As incredulous as it may seem today, in 1980, Led Zeppelin were petrified at the prospect of becoming culturally irrelevant. The rising popularity of genres like punk and new wave were starting to render the rock ‘n roll heroes of yesteryear obsolete, and it was appearing more and more evident that the band’s onstage antics were beginning to wear thin on audiences – apparently, it only took three years for 20 minute drum solos and violin bow guitar solos to go out of style.
When Led Zeppelin agreed to embark on a 14 date tour around Europe that year, they went about ensuring that the tour would represent them as being a band of the times; not just a dinosaur act from last decade playing out the hits to an aging fan base. The legendary quartet stripped back all the lights and lasers that had adorned their stage set-up in the years prior, and even removed some of their more bombastic tracks like ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘No Quarter’ from their set-list, delivering nothing but the hard rocking energy that saw them conquer the world in the first place.
As their final show in Berlin proved, Led Zeppelin were still very much in their prime (bar a few sloppy solos from Page) and John Bonham was still a total dynamo behind the drum kit. Throughout the 14 song set, which you can listen to below, Bonham’s trademark pounding grooves are as potent as ever, with ‘Trampled Under Foot’ and a climactic 16 minute version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ seeing him thrash his kit into oblivion one final time onstage: he really was something quite special. Rest in peace to a true legend of rock ‘n roll.
Find out how to get the classic Bonham ‘When The Levee Breaks’ sound in this Abbey Road session.
On the contrary, there’s plenty of examples in The Beatles’ discography that prove Ringo’s ability to not only hold time, but throw in some pretty expressive fills and unique breaks as well. Starr’s unorthodox approach to drumming might be the butt of many a great joke, but it’s also quite hard to replicate properly, and if anything, it’s a style that can only be pinned down to Ringo.
To celebrate the 80th birthday of the beloved Beatles drummer, we’re taking a look at some of his best moments behind the kit with the Fab Four to get a deeper understanding of his whacky technqiue, breaking down exactly what makes Ringo Starr such a unique drummer within rock ‘n roll history.
‘Rain’ – Paperback Writer (1966)
Paul McCartney’s ludicrously good bass tone in this track can’t hurt at all, but make no mistake: ‘Rain’ is by all means a Ringo standout. Released in 1966 as the B-Side to ‘Paperback Writer’ (and supposedly inspired by the tepid drizzle experienced when the band toured Australia in 1964), ‘Rain’ is peppered with insane drum fills from Ringo, who went to down on his Ludwig set to deliver some of the best breaks ever heard on a Beatles song.
Starr’s performance on ‘Rain’ is rated by many critics and Beatles historians as being his best in the band’s discography, with even Ringo himself agreeing that it was his standout moment, telling Rolling Stone in 1984 that “I think it’s the best out of all the records I’ve ever made. ‘Rain’ blows me away … I know me and I know my playing … and then there’s ‘Rain’.
‘Come Together’ – Abbey Road (1969)
It’s on songs like ‘Come Together’ where the simple genius of Ringo Starr really shines through. The tom-tom introduction ranks right up there with one of the most recognisable drum intros of all time, and even though it’s rudimentary as hell, the subtlety of his playing is something that many an accomplished drummer has striven to achieve on a session since.
Fun fact: if you listen to Ringo’s isolated ‘Come Together’ drum track from the Abbey Road sessions, you can actually hear he plays an ascending tom roll, starting with the floor tom and ending on the rack tom, which makes sense, given he’s a leftie playing a right-handed setup. It’s these kinds of unorthodox touches that really made his style unique, and man does it make for one hell of an intro.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – Revolver (1966)
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ isn’t just a track, it’s a psychedelic trip unto itself. The closer to the band’s seminal LP Revolver (and the first track recorded for the album, weirdly enough) saw the Fab Four embark on a radical departure from their typical sound, creating a hypnogogic epic that aimed to replicate the sound of a thousand Tibetan monks chanting from a mountain top.
