Ali Barter | History Grrrls

Gender inequality exists in Australia’s music industry. To deny such a thing is indicative only of ignorance, but despite the glaring discrepancies between the treatment of different genders in the industry, Ali Barter is optimistic about the state of gender affairs.

“It’s something that is changing, and we’re talking in this way more. It’s a great time to be a woman playing music, especially in Australia. There’s such a wide variety of women playing music, too, there’s not just one kind of music for women, there’s girls doing everything,” she says.

“What we really want is equality, we want it to be not newsworthy that there’s an all women lineup. For nobody to bat an eyelid.”

Alongside Alex Lahey, Gretta Ray, and Jack River, to name a few, Barter features on the Electric Lady lineup, a collection of some of these powerful female presences on Australia’s music scene. But so much more than just an all female music lineup, Electric Lady is putting a spotlight on the strength of women in music, politics, science, sport, and beyond.

“The most important thing about having women represented in music, or any industry, is that it gives women permission to do what they’re doing,” Barter says, reflecting on the value of representation in her own experience in music.

“As a child, if you only see men play guitar, there’s a little part of you that only thinks men can play the guitar. If you let them know this movement is happening, it gives little girls permission to pick up an electric guitar as well.”

Female songwriters have had a profound impact on the 31-year-old Melbourne artist. Female representation, or a lack thereof, have played a large role in encouraging Barter to pursue her career.

“For a long time I thought that women didn’t write songs, because the pop stars you grew up with are sort of manufactured, they’re not writing their songs. When I found women who wrote their own songs, and they may not be well known, not huge stars, but finding those women I could identify with, that was big for me,” she says.

Bringing the stories of many of these relatively unknown women to the public through her History Grrrls project, an idea that was born in a university classroom in a music history class, an initiative she followed after writing an article for Junkee on the lack of a female voice in music history.

“Each week was based on two artists, and six weeks in I realised none of the main people we were talking about were women, and I just thought it was fucked. Why are no women the main, central idea in this class? Women were talked about, but it was because they contributed to men’s music.”

History Grrls sees Barter choose a weekly female artist from the hallowed halls of music history, to create a playlist, and write the history of and share with the music community.

The idea of a supportive community in the industry is something Barter is adamant to foster, one of the positives to what can be an extremely difficult lifestyle.

“It’s really important to have people around you who are doing the same thing because it is a really challenging life, it’s very unpredictable, it’s very taxing on your self esteem, and there’s so much wrapped up in this thing that’s so fickle, but it’s your art. And we love it.”

Her enduring friendship with fellow Melbourne muso Ben Wright-Smith is a part of that support system, and she speaks nothing but glowing praise for him, as he does her.

“Especially when you’re not making any money. Why else would you do it, when you can’t pay the rent, you can’t buy Christmas presents for people, if you didn’t love it. And to be around other people that feel the same way is really important,” she says.

“Also because your head tells you you’re a piece of shit all the time. That you’re shit one day, and the best thing in the world another day, so having someone else to talk to and have them get it, that’s so important.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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Metropolis Music Festival | Breathing new life into once forgotten instruments

The baroque period music left musicians everywhere with a parting gift of classic instruments – everything from the strings of viola, cello and double bass, to the organ or harpsichord, and wind instruments, the oboe to the flute. However, for all these instruments that lived on into the 21st century, there are lesser known instruments that died, left to haunt the halls of musical history.

Though time has made these instruments obsolete, they are no less legitimate, and no less capable of creating beautiful music.

Metropolis New Music Festival is resurrecting these classic instruments, breathing new life into the timbre of old, with a contemporary twist for these forgotten tools.

For more than twenty years the Metropolis New Music Festival has been bringing the best in Australian and International contemporary music to Melbourne music lovers. For the 2017 season, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Recital Centre are combining their musical forces to expand the musical palettes of Melburnians, through this intriguing marriage of contemporary and baroque influences.

Examining the innate differences between the old and new, and the harmony and balance of when they come together, the festival boasts a rich array of music and a vast lineup of exciting talent, incorporating the instruments of old into modern arrangements and a new generation of composers.

