Collarbones forever

June 1st 2023

“Don’t forget I’m nothing. Don’t forget / I’m nothing but a moment passing by” laments Marcus Whale over a bed of fuzzy guitar and stomping drums. The track is ‘Ripe for Filth’ and the mood is dirty, eternal passion (of the nu metal variety).

Quick warning in case you also have a habit of compartmentalising bad news in order to protect your already fragile peace of mind…! Legendary Australian duo Collarbones are breaking up. Mainstays of the scene who, in the 16 years they’ve been active, basically wrote the script for Australian electronic pop music, Travis Cook and Marcus Whale have decided it’s finally time to say goodbye. However, as they told Tommy Codling on Thursday Arvos, they’re not going out without a bang.

Travis Cook and Marcus Whale have been making music over the internet together since 2006. If you feel like the trope of esoteric electronic-adjacent groups trading .als files long distance to create something stunning you’ve never really heard before is kind of played out, or at least relatively common in 2023 (see: 100 gecs, BROCKHAMPTON, etc), you’d be right. But Collarbones, well… they kinda started it. 

Travis and Marcus were children of the early web, spending late nights in their teens trawling obscure blogs dedicated to sharing pockets of experimental homemade music. The two first met on the now defunct forum

“I was like, ooh, who’s this cutie posting about Animal Collective?” 

The internet had already become a potent locus for music discovery, creation and distribution. Through free software like Audacity and Acid, curious young artists like Travis and Marcus were able to play and experiment in proto-laptop sound. Sites like MySpace and Last FM allowed them to then share the tracks they’d made.

“The kind of, like, cultural legacy of Collarbones is just like putting [up] random shit that you do on the computer for the weirdos online that you met on forums.”

Travis’ role was to make anything and everything; lo-fi, plunderphonic beats filled with sounds from all corners of genre pasted together haphazardly. It’s a style of creating that he has stayed true to in the years since.

Marcus: “I wish we had a cache of the tracks that Travis was making at the time, because they were really like nothing else I’d ever heard before. … I was like, how is anyone making this? How is this being done?”
Travis: “I guess I just have a twisted mind.”

Marcus, meanwhile, applied the polish. He worked to refine the beat, arranging Travis’ raw sound into songs before adding vocals on top. It’s a dynamic that defines the duo, even in their way of interviewing. Travis often makes delightfully devious remarks about deep-cut Collarbones lore (“There was a juggalo there. I remember there was a juggalo.”), which Marcus quickly and cordially contextualises.

Travis: “Marcus sort of levelled me a little bit and had more of that pop sensibility starting to come through.”
Marcus: “I suppose I’m like the finisher of the songs.”

Flashforward to 2011, when Collarbones launched their debut album Iconography at the Marrickville Bowlo (they were meant to play Red Rattler, but it was double booked). At the time the Bowling Cub  wasn’t fully set up for live music and their friend had to hire a PA, which they promptly blew midway through their set. Collarbones are (were?) like that. Alongside icons like Oscar Key Sung, Banoffee, and HTML Flowers they were pioneers of the Australian electropop scene both online and irl, making special the things that we now take for granted.

“It kind of spoke to the feeling of excessive happiness and joy in the music that we were feeling, that the PA just couldn’t handle.”

Speaking of, East Coast venue sound systems better beware. Collarbones are dropping their fifth and final album Filth on June 23, and the accompanying release/farewell tour is sure to thrash hard. Particularly so because on this album Collarbones are joining in on the recent nu metal revival wave.

Inspired by the “really beautiful heaviness” of bands like Deaf Tones and Harm, Travis and Marcus set out to capture that early 2000s feeling of expansiveness and unlimited imagination that drew them to music in the first place. The album title itself is borrowed from a 1995 compilation CD from Travis’ childhood.

“Yeah, there’s a few disgusting riffs [on the album].”

As Travis once said, ‘Collarbones advocates for bad taste, now and forever’. Playing around with being corny as hell with some nu metal on their last album couldn’t be a stronger way to prove it. It is in this way that Collarbones is ending – not so much looking back on the sounds that defined their monumental legacy but instead celebrating the music they love that got them there in the first place.

“It’s not a summary of the music we’ve made, but more like a final [full stop], at the end of it.”

Listen back to the full Collarbones interview with Tommy Codling here to hear them chat side projects, collaborations, and that one time they played the Space Jam soundtrack at Big Day Out. Catch Collarbones performing for the final time right where it all started at Marrickville Bowling Club on Saturday July 1, tickets here. Filth drops June 23. In the meantime, listen to their latest single off the album, ‘Lack’, below.


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