she performed a pisstake mash-up of the GWS theme song with the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘West End Girls’; after experimenting with the keyboard even more, she was unexpectedly taken aback by the visceral emotions elicited by some of its sounds.
‘Girls on the TV’ is the highlight of the album: drenched in lush ‘80s synth-pop crosscurrents, Englert’s crafty songwriting is on full display here, alongside some tasteful guitar and bass additions from producer John Lee.
‘Haven’t Found You Yet’ – Marc Piantella (2019)
Speaking with Marc through Instagram, he told me: “I wrote this song back when I was 14 years old, which I find so funny. Who hadn’t I found at such a young age? Nevertheless, it’s definitely one of my favourites to play and listen to, as it’s pretty much what got me so drawn to writing my own songs.”
A regular of our inner city live scene, Marc Piantella brings a certain sincerity to the stage that’s hard to come across with some solo artists these days. This candour is captured in ‘Haven’t Found You Yet’, from his 2019 self-titled EP. The mandolin and vocal harmonies towards the end are an enormous addition to the mix, thanks to Jack Ainsworth’s typically inventive production.
‘Karl Stefanovic At The Logies Drunk’ – Porpoise Spit (2018)
Who can forget Karl’s iconic performance on the Today Show all those years ago? I mean, surely anyone who can get absolutely plastered at the Logies before presenting a vacuous breakfast TV program (without a wink of sleep) deserves a song written about them.
Porpoise Spit took it upon themselves to finally end this injustice. From comparisons to Kochie, through to Karl’s wearing the same suit every day for a year, the punk rockers say all there is to say about the breakfast TV stalwart. The tune is as no-nonsense as the man himself.
‘Isabella’ – Alex Lahey (2019)
Alex Lahey’s contribution to the Melbourne indie scene is nothing short of immense, on many levels. On 2019’s The Best Of Luck Club, the gifted multi-instrumentalist wears her heart on her sleeve lyrically, and showcases her prowess as a songwriter, singer and saxophonist.
The seventh track, ‘Isabella’, is one of the premium moments on the record. Lahey’s piano riff is reminiscent of some late ‘70s ELO, and the chorus is as undeniably catchy as any indie-pop hook out there. Once you delve into the lyrical side of things, you’ll notice the song is a ‘pulsating’ ode to a little friend – I’ll leave it at that.
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Photo credit: David Harris for Beat Magazine.