The magic of Melbourne Music Week is that it celebrates the talents of Melbourne’s most exciting artists in a truly unique way. Enter a gig with Ainslie Wills, Gretta Ray and Angie McMahon. All three female artists share the headlining position on the bill and they are all friends who love and support each other. That’s a sure-fire recipe for some Melbourne Music Week magic!
Many Mondays ago I headed into ACMI’s Gallery 1 for the performance. I made my way down a flight of grand stairs and out into a large expansive space. There’s a bar 100 meters or so from the stage and a disco ball in the centre of the space. Green lights sparkle around the room as the disco ball spins. It’s beautiful.
The stage is littered with guitars and microphones. There’s a drum kit, and a white neon MMW sign. The ages of people who are slowly trickling into the venue are diverse. It’s an 18+ event, but I would say there are people here aged 18 all the way up to people in their 50s. It’s rare to attend a show where young and middle aged people come together to jam out to the same music. It goes to show how uniting music is, and how universally loved Ainslie Wills, Gretta Ray and Angie McMahon really are.
The show hasn’t even started yet and there’s a guy dancing his heart out in the middle of the venue. It’s a sign of the truly stunning, transformative performance which is about to begin. True to Melbourne Music Week style, the songs playing through the speakers are by Melbourne-based artists. I recall a song by up and coming artist Woodes, among other tunes.
I recently interviewed Ainslie Wills, so I have a clear idea about what to expect from the performance. Each artist will play a 15 minute set, then they will then rotate and play another 15 minute set, before all three artists come together to perform a final song as a trio. The purpose of the evening is to showcase new music. It’s an innovative format dreamed up by Charlotte Abroms, the manager of all 3 women, who is thanked more times than I could count during the evening.
It’s important to note that this gig is completely sold out. It’s truly heart warming to see so much support for Melbourne artists, particularly independent artists.
Gretta Ray takes the stage first, greeting the audience with a cheery “Happy Melbourne Music Week!” She launches first into ‘When We Were In Fitzroy’, then ‘Long Distance’ and finally ‘Towers’. Her warm, earthy voice carries the songs. Softly played drums and electric guitar accompany her vocals and acoustic guitar. I’ve never heard Gretta perform live before, and I’m stunned. She perfectly hits every single note, and her and her band are a seamlessly cohesive unit. She explains that she first met her band members in a studio when she was 16 or 17 years old – so it makes sense that they play so incredibly well together.
After her first set Gretta thanks the audience, “I’m blown away and appreciative that you’re all so attentive and quiet”, she says. And she’s right. The entire room is enthralled. It’s a sold out show and everyone is focused solely on her and her music. It’s a truly beautiful moment. Gretta compliments Ainslie and Angie, explaining that she is a fan of their music but also of them as people. “I want to do every tour like this!”, Gretta says, a sentiment which is echoed by both Angie and Ainslie later on in the show.
After a very quick turnaround and stage reset, Angie McMahon jumps up on stage. Her music is a stark contrast to Gretta’s soft, melodic tunes. Angie’s music is fierce, empowered, and cheeky with a rock edge. She effortlessly strums her electric guitar, as her deep, soulful voice moves the audience. She feels the music in her body, moving around the stage and flipping her hair as she gets into it. She’s accompanied by a bass player and drums. After her first song she announces that her pants are really tight and she has a wedgie. This is perhaps the most relatable and honest thing I have ever witnessed an artist say on stage. It makes me instantly fall in love with her. To make it even better, mid-gig Angie’s dad yells out at her. It’s cute and very wholesome.
Before her first set is over, Angie introduces Ainslie who will be performing after her. “Ainslie is one of my favourite artists of all time”, she says, “I was so nervous to meet her, but now I am her friend”. It’s one of many moments throughout the night that make it a total love fest. Every artist fawns over each other, each of them fangirl over each other. This is sisterhood at its finest – women supporting women, not women being pitted against each other. And I am so here for it.
Angie’s final song in her first set is ‘Slow Mover’, which has quickly become one of my favourite tunes. Her performance of this song is electric, the entire audience is jamming out. The guy in front of me is singing every single lyric, word for word. It’s one of those moments that happen in concerts where you feel deeply connected to everyone around you, because they are also feeling all the feelings like you. When I get home after the show I scour Angie’s discography to find this song, and have listened to it at least 30 times since. It’s Angie at her best, and is a jam. Go listen to it if you have not yet heard it!
