Meet the Women of Australia’s Rave Renaissance
Meet the Women of Australia’s Rave RenaissanceJuly 27, 2023
There’s a huge moment happening right now in Australia. Ever since the easing of lockdown, the country has become a hotbed for new talent, unmissable parties, and labels to watch — and women just so happen to be leading the scene. Over the past two years, a seemingly endless succession of DJs and producers have broken through both locally and internationally, thanks to their genre-blending club and festival sets. Perhaps it’s because of the tight restrictions imposed on residents during the pandemic and years of lock-out laws, but either way, the appetite has never been stronger than it is now…
One key development is that major label offshoots are picking up Aussie DJs and producers: Pretty Girl’s EP One Night, One Time was released on fellow Aussie Mall Grab’s label Steel City Dance Discs, whose output is distributed by LG105 in partnership with Virgin, as was the debut EP from Naarm/Melbourne-born London-based DJ, producer and Rinse FM resident Surusinghe who recently played an eight-date homecoming tour of Australia; known for her innovative and percussive, bass-driven music, she’s also gone on to play high-energy sets at Panorama Bar, Garage Noord, Printworks and Sub Club.
Alongside the plethora of homegrown talent – which also includes (deep breath) Crush3d, AK SPORTS, BIG WETT, JamesJamesJames, Skin On Skin, IN2STELLAR, Nice Girl, Luen, Reptant, DJ PGZ, Andy Garvey, Sleep D, Willo, SWIM, 1tbsp, Memphis LK, Club Angel, FOURA, X CLUB, and Aldonna – local collectives are equally pushing the scene forward by throwing their own unmissable parties. Some of the most exciting include CYBER in Brisbane/Meanjin, Housing Boom in Adelaide/Kaurna, Neurotiq Erotiq in Melbourne/Naarm, ONE22 in Canberra/Ngunnawal and SETTINGS in Sydney/Eora as well as Dutty Worldwide, which includes C.FRIM & Mirasia (mother of Vogueing Boise of Silky), in Melbourne/Naarm.
There’s also a whole lot going on in the local queer clubbing space: as well as parties like WavyLand, Celestial, Athletica and Team Lotta Love, Australian hyperpop collectives such as Sidechains and Rude Baby (both in Melbourne), Coalesce, Nocturne, Hyde Park Hifi, Cybera (in Canberra) and Club Immaterial (out of Brisbane) are throwing their own club nights and some even festivals.
Talking of festivals, there are now more Australia dance music festivals, or bush doofs as they’re locally known, than ever before: Pitch Music and Arts, Strawberry Fields, Splendour in the Grass, Inner Varnika (this year will be the final edition), Hopkins Creek and Golden Plains are just some of the highlights on the local summer calendar.
Beyond parties, there is no shortage of exciting independent Australian labels to be aware of. Key imprints are Skin On Skin’s Stay On Sight Recordings, Sleep D’s Melbourne-founded Butter Sessions (which released Jennifer Loveless’ latest EP), IN2STELLAR and Surusinghe’s Phenomena Records imprint, Andy Garvey’s Pure Space Recordings, and Sydney-based label Extra Spicy which, under the helm of Mincy, has a USP of releasing all things underground bass from all Australian artists.
Here, Ben Jolley meets some of the key players locally to find out why Australia is having a real rave renaissance…
The Australian club scene is “bouncing back strongly” after many “tumultuous” years due to (now-scrapped) lock-out laws and Covid-19, suggests Sydney-based DJ, producer, Extra Spicy label boss, and long-time clubber Mincy. “After years of huge restrictions on clubs and alcohol service, all of these are now gone,” she explains, adding that the dramatic shift has made space for a new wave of parties. “Early morning day clubs are back, 18-hour parties are back, younger crowds experiencing clubbing for the first time are staying out later, new promoters are bringing interesting concepts and there’s a massive resurgence in Sunday night partying… all of which was dying off pre-Covid”.
Post-pandemic, Mincy says it’s starting to feel like the most exciting time in the club scene since the “golden era of Kings Cross clubbing in Sydney.” She suggests this is down to a new wave of 18 to 24-year-old punters attending events who are more energetic and more open to new genres and sounds than pre-covid. “It’s exciting to see people being passionate about the scene again,” Mincy enthuses.
