It’s my Quarantine Birthday. And here are my five lockdown music wishes

It’s my special Birthday tomorrow and I can’t properly celebrate it, for obvious reasons. I had awesome plans and great expectations, but life is life in the end. So, instead, I thought I’d go big on my wishes this year. And five of them are related to the Australian music scene.

PART 38 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

The wishes I’ve listed below are not necessarily unsubstantiated desires or false hopes for 2020. I’ve done my eavesdropping, after all. So here they are, in order of their probability, as predicted by me.

THE “IT’S GOTTA HAPPEN ANYWAY” WISH:

MORE LIVE MUSIC ON AUSTRALIAN TV

I dedicated a comprehensive post, related to this topic, last week. In it, I presented the reasons I believe are behind the lack of live music shows on commercial TV Down Under. Regardless of those excuses, though, national broadcasters will soon need to reconsider their current programming. There will be pressure from the local music industry, finding itself currently in a critical position. But the authorities will also start stepping in. And it’s actually already happening.

The State of Music is a joint venture of the Victorian Government and Mushroom Group. And it’s a very welcome initiative, both for fans and musos. The event’s format is based around industry-related chats with artists, their performances and live Q&As with the viewing public.

At the moment, The State of Music is only live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook. And, as anybody who has ever been to Oz knows too well, the quality of the internet connection on the continent is far from perfect. That’s why the first episode, aired on 3 May, faced some challenges (freezing completely or skipping parts of the performances) which was slightly annoying and spoiled the whole experience, totally unnecessarily. Luckily, someone who’s interested in the Aussie music scene might have overlooked those shortcomings. After all, G Flip was there to answer fans’ questions live. And the legendary Diesel played a song, too.

In episode 2 things were much more polished. And the show was entirely dedicated to Mother’s Day, featuring an all-female line-up. This time Vera Blue and Montaigne chatted to the presenter on the air. And absolute Aussie music legends, Debra Conway, Kate Ceberano & Mahalia Barnes, discussed the challenges of being a mum & recording artist at the same time. On top of that, a local “discovery” talent, Mia Wray, was presented to the world. Overall, it was quite a treat and it definitely raised the bar for weeks to come.

Another interesting initiative that showcases the diversity of Australian live music is Mint Condition. It’s a new drama series that revolves around a record store, music venues and live gigs. Even though completely fictional, it features some Melbourne bands, like #1 Dads, Cool Explosions or Mick Thomas. It was also shot in some beloved local spots, i.e. Fitzroy’s Oh! Jean Records, Richmond’s Bakehouse Studios or the PBS community radio station offices in Collingwood. Too bad that, for the moment, the show is only available on Vimeo.

I’m pretty sure that both The State Of Music and Mint Condition would bring an added value to commercial Aussie TV. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed they will pick it up soon.

THE POSSIBLE WISH:

TONES AND I RELEASING A NEW ALBUM

There is currently not even one person on this planet who doesn’t know who Tones And I is. Her most successful song so far, “Dance Monkey” became the most streamed song on Spotify by a female artist in April 2020. As of today, 13 May, it has over 1.5 billion (!) streams on the platform.

“Dance Monkey” made it to no. 4 on the triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown last year. The musician also won 4 ARIA Awards in 2019, taking the Breakthrough Artist gong. She had a world tour scheduled for nearly the whole of 2020, and I was very much looking forward to seeing her live. But the ‘Rona happened and changed everything.

It’s incredible that in a span of less than a year a former busker would become a world-famous phenomenon. In my opinion, it is absolutely well-deserved but success on this scale doesn’t happen every day.

To date, the Melbourne-based artist only released one EP (in 2019) and a handful of singles. The rules of the music business are changing, though, and nobody rushes to release entire albums any more. So, despite having quite a small discography, Tones And I has been performing at major festivals already.

In an interview with triple j in December 2019 Tones And I mentioned that one of her goals for 2020 was to finally release an LP. That was, obviously, before this global disaster called COVD-19. And it does change a lot of things for the industry. Such a big enterprise is normally followed by a kick-ass national or international tour that is fuelled by fans’ excitement and (hopefully) positive critics’ reviews. So if it’s impossible to take the album on the road, sometimes postponing its release is the only option. That’s what Hockey Dad decided to do with their upcoming third studio album, Brain Candy.

So you might think that I’m wrong wishing for Tones And I to drop an LP this year. But I’m pretty optimistic – she needs to give her fans the big prize eventually. Dropping singles and alternate versions of older songs is always a good idea but it might not be good enough in the long run. She knows it, and her management, Lemon Tree Music, know it as well.

Considering that her last song is called “Can’t Be Happy All The Time”, maybe it’s even good that Tones And I can take this time to slow down a little. It might be a good moment to concentrate on writing or polishing new songs as well. That’s why I’m pretty sure the album is going to happen at some point in 2020. Fingers crossed!

THE “IT’D BETTER HAPPEN” WISH:

ALL-AUSTRALIAN LINE-UPS AT AUSSIE FESTIVALS

For me, it’s a welcome development, for the industry – more a necessity and a given at this stage. And it’s actually not only a question of the line-up composition but a general concern about the future of the live performance industry in the coming years.

Australia has already started easing the COVID-19 restrictions, but there’s no way on Earth that gatherings of tens of thousands of people will be allowed any time soon. Even though 57% of festival-goers in Australia would attend a music festival before there was a vaccine, no authorities would be crazy and irresponsible enough to sign off on it.

