Future Stars: Introducing 20 artists to watch in 2020
From the far south-west to the far north-east, here's a collection of artists that we think will define the new decade in Australian music.
For the last few years, we've taken a minute in January to shine a light on the artists that we believe represent the future of Australian music for that year. As it turns out, we've been pretty spot on. In an electronic-centred piece in 2017, we predicted names like Ninajirachi, Nyxen and Lonelyspeck would have glow-ups they eventually did. In 2018, it was A. Swayze & The Ghosts, Carla Geneve, Carmouflage Rose, CLYPSO, Eilish Gilligan, Haiku Hands, Jesswar, MUKI and SŸDE (amongst many others), while in 2019, we foresaw the rise of Charlie Collins, Cry Club, Erthlings, Genesis Owusu, Keelan Mak, Milan Ring, The Kid LAROI. and Yorke, each names populating best-of lists at the year's end with their respective efforts.
Now, we're proud as punch to welcome a collection of acts that we believe will define the year ahead in Australian music, and the multiple pockets of brilliance that the scene includes. This year's list - 20 acts deep to celebrate 2020 ahead - heralds in a new decade of Australian music, led by a collection of artists at its most diverse in both image and sound. They're artists that are unique to themselves; ones that cannot be replicated or matched as they're in a league of their own which summarises the distinctive broadness and versatility of Australian music to its highest degree - a real feat, considering the stength of the local scene.
This year, we have a broad combinations of acts from around the country - from Australia's far south-west to far north-east - that represent sounds of which they're the best of. Whether it's charming, stripped-back pop or politically-punched R&B right through to breezy indie-rock and thick, chaos-inducing hip-hop, this year's 'ones to watch' list has everything you need to start the new year supporting the next generation of Australian music. They are, after all, the ones who need our attention the most.
So, if you're after something new to digest - or simply in need of a reminder of which Australian bands you should be taking into 2020 - check out the 20 names below that showcase the bright future of Australia's musical stars.
For a moment there, it seemed that Perth-based four-piece Dulcie could've had a G Flip/Tones And I-reminiscent sudden popularity arch. After uploading their debut single Fall to triple j Unearthed around this time year, the pop group - made up of Saskia Brittain, Timieka Denton, Ashleigh Carr-White and Madison Hanley - received instant recognition: articles heralding them as the next big thing; a quick management and bookings signing; inclusions on gig lineups and festival posters back home and the list goes on.
In the twelve months since things have slowed down, but only because they're ramping up for a big 2020 ahead. Coming into the year as the winner of triple j Unearthed's Laneway competition in Fremantle, the group are set to follow-up on their two singles released last year - Fall was joined by another charming single, Own Ground, a few months later - with more that are bound to showcase their incomparable harmonies and beautiful, angelic-like songwriting; potent and rich yet also subtle enough to make their work an easy listen time and time again. Just try to not be swept away in the swirling rips of their harmonies.
BIGSOUND is often a place the music industry finds the next big independent thing before they make that person the next big signed thing, and at last year's multi-day Brisbane conference-slash-festival, Miiesha was a real winner. Signed to EMI Music after her handful of slots at the festival, the Pitjantjatjara / Torres Strait Islander musician - she's from the small Indigenous community of Woorabinda, inland in Central Queensland - has become an incredibly important and remarkable musician in Australian R&B and soul who may just be one of the country's most powerful songwriters and vocalists - something she's bringing into 2020 too.
So far, she has two singles under her belt. Together, Black Privilege (a song "about people thinking they know me and my people before we’ve met") and Drowning (which opens with Tony Abbott's infamous close the gap speech) are two instances of Australian music at its most powerful - it takes only one listen to be completely floored by not just Miiesha's voice, but also her message - and in 2020, she's an example that even if you may live in a remote Indigenous community less than a thousand people strong, you can still flourish and become one of the country's best rising musicians.
