THIS WEEK: Deadly Heart To Heart - The New Wave Of First Nations Artists Heading To HOTA

10 December 2019 | 11:03 am | Mary Varvaris

Ahead of their Deadly Hearts performances as part of HOTA's HOME festival, Aidan 'Aodhan' Whitehall, HVWKS aka Henry Epong, and Selve frontman Loki Liddle talk about the 'Australian sound' and the strength of story with Mary Varvaris.

Everyone has their own definition of what home means to them. Home can be a person, your heritage or religion, a place to find shelter, or even a song. More than anything, home is a feeling.

This month, Home Of The Arts (HOTA) on the Gold Coast have introduced HOME, an expansive, 20-event celebration of summer with the Surfers Paradise skyline as a backdrop, each unique event exploring what it means to come home.

Among them is Deadly Hearts: A Celebration Of Australian Indigenous Music. Bringing together acclaimed artists such as Jessica Mauboy, Archie Roach and Mojo Juju while showcasing exciting up-and-comers, the event presents some of Australia’s finest new and established talents to call attention to shared stories, culture and identity. All these exceptional artists capture the essence of growing up First Nations Australian, and no story is the same.

By blending his coastal folk twang with heart-on-his-sleeve storytelling, 15-year-old Dharawal singer-songwriter Aidan Whitehall, who performs as Aodhan, touches on the multitude of eras and artists who have influenced him. Elsewhere on the lineup is HVWKS, aka Henry Epong, an emerging electronic bass star, making his mark with a sound extending from heavy trap beats to futuristic bass. Local art-rock band Selve, fronted by singer-songwriter Loki Liddle, are fashioning narrative-driven rock music inspired by the likes of Aussie greats, Tame Impala and Nick Cave.

Sharing these young stories matter, and Deadly Hearts provides an artistic platform dedicated to amplifying diverse tales, cultures and identities.

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“I think these [platforms] are extremely important," says Liddle. "Not only does it connect Indigenous artists, but it serves to gather us together and present to Australia and the world just how many awesome Indigenous musicians there are within the contemporary Australian music scene. It’s also empowering to feel a part of something.”

“Music moves and changes like an ecosystem. The modern sound will only ever be the collective expression and influence of the zeitgeist.”

The Deadly Hearts event was born from the ABC cover albums of the same name, which looked to various artists to capture a snapshot of the modern sound of First Nations Australia. Twelve young musicians took to the task, recording their unique interpretations of songs they found formative, both to their music careers and to their First Nations identities. 

Liddle defines the sound of contemporary First Nation Australian music as ever-changing. “Music moves and changes like an ecosystem. The modern sound will only ever be the collective expression and influence of the zeitgeist.” It’s almost impossible to label, as “it’s hard to define something constantly in flux".

As one-sixth of Selve, Liddle has been lauded as a talent to watch. A bundle of energy himself, he promises that the band will deliver “a pretty weird and wild performance with plenty of movement, noise and wacky, weaving stories!”

As a songwriter, Liddle finds strength in community. “Growing up in between cultures, [debut single] Snake Of Light represents the point in my life where I decided that even if I’d been raised separated from my culture, I still had the power to create my own Dreaming.”

Whitehall doesn’t have one single song to sum up his experience growing up. But he says it's important for him to "have a genuine connection" with his audience in his performance, and plans to share with the Deadly Hearts audience a “raw and authentic delivery of songs [he] released this year, as well as some works in progress, and possibly some covers”. 

For Henry Epong, better known as HVWKS, Love Me Less by One Day is one of those songs that changed his life. “I just really liked the song, as a few of those members are Indigenous. It was a cool, catchy rap song that I just couldn’t stop listening to.”

With a string of heavy-hitting bass tunes to his name already, Epong guarantees that his live shows will showcase “a lot of different stuff, so it’s something that everyone can enjoy!” And how can you not, when he composes melody-driven electronic music akin to Porter Robinson's? 

"I don’t think it can be defined, really. Australian artists are pushing boundaries and the sound is always evolving."

He echoes Liddle in his opinion about the folly of trying to categorise a First Nations Australian sound, saying, "I don’t think it can be defined, really. Australian artists are pushing boundaries and the sound is always evolving.

“Storytelling is huge in our culture and to be able to tell our stories through our art is amazing,” Epong shares. “Music is also something that helps me identify myself and it gives me a voice to be able to share my story.”

Tickets to Deadly Hearts: A Celebration Of Australian Indigenous Music are available HERE.

Deadly Hearts: A Celebration Of Australian Indigenous Music plays 14 Dec at HOTA.