Behind The Scenes Of The ABC’s Delightfully Chaotic New Music Show, ‘The Set’
"We need to choose the people that are special, give them a voice, embrace diversity and have vibrancy."
Update: The Set has been renewed for a second season, beginning August 28.
“Can we win a Logie for this shit?” host Dylan Alcott wonders aloud in the middle of the bustling set of ABC’s new live music show, The Set.
He thinks about it for a moment, then laughs. “Damn, imagine going to the Gold Coast to receive a Logie for all of this.”
The crowd of sound techs and camera operators that are weaving around him chuckle, then return to their current task of setting up the opening shot of the show — which will be recorded later that night.
It’s a warm Tuesday afternoon in Sydney, but in the dark depths of Sydney’s ABC studios, it could be any time of the day or night. After being led through a rabbit warren of backstage entrances and loading dock doors, we’ve arrived in the middle of Studio 22 — the biggest studio on the premises. If you’ve ever watched Q&A, you’ve seen Studio 22.
But if you didn’t know Q&A was filmed in here, you would have absolutely no way of knowing, as the entire space is now occupied by what looks like the better part of an inner city sharehouse.
On the left stretches out a homely and mismatched loungeroom — complete with a vinyl collection, worn couches and chairs, and pot plants — while the attached kitchen (which is fully operational) is crammed full of pasta-filled jars and cooking paraphernalia.
That’s not all: outside the kitchen stands a Hills Hoist (from which hangs a piñata) and a laundry basket. A tall wooden fence hemmed by fairy lights and pot plants runs around the right of the studio, broken by a small stage where Sydney duo The Presets are currently standing, winding up cords from their run through of ‘Do What You Want’ earlier.
If you didn’t look upwards to spy the hundreds of stage lights dotting the ceiling, and you ignored the dozens of techs running around, you could almost believe you’d landed in someone’s backyard during a particularly chaotic house party. And that’s precisely the point.
Building The Set
The idea for a new live music show came about earlier this year, during some brainstorming sessions between various parts of triple j and the wider ABC. But instead of opting for a stock standard sit-down-interview-plus-performance type show, the ABC wanted to create something that actually emulated how audiences actually enjoy music.
“There were lots of ideas floating around,” The Set Music Director and Producer Max Quinn told Music Junkee. “Eventually it sort of landed in my lap and in the lap of Janet Gaeta, who is now the Executive Producer of the show.
“We were asked, ‘What do you think of the idea of being a house party?’ And from there — from that very, very lose concept — Janet and I were given the opportunity to flesh it out and try and make a loose scaffold of what a show like this could feel like and look like, and who could be in it.”
“It is the perfect mix between organised professionalism and organised chaos, and that’s what we wanted it to be.”
“It was essentially what it is now,” co-host Linda Marigliano tells Music Junkee. “It is the perfect mix between organised professionalism and organised chaos, and that’s what we wanted it to be. We want it to be professional and tight, but we want it to be punk. We want it to have elements of being random.”
That randomness includes having a tech guy dressed as a giant possum roam about the set during filming, getting the studio audience to participate in games such as ‘Human Fairy Bread’, and having the artists roll around in paint for an Art Attack throwback segment. Coupled with the food that circulates throughout the audience, and the plentiful beer on offer, and you really do begin to feel like you’ve arrived at an incredibly decked out house party.
“We wanted to capture the feeling of house parties, and how people discover music at a house party — often by people just putting on their favourite tracks,” Marigliano says. “Someone’s hitting up the lounge room, someone’s got a guitar over there and you think they’re really annoying, but sometimes they’re amazing. Someone else is in the kitchen.
“It was about emulating that energy, where you’re having fun, you’re meeting people, you’re mingling and you’re discovering amazing music.”
“We don’t want people sitting in their seats and clapping politely when they are here,” she continues. “We want girls and guys and everything in between making out during the songs, doing social media on their phones and clapping and singing along, sitting and having snacks with us in the lounge room as it happens — because that’s what happens at a house party.”
The organised chaos of the physical set very much mirrors the musical performances. Sure, there’s a proper stage — that will be occupied by a headlining act each night — but then there’s also a DJ in the corner of the loungeroom (on the day we were on set, it was Joyride), and a drum kit set up right beside that.
