In September 2021, I watched a virtual discussion about building influence in a non-mainstream market. One of the panellists was the singer of the metalcore band from Byron Band called In Hearts Wake.
Jake Taylor spoke about environmentalism and sustainability in the music industry. He mentioned prepping to release a documentary covering his band’s efforts to do things in a “greener” way.
Coincidentally, the name and content of his feature film were the same as a blog post I’d committed two years earlier. So, naturally, the project got my attention.
Reducing trash at festivals, offsetting entire tours, or making the music-related merch plastic-free are probably the most common topics in the debate around the music industry’s impact on the environment. I talked about it in my post from September 2019 as well.
Coldplay have only recently started their world tour during which they’re harnessing the power of new technologies involving fans to make electricity generation at their stadium gigs more sustainable. It’s an ingenious and commendable innovation. But it’s just a drop in the ocean of everything that would need to be completely redesigned to make the music business “green”.
Like any other sector that relies heavily on transport, shipping, and the use of fossil fuels, this environmental predicament of the music industry has much deeper roots. The way things work now can be summarised like this: keep polluting and then keep offsetting it to compensate for the harm done.
That’s missing the point entirely. The goal is to change the industry’s mindset and start doing things the right way – “the green way” – wherever and whenever possible.
It’s, obviously, impossible to fix everything at once. The Aussie band In Hearts Wake learned it the hard way. For instance, an entire batch of their CDs, which was supposed to be packaged in an environmentally-friendly way, was mistakenly plastic-wrapped and shipped to fans.
That was just one of the many obstacles they faced in the quest to become a carbon-neutral project while recording their fifth studio album, Kaliyuga. So they decided to document this journey. And the cinematic result is an excellent insight into the challenges that still lie ahead.
I was finally able to see Green Is The New Black in London just over a week ago. And I’d make it a mandatory watch for any music fan that cares about sustainability, the environment, and the world we live in.
Luckily, the docu is also screening globally for 48 hours from May 17th via Moment House. The tickets are only USD 5 (approx. AUD 7.25, GBP 4.10, or EUR 4.80), so you have no excuse not to check it out.
And here are six reasons why you absolutely can’t miss it.
1. It tackles an uncomfortable topic
Music is one of those magical things that unite us like nothing else. How many friends have you made because of a similar taste in music? What are your craziest memories of amazing festivals? And how much happiness can a simple song bring when everything else sucks, right?
So when someone tells you that “a single record can take up to 1,000 years to fully decompose in a landfill”, “major US festivals (…) generate around 100 tonnes of solid waste every day” or an “average touring DJ emits 35 tonnes of CO2 a year – (…) 17 times higher than the personal carbon allowance”, it’s probably not an easy thing to digest.
Nobody is comfortable talking about it: not the musicians, not their record labels, not tour promoters, and definitely not the streaming giants. But somebody has to start that conversation and show things as they truly are.
Environmentalist, actor, and 2040 movie director Damon Gameau was interviewed for the docu. And he put it very bluntly,
“(…) one of the most frustrating things is how scared artists are to talk about climate change sometimes. This is your moment. Sing it from f**cking rooftops!”.
In Hearts Wake are not the first band to advocate for a change in that field. The “music industry vs the environment “debate has been resurfacing fairly frequently in the last few years.
Additionally, in Australia, there are several noble initiatives and organisations committed to changing the narrative. We’ve got the Green Music Australia office, the inaugural Environmental Music Prize, or the FEAT. (Future Energy Artists) collective. But in the era of the (still in the office as I’m typing this) Morrison-government that is especially reluctant toward environmental progress, it feels like talking to a wall sometimes.
So every new voice from the music community counts. And my utmost respect goes to In Hearts Wake for tackling this – apparently – unpopular topic.
2. It was made by a metal band
Okay, this might sound funny to you. But I don’t necessarily associate the heavier music scene with being particularly vocal on environmental issues. And it turns out it’s not only my opinion.
AY Young, the founder of The Battery Tour and one of 17 UN Youth Leaders selected to help spread the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was equally surprised. His reaction in the docu is priceless.
It shouldn’t matter what genre of music it is when you talk about environmental protection. But I reckon there is a group of artists normally considered “the activists” more than anybody else because they tend to be closer to nature in general. When I think of advocating for climate conservation, for instance, I picture more a singer/songwriter than a metal band.
Well, not anymore. Come to think of it, heavy metal is a genre allowing to vent a lot of frustration at the world. And considering how much in deep s**t we already are when it comes to climate change in the 21st century, it might be the perfect medium to express it: loud, hard, and angrily.
In Hearts Wake’s first single from the Kaliyuga album, “Worldwide Suicide”, is a great example of an environmental protest song with a call to action. It samples an excerpt from Greta Thunberg’s speech that Jake recorded in New York at one of the Fridays for Future gatherings.
The band have committed to planting a tree for every thousand views of the video. So hit that “play” button a few times to boost their already impressive numbers. I’m just giving you a heads-up that the clip is pretty graphic.
(On a side note, the video has been shortlisted for the Environmental Music Prize – check out the public voting page here).
Hopefully, if a metalcore band can do it, the perception of traditionally “greenie” artists will start to shift and musicians from all corners of the music scene in Australia will join the good fight.
3. It’s a docu about practice, not theory
In Hearts Wake have a unique perspective on the environment. They come from a serene and peaceful place Down Under, surrounded by nature, mountains, and the ocean. If you’ve ever been to Byron Bay, you know it’s a place for taking a breath, surfing, and enjoying the beautiful scenery.
The band are very connected to their community. Vocalist Jake is also behind Earthwalker Australia – a hub for people who want to bring balance to their lives and crave the natural world. Coincidentally, the band’s second album is also called Earthwalker.
