I’m not an artist. Sure, I write a lot about music, play a couple of instruments and sometimes record shitty little songs on my phone – when I was 12 I also auditioned for X-Factor a couple of times – but from the age of 18, realising I didn’t have the drive or talent, disappointedly I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be the next Beyonce.
So when I found myself being asked to write a 10-second song amongst a talented group of up-and-coming artists and songwriters at Headline Acts – an event hosting artist and industry-led workshops in Sydney – I was…mortified. “I’ll just do the beat,” I said. Side-eyes all around, “No, no I’m a writer, not a musician.”
Taking place in Sydney at the newly-opened Abercrombie Hotel on Tuesday night, the line-up of speakers was headed by an impressive collection of both local and international talent. While we had our homegrown artists, Tasman Keith and Logic1000, there were the New Zealanders, The Beths. With UK superstar Slowthai, rounding out the bill. Unequivocally, he was who all were waiting to see.
After a writing workshop that circled mental health, how to take time for yourself and the aforementioned and (for me) dreaded songwriting class, The Beths took centre stage.
The Beths debut album, Future Me Hates Me, showcased a cacophony of mellow indie rock that poured over the fears and self-doubt of falling in love. From there, they flitted across the world supporting acts like The Pixies, Weezer and Death Cab For Cutie, where concurrent shows with no breaks became the norm.
At 24, lead singer Liz Stokes, thinking that she was running out of time to start a rock band, joined minds with the other members – one of whom, Jonathan Pearce, the lead guitarist, sits beside her – after they met at uni in 2014. From there, they created a small but strong music community in Auckland, gradually building a fan base until they were playing sold-out shows at The Whammy, an institution on Karangahape Road.
The Q&A flits around the beginnings of their careers. While Liz normalises the fact that sending 1000s of emails to anyone that has a public address to broaden opportunities is perfectly okay, they also say taking advantage of spare time, whether that be a few minutes or an hour, was a must. For The Beths, that time came in the 40 minutes they had every day driving to and from their studio. Most importantly, they said to “Not give up on stuff that’s fun too early”.
“Getting to your goal is different for everyone.”
After a quick drink break where I met two up and coming DJs – Cat and Terry – (Cat was looking to amalgamate K-Pop into her DJ sets and Terry was focused on EDM) we went back in.
Logic1000 and her husband / collaborator, Ben, took us through the building of an electronic career. Ben, at present, isn’t billed as one of the artists that makes up one half of Logic1000, but in the coming months that’s set to change. The pair met in 2012, and at 21 Logic1000, born Samantha Poulter, found dubstep and electronic.
“There wasn’t even a point where I was going to make house music, it was a progression,” she said.
She also told students, “Don’t worry about what label you’re going to release on, the momentum builds.”
In the next break I run into Gabriel.LCR, an artist from Melbourne, who sits keenly and interested throughout the talks. I’d met him previously in the Victorian city, but since then he’d relocated to Sydney. Yibby, an up-and-coming rapper, also joins our conversation.
The floor was filling out as the time between Slowthai’s talk grew closer.
Soon we were back in and Tasman Keith, an artist who has been building momentum in the Australian music scene, arrived. I’d previously interviewed him and seen his debut set at Splendour in the Grass in 2022. Sose Fuamoli, a music writer from Melbourne, took him through questions surrounding identity, being called “Sydney’s Kendrik Lamar” (which has now become a boring and overwrought statement in relation to Keith’s music) and being pigeonholed as a First Nations artist. His talk is sentimental and in-depth, circling his life stories and emotionally-imbued songs.
“I think as musicians, and I can only speak of myself, sometimes I will be in the mindset of let me get away from home to make it and I did need to do that. But home is where the fuck it’s at – and there’s so many things there that I can tap into,” he told the crowd.
“You perform all of these incredibly emotive songs, consistently,” one person asks. “How do you handle the emotional rollercoaster of the presentness you have when performing those songs?”
“I think it’s something I’m still balancing,” says Keith.
“I think when I write those songs I know what space it’s in. It’s a gift and a curse, the things that I’ve gone through and the things that I’ve seen. I’m able to tap in and tap out quite quickly, and sometimes that can be detrimental to my health and myself – but when it comes to performing it’s a great asset to have.”
As Tasman leaves, the room bubbles with an excited energy. Rarely does one get to sit in a room with an internationally recognized artist, let alone be given advice. Slowthai enters.
Christopher Kevin, known also as 24karatkev, a multi-hyphenate figure in the music world, takes the reins as interviewer.
Slowthai speaks slowly and it almost sounds like he’s perpetually high (and I can say that cause I sound like that too), yet he has an absorbing presence and genuineness that has everyone’s ears glued to each word.
“Try not to be a cunt,” he tells the audience.
His talk revolves around staying true to yourself no matter how much money you make, as well as pursuing music by just doing it, rather than waiting around for it to happen.
“In order to be successful…to keep you sustained for a career, you only need 100 people that believe and support what you are doing. And from that, people just come,” he says.
A lot of his advice stems from staying humble, respecting your “fans” (he hate’s calling them that), and building your following in your area before seeking global fame.
“You always have to remember that people that support and relate to your art, they’re like family. It’s a blessing that you’re connecting over the same thing cause they’re the most important part of it,” he says.
An interesting aspect of what Slowthai has to say revolves around his thoughts on rap and toxic masculinity. He’s at a stage where he wants to be more emotionally vulnerable. He wants to cry, he says, and he wants his music to reflect that he’s a multi-faceted artist. Along comes a conversation about the difficult sides of the industry.
“When you feel like [you want to give up], it’s temporary. You can wallow for a moment but you have to pull yourself out of it. There’s no one in your life that’s in control of your life other than you. You have to take the reins and do it for yourself,” he says.
Slowthai has also just become a father, a life-event that seems to have changed his perspective. Watching his child grow has made him see the world through new eyes. It’s from this part of the conversation that makes his final piece of advice the most memorable.
“You should never lose the eyes of a child in the way you look at things.”
As Slowthai gets up to jet off to his headline show in Sydney later that night, the young up-and-coming artists leave the room perhaps a bit more knowledgeable of where the music industry would take them – and what to expect as their following grows.
I guess, at the very least, they’ve learned to “try not to be cunts”.
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