These Are The Acts That Will Shape Australian Music In 2020
It's going to be a good year.
When we wrote our 2019 version of this article, we missed one very big act. But how were we to know about Tones and I?
The story’s been repeated ad nauseam by now: a busker becomes an overnight sensation, and a star is born (and then bullied) as her song breaks ARIA chart-records and hits #1 around the globe. In a year where Flume and Tame Impala made grand returns after a few years of silence, who would’ve thought our biggest musical export would be ‘Dance Monkey’?
It’s impossible to predict the future, but we’re pretty certain these fourteen acts below are ones to watch.
Not that they’re the only ones to watch: for example, The Chats, Skeggs and Amyl & The Sniffers all playing Coachella signals that the rest of the world might be craving a second wind of dolewave. And with new albums coming from a heap of our heavy-hitters (Courtney Barnett, Troye Sivan, Flume, Tame Impala, Ruel) this year, Australia will more than make its mark on a world-stage.
But these are the acts that are at the forefront of Australia’s many music communities. Whether making mellifluous pop or hard-hitting eerie electronic, here are the acts who are leading by example, creating forward-thinking sounds without much care for constraint or what came before. We can’t wait to hear what they do next.
As we were writing this, Rihanna slid into Adrian Eagle’s DMs to gas him up: “What a gift you have! I’m grateful that you share it with us! Beautiful”.
While we could leave it at that, there’s too much to discus. Eagle had a massive 2019, popping up everywhere with the release of his debut EP Mama, a sweet-soul dedication to the women within his life.
In 2017, his song ’17 Again’ broke through for its raw depiction of teenage anxiety. Since then, honesty has guided his work, from his life performances to his huge Like A Version of Ocean Alley’s ‘Confidence’. One of the few acts we’ll allow to sign off a song by saying “one love”.
Does anyone hustle as hard as Andy Garvey?
After establishing herself as one of Sydney’s leading DJs, last year Garvey made her mark on the national level with a stint hosting Triple J’s Mix Up, as well releasing her debut EP, Eternal Reccurence. As a calling card, it signposts what she does best, combing through deep and acid house to create a dark, fuzzy, utra-danceable world.
Hot tip: if she’s ever on a line-up, go out of your way to see her, headliner be damned.
When you spend the year touring with Taylor Swift and Charli XCX, you pick up a thing or two about pitch-perfect pop.
Now living in LA, Melbourne expat Martha Brown has been working on her debut album as Banoffee for a few years, releasing a trickle of forward-thinking, carefully considered pop. Her most recent single ‘Tennis Fan’ is a kitschy-cool synth anthem perfect for summer flings, though previous efforts like ‘Ripe’ shows Banoffee can go high-octane, poppers pop too.
Look At Us Now Dad is out in February, featuring collaborations with Empress Of, CupcaKke and SOPHIE.
Baker Boy’s already made it. The Arnhem Land rapper had a huge 2019: ‘Cool As Hell’ was a smash of a self-love anthem at the year’s start, then he started popping up across more and more festivals and television shows, including TRL, The Set, the ABC’s NYE celebrations. And hell, even Play School.
But it’s recent release ‘Meditjin’ that has us most excited, a turbo number than combines Indigenous instruments with an erratic, inventive beat that recalls Missy Elliot’s best and brightest.
With an album on the way, Baker Boy is only going to blow up and up and up.
Okay this one’s cheating: Stella Bennett is a Kiwi, but we’re claiming this 20-year-old wunderkind as our own. After releasing two stellar EPs last year, why wouldn’t we?
BENEE’s best songs — triple j hit ‘Evil Spider’, the utterly bizarre-twee ‘Supalonely’ — display an admirable sense of self-assuredness. Unafraid to experiment with vocoders, irritating-infectious samples and funk-lines, BENEE seems to have a natural knack for what works. Even if it’s a mess in theory, she pulls it off.
A queer ‘bubblegum punk’ duo making anthems about hating Morrissey’s politics? Sign us up — but even then, Cry Club are much more than just their breakthrough hit ‘Robert Smith’.
Darlings of triple j unearthed, Cry Club have established themselves as a stellar live act who are masters are both bops (‘Two Hearts’), heavier hitting scream-alongs (‘Walk Away’), and tackling gross people not honouring content with the anger and frustration it deserves (‘DFTM’).
Plus, any band that starts a protest against Melbourne Cup by asking people to post their favourite cup/mug is a winner in our books.
