Here's our collection of key takeaways from the opening day of this year's Bigsound, Brisbane's annual music conference:
1. Alex Lahey is the Real Deal
Bigsound may officially have started on Wednesday morning, but the Valley sprang into life on Tuesday evening with myriad "night before parties". And on an evening of strong sets by Woodes, Totally Unicorn, Ecca Vandal and Ceres – just a fraction of the acts plying their wares around Brisbane's creative hub – the standout was 21 year old Melbourne singer-songwriter Alex Lahey, who charmed a packed Woolly Mammoth with her endearing between-song banter and, more importantly, killer songs. Merging Courtney Barnett's knack for lyrical storytelling with three-minute power pop tunes that could charm the pants off any Replacements, Veruca Salt or vintage You Am I fan, it's no wonder Lahey is currently being courted by labels and bookers worldwide.
2. Neil Young's Son Comforted Kim Gordon
In her opening keynote address, Kim Gordon (pictured) recalled the time Sonic Youth played Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit in 1991, the proceeds from which go to assisting people with severe speech and physical impairments. Traditionally the Benefit requires its artists to play acoustic sets, and while Sonic Youth were many things, an acoustic act wasn't one of them. "I brought a guitar to smash as I had a suspicion things were doomed to fail," Gordon quipped. As it was, she was right, with fold back issues cursing their set. After smashing said instrument during a cover of New York Dolls' "Personality Crisis", she yelled "fuck!" into the microphone – only to walk offstage and notice the row of wheelchair bound kids sitting stunned in the wings. "I felt terrible," she said. "I had forgotten about them being there." At which point Neil Young's son, Ben, who suffers from cerebral palsy, approached her and gently said, "Everybody has a bad day sometimes." Gordon's keynote address saw the visual artist/musician/actor/author investigate the relationship between artist and listener, followed by a Q&A with host Jacinta Parsons (Double J) in which topics swung from her approach to art to Sonic Youth's handling of being on a major label to the true meaning of punk. "When we started we had no plan," she said of Sonic Youth. "We never thought about signing to a major label. The atmosphere of downtown New York was, let's make something that surprises people." And they did.
3. The Music Industry Doesn't Exist
In one of the day's most engaging panels – Mental Health & Music – a group including Shihad drummer Tom Larkin, manager Catherine Harriday (Eskimo Joe, Jebediah), musician Jen Cloher and psychologists Julie Crabtree and Chris Stevens discussed the alarming rates of depression and mental illness within the music industry. Talking points included managers' responsibility for their clients' mental health, how to combat the financial hardships many artists face (and the fallout that can cause), the professional difficulties facing "mid career artists" and the at-times misguided expectations the industry has about the way in which artists function. At one point, Cloher, who has had firsthand experience with mental health issues, outlined some of her strategies for maintaining good health while forging a career, one of which was that for her, "the music industry doesn't exist". Which, for a few seconds, caused a roomful of people to wonder if they'd just lost their jobs, until she went into further detail: years ago she decided to submerse herself in the communities of her fellow artists, in whom she could confide, celebrate her triumphs and commiserate her failures, as opposed to measuring herself against the expectations and demands of the industry. In hard times it gives her comfort that "I'm not alone. I'm not the loser artist."
Hideous Sun Demon
4. Unified Want To Give You Money
If, that is, you have a good idea. In his keynote address, Unified founder Jaddan Comerford announced The Unified Grant. Comprising five $5,000 grants, it's open to photographers, producers, videographers, web developers, graphic designers, journalists, app builders, data analysts and more, the aim being to "foster the next generation of driven young creatives who want to work in music but don't play an instrument". Applications are open now, and will close on October 31st.
5. Australian Music Is In Rude Health
OK, so we already knew that, but once again Bigsound has reinforced it. With venues hosting artists across the day and evening, Wednesday night's highlights included Hideous Sun Demon's fierce, deranged set at the Crowbar, Harts' funk, soul and rock & roll explorations at a packed Brightside, Adelaide MC Tkay Maidza turning The Flying Cock into a giant party, Tash Sultana's spellbinding one-woman performance at Oh Hello!, where Alex Lahey also performed another irresistible set, while Ecca Vandal and Polish Club again proved why they're tipped for breakout success. But really, these shows were only a taste of what that was happening throughout the Valley, where combatting a serious case of FOMO was the night's only drawback as you were forced to choose one performance over another due to scheduling clashes. Which, when you think about it, isn't a bad problem to have.
Top Photo: Kim Gordon. Credit: Bigsound Facebook