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Australian music in the 1990s

Australians listened to a wide variety of music in the 1990s. Pop, punk, hip hop, electronic and alternative rock all found large audiences throughout the country.

The lines between musical genres became blurred throughout the decade, as bands created new sounds by blending different styles of music. Indigenous band Yothu Yindi, for example, combined traditional Aboriginal language, instruments and beats with modern instruments like guitars and drums. Other musicians drew from the past, re-recording classic songs with a contemporary spin.

Mainstream music in the 1990s

Electronic, or computer-generated, sound was a common fixture of the Australian music scene in the 1990s. Throughout the decade, young people gathered in nightclubs and danced to up-tempo electronic dance music styles like 'house', 'techno' and 'trance'.

Electronic music merged with pop in the 1990s. The electro-pop sound is epitomised by successful Australian musical duo Savage Garden, who combined catchy melodies with dance beats and synthesised sounds. In 1997, Savage Garden achieved international success when their single Truly, Madly, Deeply reached number one on the American music charts.

The 1990s was the era of the 'boy band' - male vocal groups who generally did not play instruments, but performed melodic songs accompanied by vocal harmonies and choreographed dances. Throughout the decade, American boy bands like New Kids On The Block and the Backstreet Boys were heavily promoted in Australia and achieved considerable chart success. In the late 1990s, Australia spawned its own version of the boy band, with the emergence of the all-male pop group Human Nature.

In 1996, following on from the success of boy bands, British all-girl group the Spice Girls stormed the Australian music scene. The group's debut single Wannabe spent eleven weeks as the number one single in Australia. Designed to appeal to a young, female audience, the Spice Girls were aggressively marketed and heavily merchandised - even starring in their own film, Spiceworld: The Movie (1998).

Alternative music in the 1990s

In the early 1990s, a rebellious form of alternative rock known as 'grunge' became popular with Australian youth. Driven by a rejection of the materialism and excess of the 1980s, grunge music was characterised by heavy drums, distorted guitars and intense, angst-filled lyrics (refer toTopic 6, Chapter 3).

Grunge was popularised in Australia by American bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, inspiring local acts like Silverchair and Tumbleweed. Silverchair went on to become one of Australia's most successful musical exports of the decade. Their debut album Frogstomp sold more than 2.5 million copies around the world.

Following the grunge movement, alternative rock continued to grow in Australia throughout the decade, with acts like The Whitlams, Powderfinger and Killing Heidi achieving chart success.

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Australian radio in the 1990s

In 1990, it was estimated that Australians owned 29.1 million radio sets. Rather than forming a primary source of entertainment, however, by the 1990s radio had become the background to everyday life - people would listen to the radio while performing other activities like driving, cooking, working or studying.

By the 1990s, radio stations had adapted themselves to the lifestyle demands of their audience, by dividing their broadcasts into time-specific programmes. In the mornings, breakfast programmes that catered for people getting ready for school or work would feature constant time calls, traffic updates and brief news and weather reports. Throughout the day, talkback and music request programmes were designed to be heard throughout the work day, while drive-time shows featured music, news, and traffic reports that catered for people returning home from work.

Types of radio stations

Radio stations in the 1990s increasingly targeted a particular audience; focusing on specific genres of music and discussing issues that were relevant to their listeners.

By the 1990s, those born during the post-war baby boom were ageing and studies showed that their taste in music was becoming more conservative. Rather than the latest contemporary hits, baby boomers wanted to hear music that was popular during their youth. To capture this market, some Australian radio stations focused on playing 'golden oldies' - songs that were popular in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Other radio stations, like popular national broadcaster Triple J, catered for a younger market by playing the latest alternative music and providing news and talkback programmes that dealt with youth-related issues. By promoting up-and-coming Australian artists, youth radio stations like Triple J played an important role in the continued growth of local music throughout the decade.

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Australian cinema industry in the 1990s

For much of the 1980s and early-1990s, audience numbers in Australian cinemas dwindled. The economic recession, coupled with the effect of new technology like the video cassette recorder (VCR), meant that staying at home to watch a movie was a cheaper, more appealing option than going to the cinema.

In the 1990s, however, the cinema industry enjoyed a renewed popularity as the economy picked up and the novelty of the VCR began to wear off.

Crowds flocked to new multiplex cinemas - large buildings that contain many separate cinema screens. Multiplexes were often built in suburban areas and were easy to reach by car. They featured advanced cinema technology like surround sound and extra-wide screens and offered a selection of films screening simultaneously. As multiplexes spread across the Australia, many small cinemas were forced to close.

Films in the 1990s - Australian

Several notable Australian films were produced in the 1990s, many of which received worldwide recognition. Films like Strictly Ballroom (1992), The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994), and Muriel's Wedding (1994) each contributed to the creation of a national identity by drawing on diverse themes from contemporary Australian society.

In The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, for example, two drag queens and a transsexual woman embark on a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs. Set against the traditional backdrop of Australia's rugged outback, the film addressed contemporary gay and transgender issues, as well as exploring the divide between rural and urban Australia.

Films in the 1990s - General

American films continued to dominate at the Australian box office in the 1990s. Many Hollywood blockbusters boasted budgets of over $100 million and big-name stars like Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise commanded over $1 million per film.

