The night of nights in Australian music is upon us once again and it’s Sydney's The Star (or casino for the locals) that hosted the evening. Following abnormally torrential rain earlier in the day, the red carpet may have been hastily moved, but there was still a positive vibe as the attendees, musicians and industry alike made their way into the auditorium along an extra-long red carpet.
After the extended venture of the appetiser on the red carpet, up on level five the honorary Iain Shedden Media Suite had been plushed up from previous years and was a perfect spot to relax as we prepared for the mammoth five plus hours of awards to come.
A veteran at treading the line between cynicism and professionalism, Robbie Buck once again hosted the media couch. With the awards commencing 45 minutes late (no surprise...), 5 Seconds Of Summer started the night with an honestly impressive performance of their huge single, Youngblood, before winning the first gong of the night - Best Live Act. Amy Shark picked up her first ARIA of the night for Best Pop Release and Courtney Barnett for Best Rock Album before we even had a chance to settle in to our chairs.
Food came early into the suite, which was actually a good thing. Lining the stomach is always a smart move on a night such as the ARIAs.
Our first guest in the room was to be '80s superstar, Richard Marx. Buck was obviously keen for the prospect, emphasising that 12-year-old him was excited to be interviewing the 55-year-old singer. When he finally graced us with his presence, he was surprisingly cordial, even charming as he belted out one of his dad’s jingles from his childhood. It’s easy to forget what a huge artist he was, and that he was even recognised with an international ARIA for his huge single, Hazard, back in 1991.
Jimmy Barnes was the next guest into the suite after winning the award for Best Original Soundtrack. His autobiographies and subsequent documentary have really opened his tumultuous life up to a public that once only knew his characteristic rock growl. He was his natural personable and chatty self, even though it’s obvious he’s pretty sick of answering questions about his youth. New music is due in 2019, from not only him, but his very famous band, Cold Chisel. His enthusiasm for the dynamic in the band was obvious and it’s something that all of Australia can look forward to.
Young artist Ruel won Breakthrough Artist as we return to the live footage from the auditorium. The chicken and chips were just starting to go down as we were treated to the Best Urban Release winners, Hilltop Hoods in the suite. Accompanied by Adrian Eagle, a feature artist from their hit song, Clark Griswold, it was obvious that the nine-time winners were very keen to promote the future of their collaborator, rather than themselves. Eagle, with a voice that can stop you in your tracks, has a single coming early next year, before an EP around May. “We just want to talk about this guy,” admitted Suffa as the group, admittedly humble from their win, but keen to pass on accolades to a fellow Adelaidean.
The youngest ever solo male artist to win an ARIA, Ruel, attended the couch next, and there was an immediate humbleness to his approach. From someone that was relatively unknown a year ago, his win, in a very competitive category, is notable and he wasn’t about to take it for granted.
The young winner, sipping on a non-alcoholic water, admitted, "Something crazy happens every week" as he talked about visiting his school and revealing the surreal nature of his musical life as Ruel, as opposed to this personal life as Ruel van Dijk, a 16-year-old that has just finished Year 10.
As we watched the live footage from the theatre again, the room broke into applause for Kasey Chamber’s song, Paul Kelly's poem and her brilliant acceptance speech. It was a beautiful moment and highlight of the whole night, bringing many to dab the mascara away from their eyes.
The next guest in the suite was Vance Joy, who was visibly surprised. "I didn't think I'd win anything tonight!" Looking dapper, the singer reminisced on his second album and emphasised how he's happy that people have appreciated the album, despite there not being a Riptide moment. We were also confronted with the line about him being a "spicy guy". Is he? Isn’t he? Well, it’s up to the fans really. It could be a stretch.
"I'm pretty overwhelmed", declared Kasey Chambers as the Hall of Famer joined Buck on the couch. Talking fondly about her parents’ influence, her rustic start singing songs around a campfire and subsequent break out moment with Not Pretty Enough, it was obvious how much the night meant to the 42-year-old. The poem from Paul Kelly was a surprise and she effused her fandom for him before declaring how important her roadie has been to her career. "I just want to put the real me into my songs,” was a lovely touch before admitting that she doesn't "think people really care that much about genres". On a night like this, everything she touched was gold and deservedly so.
The next guests in the room were the first dance act to win three dance ARIA awards - Pnau. The trio, still passionate after all these years were not afraid to admit why - "We're all about narcotics, because we're all about dancing.” The (partially) tongue-in-cheek comments was supposed to stir controversy, but for a group that has basically started again after a huge hiatus, it’s a truly impressive return. Nick, Peter and Sam were excited to announce they are working on a new album for next year as well as discussing the origins of their music as it translates to the origins of the art form. They were loose, but it was good to see in a night lacking any real controversy.
