Little band scene

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The Champion Hotel in Fitzroy was a popular venue among the little bands, hosting monthly "Little Band nights" throughout much of 1979 and 1980.[1]

The Little Band scene is the name given to an experimental post-punk scene which flourished in Melbourne, Australia, from 1978 until early 1981.[2] This scene was concentrated around the inner suburbs of Fitzroy and St Kilda, and was characterised by large numbers of short-lived bands, more concerned with artistic expression than mainstream success. The bands played in small inner-city venues, often pubs, and their music was recorded live and broadcast by Alan Bamford on community radio station 3RRR. In the scene, the distinctions between performers and audience were blurred; many of the people in the audiences at shows were either in bands or ended up forming such.


"There were impromptu bands with noise guitars, drum machines, briefcase synthesisers, being played by people that had never learned to play music. The bands didn't really exist; they just played in loungerooms, and occasionally at venues. It was all low-tech equipment, but at the same time it was almost state-of-the-art, cutting-edge equipment—not what you'd consider rock'n'roll instrumentation."[3]

Ash Wednesday on the Little Band scene

The Little Band scene got its name from "Little Band nights", gigs organised in Melbourne by members of Primitive Calculators. Originally they were bands made up of members of the Calculators, Whirlywirld and friends, and acted as support bands for the Calculators, Whirlywirld and The Boys Next Door. The Calculators and Whirlywirld lived next door to each other in a split terrace and had rehearsal spaces in each house. By using the Calculators' and Whirlywirld's equipment, it made it easier to practice and set up for the night. These bands often had a charming disposable quality, happy to play once or twice and then form other "little bands". This was often a result of the bands being composed of non-musicians enjoying the opportunity to realise their naive musical ideas. One journalist described their output as "sloppy, clangy and discordant. By turns, they could sound equally fantastic: a mixture of epileptic drum machine rhythms, stabbing synth lines and creepy/witty lyrics making for oddly compelling results."[1] Some in the scene had received proper training in electronic music and composition, including members of Whirlywirld, who studied under Melbourne-based composer Felix Werder.[2]

A local record shop owner, Max Robenstone of Climax Records and Alan Bamford, who recorded and mastered the Primitive Calculators' self-titled LP, paid for the pressing of the Little Bands EP in 1979, featuring Morpions, Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys, The Take and Too Fat to Fit Through the Door. The recording was paid for by band members. It grew from there and began to take on a life of its own. At later nights, up to ten hastily assembled bands would play for fifteen minutes each. The scene flourished from 1978 until early 1981. Several lasting musical partnerships were forged in the scene; Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry went on to achieve international acclaim as Dead Can Dance. The little bands interacted with other distinct post-punk scenes in Melbourne, including the Clifton Hill Community Music Center, an experimental arts space based at the "The Organ Factory" in Clifton Hill, and the St Kilda scene centered at the Crystal Ballroom, spearheaded by The Boys Next Door (later known as The Birthday Party), The Moodists, and Crime and the City Solution. After the Calculators and Whirlywirld left town for Europe and London in early 1980, the Little Band scene centred on the shared spaces of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies and Use No Hooks.

The first phase—up to the departure of the Calculators and Whirlywirld—was documented on an unreleased double LP, No Sin Like Dancing, that is catalogued in Clinton Walker's book Inner City Sound.[4] Several little bands can also be found on the 1981 One Stop Shopping compilation released by Tom Ellard through Terse Tapes,[5] as well as on issues of Bruce Milne's cassette magazine Fast Forward (1980–82).[6] Bootleg copies of Alan Bamford's 3RRR radio program featuring live recordings of the little bands are also known to exist.[7] Little band recordings have appeared on Chapter Music releases, including the 2007 Primitive Calculators and Friends CD,[8] and the Can't Stop It! compilation series.[9][10]

Legacy and influence[edit]

INXS frontman Michael Hutchence played the lead role as a Little Band instigator in the 1986 film Dogs in Space.

The Little Band scene was represented, albeit semi-fictionally, in the 1986 cult film Dogs In Space, directed by Richard Lowenstein and starring Michael Hutchence. Primitive Calculators briefly reformed to star in the film, playing a new version of "Pumping Ugly Muscle". Original little band Thrush and the Cunts also appear with the song "Diseases", and Little Band figurehead Marie Hoy performs a cover of "Shivers" by The Boys Next Door. The live music scenes were supervised by Whirlywirld's Ollie Olsen, who also appears in the film.[11] Coinciding with the film's long-awaited re-release, Lowenstein revisited Dogs in Space, the Little Band scene and Melbourne post-punk in general in the 2009 documentary We're Livin' on Dog Food, featuring rare footage and interviews with various members of the Little Band scene.[12]

