Updated: May 26
Words by Thea Martin
It's been a strange month, and strange is just putting it lightly. I've been hesitant to write anything new, as my head has still not quite worked out how to feel about the world we are now living in. However, I have felt an increasing need to share some of the wonderful things coming out of this awful situation, and so here we are. Isol-Aid is just one of the initiatives within the arts community that has sprung up just as quickly as so many parts of our lives have seemingly vanished. But I think what this social (media) distancing festival has shown us, is that these parts of our lives haven't vanished, they've just changed, and we can and will adapt. Created by artist Merpire (Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt) in collaboration with Emily Ulman and Shannen Egan, Isol-Aid has seen over 150 artists perform 20 minute sets over the last 2 weekends to thousands of viewers via livestream on Instagram. This variation on the traditional gig has allowed for us to draw welcome parallels with our usual concert-going experiences, as well as form new relationships between artists and audiences. Physical distance does not have to limit our capacity for connection. I've found that so many songs seem to resonate a little bit differently in our current situation, and I am constantly drawn back to Julia Jacklin's song 'Body' which she performed in the first week of the festival, particularly the line "you can love somebody without using your hands." The arts will always rise up to help us through uncertain times, because humans will always rise up. If you have any dollars spare to support your favourite artists, Isol-Aid has been encouraging everyone to donate to Support Act, which you can do here.
I've shared quite a few stories of gigs I've been to through writing, so I don't want that to change now. Over the weekend I saw some of my favourite artists perform from settings most of us have not experienced before, and so I hope that by sharing our stories, thoughts and experiences we can continue to support each other.
I first discovered the Sydney duo Egoism on a Triple J list of up-and-coming Unearthed artists to listen to, and after a single listen quickly added their tracks 'Sorry' and 'What Are We Doing' to my playlist. The dreamy combination of warm guitars and the most beautiful melodies and harmonies I've ever heard encased in all-consuming synths, draws the listener into their world within moments. From lessons in tambourine safety (hint: wear a sock on your hand for intense practice sessions) to silver-lining musings on isolation; "your acoustic guitars are happy and so are your pets," Scout and Olive stunned us all with their beautiful songs. Their set ended with their most recent single, 'You You' which contains one of the most lovely lyrics I've ever heard 'I can't bear to fade away when you walk in my door.'
I was incredibly excited to see Ali Barter added to the lineup, as her music is wrapped tightly around my memories of high school. I remember lying on my bed listening to 'Cigarette' and 'Girlie Bits,' frustrated with the world. She made the kind of music I'd dreamt of making since I was a kid, and as my music taste has expanded in the years since those songs were released, I've always found myself coming back to her music, both new and old.
Unique to the livestream concert experience is the way in which the audience can engage with the artist. It's so uplifting to see people comment on the music as it happens, whether they're typing out their favourite lyrics in all caps, sending hand clapping emojis or reconnecting with friends via the chat, it makes it feel as though you're there with other appreciative listeners.
Armed with a single electric guitar, Ali started her set with 'Please Stay' which someone commented sounded a little like a Guided by Voices track. She then launched straight into 'Backseat,' a track that fills me with an intense desire to create an indie coming of age film. The slight hint of rasp on her lower notes and the oohs at the end of 'January' sent shivers down my spine. In a bittersweet comment Ali noted how the lyric 'going nowhere' from that track "hits a little different right now."
Ending with the well-loved 'Girlie Bits' I started to tear up as I was immediately thrown back into my year 11 self, and in my sentimental state thought about just how strange it is reflecting on the past now.
Sam Cromack from Ball Park Music commenced his set (looking very dapper in suit and tie I might add) with a track from their debut album; 'Glass Jar'. I almost yanked my headphones cord out of my laptop in excitement as I sat at the table eating my fried rice. This song feels like a little snapshot of suburban life enclosed in major chord nostalgia, and hearing it played acoustic was extremely special. We were then invited to partake in my first livestream sing-along as Sam announced the next song he would be playing was 'The End Times,' which seemed like a very fitting choice, given the situation. I felt the exact same rush of excitement I feel when seeing music live, as I wait in collective anticipation to find out what the next song will be, so I guess that magic never fades. As my family were in the next room and I didn't want to disturb them too much, my audience participation for singing the line "experience, incredible, music, yes" was limited to a whisper, but not at the expense of any enthusiasm.
We were then treated to a cover of 'Don't Let Me Down' by The Beatles, prefaced by Sam saying "I'm sorry, it's the only band I listen to," but I don't think anyone was complaining about the choice. Without the rest of the band present I was able to appreciate Sam's voice at a new level, and once again I was reminded why this band is one of my all time favourites. Ending with Ball Park Music's latest single 'Spark up', which I must say translated surprisingly well into an acoustic setting, we were surprised with a visit from his little daughter, who was then promptly whisked away as Sam told his partner "you better take her away I'll scare the shit out of her with this next bit" as he then began to repeatedly yell the hook 'spark up.'
I cannot thank the organisers of this festival, the bands and musicians who played and everyone who tuned in from their homes enough. You have all brought some joy to us in the way only music can in these strange times. And there's great news, the organisers at Isol-Aid plan to be running the festival every weekend until this situation is over, so make sure you give them a follow on Instagram to get the latest updates! I tuned in these last 2 weeks mainly to catch some of my favourite artists, but now I look forward to using it in the same way I would going to local gigs in my city; trying to find new artists and sounds to explore, so this week I plan on checking out some music I've never heard before. These concerts from bedrooms and living rooms give us a new opportunity to continue to connect with music, perhaps providing a little insight into how some of the songs we know and love may have come into existence in the first place. I feel very lucky right now to have access to so much wonderful music and creativity, and that's one thing that certainly won't change. You can donate to Support Act here.