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The banding of success

With independent record labels springing up daily, ‘tis the season to gather your mates, set up the drum kit in your parents’ garage and start jamming, says Samantha Caldone.

The independent or ‘indie’ music scene is flourishing in Melbourne with many labels being responsible for the success of Australian bands, such as The Temper Trap and Little Red.

On a local scale however, there are many ways for bands to get their foot in the door. Recently, I attended the Melbourne Fresh Industry Showcase at the Revolver Upstairs in Prahran. For eight years, the Revolver has held this competition every Tuesday, making it the longest running unsigned artist showcase in Melbourne.

When I spoke to Ben Brazil, manager and founder of Melbourne Fresh, he told me that the competition began after he realised the struggle of unsigned bands to gain exposure.

‘It started when I was working with a lot of unsigned Melbourne artists who all needed guidance on some level or another,’ he says.

‘I realised there needed to be an industry hub for them to showcase their material at Melbourne’s best venues, as well as be able to give out prizes that actually make a difference to their careers. And wallah! There you have it.

‘Since we started we haven’t looked back. We provide ongoing assistance to many of our bands and try to give a lot more back to the acts [that] are really passionate about what they do.’

Over 800 acts have contributed to the competition, with 10 bands progressing to the grand final each year. It opens many doors to a network of people involved with the showcase who can guide and support a band’s success in the music business. For the bands that win the final, Brazil and his team give away EP recordings, single recordings, cash prizes, management services and potential record deals. It’s a great way to get noticed and, as a test, if you can carry your amps and equipment up the terribly steep staircase, then you’re already in with a better chance of reaching the finals.

I was lucky enough to speak to one of the members of Shotgun Funk (SGF), a funk rock, experimental band that progressed through to the semi finals along with Red Sky Divide and solo artist Chara Charis.

Bassist Jack ‘Brabberz’ Bradbury explained to me how in three short months he has gone from ‘slappin’ his bass at home to his Chili Peppers tabs’, to recording in a studio and now performing in front of an audience.

‘Before I went to the first jam session I had never jammed before,’ he says.

‘I remember we were standing in Josh’s (guitarist) garage…and I told him that I’d never made up a bass line on the spot before. But by the next week or two I was starting to get the hang of it and eventually it turned into 15-minute continuous jams.’

When listening to SGF, it is clear that the band is strongly influenced by the early Red Hot Chili Peppers, combining Flea’s signature technique of bass-slapping, psychedelic guitar riffs, strong drum beats and rapping skills with the zany and enthusiastic stage presence of vocalist Leonardo Bahomondes.

I asked Bradbury how he thinks people will receive the band’s rare music style.

‘As long as our songs are original, people shouldn’t care about who we sound like,’ the bassist says.

‘But I know that there will always be someone in the crowd who says “these guys are just like Chilis”. But that is how we play, it’s how we express ourselves, and you can only have so many types of music on this planet.’

Shotgunk Funk, Red Sky Divide and Chara Charis are among many of the 2011 contenders to progress to the Melbourne Fresh Industry Showcase, all with a chance of earning an independent record contract.

If you’re still worried about whether your music will be well received, stress less and give it a go! The independent music scene is all about setting your own agenda, taking risks and not falling to the music trends of the mainstream counterparts. There are many competitions like the one held at the Revolver, and you never know, you might be like Shotgun Funk and soon have more than just your mum as your biggest fan.

The Melbourne Fresh Semi Finals will be held later this month. For more information, you can visit the website or look at the flyer.

Samantha Caldone is a second-year Law/Media Studies student at La Trobe University.  This is her first piece for upstart.

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