Here’s What Happens When A Spotify Playlist Becomes A Concert
'Front Left Live' took six pop pioneers and put them on a Melbourne stage -- like musical tapas, it left us wanting more of some acts, and none of others.
“There’s something about this part of the world,” Tove Lo says mid-set, but for once, the oft-used compliment isn’t just pandering banter from an international act.
The Swedish pop-star is the final act of Spotify’s Front Left Live, a mini-festival at The Forum in Melbourne, consisting of international and local acts from Front Left, their playlist with more than half a million followers. As the name implies, it’s packed with frontier-pop: think of it as the cheat sheet for the most interesting, innovative music of the moment.
Tove’s a perfect headliner. Back in 2013, her self-destructive EDM hit ‘Habits (Stay High)’ spawned a whole industry of imitators, while Sunshine Kitty, her fourth and most recent album, cements her status as much more than just a pop provocateur.
Yes, while she might be known for dancing topless on-stage during ‘Disco Tits’ — though she doesn’t at the Front Left Live — but on Sunshine Kitty, Tove’s talent is her ability to create emotionally complex, honest songs that don’t lean into sadness as an easy way to make meaning. Across the album’s many producers and features, Tove always feels distinctly her, never overshadowed: that’s impressive when you’ve singing with Kylie Minogue.
When Tove makes the comment about Australia, she’s in-between ‘Really Don’t Like U’, her recent single with Minogue, and ‘Say It’, her collaboration with Flume. The two couldn’t be further apart. Where the Minogue song is sleek and understated — a constant disco pulse giving the song’s sense of annoyance a constant giddy hum — but the Skin cut is peak EDM, a choppy chorus built for confetti cannons. She can do both without risk of alienating an audience; as Front Left’s line-up showed, there’s no reason to constrain what pop is and isn’t, now radio success isn’t the only way to find listeners.
A few years ago, Spotify’s launched Fresh Finds, a playlist which in part uses the listening history of 50,000 anonymous users at the cutting edge of unsigned and underground acts to serve up the next big thing. Front Left Live is another side of that, centring artists with ground-swell for those who might otherwise miss them — with six acts playing, chances are audiences left with a new act to dive into, to become their own personal future of pop.
Fast And Furious
The night started with New Zealander BENEE, introduced by a sizzle real video of her streaming statistics and buzzwords. Contorting across the stage and through her recent debut EP, Fire On Marzz, the 19 year old kicked things off with exuberant energy and a genuinely left-of-centre stage presence — her dance moves allowed the early attenders to lose their shackles, setting a precedent for the night.
The sets move fast: there are six acts to get through, giving us a tapas display of their talents. In-between, a DJ takes over, though the LED screens around his booth (literally left of stage) put up the tracks’ artwork and information, suggesting we’re witnessing an anthropomorphised playlist algorithm. That is the vibe of the night — and we mean it positively.
Norway’s girl in red is next — if you don’t know Marie Ringheim by name, you’ll definitely have heard the shoe-gaze dream of ‘we fell in love in October’, one of 2018’s biggest sleeper hits. The 20-year-old has a knack for cinematic pop filled with longing, perfect to listen to while imagining yourself as the star of an indie-drama. If A24 or Netflix doesn’t use her music in an angst trailer soon, it’s a missed opportunity.
Electric Fields follow, the queer as hell electro-pop duo fronted by Zaachariaha Fielding, an enigmatic performer who whirls his braids through the air as if lightning to the thunder of his booming soul-inflected vocals.
Alternating between his three languages — Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and English — Fielding and Electric Fields inject Indigenous culture and sounds into a still overwhelmingly white genre, and do it with an unrelenting camp-ness.
After coming second in SBS’s contest this year to decide who’d represent our country at Eurovision, Electric Fields can only remain Australian pop’s best secret for so long. Judging by the crowd that sung along to ‘2000 And Whatever’, the word’s out.
Despite her set arriving at the middle of the night, Tones And I might be the most hyped act of the night. The Bryon Bay busker has blown up from unknown to an ARIA chart breaker this year. In the process, she’s proved divisive, and the room’s littered with people either excited excited or just curious to see her perform — either way, she has their attention.
Alone on-stage, Tones blitzes through her debut EP The Kids Are Coming, and the crowd more or less say ‘how high?’ when she asks them to jump for ‘Dance Monkey’.
It’s, uh, not my idea of the future of pop, but it’s evidently a lot of other people’s, and her worldwide charting suggests she might be heading from Front Left to the centre soon enough.
Before Tove takes the stage, there’s a last-minute addition. Across his 10-or-so songs, Floridian Dominic Fike has shown an absolute disdain for genre, mixing a local love for auto-tune with Britpop guitars, clap-along Jack Johnson rhythms and low-octane rap.
He ties it all together with a low-key attitude and an Apple logo tattoo below his right eye — that is to say, with a detached sense of being above it all, of creating viral hits and million-dollar bidding wars with little investment. Fike’s the embodiment of ‘being cool’, but he’s also really fun to watch live: sometimes it’s best not to overthink things.
When Tove ends the night on ‘Stay High’, it’s stunning to think the 2013 song still fits in with the night’s idea of frontier pop. But it fits the bill; even with all the copycat songs, it, like all Front Left Live’s acts, remains distinct.
Music Junkee were flown to Melbourne and given accomodation to attend Front Left Live.
All photos by Shevin Dissanayake, unless specified.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.