2018 was a tough year for Melbourne outfit Fan Girl. At one point, they had everything going for them - their February single Small Town is a brilliant showcase of warm rock and spiralling pop hooks brought together in one, genre-moulding sound, something they brought on a whole album titled Elephant Room later that year - but then, they lost one of their band members and best friends in Jack Wood, and the band was temporarily placed on hold until they could grieve and work out their next move.
Skip forward, and Fan Girl enter a new decade energised and ready to become the band they could've blossomed into from the start. Their two tracks of 2019 - Fox Song and Yellow, Blue & Grey - are rich, comforting indie-rock that'll slap you in the face if its need to; an alarming and energised touch to their sound peering out here and again, in between making their live shows one of the country's most quick-firing and powerful there is amongst Melbourne indie-rock. They've been through it, but now they're on the other side, and ready to fall into the place of one of the country's newcoming rock greats.
Last year, we put together a list of Perth's hip-hop next generation, rappers that are putting 6000 on the map on a national scale. Hoodzy was one of those names, and she's among the best of them. The Perth-based young-gun has already had big wins this year - she played the Perth leg of last year's Listen Out Festival, for example - but she's only getting started; last year's two-peat of Young Girl Steeze and Nightmare examples of her reckoning hip-hop sound which feels unique and distinct to her while simultaneously rising a rap music wave that can make her big in the year ahead.
So far, the 17-year-old has quickly built herself a status as one of the west coast's most exciting names back home - she's supported everyone from Hooligan Hefs to Horrorshow - but with shows including the recent bushfire fundraiser City Loves Country seeing her gradually make her way to the east coast, don't be surprised if her reach quickly expands - all it's going to take is one quick song, or one quick feature to make it happen.
Brisbane-based dance-pop outfit First Beige capped off their 2019 with the release of a full, five-track EP titled Mirrors, but something tells me they're only just getting started. The six-piece are part-Jamiroquai, part-Haitus Kaiyote; dance rhythms and thick funk meeting R&B hooks and soft jazz as they unite rhythms and grooves together in a fashion that feels nostalgic for the past but brought forward into the future at the same time - a remarkably difficult feat, but one the group pull of with ease on every single release.
In 2020, who knows where First Beige can go? That's kind of the beauty of them, but. One on hand, they could go down an indie-dance route to become a festival favourite akin to The Jungle Giants or even a new-age Cut Copy, while on the other, their knowledge and R&B and its intersection with jazz means that they could easily latch onto the indie-jazz sound brought to light through names including Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. Both would be incredible, and both First Beige will be able to pull off without a hitch - the only question is which one they do.
18-year-old Western Sydney musician Flowerkid is one of those acts that make you say "fuck, I'm untalented" as you watch him strive some five years (or more) younger than you. His 2018 single Late Night Therapy brought a glimpse of virality that he replicated on his 2019 single boy with the winfields and the wild heart - a track that was passionate and lush yet intricate and subtle; beauty on the forefront of their sound as his Rex Orange County-meets-Tame Impala blend of R&B/pop-leaning indie won us over.
Sound-wise, Flowerkid is complicated. So far, his sound morphs between the catchy indie-pop of some of Australia's best and a more internationally-built R&B take - "I ask myself 'If this moment or feeling were in a film, what would it's soundtrack sound like?' I then shape my ideas around that," he says, asked what his sound is - but in reality, he's only two songs deep, so he can really go anywhere. This year, we can expect at least a few more tracks and a live debut, so let's see how far he can take it.
Chaos is perhaps the word that describes Melbourne-based rap outfit 3K the best. They've been local favourites for a year now, but last year was a big one for the four-piece - singles and a collaborational mixtape with Agung Mango defining their year release-wise - that solidified their status as an upcoming force in Australian rap music worth keeping an eye on; their sound pushing the boundaries of experimentation in hip-hop as they give it their everything time and time again.
