Rising stars ... Jagwar Ma.
Some have found inspiration overseas, while others have been steadily building their reputations playing live in their local 'burbs from Perth to Sydney. Some play guitars, others favour turntables and microphones. One has already even tasted success with another project.
Still, this year's crop of Metro Next Big Things have at least three things in common: they're fiercely talented, proudly Australian and poised to make a fresh impact - certainly domestically, hopefully globally.
Have a read, then look them up - and let us know what you think.
He's Gonna Make It ... Vydamo.
Genre Bluesy swamp rock. From Perth's inner-city suburbs, WA. Label Create/Control. Website thechemistband.com.au. Coming gigs Friday, 8pm, Upstairs Beresford, Surry Hills, free. Saturday, 9pm, Spectrum, Darlinghurst, $10 on the door. Hear Spray Paint or Praise (Still a Statue in the Wind).
The Chemist are already mildly notorious in their native Perth on the back of a couple of EPs and many a memorable show there, including an appearance at last month's Big Day Out. With debut album Ballet in the Badlands in tow, they're finally in a position to take their brooding, atmospheric rock'n'roll further afield. Frontman Benjamin Witt has a healthy appetite for inventive gigging and myth-making, as well as an endearing sense of humour. ''We played a 3D-surround-style gig in a small record store last year with a 10-piece band set up around the audience, performing a 10-minute arrangement of a Chemist composition,'' he tells us. ''I've shaved my face on stage and cleaned up my act with a vacuum recently. Also, electric razor to the guitar pick-ups makes for a wonderfully horrendous sound.'' We're not sure what's true among all that, but it makes us even keener to see them live.
Genre Dreamy folk-pop. From Sydney's lower north shore, NSW. Label Fine Time. Website highhighs.com. Coming gigs None scheduled in Sydney. Hear Flowers Bloom.
To misquote Elvis Presley: if you're looking for trouble, you came to the wrong place. ''The desire to be pure is our main influence,'' says Jackson Milas of High Highs. OK, so he's talking about the band's music rather than their lifestyle, but you can't imagine anyone who makes sounds as blissful as those found on their debut album, Open Season, to be too controversial. Milas and the other half of High Highs, Oliver Chang, knew each other from Sydney but only started the project after they met up in Brooklyn, New York. There they learnt ''how to play live more than anything'', Milas says. ''Our music demands attention and the live show is fairly quiet at times, so we had to learn how to maximise the dynamics within our sound.'' They've definitely been doing something right. The pair just finished a tour as part of the St Jerome's Laneway Festival and will play at South by Southwest next month.
Genre Hip-hop. From Sydney's inner west, NSW. Label Independent. Website jackieonassis.net. Coming gigs Supporting Drapht: March 22, 7.30pm, UNSW Roundhouse, Kensington, unswroundhouse.com, 9385 7630, $18.40. Supporting Spit Syndicate: March 30, 8pm, Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst, oxfordartfactory.com, 9332 3711, $21.50. Hear Crystal Ballling.
''It's a pretty strange backstory for a rapper,'' says Kai Tan, the MC half of Jackie Onassis, ''but I used to front an indie band for about a year and a half.'' A musical collaboration with his gifted producer friend from high school, Raph Dixon, changed all that. When they discovered a shared love of New York hip-hop, particularly the rhymes and flow of Jay-Z, Jackie Onassis took shape pretty easily. They've since made fans of Aussie peers such as Horrorshow and Spit Syndicate, who invited them to be part of their One Day crew, as well as of influential DJs from Triple J to the BBC, who have fallen for the summery Jackie Onassis jam Crystal Balling. Dixon is thrilled by the support, but notes: ''I feel like the music we are making would be the same regardless of whether or not we'd received any attention.''
Genre Psychedelic indie dance. From North Sydney, NSW. Label Future Classic. Website jagwarma.com. Coming gigs Supporting The xx: April 6-7, 7pm, Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park, www.playbillvenues.com, 9921 5333, $89.50. Hear The Throw.
The world of the Next Big Thing isn't exactly new to the two Sydneysiders of Jagwar Ma. Singer-guitarist Gabriel Winterfield flirted with success fronting Ghostwood in his teens, while Metro remembers Kim Moyes from the Presets raving about Jono Ma's old band, Lost Valentinos (then called the Valentinos), in 2005. With the euphoric, shimmering sounds of their new project, success seems inevitable this time around. ''We both love pop music from the '50s and '60s,'' Ma says. ''Amplified instruments were still a fresh invention and it seemed that popular music back then had so much soul and conviction … Sonically, though, we love the way electronic music opened up the palette of sounds beyond the drum-bass-guitar-vocal format.'' We can't get enough of Jagwar Ma's current single, The Throw, so we're ecstatic to hear the album should be out in May. ''Expect a whole heap of reverb and delay,'' Ma says.
Genre Country. From Dalby, Queensland (Mark O'Shea) and Ingle Farm, Adelaide (Jay O'Shea). Label Sony. Website therealoshea.com. Coming gigs Supporting McAlister Kemp: March 23, 8pm, Rooty Hill RSL, rootyhillrsl.com.au, 9625 5500, $25. Hear Thank You Angels.
