Urthboy: “Industry recognition is a bastard of a thing”

The importance of independent music will never be defined by album sales or an award, writes TIM LEVINSON (aka Urthboy) in his opening speech at last night’s Independent Music Awards. Photo by ELLENI TOUMPAS.

Industry recognition is a bastard of a thing.

There’s no way any award ceremony can do justice to all the excellent creative achievements of you lot; the endless hours spent peeling the layers back, trying to conjure up a spell-binding lyric or melody in the studio or spare room. Or working out a way of communicating with the public what you’re hearing from your bands and why the masses should listen. How could any award even get within a touring circuit of matching the heartache, the pain, the pleasure, the soul-searching quicksand associated with all this? We should tip our hat to the Independent Music Awards for even trying.

The truth is that positive feedback is so rare. I’m not talking about someone on Twitter saying you’re awesome and you re-tweeting that compliment as if to say, “See! Someone sees how clever I am!” I’m not talking about overlooking impassioned music criticism that holds us to account – we don’t need empty parochialism.

But tonight that’s not the focus. I’m talking from the perspective of an artist whose ear tunes to criticism easier than it does to acclaim – a diss cuts deeper than a kiss. Well tonight, screw that! Let me get into the spirit of the Aus Indies and cut to the chase.

“The importance of your music will never be defined by album sales or an award.”

To the likes of Ballpark Music, Chet Faker, The Jezabels, Funkoars, Katalyst, ‘60, Graham Connors, Lanie Lane, Frenzal, Mike Nock, Yung Warriors, Hermitude and Flume. Alongside all the nominees, and many non-nominees, you’ve made interesting, rocking, thoughtful albums that truly mean something to people. I have a little understanding of the pleasure and pain you go through and if you win that’s fantastic, but if you don’t – fuck yeah you should be proud about what you’ve done. The importance of your music will never be defined by album sales or an award – you’re creating and evolving Australian music culture. Your music accompanies the lives of people who are doing great things, ordinary things, bad things, everything. You’re part of the story. You may not be industry insiders but you’re music insiders.

I talk about it from the perspective of the labels. Elefant Traks is an artist run label; a good label is in partnership with their artists, not trying to make a buck out of them.

I look out at the likes of Jazzhead, Rufus Records and Jazzgroove and reflect on the fact that Australian jazz wouldn’t be the same without you. I’ve worked with Inertia, I know where they come from. I know the business and staff are deeply passionate about music. I see similar operations like MGM and Shock and I’m aware of the hundreds and thousands of releases you’ve overseen. How many artists wouldn’t have been heard without you? The unsung releases that fuel local shows in pubs with a PA and a rundown stage. The small gigs that are the heart and soul of our music culture.

Chapter Music, I Oh You, Jarrah, Golden Era, Future Classic, Obese, the incredible Mushroom family – Australia’s most iconic label – Resist Records and the brilliant Unified label of Jaddan Comerfordand Ben Turnbull, So many more labels I don’t have time to mention.

“A good label is in partnership with their artists, not trying to make a buck out of them.”

I may not speak for all of you but I’m sure I speak for a lot when I say we don’t run on the smell of an oily rag. We live on it.

With an ear for the music you believe in you’re helping make who we are, you’re helping shape our identity. Your conviction is something we all need to be reminded of. Even if you get up here to accept an award, you’ll still wake up tomorrow being paid less than you’re worth. You’re probably a little crazy. Actually you’re probably a lotta crazy and that’s a beautiful thing.

I salute you. All of you. Let tonight be about knowing that if you weren’t doing what you do, our music culture wouldn’t be the same. That might sound dramatic but it’s no exaggeration. It’s a great privilege to be one of your peers – I look forward to seeing what you come up with in 2013.

Tim Levinson performs as Urthboy, is the founding member of The Herd and the label manager for Elefant Traks, this year’s inaugural winner of Best Independent Label. This is an edited extract of a speech provided to FL by Levinson.