The real reason we believe 3K is going to take off, however, is because of their live show. With an energy comparable to BROCKHAMPTON and Odd Future, the group's live show is vicious and vivacious at the same time - focused and commanding, but a tonne of bouncing around fun thanks to an incomparable energy that's really unbeatable in local hip-hop. There's a lot to love from this Melbourne collective, and in 2020, it shouldn't be too surprising to see more things be added to their "love" list too.
Memphis LK already knows what it's like to be in a popular act. She was previously one-half of rising electronic duo SAATSUMA before they split, with Memphis LK being a solo project that takes the duo's dizzying dance music and reflects it into a new light - one that feels a little more polished, a little more ferocious, and a little more armed to become something big in the 2020 ahead. It was something showcased on her debut two offerings of the year just gone, Speak Honestly and Roses, which took these conventional indie-dance sounds and breathed a new pop light through them, doing something quite unlike anyone else in the country is doing right now.
As we approach 2020, Memphis LK is on a roll. Those two singles were just the start, with the musician having joined Dot Dash Recordings (Methyl Ethel) to release a collection of music this year that'll take Memphis LK into completely new directions as she explores the intersection of dance music and experimental pop. Acts like Charli XCX and Melbourne's own Banoffee have both shown in the years past how far this intersection can go, but in 2020, it's Memphis LK's turn to demonstrate.
2019 was a big one for new Australian pop discoveries, and a big one of them was lovemedo - the new project from the Central Coast's Blake Wares. His debut EP, last year's Miss You When I'm Bored was the cherry on top of a big year for the musician that marked his debut into the pop world, with six singles of top-tier pop music showcasing the effortless charm of a rising star beginning to find his feet. While each of the tracks were different from one another, they were all connected by their intimacy and ability to showcase the New South Wales musician's charming songwriting - something bound to continue to shine in the year ahead.
In 2020, lovemedo is in his prime. Through acts such as Ruel and Tones And I, Australia's pop market is constantly expanding into international waters - now at a more rapid rate than usual, mind you - and lovemedo is an artist that can take advantage of that; his swirling brand of danceable pop an outliner against the two acts just mentioned, but one that joins them in their class and ability to create something special out of the smallest things.
When 18-year-old Brisbane musician Sycco shared Peacemaker at the tail-end of last year, it felt like we were watching a future superstar be born. It wasn't her first track - her debut came out in 2018, and she shared another track titled Tamed Grief earlier on in 2019 - but Peacemaker was a benchmark-raising new level for Sycco that encapsulated why she's such an incredible musician worth watching this year - a disco-reminiscent production - one of the year's best - the perfect underlay for one of the year's catchiest choruses. It was damn good.
However, Sycco is just getting started. She's a late-add for Laneway Festival this year - playing in her home city - and she's got plenty more in store for the year ahead, including singles and collaborations that are bound to take her to the next level of tall-standing pop fame. Just take it from Sycco herself, when asked what she has planned for the year ahead: "Lots of more shows, lots of more music, lots more fun, a lot more drinking water." We love to stay hydrated.
Teen Jesus & The Jean Teasers
This one is a bit of a cop-out in some respects, because those already acquainted with the underground of Australia's local indie scene are probably already familiar with Canberra locals Teen Jesus & The Jean Teasers. Last year, they played Falls Festival nationally (and were one of the festival's highlights in doing so) and put out a pair of singles that saw their first material in two years be their best to date; searing vocals and sharp lyricism united with a mix of 90s alt-rock and hook-rich shoegaze-pop - the meeting place, if you will, of acts like Stella Donnelly, Hatchie, Moaning Lisa and VOIID all in one.
We're putting them in here, however, because their 2020 is set to be a catalyst for their future fame as a band. If 2019 proved that they have what it takes to 'break out', 2020 will prove that they can actually do it: their recognition in the Canberra indie-rock world teetering on the edge of a greater national explosion that's already underway with their performance at Falls Festival, for example. However, if you think they're "too big" to be in a ones to watch list - fair cop, too - then check out their good pals and fellow Canberra friends Sputnik Sweetheart, who are just as incredible and just as worthy of a place in here.
