Before Omicron came tearing through New South Wales, sneaking up on every poor soul with the audacity to walk their dog, things were looking up for musicians and artists. Festivals had been greenlit, tour dates were announced, and punters were finally able to relish in the sweaty joys of the dance floor.
But with rising case numbers and new changes to public health orders — banning "singing and dancing at music festivals, hospitality venues, nightclubs, entertainment facilities and major recreation facilities" — it seems that our dear pals in the music industry cannot catch a break. You know who can, however? Attendants of religious services, as a growing list of musicians have dared to point out.
Recent footage posted to a Hillsong Instagram account showed a festival-like scene on display at Hillsong's annual youth summer camp in Newcastle. Maskless people could be seen singing and dancing in close quarters and while the event technically adhered to public health order rules, as NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has stated, "it wasn’t within the spirit of the rules".
Naturally this gross and deliberate misinterpretation of the rules by Hillsong caught the attention of musicians, artists and other music industry workers whose jobs, and therefore livelihoods, have been at the constant mercy of public health orders, only to see that they haven't been applied fairly or equally. So after a long three years of cooperating with venue closures and gig cancellations, and championing community-led initiatives like the #VaxTheNation campaign, there has been a collective chorus of musicians calling out the double standard that allowed the Hillsong summer camp fandango to happen in the first place.
More importantly, they're protesting this double standard through satire, with the invention of Thrillsong, a 'supergroup' of Australian musicians who are available to book at your next religious service or sports event — key venue exceptions to the NSW dancing and singing ban (because what is Australian identity without Christianity or the cricket?).
Over Instagram, artists like Montaigne, Annie Hamilton, Odette and Jack River introduced the public to Thrillsong and its mission. In a post accompanied by a shared video, Montaigne said, "So many crew in the entertainment industry have gone years now without their regular income, without work. I don’t understand why these select groups should be allowed these behaviours while others aren’t".
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While Jack River asserted that "Thrillsong is in full support of measures to protect our community and health care workers."
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"We’ve been abiding by these rules for 2.5 years now, what we’d love though, is for the same rules to be applied to everyone for the safety of the community. One law for everybody, for everybody’s sake", she continued.
Over the past week three major Australian festivals have had to cancel due to new restrictions on singing and dancing at unseated outdoor venues, namely Full Tilt in Adelaide, Grapevine Gathering in NSW, and Unify Festival in Victoria. Along with these, the annual King Street Carnival in Newtown was postponed indefinitely while Tamworth Country music festival was pushed back until April.
While Thrillsong may appear as just a tongue-in-cheek jest, it's hard to ignore that it's been a devastating week for Australian music. Especially after Omicron cases in NSW surged to 92,264 on Thursday — the largest recording ever in the pandemic — following the first day of Rapid Antigen Test registration, resulting in tighter restrictions being introduced.
As is stands, Dominic Perrottet has said the earliest these restrictions could ease is on January 27. But we're not holding our breath. To misquote Helen Lovejoy: won't somebody please think of the Australian music industry?