The 100 Greatest Australian Dance Tracks Of All Time
#30 Chili Hi Fly – Is It Love [Tinted Records, 1998]
One of Australia’s finest contributions to disco came slightly late in the day. Instead of being released in the genre’s 1970s heyday we waited until its 2001 house revival, when 12-strong Sydney collective Chili Hi Fly gave the world Is It Love.
It’s based on a sample of Be My Lady by Kool & The Gang, who had started out as a trad jazz group in the 1960s but adapted to suit each new trend as the years rolled by, from funk to disco. But Kool & The Gang still had the chops of a group of jazz purists and even their pop-funk and lightweight boogie tracks were tightly constructed works, perfect for chopping up and unpacking, which is exactly what Chili Hi Fly did. They warped and stuttered the original as if it had been altered by its travel through time, mutated into some new shape and then let loose to monster the dancefloors of the 21st century. [Jody Macgregor] Listen now on Rdio.
#29 Bag Raiders – Shooting Stars [Bang Gang, 2008]
Funnily enough, Shooting Stars almost missed its time in the sun as a monster crossover single. It first arrived as a B-side to Bag Raiders’ 2008 single Turbo Love, from back when the duo were on their second release with Sydney indie Bang Gang 12 Inches and turning out clubby, bloggy electro jams. Turbo Love was no exception, with an over-worked vocoder refrain and squiggly lead synths, but Shooting Stars was a bright, euphoric tonic nestled on the flipside with an instantly-classic chorus from Rhys Taylor of Sydney’s Ted & Francis.
Shooting Stars was always destined for bigger things and when Modular picked the duo up the next year it got a rightful single release, a top 20 spot in that year’s Hottest 100 and a legacy as a memorable and momentous tune for its creators, the local scene and all its listeners. [Dave Ruby Howe] Listen now on Rdio.
#28 Love Tattoo – Drop Some Drums [Hussle Recordings, 2000]
Stephen Allkins has been a true Australian dance-music legend since that word actually meant something. From the gay disco scene of late-’70s Darlinghurst, through the garage, punk and new wave of the ‘80s and on into the house era, Allkins pioneered a style of expansive, eclectic, epic mixing that made him to dancers on this side of the pond the kind of hero that his more famous peers like Frankie Knuckles and Junior Vasquez were overseas.
After years of turning both gay and straight Sydneysiders on to new sounds, from electro to boogie to Chicago house (frequently utilising his own edits as secret weapons), Allkins finally began producing in earnest in 1999, releasing a string of bangers under the [Love] Tattoo moniker. Drop Some Drums did just that the following year and became a favourite on early-morning floors worldwide for its trippy tribal-disco sound, throbbing bass and crazy kick-roll, the whole package purpose built to move bodies by a veteran. “You should feel pretty good by now, but that isn’t good enough.” [Jim Poe] Listen now on Rdio.
#27 Hi Fi Bugs – Lydian and the Dinosaur [Zero Tolerance Recordings, 2000]
When it comes to production dream teams, they don’t get much better than Phil K and Andy Page. Both artists have always taken pride in being ahead of the curve, a badge of honour they can rightfully wear even in the present day. Thanks to its inclusion on multiple notable compilations including Anthony Pappa’s Nubreed mix for Global Underground and Phil K’s own Sound Not Scene, Lydian & The Dinosaur helped bring to the attention of the world the sound that would later be dubbed “progressive breaks”: a fusion of the heavy basslines and syncopated beats of nu-skool breaks and the intricate harmonics, slow-burning pace and tension-building structure of progressive house.
Lydian & The Dinosaur not only helped usher in a new genre, it also firmly placed Melbourne on the global music map and – along with Zero Tolerance, the label it was released on – was a galvanising force in the creation of the “Melbourne Sound”, a term which came to encompass the dark, brooding and less obvious progressive-based music that was coming out of the city at the time. In its epic 12-minute run time, the track moves from sparse, clinical and cold breakbeats and sub bass stabs to haunting, emotive wails and pads, grimy and slightly evil lead synths, and head-spinning drum edits and effects. [Andrew Wowk] Listen now on Rdio.
