Does the Australian Music Industry Turn a Blind Eye to Dune Rats?

Does the Australian Music Industry Turn a Blind Eye to Dune Rats?
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I won’t deny that the first time I saw Dune Rats, I thought they were the best new Brisbane band I’d seen in ages.  Based on what I’d seen at this show in April 2011, when the band were one of the four supporting bands at Stature:Statues’s debut album launch show and also last ever show, I wrote:

But tonight isn’t about Stature::Statue.  It’s not about Velocirpator, who put in the most ramshackle performance I’ve seen them play, or Horse Fight or Tape/Off.  Tonight, for me, is about Dune Rats.  Listening to the band for the first time, it’s hard to put a finger on influences.  I’m loathe to compare them to bands like The View or The Libertines (as I’m no big fan of either band) but there’s something in there to make me thonk of these bands.  It’s raw and unpolished, rough around the edges, but with instaneaously catchy hooks and plenty of “oooooohs” and “aaahhhhs” in the backing vocals.  I’m really impressed and buy a copy of their EP, the atrociously named ‘Sexy Beach‘.

Even in those very early days there was a dark cloud hovering closely over the band:

It’s disappointing when a couple days later, reports from their Gold Coast show start filtering back via Facebook, with accusations of the band trashing the venue and making a less than impressive name for themselves, with further comments from other promoters that having heard the stories they would be remembering the band’s name to make sure that they didn’t book them in the future.  I guess some people can’t help themselves from wanting to live out a true rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and the clichéd bad behavior that goes with it.  It’s a shame, they could do well for themselves but, if the stories are true, making a bad name for yourself in small scenes like Brisbane and the Gold Coast probably isn’t the best way to go about it.

The band denied the accusations in the comments on my blog and whether or not any of those promoters or venues kept to their intentions as Dune Rats’ star started to ascend, I can’t say. Maybe the band’s sudden ascent into the big league meant there was never much of a chance of this ever happening anyway.

There’s been an inexplicable rise in Bro culture in the Australian music scene in the last couple of years, and Dune Rats are the epitome of Australian toxic bro culture, with their ‘Bullshit’ video clip more or less representing a peak Bro watershed moment.

You’re more than likely to have heard Dune Rat’s ‘Red Light Green Light’ single on the radio, especially if you listen to triple j, and you might have also seen the video clip.  You probably haven’t seen the very *NSFW*HAHAHAHAHA IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE SHE’S A MASSIVE SLUT. LOOK AT HIS FACE. JUST LOOK AT HIS FACE!*NSFW* front cover photo for the EP the song came from.

Whereas marketing-company-masquerading-as-a-music-site FasterLouder (now re-branded as the new, fully woke Music Junkee) may have considered that ‘To put this photo on the cover of your EP you need to be as perfectly fried as the first doughnuts of the morning. So very, very fried.’, just one example of their ‘420 times that Dune Rats were the ultimate stoners’ feature, it should have prompted some serious questions related to the band’s attitude to women to be asked from the Australian music industry.  However, as would be expected from the Australian music industry, it didn’t.  Music Junkee are also proud supporters of cultural vandalism and as part of their re-brand deleted more than a decade’s worth of content from their site, meaning that the link to the story doesn’t work as the story no longer exists.  I guess it’s probably still out there somewhere on Wayback Machine if you really need to read it.

You also probably didn’t see it, but back in 2014, Dune Rats posted up the following status updates on the band’s Twitter and Facebook feeds.

There was minimal dissent to the band’s words from their followers; depressingly, the updates received more Favourites and Likes than negative comments.  Not even the slightest hint of a think piece from the established music media, barely even a ripple of disapproval on Twitter.

The few challenges to the band’s words were met in some cases by other followers (generally men) arguing that implied consent of the band’s words made it ok rather than recognising that it was more a question of attitude and highlighted a fairly repugnant lack of respect to women from a bunch of men who are probably closer in age to thirty than they are to thirteen.

Unfortunately, having imposed a self-imposed ban on anything to do with the band a long time ago, I had the misfortune to see them again when they played with Violent Soho, DZ Deathrays and Gooch Palms at The Tivoli in 2016.  They further endeared themselves to my sensibilities when they dedicated a song to “All the sexy ugly chicks”.  This is a band that just don’t seem able to help themselves.

Although you could argue that these are all relatively minor offences, you don’t have to go very far to find much more serious (albeit unsubstantiated) accusations being levelled at the band on social media on their own Facebook page back in 2016.

How does a band respond when serious allegations are made against them and asked if they think it’s funny?  If you’re Dune Rats you do it with a crying with laugher emoji.

None of this is hidden, none of this is secret.  It’s all there in plain sight, most of it on the band’s own social media pages directly from the band themselves.  The Australian music industry and the music press know about it, they just chose to ignore it.

In 2016 the Splendour In The Grass festival asked it’s punters to boycott Wicked Campers, a campervan hire company famed for its custom paint spray work on its vans, including a number with sexist and offensive slogans, from their event. “If you’re booking a campervan, please stay clear of sexist slogans! You know who you are. It’s 2016, get with the program,’ the event organisers stated.  However, the Spendour organiser’s noble stance hasn’t stopped them from booking Dune Rats to play their event in 2015 and 2017 (along with the same organisers also booking them to play Fall Festival in 2015 and 2017).  It’s ironic given Dune Rats are essentially the Wicked Campers of the Australian music scene: highly amusing to teenage boys, evoking, at the very least, an eye roll of contempt from the rest of us and much stronger reactions from a large number of people.