She also suggests that, in the last few years, Australia’s electronic sound has changed dramatically – from the down-tempo, easy-listening, almost commercial sounds it had been associated with, to local artists producing harder and faster; “way more dance/club-focused music, and that’s bringing big fan bases for those artists and scenes”. She adds that people are more open to hearing a range of genres which “can be an excellent way to open a lot of listeners’ ears to genres they may not have heard before.”
With the number of people attending parties “massively increasing,” the knock-on effect is more events and “a far more thriving scene,” Mincy says. Additionally, the easing of border restrictions has had a positive impact; “for a really long time, no intentional artists were able to come in.” Although, at the time, it “seemed like a negative,” Mincy retrospectively thinks it might have been the best thing that’s happened to the local scene – because it meant Australian artists were headlining events rather than supporting overseas artists. Visibility and opportunity for smaller artists increased, too, building whole scenes around it as a result.
While the rules have now relaxed and international artists are once again playing regularly, Mincy says the ethos of championing local DJs and producers has been maintained. “There are plenty of events every weekend that are selling out with all Australian line-ups and, for the first time in a long time, we are having clubs open instead of close down,” Mincy adds, describing it as a “welcome change”. Some long-standing Sydney institutions that had shut down have also reopened, for example, The Abercrombie and Club 77; “the latter has had a renaissance and become a go-to every week for really forward-thinking lineups and now opens six nights a week, which a few years ago would be unheard of.”
Much of this success, Mincy believes, is down to “some really excellent bookers being hired by these venues to take the reins and build a solid line-up every night of the week.” Similarly, the opening of more intimate venues is giving smaller promoters a place to have a crack at running events, she suggests. And, on an international level, seeing relatively new Australian artists making waves worldwide is something that Mincy thinks the local community should be proud of: “it’s testament to the scene and sound we’ve built here, and it’s exciting to know that it’s expanding into global success.”
A former assistant for several Naarm touring agencies, it wasn’t until Surusinghe moved to London to work as an agent that she decided to pursue a professional artist career. Despite only doing so post-pandemic, the Naarm/Melbourne-born London-based DJ and producer has become one of the most talked about names in the underground club scene – she’s gone from DJ’ing under an old alias (Suzuki Drift) back home, playing small shows at venues like Xe54 and Lounge, to landing a Rinse FM residency and shelling several sets at this year’s Glastonbury festival.
Despite now being based in the UK, she regularly tours Australia (either with artists she manages or DJing herself) and suggests that “electronic music is definitely what’s hot right now in Australia – and it’s amazing to see.” More specifically, she feels that Naarm has the strongest scene when it comes to nightlife: “It’s really pushing the envelope in the prog house scene and feels like the whole world is following the producers coming out of there, which is exciting to see.” Artists like IN2STELLAR, Sleep D, Kia, and Guy Contact are, she says, “really turning heads everywhere (as they should).” Beyond Naarm, she reels off “some amazing DJs coming out of cities like Boorloo, too, like Burna.”
Seeing the Australian scene gain international recognition is equally exciting for her. “It’s about bloody time,” she says, explaining that she’s always felt as though many of her favourite Australian producers were hard done by. “They were some of the most talented musicians I knew but, because they weren’t willing or wanting to move overseas, their careers tended to become stagnant”. Surusinghe felt this way herself, too, but is glad she decided to relocate. “It was a very hard decision for me to move to the UK,” she says, “but I owe a lot of my success to the fact that I did.”
A large part of the Australian scene’s success, she believes, is down to labels like Steel City Dance Discs: “I think they have really done wonders for the scene,” Surusinghe says. “The way they’ve created a cult-like following for their artists and showcase Australian talent is very special because they have so much international brand recognition.” It’s hard to disagree: there are very few (if any) other Australian labels who have done a Panorama Bar takeover. “They’re definitely doing something that not many others have done before.”
A recent trip back to Australia for Beyond The Valley festival left her “completely shocked,” she adds, recalling that DJs closed the main stage each day. “This would have been unheard of when I was growing up,” she says, remembering that indie/ punk and Triple J-leaning bands would headline in the past. Taken aback by the recent drastic change, Surusinghe says she drunkenly ran around to 18-year-olds yelling ‘do you know how special this is!?’ at them. “They all looked at me like I was crazy.”
