We spoke to Melbourne music whiz Lydia Dobbin about Play On, a new cultural phenomenon popping up in unexpected venues around Melbourne. The affordable event series pairs classical music with a DJ set (and often put ace women musicians at centre stage, too.) By Grace Jennings-Edquist
Tell us about the idea behind Play On- what’s its aim?
Play On pairs a set of classical chamber music with a set by a DJ. The project was created with the aim of opening up both classical and electronic music to new audiences. We hold the shows in unexpected places – like car parks! – and tickets are cheap. The aim is to create nights that are affordable and appealing to diverse audiences and act as a point of entry for new listeners.
Where do you find the artists?
I studied classical music and have worked in the industry for a while so I know lots of the classical artists who are working in Melbourne (and around Australia), and have a sense of who would suit the project. The artists we program are the absolute cream of the crop. They all play regularly with all the major orchestras around Australia (and overseas), and we are very privileged to be able to feature them at our shows.
Lots of people who come to Play On have not been to a classical performance before so there is an incredible energy at the shows. For me, one of the things that makes this project special is the way it brings together this audience and these performers.
We’ve also been lucky to work with some of the best electronic artists in the scene. We program the DJs based on who we think is playing with a certain style or vision that aligns with the values of our project, and who will bring a particular musical aesthetic to the nights.
What’s the gender balance like in classical and electronic music scenes in Australia? Does one have more visible women than the other (as far as you know) and is the balance shifting?
The DJ scene is definitely very male-dominated, although there are some excellent projects working to change this. Cool Room here in Melbourne has been a particular inspiration. They throw some amazing parties and have been huge in championing and supporting female artists for a number of years.
In my experience the classical scene is also male-dominated, but to a lesser degree. We’re certainly conscious of trying to program an even mix of men and women, and seeing women not only playing in the ensembles but also leading.
How long did it take to actually make Play On happen – from firming up the idea and getting a venue locked down to opening night? As part of that process, how did you tackle the issue of funding?
The idea for Play On was something that had been brewing in my mind for a long time. I had tried out a few different things before hitting on this exact idea; for example I organised some house concerts and stuff like that.
I had the idea for Play On but hadn’t worked out how to execute it, and then Tom Dreyfus [Aussie lawyer, a mutual family friend and general cool guy] got involved and suddenly it was happening! In addition to helping to refine the idea into its final form and working with me to get the project set up, he also organised a fundraiser / launch for Play On and put together a fundraising campaign through the Australian Cultural Fund. The seed funding that we raised enabled us to get the project going and contributed to start up costs. Tom and my first conversation about the project was in June 2016 and our opening night was 4 November that year … looking back it really wasn’t very much time! But once we had decided to do it there was no looking back, and I’m so glad we took the plunge.
Images: Alan Weedon.
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