Flashback - Through Your Arms Around Me: Revisiting 2005 in Australia

2005 was a very interesting year in pop culture in Australia as it was a year that defined an Australian creative aesthetic for me. I had been in Australia for just over a year and was beginning to get my bearings about what local music, film, TV and books I liked. As in every other first world country at this time, globalisation was beginning, especially in relation to popular culture, however, local content was still being supported and made due to a robust entertainment industry that felt that it could still hold its own on the international stage. Elements of this industry remain today, however the change in distribution due to technology and the breakdown of monopolies has changed how local content has had its impact. 2005 in Australia as seen through its music, TV and film was white, middleclass and urban. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Australian population reached 20 million people in December 2003. Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world. A girl born
in the period 2003–2005 can expect to live 83.3 years and a boy born during the same period can expect to live 78.5 years. This is a prosperous, small (in population), quite diverse country that has an aging population, that sometimes punches above its weight with regards to pop culture contributions.   

10 years ago, on 26th December in 2004, a tsunami devastated many countries in South East Asia. There were many forms of support and relief that happened in the following 12 months, from various countries and communities. The affects of this disaster are still felt today, and if you would like to find out more about what happened, I recommend seeing documentaries such as The Day The Wave Came, a 30 minute story from Sri Lanka. In Australia. The local entertainment industry responded by putting on an eight hour concert in Sydney on 29th January 2005. Wave Aid: The Tsunami Relief Concert raised AUS$2.3 million, had 11 Australian artists (Nick Cave, Midnight Oil, The Waifs, Missy Higgins, Powderfinger, John Butler Trio, Kasey Chambers, Pete Murray, The Finn Brothers, and Australian supergroup The Wrights) donate their time and was attended by over 50,000 people. The idea for a relief concert was formed a couple days after the disaster. It took the event organisers and contributing musicians three weeks to organise the event and have the first round of tickets go on sale.  By the 20 January the event was just about sold out. It was a very hot summer's day, and the crowd was very emotional and committed. A song that really sums up the experience was Neil and Tim Finn performing Throw Your Arms Around Me by the Australian band, Hunters and Collectors, who were massive in Australia at the same time as Crowded House, but did not get the same international airtime.  You can see the performance below.

In 2005, Australia produced 50 local films, 10 of which were documentaries. The four movies that went head to head for best film that year at the Australian Film Institute Awards were The Proposition, starring Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone, Little Fish starring Cate Blanchet and Hugo Weaving, Oyster Farmer starring Alex O'Loughlin and Diana Glenn and Look Both Ways starring Justine Clarke and William McInnes .  There was also another film that did not get the awards but got the attention. Wolf Creek.  I love Look Both Ways, it is one of my favourite films. It is a small story about four people meeting and connecting over a weekend in Adelaide. Written and directed by Sarah Watts, who was an artist as well as a film maker, it is a lovely, lyrical film about life. The soundtrack to this film is populated by Australian songs and artists. Something you do not tend to get much of lately. Like Wave Aid, the music for this film is a little bit rock, a little bit indie and a little bit folk, and all Australian. Very of its time.

However, you can sum 2005 up in one TV program. Love My Way. It was on for three seasons (2004 to 2007) and it was created by Jacquelin Perske, Claudia Karvan and John Edwards. Starring Claudia Karvan, Brendan Cowell, Asher Keddie and Dan Wylie it followed the lives of these four white middleclass Australians in Sydney through life, death, relationships, sex, drugs, family, kids and even a bit of rock 'n' roll. As well as some surfing. It was produced by Foxtel, the Australian cable network and shown during the summer months, during the 'off season' of TV. It was seen as a bit of a risk and a stab at what is now seen as 'prestige' drama. It did have the same creative team (Edwards and Perske) and lead actress (Karvan) as the immensely popular Australian series The Secret Life of Us (2001 - 2005) which focused on the lives and relationships of twentysomethings in Melbourne.  This may have gotten people to watch the first episode, but they stayed for the Six Feet Under like local drama. I am not sure it would get made today in Australia. It is a great series and I completely recommend it. And funnily enough the soundtrack for the series takes the same approach as Look Both Ways and showcases Australian artists. 

