What A Week (In Aussie Music) Vol. 8: Hillsong Church buy Melbourne’s Festival Hall, Australian Music Prize Nominations announced, Live music (almost) back in Melbourne and more

All the week's Australian music news in one place.

Keeping up with any kind of news this year can be tough. Even music news is getting stranger and harder to track. Rather than exhaust yourself trying to swallow an endless stream of push notification updates, MTV Australia have knocked up a bite-sized rundown of the most important happenings in the Aussie music biz this week – and every week – and why they matter.

Hillsong Church buy historic Melbourne venue Festival Hall

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Evangelical christian church Hillsong has bought historic Melbourne venue Festival Hall for over $23million. The news was first reported by NME Australia last weekend after senior pastor Brian Houston announced they had purchased the venue under the glibly titled new venture "Community Venues". Houston was scant on detail, but said there would be a "complete renovation" of the building with multiple stories and a children's ministry and that it would be a "house of god" every Sunday. Live entertainment events from outside the church will supposedly continue in order to "reach the community," according to Houston, but the strong negative reaction to the news from the industry and public suggests this will not happen – Amity Affliction vocalist Joel Birch was the first to announce they would boycott the venue over the new ownership. The news also spread like wildfire through community Facebook groups for the surrounding suburbs of North and West Melbourne, where residents worried about the amount of outside traffic it would bring.

Festival Hall is a venue that many have had issues with as punters – it feels like a charmless school gym in bad need of repair – but there is no doubting its historical and cultural significance. It has existed in some form since 1913 – rebuilt for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games after a fire – and hosted no less than The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Rage Against The Machine, Frank Sinatra and many more in its halcyon days. In recent years, it has struggled to compete with increasingly regular arena shows in Melbourne, and was nearly demolished by apartment developers in 2018, before being saved by a heritage-listing. Since then, its owners Stadiums Australia had been trying to sell it off.

It's unfortunate that Festival Hall no longer appears to be profitable, as it filled a useful niche as the largest non-arena venue in Melbourne, with a capacity of over 5000. Plainly, Hillsong spells a death sentence for Festival Hall's earnest history, with the church's anti-LGBTQI views and institutional failings to report the alleged sexual abuse of children by founder Brian Houston.

At least live music is (sort of) back in Melbourne

The glorious end to lockdown in Melbourne came this week, with the announcement on Monday afternoon that restaurants, bars, pubs, cafes, hotels and more would be open from midnight Tuesday with capacity restrictions. That also means live music can technically return, although guidelines remain strict. Performances must be outside, with a maximum capacity of 50 people inclusive of the musicians. Band members must perform two metres apart, and wear face masks. In essence, this means you're unlikely to see live music at any of your inaugural post-lockdown pub sessions until restrictions ease further on November 8.

Many in the live music capital of Australia will be watching closely at how the arts are treated in relation to sport as restrictions ease. In other states, some have been bemused at how massive footy finals can house 40,000 people and live music venues are stuck at maximums of a few hundred – my suspicion is that Melburnians won't stand for that kind of discrepancy. Cinema owners have already expressed dismay at being left out of reopening plans in Melbourne, with research showing that not a single confirmed case of COVID-19 transmission has been recorded in a cinema context.

First round of nominations for 2020 Australian Music Prize announced

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The first round of nominations for the 2020 Australian Music Prize have arrived, with 52 records up for the prestigious gong. The award has been given out annually since 2005, with a $30,000 cash prize to the winner. It differs from most of the rest of the musical award season in Australia, with sales or chart positions ostensibly not relevant – broadly, the best comparison is the UK's Mercury Awards.

This year is a very diverse spread, with everything from Cable Ties to 5 Seconds of Summer.  The highlights include Sweet Whirl, Sarah Mary Chadwick, RVG, Miiesha, Ziggy Ramo, Gordi, The Chats, Snowy Band, Tame Impala, DMA's, Traffik Island, Violent Soho, Katie Dey, Stevan, The Necks and so many more. Read the full list here. Last year's prize was won by Sampa The Great for her debut album The Return – making her the first person to win the AMP twice.

