PLAYING MELBOURNE: The Emerging Artists and Established Acts You Need to Know About Now

Melbourne-based rapper Sophiegrophy returns with “Drehpehs” single (listen below).

Melbourne has been battered by COVID-19, but our city remains the music capital of Australia, regardless of what Sydney may try to claim. Across genres, there’s been no shortage of recent releases and emerging artists worth crowing about, or crowing at, or pursuing via social media with zeal. There’s no definitive sound to this city, though fanatic genre fans may argue otherwise. There’s an appetite, rather, for music that reflects individuals and leverages the enormous talent who work in studios, backstage, producing, writing and recording all the phenomenal artists emerging in this city.

Freshly out of our fourth lockdown, Melbourne is still wiping the tears off her mascara-stained face and adjusting her sunglasses to the winter sun. Live music is only just starting up again. It’s good to go out in the evening now and hear the wall-shuddering sounds of live music, the whoops of hungry music lovers. From wherever you’re listening, here are five Melbourne artists you need to know about (in no particular order), and one track that is definitive of their sound.

Civic – “Shake Like Death”

Civic formed in 2017, but their recent debut LP Future Forecast has rocketed them onto Melbourne community radio airwaves and won them a new coterie of fans. They deliver merciless, driving rock that practically sprays sweat from the riffs, shakes the bones of your home, and sneers when you smile. The five-piece band consists of Jim McCullough, Lewis Hodgson, Roland Hlavka, David Forcier and Darcy Grigg. They’ve released two EPs since forming four years ago: New Vietnam in April 2018 and Those Who No in November 2018, as well as a pair of 7″ singles.

Released in March via Flightless Records, Future Forecast has cemented the band’s “garage rock” or “gutter rock” classifications, but even that seems a rather lazy descriptor that Australian media tends to throw around for any band that doesn’t have a clean, super-glossy approach to production. None of the Civic members are new to the game; between them, they are made up of former members of A.D. Skinner, Drug Sweat, Whipper, Cuntz and Planet Slayer. The deafening, thrilling feedback that opens “Shake Like Death” heralds a snaking, menacing bassline before violent riffs tear the seams of civility wide apart. McCullough’s snarling, growling vocals hark to the raw, visceral energy of Black Flag. There’s more than a nod to Black Flag’s “Rise Above” on this track, in the best way.

Time For Dreams – “Death to All Actors”

Significantly less frenetic and sweaty, Time For Dreams is an ethereal, trip hop-inspired duo that fans of Portishead and Mazzy Star will likely love, with Tom Carlyon on guitar and electronic instrumentation, while Amanda Roff plays bass and handles vocal duties. Their album Life of the Inhabitant has a tentative September release date, and the seductive, atmospheric “Death to All Actors” has been crackling and slinking from radios in anticipation. The echoing percussion provides an anchor, while swirling, somnambulic synths build a forest of sound before Roff’s breathy, sardonic vocals emerge organically from the lush centre. Their 2017 debut album In Time featured on community radio in Melbourne, but didn’t achieve the same attention and praise they’ve (justifiably) garnered recently.  

Freya Josephine Hollick – “The Real World”

Freya Josephine Hollick rode onto the cosmic country scene on her multicoloured unicorn when her 2018 sophomore LP Feral Fusion got national radio interested. It also convinced Creative Victoria to financially support her trip to the US to record with Lucinda Williams’ band, Buick 6, in Joshua Tree, California in 2019. The album came together at the studio of Eagles of Death Metal’s Dave Catching, Rancho de la Luna. Her lyrical themes, poetic and piercing, stem from her experience as a young woman – and a mother – in an industry of young dreamers and vintage rock dogs.

Hollick was born in Ballarat, in regional Victoria, just outside Melbourne. It’s a place that is steeped in goldmining history and there are still shopfronts and streets that hark back to the time of horses, panning for gold, and buying boiled sweets in jars. Perhaps then, it is only natural for Hollick to sound like something beautiful and nostalgic from old-time country radio. Her lovely “The Real World” is a sweet lament over pedal steel guitar to the universe we are eroding. As the title track to her forthcoming record from the Joshua Tree sessions, if there is more to come in this vein, then bring it on.

Gretta Ray – “Human”

Another solo artist, but one with a very different vibe, is Gretta Ray. The Melbourne singer-songwriter first broke onto the scene when she won national youth radio station Triple J’s Unearthed High competition in 2016, By her final year of high school, Ray had built a solid fanbase on the success of singles like “Drive,” from her 2018 debut EP Here and Now. After proving her popularity on national festivals, and supporting major acts, she’s finally set to release her follow-up, Begin To Look Around, on August 27.

Still in her early 20s, the album’s themes of the disillusionment of romance, untangling your identity from a partner, and first-time travel are all very much rooted in Ray’s formative years. She is adept at crafting a hook-filled pop rock song that tells a straightforward story without wrapping the meaning under a vast array of metaphors and mysticism, and latest single “Human” sees the singer relishing intimate moments with a new love, no overthinking.

Sophiegrophy – “Drehpehs”

Melbourne-based hip hop artist Sophiegrophy first garnered attention for her debut mixtape PURPULARITY in 2016, following up with super-smooth R&B verses and trap beats on “Fa$t Life” (2017); darker, sexier single “Bag;” and 2020’s BOLD EP. The Nigerian-born, New Zealand-raised artist has established herself as an unmissable live act, with spitfire skills as a rapper and also as a songwriter who can slink her way around a melodic hook; she’s performed at Rolling Loud, The Grass Is Greener, Brunswick Music Festival and Festival X. On “Bag,” she raps “I ain’t this, I ain’t that,” and indeed, it would be unwise to try to summarise her sound when she’s constantly evolving and surprising. Most recently, “Drehpehs” is another killer drop that fans of Missy Elliot, Ciara and TLC may find a lot of love for.

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