From Erica Dunn to Mikey Young, ten cult heroes of Melbourne’s music underground

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From Erica Dunn to Mikey Young, ten cult heroes of Melbourne’s music underground

From left to right - Roza Terenzi, Erica Dunn and Sui Zhen
Words by Augustus Welby and Tom Parker

These names have been critical in upholding Melbourne’s unrivalled music repute.

Melburnians love to boast about the strength of our music community. And while no one likes a blowhard, you can’t argue with the facts – we’ve got a lot to be proud of down here. This city is home to a dizzying expanse of musicians working in a wide variety of genres, often independent from label or corporate influence.

For punters, Melbourne’s music scene offers an endless supply of inspiration and edifying artistic substance. I’ve often said that an artist can be Melbourne-famous even while being largely unknown elsewhere. The support here tends towards the over-zealous, but that’s okay so long as it means our musicians are motivated to push on with their craft.

Out of a cast of hundreds, if not thousands, here are ten individuals whose contributions have helped make Melbourne the best music city in the contemporary Western world.

Andrew Wilson aka Andras

Andrew Wilson is better known as Andras, a producer, former Triple R presenter and internationally-renowned club DJ. Wilson’s 3RRR show, Strange Holiday, was the stuff of legend before wrapping up at the end of 2018. Along with co-host Lewis Fidock, Andras used the Sunday afternoon timeslot to introduce listeners to a raft of local and foreign obscurities in the realms of proto-electronic, new-wave and oceanic music. But this reveals just one side of Wilson’s polygon musical identity.

Wilson’s been producing and releasing music for the better part of decade, initially as Andras Fox before slimming down to the mononym in recent years. It’s hard to generalise about Andras’ stylistic parameters except to say he leans towards left-of-centre electronic music. Even in moments that might sound more mainstream or club-friendly, Andras’ productions are rich in analogue detail or informed by meta ingenuity.

Andras’ fanbase extends well beyond the clubs and loungerooms of Melbourne. He’s released music through a range of cult labels including the UK’s Audio Parallax, Munich’s Public Possession and Amsterdam’s Dopeness Galore. Andras’ debut album, Joyful, finally arrived in early 2020 and it’s effectively a collage of the various influences that have informed his DJ sets over the years, including the club sounds that enthralled the producer in his youth. To mark the occasion, Andras inked a deal with Tim Sweeney’s venerable Beats in Space imprint.

Wilson’s side projects and collaborations are just as deserving of your attention. These include house/R&B duo Andras & Oscar, ambient experimental duo Wilson Tanner and the new age-leaning offshoot A.R.T. Wilson.

Augustus Welby

Erica Dunn

Like Andras, Erica Dunn was also an influential Melbourne radio host before her vast musical obligations brought her broadcasting duties to a halt in early 2019. Presumably, Dunn decided to draw the curtain on her long-running PBS show Mixing Up the Medicine in order to squeeze in time for sleeping and eating between her roles in bands such as Tropical Fuck Storm, Palm Springs, Harmony and MOD CON.

Dunn’s work loosely inhabits the garage and punk rock landscape, though her intimate solo project, Palm Springs, is informed by folk obscurities of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Dunn is also the primary songwriter in MOD CON, which acts as Palm Springs’ louder, angrier, more political doppelganger. Internationally, Dunn’s best known for her work as guitarist, keyboardist and featured vocalist in TFS. While initially viewed as a side project for The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin, TFS has become a wholly separate, singularly dangerous beast. That’s thanks in no small part to Dunn and drummer Lauren Hammel, who’ve made TFS one of the Australian punk scene’s biggest exports in recent years.

Dunn’s CV also includes a few records singing in Tom Lyngcoln’s Harmony and a former life as one third of the garage rock wedding band, The SMB. Being a serial over-worker, the coronavirus touring freeze has seen Dunn form yet another band, Slippry Intrigue, featuring members of Super Wild Horses, Suss Cunts and High Tension.