As most Beatles fans will know, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is a bit of a marvel in the band’s catalogue for a number of reasons. George Martin’s use of tape loops, sampling, Eastern drones, Leslie speaker and multi-tracked vocals proved to be pioneering several times over, but it’s Ringo’s drums that take the cake for this track. Starr’s pounding ostinato and Martin’s clever use of reversed cymbals make this groove one for the ages, and arguably even laid the foundations for the ubiquitous Madchester beats of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
‘Ticket To Ride’ – Help! (1965)
One of the biggest running jokes among Beatles fans is that Ringo’s drumming is like falling down the stairs: he’s remarkably sloppy, yet somehow never fails to keep time and rarely ever misses a fill. If there’s any track that displays just how great Starr’s sloppiness can be, it’s ‘Ticket To Ride’, where his wildly swung drums help to add yet another hook to what’s already such a melodically potent tune.
Here, Ringo takes a relatively straightforward groove and adds in more swing than Mitchell Starc bowling down the line from the Members End at a Boxing Day test match, making one of the wonkiest grooves the Starr Man ever tracked to tape. Hell, if this beat were programmed into an MPC with a head-snapping kick and snare, it’d even sound like something J Dilla would’ve cooked up. In all seriousness, however, it’s these kinds of wonky beats that helped to establish bit of a cult following for Ringo’s style, and there’s a lot of finesse needed to make sure it works well.
‘I Feel Fine’ – I Feel Fine (1964)
Let’s not beat around the bush: this drumbeat is a straight rip off of the beat heard on Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say?’. Regardless, it holds up as being one of Ringo’s slickest drum performances ever put to tape: the way he approaches the ride cymbal is something every budding jazz drummer should study, and his snare rudiments to accent the beat are simply sublime. It’s an uncharacteristically jazzy and complex beat for a drummer who’s best known for being quite rudimentary, which brings up an interesting point: is it even Ringo?
As the legendary Bernard Purdie once claimed, The Beatles used to employ the use of session drummers to play over Ringo’s sloppy grooves, infamously stating in 2004 that “There are four drummers on the Beatles records. Ringo’s not one of them.” We’re not going to add anything else to this debate, but it’s definitely an interesting conspiracy theory, and we’re certainly not going to say anything to contradict the legend that is Bernard Purdie.
‘A Day In The Life’ – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
When discussing Starr’s drum technique, a lot of musicians pinpoint ‘A Day In The Life’ as being one of the standout moments in The Beatles’ discography, but probably not for the reason you’d think. ‘A Day In The Life’ sees Ringo not only hold down the rhythm, but also add a whole new dynamic by adopting a melodic approach towards his drumming, using his toms to provide counterpoint to McCartney’s descending bassline in a way that’s incredibly difficult for the average drummer to replicate.
Ringo’s drumming on ‘A Day In The Life’ proved to be incredibly influential to a young Phil Collins, who would later discuss Starr’s idiosyncratic approach to the kit in an interview years on. “Ringo is vastly underrated. The drum fills on the song ‘A Day In The Life’ are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, ‘I want it like that.’ He wouldn’t know what to do.”
‘She Said She Said’ – Revolver (1966)
Yet another premium example of Starr’s sloppy genius, this Revolver album cut sees Starr and McCartney lock in for one of the best grooves on the album. From the head-bopping ghost notes to the snare rolls, ‘She Said She Said’ is a total Ringo tour de force, and to seal the deal, he even flawlessly executes the various time signature changes throughout the tune – it truly is avant garde drumming at its finest.
One notable aspect of this tune is how overzealous the compression on the drums is, courtesy of George Martin and his trusty Fairchild 670 Limiter. If you listen closely, you can hear that Ringo’s kick drum is triggering a heavy dosage of compression on his crash cymbal, creating a whopping, explosive ‘squashing’ sound each time he hits his kick. This approach is considered by many producers and engineers as being one of the earliest instances of side-chaining: a popular ‘pumping’ compression technique favoured by artists like Daft Punk to create their booming drum tracks several decades after.
‘Here Comes The Sun’ – Abbey Road (1969)
Abbey Road is chock-full of killer Ringo drum moments. Of course, there’s ‘Come Together’ to contend with, but Starr’s playing on ‘The End’ is quite impressive, and the mind-boggling amount of toms on ‘Something’ is something entirely of itself. However, there’s nothing quite like Ringo’s playing on ‘Here Comes The Sun’, which sees the Starr Lord effortlessly flex between 11/8, 4/4, and 7/8 time as if he were some weird mutant drum machine (or, perhaps, Bernard Purdie).
