First published in The Big Issue, here.
To tourists, The Blue Mountains region is a must-do day trip from Sydney. Fifty kilometres from the capital, it offers spectacular vistas draped in blue mist and a fair chance of seeing an echidna. Conveniently, this area can also sate urbane yearnings to browse antique shops and recline in cafes.
To residents, ‘the Blueys’ is a place of contradictions. While the air is bright and fresh, a persistent thread of dysfunction darkens it, evidenced by higher than state average rates of psychological distress, self-harm and domestic violence. But, in this place of shadow and light, one thing is true: it’s a great place to create music. The region is spacious enough to make noise without aggrieving the neighbours, the pace is slow so inspiration can flow, and it’s close enough to Sydney to gig there.
In the 1990s, metal, funk and jazz were the big scenes. Standard small-town sounds played in pubs, town halls and youth centres to crowds that ranged from uninterested to utterly feral. In recent years, however, a string of popular bands has emerged from the mist. There have been Belles Will Ring and Hermitude, as well as Cloud Control, who won the 2010 Australian Music Prize for their debut album, Bliss Release. Members of the Holy Soul and the Paper Scissors are from the Blue Mountains, as is hip-hop artist Urthboy. Then there are exiles from Sydney’s gruelling rental market, like Jack Ladder and guitarist Kirin J Callinan (Mercy Arms, Lost Animal), as well as members of Richard in Your Mind and the Lovetones.
Aidan Roberts from Belles Will Ring recalls their manager convincing them to mention their Blue Mountains roots when releasing their first album, Mood Patterns (2007). “He said it would add to the ‘mystique’. We said, ‘Why would we do that? Let’s just say we’re from Sydney’. But, sure enough, it became a huge talking point.”
Since then, a growing bevy of bands are stamping their Blue Mountains origins on their bios. As a publicity angle, it works. Music writers rarely fail to omit it and radio presenters dwell fondly on the fact. “People like to imagine there’s a romance to it, and then it kind of becomes true. It’s been put on the map,” Roberts says.
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