‘Confidence and swagger’: how Melbourne’s future jazz scene won over Gilles Peterson | Music

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In Coburg, a northern suburb of Melbourne, there’s an unassuming bungalow with a broken air-conditioning unit settling into its unmown lawn. It might not look like much but the house has a mythic status among Melbourne musicians. It’s here that a new compilation of music from the city’s boundary-pushing young jazz scene was recorded in November for the celebrated DJ Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings – a companion piece to the label’s 2018 We Out Here compilation of emerging London jazz.

Known as the Grove, the property is part of a string of share house studios where the twice Grammy-nominated band Hiatus Kaiyote – the scene’s most famous export – has recorded its music. But this compilation, Sunny Side Up, largely focuses on two groups of interconnected musicians, 30/70 Collective and Mandarin Dreams (who include the Hiatus Kaiyote drummer, Perrin Moss) – a second wave of artists working in Melbourne’s nebulous future-jazz and neo-soul world.

Peterson has long championed Melbourne music on BBC Radio 6 and, more recently, on his own Worldwide FM. After being tipped off to Hiatus Kaiyote by the R&B iconoclast Erykah Badu, he personally introduced the band at its first London show at XOYO. He sees Sunny Side Up’s release coming at a moment of critical mass for the city’s groove-led artists.

“You’ve got the confidence and swagger of having had international success,” Peterson says. “You’ve got a very high standard of playing.

“It’s a bit like when punk rock was coming out of the clubs in the south end of England. You had Siouxsie and the Banshees and some other people, they’re all mates and they all hang out – and then look what happens.”

Gilles Peterson



Gilles Peterson says the release of Sunny Side Up comes at a moment of critical mass for the underground genre. Photograph: Brownswood Recordings

Hiatus Kaiyote’s bassist, Paul Bender, remembers the time before his band’s 2012 break fondly. He was living with old-school jazz heads, hanging out with electronic musicians and attending anarchic underground parties. “There was this crazy warehouse scene,” he says. “All sorts of very strange gypsy-inspired music, weird crossovers like that. There was a band called Barons of Tang doing kind of Balkan metal.”

While soul and funk bands like the Putbacks and Cookin’ on 3 Burners existed, Bender says the kind of hip-hop and electronically tinged material made by Hiatus Kaiyote was less visible.

Bender’s lone contribution to Sunny Side Up was playing double bass on the musical director Silent Jay’s spiritual, Latin-infused track, Eternal/Internal Peace. The album was recorded over a week in the Grove’s two linked studios. One, that Bender shares, is bursting with the Hiatus Kaiyote keyboardist Simon Mavin’s 40-odd vintage synthesisers and organs. The second – behind a matted red faux fur-covered door – has the album engineer Nick Herrera’s mixing desk and room for drums, guitar and bass. Both studios run through a set-up that allows effects normally applied in post-production to be heard in real time.

“The artist is able to vibe off your decisions, not just be in the dark like an actor against a green screen,” says Herrera, who engineered Hiatus Kaiyote’s Grammy-nominated track Breathing Underwater and is now recording the band’s third album at the Grove.

Tracks on Sunny Side Up are attributed to individual artists from Mandarin Dreams and 30/70 Collective but the players hop between each other’s genre-mashing recordings. There’s the noirish dub of Kuzich’s There Is No Time and Horatio Luna’s club-ready house track The Wake-Up. Dufresne’s Pick Up/Galaxy begins as a slice of cosmic jazz-funk before morphing into what could be a new theme for Shaft – if the private detective swapped cracking skulls for frolicking on the banks of the nearby Yarra River.

“We have to culminate those sounds in our own way,” says 30/70 singer and pianist Allysha Joy, whose lilting closing track Orbit is a poetic exploration of the menstrual cycle.

“I think Melbourne is very conscious of not wanting to appropriate any sound too strongly … so you’re not being disrespectful to the music,” Joy says. “That means that people are coming up with really interesting ideas and new combinations of sounds.”

Sunny Side Up’s artists are prolific but it’s Melbourne’s close-knit infrastructure of live-music venues, record stores and radio stations that has helped the scene’s move from 500-person warehouse parties to established mid-sized band rooms.

“Everything’s kind of tied up,” says Peterson, who has visited Melbourne numerous times since the 90s. “And you’ve got a multicultural, cosmopolitan audience. All of this is coming together at a time when people are demanding craftsmanship in their music and their art.”

In particular, Fitzroy venue the Night Cat’s transformation from seedy club to packed dance floor is emblematic of the city’s move away from mosh pits. Diverse acts including the psychedelic, jazz-inflected band Mildlife (also tapped by Peterson) and the jubilant eight-piece disco cover group Honey play in the round here supported by DJs. At one show by the mutant punk-funk band NO ZU, punters snuck in large gum tree branches likely to have been pilfered from one of Melbourne’s public parks. Joy sees this meeting of urban metropolis and nature as the Melbourne sound’s defining aesthetic.

“If you compare it to We Out Here, you can almost hear the space we have in Melbourne. You can feel the connection to nature. I hear it in the percussion, in the space and in the free movement within the tunes.”

The compilation’s working title, We Down Here, sounded like a desperate call for recognition. But the artists on Sunny Side Up are making an idiosyncratic emulsion of genres for themselves and now the world is ringing the Grove’s doorbell.

“There’s may be just a sense of freedom here,” Bender says. “I think people are a lot less career- or success-oriented. People in Melbourne are chill, sometimes too chill. But being chill is better than having no chill.”

Sunny Side Up is out on 19 July through Brownswood Recordings

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