By Hans Ebert
The longer I’m here, the more there’s the feeling that Melbourne is evolving to a point where the city’s elders and creatures of habit will, sooner rather than later, be replaced by a more vibrant music-driven city. It’s not going to happen overnight, but there are many things going on in a low key manner that there’s a future slowly falling into place now.
There’s a running gag that there’s only one reason to move to Melbourne: To die. And speaking to those over fifty, there’s always the urge to nod off as they ramble on about anything and everything negative- especially, their near misses in the insular world of horse racing- that often results in one astral traveling and wondering what the hell you’re doing listening to such discardable and monotonous fluff.
To really see and hear and understand what’s bubbling under Melbourne, which many living here cannot see or understand, there’s the need to shake off hanging out with those living in the past, go walkies by yourself and discover just all that is happening and unknown to the blinkered city elders.
The time of the season for change hasn’t arrived yet, but, like in many cities in Scandinavia, the current younger generation is setting the platform for what’s to come next. A road block in Melbourne when it comes to music is the very small group of what are usually old school flim flam men booking middle aged acts for functions, others bombing minds with huge dollops of name droppings, and always, those who are given a job by someone from Hong Kong, see this person as their financial honeypot who might be gullible enough to fund one of their daft ideas- like recording a CD of classic Rock covers by someone way past their Use By date. Why? More to the point, And then what? Please.
Perhaps it’s being surrounded and suffocated by such old fart thinking that has so many young, hugely talented and original musicians not really pushing themselves. Either they’re not interested in taking their careers further, or else, with money too tight to mention, unable to market themselves. Or perhaps they need mentors. If only so many musicians in Hong Kong with their heads up their arses realise how damn lucky they are to get away with being paid so well for being so average. If only all those managing lounges in five-star hotels and being hoodwinked by agents often peddling mediocrity get out more often and hear the type of duo we did on the weekend at Mr Hive, the lounge bar at the Crown Metropol.
The singer is Emerson Alexander and the guitarist is Julian Billette, a very good musician who knows his chords and how to use the loop pedal intelligently and creatively. It’s he who lays down the groundwork for the quite remarkable voice of Emerson aka EMRSN. Who does he sound like? Maxwell? Marvin Gaye? Bill Withers? No comparisons. He just has It.
Opening their set with an incredible version- and surreal choice of song- of the old hit for Gene Kelly in “Singing In The Rain”- we were gobsmacked at the arrangement and soulful vocal- the duo followed with their hugely original interpretations of hits by George Michael, Al Green and Stevie Wonder. This wasn’t a duo regurgitating covers with no thought or feeling. These were and are two passionate musicians enjoying what they do, something that’s contagious, and bringing and giving something new to their audience.
The question is now what at a time when music companies, especially the majors in Australia, are suffering from the Grim Reaper knocking at their door, and the popularity of streaming and which will eventually kill off downloads? Well, there are no easy answers for any of that.
Apart from a premium CD branded as Live From Mr Hive featuring the excellent duos and trios that perform at the venue on Fridays and Saturdays and given out free to regulars, with gigging becoming the one real move-your-money-maker everywhere in the world today, push the envelope in this direction and find those who can really market your music outside of the usual safety zones. There’s a lucrative touring market in Asia along with sponsors that can be an important baby step and ammunition for the future. Certainly EMRSN and Julian deserve more than being heard only in Melbourne. This is a world class act.