As the Australian music scene continues to gradually return to its pre-COVID glory, community radio Music Directors and presenters from around the country shine a light on the finest local talent doing the rounds today.

While many of us are adjusting to a new sense of normality after 2020, Australian musicians are still facing enormous limitations in working opportunities to support and sustain their careers. Exposure is more important than ever and ironically harder to come by in today’s media landscape.

The Australian Music Radio Airplay Project – best known as Amrap – offers Australian musicians a pathway to airplay to the many community stations who have long championed Australian music of all stripes. Providing exposure often before anyone else, community radio is a strong and unique network immune to passing trends.

In this Tone Deaf series, we’ll turn to the Music Directors and presenters at some of the amazing community stations from around the country and get their latest favourite Australian music discoveries from Amrap.

“We take solace once again in the fact that our music community continues to work tirelessly to produce every kind of answer imaginable to some of life’s hardest questions.”

Firas Massouh, Music Co-Ordinator of Melbourne’s PBS FM, continues this series with Australian music available on Amrap to help compile a playlist of the best homegrown tunes doing the rounds on community radio for you to sink your teeth into. As Firas explains:

“As we feel the pinch of yet another lockdown in Melbourne – and this is a rather polite way of putting it – we take solace once again in the fact that our music community continues to work tirelessly to produce every kind of answer imaginable to some of life’s hardest questions.

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“In times of crisis, one of the things that we’re able to do at PBS is to offer a platform to artists who are engaged in these sorts of questions and answers. We are truly lucky to have these tracks getting airplay across multiple shows on PBS, on other community radio stations, as well as being accessible via Amrap.”

Check out ‘Hold Fast To The Void’ by The Seven Ups:

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The Seven Ups – ‘Hold Fast To The Void’

This is going to sound strange, but the first time I heard ‘Hold Fast To The Void’ its intro made me think of Iron Maiden, and Steve Harris’ bass playing to be precise. This is not a bad thing by any stretch. Random, I know; I mention it because Iron Maiden are awesome. But actually, The Seven Ups are more awesome.

The Melbourne Afrobeat turned psych rock band are a musician’s band and I wouldn’t be surprised if they listened to some heavy metal every now and then. They’re everything in between the genres mentioned above and much, much more. I’ve followed them closely from the very beginning and have loved everything they’ve put out. But their new album The Old World is an outstanding instrumental odyssey and one of the best soundtracks to our current epoch that I can think of.

They’re as solid as they are loose, as diverse in their sound as they are consistent, and as wonderful as ever. I cannot wait to see them live on stage again!

Parvyn – ‘What You See’

Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Bollywood funk collective The Bombay Royale can attest to the intoxicating energy that lead singer Parvyn brings to her performances. With a background in traditional Indian singing and dancing, the Punjabi-Australian artist puts on a live show that is nothing short of ecstatic and brilliant. Over the years she has also paired with classical and jazz musician Hue Blanes on a project that weaves eastern and western instrumentation and melodies to produce a beautifully contemporary intervention in jazz. But it’s only now that Parvyn is finally putting together her debut album as a solo artist.

Due for independent release in September, Sa, which means ‘to breathe’, is an album that draws on this original artist’s influences and past experiences. ‘What You See’ is the first single lifted off the album and shows Parvyn fusing elements of R&B, bounce and Punjabi pop to deliver a song that transcends any culturally specific musical motifs but that’s in fact emotionally powerful and universal.  

Check out ‘One Morning’ by Happy Axe:

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Happy Axe – ‘One Morning’

Happy Axe is the project of violinist, vocalist and composer Emma Kelly who’s been dreaming up pop reveries for a few years now. ‘One Morning’ comes from her new second album Maybe It’ll Be Beautiful and reflects on whether leaving her home city of Canberra in pursuit of a new life in Melbourne was the perhaps “the wrong adventure”.

Responding to her displacement in a city that had just entered an extended lockdown, a perhaps not so Happy Axe delivers melancholic vocals with the help of her mournful violin and a musical saw also. Offering vocal harmonies and drums on the track is Melbourne-based artist Butternut Sweetheart who is one of many special collaborators, such as Braille Face and Tim Shiel, on this stunningly beautiful album.

