The first time the Washington, D.C.-based hardcore pioneers Fugazi
visited Rock 'n' Roll
High School in Melbourne, Australia, they met an aspiring, pre-teen
'n' roller named Miranda De'ath.
The second time Fugazi visited the school, three years later in 1996,
Miranda -- now a teen-ager -- was drumming in the indie-pop band Midget Stooges, who
have opened for the likes of Massachusetts indie guitar-rockers Dinosaur Jr.
Just another graduate of Rock 'n' Roll High School.
"It's like a clubhouse with tons of instruments, and people there to
you figure out what to do with them," said Fugazi vocalist Ian
MacKaye, who has paid a visit to the one-of-a-kind school solely
dedicated to churning out professional rock musicians. "It's a pretty
amazing thing for kids to have. And the really great thing is that 95
percent of the people playing music are girls -- really young, teen-
age girls. I thought that was really inspirational -- really cool that
that was happening."
While Melbourne has been called the Seattle of Australia because of
gloomy weather, the potential impact of its rock scene soon might
prompt a comparison beyond meteorology.
Located in a nondescript building in inner-city Melbourne, Rock 'n'
Roll High School, which took its name from the
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Ramones/Rock_N_Roll_High_Sc hool.ram">Ramones classic
hool.ram">Ramones classic(RealAudio excerpt), has garnered
enough of a buzz to inspire the likes of Sonic Youth, L7, Rancid and
Sebadoh, in addition to Fugazi and Dinosaur Jr, to stop in during their
tours of the Land Down Under and check it out.
Formed in 1990, the rock school is a musical community of sorts,
where 180 musicians -- mostly female -- are learning their trade
and industry smarts as well as forming bands and having fun. Ages
range from 8 to 30, but as one official
description put it, "The average RnRHS student is 17, female and into
Sarah McKeown is the epitome of a RnRHS student. These days, the
19-year-old is playing bass and guitar in the grunge group Sheraw,
one of 30 bands currently at the school. But that's not all.
She's also, temporarily, running the joint. "It's kind-of a breeding
ground for women to go on and hopefully do good things in rock
music," McKeown said from Melbourne. "It's getting a lot of chicks
and a few guys into rock for the right reason -- music. It isn't about
getting signed or having a hit."
But the record dealing at RnRHS has already begun -- and yielded
results. It all started in 1996 when Bay Area ska-punk band Rancid
paid a visit to the school. The group's leader, Tim Armstrong, was
given Vol. 2, a RnRHS compilation CD, as a momento of his visit.
He took the CD, which contained Litany's song
Myself"(RealAudio excerpt), home to the States.
It subsequently made its way to Time Bomb Recordings, which
signed the band. It was the first deal between an RnRHS band and a
"It could have been anyone on Vol. 2 -- they were all amazing
songs," said Litany's drummer, Stephanie Bourke, who founded the
school. "Sometimes I wish it wasn't us, so we could stay at the
In fact, McKeown owes her temporary position as the school's head-
honcho to Litany's record deal. These days, she's sitting in for Bourke
while Litany are on tour promoting their debut, Peculiar World
-- the group is appearing, this week, as part of the all-women Lilith
Bourke said that while RnRHS is focused on turning women into
accomplished musicians, it isn't necessarily aimed at conventional
the rock world. "None of us think we're going to make it," she said.
"We just rehearse and go to each other's gigs and drink beer and go,
'Hey, chicks in rock!' "
Litany's record deal was a significant development for RnRHS, as well
as for the rock world in general, McKeown said. "Litany are the first
Australian all-female band to get picked up by an international
label," she explained. "It's really
important to change the boundaries of what female musicians can do
Rock 'n' Roll High School released its third compilation CD, Volume
last month on its own label, RnRHS Records. Mixed in Los Angeles,
features 20 cuts from such RnRHS bands as Sheraw, Bindi, the Midget
Stooges, Tuff Muff and Snotrag. The school spent three years making
album, with the bands Fed Ex-ing tapes to Bourke while Litany
RnRHS, which accepts "virtually anyone," McKeown said, is funded
from the students' lesson fees, which run $15 for a half-hour lesson
$25 for an hour. On the odd occasion when a grant from a
government agency comes through, the school uses the additional
revenue for recording, local touring and other "stuff we usually
couldn't afford to do," McKeown said.
"There's really nowhere else in Melbourne -- let alone the world --
get such a high level of support for being a female musician and
can be surrounded by a group of really motivated, strong people who
what they're doing is important to changing the future of rock," she
"I can't really equate what being at RnRHS has meant to me as a
and a woman," McKeown said. "I've never felt so motivated or
conscious of the fact that I'm involved in a revolutionary
organization which reflects so much of what I think is important."