#26 Gerling – Dust Me Selecta [Infectious Records, 2000]
Experimental electronic-art-rock trio Gerling must have had some seriously amazing dancefloor experiences between their first album Children of Telepathic Experiences and 2001’s When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun – a dance odyssey that spawned such unlikely hits as the Kylie Minogue collab’ G House Project and this timeless gem, Dust Me Selecta. Quite how three scruffy indie kids from Sydney ended up making a song that sounds like it came out of the studios of Sandy Rivera or Masters At Work remains a mystery, but the track (and its great film clip) remain an iconic moment of Australian indie/dance crossover. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#25 Vision Four 5 – Mrs Hume Goes Dancing (Happy Valley Mix) [Volition, 1994]
Vision Four 5 formed in Brisbane and were signed to Volition/Sony as part of a burst of early 1990s dance signings, alongside Itch-E & Scratch-E and Severed Heads. They released two albums for the label, Texture and Humid, but they’re really remembered for two things – the interactive graphics and sound of their live show, with real-time triggers based on their movements, and Mrs Hume Goes Dancing.
Released as the B-side to their track Funkify Yourself (Pee Wee Remix) in 1994, it was written in response to a demand from said Pee Wee, who challenged them to write a club track with a 16-bar-long chord development. The progression takes them almost eight minutes to work through, but Vision Four 5 got there in the end and they did it with style. That Mrs Hume must have some impressive stamina. [Jody Macgregor] Listen now on Rdio.
#24 Flight Facilities – Crave You [Bang Gang, 2010]
Sometimes the local dance scene can feel like a claustrophobically small place, particularly when you remember that some of Australia’s most important electronic names are blood relatives. Take Flight Facilities: hitmakers Jimmy Lyell and Hugo Gruzman had been DJing around Sydney on their own for years before they “finally started to recognise each other”, got together in the studio and began working remixes. Those edits were good enough that early in 2010, Hugo’s cousin Gus – who was busy ruling the city as part of the Bang Gang crew – asked the pair to make an original track for a compilation the label was putting together. Hugo had met a vocalist called Giselle in a bar around the same time so together, they made Crave You.
They couldn’t have hoped for a more successful debut single: Crave You was placed on rotation on triple j, cracked the top 20 in that year’s Hottest 100 and kickstarted the career of two of Australia’s best loved producers. Even Kylie Minogue’s a fan, reprising the track last year for the Flight Facilities album. [Katie Cunningham] Listen now on Rdio.
#23 Boxcar – Insect [Volition, 1989]
15-odd years before Cut Copy, Van She et al reinvigorated ‘80s synth-pop to huge international success, Brisbane act Boxcar were struggling in a music market dominated by pub rockers like Diesel and pop stars like Kylie. Their debut album Vertigo spawned several synth-pop gems that impacted on the US dance charts – like the quirky, catchy, ice-cool Insect, which features here in its club-ready 12-inch remix version – but failed to find a significant audience in Australia; in fact, it would be more than a decade before mass Australian audiences finally started appreciating home-grown electronic music. Too late for Boxcar to make it big, sadly, but not too late for us to appreciate the pioneering role they played in turning Australians onto their dance music potential. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#22 Phil K & Habersham – Cloudbrake [Audio Therapy, 2005]
When you put two musicians like Habersham and Phil K – who have no interest in being pinned down into a single genre and actively seek to explore previously unexplored territory – in a studio together, magic is guaranteed to happen. And that is exactly what Cloudbrake is. Magic. In a neat 10 minute bundle.
Coming at a time when nu-skool breaks was starting to collapse under the weight of its rinsed out (but admittedly successful until that point) formula of big, obvious basslines and ever more ear-splitting lead synths, Cloudbrake took things back to basics, focusing on creating tension through conscious restraint, all the while building intensity outside of your awareness. Although fairly unassuming to begin with, simply rolling along with a tight breakbeat and deep, fuzzy bassline, Cloudbrake creeps up on you extremely effectively. By the final third of the track, the bassline takes on a demonic, richly textured growl as it snakes its way between precise, razor-sharp drums and degraded acid stabs, chopped-up Amen breaks, forlorn Mediterranean vocal chants and a looped, freakishly detuned harp. A perfect example of the kind of forward-thinking music that breaks can be when the right people are at the helm. [Andrew Wowk] Listen now on Rdio.
