Ep 13: Indie vs Majors – show notes

Show notes, links, music and other stuff for Ep 13: Indie Labels.

The title of this episode comes from The Cruel Sea song and album called The Honeymoon Is Over. Of all those 80s indie labels that jumped to majors in this era, that 1993 Cruel Sea album was probably the most succesful, being on Red Eye.

The 80s

There are many great texts and coverage for Australian independent music of the 80s. It was a golden era with its own labels, own heroes, etc. I’m probably not the right person, but if anyone wants to make a podcast series about that era and wants some help, let me know.

So I deliberately left that story alone and focussed on some key labels from the 80s that survived into the 90s. And there’s plenty I didn’t highlight properly. Citadel and Greasy Pop both come to mind. They didn’t fit into the story – those labels just sort of fell under Festival and faded out. Volition were another, who were more of a dance label, but had Falling Joys and Big Heavy Stuff. There wasn’t a big rise and fall. It was just a bit of a fade out.

The definitive book of the Australian independent music of the 80s is Clinton Walker’s Stranded. I read the book in my teenage years and it blew my mind. Clinton has written several other books about Australian music, but Stranded remains my favourite. This podcast, in my mind, is a blatant attempt to be a follow up to that book. But not as good. Stranded is equal parts history, documentary and memoir. Clinton was also involved in a book called Inner City Sound that captured the late 70s and early 80s.

There’s quite a bit on the internet about this era, including a lovely podcast called Almost A Mirror by Kristen Krauth (who also wrote a novel with the same name).

Red Eye

Red Eye really were the hot label for a while, and the big challenger to rooArt. There’s more in depth story in Craig Mathieson’s out of print book The Sell-In.

John Foy of Red Eye wrote a book. It’s called Snap Crack Pop and it is a coffee table book that has lots of writing in it. John tells a lot of his story in the days before, during and after Red Eye. I love John’s posters too, and in the this era of digital art, the chapters and writings where he breaks down the process of screen printing is fascinating. It seems impossibly old timey and a miracle or engineering and art. You can get it at Skull Printworks.

A profile of John from 1990, taken from Clinton Walker’s wonderful website.

An interview with John on The Vinyl Guide podcast.

There’s no complete overview compilation of the label. They were pretty consistent in style and sound throughout, especially in the 80s. There was a compilation called Asides & Beside: The First Five Years which covers, as it says, the first five years which covers the late 90s.

In the early 90s, they signed Clouds and Killing Time and things moved away from that inner city scene. Later bands like Drop City, Growl and The Verys have very few of their works available digitally. A compilation of the second (or last) five years would be nice.

Into The Red was a 1991 CD and VHS of a Red Eye Records showcase. And here’s the whole thing. Red Eye when they were top of the world. Below that, the compilation front and back covers. Note the Red Eye and Polydor logos.


Festival Records celebrated 50 years in 2001. There was a an exhibition. My favourite part of the exhibition was a large plaster wall that was signed by hundreds of artists. If you don’t know, Lindy Morrison, the original drummer for The Go Betweens, is a tireless advocate for musicians. Off the radio waves, she is one of the best music industry people in Australia. Anyway, Lindy was invited to sign the wall, I guess. But instead of some circle jerk congratulatory comment, Lindy wrote – what about artist rights? And I guess the exhibitors couldn’t erase it or make a new one. Lindy Morrison of The Go-Betweens is brilliant.

There were a couple of CD compilations that collect Festival Records. The only real alternative acts from the 90s on there were Frente, who was on Mushroom, and Died Pretty, who left them for Sony. Later in the 90s they would have Sputnik Records…but that’s another story.

Some ex staffers of Festival have created a website collecting memories. The photo above is taken from that site. Warren Costello, of Mushroom Records, on the left.


Above – Steve Stavrakis and Chris Dunn of Waterfront, outside their store. Taken from the book The Sell-In, and also I stole this off Vanessa Berry’s wonderful website. Note Chris’ shirt, which is for the Waterfront band Hellmenn, but is a parody of the album cover for The Hummingbirds’ album loveBUZZ.

Again, the Waterfront industry story is told in depth in The Sell-In. There’s a compilation of Waterfront from the 80s called I Coulda Been A Contender. “I coulda been a contender” was, of course, a line from the film On The Waterfront. It features the Hard-Ons, Ratcat, Massappeal, Happy Hate Me Nots and all these bands that people older than me in Sydney wouldn’t stop going on about.

But nothing that features Tumbleweed, Benedicts or their later, 90s acts.

Interview with Chris Dunn.

Interview with Stav.

Au Go Go

Above – a younger Bruce Milne, who did a lot of things besides Au Go Go, inclduing a groundbreaking cassette fanzine called Fast Forward. It seems from the photo above he also invented Ash Naylor’s haircut and shirt combo.

Yes yes, like everyone else, the Au Go Go story is in The Sell-In, and there’s no good compilations. Bruce Milne has done lots of interviews over the years. Bruce has done so much, and in particular I love that he used to do a cassette fanzine. 

It’s odd – Bruce Milne strikes me as a music nut who loves music history, but he hasn’t captured his own. He never sold his label to a major, which ironically means a lot of Au Go Go stuff is still quite rare and not reissued often. He might not even own it any more as Magic Dirt reissued their Au Go Go albums on their own label, and Snout did the same on Cheersquad Records.


Volition was associated with Sony, and was started by Andrew Penhallow. Very sadly, Andrew passed away earlier this year.

There should have been a little more on Volition, but a lot of it was covered in the Falling Joys episode, and some more of it is to come next season when we talk more about when dance music went beyond the underground.

There’s a Facebook profile set up about Volition just this year. You can read about Andrew’s eventful life at Billboard.

Signing spree

Some of the men (always men, sorry) at the majors like Roger Grieson, John Watson, Michael Parisi and Craig Kamber, we will return to.

The crazy signing spree that was the 90s around the world is covered in several other great books. I highly recommend Our Band Could Be Your Life, which profiles some of the best bands in America in the 80s, several of whom had to face changing tides in the 90s, like Sonic Youth and The Replacements. Dan Ozzi’s book Sellout covers the signing spree as it hit the US punk scene in the wake of Nirvana. I mean, that story has been told about the UK and US and even Canada in a great book called Have Not Been The Same, which I love.

The documentary Hype, which covers this era in Seattle, is essential viewing. They talk about bands in Seattle getting signed before even playing a show. There was a bit of that in Australia.

Music heard in this episode

  • Idiot Box – You Am I
  • I Wanna Dance With Somebody (instrumental) – Whitney Houston
  • What’s Up (instrumental) – 4 Non Blondes
  • Orlean Stomp – The Cruel Sea
  • Hard For You – Beasts Of Bourbon
  • Hieronymous – Clouds
  • Chase The Dragon – Beasts Of Bourbon
  • The Honeymoon Is Over – The Cruel Sea
  • I Should Be So Lucky (instrumental) – Kylie Minogue
  • Where did She Come From – Hard-Ons
  • Sundial – Tumbleweed
  • Everybody’s Getting A Three Piece Together – The Fauves
  • Buy Me A Pony – Spiderbait
  • I Sucked A Lot Of Cock To Get Where I Am – Regurgitator