‘Disrupting Songlines: Some Thoughts About the Triple J Hottest 100’, by Hannah Donnelly


Photo by Kevin Trotman. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

All quiet on the colonial front.

Every January when the Triple J Hottest 100 is announced on Invasion Day, I’m violently repelled by ‘Aussie music culture’. Segregation runs through this music culture like a current, it censors our people’s stories.

The Hottest 100 music poll is open to votes in the weeks leading up to January 26, then people have a BBQ and get turnt up to the countdown on a day of mourning for those we lost in massacres and those we continue to lose while we remain in your possession. Our history and our music is confined to our own community radio stations, and only let in to your broadcasts when the segment suits.

Last year, I wrote a blog post on Aboriginal musicians in the 2014 Hottest 100. Ten Aboriginal artists had made the shortlist and they were mob and deadz and deserved our votes and always will. Still, I was curious why these songs weren’t really given much airplay in the lead-up to the Hottest 100 being announced besides the token, “It’s NAIDOC week, we should play an Aboriginal artist,” or the occasional play due to pangs of guilt.

This year I suss the mob that are shortlisted for the Hottest 100. Again, ten Aboriginal artists are up for votes. Shep brother Briggs is shortlisted for his track “The Children Came Back ft. Gurrumul and Dewayne Everettsmith” which really did get some airplay and is true gawd the best film clip of the year, one that raises up our heroes and our ancestors. (Not to mention the clip features Princess Samarah.)


Yanuwa, Wardaman and Bardi brother Jimblah is on the shortlist with the anthem of the year, “Treaty ft. Nooky, Ellie Lovegrove, Zachariiah Feilding”.


Palawa electronic folk singer DENNI brings her intriguing vocals to the track “Blink ft. Aphir”, as well as on her collab with seventeen-year-old heartbreak bro Kuren.


Kuren has another track shortlisted, “It Still Hurts”, off his fresh Love Lost EP.


And speaking the truth on that future looking vibe, Waanyi, Mitakoodi, Ringa Ringa and Kalkadoon rapper Lucky Luke made it with the song “1 Day” off his first album Whichway. (You can find the full list of the ten shortlisted Aboriginal artists at the end of this post.)


Some of these artists had been handpicked in Triple J’s Five New Indigenous Artists You Need to Hear segment earlier in 2015. Cool, thanks, Triple J, you are doing so well. Only one out of these five spits some hard-hitting messages – not that you should have to as an Aboriginal artist. But in my experience as a listener and as a guest curator, radio presenters almost only pick songs for their audience that will not in any way confront their privilege – which is why exclusively white radio waves are travelling through our airspace. I am worried for presenters of Aussie radio; the only thing I’m more scared of than finding the wrong feathers under my pillow is messing with someone else’s songlines.

What’s the secret to Triple J airplay? I looked for data that would tell me how many times songs are played, but it turns out that unless you pay for it that information’s limited. But I did find that if you lurk on JPlay you can find out the date a song was last aired. One shortlisted song, the beautiful “1966” by Alice Skye, was last aired in April. If it hasn’t been played in over eight months that’s gammon.

Going deeper, I found that songs by four of these shortlisted artists last aired on 9 July 2015. For those unaware, NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) is held the first week of July, which last year was July 5-12. Finally, I remembered that last year a song never played by Triple J before made not only the top 100, but the top 10. I can tell you, I really don’t know how the Aboriginal artists on the shortlist were selected. But I have imagined it: a white middle-age male Triple J director is like, “Sooooo there’s all these Aboriginal artists and we didn’t actually play their songs again. LOL land rights LOL. We should just put ten in the Hottest 100 shortlist again, even if we didn’t play them, because then Aboriginal people can’t say we don’t play them.”

Australian radio, a representation of “Aussie music culture”, is full of white privilege. Why else don’t you hear songs unravelling the colonial myths and telling you the bloody truth of massacres? Of genocide, of our people dead in your custody, families still lost only to reunite at the grave? Your selection to not tune in to these songs is something Frantz Fanon calls cognitive dissonance: that extremely uncomfortable feeling you get when confronted with the truth of colonisation, so much so that you can’t even, and instead of accepting new information your brain pretends it never happened.

