I was a bit surprised to find myself the winner of a double pass to Triple J’s Unearthed ARIA Music Week Showcase event last Tuesday. Previously, the most significant prize I’d ever won in my life was a yo-yo from a competition on the side of a Milo tin.
A free gig with a line-up of considerably talented artists was definitely a step up in the world – especially since the only way to get into the event was to win tickets.
Popular music venue Oxford Art Factory was packed with prize winners and their plus ones, where it was standing room only for a long but satisfying show featuring The Rubens, YesYou, and Asta.
Triple J breakfast’s Tom and Alex were the enthusiastic hosts for the evening, tossing CDs and tote bags out into a sea of hopeful hands as they steered proceedings from one incredible set to the next.
And boy, has Triple J unearthed some impressive gems.
First up on stage was Unearthed High 2012 winner Asta, kick starting the night with a thumping and highly danceable performance of “My Heart is on Fire”. Asta and accompanying producer Cal Young showed off an arresting stage presence: she, dancing her way across the stage in fitted gold disco pants with a bright gemstone belt, and he, a fascinating character in white shirt, skinny black tie, handlebar moustache and aviator sunglasses.
But it was those stunning vocals that really drove the set home, with pitch-perfect soulful howls pouring almost effortlessly from ruby lips for song after song after song. It was hard to believe that such an incredible display of raw talent and maturity could come from someone who’d only just finished her final high school exams.
A brief choreographed dance by the duo led into the final song, “Escape” – a stomping pop creation about the darker side of the music industry that makes full use of Asta’s vocal range – transfixed an already captivated crowd and proved this is one act to watch in years to come.
Next in line wereBrisbaneelectronic duo YesYou. Producers Gav Parry and Jono Kirkham were joined on stage by Tara Simmons and Sterling Silver to help round out their live performances. Pixie-like, Simmons handled vocals and keys with remarkable dexterity, sending waves of sparkly synths washing over the audience while Parry, Kirkham and Silver took care of guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and…well, more sparkly synths.
The group literally lit up the stage, with a string of lights that flashed in sync with the music. A cover of dubstep outfit SBTRKT’s “Wildfire” was a surprise hit, energising the crowd and getting feet moving as the Factory floor was swamped with lush bass lines and a punching beat. Rounding out the impressive set was final summery hit “Frivolous Life”, where the YesYou crew were joined by Jinja Safari frontman Marcus Azon on lead vocals.
But of course it was the headline act that drew the loudest cheers from the crowd that night – or perhaps those with aching legs and sore backs were just pleased that the evening was drawing closer to its end.
Either way, indie rockers The Rubens brought the show home with a string of soulful tunes. Smartphones shot up like periscopes in an ocean of admirers during their first song, “Best We Got” as fans strove to get a shaky recording or blurry images of lead vocalist Sam Margin as a digital souvenir.
There was little time for talking as the band churned out a solid run of bluesy soul-rock tracks. Catchy radio favourite “My Gun” was surprisingly placed early on in their set, and the crowd wasn’t left disappointed as the familiar driving bass riff and Hammond chords burst from the speakers.
The rockers seemed relaxed, almost nonchalant through some numbers – one of which saw Margin raising a bottle almost conversationally to the crowd as he sang, hair continually falling into his eyes and being swept away like a bothersome insect on a hot summer evening.
Triple J Unearthed has been responsible for finding some real treasures in a sea of aspiring Australian musicians. I was genuinely impressed and surprised with the display of talent I’d seen: not only the polished showmanship of the three acts, but also their diversity and the damn good music they pumped out.
They may not reach the top of the charts just yet, but they’re certainly top quality Aussies.