Rising’s 2023 music program is a celebration of artistic communities. Defined less by star power than border-crossings and unlikely convergences, it sources talent from bandrooms, clubs and studios from Melbourne to London, Cape Town to LA.

In a single night, the line-up criss-crosses between the hushed, jazz-inflected folk of Japan’s Ichiko Aoba; Weyes Blood’s orchestral, ’70s-inspired pop; the transgressive, high-octane sounds of South African club identity (and certified shaman) Desire Marea; and the abrasive hyperpop of Nigerian-Canadian artist Debby Friday.

“There’s no real headliner,” first-time Rising music programmer Hayley Percy tells Broadsheet. “Every night has a different headliner for every audience.”

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That’s not to say there are no big-ticket items: gender-bending international artists Madlib, UK punk pioneers the Damned, bruising Danish art rockers Iceage, and virtuosic Japanese producer Cornelius will all make appearances.

But the show that Percy, a Wiradjuri woman, is proudest to present is decidedly local.

Waripa is a new concept from activist, musician and raconteur Uncle Kutcha Edwards. Meaning “ceremony” in Mutti Mutti, Waripa celebrates of 40 years of First Nations music and builds on Edwards’s Carpool Karaoke-inspired show Koorioke, a soulful, funny sing-a-long of First Peoples anthems. More than a dozen artists will join him onstage in a format Percy describes as “Blak cabaret meets pub choir”.

It includes veterans like Joe Geia and Bart Willoughby of keenly political ’80s reggae-rock band No Fixed Address, as well as recent breakout acts Barkaa and Emily Wurramara.

Hands to Earth and Girra
This year Rising also makes space for more experimental projects, expanding into The Forum’s upstairs cinema for a series of sit-down shows in the early evening. The space is dedicated to “all new projects, or artists that have never performed here”, Percy says. Each one is a potential counterpoint to the larger events taking place downstairs later – and Percy hopes there’ll be audience crossover.

“It’s all timed in such a way that you can experience both,” she says. “Kind like of a bundle package, you know. A real night of music that feels quite nourishing.”

One upstairs highlights is Hand to Earth, an enveloping, minimalist collaboration between Yolngu lore men Daniel and David Wilfred, Korean vocalist Sunny Kim, composer Peter Knight and clarinettist Aviva Endean. Another is Girra, a new work by cousins Fred Leone, a Butchulla songman, and rapper Birdz, produced by multi-platinum, Aria-winning Ngarrindjeri producer Trials.

Both acts blend disciplines and cultures in a way that’s emblematic of what Percy calls her “discovery model” of programming. “It’s very much a kind of Wikipedia, all-tabs-open journey of discovery – not just around the music, but also the history of the music.”

Afro Synth Band
An appearance on Saturday June 10 by Esa’s Afro Synth Band is perhaps most representative of the approach. Producer and selector Esa Williams, who’s based in London but grew up in South Africa, founded the band as a means to revive the careers of pop stars from his youth – with a focus on the short-lived, and largely overlooked, apartheid-era bubblegum scene. Inspired by funk and disco, this glossy, good-times music, bright and bouncy as a beachball, was slyly political, ultimately forming an irrepressible backdrop to the country’s liberation movement.

At Rising, the Afro Synth band will be fronted by Sheffield-based Zanzibari artist Mim Suleiman and South Africa’s Kamazu, whose decade-long career spans from bubblegum to kwaito – the lo-fi house music that coursed through Johannesburg in the wake of apartheid.

Closing night
On closing night, Rising hands the reins to cult digital radio station NTS – and it’s hard to imagine a better pairing. What began as a local online station occupying a tiny, open-fronted studio in Dalston, London, NTS now spreads around the world – a nervous system of some 600 resident hosts broadcasting to three million monthly listeners in studios, pop-up spaces and living rooms from Shanghai to Lagos. Through this vast, decentralised network, NTS can dive deep into underground communities that are otherwise inaccessible to all but the most committed cratediggers. Scouring the archives, you might find Armenian sacred music, Lithuanian punk, or Cameroonian prison recordings.

While algorithmic listening has made it relatively easy to flit between labels and genres like this, the value of a platform like NTS is its ability to tether discoveries in time and space, providing context and continuity. Rising presents its line-up of creators and tastemakers in the same spirit – with a sense of history and purpose, connecting them with new audiences entirely on their own terms.

Find out more about Rising's musical festival and more here.

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