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Miscellanea: the independent record labels sustaining Melbourne’s cherished music legacy

For more than 100 years, Melbourne Town Hall’s many rooms have played host to some of the country’s most memorable music moments. In tribute, some of the city’s most exciting labels, promoters and musicians will transform the space into a huge, all-Victorian showcase. Expect DJ sets in Council Chambers, dance parties on the Portico Balcony and much, much more.

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Image source: 
Ro Flack (@flackseed)

Aarght Records’ Rich Stanley doesn’t want to hear about the ‘importance’ of bands – a conversation about the necessity of independent record labels paved the way for some candid insight. “We are literally a label, like a label on a mandarin, ideally irrelevant to the person eating the mandarin,” he says.
 
“The idea is to reach people who would never care to look in the bottom right-hand corner of the back cover at that strange word next to a barcode.”
 
Maybe labels are just there, like an entourage to a megastar – pedestrian in the eyes of the public but much more crucial to those in the know. Is an independent label important if it prefers to be concealed so as not to interfere with their bands’ public reach? Every Facebook like, Instagram follow or friendly comment a Melbourne label receives would be happily diverted for further benefit of their music geniuses.
 
If you entered the tool shed of an independent record label, there’d be screwdrivers, hammers and freshly sharpened angle-grinders. Like tradies in casual attire, Melbourne’s indie label generals give bands respite from the nuts and bolts, whether it be organising the mixing and mastering of a record or sitting on hold while Sound Merch sort out the next batch of tees.
 
Their clothes don’t stay clean for long, but there’s never time to get changed – many of these genial intellects work on a personal level as well, providing direction and emotional support to their bands when needed.
 
“We spend a lot of time with our artists, talking, eating food, drinking etc.,” Chapter Music heads Ben O’Connor and Guy Blackman explain. “We aren't totally hands-on, we give artists the space to do what they want to do, but we give feedback or advice and occasionally put our foot down where we think it's needed.
 
“Most of our artists don't have managers, and artists generally need a lot of emotional support. Many years ago, we were our artists' peers, but now that we're older we're starting to feel like parents.”
 
One of Australia’s longest-running indies, Chapter Music was established by Blackman in Perth in 1992 but relocated to Melbourne in 1995, and has been fostering everything from rock, pop, country and electronic imaginations ever since.
 
Whether you’ve filled the room with Primitive Calculators’ 2007 compilation Primitive Calculators and Friends, snoozed in the afternoon sun to Twerps’ warm 2009 self-titled album or ignited the dancefloor with NO ZU’s heat beat origination Afterlife, Chapter has been a part of your life, little you might’ve known.
 
Despite the mounting financial constrictions of the music industry, the label has continued to grow which O’Connor and Blackman can simply put down to hard work. “Chapter is a full-time job for both of us, but we also both work other jobs to keep ourselves afloat, so we're basically doing 12-hour days, six or seven days a week.
 
“It's our life. We have made a fairly explicit commitment to being broke for the rest of our lives so we can work with music we love and care deeply about.”
 
O’Connor and Blackman won’t work another day in their life, such is their appreciation for the craft. Every music achievement, whether it’s Beaches selling out their album launch or The Goon Sax making their first song, overrides every constraint that comes with the job.
 
Similar can be said for Jen Cloher and Milk! Records – when Courtney Barnett started the label in 2012 to release her debut EP I've Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris, the vision was to help others not necessarily herself.
 
What’s resulted is one of Melbourne’s friendliest, most colourful labels – an aesthetic which Cloher feels has simply been a result of working with cheery, affable people.
 
“It’s a fun thing that we get to do. Making music with our best friends. The energy of that rubs off, people can feel it when they watch a show. I don’t think you can manufacture that feeling.”
 
On top of facilitating releases, Milk! has taken event curation to another level. The Coburg RSL played host to a mystery residency from the label in July whereby none of the lineups for the three shows were announced in advance. Barnett and Cloher were joined by label mates, Fraser A. Gorman, Loose Tooth, Ouch My Face and more, to sculpt a concept seldom explored.        
 
Ingenuity is just another weapon in a label’s armoury against demonic enterprise. No government intervention or monetary curb will tear down the unrestrained stubbornness and determination of Melbourne’s indies.
 
Stanley put it unequivocally, “If all of Melbourne's indie labels closed tomorrow, I think a dozen more would start up next week – that's human nature and the spirit of punk rock. New labels start all the time.”
 
Miscellanea: Room by Room
 
Main Hall: The centrepiece of the Main Hall is the huge Grand Organ – utilising over 6,000 pipes, 483km of wire, 3000 magnets and 90,000 cubic feet of air to generate sounds varying from a delicate whisper to deafening thunder. Gig-goers are in for a rare treat with Underground Lovers, Taipan Tiger Girls and Corin each jumping at the opportunity to play on the heritage-listed instrument, backed by HTRK and Sezzo Snot.    
 
Yarra Room: The Yarra Room is being taken over by Courtney Barnett’s imprint Milk Records and features some classic Melbourne talent. The former Council Chamber for the City of Melbourne is an imposing high ceilinged area that’s no doubt seen some stuffy characters through its doors over the years, it’s high time the unpretentious jangles of East Brunswick All Girls Choir, Jade Imagine, Loose Tooth and Fraser A. Gorman took the room back for the people.
 
Swanston Hall: Aarght! Records are taking over the gorgeous art deco Swanston Hall and juxtaposing with some of Melbourne’s grimiest, brattiest, sexiest and sometimes terrifying-est music. Tyrannamen’s debaucherous punk-rock energy will lead the charge, with the dense and dark electro of friendships, Time for Dreams, School Damage and Spotting providing back-up. It’s gonna get sweaty in there.
 
Melbourne Room: The very la-di-da upstairs Melbourne Room is making way for Heavy Machinery Records who are curating an evening of abstract dark electronica. The elusive Crypt Vapor (the solo project of someone who calls themselves ‘The Death’) is bringing the John Carpenter-esque horror synth with the textured techno of Elisabeth Dixon, Tanzer and Lovers Of The Black Bird.
 
The Portico: The Portico, AKA the balcony, looks like something out of The Great Gatsby. Usually the home of sensational cocktail parties or ludicrously expensive wedding ceremonies, this night will see Wondercore Island presenting hyped hip hop head/artist/zine-maker HTMLflowers. Backing him up will be Grammy-nominated Hiatus Kaiyote drummer/producer Clever Austin, Jaala Vs Man, Superfeather and the Wondercore Island DJs. Grab a gin and act classy.
 
Council Chambers: In the grandiose wood-panelled Council Chambers room, one of Melbourne’s most beloved indie labels Chapter Music has the floor, putting forth a good selection of their eclectic signees for the punters to enjoy. Long-running two-piece Fabulous Diamonds are the headline item on the agenda – a rare treat from them these days – with recent signee Jessica Says, Laura Jean, David Chesworth, Guy Blackman and Gregor set to round out the committee. All in favour?  

Miscellanea will bring together more than 25 artists from all around Victoria, to take over Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday November 19, as part of Melbourne Music Week.