1. Dami Im ‘robbed’ at Eurovision
In 2015 Australia entered the Eurovision song contest as a wild card and Guy Sebastian turned in a surprisingly decent Bruno Mars impersonation. Australia loves the song contest more than some of Europe does (I’ve never seen a Brit respond with anything other than contempt over the unjustness of political voting), so it was nice of Eurovision to let us enter again.
Dami Im performed a perfect Eurovision song this year, showy and dramatic, and came a respectable second. Our response was atypical, however. We complained about being robbed; we pored over the numbers; we claimed that the winner had broken the rules. We turned into Brits, basically.
We’re entering again next year but hopefully we can keep some of the distance that let us enjoy Eurovision for the celebration of camp and key changes it is.
2. Changing the date of the Hottest 100
The timing of Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown was called into question in a fairly big way this year, as many pointed out that the annual tradition of eating sausages and arguing about music on a day commemorating the invasion of Australia is a bit tasteless when you think about it.
A change.org petition to alter the date received almost 5,000 signatures, and the conversation dominated the music and youth media. Plenty were against the idea, concerned their national identity was being taken from them because they might have to organise a listening party on a different day – which seemed a trivial complaint compared with that of a people whose national identity and actual country was taken from them.
Triple J has said it won’t change the date of the next countdown, but is open to doing so in the future. As a campaign to vote for AB Original’s political track, January 26, in the 2017 poll gathers steam, look forward to this being a talking point next year as well.
3. The Avalanches return
Wildflower, the follow-up to the Avalanches’ 2000 album, Since I Left You, was so long in coming that it earned the status of legend. In 2007 it was said that the electronic act had 40 tracks in consideration and they were just paring them down. Studio time was booked from 2011 to 2013 and the equally arduous time for legally clearing samples began shortly afterwards.
Contributing to a King Kong musical and an unreleased animated film slowed them down further, so when Wildflower appeared, it was hard to believe it was real and, months later, it still seems like a strange dream.
As for the music, well, it’s pretty good – so that’s nice, too.
4. Sticky Fingers break up
In July a show by the Sydney hardcore band Dispossessed became, according to band member Birrugan Dunn-Velasco, “a circus of hyper-defensive white supremacy and self-entitled colonial privilege”.
The band, who sing about issues affecting Indigenous Australians, walked off stage after their set devolved into an argument with audience members, including “the lead singer of Sticky Fingers and many others”, as Dunn-Velasco wrote on Facebook. Sticky Fingers denied allegations of racism.
Later in the year the singer Thelma Plum accused the Sticky Fingers frontman, Dylan Frost, of threatening, abusing and spitting at her and her boyfriend. A few days later Sticky Fingers broke up, citing “internal issues”. Frost posted on Facebook that he had been “dealing with alcohol addiction and mental health issues”, starting a conversation about mental health – and whether or not it’s a justifiable excuse for bad behaviour.
5. Keep Sydney Open
Sydney’s lockout laws have been controversial from day one and this month’s changes – including pushing closing times back half an hour – haven’t been quite enough to satisfy the critics.
In February a rally attracted thousands of protesters – whether you believe the organisers’ estimate of 15,000 attendees or the police’s count of 5,000 – and the rallying cry of “Keep Sydney Open” has become a defining civil liberties issue for a generation of Sydneysiders.
We live in a culture where “drinking” and “binge drinking” are almost synonymous, so nobody’s denying something needs to be done about alcohol-related violence. Still, punishing of venues, musicians and responsible drinkers, while exempting the profitable Star casino, deserves the criticism it has received.
6. Camp Cope prove #ItTakesOne
The self-titled debut album by the Melbourne band Camp Cope would have been noteworthy on its own: a confident beginning for a band channelling the sound of Triple J in the 1990s.
The conversation the band started, though, has made it more significant than just another solid Australian rock release.
It began when the frontwoman, Georgia Maq, noticed a group of men in Camp Cope’s audience pushing around women, while blithely singing along to Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams – a song that contains lyrics about sexism, such as: “Hearing catcalls from police cars, and they say what you gonna do about it dressed the way you are?”
Maq called out the men in the audience but it didn’t stop there. The band launched the #ItTakesOne campaign in collaboration with a host of other musicians and members of the industry as a way of encouraging people to speak out about harassment at concerts, an issue overdue to be addressed.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get the band into Triple J listeners’ album poll this year – there was not one female-fronted band among the top 10 and, in fact, only one female musician throughout.
7. Australian hip-hop’s killer year
It’s been a good year for Australian hip-hop. Tkay Maidza’s long-awaited album, Tkay, came out, and it’s as bouncy and energetic as her live shows. Remi released Divas & Demons, Omar Musa put together the Dead Centre EP, and Briggs and Trials came together to form AB Original – a collaboration proven greater than the sum of its parts with their album, Reclaim Australia.
Our local flavour of hip-hop moved beyond dudes rapping about beer and barbecues a while ago but the high quality of 2016’s releases reinforced its strength.
8. Late nights with Madonna
Madonna last toured here in 1993, so it’s fair to say Australian fans aren’t up to date with her current reputation for performance: she’ll come on stage late but it will usually be worth it.
When her first Brisbane show was two hours and 20 minutes late, it created problems for her increasingly middle-aged audience, who missed the last train back to the city from a venue 15km outside the CBD on a school night.
While her second Brisbane show was only 20 minutes late, the singer didn’t exactly cover herself in glory. Instead, she pulled down a 17-year-old audience member’s top, exposing her breast on stage. (“Seriously, why would I sue Madonna for the best moment of my life?” the teenager told the Courier-Mail. “It was the best night.”)
The tabloids were more concerned with the fact that Madonna drank and swore during her Australian shows – the horror! – which she responded to by decrying the sexism underlying these particular criticisms because it’s the kind of behaviour for which male musicians are valorised.
9. Nick Cave deals with loss in One More Time With Feeling
Musical explorations of grief aren’t exactly new territory for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; loss has been part of their music from the beginning. But with the death of Cave’s son Arthur during the recording of their latest album, Skeleton Tree, the subject became personal.
The songs were already written – similarities between the lyrics and the circumstances of Arthur’s death are coincidental – but the tragedy hung over the recording process. Andrew Dominik’s documentary, One More Time With Feeling, followed the grieving parents and the band, illuminating the difficulties they faced.
Art can help us find meaning after tragedy, and both the album and movie made it clear how important that is.
10. Channel Seven gave us the other kind of Molly
Channel Seven’s two-episode love letter to Molly Meldrum and Countdown aired this year, earning more than 2 million viewers, sending the soundtrack album platinum and winning Samuel Johnson an Aacta award for his title role.
Watching commercial TV celebrate taxpayer-funded TV was a strange experience, especially when it went off the rails in the second episode with hallucination sequences featuring John Lennon and Freddie Mercury.
The main thing to take away from Molly was that the 1970s were a pretty good time for Australian music and it’s a damn shame we don’t have music shows like Countdown any more.