EMC 2013 asks: Is there really an ‘Australian sound’?

“I have an eight-year-old saxophone student who knows about him,” said Sydney musician Rainbow Chan of Flume, the ARIA award-winning man of the moment whose impassioned Facebook state of the nation address was the launchpad for EMC’s panel ‘The Golden Age of Australian Dance Music Is Here’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Flume is the name that kept coming up across the truncated session, which boasted among its panellists Jon Hanlon (Managing Director, Konkrete Agency and director of dance music at Sony); Chad Gillard (A&R and Director, Future Classic); Ben Marshall (Head of Contemporary Music, Sydney Opera House); Vic Edirisinghe (Astral People touring and artist agency); and local artists Chan, Motez, Touch Sensitive and Emoh Instead, Flume’s partner in What So Not.

The young producer is being championed as the spearhead of a so-called ‘Australian sound’ – a descriptor that Motez describes as more of a “phenomenon” than a reference to any overriding sonic similarities, and one that Edirisinghe in particular is wary of.

“There are different levels to this, so calling it ‘Australian sound’ just limits creativity,” he argued, warning against making music with the aim of getting it played on triple j – or any radio station. “No one talks about the Francis Infernos or Dro Careys signing to big labels overseas, because that sound doesn’t really cut through [in Australia].”

“Are we talking about the sound of the music, or success and sales?” asked Marshall, who has booked the experimental electronica of Seekae in the Opera House’s iconic Concert Hall because he believes he’ll still be listening to them in 15 years’ time. “There’s something about what Flume’s doing, what Chet Faker’s doing – there’s a self-confidence, not necessarily referencing overseas sounds.”

Motez has a unique perspective of the current state of play in Australia, having noticed the quality of musicianship when he moved down under from Iraq in 2006. “It’s been simmering,” he said, and the consensus is that Australian artists’ desire to be the best in the world, not just Australia, is part of the impetus.

“Because we are so isolated, you have to aim to be the best in the world to get anywhere with it,” said Chris Emerson, AKA Emoh Instead, while Hanlon’s take is that “the artists that Australia exports are breaking through by making sounds that no one else is making”.

“I think that the ‘Australian sound’ has happened before, it happened in the ‘80s with the pub rock sound,” offered Michael Di Francesco, the Van She member now making waves under his Touch Sensitive alias, adding that such labels often carry more weight in a global context. “To Philippe Zdar from Cassius, the ‘French touch’ sound is a small thing in French music, whereas it’s big to the rest of the world.”

For Gillard, being at the coalface of Future Classic as their young protégé Flume’s profile exploded was both exciting and unnerving – at times, he felt the career they were managing was “spiralling out of control”.

“Flume’s success has changed the conversation about electronic music,” he said. “Seeing him and Tame Impala at the top of Australian music is cool. Having people under 18-years-old listening to this is new territory.”