Ben Gordon, the drummer from Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album award winners, Parkway Drive was solo. "I've spoken at a few mate's weddings," he admitted as he was deemed responsible for claiming the win and fronting the media. His chat on the couch revealed that, "Our biggest market at the moment is Europe,” and this makes the win that even more impressive as Australia seems to be a country that, on the whole, does not understand heavy music like the Germans would.
A swift genre switch to Best Children's Album saw Justine Clarke join Buck on the couch. Her catchy tunes for kids seemingly resulted in extreme actions as she described a story that was told to her about a family that buried her tape whilst on an outback holiday. Her personable chat revealed that she loved collaborating with other artists for the record and loved sharing different diverse genres with her young audience. Oh yeah, and she emphasised that you should never venture into the crowd at a kid’s concert for fear of knocking them over accidentally!
The oldest teenage heartthrob, at the age of 31, was Dean Lewis. His humble and warm chat about moving from being a sound guy operating a boom to being on the other side was inspirational. "I was writing songs in my room for 6 years," he admitted after just taking out the ARIA for Best Video. It’s definitely a year where garage musicians broke out.
The award of Music Teacher Of The Year brought Mt Gambier teacher, Scott Maxwell, to the stage. The proud teacher explained that, "Understanding where students are at," was a major part of his job as he revealed that his huge passion was what encouraged him to pursue his love of music and teaching. It’s a nice moment to have an everyday person win an award.
The first female solo winner of Best Rock Album, Courtney Barnett, was quick to point out - "I don't think there's a right or wrong way of being an artist." The typically restrained and humble singer-songwriter elaborated on how proud she was of her Milk! Records label and their ability to promote great music around the country. A killer live performance on stage was easily enough to reinforce what a huge talent the Melburnian is to Australia as well as ambassador to the world.
A big and deserved winner from the night was late Indigenous artist, Gurrumul, who picked up Best Male Artist, along with Best Independent Release. His award was posthumously received by his daughter, Jasmine Yunupingu and long-time collaborator, Michael Hohnen. The acceptance of the awards was seemingly bitter-sweet for the pair before adding, “We could have made a pop record, but by using the repetitive nature of his music, along with an orchestra, we really went out on a limb.” The gamble paid off, because it helped to create an album that will be hard pressed to be surpassed for its sheer scale of humanity, love and a sense of the grandiose.
A night in the seemingly cynical media room was changed forever with the presence of the biggest winners of the night for Best Live Act, Best Group and Apple Music Song Of The Year, 5 Seconds of Summer. The chat on the couch not only revealed the group to be impressively articulate, but highlighted the fact that their change in style was a risk to the largely youthful fan-base. Drummer, Ashton Irwin, admitted that the group still haven’t reached their potential as vocalists, and whilst lead vocalist, Luke Hemmings, was perhaps a little miffed at the comment, it shows the group are willing to take risks and pursue more than just fleeting fame in the face of a fickle fan base. A fan base that are not taken lightly and the pursuit of positivity towards them is hugely admirable.
After we all become new 5SOS fans we wait for one final guest to grace the media room. The artist that has gone from obscurity to stardom in two years, Amy Shark, has had a huge night with three more awards to add to her two of last year. She chats with Buck and continues her emotions from-stage after picking up the Album of the Year gong which she admits she “really, really wanted’.
Shark admits that “it's so hard to take in" and it’s a heartwarming chat with an artist that still feels like she's got her best to come despite smashing out a huge debut album.
"I've gotten good at not looking like a total idiot,” admits the ARIA Award winner, who, despite all of the accolades, still manages to sound honest and down-to-earth. "I've spoken to so many arseholes in the industry, that I’m like, what have I got to lose?” It’s this honest and frank talk from one of the most successful artists of the last year that keeps the media room sane and there’s a purely loving response.
Despite the room being visibly drained, tired and ready for either a massive sleep or some pick-me-ups, it was a hugely positive night. The mix of pop, rock, urban, indie and country was refreshing and the hugely obvious presence of mutual admiration and respect from artists, industry and media alike was something that seems to set the current Australian music scene apart from the days gone by. Maybe the broad range of genres and accessibility of music has increased the appeal to everyone, or maybe we’re just growing up as a culture. Either way, it was a refreshingly beautiful night for the Australian music industry.
And then… we drink.