Think Canberra is mainly just home to jerk-off politicians, Questacon and heaps of roundabouts? Think again, for where there is politics, there will be punk and in case you didn’t know, Canberra has punk in spades.
Emerging from a rich history of Canberra’s vagabonds and no-gooders, Wives are the next in line to carry the punk rock torch.
Say hello to Wives. Formerly known as Sweet Shoppe, and containing a member or two from capital city heroes TV Colours, the group are a pretty big deal in Canberra’s local scene, which means you should listen to them. Now.
First, whet your appetite with Streets (Deep Heat), which is like a punk version of one of the Neighbourhood tracks from Arcade Fire‘s first album. Vocalist Anja Loughhead has one of the most interesting voices I’ve heard in a long time. Often sing-song, with a broad Aussie accent, it also has the rough edge to it that you would expect from this genre. Like all really good groups to grace the scene, Wives manage to blend hollers with harmonies, and this coupled with low-fi guitar and drums, makes for something super interesting.
Wives are just the most recent in a long history of punk groups to come out of Canberra. In fact, Nick Cave once said that he didn’t like the city because there were too many punks. And when Nick Cave says something, you’d better believe it. One of the most notable of these groups was Young Docteurs, who formed in 1978. Like Wives, Young Docteurs managed to blend some great harmonies with attitude as well as a dash of psych-rock.
Journalist Helen Razer reportedly even fronted a band known as The Pheremones, which while not necessarily inspiring Wives, certainly set a precedent for awesome female-fronted punk bands from Canberra. Other bands such as Vacant Lot, Hell Yes and Crow were also celebrated in the scene.
In the present day, delve a little further into Wives’ back catalog with Apartment, a moody track delving into the claustrophobia and isolation of domesticity and heartbreak. This is definitely the most affecting of their songs; the repetition of lyrics “I sit and watch the TV colours glow” and droning guitar create a moody tone not felt on others.
Going back to the history of the Canberra punk scene, it seems that it has remained pretty active since the seventies wave. This is in part thanks to venues like the now-shuttered Terrace Bar and ANU’s bar that gave fans somewhere to congregate, as well as bands like Gathugga Pipeline and Thalidomide who kept the scene going. Canberran legends Lamexcuse were the kings of the scene in the early-to-mid 2000s, and were in-keeping with the So-Cal pop-punk wave of that time. Recently, groups like Super Best Friends and Primary Colours have been passed the baton, dragging the genre into the 21st century.
Which brings us back to Wives. Their latest track Buried is super modern sounding, melodic and the closest thing to a punk-rock Yeah Yeah Yeahs that I’ve heard. Loughhead’s vocals are incredibly interesting to listen to, and not really comparable to anything that’s come out of any genre of late. Distorted guitars and some pretty cool riffs complement the vocal to a T. The mid section sees a lot of dynamics coming through with the layering of even more distortion and a solid bass line.
If you’re a punk rock fan, this is the music you would have sweet dreams to. A little weird, a little wonderful, a lot awesome. Do yourself a favour and check out Wives, and then the rest of Canberra’s rich and fascinating punk scene. You won’t be disappointed.