#21 Nubreed – One Day [Vicious Vinyl, 2003]
Jason Catherine, Michael Walburgh and Danny Bonnici created some of the most accessible music in Melbourne’s towering 1998 to 2004 world-dominating era of dark-progressive-breaks (or as Ivan Gough called it, “haunted house”). This outstanding track captures the whole sound perfectly (even though it was released on the UK’s Mob Records, not the seminal Melbourne label Zero Tolerance): layered vocals, spooky cinematic atmospherics and swooping progressive builds, all propelled by an insistent breakbeat. It beggars belief why this has never played over the credits of an action thriller film. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#20 Pnau – Sambanova [Peking Duck/Warner, 1999]
When Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes were recording their magnum opus Sambanova in their Sydney bedroom studio in the late ‘90s, little did they suspect that the album – propelled by its eternally-catchy Latin house title track – would soon have them winning ARIAs, touring with Big Day Out, writing songs with Elton John and (for Nick Littlemore) headlining major festivals (with Empire of the Sun). Four more albums followed, but Sambanova is still the best track that Pnau ever recorded – the gem in the very middle of an absolutely classic Australian album – and its funky house vibe has aged inexplicably well. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#19 Yothu Yindi – Treaty (Filthy Lucre remix) (Razor Records, 1991)
Melbournian trio Filthy Lucre (Robert Goodge, Gavin Campbell, Paul Main) are behind this landmark 1991 remix and absolute jam, which still holds up in clubs today and is notable for three major achievements. Firstly, it was probably the first Australian dance track to ever get rinsed overseas (legend has it that master selector Andrew Weatherall used to crank it at clubs in the UK). Secondly, it’s the only known time in human history that didgeridoo has been used in a dance track without sounding twee or cringeworthy. And thirdly, because the promised titular treaty between indigenous and invading Australians still hasn’t been created, two and a half decades after the song first came out. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#18 Cut Copy – Hearts on Fire [Modular, 2008]
With myopic rose tinted glasses, it would be an easy fallacy to mislabel the rise of Melbourne and Sydney dance outfits in the mid to late 2000s as reactionary to the beguiling nu-rock explosion that exploded across the globe thanks to the likes of Jet and Wolfmother. In actual fact, it all stems from the same heady, late-night primordial ooze, the transition swirling together with shared early-AM bills and blurred genre barriers in the booming festival market.
Hearts On Fire is very much a track forged by a live band – the tickling of the hi-hats, the fade-out of the clean guitar lick, Dan Whitford’s dry, measured vocal. But still, it’s a banger. And a timeless one at that, with its tasteful drops, and a sax breakdown that would sound fresh if dropped today. It still feels special. Can’t really say the same for Are You Gonna Be My Girl or Woman however. [Lachlan Kanoniuk] Listen now on Rdio.
#17 Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head [Festival Mushroom Records, 2001]
With it’s inescapable “la la la” hook, which ensured the track did exactly what it says on the tin, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Kylie’s all-conquering turn-of-the-millennium smash is a masterclass in timeless dance production, its icy disco inclinations conjuring images of a Y2K Donna Summer (an influence on our Kylie since the very beginning, as she revealed at her 2015 homecoming show, while singing the praises of the legendary Giorgio Moroder). Can’t Get You Out Of My Head is a slow burn, each movement a hook in itself, Kylie worlds away from her bubblegum past. The track went on to sell over five million copies worldwide (that’s CD singles, mind you), becoming the most iconic hit for our most iconic pop star. [Lachlan Kanoniuk] Listen now on Rdio.
#16 Severed Heads – Dead Eyes Opened [Ink Records, 1984]
Severed Heads are THE seminal Australian electronic group. A decade before most Australians had even heard of electronic music, these three guys (Richard Fielding, Andrew Wright and later Tom Ellard) were making experimental industrial dance in Darlinghurst squats, achieving minor success and a world tour with the 1983 album Since the Accident, which featured the original version of Dead Eyes Opened.
It wasn’t until a 1994 remix by Robert Racic, though, that the general Australian public took notice (perhaps due to its being flogged by triple j). The beefed up remix reached #16 in the Australian charts, but we’re giving our preference to the original with its unforgettable arpeggio melodies and the incredibly spooky spoken word sample of Edgar Lustgarden reading from Death on the Crumbles – it was both intriguing and terrifying when triple j played it in the mid-90s. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#15 LoStep – Burma [GU Music, 2004]
The clue is in the title. With Burma, Phil Krokidis and Luke Chable set out to make Lostep’s equivalent of Future Sound of London’s seminal Papua New Guinea, and succeeded in crafting a progressive breaks classic of their own. “The main theme of the record was written over three hours,” Krokidis reveals: the duo layered organic string and vocal samples across a synth-heavy breakbeat arrangement more free-jazz than DJ-friendly. “The start and the head were going to be the main part of the record, and the middle was going to go a lot more abstract.”
