smash a kangaroo

(con)temporary has been getting a little political lately, but I can't help it. The following is a little touchy (and possibly a really flawed, weak argument), so please disagree if you see any problems, but it's just an initial response to something that really disappointed me.

Recently I came across this music project Heaps Decent, an awesome non-profit music initiative that "intends to seek out young indigenous and underprivileged artists and change Australian club music forever" by connecting popular recording artists with these kids and providing resources, skills development and performance opportunities. Radical hey? In light of Emmy Hennings recent article in mess+noise, The Dismissal, in which she asks, "In this election year why does so little Australian music matter politically?", Heaps Decent is a highly topical and radically positive project in light the of oppressive government 'intervention' into Aboriginal communities and continued lack of support for basically any marginalised Australian communities Howard has shown. Sure it might not actually produce structural changes (as if music alone could?), but by giving these kids a voice through popular, mainstream artists it certainly gets the word out there. Sounds great right?

Well it is, but it's also fairly depressing when you learn that it took an international artist to actually fly in here and set the thing up. This isn't an initiative spearheaded by politically conscious Australian musicians (an extinct species?) but DJ/producer Diplo. Dude's a legend - I remember at this year's Big Day Out he completely overstepped all the patriotic bullshit around the flag-waving issue by wearing a tee with the Australian Aboriginal flag - and now he's bought out Heaps Decent, recording a track with some indigenous hip-hop kids called Smash a Kangaroo to launch the project (streaming at the Myspace). Clearly I'm not knocking Diplo, but it's just sad that it took him to come up with this.

And now the project's started up, and is being run by Aussies Andrew Levins and Nina Agzarian, you'd think there'd be a bunch of established Australian artists clamouring to get on board? Well I recently read that another international artist has recorded a track for the project - M.I.A. Again, she's a legend - extremely politically conscious - and she's dropped a track with students at an all-girls school in a juvenile justice centre! According to the Heaps Decent blog, the song's probably called Popo Mind Control and is officially "the HOTTEST CLUB TRACK YOU EVER HEARD!". Well if there's no Australian artists involved (yet), you'd at least think our press is paying attention right? Wrong - even though its been featured in high-profile international media like NME and Pitchfork, apart from Sydney's FBi our outlets have been a little slow (ie. nonexistent) on the uptake.

Now, again, I have to reiterate that I think this project is awesome, and I commend Levins and Agazarian, and any others that are running it over here in Australia. But like I said, it's disappointing that it took international artists to actually come on board to get this thing going, to me that speaks of a real dearth of not only political conscience but also conviction in Australian music in general. As Emmy said, Powderfinger and Silverchair are happy to tie their mega dollar making Across the Great Divide tour to Reconciliation Australia (good on them), but that's barely a beginning. Emmy calls for a music that offers a political challenge "as music ... that provokes, threatens, engages or discomfits", and although I agree this is needed, I think what we really need is also solid, progressive, socially linked projects like Heaps Decent, with popular Australian musicians behind them. Besides, the music advocated by Emmy, that only offers an 'evocative' political challenge, so often doesn't translate into concrete action - in fact, it may even work to blunt it (think of Love of Diagrams - are they not the perfect soundtrack to a politics of 'nothing', of inaction? Sure they might evoke a certain form of frustration felt by the electorate, but rather than channel it anywhere useful, they simply register a diffuse anger or fear (which are the same thing) that is arguably the reason why this country has lived for 11 years under perhaps its most oppressive government yet - we know we're angry, but we won't do anything about it). Heaps Decent is not only engaging its audience as music, but also powerfully connecting with social issues and lending voice to underprivileged young people. I just wish Australian acts (and media) might get behind the microphone with them.

4 riffs:

simon said...

You know, I used to agree with about over-blown Brit attitudes to parochial music scenes, but the number of Anglo-phile US blogs you come across these days, banging on about the most obscure bands who once played to 14 people in a pub in Birmingham on a Wednesday afternoon, does make us feel as if we're being watched closely.

I'll be an honorary Aussie on the Kylie v. Ian thing though!

[PS. Tate Modern thing. "Inane" is the right word.]

matt said...

Kind of agree here, but kind of don't. The thing is pretty complex and complicated by a really fucked up post-colonial relationship between mainstream and Koori Australia.

Heaps Decent, and the guys behind it, are great. But they have come in with high profile connections - international DJs (btw Diplo and MIA are pretty tight, so it's more like the one example there), labels, equipment manufacturers - and done much the same thing that people like Morganics (Meta Bass'n'Breath), The Herd, Blastcorp, Alex Jarvis and others have been doing for a long time. More the merrier... but there's a lot of grey and good intentions here that people want to paint in black and white.

Lawson said...

Hi Matt,

Really well put! I'd have to agree with you. I suppose that's mostly why I was uneasy about posting on this in the first place - not only are there precedents for projects like Heaps Decent which can't be overlooked, but like you said also, the whole thing is framed within a very cloudy music politics. Thanks for the response!

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