Will Australia's next big dance music artist please stand up?
Who of the next crop is ready to take the next step?
Header image: Flume at Wonderland, Perth 2013 by Aaron Webber.
Arguably the biggest album within Australian dance music due this year is Flume’s sophomore LP, Skin (and THE TOUR going with it). It follows on from his breakout debut self-titled album, a landmark release on the Australian dance music landscape in 2012. With his off-kilter brand of hip hop-infused electronica, we officially said goodbye to the days when Modular dominated our radio waves; the likes of Cut Copy, The Presets, PNAU, Muscles and Van She were out, kids making loops out of cereal boxes were in.
Some of them have fully cooled off, some of them have gone on to greener pastures in foreign lands. But with the rise of the bedroom producer and Soundcloud, a new landscape was formed following the release of Flume. And it’s one we still find ourselves deep in the grips of in 2016. And of course we should be excited about the follow-up to such a game-changing release, but who are the next crop?
The "Modular People" of 2016 looks a little something like this: Flume, Alison Wonderland, RÜFÜS, Peking Duk, Flight Facilities, What So Not, Chet Faker; the dance music acts skirting the line between the mainstream and the indie, riding the triple j wave to sold out tours, give-up-your-day-job record sales, and festival headline slots.
Alison Wonderland had a breakout 2015 with the release of her debut album, Run, coinciding with the massive Warehouse Project run of tour dates. Peking Duk and What So Not have stuck to big singles while flirting with overseas success. Chet Faker grabbed the bull (that was the big gap in Future Classic’s marketing schedule post-Flume) by the horns, and unleashed one of 2014’s most popular releases in Built On Glass. RÜFÜS stuck with the live touring band path paved by the likes of Cut Copy and Van She and turned it into a well-oiled machine while peers like Goldfields and Strange Talk fell by the way side.
RÜFÜS at Coachella a couple of weeks back by Jack Lawrence.
Flight Facilities bridged the gap between Modular and now, coming in at the tail end of that period with Crave You and carefully managing their output until the release of another fantastic 2014 LP, which also happened to be their first – Down To Earth.
But where to next? We’re in a little bit of flux at the moment. Alison Wonderland has – quite rightfully – headlined basically every major festival over the past 12 months. Same as RÜFÜS. With a new album on the way you can be sure Flume will be doing likewise for the foreseeable future. And What So Not’s fanbase in America has surely outgrown his Australian one by now.
And with RÜFÜS and Alison putting their cues in the rack or heading overseas over the coming 12-18 months, who’s going to step up to the mainstage?
Golden Features by Jack Bennett.
At this point it’s hard to look past Golden Features as next in line with a brand of electronica that offers a dark point of difference to the worlds of shimmering future-bass and poppy trap. He’s basically a festival headliner as it is, although doesn’t quite have the back catalogue of out-and-out hits to claim as much. But with his own debut album due sometime in the near future, and a rabid fanbase hungry for guillotine-like drops, it’s only a matter of time.
Are SAFIA the heir apparent to RÜFÜS’ live electronic kingdom? Another three-piece blending live instrumentation and electronics, they still reside a little further down festival lineups, but the crowds are getting down early, and in big numbers, to see them. Similar to Golden Features, they’re yet to really find a single connects bigger than say their Peking Duk feature Take Me Over. Again with their own debut LP due this year some time, they are the master of their own destiny at this point.
Alison Wonderland’s extremely tall platforms make for massive shoes to fill. No woman can lay a cue-button-smashing finger to the mark she’s made on dance music here and (increasingly) abroad in recent times. But that’s not to say there’s not a whole bunch of exciting female acts who are on the verge of exploding in the near future.
It always felt like she and Nina Las Vegas occupied similar territory when it came to their DJing careers, but now we’re seeing the two take very divergent paths in the dance music world. NLV Records has been an exciting spark in Australian club music since launching last year - pushing sounds that sit outside the commercially accessible realm, and taking cues from the UK underground to quickly become one of the Australia's most innovative and forward-thinking labels.
Nicole Millar, JOY., KLP, Wafia and many of the artists featured in Grazia’s recent (and quite awesome) NEXT IN LINE series are all threatening to take things to next level, but aren’t quite there yet. George Maple continues to slay be it performing live with What So Not or on her own, and her latest single featuring GoldLink suggests the US R&B market is absolutely hers for the taking. We lost Anna Lunoe to the US a long time ago, where she continues to use her brand to push-up a heap of exciting electronic acts based in the US and elsewhere via her Hyper House tours and Beats 1 radio show (although she'll be back in the country for a club tour soon). Vera Blue is only two singles deep but appears destined for world domination, while Eves The Behavior and Vallis Alps both make for exciting propositions in the years to come.
Hayden James threatened to bypass everyone with Something About You – a track that capitalised on the promise he showed with Permission To Love and expanded on it tenfold. For this humble writer it was the standout dance track of 2015, but we haven’t heard much from him since then. A huge career overseas also beckons with a constant touring cycle in Europe and North America as that single continues blowing up over there. His follow-up to Something About You is an important release for his future ambitions in Australia, and the fact we haven’t heard it yet suggest he knows this better than anyone.
Tkay Maidza and Sampa The Great are two acts in the hip hop world who have generated a heap of buzz over the past couple of years. While they may not be quintessentially electronic, the former has worked with the likes of Motez and What So Not to great success, Sampa has future superstar written all over her, and it’s hard not to see them expanding as their profile grows with each new release.
Cosmo’s Midnight, Basenji, Wave Racer and our own Sable all kinda carried each other up on the back of a very specific sound, and have since started branching out into their own worlds. Touch Sensitive seems too busy working with other artists like Flight Facilities and Ladyhawke to work on a follow-up to his breakout single, Pizza Guy. The Kite String Tangle dominated airwaves with his Arcadia EP, and perhaps taking himself out of the spotlight for an extended period to work on a debut LP will pay off in the long run.
Young Franco, Paces and Kilter are three artists who’ve been on the cusp for a couple of years now, while the hectic nature of Carmada’s bangers might shut out that larger, more commercial, demographic to some degree (LDRU's solo output is definitely finding a wide audience in Australia at the moment though). In a similar vein Slumberjack have barely put a foot wrong, and their latest single featuring Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns might be one to tip them over the edge. Although the lure of the overseas market seems to grow stronger and stronger for those last two.
Paces at Belvoir Amphitheatre by Matsu Photography.
Ta-ku and Hermitude are a couple of "older hats" who have definitely flirted with poll position in Aussie dance in recent times. Perhaps as his live show begins to grow, the former's brand of emotional electronica and untouchable production could see the project take things up another notch. Hermitude, long since emerged from the shadow cast by that Hyperparadise remix, have been consistently selling out tours around the country in the past couple of years, and there's no denying The Buzz is one massive tune, but they too look like they've got one eye on the overseas prize at the moment.
Is the door even open for someone to step up? Or is there a dark horse we haven't mentioned who is sitting on some pure fire that will change the game much the way Harley Streten did in 2012?
We'll know soon enough, but as Flume once again assumes his mantle as the King of the Australian guard, there’s a whole bunch of talented artists right underneath him ready to claim the throne - and we can't wait to see who it is.