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Does Australia have Soul?

todayOctober 20, 2021 54 1 5

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A few years ago I asked the question ‘How Slow Can Perth Go’. At the time I was wrestling with the disappointment of a lack of ‘slow jams’ in the Perth scene – a problem that remains unresolved. I hadn’t been in Perth long enough to understand the peculiarities of living in a large town (yes I know Perth is officially a city), perhaps I should have asked – How much soul does Australia have?

A question that I subsequently tried to raise in a broadcast on RTRFM where I dedicated a portion of the show to Australian artists producing soul music. It featured Jordan Rakei, Ngaiire, Demon Days, Thando, Winston Surfshirt, Allysha Joy, and a handful of others.

Fast forward to 2021 and I am still asking myself the same questions. It strikes me as odd that soul music is still relatively niche (esp. here in Perth, WA – less so over East) and that it’s presentation is somewhat anaemic. It seems only a few years ago, things were quite different with SoulFest, but a quick look at the diversity of acts, soul genres and programming tells you that it was a scratching of the surface. The subsequent troubles that plagued SoulFest reinforce that perspective and perhaps that was a watershed moment for the adoption of soul music as a mainstay for the masses, the night scene and radio.

Zooming in on my experience here in Perth brings another dimension into the equation. DJs and club culture. Perhaps a post for another time but I have a theory that the lack of a mature club culture in WA (meaning music and vibes come first not booze fueled energy and ‘cheesy playlist party bangers’) has a lot to do with the creativity, adoption and aesthetic of soul music here. It feels like music is created for musicians to perform live – nothing wrong with that per se, but when it includes rock guitar riffs and same old production sounds suited to a pub gig you get a quite different sound and energy that you would expect at a club night.

I do not think it is coincidental that the soul music produced in WA is often very different sounding to what you here from acts over East and the more ‘accepted’ aesthetic and production styles of authentic soul music.

Where is the Soul Music scene?
I may be biased but for me – it is in radio play and any other platforms & forums that expose the wonderful range of music you can get within the soul spectrum. It’s instructive that Mix 94.5 has RnB Fridays – a day dedicated to RnB (why just the one day?) where you can expect to hear a barrage of 80s soul hits from Mary J Blige, to Mark Morrison, to Black Street to Usher. It’s a step in the right direction but hardly illustrative of what soul music has to offer and definitely not shining a light on the Australian soul scene – feels like I’ve been here before – did I mention SoulFest?

Radio has the power to educate and intrigue the listener about soul music, where to hear it and how to get it. Find me a bar manager who is more about the music rather than playing something that will make people drink more and you might be onto something. 

Perhaps I’m just a relic of a bygone era when Radio, DJ’s, club nights set the pulse of a city and live gigs were the cherry on the cake.

Written by: DJ Osric

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