On Diversity: Tales And Takeaways From BIGSOUND 2022

23 September 2022 | 12:55 pm | Selin Ruby Kaya

"I thought about how lucky I was to be able to bear witness to the artists who will become such important strands of our cultural fabric."

(Pic by Dave Kan)

As the weary-eyed delegates and artists stumbled out of the Fortitude Music Hall in the early hours of Friday morning, last jitters of excitement filtered through the legs of those who were huddled, standing on tattered confetti, and smoking their last lonely Champion Ruby after finding out the news of the Queen’s passing. I won’t be ashamed to say that I was one of them. 

As I began my final stroll back, up the hills, past the strip clubs and sex shops and down a bit, with a lukewarm Chipsy Kebab nestled tightly into my arms as if it were my first born, I started to reflect on my first experience at BIGSOUND (typical of a writer – like, it’s 4am, just go home and Don’t Think About It). 

I’ve always felt as though I sit somewhere on the outskirts of the scene, or at the very least somewhere on the boundary like a VFL player who's been called up for the big dance. Except when the big dance comes, you get told you’ve lost your spot on the team because some old guy with two torn ACL’s is available for the game, and they’d rather have someone with experience play the final match. 

It’s been hard to imagine a space for someone like me, a young woman from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, existing in a space alongside established CEO’s of record labels, collection societies, and industry professionals. 

A space which is largely and typically taken up by caucasian men. I’m not commenting on this out of resentment, or even spite, I’m writing this as a matter of observation, I’m writing this from a place of lived experience. 

This was something which was noticed by others at the festival too:

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After seeing Srirachi’s tweet, I thought more deeply about the artists who were at BIGSOUND. She’s right. Their lineup included a wealth of First Nations artists, with conferences and showcases to match. 

The Archie Roach Foundation Yarning Session was one of my favourite panels I saw, with performances from Kiwat Kennell, Kee’ahn, Ridzyray, Maylene Slater-Burns, and Madi Colville, who shared with us their musical stories so far and desires for their glistening futures – no James Webb space telescope needed, NASA. Amongst the sea of tears from adoring families who had seen their son perform a diary entry in the form of a song for the first time, or from mentors in the crowd who felt like family, wide smiles flooded the audience. 

As well as an array of First Nations talents, so too was there room at the BIGSOUND table for people from other culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This included (but is very much not limited to) MUNGMUNG, ASHWARYA, Beckah Amani, Mulalo, and Forest Claudette – just to name a few. 

After excitedly waltzing – okay, maybe it was more like a clumsy gallop holding tightly onto my earrings which we half-in-half-out – between venues and conferences, I also began to notice the contrast of artists and delegates. Something didn’t quite add up. I began to think about the stories we were showcasing in the pool of live music, and the reflections which shone back at us. But it didn’t seem like the reflections resembled what was shining so luminously, so obviously at us. 

Diversity in the Australian music scene to me, looks like people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds having ownership of their craft, and existing in spaces which we usually wouldn’t. Not just as a tick in a box – the box shouldn’t exist. 

It’s more than watered down sentiments in the bios of International Women’s Day themed playlists. It’s having venues which are accessible to all people living with a disability. Diversity is including women of all ages on your artist roster, due to their sheer talent and artistry: nothing else. This particular thought was also echoed on the interwebs.

Diversity to me is also feeling safe. Terrifyingly, just a week after the findings from the National Music Industry Review into sexual harassment were released, Queensland based coastal punk-rockers Beddy Rays announced someone at their Nipaluna (Hobart) gig had been sexually assaulted.

It’s a terrifying time to exist. But in terrifying and trying times, there is a place we can turn to. A constant. Something within our orbit. We search for art, and we search for music. And everyday, to my surprise – they’re still there. We’re still here, writing, performing, working, laughing, crying, and sharing, despite it all. 

When I looked up at the stages at BIGSOUND this year, I also saw stories. I heard them weave in one ear and out the other, I watched them dance from hip to hip, and slip and slide from cheek to cheek. I thought about how lucky I was to be able to bear witness to the artists who will become such important strands of our cultural fabric. 

To answer Jaguar Jonze’s question she left us with (and may have pinched from Maya Angelou) after her keynote speech on Thursday afternoon: yes – the greatest agony does lie in untold stories. 

For as long as there is space at BIGSOUND, there will be a space for everyone. If not, after a week at the southern hemisphere’s biggest music conference, I believe we have the tools to make our own space. 

The stories I had the pleasure of watching and listening to whilst in Meanjin will continue to exist even if they settle like dust upon a mantlepiece in my Brunswick sharehouse, or even if we don’t write about them. 

And if I may pinch something too, I’d like to steal a line from Joan Didion. All storytellers leave immediate survivors, is what I’ve observed. 

This feature has been published as part of The Music Writer’s Lab initiative, developed between MusicNT and Australia Council of The Arts. For more information, visit www.themusicwriterslab.com.