Stuck On The 90s

When you love music unquestionably you follow your passion.

I started volunteering at 3RRR radio in Fitzroy in my early teens, on air and in the office, after school and during holidays. I compiled the 6pm gig guide on a typewriter. This was in the late 80s before the internet and email. Through chasing up listings I got to know most of the Melbourne venue bookers. Many didn’t realise I was underage and would put my name on the door for gigs.

Linda Gebar the founding booker of the Punters Club mentored me, she was also the manager of The Killjoys and Frente, and a publicist. I landed my first venue PR job at the Sarah Sands four months before I was old enough to be legally in the hotel. A school friend’s dad owned a South Melbourne pub, the Wayside Inn and I started booking bands there as well.

But Sydney was where music was thriving and I regularly travelled by train or plane to sample the sweaty scenes at the Lansdowne, Annandale, Hopetoun and Sandringham Hotels. Louise Dickinson from Lemon Magazine took me to see You Am I, The Welcome Mat, Asteroid B6-12, Front End Loader, Swirl, Smudge, Headache and Crow before they toured Melbourne. Harbour city visits also involved a lot of walking around, op shopping and making purchases at Red Eye, Waterfront, Phantom and Half A Cow record stores where I also picked up copies of On the Street and Drum Media to plan my next trip.

Timing is everything. The ripples from the phenomenal crossover success of Nirvana’s Nevermind album were felt everywhere. Alternative crossed over to mainstream. In 1992 Nirvana played the inaugural Big Day Out in Sydney, the following year the festival ballooned to become a national juggernaut. A festival spot could propel an artist’s career to the next level and there was no shortage of opportunities with Livid, Homebake, Meredith and Falls also becoming influential. We also had live music on television, ABC TV’s Recovery and Channel V.

At uni a precocious music enthusiast who I swapped mixed tapes of Galaxie 500, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, Slowdive and Stereolab with told me he was getting a band together. I booked his group The Earthmen’s debut gig and became their manager that night. Summershine Records released The Earthmen’s early recordings along with guitarist Nick Batterham’s other band Blindside, which also featured Hamish Cowan, who later formed Cordrazine. The indie label was also home to Autohaze and licensed international ‘shoegaze’ bands.

When Rich Moffat began booking the Punters Club, I took over duties at the Evelyn Hotel across Brunswick St. The Mavis’s, Greenhouse, Holocene, Incursion, The Glory Box, Rail, The Dead Salesmen, Dirty Three, Snout, Even and Moler regularly filled the room. Polyester Records in the next block was like my second office. Record stores weren’t just peddling new and used vinyl, CDs and cassettes, they were music hubs. Gaslight, Greville, Augogo, Missing Link, Heartland, Collectors Corner and others also sold magazines, fanzines, comics, posters, T-shirts, stickers, patches, badges, posters, collector’s items and concert tickets.

The popularity of dance music surged along with Sydney property prices and national broadcaster Triple J diluted its focus on the local scene. The gentrification of the inner suburbs saw many venues close due to noise restrictions and liquor licensing, while others decided it was more lucrative to offer live sports broadcasts and gaming. There was an exodus out of Sydney, some artists moved to regional NSW, however the beneficiary was generally Melbourne, which also attracted musicians from Perth and Hobart. Brisbane’s scene also strengthened and remained home to some of its most popular acts Regurgitator and Powderfinger.

Gentrification also impacted seaside St Kilda which saw the Melbourne scene gravitate north to Collingwood and Fitzroy via Richmond with plenty of venues to play. In the days before internet we relied on the street press, newspapers, radio and word of mouth to navigate our music consumption. In the late 90s the Melbourne scene was flourishing, and I was truly immersed as Music Editor of Beat Magazine.

90s alternative rock propagated new sub-genres including post-grunge and lo-fi inspiring many new bands to emerge. The rise, popularity and accessibility of all ages shows also saw more school kids form bands. Sydney label Fellaheen signed Ben Lee’s group Noise Addict with an average age of 14, as well as teenagers SPDFGH, Fur and Sourpuss fronted by Brody Dalle. There was a visible increase in diversity with musicians from different backgrounds and more females on stages. Rock n Roll High School empowered women to learn instruments, write their own music, assemble bands and produce events. But the gatekeepers were still white males. It was not unusual to see record company executives and A&R managers at the Empress, Tote and Arthouse hotel checking out new bands, wielding their influence and buying drinks for everyone on their unlimited expense accounts.

Iconic Melbourne indie label Au-go-go boomed when Spiderbait and Magic Dirt albums charted, and major labels came after both acts with their cheque books. After signing to RooArt, You Am I scored three consecutive number ones on the national album charts and won eight ARIA awards. As Tim Rogers sings in Pizza Guy on Hi Fi Way, “Never bother with FM radio, Pop a compilation tape and we’ll go…”

Mary Mihelakos – July 2020

releases October 1, 2020

Compilation concept and curation – Scott Thurling

Album artwork by Chris Rees

Mastered by Ernie O at his Urban Fringe Compound

Cat number : SAE:02