Why did it sit in release limbo for so long? Phil K slipped a CDR of Burma to Sasha when they shared the Arena main stage at Brisbane rave Advent*jah in December 2002. A week later, an excited Sasha called the Melburnian back. “Right dude, this track,” Phil recalls the superstar DJ telling him. “You cannot release it until I use it on my album. You’ve got to send me the parts.” The album in question was Sasha’s DJ-mix-as-remix-album Involver, which finally saw Burma unleashed on the world via Global Underground in June 2004. Lostep subsequently went global, and both the original and Sasha remixes of Burma still sound like nothing else out there. [Kris Swales] Listen now on Rdio.
#14 Josh Abrahams & Amiel Daemion – Addicted to Bass [Prozaac Recordings, 1998]
For a lot of Australian ‘90s kids and teens, this 1998 hit was their first ever taste of homegrown dance music. With its memorable, sing-along vocals, nudge-wink drug references and – best of all – that monstrous pre-dubstep bassline paired with scattershot jungle breakbeats, it was a perfect fusion of radio-friendly pop smarts and club madness. triple j hammered it (it hit #16 in the Hottest 100), but its real success was overseas, where the British sent it to number one in the main UK chart, while it hit number one in the US dance chart. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#13 Tonite Only – Where The Party’s At [Hussle Recordings, 2007]
Before they ran the nite, Tonite Only – the duo made up of Simon ‘Groove Terminator’ Lewicki and Sam ‘Sam La More’ Littlemore – gave us Where The Party’s At. It came from the first flowering of Tonite Only in 2005, before they broke up, re-united, and got heavily into having kids chant the title in their songs. Tonite Only version 1.0 were still very much about anthemic electro, however, and so Where The Party’s At features a Prodigy sting, farty bassline, guitar riff, and the voice of a computerised dudebro. Littlemore has said that Lewicki’s most important contribution to their collaboration is holding him back, saying that “without his input I’m likely just to make flowery crap that no one wants to hear”. You have to be pretty smart to be able to make something this gloriously, gleefully, deliberately dumb, and to make it work so well. [Jody Macregor] Listen now on Rdio.
#12 Quench – Dreams [Infectious Records, 1993]
There aren’t many Australian club tracks that have had as much staying power, spawned as many imitators or been given the remix treatment as often as Quench’s 1994 trance epic Dreams. And though the synth patches may be primitive by 2015 standards, the melodies driving them – those ethereal bells, that face-melting riff – will still hold their own when humans first kick up the dust on Mars. Comprising Melbourne production gun CJ Dolan and now veteran DJ Sean Quinn (Kasey Taylor was briefly a member), it’s hard to imagine Quench foreseeing the international splash Dreams would make – an ARIA nomination at home, licensed for over 50 compilations, No.2 on the UK club chart and No.2 in the French pop charts, above Mariah Carey no less.
It got another run through clubland in 1998 when hard house figurehead Tony De Vit turned in a faithful remix treatment, while Lost Tribe’s 1997 anthem Gamemaster on Hooj Choons was clearly generated from a shared DNA strand. Dolan went on to work with Gab Olivier under countless aliases on esteemed Melbourne prog imprint Zero Tolerance, while Quinn has strode like a colossus through Melbourne club culture ever since, even stepping up to the plate for the inaugural Balance mix in 2001. [Kris Swales] Listen now on Rdio.
#11 Late Nite Tuff Guy – I Get Deeper [Tbot’s All Nite House Party, 2007]
Adelaide’s Cam Bianchetti spent the ‘90s ruling the techno world in Australia, if not the Southern Hemisphere. After an extended sabbatical, he rose from the ashes of obscurity in the new millenium under a different guise: Late Nite Tuff Guy, disco demigod. LNTG quickly became one of the most sought-after names in the rapidly expanding world of disco edits and bootleg remixes, gathering a huge following through his Soundcloud page.
His rework of I Get Deep, DJ Le Roi’s updated version of Roland Clark’s soulful house classic featuring Clark on vocals, was a sensation at clubs and festivals around the world. It’s no wonder: Cark’s spoken word is even more charged and inspiring when stripped of its familiar context and laid over LNTG’s pulsating minimal bass and rugged discofied rhythm. [Jim Poe] Listen now on Rdio.