‘Here Comes The Sun’ also boasts one of the best Beatles bridge sections ever, where Ringo absolutely lets loose and delivers some of the most insane fills he ever put to tape with the Fab Four. When asked about his fills on the song by a journalist, Starr reportedly dismissed the notion that he had worked out the meticulous embellishments prior to jumping into the booth, saying “I don’t say, ‘Oh, 16 bars in I’ll do that.’ I have no idea at all what I’m going to do. It just happens.” A similar anecdote could perhaps be applied to Ringo’s entire career, but at the end of the day, isn’t that what makes Ringo the Starr he is?
Discover how The Beatles recorded their classic 1968 LP The White Album in this retrospective feature.
The new dates for Under The Southern Stars were announced in mid-March with the festival set to go ahead in February/March 2021. There have been ongoing concerns as to whether international touring will be allowed by then given the differing COVID-19 situations overseas, but UTSS have publicly announced that they’d like to lay the blueprint for a return to normal, outlining a number of steps to ensure the international acts can enjoy a safe venture.
Dubbed the ‘COVID-Safe Road Map’, UTSS promoter Andrew McManus has partnered with Geoff Jones, of touring giant TEG Live, to ask the federal government to use Under The Southern Stars as the “test case” for future live music events that involve international touring.
The plan to be lobbied to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, will incorporate a number of precautionary measures to ensure the tour is safe.
The steps for the ‘COVID-Safe Road Map’ are as follows:
All three acts will travel with essential band members only, alongside two support staff, and will be COVID-tested before leaving Los Angeles for Australia.
A second COVID-19 test will be conducted after the band and support staff arrive in Australia.
The bands will then be quarantined at an isolated compound with a rehearsal studio, for 14 days.
The acts will hire an Australian tour crew to replace the band’s usual touring team.
Segregated sections on flights and “military style” transfers between Australian cities for the bands and crew.
Locked hotel floors for band crew.
Punters must download the COVID-Safe app before attending the show.
Temperature checks to be completed at the gig while those attending adhere to strict social distancing measures.
Shows will be capped at 70 per cent of total capacity.
“We want to be part of the solution, not part of the COVID problem,” UTSS’ McManus says of the plan. “We want to work with government at all levels, federal, state and local to formulate a plan that can get our industry off its knees.
“There needs to be a road map made, and we feel we can be a flag point for the industry to reopen its doors. If the festival becomes a “test case”, we will share the road map at no cost, to operate all future festivals in this country.”
Under The Southern Stars is set to take place across 11 dates, starting with Perth’s HBF Arena on Tuesday February 16. The Victorian dates include a show at Hastings Foreshore Reserve on Saturday February 20 and Port Melbourne’s The Timber Yard on Wednesday March 3.
For tickets and detailed information about all shows, head to the festival website. This story originally appeared on Beat Magazine.
Of course, Marr’s career can’t be solely pinned down to his playing with The Smiths – he’s appeared on albums with New Order’s Bernard Sumner, guested on a number of Modest Mouse records in the 2000s, and has enjoyed quite a successful solo career in his own right. However, it’s with The Smiths where Johnny’s guitar playing made its biggest impact, and as such, that’s where we’re turning our attention to today.
So, slap on your sunglasses, crank up your Fender Twin, and trek with us back to the ’80s to explore the seminal riffs of Johnny Marr and The Smiths.
‘The Headmaster Ritual’ – Meat Is Murder (1985)
At last year’s work break-up party, I remember having a conversation with a colleague, originally from Manchester. As he gleefully handed me a few cigarettes after learning of my Manchester United allegiance, the conversation soon turned to The Smiths. We discussed our favourite tracks, before he mentioned that he actually went to primary school with Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke. He then said something along the lines of: “You know the Headmaster from ‘The Headmaster Ritual’? He was the actual headmaster at our school.” Taken aback, I asked: “Was he really as bad as what Morrissey made him out to be?” to which he replied: “Yeah. He was a right c*nt.”
Being a song about a grotesque school principal, it’s only fitting that Marr would give us a pretty flagrant chord progression throughout the track. His guitar is tuned to E Major, which allows for a variety of suspended, extended chords that you’d typically find in jazz to percolate the jangly Smiths aura. The riff ensues, before Andy Rourke’s ferocious P-Bass barges its way into the mix with a genius countermelody.
‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ – The World Won’t Listen (1987)
The Smiths adhered to somewhat of a ‘Dogme 95’ approach to their songwriting: no overdrive, no solos, and no layered vocals. ‘Shoplifters’ does everything in its might to not only break these rules, but defiantly burn the rulebook itself. Marr’s guitar sets up a persistent 16th note pattern, using some uncharacteristically hefty distortion, while Rourke mirrors this driving pattern on the bass. Morrissey’s vocals in the chorus are nicely layered, and for once, actually in tune. Marr then rips out a rare solo for the ages; it’s got melody, guts and is peppered with Gilmour-style harmonics.
‘How Soon is Now?’ – Hatful of Hollow (1984)
There aren’t many songs that are immediately recognisable within the first second of listening. But this one definitely is. Marr recalled that “I wanted an introduction that was almost as potent as ‘Layla’… when it plays at a pub or a club, everyone knows what it is.” Marr recorded the unmistakeable warbling guitar part on an Epiphone Casino going through a Fender Twin Reverb, first without the vibrato effect.
Marr and producer Stephen Street then applied the vibrato to the track, using another Fender Twin. “We had to keep all the amps vibrating in time to the track and each other, so we had to keep stopping and starting, recording in ten second bursts.” It’s pretty remarkable to think that what started out as a hotboxed studio jam eventually went on to become one of the signature tracks of the ‘80s. However, it’s inconceivable to think that this would have been the case were it not for the creative panache of Johnny Marr.
‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ – Hatful of Hollow (1984)
No guitarist – with the exception of Jimmy Page – could get four guitar layers to lock together as well as Johnny Marr, and it’s this single that best exemplifies his adeptness as an arranger. The track starts with some sparse, whammy-infused chords, before gaining traction as Morrissey’s typically dreary vocals come in. Marr then incorporates some funkily glossy rhythmic work, reminiscent of his idol Nile Rodgers.
While Morrissey moans about looking for a job then finding one, it’s clear that Marr is working numerous jobs at once. His playing gradually becomes busier, with some melodic yet unobtrusive lines that highlight a special penchant in crafting the perfect guitar accompaniment. All the while, Marr’s melodicism is reciprocated in Andy Rourke’s phenomenal bass part, whose extensive use of tenth chords fills out the lush harmonic textures set up by the guitarist.
‘Cemetry Gates’ – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
The most brilliant thing about The Smiths was their ability to create a world within which their music exists. No other song, in my opinion, showcases this better than ‘Cemetry Gates’, from their timeless 1986 LP The Queen Is Dead. I would say that this is probably the brightest moment on the album, largely thanks to Johnny Marr’s ingenious choice of chords, as well as his layering arrangements. The guitar craftsman mainly relies on a few Major chords to give this song its sparkly vibe; this sonic shimmer is extended by the guitars on which these chords are played.
As the song progresses, Marr lays down a handful of acoustic and electric layers that gradually grow in texture. This unique talent ultimately defines the guitarist’s status as one of the cleverest proponents of the instrument.
Watch Johnny Marr play through classic Smiths riffs in this Ernie Ball String Theory episode.
This year sees the likes of Julia Jacklin, Sampa The Great, Stella Donnelly and The Teskey Brothers leading the nominations, while other artists in the mix include Flume, Pond, Tones & I, Haiku Hands, Dom Dolla, Dyson Stringer Cloher and more.
Coinciding with Indie-Con Australia, the AIR Awards are slated to go down on Thursday October 1, with organisers discussing the possibility of an online event if COVID restrictions are still in place.
“The Indie-Con Australia conference provides the music industry both nationally and locally an opportunity to come together to support each other through these challenging times as well as have important conversations about navigating the future,” South Australia’s Innovation and Skills Minister David Pisoni said today in a statement.
“The AIR Awards will recognise and celebrate the inspiring talent of Australia’s independent artists during what has been a tough time for the music industry. Congratulations to all the award nominees on their success.”
Check out the full list of nominees below.
