Next week is the second Changes Music Conference in Melbourne. Over 100 speakers, 100 artists, 20 showcase curators and 10 venues will all team up over the course of two nights (July 3rd and 4th) to highlight the importance of progressive discussions within the music community. It’s a very important event in the landscape of what makes the Melbourne music scene more important than just the music itself. And no band on the 2019 Changes bill is more in demand right now than Hexdebt. Their album launch in May was near impossible to get a media pass to, even months out. A good indication that a band is a hot ticket.
They released their debut album Rule Of Four on April 26th and it’s a whirlwind experience that takes many spins to get an understanding of how to process its power and multitude of tough messages. They blaze fire like Savages, White Lung or Cable Ties, but even with those comparisons, they surpass containment — so much so you’d assume they don’t drive with side mirrors. Actually they probably don’t even drive on the road, they’re more of an off-road 4WD who’ll make your Google Maps app crash. But this isn’t a band trying to emulate the past; they’re living in the now and there’s a sense of how brittle making music can be — go hard or go be an accountant. After the 27 minute album, you’ll need a jug of water, a massage and probably a stroll on the beach to regain yourself and prepare yourself to do it all over again.
You can catch Hexdebt play the Future Popes showcase on July 3 at 11.30pm. Until then, they’ve sent us a Trading Tunes. “We chose artists who we feel discuss issues/ideas in their music or through their live performance that often go unspoken about, and that to us, embody social change within the music industry”.
Briggs – ‘Life is Incredible’
“This one speaks for itself. Briggs has been an incredible force during dark times in Australia, and always deals with difficult subject matter with an incredible balance of humour and severity.”
Chai – ‘Great Job!’
“Chai are another example of artists who subvert the stereotypes thrust upon them – in their case, the idea of kawaii/cute and the potentially racist and sexist undertones that come with these labels. Chai’s ‘Great Job’, like Briggs, also has a sarcasm to it that we love. And their rhythm section is incredibly tight!”
Sateen – ‘Finer Things’
“Sateen are a married wife duo who are fiercely unafraid to be both outspoken and vulnerable. They have been endlessly touring the US playing pride festivals and raising awareness of queer and trans issues. Their songs are so fun and well produced, and their outfits hark back to a vintage queer glamour that Hexdebt gets around.”
Kaiit – ‘Miss Shiney’
“Kaiit‘s music has a classic quality to it, but the earnestness of her lyrics completely embodies change to us. Kaiit discusses every day issues with the weight they deserve, and doesn’t shy away from acknowledging insecurities about her music, even in the music itself.”
Surfbort – ‘Trashworld’
“Surfbort‘s commitment to unwavering kindness and friendship can be almost confronting – it’s definitely a surprise to see a renegade group of punks talking about love and friendship so freely. Surfbort seem unconcerned with their image, and frontperson Dani Miller uses her platform to discuss social issues around her without isolating those who might not know about what she’s discussing. We love the balance of anger/rage with the lighthearted/upbeat.”
Now in its third year of running, Gaytimes has been laying down some roots in the landscape of boutique Australian music festivals and seems to be setting itself up for further growth. This year continued to deliver a variety of artists consistent in energy, creativity and innovation. With headliners Le1f and Miss Blanks, local cool-aunties of queer-punk Wetlips, the on-the-rise and ever-talented groups HEXDEBT and SAATSUMA, techno goddess Simona, our fav club angel Brooke Powers and many, many more, this year was pretty damn huge!
Before we jump into some delicious discussions of the performances, let’s take a mo to think about Gaytimes — the concept, the intentions, the festival. In many ways, it’s an exciting, fresh and progressive event — it celebrates sex positivity, body positivity and (of course) gayness. Mainstream camping festivals can, quite frankly, be aggressive and unsafe for femmes and queers. A space that focuses on safety and sexual freedom comes as a breath of fresh air.
The tricky thing with smaller festivals that aim to offer support to a particular community, is that in doing so they run the risk of alienating other intersections of the community that can be (and often are) moreso marginalised than the dominant group being catered for. For some, the festival may have arrived on a silver platter, ready for enthusiastic consumption. For others, it may have felt like they still had to scrape tooth and nail to be heard and valued, much like they do in mainstream spaces.
This issue reared its head at last year’s Gaytimes, with artists of colour feeling tokenized and the dominant language around gender and sexuality very steeped in binary. This year, Gaytimes did make effort to cater towards the T of LGBT with a safe-space gorgeously named Transgentle, but it still carried the feeling of a band-aid to a larger issue that wasn’t being overtly addressed.
While this kind of stuff happens literally all the time across the music industry, it feels more insidious when it plays out in spaces so close to home.
It’s clear that larger festivals get away with more. There isn’t necessarily outrage at Laneway not having a trans safe-space, for example (although I would definitely get behind one happening!) – nor are shockwaves sent when jocky dude-bros take up space running round in blackmilk leggings at Meredith. We’ve not had much choice but to accept that mainstream events are too often polluted with the manifestations of Australia’s colonial roots. But when alienating behaviour happens at small, community-oriented festivals, and particularly when it manifests at both a punter level and an organisational one, it cuts a little deeper and pushes further on the wedge that already exists between marginalised communities and the dominant cis/white/gay scene.
