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Sonic/Ascent: the show redefining political music while empowering gender and racial diversity

The phrase “political music” may bring to mind Bob Dylan’s finger-pointing songs, Midnight Oil, or the protest anthems of Billy Bragg.  

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Thickwave X LISTEN - Photo by Naomi Lee Beveridge

One event at Darebin Music Feast aims to challenge this definition with a dynamic new lineup defying traditional definitions of activist art.

SONIC/ASCENT was curated by music companies Thickwave and LISTEN.  Part of Thickwave’s mission is to awaken Australia to the political potential of music and other art, says director Triana Hernandez.

“Thickwave believes that anything creative is political. For a really long time, Australia has forgotten that because they think the only political music is the kind that is overtly political. What we’re trying to do is do events that incorporate politics into every little detail and remind people that politics doesn’t have to be an act of protest or negativity.

“Celebrating visibility and bringing together certain communities can also be a political act. Under the understanding that everything we do is political, we want to highlight that in every event that we do,” Hernandez says.

“Having an event where most of the acts are people of colour and/or queer, and it’s being celebrated, is political in the context of Australia being a racist/homophobic place for a really long time. We’re trying to incorporate art and politics into everything we do.”

Emerging hip hop artist Jesswar earned a place at the head of the SONIC/aSCENT program with her cheeky-but-tough attitude and a proven track record playing in support of artists like Seth Sentry and Lady Leshurr.

“Jesswar is possibly the best rapper in Australia,” Hernandez says. “She’s an Indigenous, queer woman. She’s extremely confident, extremely cutthroat. She’s in it to win. She doesn’t slow down. We wanted someone that had that level of confidence to be our headliner.”

Joining Jesswar will be Alice Skye, an indie singer-songwriter who will debut a new track in collaboration with the Pasefika Vitoria Choir, and Girl Zone, a youthful hip-hop and R&B five-piece who have already started making their mark on the Melbourne scene.

“[Girl Zone] are some of the most confident kids I’ve met in my life,” Hernandez says. “Trap has been a genre that’s been predominantly done by older people, because it deals with heavier narratives, but it’s so special to see four young girls using the narratives of trap to talk about their day and their friends and their family affairs.”

DJ Wahe will deliver a blend of musical genres and styles, focusing on works by non-white artists.

“We wanted [Wahe] because they’ve been working for a really, really long time within this narrative of modern celebrations of diversity and people of colour,” Hernandez says. “In terms of the music selection, they’re really good at celebrating beats and rhythms that have a direct connection with ancestry and heritage, but have been modernised and have a very strong, confident take. We wanted them because they speak nicely of past and present and future through their song selection.”

Though the organisers of SONIC/ASCENT make no bones about their ideology, the event aims to deliver tunes that’ll get everyone dancing, including attendees who don’t normally think of themselves as political. If you like trap, you’ll enjoy the music of Jesswar and Girl Zone, regardless of whether or not you care about the groups’ political orientations.

“Even though these bands are political, they’re also extremely, extremely good,” Hernandez says. “An artist who’s like 12, doing empowering rap – who doesn’t want to see that, regardless of politics?”

SONIC / ASCENT will take place at Darebin Arts Centre on Thursday October 18, as part of Darebin Music Feast. Darebin Music Feast will run from Thursday October 18 until Sunday October 28.