Augustus Welby

Mikey Young

You may be familiar with Mikey Young from his various projects such as Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Ooga Boogas and more recently The Green Child, yet perusing such endeavours would mean overlooking a large aspect of Young’s arsenal.

While such forthcoming escapades showcase his prowess at creating unparalleled music experiences with his guitar and synthesiser in tow, he has also become known for his work from the back seat. Young could be the most sought-after engineer in Melbourne’s music underground.

If you check out his All Music profile, you’ll find Young’s long list of credits. He’s worked with artists both at home and abroad, diving into the worlds of everyone from The Chats to Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Power and Parsnip, while also being tapped on the shoulder by internationals such as Olden Yolk, Klaus Johann Grobe and Doug Tuttle.

Tom Parker

Katie Campbell aka Roza Terenzi

Katie Campbell launched the Roza Terenzi moniker in 2017, shortly after arriving in Melbourne from Perth. Back home she’d operated as Catlips, a house and disco-influenced pop project that won fans at community radio and led to Campbell recording a Boiler Room set in 2014. By the time she crossed the Nullarbor, however, Campbell was ready to not only change her artist name, but also reconfigure her artistic coordinates.

As Roza Terenzi, Campbell started to put the focus squarely on the sounds and production, giving her singing voice a rest for the time being. The production style reflects her emergence as an in-demand club DJ, as well as her more experimental tastes. After a few hotly received EPs – including 2017’s Mood (via Salt Mines) and 2019’s Let’s Ride (via Dekmantel) – Roza Terenzi’s debut album, Modern Bliss, came out in April 2020 via D. Tiffany’s Planet Euphorique.

Much of the record flows like an all-star DJ set, taking in ravey techno, dancefloor ecstasy and deftly layered percussion. Campbell also makes time for some psychedelic, proggier excursions. Given the advanced quality of her productions, it’s no surprise the name Roza Terenzi is as widely recognised in Europe as it is in Melbourne.

Augustus Welby

Jake Robertson

I’m not sure Jake Robertson sleeps. Actually, I’m sure Jake Robertson doesn’t sleep. The beloved Melbourne muso, who’s also known for his work with legendary local label Aarght Records, has been a member of more bands than you could count on two hands.

I’m not going to list them all buttttt let’s have a crack: School Damage, Ausmuteants, Drug Sweat, Alien Nosejob, Smarts, Hierophants and The Frowning Clouds stand as the most notable groups that Robertson has called home over the years.

Alien Nosejob is his main project at this point and what a wild venture it is. The outfit melds together everything from garage rock to punk, new wave and jangle rock – through Suddenly Everything Is Twice As Loud, Robertson has delivered one of the best Melbourne records of 2020.

Tom Parker

Amy Hill

The Melbourne garage rock scene is customarily populated by a large number of prodigious individuals. Over the last decade, the likes of Mikey Young, Al Montfort, Steph Hughes, Gill Tucker and Ela Stiles have darted between a range of different projects, creating some of the 21st century’s most enduring jangly guitar music along the way. Amy Hill could well be the scene’s unsung hero, but that’s not to say her various bands have struggled to make an impact.

Hill first came to notice in the late-2010s as a member of four-piece outfit School Of Radiant Living, which included members of The UV Race and Miss Destiny. It was around the same time that Hill joined Tom Ridgewell (Woollen Kits) and Hugh Young (Velvet Whip) in Constant Mongrel, a post-punk band inspired by the likes of Swell Maps and Chrome.

Constant Mongrel remain extant, releasing their best album to date, Living in Excellence, in 2018. But that hasn’t stopped Hill from making three albums of scrappy pop with Terry (which also includes her partner, Al Montfort, and fellow couple, Xanthe Waite and Zephyr Pavey) and joining Primo! ahead of their 2020 LP, Sogni – one of the year’s standout releases. Both projects have received plenty of love from BBC Radio DJ Mark Riley, but Hill’s current endeavour might actually be the most intriguing of the lot.

Sleeper & Snake is a fiercely DIY operation run in conjunction with Montfort. The pair’s experimental Tascam home recordings are as impressionistic as they are political, detailed with drum machines, saxophones and pleasantly warped harmony vocals.

