Power Of Ten: Sounds Of Sydney

By Christine Kakaire

With our previous Power of Ten editions, we looked at niche-in-niche sub-genres and hybrid trends, rode a well-known drum break, and felt the love with a romantic production twosome. This week we’re getting geographical, looking at some of the most interesting electronic music emanating from down under—specifically from my hometown, Sydney.

Sydney is undoubtedly the show city of Australia, a glittering metropolis on a beach that is spacious, cosmopolitan, and easy-going. But if you have a deep interest in electronic music as a punter, Sydney can become a wealth of other contradictory things as well: fun-loving, yes, but conservative. Idyllic but isolated. Full of potential, but frustratingly geared towards the loudest, flashiest extremes of the electronic music spectrum.

Despite this ongoing duality, one thing has remained constant for dear old Sydders: there is and has been a strong tradition of local producers and musicians who have infiltrated all shades of electronic music on an international scale. This group of ten (actually, eleven) of the best Sydney natives, transplants, and expats really only scratches the surface, but still covers some excellent examples of industrial, rave, hip-hop, bass, house, and other all-sorts.

Severed Heads – Bless The House [LTM Recordings]

Starting at the beginning with the now-defunct EBM icons, whose rotating lineup revolved around the central figure of Tom Ellard, Severed Heads formed in 1979 and succeeded in opening up industrial music to pop, new wave, and 4/4 influences over the following decade, leaving a legacy that inspired Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy, and that is frequently name-checked alongside Cabaret Voltaire and Art of Noise.

Peret Mako – Air A Dime [Future Classic]

Peret von Sturmer not only boasts one of the most impressive names in electronic music, he also happens to be one of Sydney’s finest DJs and producers. A classically trained saxophonist who also works in sound design for the gaming industry, he picks up scattered sound and music influences in magpie fashion, arranging them into delicate, idiosyncratic, and whimsical tracks that always hook you with a sly groove.

Itch-E & Scratch-E – Imperial Rockets (Deepchild Remix) [Downright]

This duo is synonymous with the halcyon days of Sydney’s ‘90s rave scene. They crossed over with the anthem “Sweetness and Light,” then became notorious for thanking their drug dealer during a television awards broadcast. After going off the radar for much of last decade, they reformed in 2010. This is a two-for-the-price-of-one entry, as here is one of their latest efforts, as remixed by another of Sydney’s most respected sons, Deepchild.

Katalyst – Passing Of Peace [Invada]

Ashley Anderson co-created what is by far my favorite Australian electronic album, the self-titled Moonrock, alongside the late Illpickl. Since then, he’s been plying his trademark sound: elegant, cinematic downtempo that is rooted in hip-hop. He found a kindred spirit in Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, with whom he started the Invada label, and he continues to be one of Australia’s best proponents of hip-hop, soul, and downtempo, with recent projects coming out through respected imprints BBE and Stones Throw.

The Presets – Kitty In The Middle [Modular]

Electronic music is often—sometimes quite rightly—criticized for not being able to translate to a live setting. The Presets are one of the best when it comes to literally “putting on a show,” with their snake-hipped, tub-thumping version of naughty electro pop. Thankfully, they aren’t one-trick ponies, having laid down some truly memorable tracks since the mid-2000s. 

Africa Hitech – Out In The Street [Warp Records]

This one is a little bit of a cheat, as both Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek originate from the UK, but they formed Africa Hitech after separately emigrating south. Both of them came to the project with their own enviable discography, but they have exploded with the hectic, grimey, electronic dancehall mutations of Africa Hitech, with “Out In The Street” reaching outwards to bass, dubstep, and drum & bass dancefloors worldwide.

Pnau – The Last Track [Underwater Records]

Pnau serve as both a heartwarming underdog success story and a cautionary tale. Their independent debut album of 1999, Sambanova, became a word-of-mouth success, attracting a major label re-release… only to be taken off the shelves as they were rapped over the knuckles for their sample-heavy tracks that weren’t exactly authorized. Nevertheless, they’ve remained a popular mainstay of the Sydney circuit, and one of that album’s tracks, the titular final cut, was included in the UK version of their sophomore album, Again.

Dro Carey – Talk Smak [Ramp Recordings]

There’s really not much that I can say about Dro Carey that hasn’t already been said over the last year. Simply put, he is one of the most exciting new talents on the bass-music landscape, and an intriguing indicator of the creative talent in Sydney that lurks just under the radar. 

Pivot – The Quick Mile [Warp Records]

The second Sydney collective from this list to have been snapped up by the iconic label Warp, the latter-day PVT, formerly known as Pivot, create beautiful music with hazy electronic production, rolling post-punk drums, and heartfelt vocals. 

Michelle Owen – Perchance To Dream (Chez Damier Secret Sunday 12-inch Mix) [Moodmusic]

Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with this lady for a long time, since we first rubbed shoulders behind the counter of a Sydney record store. Since then, Michelle has gone from strength to strength in house music circles, most recently joining forces with Moodmusic and being remixed by housemeister Chez Damier.

**Download the entire Power Of Ten: Sounds Of Sydney chart here.