It must have come as a relief to many Australian musicians that maligned guitar-pop genre tag “dolewave” met an untimely end the other week. I imagine it would have been the only relief Australian musicians took from the 2014 budget. As one of my students put it, “Joe Hockey just killed dolewave”. In the coming years when we glance back at this moment in Australian independent music, this budget will be the exact point at which these bands all became something else.
Dolewave, for the uninitiated, refers to a a set of Australian artists sharing a ramshackle, DIY approach to guitar pop. Or rather, it did. With a sound reminiscent of The Chills and The Clean and other scrappy artists taken from New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records, the dolewave tag has – in recent months – been unceremoniously thrown over a variety of bands, including Dick Diver, Twerps, and The Stevens.
Yet the employment status of these artists is unknown. They share the aforementioned stylistic similarities but as do many bands operating in the Australian underground. Thus, dolewave, in a sense, is empty.
Contrary to popular belief, music genres have almost always been this fluid and fickle. Dolewave appeared from the ether, its origin buried deep in the online message-board of music website Mess & Noise. This a message board with its own nickname: The Shame Cauldron, a place well-known for its ribald, personal and absurdist bent.
And so it was, from this pre-Facebook relic, that dolewave came. Once uttered, dolewave repeated like a meme, equal parts in-joke, insult and hash-tag shorthand. Meanwhile, Mess Noise’s own editor, Doug Wallen, made a case for The New Melbourne Jangle. It didn’t take. Dolewave it was. The internet had spoken.
Like Seattle’s wildly diverse rock genre grunge (containing everything from garage-pop to Sabbath-esque metal), the dolewave bands were an eclectic bunch, hewn more by networks of friendship, small recording labels and the ad-hoc nature of independent music touring, rather than musical style.
Brisbane’s Bedroom Suck imprint was one of many hubs for this music, releasing albums from the propulsive Boomgates, the coy-sounding (but anything but) Bitch Prefect, and the skin-crawling jitters of Kitchen’s Floor.
The only musicological schematic that could be meaningfully laid over any of this is a dedication to the electric guitar and that rough echo of Flying Nun. Aesthetically, the dolewave acts were diverse in their approach to song-writing. What bound them together, if anything, was a fixed approach to album production.
There has not been a dolewave record that sounds as if it were slaved over in a studio. The success of Melbourne’s Eddy Current Suppression Ring and their practice-room-recorded, lower-fidelity albums feels relevant and instructive here.
These bands are, almost to a tee, a collection of artists that have chosen to sound rough-and-ready, and occasionally unskilled, in an era in which digital perfection is close to hand. This is a sound that reflects the gentrifying impulse of our modern cities, places that push live music venues more squarely towards closure and curatorial conservatism.
The sound of dolewave often mirrors the live performance realities many Australian bands find themselves in: small shows, accommodated in residential houses, RSL clubs, community spaces and warehouses.
Despite dolewave’s flimsy premise, the pseudonym eventually proved alluring to Australia’s small coterie of music critics. A recent round of blog entries examined the general vibe of it, with writers such as Shaun Prescott, Max Easton and myself positioning dolewave as a reflection of contemporary life on the edges of Australia’s major cities; low in income, share-house-bound and dissatisfied with neoliberalism, dolewave was pitched to the reader as both celebration and sad depiction of what it means to live outside of opportunity, if not privilege.
None of this critique, posted by three freelancers, was filed to the paid outlets we wrote for. To even mention it is almost to overstate it. These blog pieces all remained deeply provisional until one of Australia’s more prominent music critics (Everett True) summarised them for a piece in The Guardian, recognising and perpetuating a slightly broader level of interest.
As such, like many genres before it, dolewave remained a borderline derogatory joke that – as an exercise – a few critics took seriously and not a single person who played in any of these bands earnestly adopted.
Even within these constraints, dolewave doesn’t really exist: it is barely with us at the present and it certainly has no future. Within the granular analysis of blog posts, dolewave remains – at its essence – a product and a document of a life that the current government is striving to stamp out.
At the heart of these bands is a distinct flavour of making do. They are almost stoic in their approach to keeping things achievable, repeatable, and reproducible. The context of this specific iteration of DIY will be stripped out shortly, and this barely formed genre will evaporate with it.
It’s almost a pity. In the future, with a six-month wait for unemployment benefits, a generation living at home (forget the luxury of a share-house) and a compounding type of debt that simply did not exist for their parents, it’s easy to think: who will have the time and energy for pop jangle in this muck?
Or more to the point, who will ever conceive of dolewave’s charm and simplicity as being anywhere near enough? No-one. I think we’re headed for angrier times and in the future, if anyone thinks of dolewave as a unified front representing anything, it will be budget night 2014 that scatters the imagined community and draws the story to a close.
This recent budget directly, and unashamedly, attacks the very lived experience of the dolewave musicians. The artists themselves are sick to death of hearing about it (just read any Dick Diver interview of late). There’s no doubt in my mind, Hockey’s budget will present an irresistible marker of where dolewave “broke and rolled back”. It’ll be the end of something that barely existed.