Australian Music Vault Talks | The value of fandom

“As soon as you get music lovers together, they start talking and networking and coming together, and amazing things come out of it.”

The Australian music industry is fuelled and built upon beautiful, personal connections. That spark when music lovers come together, as described by Amy Bennett, the Creative Learning Producer at Arts Centre Melbourne, is what ignited Australian Music Vault to launch a series of talks to run at Arts Centre Melbourne over the course of 2018.

“At the moment, we’re really in a time of conversation and the public contributing to discussions instead of just observing from the outside,” Bennett says.

“I think the music industry are really keen to have a forum where they can present these issues from the general public side. It gives the public a front row seat to the inner workings of the industry, because it can be a bit hard to understand how it works.”

The Australian Music Vault Talks will tackle what it means to be a music fan, roping in mega-fans of the likes of Nick Cave, Crowded House and Kylie Minogue to talk about their obsessions.

But the first talk will see a panel of women from all facets of the industry come together to talk about gender representation in the Australian music industry.

The panel will focus on the path to change the gender imbalance, and the challenges that stand in the way of such a thing. Facilitated by journalist and author Jenny Valentish, the panel features Grace Kindellan of Wet Lips, Mohini Hillyer of Habits, Dr Catherine Strong, who is conducting APRA approved research into gender inequality in the Australian music industry at RMIT University, and Tracee Hutchison from the Music Victoria’s Women’s Advisory Panel.

“It’s a really big one,” says Bennett of the inaugural talk. “There has been a lot of discussion on it. It’s really important to us, to the Australian Music Vault, to make sure there’s equal representation, and we felt we had a role to play. It’s really moving forward at a rapid pace.

Bennett, who is a musician in her own right, is happy to report that she’s definitely seeing a shift in gender representation within the industry. “There are more female mentors available for younger musicians. There are more women who want to be leaders, and show younger women that this can happen,” she says.

“That being said, you still go to gigs and 15 out of 16 people are dudes, so in the music industry, it really needs to stay active. That’s why some of these young musos like Grace (Kindellan) are so important, because they’re actively choosing lineups based on this.”

The Australian Music Vault was launched at Arts Centre Melbourne in 2017. Set to run for three years, the free exhibition is a celebration of the past, present, and future of the Australian music industry, and an insight into the history that has shaped it.

“The idea is to celebrate Australian contemporary music, there’s such a rich history and there’s so many amazing people involved in the history and the present, and obviously the future, but it’s been something that the Victorian Government and us at Arts Centre Melbourne, the music industry, and major stakeholders like Michael Gudinski, have wanted to celebrate for a long time,” Bennett says.

The vault, and these talks, are there to remind the audience that it’s not just musicians who make up the scene, it’s every audience member, and the stories they have to tell.

“When it was announced that Festival Hall would become apartments, that was a change in the city, a change in infrastructure. But what it did, whether or not it’s bad or good, is it made everyone tell their stories of Festival Hall. That’s what we want to encourage,” Bennett says.

We all have stories of Festival Hall, of our youth, no matter how recent that was. “The members of the music industry are really passionate about a lot of issues that are a massive part of their everyday lives.

“Having these talks helps to give wider context for these issues. We want it to generate discussion, to excite people who then give back their stories. It’s a two way street.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine. 

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Rick and Morty, Szechuan Sauce, and the power of online fandom

After 18 months of intense fan anticipation, April 1 saw the first episode of the third season of cult television show Rick and Morty drop as a surprise April Fools prank.

The episode was a triumph, showcasing the show’s creativity, heart, and humour at its best. Yet the episode did more than entertain, it started a cultural phenomenon, best served with chicken nuggets.

Szechuan sauce.

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Within the episode, Rick recalls a McDonald’s Szechuan dipping sauce that was served for a limited time in 1998 to promote the Disney movie Mulan. In the final scene, he proclaims valiantly to his grandson:

“I’ll go out, and I’ll find some of that Mulan Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce, Morty, because that’s what this is all about, that’s my one armed man. I’m not driven by avenging my dead family. I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce. That’s my series arc, Morty. If it takes us nine seasons, I’m going to get that dipping Szechuan sauce.”

With one line from the protagonist’s stammering, drooling mouth, the show’s creators, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, created an army to serve one purpose. No, not to pass butter, to get sauce. And that army is rather large.

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Facebook groups dedicated to the show boast large memberships

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 8.36.15 pmBy and large, Rick and Morty fans are passionate, gathering online using platforms like Reddit and Facebook to discuss the show. And since the release of the episode, the discourse of these groups has been almost entirely dominated by the topic of McDonald’s Mulan-inspired szechuan dipping sauce.

Hardly contained, the mania has progressed beyond these curated spaces. One of the most viewed YouTube videos this week is a how-to on making szechuan sauce, and a change.org petition urging McDonald’s to bring back the sauce is gaining traction.

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Alleged packets of the sauce, and even photos of packets of the sauce, are now being auctioned on eBay, with the most impressive fetching bids in excess of 50,000USD.

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Though an obsession with McDonald’s sauce may seem to contradict this fact, Rick and Morty is an incredibly clever show. It’s whip-smart writing and mature themes attracting and nurturing the huge fanbase.

The star of the show, Rick Sanchez, is the ultimate free thinker. The literal smartest man in the universe, rebelling against not only his dimension’s rules and social norms, and the status quo of a multiverse, but also against a citadel made up entirely of infinite versions of himself.


“Think for yourselves, don’t be sheep.”

In line with their hero, is well documented that much of the Rick and Morty fandom consider themselves smarter than those who do not watch the show, or other members of the fandom they consider inferior, taking their passion to emulate this free-thinking genius to an arguably obnoxious level. 

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A top ranking meme from r/rickandmorty

Yet these same fans have heavily promoted McDonald’s, a brand synonymous with capitalist culture.

In the time that has passed since the dawn of the Szechuan Sauce era, fan’s questioned within the aforementioned online groups over their alleged susceptibility to the product placement, have been quick to claim the show’s reference is satirical, unable or unwilling to critically assess the use of the sauce.

Whether or not the show did mention such a specific condiment in truly irreverent fashion, the McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan Sauce is tough to swallow (and not because it was made in 1998.)

Today’s consumer has the option to approach much of the advertising they’re exposed to with a healthy sense of scepticism, though this scenario made that difficult. The fundamental problem with this kind of audience manipulation is subtly, it hits when the viewer is most vulnerable: expecting to enjoy a story, not listen to a sales pitch.

In this case, there is no denying that the viewers were completely won over. The show’s fandom has become so dedicated to the product they were told to like, that an animated alcoholic’s wish may very well be granted in the real world.

While there’s no official or public partnership between the show and McDonald’s, the two parties are communicating on Twitter, and a corporate McDonald’s chef has tweeted his support of the movement. With a live action Mulan remake currently in the works, everything seems to be lining up neatly.

The sheer volume of free advertising the golden arches have received over the past week is an astounding display of the power of fan culture. It’s product placement gone meta, and the fans don’t mind one bit.

For to be in favour of bringing back the sauce, is to be a part of the narrative of the show they so dearly love, of something bigger, of an exclusive club, and the pursuit of that is at the root of what online communities and social media are about.

That, and selling stuff.