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.
NSW music venues remove capacity limits, moving to square metre rule
NSW's music scene has received an early Christmas present: from Monday December 7 capacity limits will be dumped for smaller venues, replaced by a one person per two square metre rule. Stadiums and outdoor theatres will move to 100% capacity – though without any great outdoor amphitheatres in Sydney, this is more for sport and theatre than music. Ticketed outdoor events will be allowed to host 5000 people, provided they are seated and the event is fenced – also subject to the square metre rule.
This is a moment of true optimism for music in NSW – accompanied by the recent flurry of deregulation removing restrictions on what music can be performed where, it looks like COVID might actually frame a decade of growth for live performance in the state. This is significant for a place where arcane rules had strangulated the industry to the point where people almost wrote Sydney off as a live music destination. It remains to be seen whether this will also stimulate more punters going to gigs – it's hard to beat Melbourne's pre-pandemic gig attendance numbers (an average of 100,000 people on a Saturday night).
Erica Mallett of Sally and Erica says their band Coda Conduct have also split, the real reason for leaving triple j breakfast
Sally Coleman and Erica Mallett shocked many when they announced their immediate departure from their role as coveted triple j breakfast hosts after just one year on the show last month, but an Instagram post from Mallett this week provided some clarity. The pair are also known as the hip-hop duo Coda Conduct – a musical project they've played with since 2012 – and it seems their creative partnership has worn thin after many years of working in close proximity.
"The first thing I want to say is that Sally and Erica didn't get axed from triple j," Mallet wrote on Instagram.
"In fact, the show was doing really well. We were getting great feedback across the board – from management and our listeners. Until recently, we were all planning for a 2021 where Sally and Erica would grow and grow.
"Unfortunately, the reality was that although Sally and Erica – the show was going great guns, Sally and Erica – the people were coming to the natural conclusion of their 8 year creative ride together."
There has been no official statement from Coleman, nor has Coda Conduct published a statement declaring their breakup. But Mallett's statement is fairly unequivocal – the pair will not be working together in the immediate future. Timed with this was the announcement that Bryce Mills and Ebony Boadu will take over triple j breakfast for 2021. It's been something of a curse that triple j breakfast hosts have had diminishing tenures since Alex Dyson's six year run from 2010-2016 – can we blame it on a millennial love of the career pivot?
Isol-Aid Festival will move to TikTok next year, hinting at the movement of livestreams in a post-pandemic world
Live-streamed music festival Isol-Aid launched in March as a lone salve in the Australian music industry as artists and music workers watched their income crumble to nothing. It was distinctive among the countless other livestream initiatives worldwide for its homespun feel, and the fact it ran every single week – a staggering total of 903 live sets from 828 local and overseas artists. This week, we were given a look into how it will continue post-pandemic – on TikTok.
It's unclear how this partnership will work when it kicks off in 2021 – a statement only promises "more creativity, more content and more collaboration…[with] expanded opportunities for artists to explore creative collaboration and reach new audiences". It's definitely a savvy move for continued relevance from festival founder Emily Ulman, and it's also TikTok's biggest Australia-specific move yet – after they picked former triple j Content Director Ollie Wards to be their head of music in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year.
It also calcifies the new and pressing imperative some artists have to be an online content creator as well as a musician – something that reached a peak during the pandemic. Livestreams became a literal cottage industry this year, and it remains to be seen whether they'll be patched into the existing framework of artist activities or fade as a trend of necessity in a dark moment.
Melbourne has more live music now than it knows what to do with
Melbourne, the official live music capital of the world (I'm not just being a wanker, it's true), has had a tough year trying to keep that status in the midst of a global pandemic, and it's troublesome second wave. Now that Victoria is open, the state isn't wasting any time in getting back to business: Melbourne Music Week has been extended to a three month program kicking off in December, with no less than 330 artists in over 200 events at 35 venues across the city. While the line-up is glorious, perhaps what makes my eyes the mistiest is the list of Melbourne venues to become reacquainted with: The Forum, The Curtin, Colour Club, Max Watt's, Section 8 and so many more. As a brief guide to the intimidating program, here are my picks for best shows: Blake Scott with Jess Ribeiro at the Curtin, Cable Ties + MOD CON + Little Ugly Girls at The Forum, Banoffee and Aphir at the Curtin, Baker Boy at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Close Counters at Colour, Adalita playing the Town Hall Organ, and CLAMM with Eggy at The Curtin.
Also announced this week was a brand new outdoor stage at the Malthouse Theatre, with a ten day music program in January. It'll seat 300 people cabaret-style, with a program lead by Kaiit, RVG, Sarah Mary Chadwick, Mildlife, Sweet Whirl and more. The line-up is almost a catch-all for the best music released in Melbourne this year – an unfortunate catch is that tickets must be purchased in groups of six, due to the table set up. This is somewhat alienating – it's difficult to rally that many people to drop the required cash as a group, but hopefully the spirit of support for the beleaguered scene carries sales.
Spotify's Wrapped function is nothing to celebrate
Ah yes, the silly season is here: no, I'm not talking about annual Judaeo-Christian traditions, but our Spotify Wrapped playlists that dropped this week. And silly not because it's fun, but because we all manage to post free advertising for the streaming giant that has actively destroyed any capacity for artists to make any money from their recorded music. Joy to the world!
There is of course no doubt that listening statistics are fun to parse – particularly in a year in which music has been one of the few balms for cabin fever. But there are other ways to view and track them that don't provide free PR to Spotify. Last FM is an old social media network that tracks your listening through a variety of means – streaming services, or music you've actually purchased and downloaded to your phone. You can even manually input your listening, if you've popped on a vinyl, cassette, CD or even the radio. The service gives you constant and detailed analysis of your listening – even to the point of what day of the week, or time you listen to music the most.
Looking at Spotify's streaming statistics for Australia this year, I wish I saw something other than the feedback loop of the most popular artists in the entire world – the only ones who can significantly profit from the service's obfuscated payment system: in order of most to least streamed, Juice WRLD, Drake, Taylor Swift, Eminem and The Weeknd. This year, I recommend looking into streaming alternatives and becoming a more mindful music consumer. Or even better, support the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers in their demands for the service to pay one US cent per stream.
Aussie Track Of The Week:
Sarah Mary Chadwick - "At Your Leisure"
When it was announced that Sarah Mary Chadwick's forthcoming album, Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby', was going to strip back the songwriter to just piano and vocal material, it felt like a step backwards for a minute. Chadwick's last two records had been building momentum with the grandiosity of the literal Grand Organ at Melbourne Town Hall and a full band for the first time – wasn't intimacy auto-pilot for her? But the first two singles have shattered that naive thought with their brutal pathos – "At Your Leisure" reconstructs the power dynamic of a relationship that shifts in Chadwick's mind. Is she powerless, or is that a construct masking that she's getting what she wants?
Chadwick affronts the listener with her dedication in the opening lines: "You drag my clothes off/ I'll give you head parked at the lights". The dynamic is illustrated further – "You are a holiday/ I am a waterslide". The tone of her voice isn't mournful, or self-pitying; it's philosophical. Only Chadwick can deliver disarming confessionals like this, in a ragged piece of lovesick domestic poetry.
Aussie Music Tweet of the Week:
Maybe the only honourable way to treat Spotify Wrapped. We wish him well.
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