#10 Flume – Holdin On [Future Classic, 2012]
Flume was a big deal well before his debut album hit shelves, but Holdin On was the moment the Sydney talent truly crossed over. Suddenly it wasn’t just dance fans who were vibing on Harley Streten, but triple j listeners who usually stuck to rock and wouldn’t have dreamed of liking music made on a computer. Holdin On is the song that proved electronic music’s crossover potential, inspiring a new generation of budding musos to download Ableton or reach into their own cereal boxes and give production a go. It taught the rest of the music industry what dance heads have been preaching for years: that great music isn’t only the domain of bands in studios with major label backing, it belongs just as much to kids in bedrooms, making beats in their spare time. [Katie Cunningham/Photo by Pat Stevenson] Listen now on Rdio.
#9 Peking Duk ft. Nicole Millar – High [Vicious Bitch, 2014]
Many of the tracks on this list are here because of the legacy they left: The Presets and Cut Copy brought dance music to festivals, Pendulum led the D&B explosion, The Avalanches showed off sampling on the world stage. With High, Peking Duk proved just how universal a great pop-dance track can be, something we needed to be reminded of in a year when Flume rip-offs dominated the local sound. The masterstroke won them the ARIA Award for Best Dance Release, went three times platinum at home, came in as triple j’s most played song of the year and even made it all the way to #2 on 2014’s Hottest 100, the highest any dance track has ever ranked. And all of that aside, High is just one hell of a tune. [Katie Cunningham] Listen now on Rdio.
#8 Riot In Belgium – La Musique [Relish Records, 2006]
The finest track that Beni and Joel ever made (narrowly beating its sibling ‘The Acid Never Lies’), La Musique is a perfect slice of 2007 electro-punk-sex, right down to the looped French female vocal, the manic energy and grinding, thrusting, distorted mid-range bass. D is for Disco, E is for Dancing and this tune is for memories of long sweaty mid-00s nights partying to records by Ed Banger and Bloc Party while wearing white Am-Appy t-shirts, Cheap Mondays jeans and New Era fitted caps. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#7 Infusion – Love and Imitation [BMG Music, 2004]
”’Love and Imitation’ was the result of us trying to take the energy we had on stage, taking our rock influences and putting them into a club record,” Infusion’s hard-working knob twiddler Jamie Stevens explains. As mainstream as that concept sounds now, this came at a time when even The Prodigy had temporarily abandoned their rockier instincts, and Infusion were best known for a rollicking fusion of progressive house and percussive techno. Unintentionally flipping the bassline to New Order’s Blue Monday (Stevens admits the band had no idea until fans started pointed the similarities out to them), Love and Imitation stays true to the band’s progressive roots by slowly adding layers until the bassline becomes “a big, distorted monster”, in Stevens’ words.
Debuted on the band’s 2004 Essential Mix under the working title ‘Happy Song’ to rapturous response, it was reworked as the centrepiece of their career-making Six Feet Above Yesterday long-player. When the band’s label came knocking for a third single to keep the record’s momentum going, Manual Sharrad’s vocals transformed Love and Imitation into Natural. A festival anthem was born. [Kris Swales] Listen now on Rdio.
#6 Madison Avenue – Don’t Call Me Baby [Vicious Grooves, 1999]
The year was 1999 and the only thing smoother than a freshly-shaven face was this international chart-topping pop house hit by Melbourne veteran Andy Van and singer Cheyne Coates. There isn’t a house fan in the world who doesn’t claim this song as either a guilty – or not so guilty – pleasure; the track went triple platinum in Australia and Gold in New Zealand, soundtracking a million handbag boogies in funky house lounge bars and dance routines in high school assemblies. It’s one of Australia’s first ever chart-topping international dance hits, and – judging by the number of our industry panel who voted it their all-time top Australian dance track – it’s still remembered very fondly 16 years on. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#5 HMC – Phreakin [Dirty House Records, 1995]
I’m glad they gave me the honour of writing about this most iconic of Australian techno tracks, because I’m not Australian. When I tell you about how it hit New York like a dirty bomb in the summer of 1995, I have an outsider’s appreciation. I’m not even sure how many of us knew it was Aussie; we just knew that it wrought ruin on any room it was played in. If I’d known, it might have made more sense – I might have pictured it as the soundtrack of some groovy mechanised post-apocalyptic battle in the outback between Mad Max and Tank Girl.
