The DJ Sessions


Behind The Scenes At The 2023 ARIA Awards

The | November 15, 2023

The glitz! The glamour! The Red Rooster? Australian music’s night of nights returned to the Hordern Pavilion for 2023, and the stars of the local music scene were out to shine, eat and drink.

The talk on the carpet was of reconnection, collaboration and more than one instance of, “I’m not nominated, so bring on the champagne!”

There was no sign of Dolly, the wildly rumoured Kylie or the even more wildly rumoured Mötley Crüe on the carpet, but internationally burgeoning stars G Flip, Troye Sivan and Dom Dolla sashayed their way through the swathe of fan selfie spots, sponsor activations and media to get to the photo opportunities and into the venue.

There was a sense of celebration from the artists on the carpet, some just happy to be there, “I am so lucky to be nominated at all!” declared Katie Wighton, no stranger to the ARIAs but nominated in a solo capacity for her album, The End in the Blues and Roots category. 

Others were hunting down their idols, like up-and-coming group Teenage Dads, nominated for the Michael Gudinski Breakthrough Artist award, who were soaking it all up. “We haven’t really been to many events like this before – I just had a photo with my idol, Winston [McCall] from Parkway Drive!” a clearly excited Jordan Finlay declared.

Lime Cordiale brothers, Louis and Oli Leimbach, not wanting to be outdone, had some pre-award advice for their stable-mates, Teenage Dads. “I brought my ARIA with me to the pre-drinks just so they know where we stand! You guys haven’t gotten an ARIA yet; we’ve got two!” laughed Oli.

With the carpet wrapped up in record time, much to the pleasure of those in suits in the sun or on heels, a small throng of media were ushered through the dark to a marquee housing photographers and writers looking to cover the event. Not quite the glam of previous venues!

“This is insane!” was Forest Claudette’s response to the first award of the night, with his EP, Everything Was Green, picking up the best cover art visualised by multi-disciplinarian Grey Ghost and renowned photographer Michelle Grace Hunder. It was the first of several ‘pre-dinner’ awards covering World Music, Classical and the best use of Australian recordings in advertisements. 

Winston McCall from Parkway Drive was exclaiming how stoked he was to be nominated for Best Group on the red carpet and got the chance to thank everyone as his band picked up their third ARIA in six attempts in the – also relegated to the early slot – Hard Rock/Heavy Metal category with Darker Still.

As the clock clicked closer to the live broadcast, it certainly felt like the awards were running to schedule like a well-oiled machine. Amongst the warning of “..keep speeches to 40 seconds and to “..keep it snappy, this is for TV!”, the hosts Brooke Boney and Tommy Little were already warming the crowd up with cheeky lines about the industry.

With full bellies in front and behind the curtain, the show kicked off live at 5 pm with a dynamic performance from G Flip, the six-time nominated artist showing why they are a ‘multi’ instrumentalist, switching from drums to guitar, all whilst belting out Good Enough and The Worst Person Alive from their new record, DRUMMER. They had barely taken a breath before claiming the award for Best Video for Good Enough with director Kyle Caulfield.

Dan Sultan claimed his fifth career ARIA Award, this time in the Adult Contemporary category, for his self-titled album that he had earlier on the red carpet lauded as his best yet, “It’s my best work. When you’re doing your best work, when you get to that place, it feels like you’re doing it for the first time.”

This transitioned to the next generation with a debut win for Forest Claudette in the Soul/R&B category. The artist on the rise has turned a lot of heads since branching out over six years ago and releasing two well-received EPs. On the red carpet earlier, his brother Zach, from Northeast Party House, declared a sibling collaboration was not on the cards, “Absolutely not! He sings much better than I can!”

In what seemed to be a boilover, former yellow Wiggle herself, Emma Memma, claimed the award for Best Children’s Album with her self-titled solo debut over The Wiggles themselves! Controversial, perhaps, but the Most Popular International Artist winner certainly wasn’t, with Taylor Swift (presumably easily) picking up the publicly voted win.

The sensitive Fingal Head native, Budjerah, provided a sweet musical break with his performance of Therapy. One of the nicest guys in the room and up for five awards, he manages to make the room break into smiles at the sound of his voice.

The Teskey Brothers nabbed their fifth ARIA for best Blues and Roots record with The Winding Way, and the best producer gong went to Styalz Fuego for his work on Troye Sivan’s Rush. He would later double it up with the Best Engineer award on the same release.

Only an hour into the awards, and it felt like the night was going fast, but maybe that was about to change.

The breakthrough artist category, now named for Mushroom founder and music industry icon Michael Gudinksi, boasts previous winners King Stingray, Tones and I and Flume and was awarded to four-piece indie-rock darlings, Teenage Dads. Dedicating their win to their “tumultuous manager”, Michael Chugg, it certainly feels like their star is sure to rise even faster despite forming over eight years ago.