Kicking off the festivities, Katapult, a trio of acclaimed classical soloists, are coming to Melbourne for the first time for the festival, presenting their show Between Strings. The three focus on the classic, timbral sound of period instruments, and will be joined by two of the best from Melbourne’s continuo scene, Laura Moore and Peter de Jager, to perform compositions by Australian and New Zealand artists.

Anchoring the festivities is Metropolis #1 and Metropolis #2, each featuring the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra alongside a hugely impressive group of musicians showcasing the oud (a pear-shaped stringed instrument similar to the lute), harpsichord (a Baroque and Renaissance era piano-like instrument) and recorder (a wind instrument with a whistle mouthpiece).

Metropolis #1 will showcase the premiere of Ancient Letters – the work of the festival’s 2017 composer in residence, and one of Australia’s best, Elena Kats-Chernin. The composition is a truly ancient and personal works. While researching her Uzbekistan heritage, Kats-Chernin became inspired to write it by letters written in fourth century A.D. by the Sogdian people in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The night will also see the world premiere of Metropolis oud player Joseph Tawadros’s Oud Concerto.

In their final show of the festival, Metropolis #2, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and their ancient accompaniments will showcase the Australian premiere of Anna Meredith’s Origami Songs, and a range of exciting performances direct from the Cybec 21st Century Composers Program. The night will exhibit the Australian premiere of Jeth’s Recorder Concerto, alongside the works of Bach, and Vivaldi.

For the first time, Resonant Bodies Festival will come to Melbourne, a night encouraging vocalists to challenge and transform their role as a vocalist. Since conception in 2013 in New York, Resonant Bodies has rapidly grown, with a hugely talented catalogue of participants and a huge fan base. Odeya Nini (US/Israel) will make her Australian debut for the show, alongside Melbourne’s own Carolyn Connors and range of vocalists seeking to expose and expand their talents, selected by Australian sopranos Jane Sheldon and Jessica Aszodi.

Baroque trio Latitude 37, were brought together by their passion for 16th, 17th, and 18th century music, and in The Things that Blind Us, they take this passion to the stage. Running with the festival’s theme of old and new, the show focuses on the passage of time. The three-piece will tackle works by Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir, David Chisholm and more, exploring that which they believe brings all humans together: music.

Acclaimed musician Alicia Crossley will showcase highlights of her two albums Addicted to Bass and Alchemy for Fragments, a demonstration of her talent as a recorder virtuoso. Far from the shrill squeak of a primary school music class, pieces from Debussy, Bach, and Mark Oliveiro to name a few, combine recorder with electronica for a fiery, unique experience to wrap up the festival for another year, and usher in excitement for what 2018 will bring.
 

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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Dappled Cities | The rule of five

Dappled Cities long awaited fifth record, released five years since predecessor Lake Air, marks a fifth of a century that the band of five has spent together.

Five – stylised as IIIII – represents not just those milestones, but the simplicity and contentment the band has found with the advent of age.

“The name was born from not over complicating the creative process. You can get very lost in naming a record, particularly between five band members. So there was some kind of elegance in its simplicity. The look and feel of the concept represents that creative mindset that we find ourselves in,” frontman Dave Rennick says.

More than just a name, that creative mindset manifests in the sound of the album, something Rennick attributes to taking time off.

The past five years is the longest the Sydney band has gone between releases, a period which saw the band part ways with their previous record label, manager and booking agent. But the lapsing time never indicated a potential split, rather it was a time for personal growth.

“It was an interesting transition, the first time we were really on our own since the beginning of our career, which lends itself to that feeling of self-satisfaction we have about the project.

“To be honest, when we decided to make the record, we were in the best headspace that we’ve been in for, I guess, our entire career. We were so happy and content and chilled, and it was good to wait for that moment before going back into the studio.”

Five was recorded in the now defunct 301 studio in Byron Bay, a venue chosen not just for its relaxed atmosphere, but the size of the studio itself. Their approach to the album was the most collaborative that it’s ever been, which saw them step entirely away from synth and drum tracks, and highly produced music, and into playing and recording live.

“It was so large to accommodate all of us playing at the same time. Everything is being played live. It added to that freedom we tried to get through to the set of songs, and allowed us to not put too much on there, just five sets of hands.”

For any band that has been together for as long as Dappled Cities – the five-piece began playing together before they were 18 – self-reflection is bound to happen, and the long wait between albums, and the changes in their situations led them to assess and establish what it is they wanted to create.

