'That’s How Weird The '90s Were': Season Two Of Podcast 'Just Ace' Explores Golden Era Of Aus Music

31 October 2023 | 1:57 pm | Mary Varvaris

All the label jostling and money being thrown around will be explored in the new season of 'Just Ace', which releases every Saturday morning.

'Just Ace' season two episode one promo photo

'Just Ace' season two episode one promo photo (Source: Supplied/'Just Ace')

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Last October, former Channel [V] and ARIA staffer Danny Yau launched a new podcast, Just Ace, to track Australia’s golden era of music: the 90s. And now, he’s premiered the first episode from the highly anticipated second season, exploring just how “weird” the 1990s were.

Produced and hosted by Danny Yau, the 12 new episodes continue the story of the 90s, with this season focused on the signing spree and influx of new bands in the wake of Nirvana. The episodes will cover some of the biggest, wildest and most successful stories of the decade, such as The Cruel Sea, Silverchair, You Am I and many more.

The first episode is out now, and it looks at how the scene of independent labels grew in the early 90s. But they ultimately all died off by the end of the 90s.

“The signing spree that happened in the UK and US also happened in Australia. I wanted to tell the stories of all those exciting new bands, but I realised I needed to explain who did the signing. And it wasn’t so simple,” Yau told The Music.

From there, Yau’s storytelling expanded. The biggest independent labels in Australia struggled as the 90s came along. Bands saw Nirvana and their peers and wanted a piece of that action. So, labels like Au Go Go, Ra Records, Red Eye, Volition and Waterfront had to find a way to act more like a major label.

Yau added, “Nirvana showed a way to be credible and be successful. Making film clips was okay; recording in proper studios was okay; having a song in the charts, as long as it was your song, was okay. So, suddenly, independent labels had to get bigger budgets. And so, they went to the major labels for funding.”

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For a while, it looked like independent labels had won. In the US, they called 1991 “the year that punk broke”, with the underground culture finally taking over the mainstream.

As he discussed in the podcast, Yau continued, “So many bands got signed in this time. You Am I, Clouds, Spiderbait, Tumbleweed, Custard and many others were discovered then and signed to interesting indie labels. There was a diversity of voices and sounds. People were just trying things and happy for bands to develop. But after a while, it stopped working.”

Yau explored the time of indie labels having hits, but soon enough, majors took hold. Those majors would eventually buy labels like Ra Records and Red Eye completely. Almost all the big Australian independent brands in the 90s had dissolved by the end of that decade.

Yau gives a few reasons why: “I think the bands wanted to be successful and wanted the money to be a proper band. And it was the major labels that had the most money. And the major labels hired young executives who understood the indie scene, like John Watson and Michael Parisi. Even some people who worked at indie labels, like Waterfront’s Chris Dunn, would end up at Sony and sign bands like Something For Kate. The majors had the money, and they bought out the people.”

A new batch of indie labels would soon come along, like Murmur and Modular. But those labels were not the same and had a different ambition.

“We lost a bit of character when we lost those labels. Waterfront was so Sydney. Au Go Go was so Melbourne. But that’s what happens time and time again. Labels like A&M, Island, Atlantic and many others started as independent labels that were bought out by majors. It’s sort of the best thing that can ultimately happen to an indie label - that someone comes and buys it. Major labels survive because they buy up cooler indies.”

All that label jostling and the money being thrown around will be explored in the new season of Just Ace, which releases every Saturday morning over the summer.

“The word at the time was crossover—the attempt to flip these weird and wonderful bands into big stars. We’ll see it in the story of the bands, but we hear it in the music, too. So many songs and albums dealt with quick fame. Just look at Spiderbait’s Buy Me A Pony. A song about getting signed to a label gets to #1 in the Hottest 100. That’s how weird the 90s were.”

Just Ace is available through Apple Podcasts, or you can visit Danny on the web at www.justace90s.com