Melbourne group Boom Crash Opera’s 1987 single ‘City Flat’ is a musically exuberant (though according to at least one critic, lyrically ‘fairly bleak’) single celebrating a sparse inner-Melbourne lifestyle in which limited means enhance and highlight minor pleasures: coffee, kitchens, hanging out. Now just thirty years old, the song celebrates a cheap, recycled, ad hoc city long gone. One of ‘City Flat’s’ co-writers, Peter Farnan, recently opined in the Daily Review that the academy assigns ‘arbitrary cultural values, based on bogus notions of authenticity, to pop and rock’; such assessment is not, he claims, ‘about content. It’s about context.’ This paper strives (regardless of Farnan’s gripe!) to analyse ‘City Flat’ in historical and urban studies context, as a vibrant relic, but also to examine it through a lens of the ways in which a pop song itself may be used as archive, memoir and signpost. While Boom Crash Opera’s Dale Ryder sings of Melbourne as a place in which streets ‘meet at right angles, map out the way’ the record itself is by no means straightforward, much less banal. This paper uses interviews and an extensive overview of both mid-1980s Melbourne and the Australian music scene of the time to posit an analysis of not just ‘City Flat’ but its milieu and the potential for use of pop as artifact in writing urban history.
The author 2018
Proceedings of the 14th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2018