The influence of these bands cannot be understated.
Oh the ’90s! Our love for the ’90s in Australia is immense and it’s in many ways considered the country’s preeminent decade when it comes to music. Maybe it’s the rose-coloured glasses and that overpowering wave of nostalgia that so easily penetrates us. Maybe it’s a longing for a simpler time, particularly amplified during this COVID chaos. Or maybe it’s just because the music was so damn good.
The ’90s saw Australia churn out iconic bands that have shaped our nation’s music identity – Powderfinger, Silverchair, You Am I, Regurgitator, Killing Heidi, Spiderbait, Magic Dirt, The Superjesus, The Living End, Grinspoon, Jebediah, The Whitlams and Something for Kate… that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the colourful ten-year block.
This continued pining has only been heightened by the community of ’90s stans, Sound As Ever (Australian Indie 90-99), established earlier this year by none other than era icon and presenter, Jane Gazzo, with the purpose of immortalising the “most exciting decade of Australian music”.
The Facebook group has uncovered a tonne of Australian bands that all contributed to the best music years of our lives and we’ve decided to follow suit, uncovering six unheralded bands that were equally significant but didn’t necessarily gain the widespread recognition they deserved.
While The Fauves were formed in the late ’80s, the ’90s were the blazing years for these witty Melbourne rockers. After appearing at Big Day Out in 1993 following the release of their debut album Drive Through Charisma, the group went on to build a cult following across Australia. Their 1996 album Future Spa became a standout album of the Australian rock era, earning them well-deserved recognition and securing them two songs in the triple j Hottest 100 of 1996 with ‘Dogs Are The Best People’ and ‘Self Abuser’ coming in at No. 20 and No. 30 respectively.
Future Spa was also nominated for Best Alternative Album at the 1997 ARIA Awards, losing out to the mammoth Ivy and the Big Apples from Spiderbait. That same year the band returned to the Big Day Out stage and a decade of touring and album releases later, in 2007, they celebrated their 1000th show. Last year, The Fauves released Driveway Heart Attack, their twelfth studio album.
Indisputably one of the most promising bands to slide into the ’90s, The Clouds endured many setbacks that hindered them from becoming a massive household name like Baby Animals or The Superjesus. Fronted by the female duo of Jodi Phillis and Trish Young, the band started strong with their debut album Penny Century going Gold in Australia, peaking at number 23 on the charts, thanks to their unique co-vocal harmonies and unconventional song structure.
Singles ‘Hieronymus’/’Lucy’s Eyes’ and ‘Anthem’ circled Australian airwaves across 1991 and 1992, with follow up albums Octopus, Thunderhead and Futura having similar success. Multiple break-ups ensued and Phillis would eventually go onto to start The Dearhunters, but in 2017, the duo reunited to play A Day On The Green with Blondie and Cyndi Lauper.
Tarrawanna’s Tumbleweed are a recognisable name in the Australian rock circuit, and so they should be, but they make this list as they deserve more credit for their contribution to the Australian grunge scene. Renowned Australian musicologist Ian McFarlane once described the group as the “ultimate stoner’s band for the 1990s”.
In the age of stoner rock resurrection thanks to Dune Rats and Skegss, it would be unjust to ignore Tumbleweed’s contribution and influence. From supporting Nirvana to having three albums (Tumbleweed, Galactaphonic, and Return To Earth) dominate the ARIA charts, ‘Hang Around’ and ‘Silver Lizard’ are iconic rock anthems that hold up incredibly well decades later.
Under the same label as ’90s beasts Spiderbait and Magic Dirt, The Meanies were Australia’s answer to The Ramones. The indie-punk outfit originally consisted of D.D Meanie (Dennis DePianto), Link Meanie (Lindsay McLennan), Ringo Meanie (Mark Hobbs), and VB Meanie (Dave Christopher) and saw more Meanies (Jaws, Wally and Tas) join and leave the family as they reinvigorated Australia’s punk scene across the decade.
Come ‘n’ See (1992), Televolution (1994) and 10% Weird (1998) were monumental albums for Melbourne’s underground scene, and stood as particular inspirations for punk contemporaries Frenzal Rhomb. The Meanies are still kicking today, having just released their sixth studio album, Desperate Measures, under Cheersquad Records and Tapes.
A small indie band from Sydney to popstars overnight, Ratcat are living evidence that an Australian alternative band can turn an EP into an explosion. The year was 1990, the EP was Tingles, the success was monumental. It was the first time an alternative band, who drew their sound from indie-pop songwriting and fused it with energetic punk guitar fuzz, hit it big in the mainstream. The EP charted at No. 1 on the ARIA charts, with 1991 album Blind Love and single ‘Don’t Go Now’ following suit.
Without Ratcat the doors from the indie scene to the mainstream could have stayed bolted shut. We owe them big time!
The ’90s weren’t just about the rock revolution; a uniquely-Australian melting pot of alternative-folk-pop surfaced. The modern form is Alex The Astronaut but the ’90s was steered by Melbourne’s Frente!. From the first spin of ‘Labour of Love’ to ‘Accidently Kelly Street’ and then their impeccable cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, Frente!, led by Angie Hart’s sweet buttercup vocals, forced Australia onto the international radar for more than our Australiana rock and princess pop.
Keen on another fun read? Check out our piece on the ten cult heroes of Melbourne’s music underground.
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