Band names by semantic complexity 

Looking at the Splendour in the Grass line-up this year, I realised that my favourite bands were the ones with the longest names. And that that’s usually the case. Bigsound 2016 provided me with an excellent opportunity to test my theory : over 150 bands, the peak of Australia’s indie – pop – rock – metal buzz. So after a conversation with Sky De Jersey, I sorted all the bands by length and complexity of their name, and set out for a week in Fortitude Valley, Bris Vague Arse, to find out how often the music and the stage show and the vibe fit the name.

Executive summary

Complex names correlate strongly with lots of band members (although the converse is not true). Semantic complexity of name does not correlate with sophistication of lyric. There is a tendency for bands with interesting names to look and act interesting, but it’s not a guarantee. Lots of bands with boring names were not boring, but lots of them were. There was quite a low correlation between bands named after their singer/songwriter and the honesty or vulnerability of the songs and performance. 

CKP and Chloe Gunn, silhouetted against These New South Whales

The full list is at the bottom of this post, but first I give you my reviews of the bands with the craziest names, and a few special mentions from the “boring” sections ( thanks to Naomi Crain for helping me think about it). 

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (5 boys)  : this was interesting. The longest band name in the festival (but still shorter than some of my favourite bands). They were a really great Aussie pub rock band, who couldn’t decide what sort of guitar they each play a different sort. Rod Begbie could have been in this band, it was a bit like that aperture band, and the songs were had all his style of references. It was Paul Kelly and the Hoodoo Gurus and Mondo Rock,and we loved it. But I suspect that when they were choosing band names they got down to the last two, couldn’t decide, and just stuck them together. Either “rolling blackouts” or “coastal fever” would have been very appropriate names for this band, but all four words made me expect something more unusual, darker, weirder, less predictable.

West Thebarton Brothel Party (7 boys)  : acca dacca with 5 guitars. Loud shouty pub rock, one drummer, one singer, four electric guitars, and an electric bass who sometimes played guitar. Unserious and fun, and the boys from hideous sun demon were there. The name suited the band perfectly, and while I’ve never visited West Thebarton I imagine the madam there would be very happy to have them around. 

In Each Hand A Cutlass (4 or 5 boys and a girl)  : really great music, in a style which was perfected in the late seventies by the last wave of great rock bands. They looked slick, their musicianship was great, but they did not live up to their bombastic name. I never thought anybody was going to leave the stage to vanquish an enemy, and none of the instruments were wielded like weapons. 

These New South Whales : i didn’t see them. And I didn’t go to their pisstake panel session. I regret both of those omissions. They’re a hilarious Spinal Tap / Flight of the Conchords type band who sound great and star in their own video series. The name is good. Very good. 

Hideous Sun Demon (3 boys) : way too heavy for me. Interesting, for metal, but still metal. The name is interesting in an Indy-pop context, but all heavy bands have much better names than bearded hipster minimalist names so it’s not a fair comparison. 

Verge Collection : didn’t see em

Raised by Eagles : very nice complex folk. I would have been much less likely to see them if the band was just called “Luke Richardson”, and I think they are providing a great example to all the “I just sing under my own name” kids of how much a simple, unique, interesting name can make a set of honest thoughtfully written beautifully played songs more memorable. 

Tinpan Orange (2 boys and a girl) : haven’t seen them play for years, despite stopping for a chat at every second festival I’m at.

Unity Floors : didn’t see em

Coda Conduct : didn’t see em (but it’s a great name)

Special mentions

Sampa the Great : this was a good name. Her name is Sampa. She is great. She knows she’s great. Her band was huge, soul, R&B, all the business. Great show, great name. 

Kira Puru : kira was as fascinating as she’s always been. Her name always has to be in the title, there is no mistaking her. Her current band was fantastic, like they always are. But like Sampa, she needs more words, a bigger name… And i really miss the bruisy-ness of The Bruise. 

William Crighton :like Kira, he needs more to his name. He’s a big man with a strong voice and a manly name, so that’s all good. But his band have a strong identity too, and he’s not just a boy singing about his own experience. He sometimes plays as a band under a name (which I’ve forgotten), but I think William Crighton and the barbed wire or the empty dam red river would be even better.

LUCIANBLOMKAMP : an acoustic /electronic live solo show. Keyboards, drums, violin, samples, beats, and vocals. They were his own songs, it was a very personal project, but it was a much more striking thing than just Lucian. Sticking both his names together and putting them in caps was a good decision.

Simona Castricum: i thought this was a boring name, because I just thought it was a girls name. But I walked past the press club, heard some quality electronica, and looked inside to find a transgender person ripping live beats, synth drums, and netball skirt dance moves. Once I decoded “Castricum” it made total sense.

Kira Puru and her three bandmates

The list

And here’s the complete list of Bigsound Bands 2016, sorted by name length then into categories of semantic complexity (with edits thanks to Emily Collins and Luke Jaaniste).

