Looking back at Melbourne's 'Little Band Scene'

Looking back at Melbourne's 'Little Band Scene'

To celebrate scene pioneers, Use No Hooks, playing their first show in three decades.

Header images via PunkJourney.

I'd like to think I'm fairly knowledgable when it comes to the various scenes that have come and gone in Australian music over the years, but until today; I had absolutely no idea that Melbourne's "Little Band Scene" of the late 70s and early 80s ever existed. The news that Use No Hooks, one of the intriguing scene's most influential outfits, are reforming after three decades for a one off show later this month (details HERE), prompted me to do some digging into the history of the scene. It turns out that, despite only lasting three years and being largely unknown to many; the Little Band Scene was one of Australia's most influential and groundbreaking musical movements - so much so that it inspired the 1986 cult film, Dogs In Space. We've compiled a bit of background on the LBS to get you up to scratch and prime you for the Use No Hooks show on October 23 at Belleville in Melbourne.

The Little Band Scene was born in Melbourne in 1978, with experimental post-punk bands taking to small venues and pubs throughout St Kilda and Fitzroy. The pioneering band for the scene was a four-piece outfit called Primitive Calculators who formed a side band, The Leapfrogs, to open for their own set. This lead to further "small bands" being formed with mates and members of other bands, and thus the Little Band Scene was born. There were a tonne of acts associated with the scene but most of them were short lived, as the whole driving force of the movement was to pursue artistic expression over mainstream or financial success. Alan Bamford, a little band member, radio presenter and somewhat of a LBS hero, recorded entire evenings of performances from bands on a reel-to-reel tape recorder and broadcast them live on community radio station 3RRR.

One of the coolest things I learned about the Little Band Scene was the fact that pretty much all audience members were also members of little bands, regardless of whether they really knew how to play an instrument or not. This meant that there was a constant influx of both new bands and new fans into the tight knit community. Shows would generally end up with audience members climbing on stage for impromptu performances, sharing instruments and microphones with whichever band happened to be on stage at the time. Shows were chaotic and bands were only ever temporary, the entire scene was a passing storm of likeminded musos who were sick to death of pop music and the bullshit that went with it.

When the Little Band Scene first came to be in 1978 and "Little Band nights" kicked off at inner city venues, two strict rules were put in place for performing bands. Rule One: No band could perform more than twice in a night. Rule Two: Little bands could have no more than 15 minutes worth of material. This meant that up to 10 bands could play the one venue on any given evening, smashing out 'power sets', with members playing in as many as five or six different bands on the one night.

In early 1980, members of Primitive Calculators and Whirlywirld (a band made up of Primitive Calculators members) moved to Europe and London, and the Little Band Scene shifted its focus to the shared spaces of two bands; The Inbcredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies and Use No Hooks, but by early 1981 the scene had more or less fizzled out; the exact way it always intended to.

Several little bands went on to form larger, commercially successful bands in later years. Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry met through the scene and went on to form Dead Can Dance, members of The Jetsonnes formed Hunters and Collectors and members of Serious Young Insects became Boom Crash Opera. In 1986, Richard Lowenstein directed Dogs In Space; a cult film that offers a semi-fictional insight into the Little Band Scene, starring INXS frontman Michael Hutchence. Lowenstein again shone a light on the LBS with his 2009 documentary, We're Livin' on Dog Food, a production that features rare footage of little band performances along with interviews from some of the biggest names in the scene. 

The Little Band Scene sounds like it was the ultimate 'good time' musical community, free from boundaries and pretentious wankers. This was effectively a scene built on getting up on stage with your mates and playing music for the hell of it. If you couldn't actually sing or play an instrument, fuck it, you got up there and had a crack anyway because you knew you wouldn't be judged. A scene like this was never going to last long, there was simply no way it could, but the mark the Little Band Scene left in the early 80's has helped to shape the face of Melbourne and Australian music for the past 30 years, and continues to do so. 

If you're in Melbourne on Sunday, October 23, you can catch Use No Hooks, one of the biggest little bands (confusing, right?), playing their first show in over three decades; channelling the vibe of one of Australia's most fascinating musical movements. Do The Job! are behind the special event, with support from ANDRÁS and TOTAL GIOVANNI DJs. Click HERE to get the lowdown.

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