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Photograph: Daniel Boud

The first recipients of a $1 million grant program to support Aussie musos have been announced

The American Express Music Backers Fund is giving a leg-up to musos and the businesses that champion them

Maxim Boon

Last year was a sucker punch for just about everyone, but some of the hardest hit by the impacts of iso were artists and the venues that champion them. Many innovated and pivoted, finding digital portals to remain in touch with their public, but times have been indisputably tough over the past 12 months for those who earn their living making art. 

Australia has, for the time being at least, emerged from the worst of the crisis, and life across Sydney feels almost normal. But that’s not to say that recovery efforts aren’t an ongoing struggle. Recognising that a community's soul is defined by its artists, American Express has launched an initiative to help musos and gig venues get back on their feet. The American Express Music Backers Fund will distribute a cool $1 million over the coming months to revitalise the whole ecology of live music in Australia, supporting not only artists but the venues who present them and the fans that they create for.

There are currently three main pathways to the grants program. Fifty early-career artists have earned a day in the studio to lay down a new track, with the opportunity to win $5,000 to release and promote it. Local grassroots talent have had a leg-up through the Nominate a Mate program, which has granted $1,500 to 100 musos doing great things for their communities, plus, 20 fans that nominated them to win have also scored a $250 TicketMaster Gift Card to spend on seeing live music performances.

The largest portion of the American Express Music Backers Fund has gone towards its main grants initiative, which has been accepting applications from artists and music businesses for financial support ranging from $2,000 to $50,000. On March 26, the first eight recipients were announced, including three applicants from NSW and three from Victoria.

In NSW, Sydney-based Australian-Japanese producer Taka Perry was granted the funds to create a trio of ambitious music videos, designed to be viewed as a tryptic of interconnected narratives. At just 22, he’s already making waves on the global EDM scene, boasting an impressive roll call of past collaborators, including Ruel, Sycco, Denzel Curry and Max Frost to name a handful. 

La La La’s is Wollongong’s most up-and-coming live music venue. With gig rooms, dance floors and bar spaces spread over three-levels, its become one of the hottest nightspots in the ‘Gong, and since emerging from lockdown last May, it’s been laying on five or more events every week. La La La’s will use its grant to purchase state of the art DJ and sound tech equipment, which will allow them to host an even more eclectic range of artists. 

Sydney-based producer, songwriter and DJ Ninajirachi has become as in-demand for her remixing skills as she has for her original work, remixing tracks for huge acts like Flight Facilities and Hermitude. As a composer, her credits include co-writing the official anthem for Australia’s Matildas used in the last FIFA World Cup. Her grant will be spent creating an interactive video installation series with Kota Banks, based on their collaborative EP True North

In a city filled with gig rooms, there are few venues more beloved than Melbourne’s the Night Cat. Opened in 1996, the Fitzroy gig space has become one of the cornerstone venues of Melbourne’s diverse music scene, so in recognition of its role supporting so many different communities through music, it will be spending its grant on installing gender-neutral bathrooms and greater disabled access throughout the building.

First nations vocalist Emma Donovan and Melbourne-based rhythm outfit the Putbacks have been collaborating on their unique brand of Aussie soul music since 2014. Their funding will go towards regional touring, ensuring that great music is being shared in rural and remote areas of the state and not just in our big cities. 

Indie-rock quartet RVG might just be the sound of Melbourne; a mercurial mix of urgent rock, rebellious punk and emotional pop, fused by their effortless, casually cool performance style. Best known for releasing a debut album that was recorded entirely live at the Tote, their grant will be used to upgrade their instruments and gig kit to take their live performances to the next level.

You can read full details of the first round of American Express Music Backers Fund here.

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