"It's a little crazy this year how many are Australians," Bruce Saltmarsh says of this year's GOnerfest lineup. But if anyone is to blame, it's Saltmarsh. "I've worked with all of them except for one."
Saltmarsh runs Easter Bilby, a record distribution company with a niche in Australian garage rock.
"It's just increased every year since Eddy Current Suppression Ring played [in 2009]." Saltmarsh says. "That year was Eddy Current and the Ooga Boogas. Since then, when I was starting Easter Bilby, there's been an increase in Australian groups playing. There's also been an increase in Australian tourists as fans coming to Gonerfest, which is basically as ridiculous as the number of bands coming to the festival."
Australian music is on a roll. Seven bands are onboard for Gonerfest 11, which runs from September 25th-28th.
"The thing to me is, I've been following Australian music for as long as I can remember, going back to Radio Birdman and the Saints. It's always been great music. I think that my having started this distribution company with only Australian bands, and there's a little New Zealand mixed in — it's just opened the doors to a lot of stuff that wouldn't have normally been heard outside of Australia."
But Saltmarsh never set out to be an Australian music mogul.
"I wound up starting Easter Bilby about seven or eight years ago," he says. "I started helping out a friend from Australia. I said, why don't you just ship however many records to me. When you get orders, I'll send them out in the U.S. for you. So I kind of started sideways. But that was the beginning of it. It was Aarght, a record label, the first record was probably Eddy Current Supression Ring. From that, it's just turned into this ridiculous thing. I'm sitting in my office, and I've got probably 150 different releases sitting here."
Ausmuteants hail from Geelong, Australia. Their self-titled debut is on Goner in the U.S. and Aarght in Australia. Ausmuteants play Thursday night at the Hi-Tone.
"I'm meeting them in L.A. and doing the first couple of weeks of their tour with them," Saltmarsh says. "They're all kids. The oldest guy is 25. They're coming over to do a month-long tour. I've been laughing at myself, wondering how the hell did I get roped into doing this."
What makes Australian music so compelling?
"It seems like it's so isolated," Saltmarsh says. "The isolation is a big part of it. It's a hard thing to put into words. Australians in general have a hard time believing in themselves." He laughts and adds, "I think it's the opposite in Memphis."
Gonerfest has a few non-Australian tricks up the T-shirt sleeve this year.
Londoner Wreckless Eric leads the Len Bright Combo. Eric Goulden is a Class of '77 Londoner who bore the country-punk imprint of Nick Lowe in his early years and birthed the somewhat legendary album The Len Bright Combo Present... The Len Bright Combo... By The Len Bright Combo. That title that tells you everything you need to know about an album that set standards for how shimmering guitars should work over lumbering, rudimentary sludge. Len Bright Combo plays on Friday night at the Hi-Tone.
Hertsfordshire, UK-native Benedict Roger Wallers is a master of disguise who has released music and performed under several personas. The Rebel finds Wallers offering a mix of classic rock references and musique concrete, with noise samples and textures that recall Stockhausen and John Cale. The Rebel plays on Saturday with Indiana protopunks Gizmos.
Keep an eye on the Flyer website for more previews of Gonerfest 11 music.
Gonerfest 11, September 25th-28th. See gonerfest.com for full lineup and tickets.