— very interesting —

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever ^
West Thebarton Brothel Party ^
In Each Hand A Cutlass ^
These New South Whales
Hideous Sun Demon ^
Verge Collection
Raised by Eagles ^
Tinpan Orange
Unity Floors
Coda Conduct

— interesting —

Tiny Little Houses
Japanese Wallpaper
I Heart Hiroshima
The Outdoor Type
The Gooch Palms
Totally Unicorn
Heads of Charm
Confidence Man
A.B. Original
Totally Mild
Hollow World
DZ Deathrays
Braille Face
Hot Spoke
Rat & Co
Oh Pep! ^
Mid Ayr

— slightly interesting —

Tracy McNeil & The GoodLife
The Belligerents ^
Broadway Sounds
Simona Castricum
Teeth & Tongue ^
Shining Bird
King Social
Ecca Vandal **
Young Tapz
Vera Blue **
Ivan Ooze
Ribongia ^
Good Boy ^
B Wise

— boring but with spelling mistakes or punctuation —


— boring (just a noun (even if it is a compound noun)) —

Terrible Truths
Sampa The Great ^
The Ruminaters
Mosquito Coast
Thigh Master
The Laurels
Dorsal Fins
Loose Tooth
Middle Kids
Polish Club
Mere Women
Wet Lips

— boring (just someone’s name) —

Luke Daniel Peacock
William Crighton ^
Daniel Champagne
Missy Lancaster
Gabriella Cohen
Prateek Kuhad
Leanne Tennant
Leah Senior ^
Kyle Lionhart
Harmony James
Gideon Bensen ^
Clairy Browne
Bec Sandridge
Andrew Tuttle
Ainslie Wills
Tia Gostelow
Tash Sultana
Sarah Connor
Rainbow Chan
Mel Parsons ^
Allan Smithy
Yumi Zouma
Tkay Maidza
Ryan Downey
Empat Lima
Rolls Bayce
Alice Night *
Jack Grace
Alex Lahey ^
Mike Noga
Kira Puru ^
Alice Ivy
Gawurra ^
Catherine Satour ^

— meaningless to me —


* unless there is nobody called alice in the band and it’s a reference to nighttime in alice springs

** unless that’s actually just their name

^ means I know I saw the band

Colours of Ostrava 2014 : an Australian far from home

You can think of Colours as Bluesfest in Mt Isa. The programming (in 2014 at least, apparently they had lost some city funding) was very like bluesfest: two massive stages with big international acts, half a dozen much smaller stages featuring local Czech bands, competition winners, or dance bands. Not much grass or trees, lots of asphalt and gravel (I wore shoes the whole time), and the whole thing surrounded, towered over, dominated by what was the biggest coal mine / iron smelter in the country.
The first day was pretty disappointing. We had trouble finding the camping area (don’t be tricked into camping at the castle!); after a stupid amount of time walking and catching taxis we eventually arrived at the festival, discovered that the only interesting thing on in the first afternoon was also the only thing you had to book a ticket for, and it was booked out. Didn’t really work out the festival layout properly, went home and didn’t realise till the next day that we had missed a couple of bands we wanted to see. Silly us.
That day was rescued though by three great mainstage bands. Shaka Ponk, Les Tambours Du Bronx, and oh dear i’ve forgotten the other one, but i remember the long walk home being saved by remembering how great those three bands were.

I’ve raved about the castle camp to too many friends, and i’m not going to do it again here. suffice it to say that the campsite is not in the castle, it’s in the castle grounds a long way from the castle. and the castle grounds are a very long way from the festival, half an hour’s walk if you find the directions, and hour or more if you don’t. one morning we walked along a highway for a while before climbing down onto the train tracks and walking across a derelict bridge.¬† It’s possible that on the last day we worked out the quickest way in, but i can’t be sure because we never walked the same way twice.

OKA was the first Australian band up, playing the Fresh stage… On the first full day of the festival. They were the most distinctly Australian act, with their didgeridoo and first nations politics.
There were lots of Czech bands, some traditional, some jazz, and some very current indie pop. The range of cultures from the rest of the world was pretty broad.
Angelique Kidjo always preaches her African heritage like no one since Fela Kuti. OKA and A Tribe Called Red brought very distinctive first nations cultures, and one of my favourite discoveries of the festival was a funky African four-piece from Belleville in Paris whose show was completely in French – a language I’m not sure any of the punters knew.

Chet Faker brought his Portland styles to the Fresh stage Рthe most industrial environment, tucked away in a corner of the festival underneath hundreds of meters of rusting towers and pipes.  He attracted the biggest audience I saw at that stage, overflowing way out onto the surrounding food and souvenir stalls, nearly half the audience was watching him on the screen.

On the last day of the festival, Graveyard Train played the first show of their tour to a mid – afternoon crowd on one of the smaller stages which quickly filled up with three or four hundred screaming whistling singing Czechs. The friends from our campsite all came with high expectations (thanks to us) and had them exceeded. Bo climbed around the side of the stage, leering at the crowd from the massive “Colours” backdrop. One Day We Will Be Dead struck a chord with the black – humoured Czechs and Poles, I even saw some of them laughing. They were the only band I saw sell merch from stage after their show, and they looked like they made some good money and a few friends by the time the crowd dried up.

They were immediately followed by John Butler on the biggest stage right next door. He had his Austin accent on, and, well, it was a huge gravel stage on a hot sunny afternoon and I didn’t need to hear more than ten minutes of bombastic blues so I moved on.