On a sunny Sunday afternoon I make my way down to MPavillion where Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Alice Skye is performing as part of Melbourne Music Week. The show starts at 4pm and I arrive early to get a good seat – only to see a full crowd already formed, spilling out onto the grass next to the MPavillion structure. There is not a single spare seat left and I’m relegated to sitting on concrete steps. There is a good reason for the large number of people; this event is free, it’s a beautiful day for a show and the ethereal voice of Alice sound checking acts as a siren call for passers-by. The space is overflowing, and the show hasn’t even started yet.
I spy a young woman in a red floral dress sitting in the crowd with an electric guitar perched in front of her. At 4:30pm she makes her way to the stage. She introduces herself as Kee’ahn, acknowledges the traditional owners of the land, then starts playing. Immediately the audience falls to a hush. It’s just her and her electric guitar, commanding the space. Her voice is smooth with an unexpected growl on some notes. As she plays through the first couple of songs, there are a few guitar mess-ups, but she pushes through like a pro.
Later on in her set she adopts a loop pedal, issuing a disclaimer to the crowd that she is “still a beginner” with the loop pedal and apologising for any mistakes she might make. I didn’t notice any errors in her performance. However, even if she did make a mistake, the stunning layering of her electric guitar on the loop pedal would have distracted me. Kee’ahn’s soft, layered vocal melodies remind me of a lullaby, one I would gladly listen to every night.
Before launching into her final song, Better Things, Kee’han tells the audience a bit more about herself. She’s 21 years old and was originally from Townsville. She’s been in Melbourne for the past 6 months. Her name means to dance, to sing and to create – which is incredibly fitting for her, a talented singer-songwriter.
Better Things is my favourite song from her set. It’s a catchy, thoughtful song sprinkled with metaphors of weeds and seeds that set my literature-loving heart on fire. It’s a song about growing up, with lyrics like I’ve been wondering how to love myself and I’ve been wondering how to speak my truth. When Kee’ahn expertly hits the high notes I have to hold back the urge to fist pump in the air. This is the type of song that launches a career in the music industry. Suffice to say, I’m sure this is not the last we will hear from Kee’ahn.
After Kee’ahn’s great opening performance, we sit waiting for the next performance for over 15 minutes. The audience gets a bit antsy, but the overall chill vibe remains. Eventually, the Djirri Djirri Dance Group takes the stage. The group was started by Wurrundjeri women in order to enrich their daughters and nieces in culture. They describe themselves as a cultural support network that aims to embrace culture and start ceremonies again to avoid losing more Indigenous culture. Their performance is informative and beautiful. One of the group’s founders explains the meaning behind each dance before it is performed and they are accompanied by traditional Indigenous music. It’s wonderful to see Indigenous culture celebrated vibrantly on stage.
After the Djirri Djirri Dance Group, it’s time for the main event – Alice Skye herself. She stands behind her keyboard, and is joined by Sam and Kane King, twins from her hometown of Horsham. She tells us later on in her set that she’s known the twins since she was 5 years old. She begins her set and her soft, breathy voice fills the MPavillion. The layering of the keyboard, guitar, drums and Alice’s voice is beautiful.
“This is a song I wrote when I was failing a science degree that I ended up dropping out of, and also about dating someone who is mean to you”, Alice says, before launching into her second song. She sings ‘let me tell you about science and arts, do you think I’m smart?’, her voice floating gently over each word. Her third song is a reflection on disappointment. Crisp notes from the electric guitar accompanies Alice softly singing, ‘you’re not as great as I thought you would be’.
Alice repeatedly thanks the audience for attending her show. After every song she thanks us all over again. “Every time before an event I think no one is going to come”, she says. But come we have. The MPavillion has only become more packed as the show has progressed.
Before the fourth song in her set, Alice tells the story of where she wrote it. The crowd laughs as she delightfully details driving through a crazy rainstorm when she couldn’t see the road, and finally “pulling over responsibly” and writing this song. I note that her voice melts into the electric guitar and piano on this song. It’s beautiful, like every Alice Skye song.
For her next song, Alice’s friend Georgie Maq jumps up on stage. Georgia is on bass as the group plays through one of Alice’s new songs. “I wrote this song thinking about how embarrassed I would be if someone saw everything I Googled”, Alice explains. Her lyrics in this song are painfully self-aware; ‘I guess I’ll die alone, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, that’s just one of my bad habits’, but also funny; ‘don’t look through my browser history’. It’s playful and reflective. I’m a fan and I can’t wait to hear the studio version.
As Alice plays through her more well-known tracks, You Are The Mountains and Friends With Feelings (during which she was joined onstage by Jackson from the band Rathammock), the woman sitting next to me closes her eyes. She’s immersed in the musical landscape created by Alice and Co., tapping her foot to the drum beat. This epitomises Alice’s performance, it’s so beautiful you want to close your eyes to be alone with it.
After Alice plays through Friends With Feelings, the Djirri Djirri Dance Group gets up to leave, they have a prior engagement. Alice waves goodbye to the women, and they yell “I love you” to each other. It’s a lovely moment of sisterhood, and is indeed “very wholesome”, like Alice says.
For her final song, Alice performs Dreams by The Cranberries. Both Georgia Maq and Jackson from Rathammock join Alice, Sam and Kane onstage. This song is more upbeat than Alice’s discography, and the group gleefully progresses through the song. I’m struck by how comfortable Alice looks in this setting, jamming with her friends. She’s a tentative performer, so it’s exciting to see her lose herself in Dreams. I hope that in the future Alice embraces more upbeat songs, because her happiness in this performance was palpable and contagious.
It was truly heartening to see so many people come out and support up-and-coming artists at the Alice Skye and Friends show. This is what Melbourne Music Week is about, celebrating Melbourne music, listening to some good tunes and getting lost in the music.
Check out more details about Melbourne Music Week here.
Speaker TV will be covering MMW 2018. Keep an eye out for our live reviews and interviews with Melbourne artists.