Radio Free Alice: Melbourne rockers making the case for straight-up indie royalty

3 weeks ago 241



Noah Learmouth is craning over the edge of the stage at Manchester’s Yes Basement, every limb stretched outwards. “I haven’t said a thing since 2010, my heart is bleeding, my heart explodes for you,” he sings with a visceral friction. It is Melbourne band Radio Free Alice’s first ever UK show, and a performance that is sparky and effervescent spills over into mayhem during the band’s recent single ‘2010’, the crowd reciprocating the taut energy emanating from the stage.

“God that was great,” Learmouth tells NME after the show. “That was our first time playing overseas, it felt loose and a little bit chaotic, it was fun. It’s surprising that there are people here who know us, it’s just so weird.”

It is not surprising when you hear ‘2010’, a calling card for Radio Free Alice. Its twinkling, melodic guitar licks and bopping basslines immediately throw listeners into the warm embrace of the ‘80s indie greats, a musical happy place where the band’s five members were brought up. “We grew up on those bands,” Learmouth explains. “Our core favourites that we come back to are early New Order, The Jam, The Housemartins.”

As NME chats to the band, it quickly becomes clear that these passions run deep, with Learmouth happy to talk extensively about things like favourite Smiths B-sides (‘Half A Person’, for those wondering). “It’s not a deliberate thing,” adds bassist and saxophonist Michael Phillips about the influence of that era on the band. “That’s just the music we grew up listening to through our parents and it’s what we love, and it bleeds through.”

‘2010’ is part of the band’s second project, set to be released this summer and recorded over three days in Melbourne with producer Nao Anzai [The Belair Lip Bombs, HighSchool]. It includes the enchanting track ‘Spain’, a spacious, creeping song that boasts the kind of prowling menace that conjures The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’, with Phillips’ sly bass taking centre stage with a command that would make Simon Gallup proud.

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That song’s secret weapon, and one of the band’s distinguishing features, is its restrained use of Phillips’ saxophone, something that allows the band to explore sonic real estate that is often deemed off-grounds for indie rock groups. Phillips has been mastering the instrument for a decade, and draws from his love of Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz and João Gilberto.

Given Radio Free Alice’s apparent fixation on the music of the era, and the colourful guitar notes of Jules Paradiso, it would be a short leap of faith to assume that the band were named in tribute to R.E.M.’s legendary 1981 debut single ‘Radio Free Europe’. In fact, they only discovered the song after they had decided to take their name from a Sydney record store of the same name.

Sydney had been the childhood home of Learmouth and Paradiso, who first started playing music together at high school, aged 14. When pushed, they will admit that the first recorded evidence of their musical collaboration is a video of them covering Mudhoney’s ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ at a school assembly. “It’s a very hard watch,” Learmouth concedes. “The headmaster was covering his ears”.

The two moved to Melbourne upon graduation, bringing in Phillips, drummer Lochie Dowd and eventually synth player Maayan Barnatan. They set about honing in on the sound we hear now, and, feeling disconnected from their musical home, began setting their sights on the world beyond their borders.

This first visit to the UK, which has also included a show at London’s Shacklewell Arms and dates at The Great Escape Festival among others, is what they see as the start of something that could become permanent.

“There’s a low ceiling in Australia in terms of how many people there are who are interested in indie rock,” Learmouth says. “There’s a limit to how many venues there are, how many cities there are. If you’re successful in Australia, you’re just successful in Australia, but if you’re successful in the UK, that then goes into Europe, and then it keeps going.”

They explain that they feel at arm’s length from the dominant voices in the alternative scene in their home country – Triple J and bands like Spacey Jane and Ocean Alley. “I don’t think that’s our people, our sound,” Learmouth adds. “I’m just sick of surf rock, it’s not for us.”

They are keen to add that they consider Melbourne a “vibrant” and “world class” music city, but it is clear from speaking to them and from the sheer urgency of the music they are already creating that they feel they are ready for more. “We’re passionate about Australia and we don’t want to lose our Australian audience, but we don’t want to be an ‘Australian’ band, we want to be bigger than that,” Learmouth says.

With the promise of a return to British shores later this summer and plans to record their debut album here later in 2024, it seems the band is gravitating toward their permanent home. If their first show in Manchester is anything to go by, they’ll fit in just fine.

Radio Free Alice’s second project is due to be released later this summer

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