From Floating Points to Chet Faker, Ellen examines what we listened to over 2014, and how it has changed since 1989.
Words || Ellen Kirkpatrick
triple j’s Hottest 100 latest countdown is wriggling under the microscope. Voters found themselves surprised – pleasantly or otherwise – to discover that a radio station that once prided itself for variety and the forever-elusive idea of alternativeness has compiled a list characterised by repetition.
So what does this say about us? Have Australian music tastes gradually centralised and therefore discouraged the uniqueness of emerging bands? After all, the list is merely a democratic poll, a convergence of our musical palettes into one neat and easy to navigate numerical figuration.
This year, Australian electronic musician Chet Faker took the number one spot with ‘Talk is Cheap’ from the album Built on Glass. Three songs from this album alone featured in the Top 10 picks, setting a precedent for most songs by a single artist in the top 10. Chet Faker had a total of four songs on the list. Quite a few artists, like Vance Joy, Hilltop Hoods, Alt-J, and Ball Park Music, were featured three times.
If we return to the ’94 list, then we see a contrasting pattern. In fact, the only person in the Top 10 to have more than one song on the list is the Offspring, coming in third and fourth. Offspring aside, every band is different.
It begs the question: did Chet Faker produce an earthshaking, planet aligning record, or are we less adventurous musically?
Australian electronic music duo Peking Duk was awarded with two songs in the Top 10. In 2012, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis topped the list with ‘Thrift Shop’, a song globally popular on commercial charts. But our most recent list doesn’t necessarily reflect global charts in the way that 2012’s did. Electronic music is incredibly popular with current young Australians; there has been a shift from the more mainstream pop sound of commercial industries.
In fact, the Hottest 100 isn’t corroborative with international charts. Nick Evershed from the Guardian notes that songs successful in triple j’s Hottest 100 were not necessarily popular in the ARIAs. Interestingly enough, 1997 was the biggest concurrence between lists, with a total of seventeen identical songs shared between them.
The changing tastes of young Australians provide more opportunities for local musicians and bands to showcase their tunes. Another Hottest 100 first – and maybe, if we think on the bright side, this is more important than Chet Faker’s Top 10 domination – is that Australian musicians produced fifty-nine of the ranked songs. Here, triple j seems to fulfil their objective, by culminating a platform for local aspiring musicians to gain exposure. These sentiments compliment the triple j Unearthed project, which aims to find hidden upcoming talent across Australia.
I interviewed Marco Coehlo from Clean Feed records industry in Portugal about the Hottest 100, and whether a unique Australian sound exists.
Marco thinks it is hard to separate Australian music as wholly distinct from the music produced and favoured in the United Kingdom and United States of America. He believes that, worldwide, music is becoming similar and more centralised, as the impact of globalisation and commercialisation has reached such towering heights. On average, four out of five songs on Portugal’s Top 100 charts are sung in English rather than Portuguese.
Although Australia doesn’t suffer this linguistic dilemma, it’s evident our music is indeed influenced by Britain and America. The first triple j countdown, back in 1989, enlisted forty-three songs by British artists, and only twenty-six Australian. However, the tables turned in 2000 when the USA scored thirty-six tunes and Britain only a mere sixteen.
Dan Nevin, CEO of Australian Independent Record Labels Association, believes there is no distinct Australian sound. That said, Dan claims, artists are increasingly opening a dialogue with local fans, and responding to feedback.
Coehlo argues that when trying to define the sounds of Australian music, one could look at Indigenous bands such as Yothu Yindi or No Fixed Address. But although these bands contribute to the diversity of the music scene, they do not define it. Coehlo recognises the growing sense of pride within the Australian community of locally produced music and talent.
Some argue that the domination of the electronic scene on the Hottest 100 countdown discourages the experimentation of emerging bands with alternative styles or genres – another vehicle of commodification, in other words. Nevin partially disagrees, arguing that it doesn’t serve any artist well to copy or be similar to anyone else, as it isn’t sustainable. He believes there are many emerging artists and bands endeavouring to create their own sound with integrity, and thus are at the forefront of their genres.
The preferences and tastes of Australians are constantly evolving with the times. Times have changed from the 1990s, reflecting strong rock influence (think bands like the Sex Pistols, Cold Chisel, R.E.M., and Midnight Oil), to the 2000s, with local indie heroes like John Butler Trio and Angus and Julia Stone dominating the charts. Nevin believes that triple j’s Hottest 100 has diversified. It’s no longer exclusively rock and pop, there is punk, hardcore, electronic, and dance tracks experiencing mixed degrees of success.
It’s clear that the rising popularity of Australian artists, no matter their genre, is supporting the local music industry. After all, the list provides more opportunities for musicians to become prominent in Australia, showered by a glimmering limelight.