New music 2020: Eight acts you should tune into right now

AC/DC's riff-ready maxim about the music game still holds true: it's a long way to the top. What's changed for the next generation of Australian acts is the speed of change. In 2020, when a single upload can take a career from obscurity to overload, success can feel like an overnight sensation despite the hidden years of hard work.

George Alice was happy when she earned $200 busking, now she’s won Triple J Unearthed High competition.

"It was the craziest year and it just didn't stop. Everything is growing way bigger than I imagined it ever could," says Alice, who at the age of 16 has put high school on hiatus to pursue the music career she's been thinking about since the age of five. A new single is almost ready, and in the coming months there'll be more touring here and a return trip to America for songwriting and studio sessions as well as record label meetings. "I want everyone to see the growth since Unearthed High," George says. "I've found my space now. I've landed in this spot between indie and pop and electronic music and it dances around between them all without having to choose one."


FOR FANS OF: Mudhoney and Dune Rats + CURRENT TRACK: The Clap

Eamon Sandwith, vocalist and bassist with the Chats, has a fair idea of what makes for a good song. "It needs a relatable lyric and a good beat and something interesting going on in with the music, but not too distracting," he says. "Also, you don't want to overstay your welcome. Keep it short and sweet." It appears to be working. Every belting tune from Sandwith, guitarist Josh Price, and drummer Matt Boggis clocks in under three minutes, helping make the Sunshine Coast garage punk trio standard-bearers whose last London gig drew 2500 fans. "You do think about how people like it, but at the same time we haven't changed our style much," Sandwith says. "We're still the same band."

Punk trio the Chats are swapping house parties on the Sunshine Coast for a spot at Coachella. Credit:Luke Henery

In the last few months the Chats have mixed it up with Karl Stefanovic before performing recent single Pub Feed on the Today show, turned their disdain for Prime Minister Scott Morrison into a track, and been booked for April's high-profile Coachella music festival in California. March 27 brings the release of their debut album, High Risk Behaviour, which features recent singles Pub Feed and The Clap. While they're loathe to take themselves too seriously, Sandwith concedes the non-stop writing and touring has made them more than the high school band that used to play house parties for a carton of beer. "We're not dragging our knuckles along the ground anymore," he says. "We're not real good musicians, but now we can put a few chords together."


FOR FANS OF: Adele and Vera Blue + CURRENT TRACK: Find a Way

It's the early morning in Paris and Melbourne singer-songwriter Charlotte Gemmill is preparing for another day of writing in a busy six-week stay. "I can say hello and order my coffee in French," reports Gemmill, whose exquisite singing voice is one of the distinguishing features of her musical incarnation as Eliott (the name is an anagram of Lottie, Gemmill's nickname). Originally from the town of Cobram in Victoria's north-east, via a stint in the Blue Mountains, Gemmill broke through in 2018 with the single Shaking My Hips, which was followed by lengthy support slots with Matt Corby in Australia and Dean Lewis in Europe. "I was blown away by how attentive they were to a support artist," Gemmill says.

Eliott has swapped regional Victoria for a songwriting stint in Paris.

Her initial successes have been a boon for an artist who has worked to not let her self-doubt and anxiety hold her music back. Gemmill's most recent track, Find a Way, describes that transformation and she's applied the lessons learnt to the next phase of her career. "At first I wasn't confident in my own abilities to speak up and say what I thought was right. But in the last couple of years I've gotten good at that and I know my ideas are good," she says. "I've also learnt that it's OK to be vulnerable in a song and be completely honest. You'll hear that in the next single."


FOR FANS OF: Mia Dyson and Neil Young + NEXT TRACK: Don't Wanna Be Your Lover (out March 3)

"My songs are pretty honest," Carla Geneve says. "I find it hard to write about things that haven't happened to me. I sometimes wish they weren't that way, but for me songs are things I can write but not say." That unadorned approach has served the 21-year-old well. Hailing from the West Australian port city of Albany, 400 kilometres south of Perth, Geneve makes wrenching alternative rock that draws on her long-time love of Neil Young's guitar playing. "As a kid I played acoustic guitar and had piano lessons, which I hated, but at 17 I started writing songs on the electric guitar and I just thought instantly, 'This is me'," she says. "That's when I started to sound more like me and less like other people. The bits where there are no notes and the spaces they make are the most important parts of a song."

Carla Geneve makes wrenching alternative rock that draws on her long-time love of Neil Young.

Geneve's forthcoming single, Don't Wanna Be Your Lover, is a bitter-sweet slow burn, which is the successor to 2019's self-titled EP and a touring schedule that took her to America to spend a month opening for San Cisco. "I guess I'm obsessive about music, but obsessive in a good way," she says. "Songwriting has a reputation for being magical, but working at it and the critical thinking required is a skill and I'm trying to improve that every time."


