With the end of the year fast approaching, it’s the time we all begin to reflect on what’s been another huge twelve months for Australian music, and the artists who’ve absolutely knocked it out of the park.
But, upon pulling out the old whiteboard marker and beginning our list of some of the biggest movers in 2016, we noticed that all of the names we’d jotted down so far had one thing in common: they were women.
We weren’t heading into the discussion with female acts in mind; it just became clear very quickly that many of the most prominent successes in the local music scene this year have been women – and, really, it’s worth celebrating.
Female artists and others in the industry are still sharing their music industry horror stories, reports emerge that the industry is a lot tougher for women to break into, and Jen Cloher and Co. still feel the need to skewer the treatment they often receive just walking into a guitar shop, so it’s clear that there are still hurdles to be overcome before the music scene is where it need to be.
But there’s also a lot of positive change happening at a grass-roots, artist-driven level, with Camp Cope running fundraisers, Laura Marling diving into the discussion on her new podcast, and impressive projects like Her Sound, Her Story also shining a light on women in music over the years.
With so many great results this year, and others looking at an equally-huge 2017, here’s our list of the female artists who are absolutely killing it in Aussie music.
The artist who really kicks off the conversation about meteoric rises, busker-turned-global star Tash Sultana is the definition of a multi-talented, self-made success.
One of the most accessible acts you’ll find, Tash built an absolutely monstrous fanbase after opening her home studio up to fans through her YouTube channel, showing off her ridiculous musical ability with all sorts of instruments. Not just your standard singer-songwriter, Tash has a wide range of finely-honed busking weapons in her arsenal, from her ridiculous axe-shredding and huge voice, to beat-boxing into a bloody pan-flute.
She’s also been remarkably candid since then, not shying away from the spotlight and opening up about drug addiction, as well as a harrowing psychosis that drove her towards her path in music.
Picking up the Unearthed Artist of the Year at the recent J Awards, she’s been well-and-truly unearthed at this point, and has already taken her career global. With an entirely sold-out Aussie tour under her belt, she then set off on a sold-out tour around Europe and capitalised with an EP and a record label as well, cementing 2016 as the year of Tash.
Camp Cope aren’t just a band, they’re a movement unto themselves. Inspired by the highly influential riot grrrl movement of the 1990s, Camp Cope write confessional songs that serve like an ice pick right in your heart. Their DIY, girls-to-the-front attitude has also seen them launch a campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault at gigs and their own zine.
Having made significant inroads into the hearts and minds of Australia with her 2014 debut Life of Montaigne – and especially the triple j parody ‘I’m A Fantastic Greg’ the following year – Jessica Cerro was poised for a big one in 2016.
Her unmistakable vocal feature helped to drive the Hilltop Hoods’ ‘1955’ to #2 on the charts at the beginning of the year, and the release of the well-received debut album Glorious Heights nabbed her not only a #4 spot for herself, but also the ARIA award for ‘Best Breakthrough Artist’.
While her slightly muddled acceptance speech may not have won her any awards for oratorical excellence, it was just another example of Montaigne as an artist who wears her heart on her sleeve – and her results this year have been more than strong enough to do the talking.
Charting with her first solo album in 2013 after a stint on The Voice, Celia Pavey hit the reset button in 2015 and started releasing music as Vera Blue. 2016 saw the release of her first record under the new project, the Fingertips EP, signalling the start of something pretty special.
Her breakout single ‘Hold’ perked up our ears, and then the follow-up punch came in the form of ‘Papercuts’, the massive success of her collaboration with rapper Illy suddenly putting her voice squarely on radios across the country.
Upon wrapping up her EP tour, she immediately announced another huge run of shows, and the tickets sold like nobody’s business. A great year by anyone’s standards, and momentum for a 2017 album is sky high.
Sampa The Great
While Sampa first announced her arrival with 2015’s The Great Mixtape, one of the biggest balls of fire to hit our hip hop scene in years, she didn’t let her foot off the pedal in 2016, and cemented her place as one of the most exciting acts in the country.
