BIGSOUND 2022: Three Hot Topics From Day Two
The topic of conversation at BIGSOUND on Thursday was also the one thing that left everybody speechless: Jaguar Jonze’s keynote, which was a powerful spoken word/art piece that brought the captivated audience to its feet.
“I came to art and music to break the cycle that had followed my entire life. To be free. I never wanted to be an activist, but my art unburied my voice,” she said. “When you’ve lost so much, there is little to lose. If I didn’t stand up, then what about those that couldn’t?”
Jonze said she “can’t and won’t be complicit in the system that broke and hurt” her as she described her vision for the future of the Australian music industry.
“I am standing on stage sound-checking in ten years’ time, and I’m free,” she said. “I feel safe because there are so many other people, who for so long have been marginalised, buzzing around and pursuing their passions and having their voices amplified.”
Elsewhere around BIGSOUND, these were the three hot topics of Day Two:
Dina Bassile led the conversation on the issues faced by people with disabilities accessing venues and events. Eric Tobin from Hopeless Records and artist Eliza Hull both described their anxieties around disclosing their disabilities in a cut-throat music industry, with Hull describing meeting industry connections whilst seated, or having someone else greet her at the door so the person she was meeting with would not see her tackling the stairs.
“People are still very afraid of the word ‘disability’ or ‘disabled’,” Hull said. “The word ‘disability’ is not a bad thing, and if we stop thinking it is it will reduce the stigma that comes with being disabled.”
Zack Alcott from Get Skilled Access spoke on behalf of the events industry, with music festival AbilityFest leading the way in terms of fully accessible events.
“If you want to learn about someone’s access needs, just ask” Alcott said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people without disabilities don’t want to ask because they don’t want to offend, and it’s almost the worst thing that you can do – it’s almost as bad as offending, by not asking. You just need the confidence to start a conversation. Nine times out of ten people with a disability know what they need, and they will tell you.”
Melbourne venue The Corner Hotel took advantage of recent renovations to add accessible features to a building that was built without any. Manager Lara Whalley discussed what the venue did in terms of physical changes, as well as virtual changes like making the website more accessible and clearly outlining where access points were with directions and photos. All staff and contractors at The Corner Hotel must also undertake an induction that includes access and disability training, which the panel recommended for all venues and events.
Celebrating First Nations Culture
The Musical Pathways shared keynote saw four prominent First Nations artists share their journeys in the music industry, including JK-47, Uncle Joe Geia from No Fixed Address and The Black Arm Band, prominent Yorta Yorta Dja Dja Wurrung singer/songwriter Carissa Nyalu and 2014’s NT Australian of the Year and NAIDOC National Artist of the Year, Dr Shellie Morris.
Each of them has overcome obstacles faced by First Nations people, including intergenerational trauma, substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty and racism, to pursue successful careers in music.
Jacob Paulson, professionally known as JK-47, explained that being on stage had nothing to do with him, “except I’m the one that’s carrying the torch,” using music and storytelling to express himself.
“My family went through a lot of drug and alcohol abuse growing up, so that was a story I had to tell in a healthy way, without letting it change me.
“When I set out on this journey, the raps and the music that I was making, something I realised is that I couldn’t go on just repeating and confessing these things about the trauma that I went through.”
Uncle Joe Geia explained that whilst there were 500 dialects in this country in the 16th century, there was no alphabet – only painting, music, dance and storytelling. But finding success as a First Nations artist was difficult at a time when venues didn’t allow Indigenous people on the premises.
“Managers at that time would say, ‘Aboriginal band, Aboriginal crowd,’” he said, describing touring with Cold Chisel with his band No Fixed Address. “Our accommodation was at Twin Towers – Cold Chisel had already booked in, and when we turned up management said, ‘We didn’t know No Fixed Address were a black band,’ and it was like, ‘Well we can’t change that,” he said. “Barnesy came downstairs and he said, ‘This is our last gig on this tour – if they don’t stay, we’re packing up and we’re going back.’”
These sentiments were echoed by the Burnout & Mindset panel of young First Nations artists Kee’ahn, Tasman Keith and Mitch Tambo, who had all shared similar experiences of people’s perceptions of what ‘First Nations Artist’ means, as well as ‘altruistic’ tokenism.
“The outside world has a very perceived ideal of how we should be,” Tambo said. “It’s red black and yellow, it’s angry, it’s political and it fits in NAIDOC Week, Sorry Day, and we’ll make a slot because it probably makes good news on June 26th. So when I stepped out in my artistry and brought all of my culture with me – my headdress and paint and also very bright clothes, the majority of the nation was like, ‘What is that? We don’t get it.’”
The Burnout & Mindset panel brought to the fore the mental health issues faced by young First Nations artists with intergenerational experiences of trauma, abuse, addiction and more when facing the pressures and expectations of the music industry and public scrutiny.
Kee’ahn admitted when her debut single took off during COVID lockdown, she was completely unprepared for those pressures, and had to disconnect and return to country.
It was a common theme across the panel, who experienced difficulty in doing so with the pressures of life as a touring musician. Keeping up social media whilst off the road is a standard industry expectation which makes it difficult to disconnect and recover.
The perfect discussion for ‘R U OK?’ Day, the crew from Support Act continued the conversation while presenting their ‘Minimum Standards for a Mentally Healthy Music Industry’. The organisation rolled out a survey earlier this year where 66 per cent of respondents reported high or very high levels of psychological distress, including anxiety, depression and hopelessness. With levels already four times that of the general population, psychologist Ash King explained, it was more common among women, non-binary people, young people, people with disabilities and First Nations and Indigenous people.
The panel, including Support Act’s CEO Clive Miller, National Health and Wellbeing Manager Luke O’Connor and First Nations Community Engagement & Social Worker Cerisa Benjamin, outlined the new standards, which recognise the importance of psychological safety within the music industry and the need to cultivate a culture of trust.
More information on the self-regulating guidelines, which seek to protect, respond to and promote the positive aspects of work that contribute to good mental health, can be found on Support Act’s website.