Five Australian artists to keep an eye on in 2021
15.12.2020

Five Australian artists to keep an eye on in 2021

Words by August Billy

We look ahead to predict next year's potential breakout acts.

Who’s pumped for 2021? While a bit of circumspection is wise (remember how excited we all were for 2020?), there is a lot to look forward to next year. For one thing, there’s a bounty of new music on the horizon. 

The international borders are set to remain closed for months to come, but Australia’s local music scene has more than enough depth to satisfy our spiritual and aesthetic yearnings. Here are five artists who we’ll be keeping an especially attentive eye on.

Allara

Allara has released just four songs over the past three years, but it’s been an exposition in quality over quantity. Her first single of 2020 was ‘Murnong Farm’, a powerful meditation on how Australia’s European colonisers waylaid Indigenous agriculture, blighting the farming methods that had successfully sustained First Nations people for more than 2000 generations. 

The lyrics were inspired by Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 book, Dark Emu, which brought greater awareness to the realities of Indigenous agriculture prior to the European invasion of 1788. Allara was also inspired by the syntax of Behrouz Boochani’s book No Friend But The Mountains, which the Kurdish-Iranian journalist completed during his six-year incarceration on Manus Island.

But Allara’s work isn’t just captivating on a thematic level; she’s also cultivated a distinct musical language, which revolves around her double bass playing. Both ‘Murnong Farm’ and the follow-up single ‘Rekindled Systems’ showcase Allara’s bewitching spoken word cadence, but they’re rooted in a spiritual groove. Her work is somewhat adjacent to hip hop, neo soul and contemporary jazz while beholden to the strictures of none.

Even if 2021 brings us just two more singles from Allara, they’re likely to rank among the year’s best releases. 

Tkay Maidza

Tkay Maidza’s first single came out in 2013, so it feels odd including her in a ones-to-watch list. However, at 24 years old, the Zimbabwean born, Adelaide-raised performer is just getting started. 

Maidza’s debut full length, TKAY, was released in October 2016 and catapulted her onto the global stage. By that point, Tkay had already landed tracks in three consecutive triple j Hottest 100s and gone ARIA gold with the 2015 single, ‘M.O.B.’ After TKAY, however, she took a step back in order to reorient her career trajectory. Or as she puts it in ‘Grasshopper’ – one of three flame-throwing trap songs from her latest mixtape, Last Year Was Weird Vol. 2 – “Took years and it was worth it / Yeah, I been learnin’.”

Last Year … Vol. 2 arrived in August 2020, precisely two years after volume one, and it’s easily Tkay’s strongest and most individualist work to date. Tkay continues to work alongside Last Year … Vol. 1 producer Dan Farber, the fruits of which are far more satisfying than her triple j-endorsed collabs with EDM lightweights PACES and Basenji. 

Ever since 2013’s ‘Brontosaurus’, Tkay’s had a claim as one of Australia’s most naturally gifted MCs. The three successive trap songs that appear midway through Vol. 2 prove Tkay could demolish most rappers in her path, should she please. But Vol. 2 also highlights her equally imperturbable pop vocal talents. ‘PB Jam’ and ‘Don’t Call Again’ flaunt a funk-futurist glaze a la Tyler, the Creator while demonstrating Tkay’s parity with some of contemporary pop’s more innovative performers, such as Ravyn Lenae and Kali Uchis.

Tkay’s versatility puts her in a class above many of her contemporaries. If (or perhaps, when) she flips these assets into a more tightly-curated full length statement, greatness awaits.

Komang

As far as auspicious career beginnings go, it doesn’t get much better than selling out your first show before even releasing any music. That’s what Rosie Clynes achieved when she launched the electronic neo-soul project Komang as part of Asia TOPA 2020. Komang’s first single, ‘Dewi’, eventually arrived in August 2020, ahead of her debut EP, Mythologies, which is due in the first half of 2021. 

