Creative leaders, industry insiders, artists, producers and more descended on Sydney for the eighth edition of EMC (the Electronic Music Conference for the Asia-Pacific region).
Throughout two days of debate, workshops, masterclasses and keynotes, under the theme ‘The Next Now’, the conference had a forward-thinking mindset in a bid to propel the industry to greater heights and in addressing some of the challenges the sector faces.
“The information age is nearly over. The knowledge age is next.” Scott Cohen, Chief Innovation Officer at Warner Music, inspired the crowd to think beyond the data and unearth what they can do with it. Despite widespread adoption of Alexa globally, and this being a relatively new way consumers are listening to music, a show of hands revealed no-one in the room was currently embracing voice activation technology in music. Research shows listeners are searching for music on voice-activated devices through lyrics rather than via an artist or track name. The question he posed to the electronic music crowd, whose sounds are often void of vocals, was how are fans going to discover your music?
With artists’ success becoming more heavily reliant on algorithms, Scott then went on to explain how, “Blockchain technology is going to be as transformative as the internet,” as the platforms that decide what we see and hear now will become redundant.
“AI is going to allow everyone to express themselves through music, in the way Instagram enabled us to express ourselves through photography, without ever needing to play an instrument.” At present, it’s a long path to learn how to play an instrument. As part of the process, you learn how to play other people’s music, before creating your own. This is all set to change as the end-user needs to contribute. The popularity of Jumbo, where you can DJ without learning to do anything and the gamification platform Roadblocks, are evidence of this. Scott’s leaving remarks to the industry were, “What are you going to do about AI, VR and blockchain? These are all a reality, not futuristic predictions.”
Several conference components championed the Sydney scene, with a spotlight on Western Sydney revealing initiatives like the Street University are paying dividends. OneFour, who were supported on their journey through the creative hub, are inspiring kids at a local level proving that success is attainable. While support from councils is recognised and more events are moving out to Parramatta, Mount Druitt and Liverpool are often overlooked, with more venues and creative spaces needed in the wider area in general.
Amendments to the contentious NSW Music Festivals Bill were approved by the Upper House in tandem to a debate on what’s next for New South Wales music festivals. Government engagement with the industry at large was a recurring theme with several figureheads voicing their frustration about the lack of consultation to date. Looking ahead, General Manager of the Australian Festivals Association, Julia Robinson said, “We are no longer fighting festival legislation, a lot of the things in the bill are already in place and have been for years…we need to look at growth of the industry moving forwards.”
Meanwhile, in Victoria, the approach is very different according to promoter Richie McNeill, “NSW is real contrast with Victoria. There’s a police forum in Melbourne, actively looking at how they are going to police festivals this summer.”
In regards to the recent findings of the coroner’s inquiry Richie continued, “What’s the point in doing the highest level government inquiry, with clear succinct findings and recommendations, and then ignoring them.”
Another panel focussed on rebuilding Sydney’s nightlife from 2020, with the speakers unanimously agreeing that collaboration and communication is key between government bodies, promoters and punters moving forwards. While investment from government is required to repair the damage, any new nightlife precincts need to be created organically. Barangaroo and Darling Harbour were labelled soulless in comparison to Oxford Street. Tyson Koh, Founder of Keep Sydney Open, on the lockouts being repealed said: “the government were reviewing short, medium and long term buckets of legislation.”
For aspiring artists, there was lots of advice and guidance on hand from the likes of George Maple, Running Touch and BBC Radio 1xtra Host Jamz Supernova – “The DIY generation are starting businesses from their phone.” Once Jamz had got the gig at Radio 1, she realised, “it was a game of survival, to stay relevant.” Fellow DJs like Annie Mac diversify their skills and maintain their credibility by doing compilations, hosting events, club nights and festivals.
Mentorship was referenced a lot throughout the course of the two days, with talent recognising the important role it had played on their journeys, but how those in the industry could do more to pay it forward. George Maple said that lack of regulation and structure within the industry was holding people back and mentorships would help artists grow more quickly. Jamz Supernova then encouraged guests to avoid thinking of mentors in the traditional sense and that they could come from anywhere, Instagram, a TED talk or simply people in the community. On breaking it as a new artist, enigmatic producer, artist and songwriter, Running Touch declared, “slow burn in the new overnight success.”
VIP culture and the impact this can have on the club environment was a hot topic for debate for club and festival promoters alike. All were in agreement that money talks and a sustainable business model is often reliant on VIP customers. The future of VIP was unpredictable with Ultra Music Festival’s Kiran Dole hedging his bets that premiumisation, “is going to get bigger and bigger and more outrageous like America.” Whereas, Sameet Sharma reckons, “it’s going to become socially unacceptable to show off,” without VIPs spending the big bucks, artists won’t be able to charge as much for performances and therefore the model will need to change. Mixmag’s Donald Hau believes clubs like Green Valley have the perfect middle ground, balancing the vibe.
Further afield, in the Middle East and North Africa, it is clear a revolution is underway. Zahed Sultan summarised, “Dubai has a lot going on and money going in, yet one hour away in Kuwait you have an incredible amount of restrictions. In both scenes though, it’s all shades of grey, you just need to know how to navigate those shades of grey.”
in Kuwait the audiences are so engaged that you could hear a pin drop in the room. Artists to watch include Elactor and 47 Soul. Full MENA playlist here.
EMC Festival which ran alongside the conference hosted a series of parties, films, pop-ups and showcases in collaboration with local and international party-starters. House of Yes, House of Mince, House of Ayebetonye, Control, Discogs, S*A*S*H were just some of the names involved, celebrating the positive impact of electronic music in culture. With 22 events and 95 artists performing, more than 7,000 people hit dance floors across Sydney to see the likes of Boris, Miss Kittin, Late Nite Tuff Guy, Lazare Hoche and Sveta take to the stage.
Electronic Music Conference is supported by Australia Council for the Arts, the NSW Government through Create NSW, City of Sydney, The Ticket Fairy, MusicNSW, Nightlife, Roland, Ableton, Pioneer DJ, Mixmag, Decoded Magazine, Muzeek, Wayver and TAME.