It’s always great when we’re able to do something we love and help other people out at the same time, and Imperium In Imperio is an initiative from record label TEEF that does just that, allowing a range of local talent to come together to create not only a brilliant and unique collaboration, but one with charitable goals.

Having already released its second compilation record, the Imperium In Imperio project is coming to the live stage of Melbourne Music Week this month with the aid of Spirit Level and Collarts as part of the Self Made program presented by JBL. A great lineup of artists from the compilation like Braille Face, Anatole, Saatsuma and a stack more will be teaming up with visual artist Jonathan Key to raise funds for OXFAM’s Syrian Refugee Appeal – with the entirety of the profits being donated.

In anticipation of a night of music that’ll satisfy the soul as much as the eardrums, we spoke to TEEF owner Tommy Faith about the MMW and Imperium In Imperio, and the challenges that come with running a charity event in the local music scene.

Imperium In Imperio will be running as part of Melbourne Music Week from 7:30pm – 12:30pm Friday November 11 at 1000 £ Bend, with a full lineup and more info here.

What was it that prompted you to start the Imperium In Imperio project?

It was a combination of two things. Firstly, running your own record label is a constant series of hard decisions. You can only work with so many artists and have to pick and choose who you work with (and hope they want to work with you), so there are a lot of local acts I would love to work with but just don’t have the bandwidth to do so under the TEEF umbrella. So, Imperium was a good way for me to get to at least release something from these artists.

Secondly, it’s an incredible opportunity to do something socially valuable by raising some money for a great cause. When Imperium was first conceived, it wasn’t going to be a charity album but then partway through the planning process the Nepal earthquake struck, and giving away the proceeds felt like the right thing to do.

Does the charitable aspect of the project make it easier to get artists and others on board and involved with the idea?

It certainly felt like a lot of artists were excited about offering their songs up to a project that wasn’t driven by profit. It’s not like the music industry is rife with profit at a grassroots level but it’s easy to relate to the positive feeling of doing something that feels like a morally positive thing to do. Maybe it’s just endorphins, I don’t know.

How receptive/engaged are Melbourne and Australia as a whole when it comes to charitable initiatives?

I’ve seen a lot of people who wouldn’t normally pay for music offer up their hard earned coined to support Imperium so I’d suggest there’s a fairly engaged bunch of people, at least within the music sphere that we’re a part of. Sometimes it’s tricky to get people to conceptualise the suffering of people so far away and so different from themselves but there’s still a rich vein of generosity all around us.

It can be tough enough for a lot of artists and music industry people to support themselves let alone incorporate charity into the equation. What are some tips for anyone who’d like to do something with a charity?

I’m in a very privileged position wherein TEEF isn’t my income. I have a 9-5 job which supports me and all the money that comes into TEEF stays in TEEF to be used for future album releases or projects like Imperium In Imperio. Many people who are making their crust in music will be all too aware that margins are narrow so it’s tough for a lot of people to incorporate a charitable element when things are pretty tight.

I guess find a way of raising money by giving people what they want. I’m relying heavily on the generosity of artists who offer up their songs so if you can’t afford to donate money, find a way to put in the hours and help facilitate donation from other people who might have a greater disposable income.

People are often suspicious of purported charity efforts nowadays, either in regards to the organisers, or the charities that benefit. Are people right to be concerned, and are there any warning bells that dissuade you from certain charities?

Even though I have my own religious leanings, I get a little uncomfortable when there is a religious subtext to any charity that isn’t made explicitly clear. I don’t mind if it’s overt but I appreciate it when it’s out in the open. I’m pretty wary of any organisation that’s sole mandate is to ‘raise awareness’. Sometimes that feels a little bit like remunerating an artist with ‘exposure’, something that’s great at a grassroots level but eventually someone has to pay the bills.

Do you think it’s a challenge for organisations to run charitable campaigns these days without being accused of simply trying to self-promote or foster goodwill?

It’s a fine line to tread. Obviously there’s some positive ‘branding’ that comes around a project like this but I hope it’s not perceived as my main intention. I’ve tried to focus on both the music and the cause rather than the medium so hopefully that comes through.

Is it fair to say that any charitable initiative associated with music will have some element of mutual benefit for those involved, and is there anything wrong with that?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a mutually beneficial project. It’s important (at least to me) that the motivation behind it is at least a little bit altruistic though – the starting point shouldn’t be ‘how can I add value to my own brand’. If that’s your launchpad then there might be a problem but who am I to criticise anyone whose project is bettering the lives of someone else?

Why did you decide to work with OXFAM?

I had heard from a mutual friend a few years earlier that in terms of effectiveness, OXFAM were very highly thought of. I liked the idea that a dollar would go further with OXFAM – though I can’t give any evidence of that, it was just an anecdotal thing that stuck with me. I hope it’s true!

How has the partnership with Melbourne Music Week come about, and what does it offer you that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise?

Tom Hutchins, who I recently dragged into the TEEF family, had already wanted to throw a launch party for the album with the thought that we could donate the ticket profits and potentially get more donations via the album through the extra promo from the show. He was right about the first part at least. It evolved from there and we pitched our idea to the team at MMW, and they obviously liked it because they gave us the green light.

Having recently moved back to Sydney yourself after a time in Melbourne, what are your thoughts on Melbourne being labelled as a ‘music city’?

I think it’s a city with a great music culture and it’s a culture fostered thanks to strong decisions on a governmental level. Just this week the labor government in Victoria announced grant funding to soundproof a bunch of music venues so that they didn’t get shutdown via noise complaints. That’s phenomenal. Sydney definitely has it’s own scene and culture, so I’d argue Melbourne isn’t the music city, but the structures are much better established in Melbourne.

Who are some other people in the local music industry running particularly good charity initiatives?

Support Act seems to be a worthy cause and I think OXFAM have a fairly good presence in music through the OXFAM parties that they organise. Admittedly though, I’m no expert in this field.

How have you found the reception to the Imperio releases and shows so far? And the plans going forward?

It’s been phenomenal. We’ve raised nearly twice as much as last year’s version of Imperium and we’ll be looking to release volume three next year, so we’re already looking at which artists might be a good fit!

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