Ever stumble into a random club late at night to see a band you’ve never heard of, only to find yourself and the other dozen or so people in there utterly blown away?
It’s easy to forget that even the biggest performers had humble beginnings slogging away in tiny venues, honing their craft and trying to get noticed.
Sometimes music fans get lucky and get a chance to experience an artist right before they blow up. It’s hard not to envy the audience at King Tut’s in Glasgow the night Oasis were discovered and offered a label deal on the spot. Or the crowd in 1975 who headed to CBGB to watch The Ramones and caught a brand new band called Talking Heads as the opening act.
Thanks to some dutiful bootleggers, we’re lucky to have some of these historic moments captured on video. In many cases the talent is already evident and undeniable, even if it may be a little rough around the edges. Others can be shockingly bad, leaving you wondering how they ever took off. If you compare where some of these artists started to where they are now, the contrast can be surprisingly stark.
Multi-instrumentalist and psych-rock icon Kevin Parker is now one of the most recognizable artists in the music world, but he almost quit pursuing music as a career before he got his first break. His journey to pop stardom began as a teenager, spending hours alone in his garage recording and performing small gigs in his isolated hometown music scene in Perth, Australia.
Parker was perpetually introverted at school, but found a good friend in Dominic Simper. Simper was the only other student as deep into music as he was, and the two jammed together from the age of thirteen. The duo rehearsed covers of their favourite bands like Korn and Rage Against the Machine before discovering a love of psychedelic rock from the 1960s and 70s.
Starting in 2005, Parker began performing with Simper and friend Luke Epstein under the moniker The Dee Dee Dums. Parker also began filling in as a guitarist with the Electric Blue Acid Dogs, a band fronted by Nick Allbrook from the band Pond.
During their first year as a band, The Dee Dee Dums performed in the Next Big Thing band competition hosted at the Rosemont Hotel in Perth. Perth’s community television station covered the event. A fan managed to save the broadcast on a VHS tape, preserving one of Parker’s first recorded live performances and interviews.The Dee Dee Dums performing in 2005 on Perth community television
Parker’s vocal style is notably different, almost Jack White-esque, and the straightforward rock sound isn’t as lush and psych-tinged as the music he would later become famous for. But the riffs are tight and the band obviously had talent.
Behind the scenes Parker was experimenting with home recordings, a passion he had discovered at the age of twelve. He made his first recordings using two tape machines to record multiple tracks, until his father bought him his first proper 8-track recorder. Parker would come to be utterly consumed by recording and experimenting with sound, spending his nights recording in the garage and ignoring his school work.
“Latenight Moonlight” was one of Kevin Parker’s first songs shared on his MySpace page
Parker began attracting the attention of several labels with his home recordings after sharing them on MySpace, but he was still struggling to decide on a career path. His father discouraged him from pursuing music as a profession, but it was all he truly wanted to do. He was scraping by at university with a major in astronomy, and was on the verge of abandoning his dream of becoming a professional musician.
While walking to school for his final exam, his phone rang with an offer from Modular Recordings. He immediately turned around and went home.
After signing the deal, he changed the band’s name to Tame Impala. He kept his old friend Dominic Simper in the lineup, and added drummer and Dee Dee Dums superfan Jay Watson to translate his recordings into a live performance. While Parker continued to write and produce records entirely on his own, this became the core of Tame Impala’s live lineup, with additional players like his former bandmate Nick Allbrook often joining them on stage.
Parker released Tame Impala’s first EP in 2008, which picked up airplay on Australia’s Triple J radio and earned number 1 on the Australian Independent Record Labels Chart. It didn’t take long until Tame Impala started making waves in America. They soon embarked on their first North American tour in 2010 as the opening act for MGMT, one of the world’s biggest new bands at the time.
On June 25th 2010, Tame Impala was scheduled for a show at the small and now-defunct club Grasslands in Brooklyn. It was the last stop on their first North American tour. Brooklyn Vegan had the band picked as a must-see, predicting an incredibly packed and scorching hot show. The band had only just released their first full-length record Innerspeaker, and the buzz surrounding the band and their mind-blowing live show was starting to peak.
– Brooklyn Vegan, June 2010
Already pushing the limits of their club show days, this was Tame Impala right before they exploded in popularity. The Grasslands, which had no air conditioning, was beyond packed. It was so hot that Parker spent the final song wearing a wet towel on his head to get through it. They performed “Half Full Glass of Wine” as the encore, and luckily someone in the audience had brought their camera.
“People were lined up all the way down the block trying to get into this show,“ remarked the YouTuber who posted this performance. “The fire department even showed up to check out what was going on. The inside of Glasslands was probably over 90 degrees with insane humidity.”
This was the beginning of the end for Tame Impala’s hole-in-the-wall club shows. Over the following months their debut record picked up widespread acclaim as the band continued to tour extensively in Australia, Europe and the UK, while their audience continued to grow exponentially. The band’s gig in London during this tour (where Noel Gallagher, half of Kasabian, and a slew of other celebrities were spotted in the audience) was their biggest headline show yet.
By the end of 2010, Parker had earned four ARIA Music Awards nominations, Innerspeaker was selected Album of the Year by Triple J, and he already had the bulk of his next record in the can. In 2012 he released Lonerism, which would catapult the band’s popularity even further with songs like “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Elephant,” which went platinum in Australia and became the band’s biggest single. Triple J, NME, and Rolling Stone picked Lonerism as their album of the year, before the album earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Album.
Parker spent the rest of the decade honing his signature style, firmly rooted in the warm retro sound of analogue equipment and old school recording technology, while continuing to build a massive following. Tame Impala quickly became a global phenomenon, touring constantly to perform at sold out shows in South America, Europe, Australia and North America. Tame Impala’s first big tour had them opening for MGMT, but by 2019 fortunes had flipped and MGMT was now opening for Tame Impala.
The band became a summer festival staple, performing at Coachella for the first time in 2012. Parker also became an incredibly in-demand producer, working with major pop acts including Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and Travis Scott. Rihanna released a cover of Tame Impala’s single “New Person Same Old Mistakes.” Kevin Parker had officially transcended into a new realm of massive popularity.
By the time 2019 rolled around, Tame Impala earned top billing at iconic music festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella on a tour that included back to back sold out shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Still in the band’s lineup were Dominic Simper and Jay Watson, albeit on different instruments. Those festival crowds numbered somewhere in the 200,000s, a far cry from that sweaty night in Brooklyn back in 2008.