What the hell was this track anyway? Techno, but put it next to something from Detroit and it sounded too rough, almost industrial. Acid, but way more frenzied than most, with an absurdly HUGE, distorted sound. The best comparison I can make is to another mutant tech-funk anthem that dropped the same summer: Daft Punk’s Da Funk, similarly hard to categorise, hard to resist and hard to mix out of.
Since Cam Bianchetti has spent most of this millennium letting his disco roots hang out under the guise of his alter ego, Late Nite Tuff Guy, I have a better understanding of what made Phreakin stand out from all the generic acid and breaks choking the North American scene back then. It had a dirty-house swing that no earnestly funky breakbeat made by your average white hoodrat from Florida could match, and Cam made those 303 lines work like disco strings. As with the Daft dudes, there was a beating heart in the corroded metallic body of this beast. [Jim Poe] Listen now on Rdio.
#4 The Avalanches – Frontier Psychiatrist [Modular, 2000]
Looking back on The Avalanches album now, it’s hard not to be staggered by its impact. No Australian electronic act has gone as big on the world stage and no artist, Australian or not, has ever sampled quite like them: band member Robbie Chater famously estimates they employed over 3,500 vinyl samples across the record. Just imagine trying to clear all those today.
But the thing that really that made The Avalanches so genius – and there are a lot of things – was how widespread their appeal is. To this day, they’re one of the rare bands that unite music fans of all shades in appreciation, regardless of generation or genre allegiance (just look at Rainbow Chan and Jonti’s live recreation of the album for proof of its ongoing legacy). Frontier Psychiatrist is the standalone masterpiece on Since I Left You and 14 years later, it still has us all slavishly devoted. And when the debut’s this perfect, who really cares if we never get a second album? [Katie Cunningham] Listen now on Rdio.
#3 Hermitude – HyperParadise (Flume remix) [Elefant Traks, 2012]
If Sleepless was the track that first got people talking about Harley Streten, the HyperParadise remix was the one that sealed his fate as the next big thing in electronic music. That alone would earn the song a place on this list, but the legacy of the Hermitude remix stretches far beyond Streten’s own career. Circa 2011, the Australian electronic scene was what Chris Emerson of What So Not called “the absolute worst it got”, bogged down by promoter DJs, stale line-ups and an oversaturation of the commercial sound.
Only the bitter could deny Flume’s role in pulling the scene out of that rut: the runaway success of the remix ushered in a new genre we now call “the Australian sound”, established Sydney as the place overseas tastemakers were once-again looking to for cues and, perhaps most importantly, got producers at home inspired again. After HyperParadise became a dancefloor fixture, the revived hunger for fresh music catapulted Australian dance into a new golden age, and that’s what makes this a watershed moment for music. [Katie Cunningham] Listen now on Rdio.
#2 The Presets – My People [Modular, 2008]
Nearly a decade ago, The Presets took Australian indie-dance from the distant corners of the internet and street press magazines, and blasted it onto prime time radio and television, and from the main stages at mainstream festivals. And this was the song that did it.
It’s the track that was played everywhere from Channel Seven’s Olympics coverage to Channel Ten’s ARIAs promos and even an episode of Top Gear. It was blasted at football grand finals and chanted along to by drunken hordes at festivals from here to New Orleans. It’s the song that made indie kids around the country trade in their guitars and drum kits for laptops and Ableton.
And the really clever part is that Julian and Kim’s 2007 anthem is a scathing indictment of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, cleverly designed as a festival fist-pumper. “I wanted to write a desperate-sounding song…from the perspective of someone who is locked up, needing to hear that there are people outside who are behind him and supporting him,” Julian said: a sentiment that can’t be repeated loudly or often enough. Seven years on from the release of My People, it still sounds as fresh, frantic and energising as it did in 2008 – and sadly its message is still as pertinent as ever. [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
#1 Itch-E & Scratch-E – Sweetness and Light [Second Nature, 1994]
Here it is, the Greatest Australian Dance Track of All Time. Trust us when we say that there was a lot of debate over which tune should land in the top slot for this list, but there are numerous reasons why Sweetness and Light stands out as the most important piece of Australian electronica.
