FourPlay String Quartet added "String Quartet" to their name to differentiate themselves from the American jazz group Fourplay, but they are also a band in the most rock & roll sense of the word. Their viola and violin players stand rather than perching on stools, allowing them to avoid the staid atmosphere stereotypically assumed of classical music and giving them the freedom to bob and dance around the stage (the cellist sits out of necessity, though sometimes playing the instrument more like a double bass). Despite lacking guitar, bass, and drums, their performances follow the rock mode, including covers of well-known rock songs.
The four original members were all students attending the University of New South Wales together in 1995, fans of alternative rock who played classical instruments. When they discovered that they could add pickups and distortion to their stringed instruments, they started getting together outside of class to play versions of songs by Jeff Buckley and Metallica and whoever else they were hearing on the radio that week for their friends. On a whim they entered the university's band competition with a set of these rock covers. To their surprise they not only won, but were immediately approached to be the support act for a Max Sharam concert. At that point the quartet consisted of Tim Hollo on viola and vocals, Peter Hollo on cello and vocals, Chris Emerson on viola, and Philippa Allan on violin. This unusual lineup of two violas rather than two violins added depth to their sound and made it easier to transpose rock rhythms onto the classical instruments. Allan was more interested in pursuing classical violin, however, and was soon replaced by Lara Goodridge, who contributed not only violin but also vocals and some of her original compositions, helping to move them away from purely being a covers band.
The novelty of their style earned them appearances on television and radio and when their first album, Catgut Ya' Tongue, was released independently in 1998, it sold out in three weeks. A European tour followed, at the end of which viola player Emerson left -- the second member to leave for a career in classical music -- to be replaced by Veren Grigorov, who brought a passion for composing original Gypsy-inspired pieces, adding to the group's evolving sound. In 2000 they released their second album, The Joy of FourPlay, which included five originals as well as covers of songs by bands like the Clouds and Pop Will Eat Itself. It was followed by a remix album called Digital Manipulation, organized by cellist Peter Hollo, who doubled as a DJ under the name of Raven. It featured remixes of their music created by Australian electronic artists including B(if)tek, Machine Translations, Traksewt, and Pimmon.
Violinist Grigorov left in 2004 and was replaced by Shenton Gregorio of Shenzo's Electric Stunt Orchestra, who perform while hanging from wires and sometimes flying over the heads of their audience, upside down. Where previously FourPlay String Quartet's original material had been composed by one of the individuals and then brought to the band, Gregorio encouraged them to jam like a traditional rock band. The results were heard on their 2006 album, Now to the Future, which was produced by Magoo. Over half of the album was original material, though it still included covers of the likes of Radiohead and the Strokes.