Sampology – ‘Suffer And Swim (feat. Allysha Joy)’

Brisbane producer Sampology is an ardent admirer of Allysha Joy, the talented lyricist and performer who’s also a key part of Melbourne collective 30/70. ‘Suffer and Swim,’ which is lifted off of Sampology’s upcoming album Regrowth, sees the two musicians finally collaborate on a track about empathy. According to Allysha, the song is about ‘wanting to dive into the water with your friends when you can see that they’re struggling.’

It is about sharing the pain and is truly about being in the same boat, about being in this together! There’s no greater time for a soulful anthem of this sort; one that celebrates both self-sacrifice, a shared struggle and collective hope. 

Check out ‘The Waning Of The Sun (Live)’ by Liz Stringer:

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Liz Stringer – ‘The Waning Of The Sun (Live)’

On the off chance that you didn’t notice ‘The Waning of The Sun’, the brilliant and stand-out track on Liz Stringer’s sixth studio album First Time Really Feeling, I cannot recommend highly enough immersing yourself in her recent re-invention of this song with support from the sixty voices that make up the Melbourne choir One More Chorus.

Arranged by Elsie and Maggie Rigby from Melbourne contemporary folk outfit The Maes, this new version was recorded live in one take at the Brunswick Uniting Church. It’s a wonderful tale about sobriety and vulnerability from this illustrious songwriter’s songwriter. I had serious goosebumps listening to this. 

Gordon Koang – ‘Coronavirus’

I grew up in the Middle East and have vivid memories of watching a lot of modern music from Sudan on TV. A culturally rich and varied nation, Sudan has a musical culture that has roots in traditional and modern styles, rural and urban forms, with Arabic, Western and pan-African influences thanks to the hundreds of different ethnic groups that make up the country. I remember thinking that all of these factors contribute greatly to the specificity of Sudanese music and why it is able to set itself apart from other musical traditions in the Middle East and North and Northeast Africa. 

This is why when I first came across Melbourne-based South Sudanese musician Gordon Koang, I felt a strong nostalgia to his music. I’m taken back to my childhood when I hear his voice. But it’s not as simple as feeling like I’m going back in time. When I listen to his recent song ‘Coronavirus,’ for example, it’s as if I am my younger self again, but in the here and now. Herein lies the power of Gordon’s contemporaneity as a migrant who brings along a rich musical legacy to an equally rich musical city like Melbourne in times of global crisis.

Gordon sings in good faith, and with both humour and utmost compassion. You feel that he genuinely wishes you well, and this is why although there are many songs out there that respond to the global pandemic, there’s something about the immediacy, empathy and playfulness with which Gordon Koang sings that sets ‘Coronavirus’ apart from all others. 

Check out ‘Golden Hour’ by OK EG:

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OK EG – ‘Golden Hour’

Sometime in-between lockdowns last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Lauren Squire and Matthew Wilson, the prolific music producers who make up the celebrated Melbourne electronic duo OK EG. They had just released their Anthr EP at the time and were already working towards another release, titled Prismatic Spring, which came out in early 2021.

In our conversation, they briefly alluded to a collaborative work that they were working on with percussionist and producer Phil Stroud amongst other acclaimed local musicians. They didn’t divulge much past that and I found myself very intrigued. It would take another couple of lockdowns before this riveting new EP, titled Intertidal Zone, finally sees the light of day. But it’s been well worth the wait. Fresh from the brand new record label of Melbourne party collective Wax’o Paradiso, OK EG’s new offering is a mature and sophisticated exploration of endurance in composition and patience in production.

You can find a wonderful example of this on ‘Golden Hour,’ the fourth track on the EP. The track begins with a flute meditation from Mildlife’s Adam Halliwell that floats above a bed of warm bass notes from jazz musician Jack Doepel while an interplay of mid-tempo electronic and acoustic percussion is orchestrated by OK EG and Phil Stroud. Like the rest of this work, synthetic and organic sounds work in concert on this track to tell a story not often told in electronic music; a story we desperately need to hear in these strange times. 

Check out our playlist of community radio’s Australian music picks:

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