There’s nothing really like Brisbane’s BIGSOUND Festival, a celebration of the local music industry with few contemporary equals. There’s just so much to goddamn see, and the annual event is filled with more showcases, meet-ups and panels than you can shake a stick at.
When you’re at the fest, you can’t walk half a metre without bumping into some electric performance by a band you’ve never heard of, or into the middle of a panel in which some of the country’s best and brightest are discussing their work, and the way forward for the nation’s new stars. In short, there’s a reason it is recognised as one of the major events in the Australian music industry’s calendar.
It is also, needless to say, an incredible platform for emerging acts, and has been the gateway that has allowed a swathe of Australian performers to hit the big time.
Few contemporary Australian artists have enjoyed the kind of meteoric rise to fame that can rival Courtney Barnett’s, and the new ‘Strayan superstar has played everything from The Ellen Show (appearing alongside an interview with Michelle Obama, of all people) to Pitchfork’s annual music festival.
Of course, a lot of that is thanks to her sheer raw talent – to the way she combines the grunge stylings of the nineties with something entirely new, and confessional, capturing the antipodean way of life in her raw, bluesy tones – but a lot of that is also thanks to a swathe of well-timed gigs she played around 2011-2012.
One of the most notable of such performances was a showing at where else but BIGSOUND: taking to the triple j Unearthed stage in 2012, Barnett clearly made herself known to all the industry players present, and from her very first note it became obvious to all that the musician was on her way to bigger things.
The story of skate punk slackers Dune Rats is far from over: indeed, we’re not much past the very first chapter. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that from checking out one of their crowds.
Rather than drawing the appreciative but subdued gaggles of punters that usually stop to check out sets from bands of Dune Rats’ standing, the three-piece are met at every gig by a roaring, unstoppable torrent of well-wishers, and their headline shows often have a kind of Bacchanalian, fall of Rome quality to them.
But it wasn’t that long ago the group were an unknown entity, using opportunities like their set at BIGSOUND to slowly sharpening and solidify their unique style.
In 2016, a young singer-songwriter named Alex Lahey emerged as the true, bonafide breakout star of BIGSOUND 2016. Take it from this writer, who was stuck at work in a Sydney office desperately and futilely trying to organise interviews with PR people and musicians – all of whom happened to be at BIGSOUND, and all of whom, on their return, were waxing poetic about the young Lahey and her snappy, warm-hearted tunes.
These days, Flume is used to raising the roof at packed out stadiums around the world, and he has won considerable acclaim as the musical mastermind behind last year’s Skin. But it wasn’t that long ago that he was playing at the rather more intimate confines of a converted church, unveiling his early songs at BIGSOUND for the benefit of 200 adoring punters.
Of course, it’s unlikely that the young Flume – AKA Harley Streten – will ever play a venue of that size again. With a couple of ARIAs under his belt, Streten is only going to get bigger from here, and those who caught him as an emerging artist deserve all the bragging points they now have at their disposal.
Even though their first two records were well received, 2013’s Hungry Ghost was the record that put Violent Soho on the map. And for good reason too: a jubilant, rollicking piece of grunge art that owed as much to bands like the little known ‘Strayan outfit God (they of ‘My Pal’) as it did to Seattle pioneers like Mudhoney, the work was anchored by tremendous lead single ‘Covered In Chrome’.
The band’s success is, of course, entirely on their shoulders – they are the very definition of a DIY outfit, and have fought hard to become the ARIA-winning, hugely commercially successful act that they are today – but it sure was good timing that they played a BIGSOUND set just before the release of ‘Chrome’, wasn’t it?
King Gizzard And Lizard Wizard
It’s hard to believe that relentlessly prolific face-melters King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard every really “began”. It just feels like they’ve been here forever; floating around since time immemorial, dropping magma-warmed record after magma-warmed record. But they have an origin story just like everyone else, and the band first got their leg up at BIGSOUND.
Of course, they’ve released something like 600 records since then, and played countless shows, but it’s worth remembering that yes, once upon a time they were just a small little Aussie emerging act, the whole world stretched out before them.