Since 2015 artist Janenne Willis and collaborators have thrown experiential music events in the basement of a former hospital and at Point Nepean National Park on the Mornington Peninsula, with a bus ride included in the price of the ticket.
Launched five years ago at Music Week, the first Swell saw musicians, artists and stylists completely transform the staff rooms and back-of-house areas at Bourke Street’s Carlton Club into a “hot, sweaty labyrinth of spaces that people were literally climbing through, and each one was different from the other,” says Willis.
“I’ve worked in arts for a long, long time and have watched theatre completely reinvent itself, circus reinvent itself, even the way we see visual art completely reinvent itself in the gallery context,” she says of what inspired her to create Swell.
Imagine a world where all live music gigs you go to are original and adventurous.
Janenne Wells, creator of Swell at Melbourne Music Week
Last year’s event, with the theme “music as medicine”, was held at a freshly renovated Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda, riffing on the history of its former tenant, art patron Alfred Felton, who made his fortune selling pharmaceuticals.
This year’s roster showcases a range of genres and emerging artists, including interactive music artists Playable Streets, Indigenous sound artist Naretha Williams, a guided meditation with live music hosted by Manoj Dias, electronic acts Edd Fisher and Phondupe, DJ Kotare and Hey Drums, which formed to subvert the stereotype that only men play drums.
“The show is all about ‘raising the frequency’ of the city streets through music meets art experiences,” says Willis.
There are usually about 50 people involved in making each Swell event, says Willis, who admits its resource-heavy nature may be one reason the live music scene hasn’t experimented more.
“It’s hugely resource heavy, this project,” she says, but the positive feedback she’s received from audiences and performers alike has kept it alive and kicking.
“People come away impacted so hugely,” she says.
“Imagine a world where all live music gigs you go to are original and adventurous.”
Songs of Melbourne, 5.30pm-10pm and Swell 5.0: Frequency, 6.30pm-10pm are on Thursday November 14.
Songs of Melbourne Locations
State Library of Victoria, main steps
Bourke Street Mall
GPO, Bourke Street
Chapter House Coffee
Melbourne Town Hall
Swell 5.0 Locations
Meet 6.30pm at GPO, Bourke Street. Clues to locations will be posted to Instagram @swelllivemusic. Ends 9.30pm back at the GPO.
Hannah Francis is Arts Editor at The Age