What A Week (In Aussie Music) Vol. 13: Courtney Barnett Gets A Documentary

All the week's Australian music news in one place, for the last time this year.

Keeping up with any kind of news this year can be tough. Even music news is getting stranger and harder to track. With streaming services and their inscrutable algorithms becoming the default tastemakers for many, it can be hard to get any perspective on the endless stream of developments in the music industry in Australia – a place where there is far more PR than music journalists.

I’ve knocked up a bite-sized rundown of the most important happenings in the Aussie music biz this week – and every week – and why I think they matter. This will be the last weekly wrap for 2020, with next week’s a retrospective on the biggest moments of the last 12 dreary, once-in-a-hundred-years, months.

Music festivals cancel, shift and stay put

The music festival schedule for next year went in three directions this week – forwards, backwards, and sideways. Golden Plains and heavy music mecca Unify Gathering both cancelled their 2021 events, citing uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic – the former’s 2020 event was an early virus flashpoint in March, when it was revealed that a positive testee had attended the event. Wollongong festival Yours & Owl pushed back their planned January dates to April 2021 with “so many regulations still up in the air” – retaining an identical lineup. 

But, WOMADelaide is forging ahead with early March dates (5th-8th), announcing this week that Midnight Oil, Sampa The Great and Archie Roach will headline the festival. The only catch is that it will move from its usual venue of Botanic Park, and its seven-stage setup.

It is again becoming apparent that festival organisers don’t have access to much more knowledge than the rest of us as to what’s in store for 2021 – they’re simply in a game of chicken with COVID restrictions, jumping out of the car in a staggered fashion before it falls off the cliff. We are still yet to hear from touring festival juggernaut Laneway as to whether they plan to host their 2020 events in any form – they’ve already preemptively cancelled the Auckland leg of the tour. The only thing that’s clear is that there will be no international acts.

...And some are dreaming up a new insurance scheme to make them happen

Now that COVID is a known risk, part of what bars music festivals from taking a gamble on scheduling events for 2021 is the idea that they’ll be forced to cancel without an insurance policy. Australia’s peak body for the live music industry, Live Performance Australia, wants federal and state governments to establish a “business interruption fund” – to help promoters and producers plan for new events with a financial safety net. Essentially, they want the government to fill the void that insurance companies no longer will, protecting themselves financially against a forced cancellation with any new restrictions or shutdowns.

Venues and festivals don’t have any more cash reserves to weather any new blows after the flurry of losses incurred in the beginning of the pandemic this year. The screen industry already has a $50 million interruption fund, which Live Performance Australia is modelling their proposal off. It’s difficult to see the federal government doing the same for the music industry, based on their weak record of support. The lobbying for this proposal will be more effective on a state level, whose economies benefit more immediately from a prosperous music scene.

Victoria is accelerating its return to live music

Victoria is determined not to let its renowned music scene languish because of its extended lockdown – in fact, they’re moving faster than any other state in restoring the possibility of live music through capacity limits, despite their three-month handicap. This week, they dropped capacity caps on hospitality events, to be replaced by a one person per two square metre rule, while seated entertainment venues were given permission to host 75% of their usual capacity, and standing venues at 50%, with both maxed out at a limit of 1000 people. Shockingly, nightclubs will be allowed to open their dancefloors with one person per four square metres and a maximum of 50 people.

In addition to the monster live music schedules announced last week, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl will receive a $500,000 upgrade. The planned renovations will see the construction of a new stage to make the venue festival-friendly, as well as offering a different outdoor option for smaller artists – at the moment, it’s designed for big acts who can supply their own lighting.

All of Victoria’s efforts dwarf that of other Australian state government’s investments in live music infrastructure and deregulation – and like it has for decades now, it will ensure Melbourne remains a music mecca.

Courtney Barnett’s “inner life” to be revealed in a new documentary

A new documentary charting the “inner life of a notoriously shy artist”, Courtney Barnett, has been announced. Anonymous Club, a title taken from her 2013 song of the same name, will be directed by filmmaker Danny Cohen, who has collaborated with Barnett frequently on music videos. There is little other information about the film, but it will be extremely interesting what Barnett chooses to reveal in the film.

Because Cohen is a collaborator and presumably a friend, we can assume that the film will be far from fly-on-the-wall honesty – and understandably so. It’d be great to see the film drop in straight onto the beginning of her career with the unexpected astronomical success she experienced with her talky-Australian-indie, and the formation of her label Milk! Records with her ex-wife Jen Cloher. It’s unlikely Barnett will want to include much information about how her and Cloher continue to run the label post-divorce, but it’s a difficult topic to avoid. There’s also a lot to draw out on how Barnett became the popular face of the neo-Melbourne jangle – known to most as dolewave. Whatever Anonymous Club is, it will be fascinating.

Triple J Hottest 100 voting has opened

Voting in triple j’s Hottest 100 has opened for 2020, with prospective voters having until 3pm AEDT January 18 to submit 10 songs of their choice. It’s near impossible this year to pick what will come out on top – bookies seem convinced its Glass Animals’ “Heatwaves” that will clinch the top spot, but it’s a little hard to be convinced of their foresight when the remix of Victorian premier Daniel Andrews saying “get on the beers” is pegged at fifth favourite.

This year, many of us retreated into old favourites as the world crumbled – our relationship to new music has been fractured, despite many brilliant releases. Because of this phenomenon, nothing really feels like the song of 2020 – it’s asking a lot to be the musical peak of one of the worst years in living memory, particularly for young people. My intuitive feeling is that whoever wins will be Australian – thanks to a year of closed borders, we’ve never felt so parochial or distant from the chaos of the international sphere.

Aussie Track Of The Week:

Julia Jacklin – “baby jesus is nobody’s baby now”

The best Christmas songs are often about how miserable the holiday season can really be. Julia Jacklin understands this on her latest single – that the big day is a magnet for the year’s tension, forcing together a prickly family in a room with their projected insecurities. 

The impending doom of last year’s bushfires ebb and flow throughout “baby jesus…” – beginning with “She lost the baby, the house nearly burnt down”, before realising “the house might still burn down”. It’s an external backdrop to the usual solitary emotional verisimilitude that Jacklin captures like a novelist – plates of cold cuts “tremble” in her family’s lap, a man picks his smokes out of the bin, and she forcibly drinks a cup of juice to appear like she’s celebrating.

It’s unfortunate that Jacklin makes the promise at the end that “Next year will be much easier on you”, when we know it’s simply not true. But perhaps it’s the Christmas lie we need this year.


Aussie Album of the Week:

Pop Filter - Donkey Gully Road

Pop Filter are an understated experiment in rock composition – after The Ocean Party’s untimely end following the tragic passing of drummer Zac Denton, the members, mostly friends from high school, reformed into this six-piece with almost no expectations. The basic structure of the band is spending a week away in a somewhat isolated cabin, with each member contributing two songs – often meta-reflections on their own friendships and time playing together.

Donkey Gully Road is their second album in a year – a gorgeous, low-key set of jangly meditations. It’s looser and more philosophical this time around, pushed by a country twang. Donkey Gully has the rhythm of a road album too, each member chiming in with their own wisened anecdotes about life. “Waiting To Be Now” encapsulates the ethos of Pop Filter, as they wade through time and anxiety – “Waiting to be new/Waiting to be near you” – they aren’t seeking anything more than peace.

Aussie Music Tweet of the Week:

This wasn’t from this week, but it deserves a moment in the sun.

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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