A string of vital singles, including perfectly-weighted collabs with REMI and Urthboy, led the Zambian-born Sydney-sider to millions of streams, radio play on BBC1, and some genuinely huge support slots for names like Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Hiatus Kaiyote.
Sampa’s own sold-out headline shows became a ridiculously sought-after ticket, and she’s shown on festival lineups all over, as well as receiving the inaugural Corner Award. Most importantly, Sampa’s success is built upon impeccable ability focused on meaningful topics of empowerment, making her a genuinely vital voice in the Australian music scene.
Few acts had as much of a breakout year as Alex Lahey, who went from relative obscurity to (apparently misguided) comparisons with Courtney Barnett, not to mention critical acclaim, constant touring, a shout out from Pitchfork, winning the Josh Pyke Partnership Grant, being nominated for the J Award, and releasing an eagerly-anticipated record.
Familiar to many around Melbourne as the frontwoman of the raucous pop-funk outfit Animaux, it was a bit of a surprise to see Alex reemerge as a radio-ready powerhouse with ‘You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me’, but she quickly established herself as one of the most sought-after acts this year.
Occasionally a debut comes along that simply demands your attention. You don’t fight, you don’t even get distracted. You just sit, listen, meditate, and let the feelings pour right into you. That’s what Julia Jacklin achieved with her stellar debut LP, Don’t Let The Kids Win. The triple j Feature Album turned Jacklin into one of the most watched artists in the country and with good reason.
The self-described “Hannah Montana of the rap game” has been receiving acclaim for her whip-smart lyrical prowess and DIY attitude. At just 16 years old, she’s beloved by the blog world and at one point her track ‘For Real’ was the most popular song on influential blog aggregator Hype Machine. And make no mistake, she’s just getting started.
It’s December, the season of lists and no, we’re not talking about Christmas shopping lists or naughty and nice lists. It’s the time when everyone is formulating their ‘Best of 2016’ end-of-year countdowns, so you can expect to see Melbourne singer guitarist, and songwriter Olympia’s name popping up a lot. Her sublime, stylish, and tasteful debut, Self Talk, is everything we wanted in a rock album in 2016.
Getting a million streams is a pretty solid achievement, but how about having your vocal line heard almost 170 million times on YouTube alone, and almost twice that on Spotify?
While Kungs can be credited for his work in taking the Cookin On 3 Burners track ‘This Girl’ global with his remix, it was Kylie Auldist’s honey-smooth vox that formed the centrepiece of the track, which preserves the vast majority of the original.
An amazing result for the long-serving soul vocalist of local legends The Bamboos, now being met with a resurgence in funk and disco, and a global mega-hit as a result.
There’s few Australian artists who’ve made an impression on the rest of the world in quite the way that this young Adelaide rapper and singer has. She’s received props from legends of the game and even collaborated with some of them, including Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike.
The release of her debut album sent waves through the industry both at home and overseas, and she’s managed to be the name on everybody’s lips for the entirety of 2016.
Keep An Eye On 2017
Of course, there are a host of other exciting female artists making moves right now, and we’re expecting to see just as many breakthroughs next year. I OH YOU signing Jack River has impressed immediately with a string of recent singles, and will be picking up some serious attention next year. Meanwhile, Gabriella Cohen is enthralling us with her unique brand of guitar-pop, and it’s hard not to imagine big things from her in 2017.
There’s also some serious talent coming from the triple j camp this year, with 2016 Unearthed winner Gretta Ray also taking home $50,000 courtesy of the Vanda & Young songwriting comp, setting her up for a massive year ahead. While she may have just had an unfortunate incident that resulted in a broken leg, Melbourne electro-soul act Alice Ivy will be back on her feet and leaping around the stage soon, and is definitely one to keep an eye on, alongside co-conspirator Saatsuma.
With so many others to mention, and no doubt new names springing onto our radars very soon, we’re already looking forward to the new year.