Paul Mac and Andy Rantzen’s greatest track symbolises the turning point when the previously underground rave scene suddenly stepped into the mainstream consciousness. The year it came out – 1994 – marked the first year that Big Day Out added dance acts; the next year the ARIAs added a ‘Best Dance Release’ category for the first time (which Sweetness and Light won, allowing Paul Mac to give his infamous acceptance speech). After that, Mac told inthemix, “every rock band suddenly wanted a dance remix.”
In 1994, local rave culture was taking off in the midst of grunge, and the next five years would see the rise of acts like Pendulum, Pnau, Endorphin, Friendly, Sonic Animation and The Avalanches. Sweetness and Light marked the beginning of Australian dance music finding an audience beyond arts students squatting in Darlinghurst or Fitzroy. But more than that, it’s a classic tune, instantly recognisable and still guaranteed to work on a dance floor today, with its progressive trance build, iconic piano riff, rolling breakbeat and angelic female vocal custom-made to give you goose bumps.
The men behind the tune told inthemix they had no idea it would become as big as it did. “It was just ‘another one’… I think it was nicknamed ‘Girly Disco’,” Mac said. “I remember people wandering in and out of the studio, adding bits,” said his bandmate Andy Rantzen. “There were tiny snippets of samples from an old dub vinyl I had, and an old German Jewish/Gypsy torch song record I’d found in a second hand store.”
Mac says that Sweetness and Light is the perfect example of his and Rantzen’s opposing musical tastes combining to create gold: “I thought he was too weird and he thought I was too commercial”. “I doubt Paul and I could have done it alone, and I doubt that it would’ve happened without Miriam Williamson’s magic vocal either,” Rantzen adds. “It was a one-off, created by an unstable beast of several personalities that had somehow combined to say something meaningful.”
You also can’t talk about Sweetness and Light and its impact on Australian dance without mentioning Paul Mac’s notorious acceptance speech for the 1995 ‘Best Dance Release’ ARIA, in which he thanked the “ecstasy dealers of Australia”. Mac said that his comment was intended as a “fuck you” to an ignorant record industry of “macho rock pigs”. “It was like, ‘Look, come on kids – anyone can do this, we can sit at home in our bedrooms with no record company money’,” Mac said. “I don’t regret a thing… I still believe every word of it.”
Like many pivotal songs, Sweetness and Light wasn’t a commercial hit at the time: it peaked at number 64 on the Australian charts, and came in at number 21 in that year’s Hottest 100 (11 places behind Severed Heads’ re-release of Dead Eyes Opened, which also features in this list).
“It wasn’t a big hit – it wasn’t even a small hit,” Rantzen told inthemix. ”[But] clearly it has had some kind of subterranean cultural impact… Taken over a twenty year period, though, it’s been a nice, consistent little earner. It’s paid for unwelcome and unexpectedly high electricity bills.” From these inauspicious beginnings, Sweetness and Light helped birth the Australian dance scene, and push us on our way to being a major player all around the world. (Read more about the birth of Sweetness and Light over here.) [Nick Jarvis] Listen now on Rdio.
Thanks to John Course, Martin Novosel, Kiran De Silva, Paul Azzopardi, Tyson O’Brien, Kieran Dole, Cassian Stewart-Kasimba, Jane Slingo, Sam Korotkov, Stretch Cranes, Phil Smart, Motez Obaidi, Danny Blanc, Ignacio Garcia, Anna Fitzgerald, Pete Sofo, Sasha Skalrud, Aniela Jeffery-Swiatek, Robbie Lowe, Bev Malcolm, Nathan McLay, Jim Poe, Alastair Green, Tom Nash, Jimmy Lyell, Hugo Gruzman, Janette Bishara, Jimmy Sing, Anand Krishnaswamy, Mike Callander, Grant Muir, Gabby Colombi, James Ware, Kristy Lee Peters, Eva Trifonas, Murat Kilic, Michael Di Francesco, Harry White, Pat Ward, Andrew Wowk, Dan Zilber, Claire Collins, Tom Huggett, Walter Juan, Sameer Sengupta, Shaun Barker, Joey Lamattina, Hugh Foster, Frank Xavier, Tara Thomas, Guy Lewis, Angie Young, Harley Lunar, Trent Grimes, Adam Stivala, Andy Van, Ben Dennis and all those who wished to stay anonymous for their invaluable help putting together our shortlist.