Nature vs Nurture: Musical Climates in Australia

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Adelaide can get pretty boring at times, a lot of the music being created is mediocre and watered down imitations of genres that have already progressed. But then you have people like Strict Face.

Jon Santos, who produces under the moniker Strict Face, has been considered by tastemakers as one of the pioneers of the new grime movement and at only 20 years of age.

Rapper Le1F, whose single Wut you may remember from the last time you were inside a club, has featured a Strict Face production on his mixtape Fly Zone which was released at the start of the year.

Having gained support from revered members of the current new-wave grime community and exposure from FACT magazine (an independent music-news source known for its expansive knowledge on the underground music scene), Santos is well on his way to becoming an important figure in the evolution of this genre.

However you wouldn’t guess it from the gigs he’s played. With an audience number you could count on your two hands, Santos could easily be dismissed by the general public as a boy with too much time in his day, making music that makes no sense.

As the name might suggest, the genre of grime is not too dissimilar to a dirtier, darker variation on dubstep, with rich origins in UK garage music and drum and bass. Predominately being created by the youth in underprivileged towns in London, grime gained critical acclaim through artists like Dizzee Rascal and Wiley who started making music at a very young age.

The old argument of nature verses nurture rings clear in this scenario. Are people born with a natural inclination of musical creativity or is it bred into them though their environment, and their experiences as a result of that?

The city of Chicago is notorious for having a higher death count in the year of 2008, than the amount of soldiers killed in Iraq (hence the commonly used term ‘Chiraq’ to refer to how dangerous the city can be). Chicago is home to the drill music scene, which is characterised by the violent content of verses, aggressive trap music and nihilistic delivery. Chief Keef, a figurehead of the Drill scene illustrates this in his lyrical content

We just do our thing and the feds watchin’
All we do is turn up, we some damn monsters

via RapGenius

An evident correlation is able to be seen between the environment that these rappers grew up in and the music that they produce.

There has always been this perception of Australia and its citizens as those who are relatively carefree. This lax attitude aided by fortunate living conditions is highly reflective in the brand of patriotic rock popularised by artists like John Farnham, Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel. A re-emergence is evident in the early 2000s with bands such as Powderfinger and The Vines.

This wave of masculine and guitar-heavy music has produced the best selling artists in Australia.

When people found out that Strict Face lived in Australia, they were taken aback and began questioning the sincerity of the music he created. The question on their minds being – how can this boy create such a depth and dark intensity to his music whilst living in a country well-known for its laidback and sunny disposition?

A rhetorical question proposed by Tobias Shine of Truants Blog, highlights the underlying confusion regarding Santos’ environment

With all this in mind, where better to start [making grime music] than a quiet Australian city known better for its tasty shiraz and churches than its brooding squarewaves?

Electronic music has never been extremely prevalent within Australia’s soundscape. It played a small role in the development of Australian music in the eighties, as synthesizers acted as a prerequisite for those involved in new wave. The nineties saw a small house scene emerge as the genre hit the mainstream. It wasn’t until the 2000s that finally saw Australia contribute to the forefront of an electronic scene with its own brand of ‘indietronica’.

The popularity of indietronica was aided by Modular People, who signed the likes of The Presets, Van She, Cut Copy and The Avalanches. With regular airplay on Triple J, when Triple J was still considered a large part of the indie zeitgeist, these bands grew large and broke into the mainstream. A notable characteristic in the music of these bands is their upbeat dance influence and although at times their themes can be dark or introspective, there is a general positive sheen over their work reminiscent of the chillwave scene in the mid 2000s.

Australia’s culture seems to breed music that is reflective of its environment. We’re no Chiraq, however we are fortunate to live in a country where the economy is intact and where we are able to walk on the streets without a fear of being shot. Thus a majority of popular music generated in Australia doesn’t seem to have the same levels of urgency and artistic sentiment found in music created in other places.

However with the increasing accessibility to music from all around the world (thank you internet), we have a new wave of artists like Strict Face who are unable to gain footing in the current cultural climate we have developed here in Australia. Is it that our lack of devastation that prevents us from accepting conceptually and sonically complex music into popular consciousness?

The future of electronic music in Australia is an open debate. It is possible that with free online sharing and music being more accessible than ever, Australia will develop a more comprehensive sound, something that may one day be on par with our overseas counterparts. However with Australian electronic artists fleeing to the UK and the States to pursue their musical careers and the general lack of honoured electronic artists touring to Australia it is possible that we will be stuck in our own little cultural bubble for years to come. For better or worse.

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