Melbourne’s best emo-ambient producer is currently studying in Berlin, but it’d be a mistake to count Darcy Baylis out. Last year, he released his sophomore album A House Breaking, which jumped between a billion influences and sounds (ambient, trap, shoegaze, garage, pop-punk) but always was united by an earnestness.
His production work outstrips many others, and collaborations with UV boi, Wicca Phase Eternal Springs and Georgia Maq stand out as some of each their best. Maybe he’ll only drop a few songs on Soundcloud across the year, but listen up: all your favourites will be.
Disco-pop trio Gauci fill the void that The Harpoons left when they disbanded last year — albeit adding in a touch of punk edge.
With just four released songs in four years, Gauci have slowly but surely built up a following within Sydney for their dreamy Italo disco pop. Good things take time, plus the trio all pretty busy too, with each having several projects on the boil, including Sydney punk groups Death Bells and Publique.
Recent single ‘In The Night’ carries across the angst but backs it with cinematic synths, a promising cut from their upcoming debut EP.
You already know KUČKA: Laura Jane Lowther’s multiple collabs with Flume are some of his best songs, as her high-pitch vocals glitter with emotion, even in a strange electronic world. A talented producer in her own right (she’s worked the likes of A$AP Rocky, Vince Staples and Fetty Wap), last year she released two glitch-perfect singles of her own.
As a project, KUČKA has been around for almost a decade, but the distinct, crystalline electro-pop of ‘Real’ and ‘Drowning’ feel like the beginning of a break-through: we pray there’s more to come.
Sione Teumohenga makes music to obsess over. Their production, a blend of nu-metal guitars, hazy post rock and pop synths, is a joy to return to again and again, each listen revealing a new quirk or tone.
Abyssal Body, their third and most recent EP as Lonelyspeck, is a brazen levelling-up. Influences from Arca to mid 2000s pop-punk abound on the EP, which tackles the abject experiences of a non-binary diasporic person of colour, mapped out by a loose conceptual journey beginning at the bottom of the ocean floor and heading up to the surface.
It sounds like a lot, but Lonelyspeck pulls it off: Abyssal Body is detailed but never dense. This self-professes ‘nu-metal Moana’ mines through their generation’s sonic detritus to create something that feels so fresh, pulsating with possibility.
Imbi the girl
Sydney’s Imbar Nassi might be Australia’s answer to Noname: their music as Imbi the girl radiates a genuine sense of self-love, rather than a ready-to-sell buzzword approximation of it.
Blending spoken word, soul and R&B, Imbi the girl’s sound is first-most heart-felt. Whether interrogating their own traumas or trying to create something a little sweeter (like in Genesis Owusu collab ‘peaches & scream’), their music is incredibly warm and kind.
That warmth permeates in live performances, filling the room — it’s no surprise they’re somewhat of a mainstay at queer events throughout Sydney, their music a conduit for community without trying to commodify it.
Australia’s first drill group has certainly made its mark already: media and government hysteria repeatedly shut down OneFour’s gigs last year over fears of public safety, just as happens with their UK counterparts.
But beyond the headlines, OneFour are one of Australia’s most exciting acts. The five-piece from Western Sydney’s Mount Druitt have built a passionate fanbase both here and abroad since releasing ‘Ready For War’ in 2017, getting recognition from some of the UK’s biggest names, such as Dave, Skepta and Octavian.
OneFour are only starting, and we’re sure world domination is on the horizon. It’s a shame you’ll probably need a passport to see them live.
Sydney producer and engineer Ptwiggs is probably the perfect act for Dark Mofo, Hobart’s neon Gothic mid-winter festival: after her 2019 set at Night Mass, surely she’ll be booked for years to come.
Her most recent EP, Darkening Of Light, is an excellent introduction to her music, a disorientating but always controlled dive into experimental electronica. Violent industrial lines, ASMR-esque whispers and choral-synths combine into something terrifying in the Romantic sense: awe-inducing, a strange beauty. In a crowded field, Phoebe Twigg pushes past the noise.
R.I.P. Maribelle, long live Vetta Borne: last year, the Melbourne producer and songwriter traded in one moniker for another.
As Maribelle, she had released some of Australia’s most underrated pop, but she describes Vetta Borne as an “elevated” form, a way to get past personal trappings and holdbacks. So far, so high: her two singles ‘R.I.P’ and ‘Hey’ are sleek, flirtatious bops that let her natural playfulness shine at their centre.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. He’s on Twitter.