Beyond that specific festival experience, though, Surusinghe thinks Australia is “incredibly unique – because they treat their local acts like huge headliners.” In comparison to London, for example – “where people are more inclined to go and see the big international names rather than local DJs because everything is so accessible” – she suggests that the distance makes for a really beautiful culture and community.”
Self-taught DJ and producer Pretty Girl – who went from making bedroom-pop songs on GarageBand in her teens to making dance music once she had started going to festivals and clubbing – says the Australian electronic scene offers “something for everyone. We have so many amazing domestic and international headliners that come to play in each city, and also a very diverse local scene. There’s just a lot of up-and-coming artists doing awesome stuff,” she adds. Because of the increased demand for electronic music and its rising popularity, there’s now “more room for opportunity,” she suggests.
This is a welcome gear-change, as when she went to Falls Festival in 2016 there was only one dance act (Booka Shade) compared to the 2022 line-up which had a 50/50 split between indie and electronic acts. Beyond this rise in prominence for electronic music, Pretty Girl says that positive changes have also been made to gender and racial equality in the Melbourne music scene.
“Over the seven years that I’ve been going to clubs and events here, I’ve seen a dramatic change in lineup diversity,” she says. “I think this is so encouraging to young artists, as they see themselves represented on lineups and feel inspired to create music of their own.” This is also down to the many government-funded programs in Melbourne for women, non-binary people, and POC artists to learn how to DJ and produce, she adds; “it really helps to ease the barriers to entry in this industry for people who have previously been excluded.”
Having a scene that’s supportive of young artists “fosters good music making,” she adds. “Plus, promoters are always keen to find new talent, and we have so many small collectives in Melbourne that run events or mix series’, so it is really exciting.” The local scene’s growing notoriety worldwide has had a positive impact on artists like Pretty Girl too. “As an Australian, it can sometimes feel isolating to be all the way on the other side of the world from huge hubs of electronic music, such as the UK, but to see Australia being recognised globally does feel good.”
“At the moment it feels like there are a lot of eyes on the Australian electronic music scene, because there are collectives, crews and projects popping up all the time – and marginalised voices are finally being heard,” says Sarah Morgan, who is one half of DJ/producer duo IN2STELLAR alongside Georgia Bird and leads DJ mentorship programs and the renowned Australian WIP Project. Together, their guest mixes have aired on Triple R, PBS and Skylab, and their self-titled debut EP was released earlier this year.
“We’ve had so many amazing exports in the past few years and I feel like the DJs that have moved overseas are such great representatives for our local scene – artists like Roza Terenzi, Skin On Skin, Pretty Girl, Jennifer Loveless,” Sarah says. “It’s always been inspiring for us to see Australian artists killing it internationally,” she adds, “because seeing them do well makes international success feel more attainable, which is motivating.” Having known about artists like Tornado Wallace, Mall Grab, and HAAi who were playing in the UK when she and Georgia first got into DJing six years ago, Georgia says “it felt like a big achievement when we finally got over there to play our own shows. I guess the more you see, the more you know you can do.”
The pair have come a long way since their early days; having DJ’d individually for seven years, and then together for nearly six, they first joined forces to run their party Neurotiq Erotiq. Then, after playing back-to-back at a festival, they started producing under the name IN2STELLAR. While they feel the local scene is “quite insular” due to Australia’s remoteness, this is actually a positive: “It breeds a solid sense of community and means we’re all aware of what each other is up to,” Sarah explains. The result? More club nights, labels, and smaller boutique festivals “mostly run by young, independent collectives,” she says, citing 24 Moons, Sub Club, The Gasometer and Miscellania among Melbourne’s best venues.
Georgia adds that being a DJ or producer “is a lot more accessible now, which has meant we’re seeing far more artists break through,” citing the success of Reflex Blue, Mabel, Aldonna, Baby G and Sam Alfred – all artists who have “came out of the woodwork and clearly spent a lot of time honing their craft during two years of lockdowns.” Once things reopened, because internationals were unable to come to Australia, she says that “people turned to community radio stations and kept an eye on our local scene, which has made us appreciate what we have at home”.