Jack River presented the best independent release to Genesis Owusu, his first award of the night, whose second album, STRUGGLER, was still up for four more nominations, and Kylie, who didn’t end up attending, deservedly won the Best Pop Release for the already iconic Padam Padam.

The second half of the night commenced with a double act of Best Country nominated acts Fanny Lumsden and Brad Cox, before the Queen of Country herself, Dolly Parton, presented the award via video (not arriving in a ‘Dolly-Copter’ as predicted by DZ Deathrays earlier in the night) to Fanny Lumsden, who has had a massive year with the release of her fourth studio album, Hey Dawn. Fanny was obviously just super stoked that the icon said her name out loud!

In a way, John Farnham won his 21st ARIA Award as the soundtrack from his documentary Finding The Voice won Best Original Soundtrack. The award was graciously accepted by Tim Wheatley, grandson of the late Glenn Wheatley.

The ARIA Music Teacher Award, a great addition to the night, was presented to Sue Lowry, who works at Southport Special School on the Gold Coast, giving disabled children a chance for music education, proving that there are no barriers to being a musician.

So, we entered the hip-hop section of the night, celebrating 50 years of the genre. Starting with a huge throwback to the ‘90s, Sound Unlimited Posse and 1200 Techniques performed, followed by Bliss n Esso and finally Barkaa telling everyone whose house it is. (who needs language warnings!) ARIA Award winner and all-around hip-hop ‘Don’, Hau Latukefu, awarded the Best Hip-Hop/Rap prize to Genesis Owusu, nailing his second award of the night.

Things were starting to get loose as the award ticked into the third hour, the hopes of nipping out early to the after-parties dashed as the big award and performers were still being dusted off. This included DMA’s, having worked their butts off over many years and finally being rewarded with the respected Best Group gong, their first ARIA after 14 nominations.

The last two publicly voted awards would go to G Flip, who claimed their second award of the night with the Best Australian Live Act award, and Troye Sivan’s massive hit, Rush, would take out the hotly contested Song of the Year award.

The Best Rock Release award was given, in what some may call an upset, to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, who have crazily released four additional albums (bringing the current total to 25) since the one that won them the award, Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushroom and Lava.

The Hall of Fame induction came next as a montage of the music and mayhem from Jet led to them taking the stage to accept the award in person. In what was one of the most heartfelt speeches and a surprisingly rare mention of the currently shitty state of the world, Nic Cester and the band really seemed deeply touched to receive an award that hasn’t been awarded since the great Archie Roach in 2020 and includes luminaries like Tina Arena, INXS, Midnight Oil and The Seekers. They were certainly a lot more cohesive in their speech than their infamous 2004 ARIA night!

With just two awards to come, Meg Mac delivered a searing rendition of her track, Letter, which segued into the introduction of Missy Higgins, who presented the award for Best Solo Artist. The award would give Troye Sivan his fourth and most wins of the night, marking a massive year with a number-one album, four ARIAs and two Grammy nominations nestled amongst modelling and film work. All while being the most gracious and wholesome artist you’ll ever see.

The final category, for Album of the Year, would give Genesis Owusu a double, having won the same award two years previously. STRUGGLER, the follow-up to his huge debut, Smiling With No Teeth, earned the Canberra local three awards for the night, bringing his running total to seven – a notable effort for such a young artist. Having received and accepted all of his awards remotely, Owusu took the opportunity to thank his entourage, but again, in a rare moment, called for political action, ending his speech with “Cease fire, Free Palestine”.

Newly minted Hall of Famers Jet rounded out the official proceedings with a frenetic mash-up medley of no less than five of their hits, timing out almost perfectly to a three-hour duration.

It was an ARIA Awards that was devoid of controversy, hardly any political activism (we miss you, Montaigne!) or ultimately much personality, but was successful in doing what it’s supposed to – acknowledging and bringing together the people that make, create and support music in Australia. 

After years of awards that have seen a bit of everything, from nudity to drug references to political statements, not to mention the debacle of the Sydney Opera House, the 2023 ARIAs seemed to lack the passion of the past, and the fact that a couple of big award winners were not available in person to receive awards always takes a little of the sheen off, but in the end, it was hard to argue with the majority of award recipients. 

One might argue that the safeness of the evening and the lack of political statements is born from a fear of upsetting the fanbase or the powers that be, but in a year where hip-hop again took the main stage – and the awards – by storm, isn’t it time that everyone took more of the load in standing up for what’s right?

Ultimately, the awards were a tentative triumph. Smoothly delivered, to time, well respected by the audience and hosted solidly. However, maybe it’s time for the industry and the artists within to take a few more risks.

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