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Amyl and the Sniffers: Aussie Punks Bring the Noise

Raucous Melbourne crew talk early shows, ’70s style, and the “consensual violence” of a good pit

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Amyl and the Sniffers in Brooklyn, New York.

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artist you need to know ayntkIt’s well over 100 degrees inside Market Hotel, an all-ages venue on the second floor of an aging building in Bushwick, Brooklyn, but no one seems to mind the heat once Amyl and the Sniffers take the stage. As the band launches into “I’m Not a Loser,” off their 2017 Bandcamp EP Big Attraction, the crowd leaps together into a pit. Amy Taylor, the petite 23-year-old Aussie fronting the band, contorts her eyeliner-smeared face as she rips around the stage, throttling the lyrics into a high-pitched grunt: “I fell asleep down there in the gutter/But it’s no worries, it’s as smooth as butter/I’m not a loser!”

In a punk scene crowded with throwback garage acts and reunited 1970s bands, Amyl and the Sniffers offer a fresh and appealing energy. Taylor — along with Bryce Wilson on drums, Declen Martens on guitar, and Gus Romer on bass — have taken the aggression of days past and combined it with dead-on guitar riffs and an amplified stage presence, shaping it all into something very 2019.

Taylor describes the first pit she went in, at 14, as “consensual violence,” though that could just as easily describe one of their shows. The band gives you a safe space — that is, a safe space for you to go absolutely nuts. “Where I grew up, it was like, ‘hippie, happy, love forever,’” she says, “and I’m like, ‘That’s not the only thing I can feel.’”

Before starting the band in February 2016, Taylor didn’t have much experience behind a mic. She’d occasionally sing at the pub after a few pints, but it was more drunken party trick than career path. All her roommates were in bands, gigging five nights a week, so one night, she decided to grab two of them — Wilson and Martens — and have a little fun. “We always joked about starting a house band, we’d sound like the B-52s,” Taylor tells Rolling Stone a few hours before the show in a dive bar not far from the venue. “There was already a drum kit in my room, and we set up a bunch of instruments.” They recorded a four-song demo EP, Giddy Up, and posted it the next day. The first three songs were somewhat tame — fuzzed-out guitar, synth riffs — but the last one, “Stole my Pushbike,” showcased the punk band they would become. “I think 50 people listened to it in one week,” Taylor says. “I thought it was crazy.”

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They played their first show a week later, in a dive near their home in Melbourne. “We played for, like, 10 minutes ‘cause we had no songs,” she adds. That included three covers — one originally performed by one of Martens’ old bands, another by one of Wilson’s, and one a cover of the 1990s dance hit “Short Dick Man” by 20 Fingers feat. Gillette.

Even then, their shows were wild. “Our friend was wearing white pants” to that first gig, Taylor remembers. By the end, “they were covered in blood.” The band considered a more chill sound, but it didn’t really fit. “Growing up, that’s the kinda shows I liked going to the most — when you get covered in bruises or you leave with a fat lip,” she says. “It’s more fun to put energy into it,” adds Wilson. “If there’s no energy, it’s boring.”

The crew began gigging a couple times a month, writing new songs in their spare time. They brought in Romer, a bassist from Tasmania who met Martens at a bar, and went on an Australian tour. “Compared to what you do overseas, it’s not really a tour,” says Romer. “You can go, like, five cities in Australia, so we did that.”

In February 2017, they put out their second EP, Big Attraction. Here, the band came into their own — a tight four-piece with energy and a mission. Sharpies, an Australian subculture that had been particularly popular in the 1970s, were having a comeback, and the band leaned into that scene’s aggro pub-rock sound. They also leaned into the look, shaving their mullets and sporting cropped pants and silk bomber jackets. “It was such a Melbourne thing, such a strong sense of identity,” says Martens. “Even though it was from 40 years ago.”

A few months later, the drummer of fellow Aussie band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard caught one of their shows, and took a liking to them. They were signed to King Gizzard’s Flightless Records in Australia, and accompanied them on a 22-date tour across the U.S. beginning in June 2018. They got so much attention that they proceeded to tour for about a year straight. “We haven’t been in one place for more than a month in, like, a year,” says Taylor. They ended up following King Gizzard to a U.S. deal with ATO Records and signing with Rough Trade Records everywhere else. This spring, they released their first full album, Amyl and the Sniffers, a rowdy, 11-song LP that’s drenched in the sounds of the 1970s, both U.K. hardcore and AC/DC.

As for what’s next? Heading home, possibly getting day jobs, recording new music, and prepping for their next headlining U.S. tour next spring. But honestly, the band doesn’t seem too concerned about any of that. “We haven’t put much thought into it,” says Bryce.

“It’s not a well-thought-out band,” adds Taylor, matter-of-factly. “It comes straight from the gut. Whatever this project is at the moment, it’s real spontaneous.”

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