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From Fringe to Fame: New book interrogates countercultures shaping popular culture

Monash University 3 mins read

Monash University researchers have collaborated with other academics to examine the relations between alternative and mainstream cultures in a new book, Fringe to Famous: Cultural Production in Australia After the Creative Industries.

The co-authored book is the result of a four-year research study funded by the Australian Research Council to examine how Australia’s most cherished popular culture – from punk to surfwear, alternative comedy to Indigenous storytelling – has been shaped by artists’ ideas, and experimentation that emerged from fringe scenes and countercultures. 

Drawing on interviews across Indie music, street and surfwear, comedy, screen drama and digital games, Fringe to Famous weaves together individual stories from 1970s post-punk to 2010s digital DIY to understand how artists negotiate the tensions in their movements between fringe scenes and the mainstream. It also looks at what governments, media and arts and entertainment businesses have done to encourage or hamper what the authors consider a key driver of the stories and visions Australians share about themselves.

One of the book’s authors, Associate Professor Tony Moore, said Fringe to Famous argues that crossover between fringe scenes and the mainstream has been a major source of cultural and economic value in our nation since the 1980s.

“The book resists a tendency to represent the fringe and the mainstream as abstract opposites. There has been much greater crossover between the two than is generally recognised,” Associate Professor Moore said. 

Fresh from his own promotion of his solo album The True North, musician, campaigner and former Federal Minister for the Arts Peter Garrett AM will launch Fringe to Famous at a symposium in Melbourne. 

Garrett’s band Midnight Oil features in the book as part of a wider discussion of what the authors call ‘affiliated indie and negotiated autonomy’. The band believed that staying true to their artistic vision and loyal fanbase would enhance rather than hinder popularity and commercial success, demonstrating how their cultural authenticity and negotiated creative freedom directly contributed to their economic success and enduring national impact.

Associate Professor Moore said the book’s authors are delighted to have such a prolific cultural icon formally launch Fringe to Famous. 

“Peter Garrett's journey from the fringes to fame is a testament to his unwavering commitment to activism and his transformative impact on Australian culture,” he said.

Fringe to Famous moves beyond the Creative Industries approach recently favoured by governments and international agencies. According to co-author Mark Gibson, “Creative Industries collapses the distinction between economic and cultural value, missing the potency of countercultures in particular, as demonstrated by the critical success of Midnight Oil.”

Through interviews with artists as diverse as Steve Vizard (Fast Forward, Comedy Channel), Rachel Perkins (The Sapphires and Bran Nue Dae) Paul Fenech (Pizza and Housos), Dave Faulkner from Hoodoo Gurus, Reg Mombassa (Mental as Anything, Mambo) Steve Kilbey of the Church, Andrew Denton, and The Chaser, Fringe to Famous reveals the cottage industries and public infrastructure that stimulate fringe scenes, from independent record stores, small venues, community radio stations, university unions and zines, and pathways to the mainstream.

Co-author Dr Maura Edmond explained that, “the recent flowering of Indigenous film and television makers like Rachel Perkins, Ivan Sen and Warwick Thornton as some of the nation’s best storytellers is the result of decades of seeding and nurturing through the national screen funding body’s Indigenous Department, but equally through First Nations community media spaces like CAAMA and Imparja, in tandem with mainstreaming initiatives  such as the ABC Indigenous Programs unit and SBS Independent.”

The official launch of Fringe to Famous will take place at a symposium hosted at Kaleide Theatre, RMIT University in Melbourne from 6pm on Friday 10 May. As well as an official opening from Peter Garrett, the symposium will include a panel discussion with the book’s authors and key cultural industries players interrogating the themes of the book. 

In recognition of the significance of the book’s discoveries for government cultural policy, the launch event is hosted by think tank Per Capita and Essential’s Centre for the Public Square, in association with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, and Monash and RMIT Universities.

Fringe to Famous is co-authored by Tony Moore, Mark Gibson, Chris McAulliffe and Maura Edmond, and published by Bloomsbury Academic. A review copy can be provided on request as an ebook or hardback. A brief overview of the book can be viewed here.

Registration to attend the free launch event is available here


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