Something I would love to see happening in the future of Gaytimes would be for the festival to invite more people of colour, trans people, people with different levels of ability and queer people to help shape the festival at an organisational level. The potential for this event to support and nurture bonds between communities is huge and inspiring, but voices from different communities need to be heard and raised up for that potential to be realised. If Gaytimes can centralise intersectionality as a principal value, that’s something I can definitely get behind and I will be very excited about its future.
All of that aside, the talent on-stage was in absolute abundance. While the sun lit up the grassy hill, things really got rolling in the mid-afternoon with LALIC X SLIPPY MANE. Slippy’s low-fi rap rolled smooth as butter over Lalic’s full-bodied synths and vocoder backing vox, and the two worked the stage with effortless cool and charisma. It was a treat to kick off the sonic tastes of the day.
Next up in the festivities, Callan took to the stage with Slam Ross on the drums. These two have been making some incredible waves, Slam a new addition to what was originally Callan’s solo act. Slam’s additional dynamic fuels the fire tenfold and the two of them offer a musical presence that catapults Callan’s masterful lyricism and looping melodies into something beyond cosmic. If you haven’t seen them live yet, please get on it. Oh, and they call themselves BABY, now.
Synth-pop duo Pillow Pro breezed onto the stage with their special brand of energy that has been turning heads for the last couple of years. With their lounge-RnB instrumentals unfolding as they interlaced their sensual vocals, Sophie and Christobel cultivated a dance floor dreamscape that got the crowd on their feet and moving.
Established legends Wet Lips consistently deliver a cocktail of menacing femme power, devil-may-care punk assertion and brazen garage rock, and this gig was no different. With their performance at Gaytimes marking their fourth last before a hiatus, the atmosphere was charged with a mix of nostalgia and excitement unique to a longstanding relationship between band and audience. It was powerful, gritty and, at times, hilarious (Grace’s stage banter gets me in stitches) — they’ve been a big deal for a while and they once again proved why.
SAATSUMA saw us into the sunset with their masterful cascading rhythm and deeply human lyrics. Memphis Kelly’s vocals drip and hum over the band’s signature building synths, creating an atmosphere of vulnerable sincerity.
Later into the night, the phenomenal Le1f burst onto the stage with the explosive track ‘Koi,’ channelling adrenalin and empowerment that reverberated through the crowd. The 28-year-old N.Y.C based rapper, dancer and performer Khalif Diouf has been honing his flirty, provocative and addictive hip-pop sound for several years, and is now buoyant on the wave of well-deserved success. Le1f served an energetic set loaded with a mix of horny trap, futuristic rap and an undercurrent of PC music production, all the while challenging outdated ideas around race, gender, sexuality and social justice.
After a night of periodically sweating it out on the d-floor of Gaytimes’ after-hours upstairs club and freezing one’s fingers off in the cold outside, Spike Fuck warmed things up in the arvo on Saturday. Absolutely captivating, endearing and piercingly genuine, Spike’s post-punk, new-wave and sometimes-almost-country sound holds the listener in tender arms. To see her live is to be transported.
Shaken out of our indulgently melancholic lulls, next on was HEXDEBT. This cataclysmic four-piece released their first single ‘Bitch Rising’ last year in October, and have been playing a string of electrifying shows around Melbourne since. Before launching into their set, bassist Isobel D’Cruz Barnes said a few powerful words on the matter of centralising POC voices in queer spaces that have historically been white-dominated, especially in Australia, where our events are already on stolen land. It set the scene for the band’s stance towards social change that circulates through their lyrics and stage presence like a heartbeat. The final renditions of the line ‘my boyfriend’s friends never liked me’ in ‘Bitch Rising’ were alive with the audacity of HEXDEBT’S signature uniting power.
A little different from her set-up at Meredith and Laneway, Miss Blanks took to the stage without her dancers and this time with Simona on the decks (what a treat!). The energy she brought was no less and no different, however, and she rallied the crowd into a passionate exchange of drive and sensory power. The Brisbane artist offers her music like an extension of her personality — there’s humour, anger, vivaciousness, with an ever-present undercurrent of empowerment. It punches up in all the right ways and extends a hand for listeners to join her in doing so.
Later, with the sun deeply set and those ethereal Lake Mountain trees glowing in the stage light, it was with much excitement that the crowd awaited Simona’s performance. It was a special moment seeing Kristina Miltiadou join the stage for backing vocals — a joining of musical forces too good to be true, and a while in the making. I’m excited for whatever these two have in store for us. Simona was joined for further tracks by dancers Lyu and Mel, who brought an additional charge to the turbo-techno queen’s set. To finish her performance and close off Gaytimes’ mainstage came Simona’s textured, structured and transformative track ‘Season 4 / Episode 6’.
It wasn’t long before daylight filtered through the windows of the upstairs club and the last stragglers of the dance floor powered on with the inexplicable dedication of those acclimatised to kicking on. There was a good reason to stick it out, though, and that reason was Brooke Powers, whose 5 am vinyl house set was a testament to her ever-growing talent as an innovative DJ. Peppered with nods to New York house, avant-garde techno and disco/house, Brooke’s set was an uplifting journey that marked the festival’s end. It was definitely a special note on which to finish.