The Hilltop Hoods & Aussie Hip-Hop have a Home in Minnesota

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe - Photo by Chris Taylor

How Did This Happen?

Aussie Hip-Hop— you probably couldn’t get farther from Minneapolis if you tried… Geographically speaking, at least. However, Hilltop Hoods has found a home in our city. Our frigidly cold, seasonally flipped (Aussie summer is beginning in November) and passive-aggressive city. How did this come to be?

From my years living in Minnesota, I’ve learned there’s always been a way for a niche of music to take a foothold. Minnesota has been well known as an unusual hotbed for music in the upper Midwest. Artists are discovered and end up with an unusually strong following for a city of our size.

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

I can think of multiple artists over the years that gained a sort of cult following within our state. Dawes was one of them. Their playtime on The Current brought in droves of listeners to their shows in Minneapolis, well outside of their California origins.

Hilltop Hoods is another notable example. Inside Australia, they’re the original kings of Aussie Hip-Hop, a genre once dismissed as a fad in the country. However, the Hilltop Hoods (consisting of Matt “Suffa” Lambert, Daniel “Pressure” Smith & Barry “DJ Debris” Francis) continued to push the hip-hop culture, one show at a time. This effort eventually led to multiple #1 Albums & remarkable critical and commercial success for a genre once dismissed by critics. 

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

It’s Hard Out Here for a P.I.M.P (Predominately International Music Performer)

However, even with the extreme success in Australia, music outside of the US during the Hilltop Hoods original rise to prominence (The 2000s onwards) faced an uphill battle. Unless artists were willing to uproot to the States, there was little chance of traction inside of the US. This was especially true in a market known for the advent of hip-hop like the US.

In every global city, however, there were always chances for culture (and music) to make their way around through ex-pats and other tastemakers, thought I wouldn’t consider Minneapolis a global city (Sorry, we just are not a top destination for foreign ex-pats and tourists). Instead, the Hilltop Hoods made a name for themselves almost entirely via word-of-mouth.

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

And boy did those fans show up in force. It was nearly a full house in the Fine Line well before The Hilltop Hoods took the stage, and there was a buzz among the crowd. Fans were excited, they were talking about songs they were waiting for and how they first got their taste of the Hilltop Hoods.

For one fan, it was through a live stream of Aussie public radio, with another it was from a burnt CD back in High School, and others found them through internet forums and Limewire. Each fan had a different journey that brought them to the Fine Line on Tuesday, and because this wasn’t just a show they got “dragged” to (though there was a joke bit about that), every fan there was very dedicated to the music.

Old School? You Have My Attention.

I was able to catch two of the openers. The first Aussie to take the stage was Adrian Eagle, a rising Soul/RnB Singer from Adelaide (the same town as Hilltop Hoods.) His beats had a decidedly old school feel and just radiated positivity. Both his songs and banter between them were filled with thankfulness and kind words for the crowd. It was very uplifting.

The crowd was singing along to “17 Again,” Adrian’s most widespread single. That was something that tipped me off that this crowd was very into the music being played at the Fine Line that night. 

Adrian Eagle at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

Next up was DJ Total Eclipse, an American turntablist that now lives in Australia. Notice I did not say DJ but instead used ‘turntablist.’ DJ Total Eclipse is one of the best when it comes to scratching on a turntable, and he demonstrated it on stage. He chopped and scratched Hip-Hop hits of the 90s and 2000s and did it all live with some flair too, often crossing his arms, going behind his back, and even spinning himself behind the turntables.

The set also had an old school feel to it (there’s a theme here). There was no elaborate video board, no cannons, no lasers, no pre-recorded portions, just the DJ and his turntables. A live demonstration of what he could do with the materials presented to him on that table. It allowed the set to ebb and flow with the crowd and allowed DJ Total Eclipse to play to what he was feeling. Live turntabling is definitely a rarity in a lot of electronic shows you attend today.

DJ Total Eclipse at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

A Concert Like a Party, Or a Party Like a Concert?

Then it was time for the Hilltop Hoods and, before they even took the stage, the crowd was chanting “Hill. Top. Hill. Top.” over and over again. There was extreme excitement among everyone, and when The Hilltop Hoods actually took the stage, the crowd immediately erupted. Hands were outstretched looking for handshakes and high-fives (and they got them).

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

Remember the old school theme I was talking about? The vibe was present in this show as well. After all, the Hilltop Hoods have been active since 1994. There were no pre-recorded vocals to sync with, no timed choreography, no accompanying visuals, none of the things you see in many shows today.

The show had many stops for adlibs, fun lyrical substitutions, live drumming by Plutonic Lab, and fun banter with the crowd. All those things that make a show personal and memorable were on constant display. It was just a big long party, something that Matt Lambert alluded to in our interview. 

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

Fans were screaming the lyrics to every song, throwing their hands up (and, in one case, also threw their dinner up— oops), and jumping during song after song. This was a crowd of dedicated fans who each found Hilltop Hoods and continued to listen to them for years on end. It’s always a treat to be at these kinds of shows.

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

The Stage Opened The Doors To The Studio

Songs from their new album The Great Expanse like “Leave Me Lonely” got people flailing. “1955” had people emotionally rapping along. Hilltop Hood’s most internationally known hit, “The Nosebleed Section,” got a grand entrance with a buildup featuring the original uncut sample (and a little candid banter with the crowd).

It was an engaging set from start to finish, and with the minimal effects and production, it made it all that more impressive. Matt & Dan were flying around the stage, exhibiting non-stop energy through the whole show. A music photographer once said to me, “Rock bands earn their studio time on the stage, and hip-hop acts earn their stage time in the studio” it was a rare case where a hip-hop act’s stage time earned their studio time.

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor

When it was time for the show to end and Hilltop Hoods exited the stage, the crowd was literally stomping their feet to get an encore. They eventually got one with “Cosby Sweater,” A long-standing hit in Hilltop Hood’s discography.

This is a show I would 100% attend again. It was hard to find fault with any part of Hilltop Hoods’ act. It was an authentic show powered almost entirely by the musical skill and larger-than-life personalities of the artists. I cannot recommend them highly enough. There is a reason they hold many musical records in Australia, including most #1 Albums on the Aussie charts. Next time they’re in town, pay Hilltop Hoods a visit. I’m sure I will see a lot of the same fans at the next appearance as well.

Hilltop Hoods at The Fine Line Music Cafe – Photo by Chris Taylor



Chris Taylor
Author: Chris Taylor

Fan of emotional space movies. HMU on Myspace.or at @fifthlegend on Instagram

Written by Chris Taylor

Fan of emotional space movies. HMU on Myspace.

or at @fifthlegend on Instagram

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