Kutcha Edwards & Simone Schinkel On 2023 Music Victoria Awards: ‘Everyone In The Industry Should Be So Proud’

25 October 2023 | 5:44 pm | Ellie Robinson

This year’s awards ceremony will be held at Naarm/Melbourne’s Federation Square next Tuesday, October 31.

Kutcha Edwards

Kutcha Edwards (Credit: Susan Carmody)

More Kutcha Edwards More Kutcha Edwards

This year’s Music Victoria Awards are virtually guaranteed to be the biggest yet – the event even made history before nominees were announced, with a record-breaking 1,200+ artists, venues, festivals and presenters being put forward for awards.

The ceremony itself will be held next Tuesday (October 31), taking place at Federation Square in Naarm/Melbourne. 29 awards will be given out – split between 12 categories open for public voting, and 17 voted on by industry figures – alongside the Hall Of Fame induction of Kirsty Rivers (Head of Music for Creative Australia) and Mutti Mutti songwriter/activist Kutcha Edwards.

At the core of it all is Simone Schinkel, the CEO of Music Victoria, who has long been devoted to bolstering the state’s role as the Australian capital of music – long before she came into her current position in March of 2021. Thanks to people like her, live music has been able to thrive in Victoria, powering through the setbacks incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing financial crisis. It’s weird to think what the Australian music scene would look like today if it weren’t for Schinkel.

Meanwhile, Edwards is one of the most revered names in First Nations artistry, and for good reason: since debuting his career at the turn of the ‘90s, the Balranald, NSW-native singer-songwriter has strived to use music as a tool to champion his community and culture. In addition to a suite of iconic collaborations, he’s released five studio albums – the most recent being 2021’s Circling Time.

Ahead of the 2023 Music Victoria Awards, we caught up with Schinkel and Edwards to discuss the event’s importance, what’s led them to this point, and what the future holds for them. Read on for both conversations, then head here to learn more about the awards.

Simone Schinkel – CEO, Music Victoria

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

It’s so exciting to think we’re just a month away from the 2023 Music Victoria Awards! As the CEO of Music Victoria, what are you most excited to see/do at this year’s ceremony?

I really don’t want to give anything away, but we’ve got some killer performances lined up, and artists' acceptance speeches are back! There is a photo of me from last year’s awards which has been internally named the “proud mum moment”, and it’s true – just watching the event unfold always brings me so much joy. Everyone in the industry should be so proud.

Between 1,200 artists, venues, festivals, and presenters, this year’s awards broke the record for most entries received. Does that speak to the strength of the music industry in Victoria, especially post-COVID?

We certainly like to think so! But the awards are actually [about] so much more than just the winners, it’s also a research tool that gives us great insight into what is happening on the ground – what genres are hot and growing – and in 2023 the electronic category overtook the punk/rock category for the first time. VMDO research has shown that there were at least 14,000 active releasing musicians in Victoria, so that’s a pretty strong place to start – the awards are just a snapshot in time of this remarkable talent and [the] Victorian music scene more broadly.

Looking at this year’s program, I’m amazed by the diversity of the nominees and how it represents so many corners of the Victorian music scene. Is there a concerted effort made to ensure the Music Victoria Awards reflect the rich diversity of the state’s music industry?

Absolutely. The diversity of the Victorian music industry is one of the most exciting points of difference and should certainly be showcased in a program like this. One of the main reasons behind removing the entry fee in 2023 was to remove as many of the barriers to entry as possible. We also know that it’s sometimes hard to enter yourself for awards, so we get our judges and networks to shoulder-tap those who might need a bit of encouragement to enter. However we also know that we can always do better – I am still looking to uncover a few more women in the blues and hip-hop scenes and do what we can to get them to succeed.

I’m also stoked to see that Kirsty Rivers and Kutcha Edwards are being inducted into the Music Victoria Hall Of Fame at this year’s awards. What made them the clear choices for this year’s inductees?

The long list of Hall Of Fame nominees are all impressive, but I think this year marks a real changing of the guard, where these two people have been behind some major changes that are just the icing on the cake of already extremely impressive careers – and contributions to the Victorian music industry – over more than 25 years.

Kirsty Rivers has been so instrumental in our local scene, is currently influencing the national context, and I can't wait to see what she does next. Kutcha Edwards has never actually won a Music Victoria Award – ridiculous, right? – but after the passing of Uncle Archie Roach and Uncle Jack Charles, he has certainly carried a lot for his community, and this alone deserves recognition.

When it was announced a few years back that you’d be taking over as Music Victoria’s CEO, it was noted that you were once moved to tears by Kutcha Edwards singing an alternative national anthem. How would you say his music resonates with you on a personal level?

There is such a beautiful yearning that I hear in his voice, and his storytelling hits home hard.