Throughout the 1990s, computer-generated imagery (CGI ) revolutionised film-making. Before CGI, special effects were created using less realistic techniques like stop-motion animation. In 1993, however, the film Jurassic Park used CGI to create a world inhabited by life-like dinosaurs, thus revealing the full potential of CGI technology. Subsequent popular American films of the decade, like Forrest Gump (1994) and Titanic (1997) also used CGI to create dazzling special effects. In 1995, Toy Story became the first film to be created entirely by computer-generated imagery.

Films in the 1990s, particularly those aimed at children, were often used to sell a range of film-related products like books, stuffed toys and plastic figurines.

Australian television in the 1990s

Despite the competition posed by new entertainment technology like computers, television viewing remained Australia's most popular form of entertainment throughout the 1990s. By end of the decade, almost every household in Australia owned a television set, while some owned two or three. In 1994, it was estimated that the average Australian watched three hours and twelve minutes of television each day. While American television programmes were popular with local audiences, Australian programmes also fared well.

Australian comedy

Many Australian comedies used the American sitcom format to explore themes and issues relevant to an Australian audience. In the early 1990s, for example, Acropolis Now addressed the difficulties that a group of Greek-Australians experienced when living in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon society.

Other successful Australian comedies of the decade included the ABC's Mother and Son, which used comedy to explore the challenges of caring for an elderly parent and Frontline, a satire of contemporary current affairs programmes.

Australian drama

Traditional Australian themes continued to be a popular source of Australian drama in the 1990s. In 1994, the mini-series Banjo Patterson's The Man from Snowy River reworked the typical Australian 'rugged bushman' theme. Also in 1994, the drama Blue Heelers began its twelve-year run. Set in a small Victorian country town called Mt. Thomas, Blue Heelers centred on the events of a country police station. According to some critics, the programme catered to a deep longing by highly-urbanised Australians to 'escape to the bush'.

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The Australian soap operas Neighbours and Home and Away enjoyed major international success in the 1990s, particularly in Britain.

Neighbours storylines draw on life in suburban, middle-class Australia, focusing on the residents of Ramsay Street, Erinsborough. Home and Away, meanwhile, follows the lives of a group of families living in the fictional, sun-drenched coastal town of Summer Bay.

Lifestyle programmes

Australia's concern with home improvement and a pursuit of 'the good life' was reflected in the emergence of various 'infotainment' programmes throughout the decade. In 1992, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise made its debut, offering advice and information on a range of health and lifestyle topics. This was soon followed by Better Homes and Gardens, which provided advice on gardening, home improvement and entertaining at home. These programmes helped popularise the infotainment format in Australia during the 1990s. The following decade would see an explosion in the prevalence of lifestyle and home improvement shows.

Reality TV

The 1990s also saw the debut of Australia's first 'reality television' programme, Sylvania Waters. The reality TV format features real people interacting in unscripted situations. In the coming decade, reality television would go on to be one of the most popular programme formats in Australia.

Sylvania Waters was a twelve-part series that followed couple Noeline Baker and Laurie Donaher and their extended family, as they went about their everyday lives in the wealthy Sydney suburb of Sylvania Waters.

Crude, argumentative and materialistic, the Baker/Donaher family made dramatic, riveting television. The show has been criticised, however, for providing an inaccurate representation of the typical Australian family. As the series was designed to be screened in both Britain and Australia, many people believed that the family was chosen to cater to the 'uncultured' stereotype that British people held about Australians.

Pay television

Pay television was introduced in Australia in 1995. Pay TV is a system whereby the user buys a subscription to a pay television company and is granted access to a greatly expanding choice of programming. Australians could access movies, news, weather, sport, cartoons, lifestyle and drama programmes 24-hours a day.

Pay TV in Australia was not embraced as quickly as other forms of entertainment had been in the past, but its uptake still compared favourably with that of other countries. In 1996, it was estimated that five percent of households subscribed to pay TV, rising to eleven percent in 1998 and 17 percent by the end of the decade.

DVD players

In late 1997, the first digital video discs (DVDs) and DVD players were released in Australia. Within a few short years, DVD players had overtaken video cassette recorders as the main method of watching movies at home.

DVDs are a small plastic discs used to store movies and other digital data. They provide better sound and picture quality than video tapes, and do not wear out after repeated playing. DVDs also offer special interactive features like deleted scenes, director's commentary and behind-the-scenes documentaries.

When they were first introduced, DVD players were very expensive and not many people owned one. They gradually began to drop in price, however and became more common. By 2003, it was estimated that six in ten Australian households owned a DVD player.

The superior sound and picture quality of DVDs prompted many people to set up sophisticated 'home theatres', in an attempt to recreate the cinema experience. Towards the end of the 1990s, some Australians bought wide screen high-definition television sets and installed high-quality surround sound speakers in their homes.

Computer entertainment in the 1990s

Throughout the 1990s, more and more Australian households bought personal computers and gained access to the internet. In early 1998, it was estimated that one in eight homes had internet access. By the end of 2000, this figure had risen to one in three households.

By the end of the decade, personal computers had become a major source of home entertainment.

Australians used computers to surf the internet, browse and purchase goods and email or chat with friends. Computers were also used to play music, watch movies and download music, images and text.

Computer games were also a popular in the 1990s. Computer games combine three-dimensional graphics, sound effects and music, and require the user to interact with the computer for the purpose of entertainment.

In early 2000, a study found that seven in ten children played electronic or computer games outside of school hours. Of the children surveyed, boys spent an average of nine hours per fortnight playing computer games, while girls spent six hours.


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