“We’ve learned to revel in musicianship, let the musicians play their instruments. Which I know sounds weird, but the rise of uber-produced, laptop music makes us question who we are. And the answer is we’re five musicians who play in a band, so let’s pick up our instruments and play.”

The pared back sound on the album is a departure from their hook heavy previous works. Rather than feeling pressure to fill the songs with texture and beats, Rennick says the songs came together in a relaxed manner.

“The songs have breathing space. They’re longer and have natural ebbs and flows. A lot of full-bodied sounds of single instruments, instead of a lot of relaxed sounds. ”

Part of the change in approach was the desire to create an album to be listened through entirely. Though proud of their more grown up approach, the flow is slightly broken up by frenetic and fast paced first single That Sound. 

“We did go into this record wanting to make a complete piece of work out of the record, a journey from beginning to end, so when it comes to that end game, we didn’t really nail it with That Sound. That cowbell is really quite a thing

“When it came around to putting the album together, to doing the sequence, we almost left That Sound off, because we thought ‘Wow, it doesn’t fit in anywhere.’ And it’s kind of tucked at the back, a rude shock at the end of the album. But the reason it was picked as the first single was that it’s our favourite song, it’s one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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Foster the People | An improvisational tone

Isom Innis, keyboardist of Foster the People, brims with excitement, having just received the news that the Australian population had voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.

Though a remarkably joyous moment, he’s innately aware the landmark result follows not only months of campaigning during the actual polling period, but lifetimes of discrimination and pain for members of the LGBTQI+ community.

At the same time, the entertainment industry is in the spotlight for its abuse of sexual violence and assault towards women, and the leader of the USA is a man who’s on the record bragging about such behaviour. It’s exactly this harsh reality and political climate that inspired the indie darlings’ third album, Sacred Hearts Club, directed by the band’s lyricist, Mark Foster.

“Mark’s lyrics on the album are a response to everything that’s going on around the world. We’re experiencing divisiveness worldwide. We’re experiencing the same trends of nationalism and racism, all these horrible things around the world, not just in America,” Innis says.

The resulting record is far from downbeat, though his explanation of the inspiration may lead you to expect otherwise. In the same vein as their breakout hit, 2011’s ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, they’ve taken difficult and complex subject matter, and created something glossy and groovy. And that’s exactly what they set out to do.

“We wanted to turn around and make a record that celebrates life, that’s joyful and that says love is bigger than politics,” Innis says.

In their attempt to create something that broke away from themes of pain, their music took on a hypnotic tone – both musically and lyrically.

“It’s a dancier, more hip hop driven record than any of our previous works,” Innis says. “It was really exciting to create these grooves, and create these beats that take you out of your head, and almost hypnotise you. There’s something hypnotic about a beat you want to dance to. That was the foundation of the record.”

The four members of the band share a passion for the genre, and the beats that the record is built upon are rich in hip hop influences. The beat-driven album is a fresh sound for the band, and a growth from their extremely well-known earlier work. The change is something the band certainly felt they needed.

“Whenever you sit down to make music, especially when you make a record, you have to chase your instincts, you have to chase what’s inspiring, and what you’re 100 per cent passionate about. And for us, hip hop is a really special genre of music. It refuses to be characterised, and it takes in so many different influences,” Innis says.

Though Innis has been playing with Foster the People since 2009, Sacred Hearts Club is the first album in which he’s billed as an official member. He jokes that he and Sean Cimino, who is also billed as a core band member for the first time on this record, have always been a part of the band, this is just the first time they’re in the promo photos.

Innis co-wrote on the band’s sophomore album, 2014’s Supermodel, but Sacred Hearts Club is the first record he’s contributed to from the ground up. Though a difference to the band’s previous work is palpable, that change was largely born off-the-cuff, and without planning.
 
Sacred Hearts Club is a record that’s born out of experimentation and improvisation. It’s a beat and groove driven record,” Innis says. “‘Loyal Like Sid & Nancy’ was the first idea that we got really excited about. It started as this atonal dance beat that I’d made. I showed it to Mark and he instantly responded by playing these orchestral chords – really the polar opposite of how you would expect someone to respond. These chords became the bridge of the song. That became a really important moment, not just musically, but lyrically on the record. It set the tone for how we wanted to finish the album. We really applied some of the sonic textures that we captured in that song across the board.

