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With their instantly catchy brand of beach-ready indie rock, surf pop, and funk – a sound they’ve dubbed Yolngu surf rock, King Stingray have very quickly won hearts and ears right across the country.
Right from their debut single, October 2020’s ‘Hey Wanhaka’, the five-piece, hailing from Yirrkala – a small community in North-East Arnhem Land – were on to something special.
Formed by childhood best mates, frontman Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu – whose name translates to ‘place of stingray’– and guitarist Roy Kellaway, King Stingray’s story is one of lifelong friendship as much as it is of music and storytelling. The lineup is completed by Dimathaya Burarrwanga on guitar and percussion, Campbell Messer on bass and backup vocals, and Lewis Stiles on drums.
Mixing English with Yirrŋa’s native language, Yolngu Matha, hooky guitar riffs, searing bass lines, and sun-drenched melodies with traditional instruments including bilma (clapsticks), yidaki (didgeridoo), and a knack for rich, lyrical storytelling, King Stingray are ensuring the language, feeling, and spirit of the world’s longest surviving culture is heard and felt far and wide – and for generations to come.
Music has been a part of King Stingray’s lives from birth, it is literally running in their veins, and that’s not just because of the thriving music scene within their community. Yirrŋa is the nephew of late Yothu Yindi frontman Dr M Yunupiŋu, and Roy the son of bass player and founding member Stu Kellaway. They spent their childhood in the Yothu Yindi touring entourage – having a firsthand look at the ARIA-winning legends incredible career – before becoming fully-fledged members of the band themselves when they reformed in 2017.
King Stingray is their means to make music separately from their family’s musical project while continuing the band’s legacy.
Their music is both upbeat and thrilling, led by powerful vocals, and has been garnering the group an abundance of attention since their formation. That debut single, ‘Hey Wanhaka’ introduced King Stingray’s brand of ’80s-inspired surf rock to listeners, and with each subsequent single, the band continues to build on their sonic palette.
The pounding percussion and striking guitars of their debut single call back to decades of Australiana rock gone by, while the heavy, indie rock groove is undeniably modern. Then there is the traditional Yolŋu manikay (traditional songline) of the Lorrpu (white cockatoo) that the band integrates throughout adding another distinct layer to King Stingray’s strong introduction.
Their two 2021 singles have only continued their rapid upwards trajectory. ‘Get Me Out’ takes that Yolngu surf rock sound and blends it with wistful guitar lines and a sense of yearning, while their latest single ‘Milkumana’ is King Stingray at their most upbeat.
Impossible not to get up and dance to and filled with infectious grooves and big singalong gang vocals, it encapsulates everything the band is about – with Kellaway describing the track as being “about leadership and mala wangany – we are all one and in this together… about role models and the importance of setting good examples for the new generation.”
They might only have three singles under their belts, but the first year of King Stingray’s career has been meteoric. As well as winning fans around Australia and the world, they have also received nods from tastemakers and media across the industry including triple j, unearthed, NME, Rolling Stone Aus, and more.
Before even releasing their first single, Aussie rockers The Chats signed the group to their label Bargain Bin Records, kickstarting a run of countless accolades.
This January, they saw two of their singles land in the 2021 triple j hottest 100 – ‘Get Me Out’ at #46, and ‘Milkumana’ at #56, in August they took out the title of #1 Most Played Australian Track on triple j, were named Unearthed Artist of the Year for 2021, and Best New Act From Australia in the BandLab NME Awards 2022, which also has them nominated for Best New Act In The World.
On the live front, King Stingray have become known for their electric and impassioned live performances, tearing up stages nationwide every chance they get, clocking up sold out shows around the country and festival spots on stages including Dark Mofo and Splendour XR – carving out an important and iconic legacy that is entirely their own along the way.
That legacy – and the path laid out by Yothu Yindi, Warumpi Band, and countless Indigenous rock bands before them – is part of what drives King Stingray forward. From starting conversations, sharing music, and celebrating culture, their eyes are not only set on Australia, but on taking their music to the world.
2022 looks like it might just be even bigger than the last for King Stingray. With tours and festivals lined up, as well as a debut album waiting to be released, it is full steam ahead. From all accounts, King Stingray are just getting started – keep your eyes fixed here as they get ready to drop, what we are sure will be, one of the albums of the year.