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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Ten Best Up-and-Coming Artists We Saw at BIGSOUND 2017

From feminist punk to '80s synth to jangle rock, these are the new gen of Australian artists to look out for.
By Tom Glassey
September 13, 2017
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The Ten Best Up-and-Coming Artists We Saw at BIGSOUND 2017

From feminist punk to '80s synth to jangle rock, these are the new gen of Australian artists to look out for.
By Tom Glassey
September 13, 2017
  shares

The advertising will tell you that Brisbane's BIGSOUND is all about a whole lot of music, played by whole lot of bands, at a whole lot of venues over a whole lot of nights. And it is. But there is a deeper subtext to the festival — it's a deliberate symposium of an important cross-section of 'the music industry'. Music label representatives, radio producers, agents, artists, producers and even lawyers descend upon the Valley in an expedition to unearth and support Australian talent.

BIGSOUND 2017 had an especially broad and eclectic showcase this year, guaranteeing no two punters had the exact same experience. But, in an attempt to compress four nights worth of amazing performances into a list, here's the ten most kickass, going places artists we came across. 

Image: Bec Taylor.

BOAT SHOW

Boat Show might be one of the most important bands that played BIGSOUND this year. They've opened for San Cisco and Pond, yet still haven't reached the acclaim one would expect for possibly the best punk band in Australia at the moment. Punk — not post-punk. Boat Show don't just play sharp and sweet compressed guitar lines with nonsense lyrics about petty modern gripes. Boat Show are angry, and their tracks are poignant, feminist anthems about the many patriarchal constructs in society that need to change — and the energy Boat Show brought to Heya Bar made the entire audience embrace the notion that it can be achieved. Lead singer Ali Flintoff jumped from amp to amp, got amongst the crowd, and demanded to be heard. She even approached the lanyard-wearing audience members and made a public, ironic, and hilarious attempt to 'network'. Boat Show has big things ahead of them.

Image: Bec Taylor.

OH MERCY

Oh Mercy aren't exactly undiscovered as such — they've been around since 2008, have four studio albums under their belt and an ARIA. But the aesthetic of Oh Mercy, canvassing both the ensemble and the sound of the band, is perpetual, and the band we saw at BIGSOUND 2017 seemed to resemble a contemporary take on Brit-Pop, with some remnant of resemblance to the Hoodoo Gurus. The founding member Alexander Gow took to the Woolly Mammoth stage looking like a dashing Garth Marenghi with his leather jacket, and sung of love and heartbreak in that way only an acoustic guitar-playing front man can. His backing ensemble was tight and rich, and it was evident Gow had complete faith in his band, and this afforded him the complete freedom to engage with the audience in an authentic way. 

Image: Bec Taylor.

DONNY BENET

There's nothing about Donny Benet and his big band that doesn't scream '80s, with his killer saxophone solos, rippling, almost ironic synth tones and endless hip movement. Benet himself might have been one of the most personable performers at BIGSOUND. At both his shows he danced with the crowd and was seen around the Valley inviting people to rub his bald head. A man you could call the king of anachronistic fashion (a heavily contested title amongst the BIGSOUND crowd), he was a favourite for photo opportunities, and embraced the role with relish. His songs are sensual synth-pop anthems detailing sexual ballads, all homages to the age of shoulder pads and powersuits. As a musician, Benet is doing something no-one else is in Australia is — and as a live-act he's wickedly fun.

Image: Bec Taylor.

SLOW DANCER

Slow Dancer (Simon Okely), along with Didirri and Stella Donnelly, completed the trio of the most beautiful, simplistic artists at BIGSOUND 2017. His whispered anthems and minimal instrumentation made for one of the most heartwarming sets of the festival. His music is deeply thought-provoking — best listened to with closed eyes, prompting reflection on childhood memories and lost loves. His set at the Blackbear Lodge was one of the last acts of night one of the festival, and the crowd sat absorbed in an appreciative silence. 

Image: Bec Taylor.

BIG WHITE

Big White is Australia's answer to Pavement, almost two decades later. Their distinct jangle rock filled The Zoo on the second day of BIGSOUND to a solid crowd. The five-piece seem to be an ensemble in the truest meaning of the word, a single pulsing organism working as one to produce technically fanciful yet fun music. Their almost ineffable stage demeanour is that of a band of brothers (and sister), and is one expressed well by their music. While they haven't made the festival headlines yet, if their insanely dedicated fanbase keeps growing as they are, it won't be long before Big White are an established name in the national scene.

Image: Bec Taylor.

BRIGHTNESS

There is a certain kind of band where someone can listen to the lead singer and think "gosh, I hope he's okay". Such are the lyrics of Brightness. Lead singer Alex Knight conducts his backing ensemble as an iconoclastic figurehead. His sound is an angry indie-rock but the resounding authenticity of the sound lies in Knight's acoustic guitar and gripping vocals. One only needs to listen to their hit single 'Oblivion' to perfectly understand the allure of Brightness. Simple lead guitar and bass lines (usually played on one string) create a musical vacuum in which Knight's art is free to grow and dominate the stage.

Image: Bec Taylor.

DIDIRRI

Like Slow Dancer, Didirri was one of the more acoustic, meditative sets of BIGSOUND. Comparable to Slow Dancer's beautiful lyrics and stage presence, and Stella Donnelly's endearing modesty, Didirri is a natural performer. Even when only using a nylon-string guitar, Didirri, in his recordings and in his live performances, fills all spaces in an uncanny way. Didirri might actually be magical — or a great vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and gripping storyteller, at the least. 

Image: Bec Taylor.

MADDY JANE

Maddy Jane's entry on the Spotify BIGSOUND playlist was 'No Other Way', a dole-wave, blues pop hit that's fiercely catchy and reminiscent of Courtney Barnett. With interesting guitar lines and endearingly peculiar lyrics, one might have expected her BIGSOUND sets (of which she played an above-average, three) to mimic Barnett. But her sets were far beyond this scope. Maddy Jane's musical prowess, lyricism, and engaging stage presence is amazing for someone of only 22 years old. Both Jane and her band seem to truly enjoy performing, and the audience of 256 Wickham couldn't help but get on board with this compelling energy.

Image: Bec Taylor.

BAKER BOY

A lot is said about Australia's hip hop and rap scene, and most of what is said is generally valid criticism. Which is why talented Australian rappers are such diamonds in the rough and usually cause a good deal of excitement. Based on Baker Boy's set at Oh Hello! on the second day of BIGSOUND, he's an Australian rapper to get very, very excited about. This 20-year-old artist is from remote Northern Territory and he is doing everything right — poignant lyrics (some of which he sings in the language of his people, the Yolgnu), a bit of didgeridoo, and the best dance moves of BIGSOUND. Baker Boy told the crowd we could expect new music from him shortly — so look out for that.

Image: Bec Taylor.

STELLA DONNELLY

Stella Donnelly was one of the last acts of BIGSOUND. This may have been a deliberate choice as her performance was nothing short of emotionally draining (in the best conceivable way). She is an endearingly human performer and engages her audience in frank conversation. She committed herself fully to her performance at the Heya Bar, from crossing her eyes when she hit her high notes, to throwing her body into each and every rhythmic beat. With only an electric guitar and a microphone as her instruments, every member of the crowd was moved by Donnelly's performance, laughing and even crying together as a single presence. In the course of half an hour she sung little comedic ditties, and deeply heartbreaking ballads — an especially impressive juxtaposition to her equally striking work as the rhythm guitarist for Boatshow. Go listen to her stuff. 

Published on September 13, 2017 by Tom Glassey

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