Music at SXSW in Austin, Texas

It is that time of year again when all the TV and film award shows are coming to an end and it is nearly time for the music festival summer circuit in the northern hemisphere of the world. All of this is preempted by South by Southwest (SXSW) (7 - 16 March 2014) in Austin, Texas which started out as a conference for the music industry in 1987 that has grown so big that it is now has three elements - interactive, film and music.  That is not counting the offshoots like SWSWedu, SXSW Eco and SXSW V2V, that take place at different times in the year. So it is a bit of an industry unto itself. SXSW Music is the biggest music festival in the world with over 2000 official performers playing at over 100 venues over 10 days.

If you are like me and not attending this year, you can catch up on what is showcasing or happening at SXSW through the various social media apps and the huge amount of coverage on music blogs, radio stations in the US, movie and TV blogs and publications. I always go to the experts to cut through the huge amount of information coming at me on occasions like these and listen to recommendations from National Public Radio (NPR) in the US and radio shows like Sound Opinions. If you want a place to start go to NPR.org and look for the Austin 100: a SXSW 2014 Mix. You can download 100 songs from 100 performers that will be at SXSW for free until the end of SXSW from the NPR website. This mix has been narrowed down by Stephen Thompson at NPR Music from over 3000 songs sent out by SXSW. It is a great snapshot of what is available as it compiles songs from all music genres.  

The keynote at SXSW Music this year will be by Neil Young. This will be on Tuesday 11 March and it usually gets posted onto youtube. Last year it was Dave Grohl, who did a great job (see below), and the year before it was Bruce Springsteen, who was equally as good as Dave Grohl. No disrespect, but here is hoping that next year it will be someone who is not a white middle aged man.

There are many many headliners this year, from 50 Cent, Jack White, Broken Bells, Imagine Dragons to Kurt Vile and I am sure they will get the coverage, but what is great about SXSW is that you always discover something new. Try it, you may find you new favourite artist or band.

Update 9 March 2014
I have to eat my words. The news is out that Lady Gaga is giving the keynote at SXSW Music this year. I guess Neil Young was a red herring. Outstanding work SXSW.

Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me

 Big Star Nothing Can Hurt Me is a feature length documentary about the 1970s Memphis band Big Star.  The documentary is very straight forward and workman like but it is the subject matter that makes it a must see movie for anyone who likes music from that era. The band made three albums and because of various distribution and record label issues, they were a commercial failure.  But the influence of those albums are still felt today. 

The death of lead singer in 2010, Alex Chilton was commemorated by Congressman Cohen, see below: 

William Ruhlmann at Allmusic.com sums up the impact of their music perfectly:

"The problem with coming in late on an artwork lauded as "influential" is that you've probably encountered the work it influenced first, so its truly innovative qualities are lost. Thus, if you are hearing Big Star's debut album for the first time decades after its release (as, inevitably, most people must), you may be reminded of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers or R.E.M, who came after -- that is, if you don't think of The Byrds and The Beatles, circa 1965. What was remarkable about #1 Record in 1972 was that nobody except Big Star (and maybe Badfinger and The Raspberries) and wanted to sound like this -- simple, light pop with sweet harmonies and jangly guitars. Since then, dozens of bands have rediscovered those pleasures. But in a way, that's an advantage because, whatever freshness is lost across the years, Big Star's craft is only confirmed. These are sturdy songs, feelingly performed, and once you get beyond the style to the content, you'll still be impressed."

Big Star's resurgence in the 1980s happened when bands such as R.E.M, Teenage Fanclub and The Replacements sited the influence of the band on their music.  Subsequently, the band acquired a cult following and in 1993 two of the original band members reformed the band with two new members and toured for the next ten odd years.  In 1999, one of their songs, In The Streets, was used as the opening song for the US sitcom That 70s Show and the band's music start become more and more mythical.

It is an interesting story and as such so is the movie, but I recommend just putting on #1 Record or Radio City and listen for yourself. 

The Influence of Le Chic's Good Times

Disco.  Not a word that inspires great respect with many a music lover.  Today, however, I just put forward this simple case about the influence of just one great disco song - Good Times by Le Chic. 

This is Good Times  


And this is its impact on Hip Hop and Rap 

Rapper's Delight by Sugar Hill Gang

The Breaks by Kurtis Blow

And New Wave, Rock and Electronica

Rapture by Blondie

Another One Bites The Dust by Queen

Around The World by Daft Punk

Case closed.