Words by Marcus Rimondini // Photos by Sarah Chavdaroska
“2012 Dolewave” as Lachlan Denton described one of their final songs, is officially laid to rest. The Ocean Party have put this particular project to rest after the passing of member Zac Denton. I won’t discuss his passing in this recap however, as I believe that’s a personal matter for his friends and family. This is simply a nice recap for one of my favourite bands this decade, as iconic of a Melbourne band as it gets. A band you’ll play to your kids in 20 years and say, “This pretty much sums up what the 2010-2020 decade felt like in our twenties.”
If the ’90s in Melbourne were punk rock, the 2000’s were keyboard revivalists unafraid to dance again at a pub gig. The 2010-2020 had a fleet of bands inspired by ’80s Australian acts such as The Go-Betweens, bands not full of angst, not learning to dance for the first time, just bands trying to understand the world and feeling like they haven’t got much power all the way down in Melbourne. Bands that write about the feelings that come to mind walking from work to gigs to somebodies backyard drinks, to the morning after with lyrics such as “Every weekend’s always the same, Girl in my room, I don’t know her name, I’m high on Saturday, suicidal on Sunday, I’m wastin’ my youth away”.
Looking for people to connect with, and that’s what The Ocean Party did as well as anyone in Melbourne. They felt like your good friend, never above or below you. The Ocean Party were like the friend who you didn’t really know, but you knew you could trust them. Their intentions were pure, they were pure musicians, not accountants pretending to be musicians for financial benefits. As you could tell, the band never made much money (just look at the beloved touring van they once drilled together).
Despite emerging from the Dolewave label, that generally implied morals slightly healthier than stoner rock, The Ocean Party actually tackled world problems in their songs too. Their 2015 track ‘Guess Work‘ is about the gun problem in the USA and it’s one of their more memorable songs. The occasional acknowledgement of the larger world around them, meant that when they did just sing about ‘Chinese Takeaway‘, these songs served as stress release distractions that we sometimes need from the hectic life of the overbearing world at times. I think of S02E01 of the TV show High Maintenance, when all of New York finds out Donald Trump got elected, and immediately weed sales skyrocket. If I was soundtracking a Melbourne version of High Maintenance, I’d choose tracks such as ‘More To Run‘, that sings “Have to believe in more than myself / to keep hangin’ on”. A song really concerned with what’s happening socially outside of the northside Melbourne bubble. Or ‘Split‘ that sings “I’m torn between what I want and / what I have to do/ I am finding it hard / I am split”, the band also chose this to be their final song played in Melbourne on the 23rd of March 2019.
The final Melbourne gig was a brilliant and emotional homage to Zac Denton. The band brought on stage guest singers for different Zac songs.
While many of them shed a tear or two, it was Zac’s partner Mashara Wachjudy singing ‘Birth Place‘ that was gut-retching and beautiful and not something I’ll ever forget. The band joked that you can tell an Ocean Party song from another one of their side projects, because “they’re the honest songs”. I think another word they could’ve used was “vulnerable”, The Ocean Party always seemed to unlock the confidence in each other to be honest and vulnerable on stage. Something rarely found in a band from all of its members. Sets sometimes felt like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where band members took turns being honest and vulnerable with strangers.
It was fitting that for their final song and performance of ‘Split’, they encouraged the crowd to come on stage and sing along together, groups of 4 or 5 people around each microphone, bringing the bands country community spirit to the city one last time. Combine that with the Howler PA system and a wonderful sound mix via Bonnie Knight, a mix as lush and defined as I ever heard The Ocean Party. Where the guitars glistened like The War On Drugs, and all the instruments’ special subtle interplay was clearly defined. The band, friends, fans and family made Zac Denton, where ever he is now, smile at least one more time.