Features August 8, 2018

Dave Ruby Howe on Unearthed High: “I don’t think I need to twist the arms of anyone in the industry to pay attention”

Brynn Davies
Assistant Editor
Dave Ruby Howe on Unearthed High: “I don’t think I need to twist the arms of anyone in the industry to pay attention”

With triple j’s Unearthed High in its 11th year (now a bonafide guitar-slingin’, mood swingin’ Year 9 teenager), we chatted to triple j Unearthed Music Director Dave Ruby Howe about why the competition is so important for the future of Aussie music, tracking trends and genres through 11 years of entries and, how his fave success stories are.

Why is Unearthed High such an important subdivision of Unearthed?

Unearthed High is right at the centre of what Unearthed is all about; spotlighting the deserving talents of emerging young artists who might not have the same shot as acts with bigger profiles and resources behind them.

It’s a super rewarding love-in for us at the network, our listeners and the artists as we get to carve out this space in the calendar where we’re frequently talking about and playing these artists’ music and developing their stories. And as we’ve seen it can lead to huge things for the finalists and winners of Unearthed High.


What are some of the biggest musical trends you’ve seen coming from 2018’s Unearthed High generation? Are you noticing any strong musical influences in the entries which echo the music that’s played on triple j?

That’s one of the things that I love most about Unearthed High’s annual campaign. Each year we get a glimpse at the most spongey, impressionable artists in the country; these are the acts that show us what’s resonating to them and you can kind of chart the ebbs and flows of genres and trends through what comes up through the ranks.

We’re still seeing a huge rise in solo artists in Unearthed High. Just look at the five finalists that feature four solo acts. The logic would suggest that that’s potentially an effect of the accessibility of recording software.

A couple of other notable threads through the competition was the influence of a few big-name current acts. I kept seeing Billie Eilish‘s name appear on profiles as a key influence. Likewise, the influence of a few beloved Australian acts including Ocean Alley and Hockey Dad (themselves finalists in 2014).

It’s handy to get confirmation that those artists with a large presence on the triple j playlist are being felt so resonantly with the next generation of Australian talent.


Are schools and music teachers getting behind Unearthed High and supporting students to enter more so now that when it started?

We really value the relationship of teachers (music and otherwise) and their musically inclined students and having that additional encouragement is a huge thing for young acts working up the courage to enter their tracks in the competition.

We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to tell the first chapter of so many amazing Australian artists’ stories with Unearthed High that we’ve got a track record now that’s pretty convincing for teachers to get behind.


Tell us about the quality of entries over the past 11 years – has it changed noticeably, and in what ways?

We end up saying it each year, but I reckon this current crop of high school musicians could be the most talented bunch yet.

Even beyond the five finalists, there were so many acts that you could immediately hear becoming regulars on radio and festival lineups – suss out overachievers like Spit Chewy, Vic August and TURNR for proof and tell me I’m wrong.

In the last couple of years we’ve definitely seen the overall standard and professionalism of the artists lift. The songwriting is so mature now, and the ambition is wild as well.

It’s no longer a pipe dream to be an artist in your teen years and credit’s got to go to artists like Ruel, Mallrat, E^ST, Japanese Wallpaper, Black Summer and others who’ve become legit stars before finishing school.


Why should Australian record labels keep their eyes on Unearthed High entrants and winners?

I don’t think I need to twist the arms of anyone in the industry to pay attention to these artists – it’s already happening.

Overall, I think Unearthed High’s got a pretty killer reputation; it’s the platform that we first heard the likes of Stonefield, Montaigne, Gretta Ray, Arno Faraji, JOY. and more through. This year’s finalists are no exception in quality too and if you poured five different cups and read the tea leaves for each act then you’ll see they have all got promising futures.


In what ways is Unearthed High contributing to the future of Australian music?

Not only do the five finalists and ultimate winner get a major head start onto the local scene AND we get to see the triple j network audience flip out and admire their young talent, but what I love about the competition is that it’s so affirming for young musicians, even those that don’t make the final five.

Adolescence is challenging enough but there’s something very courageous about starting a project and sharing your song with the whole nation via triple j and Unearthed.

Having had a bunch of correspondence with artists through the campaign you see how much it means to them to have the support of triple j, hopefully encouraging them to pursue music further and make more excellent songs for us all.


From past winners/entrants, who has become your personal favourite success story?

So many to choose from! I’ve been geeking watching Hockey Dad absolutely take off in the last 12-18 months, most recently triumphing at Splendour.

I’ll be excited to see how the debut records from Mosquito Coast, Baro and Japanese Wallpaper turn out soon.

But I think I’ll settle on Tia Gostelow as a stand-out Unearthed High grad. She’s quickly imprinted herself on the triple j playlist with tune after choon. I reckon she’ll be around for a while, yep I do.


Give us your top three pointers for next year’s entrants:

Number one is always the same for me: don’t leave it too late.

Seriously, if you can please please please get your track in earlier rather than later. I was guilty of a last-minute essay cram, and it’s no different in Unearthed High with about 400-500 tracks coming in the final week of the campaign. The earlier the better and it’ll give everyone longer to fall in love with your track.

Also, don’t worry about trying to make something that you think is a “triple j sound”; such a thing doesn’t exist, it’s a myth. We want to hear what ideas are dinging around your head and demanding to get out. Originality does definitely stand out.

And finally, if you’re umming and ahhing about a track, sweating if it’s good enough, I’d urge you to take the leap and smash that upload button.

Don’t agonise over the recording quality because we understand the limitations of a high school artist and don’t expect something mixed at Abbey Road. Crucially, just get it in.


The five triple j Unearthed High finalists are: 

BurnoutGet Out (Trinity College Gawler & St. Patrick’s Technical College, SA)

Nancie SchipperLong Fall (Warrnambool College, VIC)

KIANWaiting (Castlemaine Secondary College, VIC)

The Kid LaroiDisconnect (Australian Performing Arts Grammar School, NSW)

yergurlSkateboard (Bendigo Senior Secondary College, VIC)

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