FOR FANS OF: FKA Twigs and Bjork + CURRENT TRACK: Roses

Every weekday Memphis Kelly begins her morning with four solid hours of songwriting and production. It's a regimen born of dedication for a Melbourne artist who is assiduously working to move past her father's illustrious surname, and it's starting to pay off. "I feel good about this year," says Kelly, who announced Memphis LK in 2019 with a pair of breakthrough solo singles, Speak Honestly and Roses, which moved the former acoustic musician into the electronic realm with quicksilver rhythms, soulful vocals and transformative imagery. "I'm excited to release the stuff I've been working on in the last few months," Kelly says. "It's been influenced by UK garage and breakbeat and two-step – it's still underground club music, but it's got more of a pop element. I want to tell stories and use music as an emotional outlet, and pop lends itself to that."

Memphis LK starts each days with four hours of songwriting. Credit:Simon Schluter

Kelly was always in bands as a teenager, but carried a personal fascination with electronic music – stoked by the likes of Four Tet and Grimes – that started to take shape once she mastered the digital audio software Ableton Live and became creatively self-sufficient. Speak Honestly was a message to herself to hold nothing back, inspired by a conversation with her sister Madeleine, and since then making music has become her crucible. "Depending on what mood I'm in sometimes the most therapeutic thing is making a beat," Kelly says. "Other times it's agonising over the lyrics to a song and finally getting them in the perfect combination."


FOR FANS OF: Erykah Badu and Solange + NEXT TRACK: Twisting Words (out February 28)

Like Aretha Franklin, Miiesha (pronounced My-ee-sha) discovered her love of music and the power of her voice singing gospel hymns in her local church. Growing up in the small central Queensland Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, the Pitjantjatjara/Torres Strait Islander singer-songwriter took her lead from the church's lead vocalist, at least until Dan Sultan came to town in 2015. "We miss out on so much in Woorabinda, so that was the first time I'd seen something like that and I knew I wanted to do the same," Miiesha says. "I fell in love with performing right then."

Miiesha fell in love with performing after she saw Dan Sultan play in her home town of Woorabinda in 2015.

There's still a gospel tinge to the Miiesha project, but now it's complemented by R&B beats, soulful refrains and involved lyrics that summon up an entire life in just a handful of verses. "I tend to write a lot and something good will come out of it," Miiesha says. "I really love poetry, so I like to write a whole poem and then take things out of it that become a song." Her first two singles, 2019's Black Privilege and Drowning, drew critical buzz for Miiesha, and got her on the road with the likes of Baker Boy. "I'm still experimenting, but I really just want to make good music. I wish it came easily, but it takes a lot of time," she says. "But when it's done you have to go out there and share it. That's what matters most."


FOR FANS OF: Chief Keef and Dr. Dre + CURRENT TRACK: Welcome to Prison

OneFour occupy an unprecedented position for an Australian group. Three of the five members of the Polynesian-Australian hip-hop group from Mount Druitt in Sydney's west – YP, Lekks, and Celly – have been jailed on violence-related charges. But in the lead-up to their incarceration the group's online profile has continued to rise, accumulating about 72 million streams and views across Spotify, YouTube and Instagram. "We're just trying to take everything in, but it's hard to stand back and witness it when you're living in the moment," says Spenny, who along with JM, will continue to publicly front the group. OneFour have a stockpile of recorded verses that could fuel a number of their own tracks, although having built their sound upon the uncompromising beats and stark lyrics of rap's drill genre, their most recent single, Welcome to Prison, has a soulful contemplation in its tale of brotherly loss and regret. "We went through late nights and long hours for that song," Spenny says. "Other people were caught by surprise, but they're loving it because it's real. It hits them a different way."

OneFour are a Polynesian-Australian hip-hop group from Mount Druitt in Sydney’s west. Credit:YouTube

The group's zealous fanbase is growing and international collaborations have been mooted and internally there's a hope that having discovered their potential as artists OneFour can transition from this turning point (YP and Lekks are eligible for parole in December 2021). The group have had to cancel more shows than they've played, reportedly due to the intervention of NSW Police, but they're adamant they'll carry on. "At the end of the day we're artists," Spenny says, "and we're just going to keep doing our thing."


FOR FANS OF: Aztec Camera and Jebediah + CURRENT TRACK: Head Cold

Triple J's Hottest 100 countdown of 2019's best songs in January of this year had only reached 90 when Caleb Harper gave up. Despite a stellar year with three sold-out national tours and steady rotation on the national youth broadcaster, the lanky vocalist and guitarist with Perth indie-rock quartet Spacey Jane was convinced their whirlwind single Good for You hadn't made the cut. With a listening party in progress, Harper decided to make a bottle-shop run and was standing in the queue to pay when his phone started blowing up after Good for You came in at 80.

Spacey Jane have enjoyed three sold-out national tours and steady rotation on Triple J.

"I'm standing there with a carton of beers, beaming so much that everyone was looking at me like I was a weirdo," the 23-year-old recalls. Harper and his bandmates – guitarist Ashton Le Kornu, bassist Peppa Lane, and drummer Kieran Lama – have their debut album finished with the announcement of a mid-year release date due shortly, as well as a run of shows in Britain, a market that should prove receptive to the fast rising band's joyous take on heartbreak. "Not much of what I write is sweet. It's shrouded in bubbly, indie sounds, but the last two years have been pretty tough for me in an emotional sense and a relationship breakdown is at the forefront of my mind," Harper says. "Everyone can relate to bad things happening in their lives, but at the same time they want to sing and dance along, too."

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