Independent Album Of The Year:
Ainslie Wills – All You Have Is All You Need
Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Sampa The Great – The Return
Stella Donnelly – Beware Of The Dogs
The Teskey Brothers – Run Home Slow
Independent Song Of The Year:
Ainslie Wills – ‘Fear Of Missing Out’
Dom Dolla – ‘San Frandisco’
Julia Jacklin – ‘Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’
Sampa The Great – ‘Final Form’
Tones And I – ‘Dance Monkey’
Breakthrough Independent Artist Of The Year – Presented By PPCA:
Tones And I
Best Independent Hip-Hop Album or EP:
Allday – Starry Night Over The Phone
Horrorshow – New Normal
Sampa The Great – The Return
Shadow – Cream
Tasman Keith & Stevie Jean – Evenings
Best Independent Soul/R’n’B Album or EP:
Caiti Baker – The Dust (pt. 1)
Jordan Rakei – Origin
Laneous – Monstera Deliciosa
The Soul Movers – Bona Fide
Tiana Khasi – Meghalaya
Best Independent Country Album or EP:
Charlie Collins – Snowpine
Cool Sounds – More To Enjoy
Felicity Urquhart – Frozen Rabbit
Lee Kernaghan – Backroad Nation
Lucky Oceans – Purple Sky
Best Independent Blues And Roots Album or EP:
Bobby Alu – Flow
Dyson Stringer Cloher – Dyson Stringer Cloher
Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Paul Kelly – Live At The Sydney Opera House
The Teskey Brothers – Run Home Slow
Best Independent Pop Album or EP:
Cub Sport – Cub Sport
G Flip – About Us
Jack River – Sugar Mountain (Deluxe)
Stella Donnelly – Beware Of The Dogs
Tones And I – The Kids Are Coming
Best Independent Rock Album or EP:
Angie Mcmahon – Salt
Bad//Dreems – Doomsday Ballet
Jess Ribeiro – Love Hate
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
Pond – Tasmania
Best Independent Heavy Album or EP:
Alpha Wolf – Fault
Northlane – Alien
Ocean Sleeper – Don’t Leave Me This Way
Superheist – Sidewinder
Thornhill – The Dark Pool
Best Independent Punk Album or EP:
Ausmuteants – …Present The World In Handcuffs
Dear Seattle – Don’t Let Go
Dz Deathrays – Positive Rising: Part 1
The Gooch Palms – III
Hexdebt – Rule Of Four
Best Independent Dance or Electronica Album or EP:
Flume – Hi This Is Flume (Mixtape)
Hermitude – Pollyanarchy
Huntly – Low Grade Buzz
The Jungle Giants – Heavy Hearted 1,2,3,4 AM Remixes
Sui Zhen – Losing, Linda
Best Independent Dance, Electronica or Club Single:
Confidence Man – ‘Does It Make You Feel Good?’
Dom Dolla – ‘San Frandisco’
Flume – ‘Rushing Back (Feat. Vera Blue)’
Haiku Hands – ‘Dare You Not To Dance’
PNAU – ‘Solid Gold’
Best Independent Jazz Album or EP:
Angela Davis – Little Did They Know
Joe Chindamo – Arias
Kate Ceberano and Paul Grabowsky – Tryst
Mike Nock; Hamish Stuart; Julien Wilson; Jonathan Zwartz – This World
Phil Slater – The Dark Pattern
Best Independent Classical Album or EP:
Amy Dickson – In Circles
Joseph Tawadros – Betrayal Of A Sacred Sunflower
Katie Noonan and Australian String Quartet – The Glad Tomorrow
Richard Tognetti & Erin Helyard – Beethoven & Mozart Violin Sonatas
Stuart Skelton, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Asher Fisch – Tristan Und Isolde
Best Independent Children’s Album or EP:
Hillsong Kids – Songs Of Some Silliness
Pevan & Sarah – Be Kind
Regurgitator’s Pogogo Show – The Really Really Really Really Boring Album
The Vegetable Plot – Season Two
The Wiggles – Party Time!
Head to AIR’s website for all the details.
In addition to their local roster, which boasted the likes of The Avalanches, Bag Raiders, Wolfmother, Cut Copy, The Presets and Tame Impala at its commercial peak, Modular also represented international indie titans like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Rapture and The Klaxons, and even managed to coax Daft Punk into touring Australia in 2007 – the first and last agency to ever do so. The label was considered by many in the industry as being one of the most respected musical entities of the decade, with NME even crowning Modular Recordings in 2007 as ‘the coolest record label in the world.’