And with all of Kirsty's various roles, I’m sure she has crossed paths extensively with Music Victoria. How would you describe your relationship with that absolute icon?

While she was a hard nut to crack at the start, I now jump at the chance to pick her brain! With such a wealth of knowledge and a real tenacity for turning that into effective policy, I have so much to learn from her. I often sense-check my ideas with her, and get the down-low on what’s already been done in this space, what new angles haven’t been tried, and who else I might be able to collaborate or join forces with. We are all so lucky to have such a strong female influencing the industry for good.

From an outsider’s perspective, the state of live music in Victoria seems pretty damn solid, especially this year between the launch of The Eighty-Six, The Tote being saved (again), stacks and stacks of new tours being announced... As someone who’s lived and breathed live music in Victoria for so long, though, how would you sum it up?

It’s true – October is going off and it is just the start of what is shaping up to be a pretty solid summer. There are still some concerns with regards to the next generation – who according to our research, just don’t think about going to see music as much as older generations – but this is something many in the industry are working on addressing. Our recorded industry is also pumping, with the top 7,485 Victorian artists reaching 201 million Spotify listeners a month across 6,458 cities around the world.

What can you tell us about all the exciting things you’re working on with Music Victoria at the moment?

While there is lots just around the corner – including Sound Tracks, Live Music for Flood Recovery, some work in supporting festivals and getting musicians paid better, and as always our program of professional development workshops – it’s also my job to keep an eye on the horizon and as such, I am excited to see the development of Music Australia and take the learnings from our recent research to develop future programs and policies to enable music to thrive in Victoria.

Kutcha Edwards – 2023 Hall Of Fame inductee

Congratulations on being inducted into the Hall Of Fame at this year’s Music Victoria Awards! How does it feel to be adding this prestigious honour to your growing list of accolades?

It is with the utmost appreciation to be honoured for my work at this upcoming induction into the Hall Of Fame, alongside those who have already been inducted and those yet to be inducted in the future. But it has to be said, I’ve been fortunate to be guided in my personal journey by very astute elders of the aboriginal community – one being Jock Austin, who when asked in 1985, “[How] does it feel to receive NAIDOC Person Of The Year?” he replied, “I do not do what I do for accolades, I do what I’m doing for the betterment of my people.”

What do you love most about being a part of the Victorian music scene, and what’s exciting you about it right now? Have you been to any particularly awesome gigs lately, or are there any albums by local artists that you’re loving at the moment?

One of the most poignant and fulfilling moments on a local stage – The Forum – was our show Waripa (Ceremony), which was commissioned by Hayley Percy from [the] RISING festival. We turned The Forum into the ceremonial grounds of my Mutti Mutti country, Lake Mungo.

What was exciting was it was ceremony and celebration of our songlines. I put a call out to the mob in the essence of Waripa – "When the old people call for ceremony, we will come.” And we did gather, and amazingly all the artists onstage and side-of-stage were mob, and there were the young ones and old ones sharing the space and their spirit.

Since the start of your career, you’ve been devoted to using music as a tool to unite and educate people about the experiences of – and the struggles faced by – First Nations Australians. Over the years, how have you seen this effort pay off? Can you speak directly to the power that music has to unite different cultures?

Music has allowed and afforded me the opportunities I probably wouldn't have had if not for music itself. As a young boy I remember listening to my mum’s music collection (old country) and the memories associated with all those different music genres. Even further back, before I got the opportunity to live with my mother, I’d be in the children’s home listening to The Seekers and watching Countdown on TV.

Years later, I'm recording with such amazing artists as Judith Durham and Renée Geyer, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, Paul Kelly, Christine Anu, Bart Willoughby, Joe Geia… The list goes on and on. [Music has] allowed me to travel the world and see some of the most amazing places and people, and I’ve forged some amazing friendships. That’s the power of music.

Why does it remain important for you to be a voice for your community and your culture through music, even today?

I think we all want and need to have a voice so that we can tell not only our own story but so we can talk for the silent ones who have forever been told to remain silent. We need to listen deeply (gulpa ngawal – Yorta Yorta). There is resonance of the whole being!

What keeps you looking forward to the future of Australian music, especially in Victoria?

When I look to the future, and when you've been doing what I've been doing for as long as I've been doing it, there comes the need to look back and remember who is no longer here beside me, and I begin to reflect on your past. But I must also try to remain in the present, and connect to people who have been affected through and by my musical journey.

What can you tell us about the things you’re working on right now? What can we expect to see you get up to in 2024?

Again like when we did Waripa, there was that slogan: “When the elders call, we will come!” We hope to take Waripa further around the country. We're also writing a children's book using memories and language. And as always, when my community calls, I will come!!