The biggest changes the duo says they’ve seen over the years is that “there are far less barriers to entry for DJing and producing” and that, consequently, it’s encouraged more people to give it a go. Another development they’ve noticed is that audiences seem to be more open-minded post-lockdown and, crucially, pop music is no longer a taboo genre. “It feels like we’ve almost gone full circle culturally, where certain music is so cringe that it’s cool,” she suggests, citing artists like Andras, Harold and Ayebatonye who push the boundaries and travel through various genres in their sets; “these kinds of artists are always so fun to watch.”
However, while things have significantly improved post-lockdown – “it’s a time of regeneration”, Georgia says – the economic fallout from the pandemic is still present. While many Melbourne venues – including Lounge, Boney and Colour Club – closed during and post-lockdown, touring is also a lot more expensive. Plus, “it’s harder now to sell tickets, and people have way less money than they used to, so it’s hard for promoters to take risks as people hardly buy presale tickets and seem to be far more flaky.”
However, Sarah says that running the label Phenomena with Georgia and Surusinghe has been “so fun and such a learning experience,” adding that it’s made her realise the hard work that goes into an independent imprint. The reward, though, is high: as well as seeing the community resonate with it, she says it’s “a great platform to uplift local artists and champion people.” As for the label’s future, the trio want Phenomena to grow overseas; “our aim was always to bridge the gap between Australia and London, as Suze is based in London and Georgia and are based in Melbourne”, adds Sarah. Similarly, she says her’s and Georgia’s ever-growing party, Neurotiq Erotiq, has been “a great way to connect and showcase upcoming local artists – in a space that is increasingly welcoming and inclusive”.
“Electronic music that would usually be considered ‘underground’ is now the ‘mainstream’ amongst youth, and a lot of the festivals here that traditionally only booked indie-rock acts have started branching out and are booking electronic acts,” says artist manager, booking agent and DJ Shelley Liu, who was named in Australia’s Music Networks 30 Under 30 Music Industry list in 2021 and helps program Boiler Room’s Australian flagship events.
Having had her first taste of the club world 14 years ago and gone on to spend many years working as a promoter booking bands and DJs at indie club nights, she says it has been “interesting to see music genre trends change over the years.” With artists now regularly playing a mix of pop, techno, and everything in between, Liu thinks that post-lockdown, people are more open to hearing a range of genres in sets. “That’s what makes this current new wave of electronic music so exciting because the artists making the music are influenced by so many different genres. In turn, this creates their own unique sound.”
One reason for this, she suggests, is that “club community culture doesn’t really exist as much anymore” – because weekly, community-building club nights no longer exist. This is a seismic shift compared to when she grew up: “Every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you’d find me at the same club, and there was a real sense of community amongst the regulars because we’d be seeing each other so often. To this day, some of my best friends I met at those clubs”.
Nowadays, however, she suggests that young people are turning to other platforms to find community, for example, Discord channels and Tik Tok. “It’s a lot more online, and there are a lot less reasons to leave the house these days,” she says. Consequently, Liu suggests that because of “the power of the internet, streaming platforms, and social media, the barriers between countries when it comes to music aren’t as difficult as they previously were.”
The fact that Melbourne went through two years worth of strict lockdowns didn’t help either; “many people got used to not leaving the house, and living a URL lifestyle instead of an IRL lifestyle.” Alongside the negative impact of the pandemic, she says the rising cost of living and inflation has hit the industry hard. “People are having to prioritise their spending, and that’s without mentioning increased touring costs.” Consequently, she says, “It is harder for music events to sell tickets, and I can’t see that changing anytime in the near future. People will just learn to adapt to it”.
Liu also suggests that because everyone knows each other due to Australia’s smaller population size compared to other countries, it is “easier to break through as the scene is smaller, and there are only so many cities you can tour here before you need to look at touring internationally.” This sense of community, she believes, is what creates a thriving scene. “It’s nice to see when artists are genuinely friends with each other, too, and that happens a lot here,” she adds, drawing similarities with the wave of electronic artists who found success around 2015 after Flume blew up internationally; “Wave Racer, Cosmo’s Midnight, UV boi, Basenji and Young Franco were also really close friends and supportive of each other because there was this new wave of music that wasn’t considered commercial or mainstream.”
Being so much further away from the rest of the world has a wide impact; she adds: “When there are other Australians doing cool shit in the same vein as you, you want to be supporting and uplifting each other – especially when they do export to overseas because we want to see each other win.”