As a DJ, I know this experience intimately. Some people love the hype of having a Wiradjuri DJ playing Indigenous music – but when my set starts the audience doesn’t actually want to listen. People walk off the d floor when a song about forced closures by Gamilaraay MC Provocalz comes on. This track about murdered and missing Indigenous women from an Anishinaabe producer really clears the room. When old white people at charity gigs won’t hide their disdain and give me their best filthy Aborigine look. When someone requests “a local Melbourne artist” after I’ve just played Yung Warriors – who are from, you guessed it, Melbourne. Recently I lip-read a mesh-dressed hipster say sideways to her friend, “Like I get it, I know it’s trying to be political, but what is she actually trying to do?” Nothing, bitch, I’m just playing music. You’re the one who is confronted.

This yarn isn’t just about Triple J’s Hottest 100 – it’s about Aussie music culture in general. No radio stations, commercial or alternative, give us the plays unless it’s a designated ‘special’ segment. Why not? Are we not allowed on your wavelength?

Since the ’70s Aboriginal communities have had a strong history of radio broadcasting, and we do it well. There are over a hundred mob stations across the country – 3KND is based in Melbourne (this Invasion Day they’re doing a countdown of the Top 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander songs of all-time); Koori Radio in Sydney is home to the Indij Hip Hop Show; and in Brisbane, 98.9FM always has the best guest yarns on ‘Lets Talk’. Not to mention the National Indigenous Radio Service that delivers four channels of national content and news. But who is receiving our transmissions? If you are a gub and you are reading this, please ask yourself, have you ever tuned in to our stations? And if not, why not?

It’s not just that our songs are too real for your radio waves, that they tell too many difficult truths. When those same truths are sung in our languages, the songs are then tagged as ‘world music’. Like when Gurrumul won an Aria last year for ‘Best World Music Album’ when he’s actually a traditional owner of this country. For the love of Biami, let’s get one thing out of the way: ‘world music’ is not a genre. It’s a label that lazy, anthropologically inclined people use because they cbf acknowledging specific Indigenous nations and the lands artists come from.

It is the exclusion of our music in radio that disrupts songlines and makes me forcibly remove (assimilation pun intended) my ears from Aussie music culture. If Aboriginal musicians and presenters had more access to audiences not restricted by the colonised institution of broadcasting then maybe Aussie music culture would start to notice that there are so many lit Aboriginal musicians right now. I have over five hundred new tracks in a draft playlist waiting to be included in my monthly dose, and every month more music is released, more artists come through. I can’t keep up. If it were my job to nationally broadcast local music on a government-funded radio station, I probs would include more than a handful of mob ay.

The Sovereign 10 of Triple J’s 2015 Hottest 100 (alphabetical order):

Alice Sky – “1966”

Briggs – “The Children Came Back ft. Gurrumul and Dewayne Everettsmith”

Denni – “Blink ft. Aphir” (and “Wolves ft. Kuren”)

East Journey – “Emu ft. Yothu Yindi”

Jimblah – “Treaty ft. Nooky, Ellie Lovegrove, Zachariiah Feilding”

Kuren – “Achillies” and and “It Still Hurts”

Lucky Luke – “1 Day”

Philly – “Dreamchaser” and “Three little Birds” (Like A Version)

Robbie Miller – “The Pain”

Zane Francis – “Acclimate”

Mob on the features:

Golden Features – “No One ft. Thelma Plum”

Nathan Morrison – “Oceans ft. Robbie Miller”

Horrorshow – “Any Other Name ft. Jimblah, Thelma Plum, Urthboy”

You can also vote for songs not on the shortlist if it meets the Triple J guidelines.

Hannah Donnelly is a Wiradjuri writer who experiments with speculative fiction and future imaginings of Indigenous responses to climate change. She is the creator of Sovereign Trax, which aims to foreground the consumption of Indigenous music ‘through our own paradigms that speak to our collective stories, identities and resistance’.