Unfortunately, In Hearts Wake witnessed the devastating effects of the 2019/2020 bushfires on their homeland first-hand as well.
This is where their activism partially stems from. But with the Green Is The New Black documentary they went a step further. Guitarist Ben explains it,
“We have always been an environmentally driven band, but I feel like we’ve sort of been saying, here’s the message, take it or leave it. We just thought, why not just say it the way we want to say it”.
In the documentary, you’ll find heaps of examples of how you can approach things “the greener way”. From the vinyl manufacturing process to sustainable merch and getting rid of certain parts of the show not to pollute the environment.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s an easy process. Good intentions are one thing, making things happen is another.
Some requests the band put through needed to be thoroughly assessed to change the “traditional” process. In Hearts Wake’s record label, UNFD Records, was onboard with producing new packaging right away. But it did pose a challenge for everyone involved. Especially manufacturing and procurement turned out to be quite tricky. Since everything is automatically wrapped in plastic these days, new materials were sourced to ensure that vinyl was properly secured for delivery.
Most importantly, however, this docu proves that things can be done more sustainably, with practical examples of how to achieve it.
4. It’s well-researched and educational
Do you know that the term ecocide [pronounced ee-koh-sahyd] actually exists?
It “refers to the process of environmental or ecological destruction, whether through natural means or human activity”. As In Hearts Wake inform in the docu, “it has not yet been accepted as an international crime by the United Nations”. But my research shows that some countries are moving toward treating it as such.
The film will hit you with all sorts of stats and facts, many of them tragic and/or shocking. But this is the undeniable advantage of the band’s approach to this project. Apart from showing the grim reality, the docu is based on wider research and outreach to different interest groups to show the topic in the most objective light.
On the music side, you’ve got Heidi Lenffer from Cloud Control who talks about the FEAT. initiative and artists investing in solar farms. There’s also Jess Ducrou – Splendour In The Grass Festival co-founder – who paints a pretty sad picture of how extreme weather events force outdoor gig cancellations more frequently than before.
Apart from the already mentioned filmmaker Damon Gameau, the band also invited a progressive politician to join in the debate. Tamara Smith, Greens Member for Parliament, spoke about the scientific evidence that is broadly ignored while most scenarios predicting an environmental disaster are happening right now.
If there’s one group I’d have liked to see included a bit more in the documentary, it’s the fans. And I say that because I was really surprised that the movie theatre wasn’t entirely full at the London screening.
To me, it’s a clear sign of the overwhelming lack of understanding amongst the music fans when it comes to this important issue. And it probably has something to do with what I mentioned in the first point already. We don’t normally think of the music and musicians as having anything to do with harming the environment.
So In Hearts Wake are doing a fantastic job with their docu, trying to raise the awareness amongst their fanbase. I would have only tried to involve them and get their point of view a bit more.
5. It’s genuine: brutal but honest – as it should be
I’ve been to a festival once that dubbed itself “sustainable”. So they wouldn’t sell water in plastic bottles, and punters were encouraged to bring refill containers. But then you’d go to get some food… and it would be served in a plastic container with plastic cutlery.
It is not to judge any festival organisers because going “green” is much harder than you might think in this day and age.
At one point in the docu, singer Jake talks about this very topic:
“Accountability is looking in the mirror, owning up to the shit we might not get right, we haven’t gotten right”.
In Green Is The New Black, there are quite a few “lessons learned” or examples of the disparity between what the band was preaching to their fans vs what the reality was sometimes. And it wasn’t because they were totally oblivious to or ignorant of the things they were doing wrong.
It’s totally fine to make mistakes. We’re just so used to doing certain things one way that we don’t even see them as harmful anymore. Some are also dispensable and more on the “nice-to-have” side than an actual necessity. But because we’re generally creatures of habit, it’s hard to see “outside the box” sometimes.
Take the confetti. You’ve probably experienced that “wow” moment many times when an act closes the set on an absolute banger that everybody knows, sings along to, and has been waiting for since the beginning of the gig. And when that culminating moment comes, colourful or glittering confetti is shot high up in the air. It’s beautiful, memorable, and celebratory. But you know it’s normally made of paper, right (and a pain in the ass to clean on top of it)?
Once In Hearts Wake realised they were wasting heaps of paper at their shows, they found an alternative. And you won’t believe how simple and effective it is.
6. It’s a passion project
This documentary was not made by a major motion picture house or a leading streaming company. There’s no big money behind it. Jake Taylor produced it himself.
In Hearts Wake don’t have a hidden agenda, either. They don’t do it for accolades (but it would be rad if they were at least recognised by Documentary Australia). You can tell it’s a passion project of a few individuals on a mission to raise awareness of the environmental crisis happening here and now.
Because “our house IS on fire”. And music, whilst being one of the offenders in the case of climate change, also has a tremendous potential to mobilise the masses. So the Byron Bay band reached out to their following, hoping they’d carry the message further. Showing their devotion and commitment to the cause will hopefully translate into their fans’ tangible actions.
We need passionate people like the members of In Hearts Wake to make people understand that our carbon footprint is not limited to the car industry, plastic manufacturers, or fast food chains. Every industry has the responsibility to think about a “greener future”. The time to act is now.
In Hearts Wake are certainly going in the right direction. They are now a certified carbon-neutral band – possibly the first one in the world.
Check out the docu’s trailer below:
In Hearts Wake, Green Is The New Black, Feature Documentary
Released: 18 December 2021
Running time: 93 mins
Directed by: Jake Taylor + Caleb Graham
Produced by: Jake Taylor
Original Soundtrack by: In Hearts Wake
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