Although Modular as we once knew it doesn’t really exist in the same way today, its impact as a record label and, above all, a champion of authentic Australian music is yet to be matched by any other venture since. Today, we’re dialling it back to an era when electroclash reigned supreme exploring the story of Modular Recordings, tracing the impact of the titanic label through the seminal tunes released in their heyday.
1. ‘Prisoner Of Society’ – The Living End
Is there any better way to launch your record label by releasing one of the best Australian rock records of the past 25 years? Arriving in October 1998, The Living End’s self-titled debut album proved to a massive success for Modular in such an early stage of their existence, hitting #1 on the ARIA Album Charts and hanging in the top 50 for a whopping 63 weeks.
While ‘Prisoner Of Society’ itself technically wasn’t released on Modular (it was initially released on the band’s EP Second Solution / Prisoner Of Society in 1997), there’s no denying that its initial success ultimately landed them a spot on the Modular roster, and the rest is history.
2. ‘Cigarettes Will Kill You’ – Ben Lee
Arriving a mere month after The Living End’s debut, Ben Lee’s 1998 LP Breathing Tornados was lauded by the music press both at home and abroad, with Lee branching beyond the acoustic folk that defined his early releases to boldly experiment with drum machines, synths and samples – a recurring motif throughout many records released by Modular in the years to come.
Peaking at a respectable #13 on the ARIA Charts, Breathing Tornados didn’t quite match the standard set by The Living End’s debut, but it did feature one certified gem in the form of ‘Cigarettes Will Kill You’; Lee’s breakout song, which reached #2 in Triple J’s Hottest 100 of 1998 and helped poise him for further success in the years to come.
3. The Avalanches – ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’
If The Living End and Breathing Tornados put Modular on the map, then it was Since I Left You that asserted the label’s unrivalled status within the Australian musical landscape. Released into the world in November 2000, The Avalanches’ full-length debut was celebrated upon release as being one of the finest plunderphonics albums ever, with tracks like ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and ‘Since I Left You’ subsequently going down as some of the most unique Australian tracks of all time.
Pieced together from anywhere from 900 to 3,500 samples, creating Since I Left You proved to be a huge task for The Avalanches, yet as Robbie Chater recalled in a 2013 retrospective feature with Triple J, the band never experienced any pressure to complete the project from Modular. After all, Pavlovic literally minted Modular in 1998 to release the band’s music, with the label boss saying to The Sydney Morning Herald in 2008 that “I think when people are given enough time to develop their own je ne sais quoi, their own kind of magic, their own kind of thing, they’ll kind of get away from the obvious stuff. But that’s a process that takes a bit of time. So we tend to go for things that we believe there’s some kind of potential there.”
4. Eskimo Joe – ‘Wake Up’
It’s easy to forget that Perth alt-rockers Eskimo Joe once formed a key part of the Modular roster in its early days. The band’s 2001 debut album Girl proving to be a huge double platinum achievement for both parties, with singles like ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Who Sold Her Out’ receiving huge attention from Triple J and album cut ‘Sydney Song’ landing placement in a huge Kit Kat ad at the time.
Despite Girl’s success, Eskimo Joe were said to have experienced quite an unpleasant stay on the Modular roster, with the band even flat-out refusing to release their 2004 follow-up A Song Is A City on the label. Thankfully, Mushroom ended up buying out the band’s contract, and both parties were able to go their own ways without losing out.
5. The Presets – ‘Girl And The Sea’
With the release of The Presets’ 2005 album Beams, Modular began to further realise their potential as one of Australia’s greatest tastemaker labels of the ‘00s. While it proved to be contentious with critics at the time, Beams is now seen by many as being one of the most pivotal Australian dance records of its decade, thanks to both Julian Hamilton’s eccentric vocal delivery and the unmatched studio prowess of Kim Mowes.
Decked out with staggeringly heavy dance grooves that were embellished with a glitzy ‘80s pop steez, tracks like ‘I Go Hard, I Go Home’ and ‘Are You The One?’ established The Presets as the festival mainstay we know them as today, yet nothing on Beams comes close to the pure electro simplicity of ‘Girl And The Sea’. Sublime stuff.
