An exploration into Gareth Liddiard, Australian music’s oddball revolutionary

An exploration into Gareth Liddiard, Australian music’s oddball revolutionary

Gareth Liddiard
Photo: Olga Bennett
Words by Tom Parker

One of the most crucial music figures of the millennium.

Gareth Liddiard comes up in conversation and many can participate. The familiarity of the Drones comforts discussion, while the candour of Tropical Fuck Storm (TFS) is the revelation, the news flash of dialogue igniting alarm.

A distinguished frontman, it’s his contributions closer to the surface which many cannot recall. Liddiard’s producing credits, label curation and solo work are just some of his responsibilities which stray from the unlearned eye.

Tropical Fuck Storm emerged in May 2017 to the surprise of many trundling the music pavement. The Drones had just released their seventh album, Feelin Kinda Free, a year prior, and had committed to dissemination, touring the LP around the country.

By the end of 2016, the album cycle was done — Liddiard and his bandmates had given plenty to an anthology which was more radical, more danceable than anything they’d created before.

From there, many would go again, recommencing the circuit by jumping back into the studio. Not the Drones. The charm of external ventures grew strong and Liddiard’s mind was restless. After 17 years at the helm of the band he first formed in Perth, Liddiard wanted something new.

So, he would mission out alongside long-time Drones partner, Fiona Kitschin, to sought two alternate pedigrees. High Tension’s frenetic drummer, Lauren Hammel, adjoined rising vocalist and guitarist, Erica Dunn (MOD CON, Palm Springs, Harmony), to form the belly of a new beast.

As if they didn’t want anyone questioning their credibility, news of Tropical Fuck Storm’s formation came paired with US tour dates and a forthcoming 7” vinyl.

This was real. Gareth Liddiard, the man behind the Gutterville Splendour Six, who boasted credits in Magic Dirt as well as Dan Kelly and the Alpha Males, and who produced albums from Gold Class, Ben Salter and Batpiss, was changing the game once again.

TFS turned heads right from the start. Not least did the band flaunt revered heads but they mirrored the trademark uneasiness that made the Drones so irresistible.

Support shows turned into headline slots and soon enough that promised US tour became reality, TFS joined Band of Horses and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard on different jaunts around the States.

By 2018, just a few months after their first-ever shows, rumours emerged of Tropical Fuck Storm’s debut album. Speaking with Noisey, Liddiard explained the band’s urgency to record an LP.

“We had to keep churning out material,” Liddiard said. “So whatever we were thinking about seeped into the music.”

Embodying the fused mental chaos of a bustling four-piece, A Laughing Death in Meatspace arrived in May 2018 to the delight of critics and Drones-admirers alike.

Within a year of the band’s establishment, Liddiard had rallied his three contemporaries to craft arguably his most ground-breaking work.

A Laughing Death in Meatspace presented an intricate collection wise beyond its swift timeline. It was recognised as Beat’s Album of the Week, drawing praise for its “consistently clever” lyrics and “snarky commentary”.

According to the review, “the record isn’t here to tread lightly or beat around the bush, with every moment attacking with the force of a rabid dog, jaws bared and spit flying.”

With Liddiard’s new project, Melbourne has been overcome by a hurricane it’s reluctant to quell. As fertile as a Bali rice field, the city’s fever for opiniated rock‘n’roll may never cease and as long as that is the case there will always be a place for Gareth Liddiard.

Prior to the genesis of Tropical Fuck Storm, Liddiard’s reputation already preceded him. Even before Feelin Kinda Free, Liddiard had earnt his standing as one of Australia’s greatest-ever songwriters.

Music journalists Toby Creswell, Craig Mathieson and John O’Donnell positioned Gala Mill, the Drones’ fourth album, at #21 in their compendium of The 110 Best Australian Albums.

The band’s 2005 single ‘Shark Fin Blues’ was recognised as the “greatest Australian song” in a 2009 poll of more than 70 songwriters, conducted by triple j.

Outside of that, Liddiard briefly stepped away from the Drones in 2010 and crafted his own solo LP, the celebrated Strange Tourist, which saw Liddiard trade helmets of barefaced cynicism with rustic balladry.

Behind all his music wizardry and artless songwriting, Liddiard is your fundamental Australian. There’s no superfluity; his commentary is pointed without being volatile, his musicality is frivolous without being heedless. Liddiard will tell you how it is and that’s perhaps his greatest trait. In a world of fake news and sensationalism, it’s voices like Liddiard’s that we need to preserve; it’s in the best interests of the music industry and Australia at large.

Never miss a story. Sign up to Beat’s newsletter and you’ll be served fresh music, arts, food and culture stories three times a week.