In an ideal world, the award would go to one of the smaller, independent Melbourne artists who have struggled through one of the most difficult years for music and life in living memory. My picks would be Snowy Band's quietly brilliant folk-whisper Audio Commentary, Sweet Whirl's Beach House-cum-Carole King debut revelation How Much Works, or Katie Dey's transcendent glitch pop on my data.

It would be unfortunate for the award to go to the stars who don't need it – namely Tame Impala, DMA's or 5 Seconds of Summer. 

Crowded House return with their first new music in 10 years and a Mac DeMarco feature



New Zealand's beloved Crowded House have returned with their first new music in 10 years – a new single featuring the millennial patron saint of slacker rock, Mac DeMarco. "Whatever You Want" doesn't feature Mac's vocals, but his slack-jawed guitar jangle and analogue synths are heard clearly on this bright number. The indie singer-songwriter is also the star of the hilarious music video, in which Mac consults reassuring inanimate objects about his behaviour the drunken night before.

"Whatever You Want" is a highly unexpected cross-generational collaboration, but it's the best Crowded House has sounded in, well, decades. The band have a forceful instrumental drive, that blends in so well to Mac's twangy guitar solo at the end that you almost don't notice frontman Neil Finn has stopped singing. Co-opting Mac was also a savvy decision financially – his music has long been derivative of the soft rock of the same era as Crowded House, but the indie kids who like him probably never have made the connection. Now, they've caught their attention. 

Crowded House's last album was 2010's Intriguer. Let's hope their next is on its way.

Gang of Youths confirm a third album is on its way

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In a letter sent to fans, Gang of Youths have confirmed their third studio album will be released soon. Bassist Max Dunn, who wrote the letter, said the band had spent much of 2020 recording the follow up to 2017's Go Farther In Lightness in a leased space in London. They also announced that multi-instrumentalist Tom Hobden had officially joined Gang of Youths, after prominently featuring in social media posts by the band and their live lineup pre-pandemic. 

The release date of the forthcoming album is yet-to-be confirmed – it's difficult to say whether the band will want to take advantage of the quietly simmering hype around a new release that has been building over the last few months, or relaunch in a COVID border-less Australia in 2021, where a national tour might be possible. What is for sure is that a new release for Gang of Youths might be their international breakthrough – Go Farther In Lightness had a strong critical half-life in the US, with prominent Uproxx writer Steve Hyden and Pitchfork journalists hyping it on Twitter.

Aussie Album Of The Week: 

Tram Cops - 'hometown' EP

Michael Vince-Moin farewelled the Tram Cops moniker this week, with this sweet four-track offering. It's a record of love and belonging, with the compact production allowing the acoustics and vocals to feel intimate and rich without losing Vince-Moin's hushed style. The songs strip away the grandiose geo-political events of this year, and focus on the essentials of love – taking place in unexceptional locations. Opener "No More Tomorrows" distills that idea best, with the lines, "If you want to/ we could go further down the road like Jesus and Jericho...Love like there's no more tomorrows". If there are no more tomorrows, Vince-Moin knows what's worth singing about.


 

Aussie Track of the Week:

Holiday Sidewinder - "Red Right Hand" 

Former Bridezilla-frontwoman, now self-fashioned pop machine Holiday Sidewinder visited sacred musical ground for a Halloween release – Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" – and built something gloriously camp upon it. The gothic plod of the original has been replaced with a Kylie Minogue-disco-stomp and peppered with a Nile Rogers-esque guitar scratch; the omnipresent lyrical threat that Cave describes is now a menacing demand to dance.

Aussie Music Tweet of the Week: 

Melbourne's perpetual bummer.

The full nominations list for the 2020 MTV EMAs has arrived - Now it's time to vote.

Awards season continues, with the 2020 MTV EMAs nominations landing this week. Up for best Aussie act is The Kid Laroi, Baker Boy, G Flip, Tones & I and Hayden James. Have your own say at mtvema.com, with votes open until November 2. The two-hour ceremony will air globally on MTV on Monday, November 9 at 7am AEDT. 

Written by Josh Martin, a Melbourne-based freelance music and media writer with words in MTV Australia, NME, Junkee, Crikey, etc. Follow him on Twitter @joshuamartjourn.

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