Now Sound Director Tobias Willis On Melbourne’s Unique Music Scene

COURTNEY Barnett, Dan Sultan, Kllo and Jen Cloher are just a few of the internationally successful artists to emerge from Melbourne’s music scene in recent years. A vibrant and diverse scene that filmmaker Tobias Willis explores is his new documentary Now Sound: Melbourne’s Listening.

Tobias joins us on Close-up Culture to tell us more about his film and what makes the Melbourne music scene so special.

Q: Can you give us some background about where Melbourne’s indie music scene emerged from and what makes it so unique?

A: MELBOURNE has been a strong music city for decades, iconic you could say. But in recent years we found that has blossomed into something truly unique due to the sheer dedication of people to nurture music. Whether that be protecting venues from the pressures that come with gentrification or putting on amazing events around town.

Melbourne prides itself on producing progressive talent, this is driving a community of makers to create some really interesting work. Although it’s not all roses and comes with challenges, it is a beautiful ecosystem now.

Q: Artists like Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher have made an international impact in the last few years. What has been the secret to generating talents in Melbourne that resonate globally?

A: THERE are a lot of musicians in Melbourne, which does create competition in a sense. But it is also incredibly supportive and other artists generally want to see others do well. People can find their scene or group here, a support network. There are so many passionate people outside of music willing to get behind musicians and push Australian talent as well. There is a mood here, a sense of excitement and an agenda to make things better and diverse.

Q: Do you see any music scenes around the world that can compare to Melbourne?

A: Nope [smiles].

Q: Do you have any fun or interesting memories of your own experiences of the Melbourne live music scene that you can share with us?

A: AS a teenager I was listening to a lot of music that came from the US and the UK from the 60’s and 70’s. I’ve been going to gigs properly since I was 18 and it changed and enriched my life. When I found that there was so much awesome music in Melbourne I started getting with the times and expanded my music taste beyond the classics.

There was a moment when I realised that my world and social life all revolve around independent music and it was around that time Marcus Rimondini and I decided to embark on making the documentary. There are too many moments to mention is what I’m saying I guess.

Q: Can you tell us more about your collaboration with producer and music journalist Marcus Rimondini and what led you both to make this film?

A: I MET Marcus properly in New York at a music conference. I was following a band around with camera and Marcus was writing. We stayed in the same apartment in Brooklyn and at first I didn’t know what to make of him, but I sure saw he was dedicated to Australian music. We started to hang out a festivals and gigs and realised with our contacts and knowledge combined we may actually be able to pull this off. It felt right.

Q: Jen Cloher has a quote in the trailer that I just loved. She says: ‘There’s probably never been a better time in independent music to be a woman, that’s because until now it’s always been a-bit shit.’ Can you talk about the gender imbalance in music and how you address it in the film?

A: THIS has thankfully been a big part of the conversation within Australian music. We did find these conversations amongst others progressing really quickly during the course of this film.

Diversity within the music industry is an incredibly important topic to discuss and something that men take for granted a lot of the time. But it spreads further than music -it is right across every industry. We did our best to explore and represent these discussions in the film, but there is much to explore outside of our film.

Another important film coming out of Melbourne to watch is Her Sound, Her Story made by Michelle Grace Hunder and Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore.

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Q: Gentrification is the other destructive force tackled in the film. What is the impact being had and what is being done to combat it?

A: GENTRIFCATION can kill culture. Being realistic, yes things need to progress, buildings and housing will be built but we need to have conversations on how to protect and keep the existing integrity and culture surrounding areas of development.

It is often blinded by profit and the people behind these projects couldn’t care less about culture or people. It’s a strange paradox in Melbourne, people move to these areas to be around its famous scenes for art, music and culture but subsequently destroy it in the process. This isn’t just a Melbourne thing, it happens in all cities.

Q: Can you tell us about some of the voices in this film and sitting down with artists like Jen and Courtney?

A: THEY say never to meet your heroes but I really enjoyed it. I have such a great deal of respect for the people willing to give up their time and thoughts. It is always inspiring to learn and listen to other peoples experiences. And it was an eye opener to hear that some peoples experiences are so difficult.

During the course of making this film, it became clear to me that we need to continue to share stories, listen and practice kindness and tolerance to change our collective mindset to a positive one.

Q: What music documentaries, if any, inspired this film?

A: I HAD not seen too may documentaries that tried to encapsulate scenes. There are a series of short documentaries on resident advisor about strong music cities, mostly revolving around club culture. Outside of that classic docs like DIG and The Decline of Western Civilisation were a bit of reference.

Q: What did you learn from making this documentary and what do you hope people take away from it?

A: MUSIC is the voice of culture, we can learn so much about the world through listening to music from around the globe. It’s a direct voice for people, it’s not exclusive and only for the wealthy; that’s why it can also affect societal change. It would be a dark, sad place without it.

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