In 2010, the Melbourne Fringe Festival revived the Little Band concept with two shows dedicated to scene's ethos of ephemerality. Participants included members of contemporary bands The Boat People, The Bowers, Bum Creek, The Crayon Fields, The Devastations, Dick Diver, Digger and The Pussycats, The Emergency, Fabulous Diamonds, Jessica Says, New War, The Parking Lot Experiments, Pikelet, Rat Vs. Possum, The School of Radiant Living, The Summer Cats, Teeth and Tongue, and Twin City Radio, plus Chapter Music's Guy Blackman, members of Primitive Calculators and special guests The Take, an original little band who reformed for the first time in 30 years.[13]

Alan Bamford intends to release his little band recordings.

List of little bands[edit]

Bands listed in bold went on to become fully fledged gigging groups.

  • $2.50
  • 66 Johnsons
  • The Alan Bamford Musical Experience
  • The Albert Hammond Megastar
  • The Art Circus
  • Bags of Personality
  • The Band of Hope and Glory
  • The Beaumaris Tennis Club Quartet
  • BeisselBoyceBoswell
  • The Buck Stops Here
  • The Child Molestor + 4
  • Clang
  • Club Allusion
  • Company I Keep
  • Consider Town Planning
  • Corporate Body
  • Delicatessants
  • The Devils
  • The Eastwood Family
  • The Egg
  • The Franging Stuttgarters
  • The Great Mastabini
  • The Go Set
  • Government Drums
  • Hey There
  • The Incredible Metronomic Blues Band
  • The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies
  • Intro Muzak Band
  • The Irreplacables
  • The Ivan Durrants
  • Invisible Music
  • The J P Sartre Band
  • The Jetsonnes (members went on to form Hunters & Collectors)
  • Jim Buck Solo
  • Jimmy Haemorrhoid and the Piles
  • Junk Logic
  • Kim and Mark
  • The Klu
  • The Leapfrogs
  • Lest We Forget
  • The Lunatic Fringe
  • The Melbourne SS
  • Morpions
  • The Nookies
  • The Oroton Bags
  • The Pastel Bats (also known as The Pink Bats)
  • The Persons Brothers
  • The Potato Cooperative
  • The Quits
  • Rosehip and the Teas
  • Ralf Horrors
  • Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys
  • Sample Only
  • The Sandmen
  • The Saxophone Caper
  • Seaside Resort
  • Serious Young Insects (members went on to form Boom Crash Opera)
  • Shop Soiled
  • The Shower Scene From Psycho
  • Simplex
  • Small Men Big Cars
  • Somersaulting Consciences
  • The Soporifics
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • Stand by Your Guns
  • The Swinging Hoy Family
  • The Take
  • Tarax Show
  • Three Toed Sloths
  • Thrush and the Cunts
  • Too Fat to Fit Through the Door
  • Too Many Daves
  • Use No Hooks
  • World of Sport

Bands and artists associated with the scene[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Potts, Adrian (2008). "Big and Ugly: Primitive Calculators on Kick-starting the "Little Band" Scene", Vice Magazine. Retrieved on 5 October 2010.
  2. ^ a b Knowles, Julian (2008). "Liminal Electronic Musics: Post-Punk Experimentation in Australia in the 1970s-1980s". Proceedings 'Sound : Space', Australasian Computer Music Conference, 2008, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. p. 40-41
  3. ^ Best, Sophie. "Can't Stop It! Australian Post-Punk 1978-82". Beat Magazine, Issue 785. Retrieved on 17 June 2011.
  4. ^ Australian Post-Punk: 1976 to 1981 Discography. Retrieved on 5 January 2011.
  5. ^ Terse Tapes, Retrieved on 29 September 2010.
  6. ^ Fast Forward, Retrieved on 27 December 2010.
  7. ^ Little Bands, Retrieved on 5 January 2011.
  8. ^ Primitive Calculators and Friends CD, Retrieved on 17 June 2011.
  9. ^ Can’t Stop It! CD, Retrieved on 17 June 2011.
  10. ^ Can’t Stop It! 2 CD, Retrieved on 17 June 2011.
  11. ^ Galvin, Peter (7 September 2009). "We're living on dog food. So What?", SBS Film. Retrieved on 29 December 2010.
  12. ^ Tofts, Darren (November 2009). "chronicles of the blank generation", RealTime Arts. Retrieved on 29 December 2010.
  13. ^ 3RRR and Melbourne Fringe present: Little Bands #1, Retrieved 29 September 2010.
  14. ^ Brendan Perry biography, Retrieved 29 September 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]