Ainslie Wills is next up on stage. She is accompanied by drums and a bass player as she sings and plays keyboard. Her first song is ‘Constellations’ and when she hits the high notes I get goose bumps. Her voice is clear and vibrant, it’s almost as if singing is as effortless as breathing to her. Her second song, ‘Mountains’ is a new one. She dedicates it to anyone who suffers from insomnia or night terrors. Paired with the stunning visuals and lights behind her, the performance is utterly mesmerising.
Watching Ainslie perform is a gift. She loses herself completely in the music, closing her eyes, grasping the microphone like her life depends on it, flipping her hair to the beat. It’s clear that she is having the absolute best time on stage, and that is translated to the energy within the crowd.
Gretta is back up on stage again for her final set. She plays songs from her latest EP, Here And Now, the first of which, ‘A View Like This’ reminds me of Missy Higgins. Next is ‘Radio Silence’, a song, she explains, that was written as part of a game with Angie, Ainslie and Charlotte (their manager). Each woman was locked in a room for 6 hours (with food) and had to write 10 songs then perform them to each other. One of the songs that Gretta wrote was ‘Radio Silence’, which Ainslie, Angie and Charlotte urged Gretta to return to, complete and record. ‘Radio Silence’ has “sad song vibes”, as described by Gretta.
Gretta’s final song of the night is her breakout hit ‘Drive’, which is a favourite of everyone in the audience. Everyone is grooving, dancing and singing along. It’s such an upbeat, joyful tune that you can’t help but have a little boogie. After the show I added it into all of my happy music playlists. Like Angie’s ‘Slow Mover’, ‘Drive’ is a tune you really need to get around.
By the time Angie takes the stage for her final set, I’m ready to rock out again. Her electric guitar pierces through the room, and everyone around me is totally jamming out. I’m a huge fan of her second song, ‘And I’m A Woman’, which will be on her next album. Angie describes the circumstances that inspired the song as “a date which turned into an argument about feminism”. “Sometimes you don’t want to argue, you just want someone to go home and go on the internet and search it up for them f***ing selves, so you can eat pizza”, she says.
Angie’s final song is a new one called ‘Pasta’. Yes, you read that right, it is called ‘Pasta’. At first I think I have misheard her, but nope, that is the name of the song. If I didn’t already love Angie, I love her now. The lyrics of the song are cheeky and hella relateable; “kissing people in my head” and “guess I spent all of yesterday on my phone” are some of my favourites. This second set cements Angie as one of my new favourite artists. Go listen to her stuff, she’s a babe.
The final set of the night belongs to Ainslie, who is back up on stage – this time with her electric guitar. She is playing a brand new song, and gets so lost in the music that at the end of the performance she opens her eyes, looks out at all of us in the audience, and says, “I forgot where I was for a second”.
The final song in Ainslie’s set is one of my favourite songs of 2018. It is so good that I get shivers anticipating the performance. I’ve been desperate to hear it live, and boy does Ainslie deliver. It is ‘Society’. I sing every word back to Ainslie and lose myself in the song just like she does. I’m struck by what a perfect ending this song is for the show. ‘Society’ explores the expectations heaped upon women, and all of the stresses and struggles that we face. It encapsulates the strength and vulnerability of all three women who have been on stage, and the women-supporting-women vibe of the entire night. ‘Society’ is a song that I feel like everyone should listen to. It’s raw, honest, catchy and speaks from the heart. It’s definitely another must-hear!
Dreams really do come true: @ainsliewills x @angie_mcmahon x @grettaraymusic playing rotating sets then closing with a cover of @EmmaLouiseHere with some magical harmonies @melbmusicweek won’t get better than that imho
— Alister Newstead (@AlNewstead) November 19, 2018
As an encore, all three women jump back on stage for one final performance. Angie is on the keyboard and singing, and Gretta and Ainslie are lending their vocals to the song. It is an Emma Louise tune, and the women’s harmonies are stunning. I have no words to describe the beauty of these final moments. Watching Ainslie, Gretta and Angie come together for one last song makes my heart explode. I feel deeply connected to them and everyone around me. It’s one of those moments that remind you of the power of music. Everyone is in awe of the talent of this trio, and we are breathlessly listening to every single note. This is the highlight of Melbourne Music Week for me, it does not get much better than this.
Find out more about Melbourne Music Week here.