This year’s Splendour In The Grass takes place this weekend and once again the organisers have seen fit to include Dune Rats on the bill, this time listed as ‘Dune Rats and Friends’.  The biggest surprise about the announcement, 75% of which you could have guessed based on triple j’s playlist and this year’s Hottest 100, is finding out that Dune Rats have friends. Taking an educated guess at this point in time, I’m guessing that there’s not going to be many females included among their friends.

Perhaps the Splendour/Falls organisers need to take some of their own advice, recognise what year it is and ‘get with the program’.

More depressingly, Laneway, the most progressive Australian music festival in recent times also included Dune Rats on their bill in 2015 and 2017 (albeit as a last minute replacement for Young Thug, who cancelled a week out from the start of the festival, in 2017).  In 2017 the festival introduced a harassment hotline to allow attendees to report incidents of ‘disrespectful behaviour’: you couldn’t help but wonder if anyone called up to complain about Dune Rats’ inclusion on the bill during the band’s performances.  You couldn’t help but wonder this because it was just so tempting to do it.

Dune Rats have received considerable support from triple j over the years, which undoubtedly put them in a position to allow their second album, The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit, to debut at number one on the ARIA Albums Chart and gain a subsequent nomination for ARIA’s Best Rock Album of the year. They were also added to the triple j unearthed Live At The Steps event that took place as part of Melbourne Music Week in November 2017.  Then again, given triple j’s lack of moral leadership with regards to holding its Hottest 100 countdown on 26 January (now resolved with a positive outcome), its astonishing response to The Football Club allegations earlier last year and that it has given platforms to Nazis and MRAs in recent times, you don’t really expect much from Australia’s youth broadcaster these days.

As far as the Australia music press goes, it’s not just that there hasn’t been any challenge to the band in the Australian music media – no “Please explain”, no “Do you think you have a problem?”, no “Do you think this is OK?” – it’s that the band is completely celebrated for its obnoxiousness.  At times over the last few years you’d have thought that Tone Deaf, one of the Australia’s largest music website, have had a quota of at least one Dune Rats story per day.  It’s not just the lack of challenge that’s the problem with the Australian music press, it’s that the same sites that are forever trying to gain kudos for articles and new stories related to and promoting feminist issues, despite this hypocritical stance.

As far as I know, no Australian music press outlet has withdrawn their support for Dune Rats and said why they could no longer support and promote them.  You would think it would be a fairly straightforward decision but it’s an exceedingly rare event for the music press to call people out from within the Australian music industry for their questionable views, comments and actions, and Dune Rats have benefited from this.  As before, as always, it takes away from the everyday chest-beating, flag-waving nausea of “EVERYTHING IS BRILLIANT IN AUSTRALIA” mode of operation that prevails throughout the Australian music industry and the country’s music press.

If you are constantly promoting a band with knuckle-dragging attitudes to women without challenging them, you are condoning them for these attitudes.  Dune Rats do “fucked up and gross” and they are celebrated for it.

As triple j wrote in their review of the band’s last Splendour performance:

Maybe triple j should think about having it another way.

The Australian music industry has given its unequivocal support to Dune Rats without giving much thought to how this reflects back on them, or possibly not even giving the matter even the slightest consideration.  I can’t think of a current band that polarises opinion as much as Dune Rats, and this polarisation has very little to do with the actual music.

If you are a brewery and you make a limited edition Dune Rats beer, this reflects back on you.  If you are a musical instrument manufacturer endorsing Dune Rats, this reflects back on you.  If you are a breakfast presenter on the Australian’s youth radio station and you keep being pictured with Dune Rats, this reflects back on you.  If you are a presenter on the same radio station and you keep playing Dune Rats songs, this reflects back on you.  If you are a musician in another band and you give Dune Rats you support and patronage, perhaps you even make guest appearances on stage with them, this reflects back on you.  If you are a festival promoter and you keep booking Dune Rats to play your festival, this reflects back on you.  If you are a music media outlet and you constantly promote Dune Rats, this reflects back on you.  If you are in a position of power and authority in the Australian music and you haven’t called them and out continue to support them, what does it say about you? What does it say about the Australian music industry?

Possibly even more astonishing was receiving a recent email from Your Choice, ‘a music industry supported campaign initiated to address the growing cultural issues around behavior and lack of personal accountability within Australian venues and event spaces and finding out that Your Choice partnered with a number of bands last year to release a t-shirt sold to raise funds for a number of charities.  Your Choice are evidently an organisation who aren’t strong on their due diligence when choosing people within the music industry to partner with.  It’s shamelessly brazen of Dune Rats to be putting themselves forward as suitable partners to support Your Choice given their previous track record.

Ultimately, the Australian music industry and the music press can’t have it both ways.  If they want to support and promote bands like Dune Rats and their ilk, that’s their choice.  However, they can’t continue to support and promote these acts while also playing up their supporter of feminism credentials if they want to be taken seriously for their support.   For the Australian music industry to do so makes any support for women in music nothing more than publishing hollow content, click bait, PR weasel words with no real conviction behind it.  The hypocrisy of it all is galling.

How does the music industry think it is going to change and achieve positive outcomes with regard to diversity, inclusivity and creating safe spaces for both people working in the industry (and being attracted to working in the industry in the first place), as well as people who want to go out and enjoy live music, when the music industry itself is so unwilling to call a band out, or even challenge them, after numerous indiscretions?

It begs the question as to whether the Australian music industry is guilty of turning a blind eye to Dune Rats.

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