Clynes’ musical influences include Kelsey Lu, Erykah Badu and Little Dragon as well as Balinese gamelan and Indonesian folk pop. Clynes herself has Balinese heritage and had long dreamt of living in Indonesia as an adult. This became reality when she relocated to Jakarta a few years ago to pursue work as an actor. While there, Clynes was switched onto the local jazz and hip hop scenes, which catalysed a deviation away from the theatre.

Singing and writing melodies has been a constant throughout Clynes’ life, but she’d never properly visualised herself as a musician. Creating ‘Dewi’ proved to be a pivotal moment and Clynes was soon compelled to return to Melbourne and make a full-scale embrace of songwriting and production.

It’s easy to get swept up in the soft synths and elegant grooves of ‘Dewi’, but it’s also a commanding lyrical proposition. The title comes from the Indonesian word for goddess and the lyrics speak of falling in love with a woman named ‘Dewi’. The narrator names their daughter after this woman and goes on to propose the idea of re-entering the womb as a way of relearning one’s humanity.

Yep, we’re pretty intrigued to hear what else Komang has to offer on Mythologies. 

Alice Skye

2020 has been a year defined by anticipation and uncertainty. Sure, there’s been the coronavirus and the everchanging status of our civil liberties. But it’s also been 12 long months of waiting for news about Alice Skye’s second album. 

Skye, a Wergaia and Wemba Wemba woman, grew up in Horsham in regional Victoria and started releasing music in 2016. Influenced by Missy Higgins, The Cranberries and Regina Spektor, she released the singles ‘You Are the Mountains’, ‘60%’ and ‘Poetry By Text’ in the lead up to her debut album, Friends With Feelings.

Friends With Feelings was recorded in Alice Springs with a bunch of session players and released in 2018 via the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA). The album’s soul-baring title track captured the attention of listeners around the country and landed Skye a deal with Briggs’ Bad Apples Music label.

Since making Friends With Feelings, Skye has been performing live with her pals from Horsham, Sam and Kane King, who play guitar and drums respectively. Working as part of a trio has allowed Skye to push beyond the singer-songwriter piano balladry that dominated Friends With Feelings. This is evident on her three most recent singles, ‘I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good’, ‘Grand Ideas’ and ‘Stay In Bed’. 

Lifted from her upcoming, Jen Cloher-produced second album, these tracks show off a more assertive and artistically distinct sound. They’re also proof of Skye’s lyrical prowess, as she continues to write with great precision and insight on the subject of mental health. 

So, about that album – please don’t make us wait much longer, Alice.

Tamil Rogeon

Melbourne violist and composer Tamil Rogeon has confirmed his new album, Son Of Nyx, will be set free on February 5, 2021. Based on the spectral jazz brilliance of its lead single, ‘Momus’, that date couldn’t come soon enough. 

It’s Rogeon’s first album since 2017’s Brazilian influenced 24 Hours in Lapa, which featured the 30-piece Orchestra Victoria. Son of Nyx is a comprehensive return to Rogeon’s jazz roots, albeit in a compositionally exploratory and sonically forward-facing manner.

Son of Nyx encompasses modal jazz and Afro-Latin percussion while also spotlighting Rogeon’s viola and violin playing. Rogeon has a scholarly understanding of the catalogues of Miles Davis and Donald Byrd as well as jazz violinists Don “Sugarcane” Harris, Jean-Luc Ponty and Stuff Smith. Rest assured, however, Son of Nyx is not hemmed in by reverential politeness.

This is reflected in the album’s guest list. ‘Momus’ includes vocals from Jace XL, Ladi Tiaryn Griggs and 30/70’s Allysha Joy; Bamboos keyboardist Daniel Mougerman appears throughout the album; and the whole thing was co-produced by genre-bending DJ and producer, Harvey Sutherland. 

Tamil Rogeon mightn’t be a fledgling artist, but with a bit of luck 2021 will be the year he finally receives his due plaudits.

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