There are at least three acts on the set at any time, and all the artists will sit together and chat, or roll around on the floor covered in paint, or drink cocktails supplied by chef Radha La Bia.
At the end of the show, they’ll hop on stage to play a song together — last week it was Baker Boy, Vera Blue, and Wafia covering Youssou N’Dour’s 1994 classic ‘7 Seconds’.
The Shadow Of Recovery
It’s inevitable that any live music show in Australia will be compared to ABC’s beloved Recovery. Despite it wrapping up 22 years ago, barely a month goes by without hopeful murmurs of a reboot — it was only back in August that the ABC once again quashes hopes for a new season.
“The legacy of Recovery is certainly something that we considered in making The Set, but we also wanted to make something that spoke to people who had no idea what Recovery was,” says Quinn. “It’s that one big reference point, and hopefully we get to have another one now.
“The legacy of Recovery is certainly something that we considered in making The Set, but we also wanted to make something that spoke to people who had no idea what Recovery was.”
“That show is so revered for what it was able to do for live music, and giving artists a platform in this country, and hopefully now, 20 years later, we’ve been able to make something that reflects the current state of Australia and music and speaks to it’s totality and diversity and brilliance.”
The Set’s devotion to “organised chaos” is certainly something that Recovery championed.
Clearly, some elements of Recovery have been adopted — most obviously the devotion to presenting an “organised chaos”. “That punk energy of recovery is something that we all touched on,” says Marigliano. “As in, ‘This is what makes that show work, and this was how we can incorporate that energy into what we’re doing now.”
“I grew up watching Recovery every week,” she continues. “I was obsessed with the host. All I wanted to do was host Recovery. I even bought the magazine. It’s not something that is a throwaway term to me — it’s something that we are all passionate about, but it is also something that you go, ‘Okay, we’re going to do that, but we’re also taking these elements and make something different.'”
How Does A Live Music TV Show Even Work In 2018?
As Marigliano rightly points out, the live music scene that informed Recovery and that which now informs The Set could not be more different. Imagine explaining to Recovery’s studio audience that physically buying music is no longer a thing, and instead, music fans have the ability to listen to millions upon millions of songs on a device the size of a pack of cards.
And while you’re explaining that to them, you should probably also mention that the days of sitting down and watching a TV show in front of an actual TV are pretty much over. So how do you make a successful live music TV show in 2018?
“It is really easy to consume music, and we’re consuming it at a ridiculous rate — it feels like it’s being churned out by a factory sometimes,” Marigliano says. “So to have something that breaks through, and gives an authenticity to artists…that’s important. We need to choose the people that are special, give them a voice, embrace diversity and have vibrancy. That’s what’s important to me in making this show, and bringing it into the relevancy of 2018.”
“I don’t care if you watch it on demand,” she adds. “I don’t care if you put a monitor on your phone and you don’t have a television for like as long as you get it all — or maybe you missed an episode and you’re like, ‘I just want to watch the performance. Let me look it up on YouTube.’ As long as you get it, it really doesn’t matter how you get it.”
Balancing the need for positive TV ratings with the reality of how young people consume content is — to put it bluntly — fucking tough. It’s almost too perfect an example that while last week’s premiere didn’t set TV ratings on fire, the show was trending on Twitter.
“It was really cool to see the show trending on Twitter last week,” says Quinn. “That’s a young social platform, so to see young, Australian people not only watching the show live but also wanting to start conversations about it using the mediums that they are used to using in order to talk about a cool cultural thing that was happening….that was very cool.”
At the time of writing, The Set has only been locked in for five episodes which will screen through Aus music month — but it’s clear everyone involved the show is hopeful it will continue beyond November.
“One hundred percent totally,” says Marigliano. “I feel so grateful to get tweets or Instagram messages from people that are like, ‘Linda, my dad is 66, and he just walked in here and now loves Wafia. Or from someone who only listens to commercial radio and then they see Baker Bay and go ‘Oh my god, what is this?’
“Please don’t take away our home, we need it.”
The Set screens on ABC every Wednesday at 9.30pm, and Saturday at 10pm, throughout November. Watch the first episode on iView.
Jules LeFevre is the Music Editor of Junkee. Follow her on Twitter.
Lead Photo Credit: Georgia Maloney