Augustus Welby

Zak Olsen

The name Zak Olsen is often heard within the realms of the Flightless Records crew via his projects ORB and Traffik Island, however Olsen is also a member of Thibault, who have just released their incredible debut album, Or Not Thibault, as well as Hierophants and The Frowning Clouds.

With ORB currently on the back-burner and Hierophants and The Frowning Clouds active periodically, Olsen has spent his 2020 putting out the weirdly wonderful Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam under his Traffik Island moniker while also releasing a record with Atlanta rapper Suggs.

The work of Olsen was characterised by buzzsaw guitars and wiry synths in the early going but it’s clear Olsen has had some sort of larger awakening in recent times. Just listen to Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam and you’ll know what I mean.

Tom Parker

Becky Freeman aka Sui Zhen

Becky Sui Zhen Freeman makes music that’s designed to last. Although the three Sui Zhen records have yet to set the world on fire from a commercial point of view, they’re so captivating and uniquely crooked that they’ll continue to fascinate listeners for years to come.

Sui Zhen’s latest, Losing, Linda, came out 12 months ago. The record was conceived just after Freeman’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and recorded in the lead up to her death. This impact of this personal trauma bled into the writing, but the album also explores more macro concepts, such as the role technology plays in how we understand and experience complex emotions in the 21st century.

“It’s an album about how, everywhere we look, we’re confronted with all these reflections,” Freeman told the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s also a pop record that pairs Freeman’s melodic smarts with a slightly unsettling spoken word element, recalling ‘80s pop auteurs such as Arthur Russell, Cocteau Twins and Bill Nelson.

In her downtime, Freeman presents a monthly show on London’s ultra-cool NTS Radio and was previously one of the co-lead vocalists in heatbeat ensemble NO ZU.

Augustus Welby

Simona Castricum

Simona Castricum makes music that’s as in thrall to the dancefloor as it is dense with political urgency. The Melbourne-based musician, designer and architecture academic has been at the forefront of Melbourne’s electronic and dance music underground over the last half a dozen years. She’s released three albums during that time, the latest of which, Panic/Desire, came out in June.

Panic/Desire is a concept album that bridges the gaps between synth pop, darkwave and queer electronic disco, giving a nod to artists like Depeche Mode and queer icon Sylvester. Simona pulls back the BPM on occasion to include some more abstract, dreamy soundscapes. Meanwhile, her lyrics dig well beneath the surface, with the album intended as “an allegory about gender nonconformity lived in the spaces between urban and digital realms”.

Although Panic/Desire fills you with a desperate desire to get back in the club, Simona wasted no time bemoaning the proscription of bodies on the dancefloor in 2020. Last month she returned with the debut album from SaD, a collaboration with NO ZU’s Daphne Camf. In the duo’s own words, the album, Saturn Rules The Material World, pays “romantic homage through dark and minimal waves of crooning lamentations and danceable vulnerability”. It’s anthemic, synth heavy and lathered in dark eyeliner.

Augustus Welby

Lachlan Denton

It’s almost criminal that Lachlan Denton’s name is last on this list given his influence on the Melbourne music scene over the years. Another assiduous muso who can’t sit still, Denton has also recently ventured into the label world with the amiable Osborne Again, which features the likes of Cool Sounds, Snowy Band, Pting, Pop Filter and Emma Russack on its bill.

Yet its Denton’s pop songcraft that stands above all else. The recently dissolved The Ocean Party is easily one of Melbourne’s most distinguished bands of the last decade, having dished out nine unparalleled albums across their seven years.

For seven years, Melburnians hankered for every Ocean Party release. And when a new record arrived, people reveled in the journey, because this band crafted albums for the full 45-minute trip.

Now, it’s time for Pop Filter to come to the fore. Do yourself a favour and listen to the band’s debut album, Banksia.

Tom Parker

After another fun read? Check out our piece on the “dolewave” phenomenon that’s taken Melbourne by storm in recent times. 

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