Into The Groove

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

Traditionally hard rock heaven, the Australian market is emerging as a paradise for dance and electronic music.

At the turn of the decade, Billboard identified a wave of dance-rooted talent arriving from Down Under (Billboard, Nov. 24, 2001), led by Melbourne outfit the Avalanches. While that particular group has been quiet for some time, a new dance class is knocking on the door of international success.

Of late, the growth of dance festivals, synch deals and airplay have helped bring a wealth of exportable acts from the once-underground scene to the worldwide masses.

“There’s never been more international interest in [electronic/dance] acts from this part of the world,” says Stephen “Pav” Pavlovic, founder of Australian label Modular Recordings, the label home of the Avalanches.

The scene’s watershed moment may have arrived Oct. 19, when Sydney duo the Presets scooped three prizes at the Australian Recording Industry Assn.’s annual flagship awards. The electronic act topped the best band and best album (for “Apocalypso”) categories; the additional best dance award seemed almost obligatory.

The following week, “Apocalypso” (Modular/Universal Music Australia) rose 19-4 on the Australian Recording Industry Association’s sales chart. Having hit No. 1 in April, it’s now approaching double-platinum certification (140,000 shipped), according to the act’s Sydney-based manager William Larnach-Jones.

ARIA does not break out genre figures for dance/electronic music. However, a string of electronic-edged albums have been certified gold (35,000) or platinum (70,000) this year, including sets by antipodean acts Sneaky Sound System and Rogue Traders plus French duo Daft Punk and New York newcomer MGMT.

“That whole electro scene has grown exponentially. And it’s not going away in a hurry,” says Richard Kingsmill, music director at national youth-oriented radio network Triple J.

DMG Radio Australia’s top 40 network Nova has played a key role, pumping out a steady stream of commercial dance to listeners.

“I’ve seen [that] grow particularly in the last five years,” says Pavlovic, who cut his music business teeth as a concert promoter prior to starting Modular in 1998.

“It’s a cyclic scene,” says Andrew Jackson, GM of dance specialist Ministry of Sound Recordings Australia. “But it’s in the best state of health since perhaps 10 years ago, when God was a DJ.”

TV advertisers have also been swift to tune in to the evolving scene. The Presets’ chart hit “My People,” for example, has found new life thanks to its synch in a TV campaign for Australia’s Hyundai A-League soccer competition.

Acts like Cut Copy, Pendulum, Potbelleez and Pnau are now gaining profile abroad, while the fans back home remain devoted. Pendulum broke this year with its album “In Silico” (Warner Bros.) in the United Kingdom, where the band now resides. “We’ve always had a lot of support, especially in Perth, where we’re from,” frontman Rob Swire says. “But every time we go back, we have to play a bigger and bigger gig.”

Domestic album success for the current crop of acts is based on grass-roots touring, says Sydney-based Myles Cooper, who manages Potbelleez. Those acts “built their names, their sound and their fans in every club in Australia before breaking the mainstream,” he says, “just like Aussie rock bands had done 20 years earlier.”

Several dance-oriented festivals—including the touring Stereosonic and Parklife events—have also sprouted in recent years from those inner-city club culture roots, while a touring version of U.K. dance festival Global Gathering arrives Nov. 22-30.

“Bands’ profiles are getting bigger, and events are getting bigger,” says Pavlovic, whose company regularly promotes dance events and parties.

“Five years ago, we might have done a party for 100 people,” he says. “Now we’re doing them for 2,000-3,000. It’s growing—and it’s exciting to be in the middle of it.”

 

WORLD PARTY

 

Potbelleez

Based: Sydney

Current release: “The Potbelleez” (Vicious/Ministry of Sound/Universal Music Australia)

Booking agent: Phat Planet (Australia)

Despite not having released an album at that point, Potbelleez took a place among some pretty esteemed company as a nominee at the Australian Recording Industry Assn. Awards on Oct. 19. The Irish/Australian foursome made waves when second single “Don’t Hold Back” cracked the Australian top five and charted in the United Kingdom and Germany—where the band is represented by Frenetic Records and Kontor Records, respectively. Aussie TV synch deals have been an early driver. The band’s self-titled debut arrived Nov. 1 in Australia.

Cut Copy

Based: Melbourne

Current release: “In Ghost Colours” (Modular/Universal Music Australia)

Booking agent: IMC (Australia), Primary Talent International (Europe), Windish Agency (United States)

Dan Whitford is humble about the rise of his crossover electro-pop group, whose ’80s-flecked second studio album, “In Ghost Colours,” debuted at the top spot on the Australian chart earlier this year. “We certainly didn’t aim to have a No. 1 record or sell a certain number of units,” Whitford says. “We’re just trying to connect with the fans.” Extensive touring has led to swelling fan bases in Europe and particularly the United States. Whitford says a new album will be cut in the not-too-distant future.

Midnight Juggernauts

Based: Melbourne

Current release: “Dystopia” (Siberia/Inertia)

Booking agent: Select Music (Australasia), Windish Agency (United States), Magic and Medicine (United Kingdom), On Air Productions (Continental Europe)

More rock than dance—having drawn comparisons to “Low”-era David Bowie—the Midnight Juggernauts’ music is not particularly upbeat. But the band has been widely tipped as the next electronic-tinged Aussie act likely to step off the conveyor belt into international arms. The critically lauded debut, “Dystopia,” was shortlisted for the 2007 J Award, the annual “album of the year” accolade presented by national youth-oriented radio network Triple J.


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