Unfortunately for us, scientists and music industry experts speak in unison: forget the 2020 festival season. In other words, bye-bye, Splendour In The Grass (SITG) that is, optimistically, rescheduled to October 2020. And see you some other time, Falls Festival, which insists on keeping their December2020/January 2021 dates.

Some pessimists even say that we will be starved of live music events until 2022/2023. That’s because it takes time to put on a festival with less than 6 months notice. Booking acts, contracting roadies, preparing the infrastructure, marketing the event and coordinating everyone’s schedules is a monstrous and expensive task. So sorry, but no promoter would ever risk their reputation and a massive cock-up only to please fans. It’s a true pain in the ass to have to refund tickets if the event is cancelled in the end as well, as Live Nation would surely confirm.

Even if the festivals were allowed to go ahead in 2020, there is another point to consider. Currently, there is a pretty strict ban on inbound travel to Australia, meaning that only citizens, residents and few other traveller groups can enter the country. And those who do are subject to a 14-day quarantine in places specifically assigned by the government. Do you reckon that Billie Eilish or Childish Gambino have nothing better to do than spend additional 2 weeks in Oz on their already busy tour? I mean, Australia is beautiful, but when you can actually go places.

So that leaves festival organisers with the only option: booking Australian acts. In my view, this is a rad idea which would hugely contribute to shedding more light on the local music scene and, hopefully, could be also a springboard for up-and-coming acts. Falls Festival has already announced their gearing up for an all-Aussie line-up. And if SITG ditched the currently booked international artists (which they’ll have to do 100% anyway), the rest of their line-up looks pretty awesome to me, too (with Flume, DMA’s, Sampa The Great, Tim Minchin, Violent Soho, Methyl Ethel and heaps of others).

Maybe it’s not ideal for the festivals but I wouldn’t mind getting this present from the promoters.

THE “POSTPONED” WISH:

TASH SULTANA REVEALING A NEW LIVE SHOW

In October 2019 Tash Sultana had everybody in shock for a minute when they announced the end of their solo artist career on social media. When everybody was holding their breath in disappointment, Sultana was quick to point out that the emphasis was on “solo artist” and not the “end of career” bit. As a result, fans and people from the industry started wondering what this new chapter in Sultana’s career would be like since no further details were shared. Would it be a Tash Sultana band now or a completely new project?

After the announcement, the artist still finished their solo tour in Australia and New Zealand. And then they went into “studio hibernation”, even before COVID-19 ascended on our world.

Since then, Sultana has shared some insights into their creative process and life in isolation. They also released a new tune, “Pretty Lady”, at the beginning of April 2020. The single is accompanied by a typical yet very positive “quarantine dancing” video, featuring fellow artists (i.e. The Teskey Brothers or Baker Boy), friends and fans. The song, from Sultana’s busking years, is the first single from the upcoming album, Terra Firma.

Still, the clip doesn’t show the singer or any members of the new project in playing together. And since touring is out of the question now, we might not get a taste or feel of the new stage set-up live. But Sultana anticipated that and shared a band sneak peek at the end of March 2020 already.

It’s unusual and strange to see other musos in the studio with Sultana, but her vibe and guitar shredding skills are no different. The sneak peek caused mixed feelings amongst the fans who are used to the artist doing everything on stage herself and relying on looping. But this is what development and progressing in music is all about. You yield some duties to other people to make yourself better in something else. Maybe Sultana was just too overwhelmed or exhausted of her solo performances.

I’m pretty sure playing with the band will only enhance the Tash Sultana experience once we get to see it live. Which I’m still hoping for in 2020. It just might happen later rather than sooner.

THE CRAZY WISH:

A POWDERFINGER REUNION

Powderfinger were an alternative outfit from Brisbane that powered every Aussie rock fan’s playlist from the ’90s through to the 2000s. They also broke everybody’s heart when they disbanded in 2010.

The band’s discography is pretty impressive: 7 studio, 3 live and 4 compilation albums; 31 singles and 5 EPs; 29 music videos and 1 video album. These achievements were also honoured by the industry, winning the band 49 ARIA Awards nominations, 18 of which they took home, and 5 consecutive number one-albums on the ARIA charts (starting from the 1998 Internationalist). Only Silverchair received more accolades (for a band) in Australia. Additionally, their most successful album, the 2000 Odyssey Number Five, was certified eightfold platinum. Over 20 of their songs made it to triple j’s Hottest 100 countdowns. “These Days” and “My Happiness” reached no.1 in 1999 and 2000 consecutively. And their song “My Kind Of Scene” was featured on the soundtrack to Mission: Impossible 2, along with Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Chris Cornell or Rob Zombie.

Known not only for their sound but also charitable projects, Powderfinger have always been one of the most beloved bands in the Australian music history. So you can imagine their fans’ disappointment when the singer, Bernard Fanning, announced on the band’s website in April 2010, “With the completion of our last album, Golden Rule, we feel that we have said all that we want to say as a musical group”. After an epic and emotional tour that year, the band finally said goodbye in November.

Since then, some of its members have continued their careers in the music business, either as solo musicians or joining new projects. But there has been no real talk of getting back together.

Until 7 May 2020, when the band updated their imagery on social media.

This, obviously, doesn’t have to mean anything and Powderfinger haven’t confirmed or denied anything (yet). But the speculation game has already started.

And if the rumours were true, this would be one of the best gifts for my Birthday. Hint, hint, Powderfinger 🙂

UPDATE:

Powderfinger are reuniting for a one-off charity show, One Night Lonely, on 23 May 2020. Their performance will be streamed on YouTube.

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