By Annika White, Samantha Naiman, Eleanor Maddock, Emersyn Wood and Ella Mullins
Photos by Adam Cavenor
Sydney’s new generation of musicians are rallying behind each other, filling gigs to capacity and embracing each other’s live ventures as they battle to make a go of it in Australia’s tough music scene.
As more music lovers choose to stream their music, it has become increasingly difficult for local musicians to make ends meet or to make an impact on the charts.
Megastars from overseas dominate the Australian Record Industry Association’s music charts, where there used to be ample Australian acts. In 2023, Taylor Swift albums occupied the charts for more weeks than all Australian artists combined.
While the record charts tell a gloomy tale about Australian music, at the grassroots level young up-and-coming bands continue to battle it out in a challenging but energetic live scene.
Central News first met Chaperone, a burgeoning Eora-based funk-rock septet, in the graffiti littered green-room at Darlinghurst’s famed Oxford Art Factory. Preparing for their first time as Oxford Art Factory headliners, the amped-up youngsters shared with us the trials and tribulations they experience in Sydney’s reviving local music scene.
Chaperone walked onto the stage of the Oxford Art Factory to a chorus of high-spirited cheers and whistles. With an experimental amalgamation of genres and sounds, their classic ’70s funk influence was undeniable. Alongside the classic rock elements the band has a funk-driven brass section composed of a saxophone, trumpet and two trombones, the players all dressed in red ties and sunglasses.
Playing an original set list of 11 songs, drummer Henry McGlinchey said Chaperone was motivated by “get[ting] people to dance in a live setting.”
The band’s high-energy, high-impact funk-rock fusion flows through their catalogue of songs.
“I wouldn’t even categorise it simply as [funk-rock],” said Isaac May, Chaperone’s front man. “There is a bit of absurdism in the lyrics but usually it’s trying to, I guess, address in my life an unexpected combination of emotions.
“It will usually be two different things that I feel together at the same time which don’t seem like they should make sense, and through a little bit of absurdity, expressing them. Expressing why that conflict can exist harmoniously.
“I view myself primarily as a performer. I like playing gigs and putting on a great show and really connecting with someone in a personal one on one, you know, eye to eye experience is really what got me into this. And to me, that’s something that no matter how popular you become on social media, I don’t think it actually services it.”
May added of his onstage persona: “It’s just how I would act in the supermarket if they didn’t stop you.”
Nick Flanagan, the uncle of bass player Jack, said: “The energy and intensity is just amazing… it’s so good to see the passion with these guys.”
May mused about the collaborative effort that propelled the band to headline OAF, recognising not only the hard work of the support acts Lemonise and Sonnet and the Bread Boys, but the friends and peers who have helped them develop the concept of Chaperone through costuming, make-up, photography and videography.
But headlining at the Oxford Art Factory is only one of many instances of these young artists supporting one another to create something bigger than themselves.
“Success is when you are having fun and being able to do it the next day,” said lead singer and guitarist May. The measure of success is “very personal”, he continued, explaining that the goals of every artist are different.
But alongside the personal is the practical. Money is an essential part of keeping a band alive. Between instruments, additional gear, rehearsal space, and travel, there isn’t a lot left over for the boys to profit from.
Many of the band members maintain jobs and their studies in addition to the weekly time they devote to the group. Whatever time they can spare, they put it toward the band. For some this means six hours a week, for others like May it’s “every second of every day”.
Together, the band members double as their own promoters, marketers, publishers, managers as well as running their own PR and socials.
“It’s a full time un-paying job,” said May. He also revealed since he has taken on so many responsibilities he is unable to maintain a job that provides steady income. A reality that stresses him out increasingly.
Despite this, the boys describe Chaperone as “a fearless expression of joy and passion”.
For Chaperone, September includes a residency at the Duke of Enmore to which May adds: “We’re planning to hold a fashion music event, combining works from local designers and local bands. I will say that it’s ambitious.”
The band will also embark on a Northern New South Wales and Queensland tour, which will take place in October this year.
“We are nothing without the people that come to our shows and the bands that we play with,” Jack finishes.
Despite the challenges, Chaperone has established themselves in the music scene and defined their success on their own terms.
You can catch the boys (for free!) playing at The Duke of Enmore tonight, September 21, from 9-11pm.