George Alice is another musician that might be on the edge of being too big for a feature like this, but just like Teen Jesus before her, George Alice's peak isn't even nearly close to beginning. The 16-year-old South Australian won triple j Unearthed's High competition with the Pilerats-premiered Circles last year and her rise has been incredible since; nationally-touring festivals across the country, slots at Laneway Festival, big-name support slots, and triple j most-played recognitions just the start of George Alice's rise in the time since she's put out her first single.
Circles is her only track thus far, but it's obvious why that's all it has taken for George Alice to be an essential new name to Australia's pop world. It's ridiculously slick and polished with a hook that'll never leave your head from the second you hear it, with a refined songwriting and general confident presence comparable to some of the country's biggest stars. She's got a lot more coming in 2020 - she's been teasing some of those demos on her Instagram over the past few weeks, as she continues to work on new material - so we have no doubts she'll be one of the big break-out acts of the year ahead.
Jack R. Reilly
While his work transcends across a few years now, 2019 was a big year for Jack R. Reilly. The Sydney songwriter is one of your favourite's musician's favourite musicians; a star amongst the Sydney indie-rock world that in the year just gone, started to find his footing in a national sense and begin to put out some of his best work to date - September's I Don't Like To See Us Like This an example of that. That track, like many of the ones before it, put Jack's warm and therapeutic songwriting into the centre spotlight; soft choruses and subtle melodies uniting in a dreamy, shoegaze-esque soundscape that comforts you when you're needing it the most.
2020 is bound to be a difficult year for a lot of reasons - something we're already beginning to see just two weeks into it - and that's something that makes us feel like Jack R. Reilly's music will become more nationally recognised this year. It's lush, warm and comforting like a hug from someone well-loved to you, like seeing an old friend after a few years without them, like a wholesome family dinner at your mum's house when you haven't seen them in weeks. Jack's music is incredibly special, and we hope to see it become something celebrated in the year ahead.
Last year was a big year for thrashing surf-rock, and New South Wales teenagers Debbies were smack bang in the centre of it. They were shortlisted for this year's Unearthed High competition - the one George Alice above ended up taking out - but they haven't let that get them down; big tours and big support slots arriving hand-in-hand across the year with singles that constantly saw them give it their everything; the ruckus and energy characteristic of surf-rock not left on the sidelines from this two-piece.
2019 saw the band's formation and release of three darn great tracks - July's Majority of My Time the last of them - and the fact that we haven't heard from them in the past six months suggests that they may have something remarkably special incoming in the few months ahead. Expect big riffs, big choruses and a desire to do things a little differently which is sure to see Debbies built upon the rock ruckus of the past year or two and carve themselves a lane different to anyone else.
While acts such as Ari Lennox make R&B 2020's for the taking in an international sense, musicians like Sydney's Kymie are out here to prove that Australia can have a part of the party too. 2018 saw the release of her debut single NEEDS but last August's Can't Relate proved that the Western Sydney R&B rising star is a multi-disciplinary musician with her fingers in a range of genre pies; the track mashing together this unmatchable R&B swagger with touches of pop, hip-hop and electronic which made it feel like anything else being put out in the country right now.
So far, we know she's both a menacing force release-wise and show-wise - she showcased at BIGSOUND last year, and was one of the few acts people couldn't shut up about when you walked around the conference the next day - and in 2020, don't be surprised if she forges a break-out career with both of these elements in the spotlight. It's great to have music that makes you feel confident and ready to take on the world, and Kymie's does that - it's something that we don't think will ever disappear, either.
Once upon a time, breaking out from the isolating shackles of West Australia was a near-impossible thing to do without a big crossover hit, but in the age of social media and streaming it's becoming easier than ever. It's something that local jazz-rap-dance-indie-genre-mushing collective Butter are taking advantage of, with their BIGSOUND set last year one of the festival's most-attended; their ringing collection of brass and jazz-hop echoing out for those people who had to wait out in line outside.