Husband-and-wife duo Mark and Jay O'Shea established themselves on the domestic country scene with 2011 debut album Mr and Mrs. With just-released follow-up One + One, the mainstream could be next. That's all well and good, but we can't help but think a happy couple must be nuts to want to work together in the first place. ''In a strange way, it's brought us closer together,'' Mark says. ''We're very honest on stage, to the point of embarrassing. It's all very in-the-moment, which has turned out to be quite therapeutic to our marriage!'' The O'Sheas have been based in Nashville for some years now, a move Jay says was ''definitely a game changer'' for the duo, but points out it's not just country artists who live there. ''Kesha, the Black Keys, Kings of Leon … It's such a great community of creative people.'' Mark: ''To me, country is not what kind of hat you wear or how much pedal steel is on a track. It's about lyrics, musicianship and a particular way of life.''
Genre Old-school soul and funk. From Various suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria: Windsor, Essendon, Ashburton, Northcote, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill. Label Northside. Website saskwatch.com.au. Coming gigs None scheduled; possible April tour. Hear Their cover of Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue's Kids.
You might have seen the nine-headed R&B beast called Saskwatch supporting like-minded funkateers Osaka Monaurail at the Sydney Festival's pop-up venue Paradiso last month. ''The Town Hall was really a terrific place to play for us and the way it was presented was incredible,'' says trumpet player Liam McGorry. ''Sydney Festival always turns it on.'' Saskwatch turned it on, too, but that won't come as a shock if you've heard debut album Leave It All Behind. They've been honing their considerable chemistry for nearly four years, ever since they studied music together at the Victorian College of the Arts and Monash University, bonded over Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Stevie Wonder and regularly jammed ''outside Flinders Street Station after class''. Despite their debut only being a few months old, they're not resting on their laurels, either. ''We're looking forward to putting out the next [album] in the next year,'' McGorry says.
Genre Atmospheric indie-pop. From Melbourne, Victoria. Label I Oh You. Website facebook.com/snakadaktal. Coming gigs None scheduled in Sydney. Hear Dance Bear.
Their sensational Dance Bear single was one of our favourite tracks of last year, so we were particularly looking forward to seeing Snakadaktal at the Laneway Festival a couple of weeks ago - only to realise, while we were watching their valiant afternoon set, how difficult it must be to play such complicated, textured music live. ''Having so many instruments hovering around similar frequency ranges makes it hard work achieving an accurate mix,'' agrees Sean Kelly, who shares vocal duties with Phoebe Cockburn and guitar duties with Joseph Clough and Jarrah McCarty-Smith. (The fifth and final Snaka is drummer Barna Nemeth.) ''Some instruments need to sound delicate whilst others are sounding bold; that is a complex balance to reach.'' Thankfully Snakadaktal are having much more luck recording their debut album, of which Kelly says to expect ''around midyear with some expanded and developed sounds''. We say expect it to be one of the debuts, if not albums, of 2013.
Genre Rock/reggae/folk/pop. From Sydney's inner west, NSW. Label Sureshaker. Website stickyfingerstheband.com. Coming gigs March 22, 8pm, Manning Bar, manningbar.com, 9563 6000, $21.95; March 23, 8pm, Mona Vale Hotel, monavalehotel.com.au, 9999 4214, $18.90. Hear Australia Street.
If you've heard the heady mix of musical styles purveyed by Sticky Fingers (see ''genre'' above, if not) it'll come as little surprise to hear a major influence on them are British rock legends the Clash. ''They go from thrashing out fast, loud, rebellious punk anthems to buzzed-out dub-garage jams effortlessly,'' says bassist Paddy Cornwall. Sticky Fingers' other big influence is one of Sydney's cooler 'burbs, Newtown. Every other key moment in the band's fledgling history seems to involve the place, from their hijacking the Newtown Festival with a guerilla headlining set a couple of years ago to filming the one-take video for latest single Australia Street in the suburb. Their debut album, Caress Your Soul, is out in a couple of weeks and set to take them way beyond King Street.
Relax, fans of Art vs. Science. Just because the electro trio's Jim Finn has made a solo album, under the name Vydamo, it doesn't mean game over for AvS. Indeed, when Metro gets in touch, Finn is with the other two artist-v-scientists on an ''album-writing expedition'' to Kangaroo Valley. Vydamo might eclipse the other band, so appealing is the breezy dance-pop of introductory single Gonna Make It. ''Records by bands like the Beatles and the Beach Boys,'' Finn says, ''my parents and all six of us kids loved the big melodies, harmonies and upbeat feel of all their songs.'' Vydamo's similarly upbeat music is in stark contrast to the catalyst for the project. Finn's kidneys packing up last March meant he had to spend six months on dialysis to prepare for a transplant, during which period he wrote the new songs. ''I felt more like it was a minor inconvenience - a small pit stop until life could continue racing around the track.''
WORLD'S END PRESS
Genre Soulful synth-rock. From Melbourne, Victoria. Label Liberation. Website facebook.com/worldsendpress. Coming gigs None scheduled in Sydney. Hear Second Day Uptown.
When you have the stamp of approval from someone as influential as Tim Goldsworthy - of Mo' Wax and DFA Records fame - you should know you're on to a winner. Although, when World's End Press arrived in Britain last year to record their coming debut album with the great man, they couldn't quite get their head around the prospect. ''I don't think we could really comprehend how significant it all was,'' says keyboard player Rhys Richards. ''Those early DFA compilations spent a lot of time in the car stereo when they first came out. We also went with Tim to Massive Attack's studio in Bristol to record vocals and finish some additional production. Had you told us that as teenagers we would have been shocked.'' Richards and singer-guitarist John Parkinson started World's End Press as their high-school years drew to a close. Now in their mid-20s, they're finally ready for success. ''Yes, the wait may have been frustrating but we need only remind ourselves that we just travelled to Wales and recorded with one of our favourite producers. Sometimes taking your time works out for the best.''