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10 Things We Learned at Bigsound 2017

From gender bias to how artificial intelligence is set to change music forever to the buzz bands that made an impact, our takeaways from the annual Brisbane music conference and festival.

From gender bias to how artificial intelligence is set to change music forever to the buzz bands that made an impact, editor Rod Yates and editor-in-chief Matt Coyte report on their takeaways from the annual Brisbane music conference and festival.

By Rod Yates and Matt Coyte.

Starting a day earlier is a good thing
In previous years, Bigsound has started on the Wednesday, with Tuesday night filled with unofficial parties and showcases. This year, however, official business began a day earlier, meaning the myriad Tuesday night showcases were pulled under the Bigsound banner. Catching the many, many acts on offer proved as fraught an exercise as ever — FOMO, much? — but first night highlights included a visceral set by Waax, the Aussie debut of Norgwegian outfit Slotface, the guitar riches of West Thebarton, spellbinding performances by Lupa J and Two Steps On the Water and killer rockers Introvert. Oddly, the official Bigsound hangover is as bad as the unofficial one. [R.Y.]

Gender equality has been front and centre
The issue of gender bias in the music industry — and society in general — has been a pronounced focus at this year’s Bigsound, starting with the opening keynote address by Speedy Ortiz vocalist Sadie Dupuis (pictured) and extending into panels such as Gender In Music: Quotas & Bridging the Confidence Gap. That Bigsound offers an environment where issues from female representation on radio, at festivals and in the boardroom to topics such as venues providing bathrooms for those who don’t identify as a particular gender is as important a facet of the festival as the acts performing every night. [R.Y.]

Sadie Dupuis owes her career to Josie & the Pussycats
Well, not quite, but she was inspired as a 13-year-old to pick up a guitar after watching said film. She told the story more to point out how sad it was that it took a fictional band to inspire her to form her own, rather than having myriad female musicians and role models to inspire her. This was just one anecdote of many Dupuis told in a freewheeling speech and Q&A with Pitchfork‘s Jillian Mapes on Wednesday where she touched on her upbringing; her mixing of music and social justice; Speedy Ortiz’s activism and the steps they’ve taken to make their shows safe spaces; and gender diversity at big mainstream festivals (of 23 major, multi-genre US festivals, she said at one point, 74 per cent of the musicians were male) and how it can be addressed. [R.Y.]

1988 changed Archie Roach
In his keynote address (moderated by Namila Benson) on day three, Roach discussed the impact Australia’s bicentennial celebrations had on his songwriting. Up until then, he wrote songs about getting drunk and falling in love. The celebration of 200 years of colonisation, however, precipitated a change. “I took exception to the fact people were celebrating 200 years when we should be celebrating 40,000 years,” he offered. The result was an album called 1988, and songs such as “The Bicentennial Blues”, “Took Our Children Away” and “Give Us Back Our Dancing” as Roach started writing about issues he felt strongly about. [R.Y.]

Streaming has changed everything
2017 HQ was a fascinating discussion between some true captains of industry — APRA boss Brett Cottle, ARIA’s Dan Rosen, Triple J’s Chris Scaddan, UK 4AD A&R Director Jane Abernethy and WIN CEO Alison Wenham — shedding some light on the way royalties are distributed in a post-physical world. Did you know that most of the major labels actually own shares in Spotify, or that the way singles charts are calculated to include streaming data means that we’ll continue to see the likes of Ed Sheeran dominating the Top 10 with every track from their latest album? Other interesting tidbits included Rosen pointing out that streaming now means that artists with new releases are not just competing with other artists that are releasing on that date, but with the entire history of recorded music, so you’d better make sure your new single stands up against anything by the Beatles! [M.C.]

bigsound hq
2017 HQ Panel Discussion. Credit: Bigsound.

The robots are coming
For the first year, Bigsound has had a dedicated technology focus, with panels covering everything from AI and Robotics to VR and blockchain. Turns out that artificial intelligence is already being used in various aspects of the music industry, some good — the fastest way to learn an instrument, a music teacher told one panelist, was for students to play with other musicians; in the next five years, AI will be at a point where you can feel like you’re jamming with other musicians any time you like — some bad. By analysing trends and having viable sources of data of people taking about new bands, AI could replace the A&R person at a record label, searching instead for new groups to sign based on data as opposed to the human experience of watching them play live. And nobody wants the Terminator choosing the acts of the future. [R.Y.]

The future of live music is in… your living room?
In a discussion about technology and how it’s impacting the future of live music (moderated by Rolling Stone editor Rod Yates), the panel addressed a variety of topics, such as the ways in which holograms could soon be used to multiply gigs (ie. If U2 are playing a stadium show in Ireland, you could go to a stadium in Australia and watch their holograms performing); the ways in which technology is being used to combat scalping and secondary ticketing sites (everything from facial recognition technology to electrical pulses emitted from your mobile phone); and how wearable technology is incorporating the fan into the show more and more. Virtual Reality, however, was predicted to be the real game changer in the next few years, with fans able to watch shows in their own living room and still feel like they’re at the gig. For artists such as Bruno Mars, VR is already being used to allow them to witness and walk through their stage show before they take it out on the road. [R.Y.]

Pink Floyd can launch an empire
Kenny Gates co-founded [PIAS] 35 years ago, a label that for more than three decades has helped break acts such as Muse, Sigur Ros and Arctic Monkeys in various territories, and today boasts a roster that includes Roisin Murphy, Soulwax, Ghostpoet and Songhoy Blues. In his keynote address on the afternoon of Day Two, he revealed where it all began for him: it was 1975, and his brother played him Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. From that point on he was using his lunch money to buy records, and a lifelong passion was born. [R.Y.]

Press Club. Credit: Matt Coyte.

Tina Arena’s call for a cultural renaissance
Day three kicked off with a keynote address from the first lady of Aussie pop, and she relished the chance to vent to a captive audience in a talk that was eloquent, honest and often side-splittingly funny. Gems included her insistence that “You have to love music. You have to eat, sleep and breathe it. You have to shit it.” Or her warning that if you’re a singer you should learn how to dance. “If I can learn to dance, anyone fucking can,” she quipped, adding, “Be careful though, ladies, it might just push you into menopause.” The talk finished with Arena calling for a cultural renaissance, urging the government to dedicate a similar amount of funding to the arts as they do on sports. [M.C.]

Keep an eye out for Didirri and Stella Donnelly
Young singer-songwriter Didirri was one of the talking points of the festival, with punters spilling out into the street at his Wednesday night showcase, unable to fit into Ann Street venue Laruche and forced to instead watch him from the street, through the venue’s windows. A relaxed onstage presence and casual in-between song banter belied the musician’s age, while his plaintive acoustic songs silenced a room full of industry — a rare occurrence. The next night Perth singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly managed a similar feat, mesmerising the audience with her concise, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking songwriting and incredible voice (Editor’s note: on Friday, Donnelly was announced as the winner of the inaugural Levi’s Music Prize). In a year bursting with breakout artists — Alex the Astronaut, Odette, Thandi Phoenix, Press Club, Polaris, Dear Seattle, The VANNS to name only a few — you can guarantee you’ll be hearing more from Didirri and Donnelly soon. [R.Y.]

Top photo: Sadie Dupuis with Pitchfork’s Jillian Mapes. Credit: Bigsound.