Words: James Frostick
Romy Fox image: Keelan O’hehir
Artwork: Ange Deadbirdflying

As the country starts to slowly creep towards a sense of normalcy, several isolation-inspired projects are starting to see the light of day. The latest is Tender Connection – a compilation album put together by phenomenal queer-feminist label Tender Collection. The mix features work from a number of artists dabbling in the realms of experimental and outsider sound, resulting in a striking work that manages to form a silver lining of sorts around an incredibly dark cloud. We have the sincere privilege of premiering the release, which launches officially today!

The past few months have been the most creatively fertile period I’ve enjoyed in the entire lifespan of this site – and all I’m doing is writing about music that others create. The sheer amount of music that has been put out by Australian artists this year is staggering, considering the circumstances. This serves to reinforce the notion that the desire to create and release music surmounts adversity. While it’s hard to quantify what effect the coronavirus-related lockdown will have on our music scene long-term, one fact that has been affirmed by recent events is that the act of creating remains as vital as ever.

Over the past few months, artists and labels have spent their indoors time assembling music in response to pandemic-enforced isolation, and recent weeks have seen many of these labours bear fruit in the form of new songs, albums and compilations. Queer-feminist label Tender Collection is the latest group to unveil the end-result of socially distanced creativity. Its new compilation – Tender Connection – is a direct result of a creative grant designed to stimulate Melbourne/Naarm’s music scene during COVID-19. Upon successfully securing the grant, Tender Collection immediately mobilised its roster while reaching out to other artists they admire, gauging their interest in submitting a contribution to a compilation album. What has resulted is astounding.

Tender Connection is at times languid, at other points driving and relentless. This dual nature is perfectly balanced – there’s a tasteful blend of attack and release, evidenced by the compilation’s track procession. The mix starts with the creeping minimal darkwave theatrics of V, followed by the ambient soundscapes and pulsing groove of Papaphilia, Geryon’s crystalline shimmer and the haunting-yet-club-friendly thud of InfraGhosts in turn. It’s hard to resist gushing about each track one by one (I found the solo contributions from Emma Dunstan of Synthetics and Stina Tester of Plastic Chairs particularly revelatory), but you’re here to listen. Patience first – I chatted to Chloe Turner and Jonnine Nokes of Tender Collection about how the compilation came to be and their thoughts on the release as a whole …

WW: To start, I’d love to know how the opportunity to do Tender Connection came about! Was the City of Melbourne grant created in response to COVID-19 or was it something that you had applied for before the pandemic struck? What was the criteria for applying?

TC: The City of Melbourne grant came out as a response to COVID-19, and we had been wanting to release a compilation pretty much since we launched the label, so we used this grant as an opportunity and the time in lockdown to finally do it! We thought we would approach a bunch of artists we find inspirational and ask them to try and do something a bit different in order to create something new for the compilation. A couple of tracks are a collaboration (Certain Cake and Various Asses x Yumgod) and a couple of tracks are the first solo release for those artists (Stina Tester and Emma Dunstan). 

When it came to approaching artists to contribute, did you have any particular wish-list for participants you wanted to work with or a vague direction of where you wanted to take the compilation as a whole?
We each had a wish-list of artists that we’d been wanting to work with, and we asked the first dozen or so and pretty much everyone said yes! So locking in the final group didn’t take as long as we thought. In terms of a direction, we envisioned the compilation being predominantly electronic and experimental music, but we really wanted a few people to challenge themselves by making something unique and a bit different to how they might usually create music.

In terms of the contributed tracks themselves, have you sourced works that have been created exclusively in isolation? Was there a particular ethos or theme guiding what you wanted showcased
Yes! Because we had the grant funding, we were able to commission each artist for an exclusive track for the compilation, based on themes of isolation and the challenging circumstances we all found ourselves in.

From the artists you’ve mentioned you have a great mix of genres! Can you quickly take me through some of the sounds you’ve collated for Tender Connection?
We were floored by the final list of artists and the excitement around the opportunity for them to create something exclusive. Without any direction from us, two distinct styles have emerged. You could broadly describe one as ‘ambient’ and the other as ‘beat driven’. Those are obviously broad descriptors and in a couple of tracks there is some overlap. There’s one track that sits outside both of those groups. There is a huge variation in genre that really surprised us in the best way possible.

Speaking on the collection as a whole, would you say there is a certain unifying feeling that tethers the tracks together? Perhaps an underlying vibe that gives the compilation a sense of the circumstances under which it was created?
Yes and no – there is a certain sense of positivity in every track, but sonically every piece is quite different. We think that if you listened to the compilation without the context, you wouldn’t know it was created in these circumstances – which we see as a great thing, making it a timeless collection of sounds, created with a shared experience.

What’s the biggest challenge inherent in putting together a compilation like this, especially during a pandemic?
In some ways, the pandemic situation was a great time to work on the compilation. As artists ourselves we’ve found it really difficult to be inspired to create new music during this time, and at the start of lockdown we imagined we would come out of it with a finished album or something, which has yet to happen. The feedback from the  artists we commissioned a track from is that most appreciated the opportunity to creatively challenge themselves with a specific goal in mind. We specifically targeted solo artists, with the option for them to collaborate if they desired (online etc.), but the social distancing measures obviously proved this to be quite difficult.

What are your thoughts on how the music scene has responded and adapted to the pandemic and subsequent nationwide lockdown?
The way the scene has responded and adapted has been overwhelmingly positive. We were all united in grief as we watched shows, tours and work vanish overnight but we’ve gradually got to a place now where artists are releasing new music and where there are plenty of opportunities for artists and labels to interact with their fans and peers. Having said that, I think livestream fatigue has well and truly set in for us and many peers we’ve spoken to. There’s only so many times you can watch live music on a laptop and feel genuinely excited.

It’s distressing to hear of the financial pressure on venues, big and small, and know that some of them might not be there when we come out the other side of this situation. Having said that, the overwhelming support for the Save Our Scene movement is so encouraging. Lockdown has affected all of us and that shared experience has really brought people together, despite our isolation.

Listen to Tender Connection here:

You can purchase a digital copy of Tender Connection through Tender Collection’s Bandcamp. A limited run of cassettes are also available for pre-order, shipping in July. All profits from the release will be donated to Sisters Inside and Black Rainbow.