“A lot of happy accidents we stumbled upon just by opening ourselves up, chasing ideas, and following things wherever they were going to go,” Innis says.

It seems an apt way to write a record celebrating life in the midst of a rocky political climate.

Life is nothing if not improvisational.
Originally published in Beat Magazine. 

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The VMDO

This year, Victoria’s vibrant music industry gained a new ally, in the form of The Victorian Music Development Office (VMDO).

Launched in April 2018 and beginning operation in July, the organisation is the newest part of the Victorian Government’s $22.2 million Music Works strategy to ensure a thriving music community well into the future.

I had the pleasure of writing the copy for the site, which you can check out, and learn more about the good works of the VMDO, here.

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Allday | Channeling spirituality

On Allday’s single In Motion, he professes he’s no deity.

It’s but a line in the killer track with Japanese Wallpaper, but Tom Gaynor’s belief in something beyond him – and the inspiration that comes from that – is a rolling, passionate current that flows beneath his work as a musician. “Spirituality and musicality are a tightly entwined partnership, creating something better than the sum of their parts,” says Gaynor.

“I feel like when you’re making music, or making art, you have to be channelling something. And it’s something that I just feel. I’ve had enough evidence of spirituality in my experiences creating, so I have to live by it.”

Though he now resides in Los Angeles, and has lived most of his adult life in Melbourne, Gaynor’s Adelaide roots are part of what underpin his connection between his music and his spirituality.

“My friend says there’s a crystal shaft under the city, and I definitely feel that strange psychic pull going on in Adelaide. To be honest, I didn’t make much music in Adelaide. I made some of my first stuff there, but oftentimes I’ll go back to Adelaide and I’ll find it a very fruitful time for lyrics and ideas.”

After being raised in a Catholic household, and embracing what he calls typical teenage Atheism, as an adult, the 26-year-old has become interested in other philosophies. Though he muses that it’s probably a path walked by many people, he’s driven by what he identifies as spiritual energy, and apparently that energy is plentiful in his home town.

“A lot of artistic people, not just musicians but all creatives, move away from Adelaide and when we come back, we feel that same weird psychic energy that creates a freaky feeling, but also good artists,” says Gaynor. “If you’re a sensitive person to that weird energy, Adelaide can either freak you out or it can move you.”

Releasing a slew of mixtapes and a hugely successful debut album in 2014, Startup Cult, Gaynor has recorded the process of his growing up, since first becoming Allday in 2011.

 “Early days my motivation was be as big, be as known, as possible. On Speeding, my motivation was probably perfect a sound and perfect a mood.” Gaynor is not happy about the three year wait between Startup Cult and sophomore LP Speeding, a stretch he labels as weirdly long and says he plans not to repeat. “That should be the time where you just go hard and put out an album 11 months later, but I guess I was just going through a transitional phase, doing too many drugs, and I didn’t know what to say. “It was hard, because I wanted to make music, but I was spending too much time laying in bed feeling sorry for myself.” Fuelled by his indulgence in a less than healthy lifestyle, the move to Melbourne, and the bite of its bitter winters, may have seemed to halt his progress as a musician, but ended up shaping what would become Speeding. “I wanted to capture a more fun perspective of living in Melbourne, but it just didn’t come. The themes were unconscious.” Despite originally being inspired to create a big pop record, the resulting album is made up of vastly different themes and sonics than he set out to create. “Those [pop] songs weren’t turning out right, and it ended up being a shorter, Melbourne-esque thing. I think I had to get that out of the way, I had to get those songs from that era done,” Gaynor says. “My attitude to that time had changed, and this was where I was at. By the time I finished it I wasn’t going through that heavy, come down from drug depression in Melbourne anymore, but I had to get that out.” The influence of producers Cam Bluff and Mitch Graunke helped Gaynor step away from the set-in-stone idea of creating a pop record, and perfect the wintery, Melburnian sound that resulted. “Cam is amazing on drums, watching him program drums on Ableton is amazing, to me it’s like watching a sunset, or a waterfall, it’s beautiful.” The partnership between the three saw Gaynor possess a level of control he’d not had on Startup Cult. It also helped him grow into a more collaborative musician, something he is somewhat resistant to. “It wasn’t so much conscious as I have trouble connecting [with other artists], especially with rap. If I can do it, why put someone else on it? It’s something I’ve had to get over. “When you’re making a song you’re either making it for yourself or for an audience, or a bit of both, and sometimes I make it for myself too much. It becomes more about me wanting to say certain things, rather than write a song for the enjoyment of others. That balance, it’s something I wrestle with,” Gaynor says. “Control is important to me. It’s my product, I’m the one whose name is on it. It’s hard to make anyone care about it as much as I do, it’s not physically possible. But [creating the album] was an exercise in growing and understanding what to control. [On Speeding] I had a high level of control, that I didn’t have before, maybe too much control. I know now that some things are not meant to be done alone.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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HAIM | Strong women, new music

