After a fraught 2020 and 2021, ‘Empress Live at Bank Street’ delivers pure musical joy to online audiences
Formed in late 2019, just a few short months before the pandemic, Empress is a unique contemporary ensemble centring around powerful three-part vocal harmony, supported by synth-based electronic dance grooves.
Packed with wondrous sounds and intriguing sonic ideas, the six-piece collective – fronted by Grace Robinson, Stella Dunai and Matilda Pungitore – is not only explosive in their musical output, but are also passionate about creating platforms and opportunities for young women, especially in the Melbourne electronic music scene where there seems to be a scarcity of female-fronted bands.
Rising quick and fierce within the industry despite been in and out of Melbourne lockdowns, they’ve sold out The Toff in Town, Colour Club, and the Curtin Hotel, along with four curated shows in a June residency at the Evelyn Hotel. Committing to prioritising female-identifying and gender-queer musicians when curating all of their lineups, as well as First Nations and BIPOC women, Empress have charmed their live audiences and now the energetic collective is celebrating the female voice in new and creative ways, unveiling a new three-part live video series.
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Filmed at Bank Street Creative space in Melbourne’s west by Ben Schoonderbeek, Will Panther and Tom Evans, the six-piece give listeners the full cinematic treatment of a live performance that is as inviting as it is impressive.
“We figured that while we can’t get people out to a gig, we will try and bring a gig to the people,” Empress said.
Showcasing the band’s unique dance-pop soulful sound championed by instrumentalists Matt Dooley, Noah Hutchinson and Christy Wositsky-Jones, the three videos bring their vintage-pop melodies with propulsive, inventive rhythms and whimsical, swirling soundscapes to the fore and are a clear indication of why they’re garnering a passionate, growing fan base.
Taking influence from the likes of Tune-Yards, Sylvan Esso, Hiatus Kayote and even Destiny’s child, Empress radiates warmth in everything they create, their music encapsulates unique and extensive compositions in the neo-soul and RnB genres. Harnessing their free-flowing, down-to-earth, improvisational nature, the band take heavy inspiration from strong female songwriters, including the brilliant Nai Palm and Erykah Badu.
From subversive subject matter to affairs of the heart, Empress take on a fearless exploration of the music and each song’s power comes through Robinson, Dunai and Pungitore’s impassioned vocals.
Mixed and mastered by the esteemed Pat Telfer, the three videos are high-quality visual and visceral production while Naarm based artist “Stripey” designed outfits for the shoot to take care of the aesthetics. When you put it all together, you’re left with three otherworldly displays of six wildly talented musicians in a room together.
Their first video, ‘Baby’ is an endearing introduction to Empress. Beginning with delicate harmonies and sparse instrumentations, Empress captivate listeners right from the get-go with a dreamy introduction before launching into a vibrant pop house tune guaranteed to get you dancing.
The song is playfully sexy synth-funk, built on swirling riffs, signature electronic beats and cathartic bursts. With its pulsating kick driving underneath an emotive vocal performance from the three frontwomen, ‘Baby’ weaves between a dancefloor favourite and empowerment ballad about women owning their deep desires.
“’Baby’ is our dance party song; it makes us want to leap off of the stage into the dance floor and just let loose.
“It is a song empowering female sexuality and granting us the right to desire. Too often through the lens of the male gaze, women who pursue or exude desire are labelled promiscuous, however, we wanted to validate that these feelings can be expressed by everyone!”
‘Rockabye’ sees Empress deliver another spell-binding performance. You’re pulled into a trance the moment the soft notes are played and the honeyed solo vocals fill your ears. Once the signature harmonies and electronic beats are skilfully woven into the song with infectious jazz-infused riffs and grooves, you become powerless against the swaying melody, the catchy lyrics and hypnotic harmonies.
You can hear the similarities to the previous song, but there’s new energy and new elements that make this track sound do fresh and unique, providing a heavy yet groovy example of their jazz background as they circle themes of sleep deprivation.
“‘Rockabye’ was originally written about all the three singers struggles with insomnia and sleep-induced anxiety, despite its mellow roots, it developed into one of our most enjoyable grooves.”
Another example of many that demonstrate how Empress has ingeniously created a diverse range of songs, ‘Grandma’ changes the pace with an almost eerie yet anthemic synth beat, a driving rhythm section, and lush, layered harmonies.
A percussive high energy song filled with satisfying vocal triads and limitless energy; Grandma is a song written by lead vocalist Stella Dunai after one particularly awkward Christmas lunch.
“The lyrics are comedic and somewhat insane, and the triadic three-part harmonies are all too satisfying to sing. This one often connects with the audience, as everyone can appreciate some level of family craziness, and the incredible harmonic filled baseline is hard not to dance to!”
The electronica dance-pop track shows how truly diverse and innovative Empress are as a collective, with each song and respective video having its own unique elements, a feat that can only arise from artists that have become attuned to the finer details of music composition.
In this new video series, Empress have established themselves as an electric group on the rise, demonstrating what they were capable of and what is yet to come.
Empress will celebrate the launch of their live series with a live show at the Nightcat on November 27. Stay tuned for more details to come, you won’t want to miss this.
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