6. Van She – ‘Kelly’
Two months after releasing Beams, Modular doubled down on the electro front with the release of Van She’s self-titled EP. Touted by Modular at the time as being a “new band from Sydney fresh on ideas, fresher than Flavor Flav, fresh like coriander, fresher than the Fresh Prince, fresher than fresh eggs”, Van She’s sultry blend of synth pop and shoegaze proved popular with the masses, with cuts like their irresistible debut single ‘Kelly’ setting them up to be the next big thing Down Under.
After touring with the likes of Daft Punk, Phoenix and Bloc Party and releasing two full-length albums in the years that followed, Van She seemingly called it a day in 2012, with the band’s members breaking off into more dancefloor oriented projects like Nicky Night Time and Touch Sensitive. Thankfully, their music is always available to stream online for whenever you do need a fix of mid ’00s dreamy electro rock.
7. Wolfmother – ‘Mind’s Eye’
2005 proved to be a mighty year for the Modular cohort – first it was The Presets, then Van She, and finally, Wolfmother. The Sydney trio took Australia by storm with their self-titled debut album, which was re-released internationally in 2006 to even greater acclaim. At the time, Australian audiences couldn’t get enough of Stockdale and co.’s vivacious (if slightly derivative) blend of hard rock, blues and stoner metal, with tracks like ‘Mind’s Eye’, ‘Woman’, ‘Colossal’ and ‘Joker and the Thief’ sending them soaring up the charts and into the stratosphere.
Modular backed the album with every effort they had, and it paid off: Wolfmother sold over a million copies worldwide, and while Wolmother’s subsequent releases really weren’t much to write home about, their debut still makes for one of the most exhilarating releases in Aussie rock history.
8. Cut Copy – ‘Hearts on Fire’
By all accounts, Cut Copy’s second studio album was a massive triumph for Modular. In Ghost Colours saw Cut Copy move further into a sound that was undeniably their own, with a support slot on Daft Punk’s Australian tour and the release of blog house hit ‘Hearts on Fire’ a year prior hinting at the epic electro-rock that was soon to follow.
Recorded at DFA Studios in New York with revered electro-producer Tim Goldsworthy, In Ghost Colours captivated the world upon release in 2008, with its catchy melodies, angular guitars and squelchy synths striking a chord with rockers and ravers alike. While lacking a standout moment like ‘Heart’s On Fire’ the group’s 2011 follow-up Zonoscope proved to be just as intriguing and danceable, underscoring everything that a good Modular album should set out to achieve.
9. Ladyhawke – ‘My Delirium’
As someone who was still buying NOW compilation CDs and listening to commercial FM radio in the late ‘00s, I can personally attest to this song being one of the best songs of its era. Drawing heavily from synth-pop hits of the ‘80s, ‘My Delirium’ is a certified banger, with Ladyhawke’s catchy chorus refrain sending the single skyrocketing up the charts both at home and abroad.
However, the success of Ladyhawke’s debut did see some critics double down on the view that Modular was simply microwaving old sounds for new ears, as did their signing of one particular psych-rock project from Fremantle: a band that would ultimately prove to be their biggest success yet, as well as the catalyst for their eventual downfall…
10. Tame Impala – ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’
Kevin Parker had already hinted at the behemoth Tame Impala were soon to become with the psychedelic revival of 2008’s self-titled EP and Innerspeaker in 2010, but surely no one could have predicted what he’d bring to the table with Lonerism. Peppered with hyper-compressed grooves, lucid soundscapes and sugar sweet hooks, Lonerism proved to be one of the most enchanting Australian records of the 2010s, and Modular lapped it all up – albeit, possibly a little too much.
In 2015, Parker went public with revelations that Modular had mismanaged his royalties, claiming that he’d never been paid for any album sales outside of Australia and that someone ‘high up’ had spent the money he was owed. Although label founder Steve Pavlovic expressed his dismay at Parker becoming involved in the situation and asserted that the error had come from a misunderstanding between royalty processing actions in Australia and the US, the ensuing legal drama ultimately saw Modular become integrated further into the Universal Music Group.
While the Tame Impala lawsuit would be dismissed later in 2015, the damage was already done, and Pavlovic would go on to resign from his position at Modular in March 2016, bringing an end to his 18 year reign at the top of what was once known as Australia’s coolest record label.
Discover the story of Australia’s ludicrously big valve amps of the ’60s and ’70s here.