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Melbourne punks are at the forefront of protest



Recently, the iconic Esplanade Hotel reopened in St Kilda. As a devoted punk who spends most of her spare time going to live music gigs across Melbourne, there are not enough superlatives to describe just what the Espy meant for so many of my adult years.

Camp CopeTo walk through the venue's doors and be greeted straight away by live music on the front stage was a magical experience. Should the act in the front bar not be to my taste, I would tread the 'punter path' between the Basement stage and the Gershwin Room until I found my groove. It was at the Espy that I first saw Cosmic Psychos, The Vasco Era, X, The Peep Tempel and The Pretty Littles.

Times change, and not always for the better. In place of the front stage at the renovated and reopened Espy is a DJ spinning top 40 tunes from years gone by. Live music lives on at the Espy, just not in the ways I was accustomed to.

Yet despite the gap the Espy created with its multi-year closure, the Melbourne music scene has gone from strength to strength. Melbourne has been pumping out quality music of every genre for a long time, and we are currently in one of the most exciting times to witness it.

Most articles that I read celebrating the Melbourne live music scene miss key aspects of why I think what I'm seeing now is so special. While Melbourne has long been the city of protest, it is also a major global centre for quality protest music. The songs are defiant, political, loud and proud; they're staunch, they're angry, they're educative, they're funny and they demand to be listened to.

Many of these local punk bands stunning their audiences are full of women, queer-identifying people, or people of colour. Initiatives such as Girls Rock have played a large part in fuelling this shift but so too have these music communities themselves — supporting and promoting each other via local record labels or collaborative works.

It's become normal to go to a gig and hear a band do an acknowledgement of country before launching into their set. It's getting more normal to go to a music festival run by these communities and see a more equitable gender breakdown of performers.


"What drew me to them were their storytelling and their often political messages about toxic masculinity, racism, anti-fascism and so forth. They backed these ethics up with action."


I mentioned two of my sentimental favourites earlier: The Peep Tempel and The Pretty Littles. The Peep Tempel are on indefinite hiatus but I was lucky enough to be at their final gig at the Forum. While they became known for their song 'Carol', what drew me to them were their storytelling and their often political messages about toxic masculinity, racism, anti-fascism and so forth.

They backed these ethics up with action. During the show at the Forum, guitarist and vocalist Blake Scott, witnessing bad behaviour in the audience, declared the band would walk off the stage unless this behaviour immediately stopped.

Additionally, they often contributed to positive spaces by having women-fronted or dominated support bands on their bill. It was via a Peep Tempel gig that I was introduced to Cable Ties. The talent of this trio mesmerised me straight away; their commitment to feminist, queer and socially progressive politics kept me going back.

Anger at the wealthy white straight male status quo is something I'm hearing a lot of in music right now. Whether it's Cash Savage and the Last Drinks talking about the horrible marriage equality plebiscite; Würst Nürse confronting the gender pay gap and remembering the 1985 nurses' strikes; Camp Cope criticising the music industry for its continual promotion of male musicians at the cost of hard-working and talented women; or Porpoise Spit having a playful dig at the structural privilege certain male celebrities enjoy, bands are taking to the stage to sing about their want for a much better world.

Which returns me to The Pretty Littles. Many years ago, in that dingy front bar of the Espy, they charmed me with their energy, their antics and their music. With every album they've released, they've injected further experience (both personal and social) and political awareness.

Their 2016 album Soft Rock for the Anxious includes a song called Tall Man — a telling of how a police officer essentially got away with killing Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island — and another called 'Sam's Mob', which criticised the ongoing celebration of sexist and racist men in Australia.

Their latest album Skeleton Run has gone even further, drawing on the human rights abuses inflicted on children in the Don Dale Detention Centre, blasting those who trade basic morality for self-gain, and sharing a tale of a disenfranchised old man walking around his house feeling meaningless.

Clowns, Moody Beaches, Bench Press, Bitch Diesel, Pistol Peaches, Lazertits — there are so many other bands I could name that have contributed to my joy this year.

Really though, this is a love letter to the many musicians in Melbourne who entertain us; who support and collaborate with each other and mentor up-and-comers; and who challenge the status quo, and give us something to think about as we leave the venues.



Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is an Arrernte woman living in Melbourne, the National Indigenous Organiser of the NTEU, and a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image: Camp Cope

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, punk music, Camp Cope, Peep Tempel, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, The Pretty Littles



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Existing comments

If we get too far away from music what do we lose? Everything.

Pam | 18 December 2018  

Thank you Celeste. A great lesson for the ignorant elderly of which I am one. Most greatful.

Mahdi | 19 December 2018  

Thanks Celeste - I am forever grateful that you are responsible for putting me on to Press Club!

Bruce Undert | 19 December 2018  

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