2019 was a big year for the Fremantle group which saw the release of their debut single Hocus Pocus and a string of singles - August's Gum is arguably their best yet - that saw their genre-bending sound placed in the spotlight, drawing comparisons to musicians like King Krule and Thundercat as they mould together mannerisms from a range of eras and sound into one distinctly unique sound to them. There's a lot of beauty in Butter, and they're a band that encapsulate the community-built spirit of Fremantle's live scene that'll live on through the group regardless of how they go in the years ahead.
Melbourne-based musician/producer JIM ALXNDR is someone who is often found behind-the-scenes of the spotlight, having worked with musicians such as Carly Rae Jepsen, Broods, Woodes and Citizen Kay over the last few years. However, at the same time, he's been littering his discography with a handful of largely instrumental tracks that ebb and flow between emotion and moods, something his last single - the Angie McMahon-assisted Slave - encapsulated in the best way to date.
Slave was a big moment for JIM ALXNDR, not just because it's one of his biggest tracks thus far, but because it proved that he could take any musician - even the typically guitar-backed Angie McMahon, a master at potently powerful and emotional songwriting - and trap them within his masterful productions like jigsaw pieces clicking into one another. That, of course, opens him to endless opportunities in the year ahead - the world is JIM ALXNDR's oyster, in a way - and a pretty sure-fire suggestion that 2020 will be a year he begins to dominate the next generation of Australian indie-dance.
Adelaide-based pop band Pinkish Blu could've easily been on our ones to watch in 2019 list with their break-out single Capricorn having come out in 2018, but for some reason they weren't, so we're placing them in here to make sure the world gets big on them before they truly become a national force. The dance-pop band have paired a string of fantastic singles with one of the best live shows in the country at the moment, capturing the emotive joy - and contrasting sadness, at times - of their work as a live ensemble that have already seen them become a go-to name in Adelaide.
They put out two singles in 2019 - Superstar and Coupon - but we get the sense that it's only the start, with the group holding off for a 2020 that's sure to take them to the next level. There's something almost indescribable about the band that draws you in and doesn't spit you out until you have visited their whole discography, and this charm is something we don't think can ever disappear - it's a natural knack to Pinkish Blu, and one the band are still going to hold when they're one of the country's biggest acts by the time this decade is out.
Sydney indie-pop duo EGOISM are really something special, and while the years since their formation in 2017 have been bountiful, none of them have showcased this specialness quite as well as the year just gone. With two singles under their belt - Enemies and What Are We Doing? - the duo questioned and fought their way into the new decade with a stride of top-tier shoegaze-pop behind them, their work showcasing this cinematic take on dreamy pop that you can almost picture playing as the end credits roll of the next big young adult romance film.
In 2020, EGOISM are primed for their biggest year to date. Their sound and live show are as refined and polished as you'd want it to be for a hazy, DIY-bent group, and they're quickly climbing the ranks of indie-pop to become favourites of the some of the genre's biggest Australian names. Now, they've just got to get their sound out to the greater Australian market, and with What Are We Doing? starting to do this already, it's not going to take much to get them there.
Last year was a big year for homegrown pop music, and a lot of it was thanks to musicians we were only just discovering for the first time - many of them being on this list. Sydney-born 22-year-old Sarah Wolfe is a musician among this collection of 2019 pop forces we're keeping an eye on entering the year ahead, marking her place in the local pop canon with a Xavier Dunn-co-written dizzying debut titled Devil U Know - a track which brought together everything to love about Sarah Wolfe as a musician, and put them out for the world to see with her first song.
She hasn't followed up the confident electro-pop track aside from an acoustic take on it released last December, but something tells us she's got something big coming in the year ahead - this is too good of a song to say that Sarah Wolfe isn't going to be carrying Australian pop's rising scene on her shoulders in the year ahead. "The next single is all but finished," she told us when we introduced the project to the world last year, now we've just got to wait and see if it's just as good (hint: it will be).