“We’re really feeling like strong women right now. Bosses of our own fate. Making our own music, not taking shit from anybody – writing every word, every chord and every song.”

In a time where feminism is commodified across not only the music industry, but the creative sphere as a whole, it’s encouraging to see strong women making their mark and pushing for their place in the industry.

Ahead of their sophomore release Something to Tell You, Danielle Haim’s triumphant proclamation of female empowerment on behalf of herself and her two sisters, Este and Alana – whom together make up HAIM – is more than fitting. Since their formation, the musical sisterhood has worked on honing their craft, developing into an exciting and an extremely experienced touring outfit.

The multi-instrumentalist sisters meld their charm and effortless style alongside impressive and ambitious arrangements to create a harmonic and deftly punctuated mix of pop, folk and rock.

It’s been four years since HAIM released their smash hit debut album Days are Gone, years that have seen the sisters tour extensively across the globe. But before the band became instantly recognisable for their catchy tunes, they were touring, going so far as to have performed as a family band alongside their parents – Von Trapp style – in their even younger years.

Stepping off the road and into a somewhat more stable life wasn’t an effortless transition. The end of the tour – and of that chapter of their lives – had the young women face the reality of not having a place to live. Checking out of the hotel – in the style of any young person looking for some security – the trio returned to a familiar stomping ground. Their parent’s house.

“After everything we had done it felt nice to be back – to go home and go to my childhood room,” says Danielle. “We rehearsed there every day for seven or eight years, dreaming of playing Saturday Night Live. To go back there now is very surreal. It’s so fucking crazy.”

Filled with those memories of their younger years perfecting the craft, the space was a perfect fit. The living room of their family home still set up as a rehearsal space, instruments and electronics all ready to go, the very same room featured in their first music video, 2012’s Forever.

It took months of work in that very living room before the foundation of Little of Your Love came together, setting things for their sophomore album in motion.

“When we wrote that, it felt like, ‘Hey, we still know how to do this. It’s happening.’ Then we finally got the ball rolling.”

Coming of age is a source of inspiration for many artists, and for good reason. The advent of age is the progression of a story, and with age comes the maturity and experience to push oneself.

After the success of Days are Gone, there was a lot to live up to, an expectation that the sisters seemingly took in their stride.

Returning to the very walls that heard the start of HAIM’s now hugely popular sound was a grounding experience for the sisters, who continue to grow as they work alongside each other. Rather than returning to exactly what they know, they were inspired to push themselves in what makes them unique and grow their sound.

“On the first record we were messing around a lot with production and samples. Now, coming off of three years of touring, we thought, ‘Let’s just go in and record as a band, keep it a little more organic.’ That was a mission statement for the album,” says Danielle.

Ariel Rechtshaid – who produced both of HAIM’s albums – says they’ve achieved their mission statement on Something to Tell You.

“They’re a very different band than on the last record. After three years of touring, they’re on another level. The fundamentals they have are unique,” Rechtshaid says.

“The lyrics have themes of finding strength; of old and new love. There’s loneliness and vulnerability, but also empowerment. We wanted to focus on what is unique about HAIM, and be willing to let them be them.”

Rechstaid recorded the album, and worked alongside Rostam Batamanglij (Vampire Weekend) on the production. The selection of this small team was an integral part of the album’s creation for the band, youngest sister Alana, says.

“With the first record, we learned that you really need to find people to work with that respect your musicality and ideas. Ariel and Rostam both really wanted to celebrate us as sisters and how serious we are about our music.”

Originally published here.