In May 2017, The Smith Street Band released More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me, an album tracing the narrative of the struggling Australian 20-something navigating the tribulations of love, share houses and anxiety. Frontman Wil Wagner’s heart-on-your-sleeve style of punk poeticism screams triumph in the face of adversity and is deeply entrenched with tropes that define an underdog. Deeply resonating with fans, the album has been praised for its vivid portrayals of the middle class, growing up, and lovesickness. It’s the suburban blues at their rawest.
The ‘Battler’ is a figure imbued within the Australian psyche. Characters who embody dark horse qualities, are fair and inclusive, and make the most of unfavorable circumstances have constantly served as the central figures in national film, television and literature. The advent of Australian ‘pub rock’ saw artists like Cold Chisel exemplify the realities of working-class life in a post-Vietnam War society, while cultural milestone The Castle features a family proud of the treasures of modest suburbia. Providing insight into the slow burning gentrification of the inner-city and outlining the unforgiving nature of blue-collared work, our national identity has been shaped by these figures from pop culture who exude ‘authenticity’ and honesty.
On face value, these icons seem distant from the millennials who are frequently lambasted by the media as selfish, navel-gazing and apathetic. Cultural markers such as Afterpay, Splendour In The Grass and dirty chai lattes are far removed from the battler lexicon, with current media frames locating millennials outside of perceived national norms, furthering a generational divide. However, struggles to pay off HECS debts, higher rates of mental illness and slimmed employment opportunities have things looking grim. It’s a struggle that has manifested itself in a sense of belonging and mutual compassion among our generation. And despite this “othering” brought on by legacy media, millennials are currently forging their own chapter of battler history in Australia.
On the track ‘Birthdays’, Wil Wagner bellows, “we are more than future housewives”. It’s cathartic, aware and vulnerable, and telling of how Australian indie punk bands are voicing a new generation of underdogs. Forgotten by the government and misunderstood, acts like Luca Brasi, Ceres and Camp Cope are acting on the emotional freedom that is embraced by millennials, while simultaneously haring back to the ideals that have shaped the Australian identity. Taking this trope and tailoring it to young people who are socially and politically aware, these artists are using their platform to open a dialogue to speak on current ‘underdog’ issues. Each band is distinctly Australian in sound and aesthetic, with over exaggerated ocker accents and references to suburban stations permeating their lyrics.
Previously, Australian punk music and the Australian identity itself has revealed machismo rather than vulnerability and expression. Artists like Bodyjar and Frenzal Rhomb were notorious for exuding a mind-numbing bravado. The Smith Street Band break down this toxic masculinity in a lyrical sense — “it’s hard to not feel loved right now” — and actively speak out against gig violence to ensure their shows are safe spaces for all. Luca Brasi joined Camp Cope’s #ItTakesOne campaign which, in a similar microcosm, addresses the gender inequalities in the music scene as reflected in wider society. Camp Cope have utilised their distinct reach to spearhead a newfound dialogue for gender politics in Australian music. Acts like Ceres and The Hard Aches have embedded their work with an “it’s okay to not be okay” attitude, exuding vulnerability.
In June last year, Luca Brasi covered Paul Kelly’s ‘How To Make Gravy’, a song deeply embedded within the national psyche as encompassing every aspect of the battler persona, on triple j’s Like A Version,. Its true-blue charm was only amplified by Brasi’s slightly off-key inflections, a haven of simplicity in a world gone mad. As long as smashed avos remain on brunch menus, millennials will continue to cop a lambasting.But if our champions continue to croon on the virtues of tinnies, surely we can arrive at a renaissance in generational understanding.