New life, communal feasts and musical riches. Midtown is Melbourne’s heart and soul distilled.
From the minds of DJs Chris Gill and Stick Mareebo and artist Jason Maling, Heavy Congress is a major live music event representing Melbourne’s own thriving sound system culture. Sprouting from proud Jamaican roots, crews of DJs and MCs across the world have now built their own monolithic stacks of custom-designed, intricately adorned speakers.
Set up to surround the audience, the unique sound systems of Melbourne crews will drop bass-heavy dub, roots reggae, drum and bass, hip hop, techno, and party tropical soca tracks pressed to vinyl, taking turns to win over the crowd at Melbourne Town Hall. Their triumphant reward? Playing on every system at once in a baptism of bass frequencies that your body will never forget.
At the Capitol Theatre, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Lynette Wallworth will present a soul-baring performance lecture that traces her real-life exodus back to freedom, following her youthful anointment as the prophet of a radical Christian cult in How To Live.
In a rare opportunity for Melbourne’s live music lovers, the gilded and majestic Comedy Theatre will play host to a string of special collaborations, one-off performances, and even some international visitors, brought together by RISING’s music curator Woody McDonald (Golden Plains, Meredith).
Guitarist and songwriter Ed Kuepper has had a profound influence on Australian music. The founder of legendary punks, The Saints; seminal post-punk outfit Laughing Clowns; and a celebrated solo artist will perform work from across his career, in a collaborative set with Jim White, drummer and founding member of instrumental rock icons Dirty Three. Opening the night is Mess Esque, a new project from White’s Dirty Three bandmate Mick Turner and Helen Franzmann of McKisko.
Performing their first live shows in more than a year, cult improvisation icons, The Necks, are RISING’s Band In Residence. Hailed by the New York Times as “the greatest live trio on Earth” they’ll play across multiple venues in varying formats including two nights at Comedy Theatre.
Marlon Williams’ once in a generation voice will ring out like a beacon. One of RISING’s few international guests returns from his home in New Zealand’s rugged South Island to his regular stomping ground of Melbourne for two performances, supported by haunting indie-folk duo Luluc.
Two years have passed since the release of Crushing — Julia Jacklin’s critically acclaimed 2019 album, and one of the year’s best. Jacklin’s world tour on the back of the album sold out, but she’s back with a series of rare solo performances opened by Melbourne-based artist Kee’Ahn.
In 2020 Melbourne artists Gregor and Sweet Whirl each released the acclaimed albums Destiny and How Much Works. In the grand surrounds of the Comedy Theatre, on a double headlining bill, they finally get to launch these accomplished bodies of work — each with an expanded backing band put together specifically for these shows.
Over one night of lush instrumentation and songwriting, Melbourne’s Grand Salvo and The Orbweavers join forces for the first time since 2006 to mark career milestones with their RISING performances. Grand Salvo’s Paddy Mann celebrates the project’s 21st anniversary while The Orbweavers mark 10 years since the release of Loom—a celebrated collection of dark folk music, inspired by the human and natural history of the Merri Creek region.
And bringing R&B from an alternate timeline, Connan Mockasin is something of a mystery, even in his home country of New Zealand. It’s hard to say what’s on the cards when Mockasin takes to the Comedy Theatre stage, so just step through the portal and melt into his idiosyncratic world.
Showcasing the breadth of Australian music in 2021, longstanding CBD venue Max Watts will become a music hub each night of the festival – a carefully curated insight into the world of underground music. For RISING, the club will be completely reinvented using the surrounding outdoor laneways and featuring an accessible cabaret-friendly dance floor in the main performance space.
In two huge nights of unflinching hip-hop, and vital dancefloor energy, holding the status quo to account, West Sydney based (Malyangapa, Barkindji) rapper Barkaa performs her debut Melbourne headline show joined by Darwin / Larrakia MC Lil Kootsie, Sevy & Beyang & Soju Gang. And one of Australian hip-hop’s most vocal advocates for change, DRMNGNOW (Yorta Yorta/DjaDja Wurrung/Ngurai Illum Wurrung), will perform a special full band set along with co-headliner, Sydney MC Kobie Dee (Gamilaroi), supported by Kenyan born MC Pookie.
Pre-pandemic, New Zealand’s Vanessa Worm was building a reputation as Melbourne’s most fearless stage presence—a party prophet delivering Dadaist sermons to Melbourne’s dancefloors. For RISING, Vanessa Worm returns with outsider house producer Eden Burns.
Since playing in Geelong noise-rock outfit The Golden Lifestyle Band in the mid ‘90s, Chris Smith’s live and recorded output has been slim. Playing a set of improvisational electric guitar pieces accompanied by film projections before diving into the songs on Second Hand Smoke with a full band, Smith will be supported by fellow Geelong artist and sporadic performer Lost Animal—whose now 10-year-old album Ex Tropical remains a singular achievement in Melbourne’s 21st century musical canon, and OV Pain.
Audiences will get lost in properly loud guitar jams, bass that cracks sidewalks and drums with broken brake lines with a triple header of Clamm, Brick Head, and Voice Imitator – expect cassette-tape chaos, sweat, screams, riffs and disobedience. And after 20 years spent nurturing, presenting and promoting improvised music and sound performances, Make It Up Club, a staple on Melbourne’s gig guide will join with RISING for a one-off collaboration.
Completing the Max Watts program is a chef’s kiss party platter of Melbourne funk and full-band dance music with Bananagun and Surprise Chef joining forces for a special show at Max Watts, while Melbourne’s innovative concert series Play On will bring together beloved electronic producers Sleep D and the six-person Ad Lib Collective chamber ensemble, for a night of contemporary composition, joined by YL Hooi launching her recent album Untitled.