News June 4, 2019

Vance Joy, Peking Duk, Cloud Control, Washington & more back groundbreaking new solar initiative

Vance Joy, Peking Duk, Cloud Control, Washington & more back groundbreaking new solar initiative
Image: Heidi Lenffer. (Supplied)

FEAT. (Future Energy Artists) is a new initiative where touring musicians and the music industry take responsibility for a clean energy future by investing in solar farms.

This will offset the environmental destruction caused by live gigs and tours.

Artists can put in a lump sum or a percentage of their touring income in getting these operational.

Involved are Vance Joy, Peking Duk, Jack River, Cloud Control, Midnight Oil, Regurgitator, The Rubens, The Jezabels, Urthboy, Washington, Big Scary, Breathe, Cub Sport, Little May, Mansionair, Set Mo and Vallis Alps.

From the industry are Mushroom Music Group, St Jerome’s Laneway festival, Unified Music Group, Village Sounds, Green Music Australia, Lunatic Entertainment and Collective Artists.

FEAT. works with Future Super — “Australia’s most renewables­focussed superannuation fund,” it says, — to finance new and existing solar farms around Australia.

The fund will have a target return of over 5% per annum, and artists can choose to reinvest their dividend payments back into the fund, or have them paid to their artist accounts.

The first is Brigalow Solar Farm in south­west Queensland. Contracts have been signed, and the project is scheduled to be completed in nine months.

“At last a project that takes the great passion many artists have for a healthy world powered by renewable energy, and makes it doable,” says Peter Garrett.

“A stunning, much-needed initiative.”

FEAT. is the brainchild of Heidi Lenffer of Cloud Control.

In March 2017 the Sydney band were off the road writing their Zone album.

It was a time of reflection for Lenffer, of what an artist should be doing and also her concern about climate change.

She tells TMN, “I’d gone on a science trip to the Great Barrier Reef and learned from biologists who live on Heron Island about the consequence of warming.

“They actually simulated four different temperature rises in four ocean water tanks and it was devastating to see the fourth tank completely rotted.

“It left a real emotional impact on me.

“It made me think, I’ve got to go away on tour again, and I’ve got to find a solution that is not just sustainable – I have a problem with that term, I think we’re beyond sustainable – but contribute by physically building a solution.”

She knew she had to work with experts to do so she googled the workplaces of climate scientists and left messages on their phones. Many came back to her.

This was during Tony Abbott’s cutbacks to science research. Some had lost their jobs, others were about to, and fearing the loss of five years’ research.

“They were completely demoralised but it meant they were primed to latch on to someone who was driven to find a solution.”

Their data found that a 15-date Australian tour of theatres and clubs by Cloud Control generated 28 tonnes of carbon emissions.

This was equal to what a household creates during the course of an entire year.

The Zone album tour cycle also took in three US trips and she realised that by “multiplying this out with a 64­billion dollar industry worldwide and you’ve got a serious problem.”

Looking for solutions, she started with carbon offsetting. “But scientists explained that it’s not the solution we need.

“It’s like trying to clean your house by pushing things under the carpet.

“It doesn’t actually remove the carbon from the atmosphere but moved it somewhere else in the earth’s biosphere.

“They said the best solution we needed was to completely make coal and oil redundant.

“To do that we needed to build a new infrastructure as fast as possible.”

Another idea was to put solar installations on the rooftops of music venues.

“There were limitations because most of our venues operate at night.”

They’d need a battery that was expensive and with a modest return on investment.

“So I had to upscale the vision quite significantly and look to the solar farm industry.

“I knew that was booming and I knew that most of the investment was coming from overseas.

“I thought it was the most tangible inspiring outcome that we could have, and produce the change that we need in a potentially imaginative way that speaks to the artists.”

The first musicians she talked to about FEAT were Holly Rankin of Jack River and Lisa Mitchell.

“They’re both dear friends of mine and environmental compatriots

“We’re all on the same page on what we have to do to make this a better world.”

Reuben Styles of Peking Duk, with whom she’d travelled to India some years ago, had been already tweeting about the workability of solar farms:

“We are the sunniest country in the world and all of this wasted sun is just going onto the dirt across the desert.”

Three years ago, Thom Yorke threatened to stop touring unless the music industry changed its ideas about touring.

Lenffer understands his frustration.

“He’d been active so long. Back in 2010 Radiohead were offering reduced prices to ticket buyers who could show they had taken public transport to gigs.

“The two worst elements of a live show in terms of carbon emission are the flights that the musicians and crew take to get there and audience travel.

“Audience travel is not something that artists have much control over

“So for Radiohead advocating action on public transport is something we should all pay attention to.

“It’s hard to do in Australia unless you’re playing only the capital cities and not serving the regionals… and no one wants to do that.

“It’s a confounding problem but this s something we can lead as artists.

“By leading by example, we can open the opportunity to our fans as well.”

At 35 megawatts, Brigalow Solar Farm is large enough to power 11,300 homes for the next 30 years, and will generate the equivalent of 2,149 Cloud Control tours in clean energy every year.

TMN understands that music fans will also be able to invest later in the year.

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