The Australian Open is an annual reminder there needn’t be a schism between live music and sport
24.01.2022

The Australian Open is an annual reminder there needn’t be a schism between live music and sport

Australian Open - Michael Gudinski
The Michael Gudinski tribute wall at the 2022 Australian Open. Photo: @aislingc88
Words by Benjamin Lamb

In recent times, there’s been a noticeable and unfortunate wedge between the world of music and the world of sport. The Australian Open continually proves this needn't be the case.

What was once a traditionally pithy ideological divide has slowly expanded into a yawning chasm, as the live music industry continues to be decimated by COVID-19 restrictions, while sports not only carry on comparatively unabated, but to add insult to injury, receive national praise for their crucial role in uniting Australian society. The Australian Open is Australia’s largest international sports event. It’s also one of Australia’s leaders in bridging this divide.

In a cultural landscape where Australia’s sporting achievements are often held above its similarly notable musical prowess, it could be argued that sporting events that earn nearly half-a-billion in annual revenue have a social responsibility to share their success.

In this particular climate, it’s worth acknowledging that the Australian Open have always been great supporters of music, recognising the artform’s importance in its continual, increasingly successful expansion from sports event to bonafide city festival.

Keep up with the latest music news, features, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

Each year, musicians from across the world come to Melbourne Park and play for not only tennis fans, but a diverse general public. Perhaps most notably, the AO worked with Mushroom Group head Michael Gudinski every year, truly ensuring there was something for everyone, and up and coming stars could get a much needed spotlight. This year, there is a giant mural of Gudinski in the AO Park.

In the grand scheme of things it may be just another small tribute to an icon of Australian music, but as a microcosm of what makes the Australian Open rather unique, it tells a much larger story.

Today we’re taking a trip back in time, revisiting each year of Australian Open music for the past eight years, and looking back at the weird, wonderful but always memorable performers to hit the AO Stage.

2014 – The Rubens, The Preatures, Pete Tong

2014 marked a new beginning for live music as a featured element of the Australian Open. Previous years had usually seen musicians perform, but it was never anywhere near as promoted as it is now.

2014’s live music saw all types of performers hit the stage, many of which have now split, performers like Snakadaktal, World’s End Press, and The Preatures, each bringing their distinctly Aussie flavour to tennis fans from across the globe.

Before many years of Aussie-oriented line-ups, 2014 also marked the first international performer on the AO stage, DJ Pete Tong of Radio One fame, who brought the party vibe to the many revellers in attendance.

The Rubens were the act chosen to close out festivities, already at the top of their game back in 2014, coming to the Open after a performance at SXSW and the release of their well-received debut album.

2015 – Steven Motlop, The Black Sorrows, Husky

Yes, that Steven Motlop who played for the Geelong Footy Club from 2010-2017 and is currently one of Port Adelaide’s top-rated players. He’s got a secret talent, being a talented muso – getting to hit the stage during 2015’s Aussie Open. He joined some classic Aussie performers like Diesel, Joe Camilleri, and The Black Sorrows.

His musical career is almost as big as his AFL career, having performed on the Marngarook footy show, and working on an a 2015 song with popular Indigenous rapper Philly.

2015’s was the first year that had an Aussie emphasis, with the line-up featuring music from acts like Husky, Boom Crash Opera, and Megan Washington.

2016 – Dan Sultan, Diesel, James Reyne

 

2016 saw a strong Aussie front, and kicking off the two-weeks was Indigenous performer Dan Sultan, who brought his soul-rock stylings to the well-watered AO garden patrons. This came after his feature role in Bran Nue Dae, and a year after the release of one of his most critically acclaimed albums, Blackbird.

This year also saw performers like Saskwatch, Diesel, British India, and closing the couple of weeks was James Reyne of Australian Crawl fame. Pre-Covid, the Open saw many visitors from around the world heading to the grounds, and by now, performing at the AO was already seen as a great opportunity for these Aussies to be heard by a whole new crowd.

2017 – Slowly Slowly, Bad//Dreems and DMA’s

 

In what would read as a huge show nowadays, these three soon-to-be iconic Aussie rockers shared a stage during the Aus Open in 2017. That year was the first that the music took place at Birrarung Marr, giving the stage a massive festival vibe.

On top of that, 2017’s AO Music also included Jimmy Eat World, The Temper Trap, and a classic Aussie rock supergroup featuring Daryl Braithwaite, Jon Stevens and Ross Wilson. Just more proof that Gudinski was truly a master at finding music to suit everyone’s tastes.

2018 – Daryl Braithwaite, Rudimental and TLC

2018 was yet another killer year for the Aus Open, giving audiences a look at different eras of Aussie music. Your dad’s favourite singer Daryl Braithwaite has never been a stranger to the AO stage, making his mark in 2018, complete with a massive ‘Horses’ singalong.

The international flavour continued into 2018, with Rudimental and ‘Waterfalls’ hitmakers TLC hitting the stage as the Open drew to a close.

2019 – Craig David, Dean Lewis, Ball Park Music

2019’s Open will probably go down as having one of the most memorable spreads of music, it featured groups from Ball Park Music to The Teskey Brothers to Craig David; the latter being the highlight of the two weeks. David never has been a stranger to our shores, touring previously in 2017, with his 2019 tour happening with a full band, giving a new life to a lot of his songs.

Besides music from him, audiences also got to enjoy Confidence Man, Birds of Tokyo and a man about to become one of the most-streamed Australian artists of all time, Dean Lewis.

2020 Billy Idol, Fatboy Slim, Broods, Example

In the end it was fitting that just before the world turned off for a few years, 2020’s Australian Open expanded its borders further than ever before, and had some of the best music to date. Headlining the two-week extravaganza was iconic performer Billy Idol, who brought his trademark punk sound to the AO stage, alongside fellow heavy-hitter Fatboy Slim. It was a groundbreaking moment for an Australian sporting event to boast a lineup akin to a major music festival.

2020 simultaneously continued the great run of performers from different backgrounds. Internationals and Aussies joined the line-up, to name just a few, Example, Lime Cordiale, Kian, Kate Miller-Heidke, Bastille, Broods, Max Frost, Hayden James, Matt Corby, Ziggy Alberts and many more.

2021 – G Flip, Julia Stone, The Living End and Something For Kate

The 2020 – 2021 stretch was a murderous time for musos, with a bunch of cancelled gigs and botched festivals. It’s been a bloody tough slog for all of Australia’s musos.

Gudinski worked with the Australian Open team to reinvigorate the amazing Melbourne live music scene, bringing in classic acts like The Living End and Something for Kate, alongside newer performers like G Flip and Julia Stone. It’ll definitely go down as one of the oddest years for music, but the Aus open was a definite boost for a small collective who were struggling at the time.

2022 – Gretta Ray, Isaiah Firebrace, Client Liaison, Baker Boy

This year’s AO music is pretty cool too – after Michael Gudinski’s untimely passing, the well-balanced curation hasn’t been forgotten. There’s music from acts like Mahalia Barnes, while also featuring Stace Cadet, Fergus James and Banoffee, each getting the opportunity to show Aus Open ticketholders why they are some of the best in the country.

The expansive lineup also features international superstar Isaiah Firebrace, Client Liaison, Baker Boy, KLP and electronic duo Electric Fields, pop singer Mia Wray, DJ Emma Peters and dance duo Groove City, Alex Lahey, The Pierce Brothers, Touch Sensitive and Budjerah, Cut Copy DJs, CC:DISCO!, SHOUSE…the list goes on and on.

You can catch 2022’s musos through an AO Ground Pass, which you can grab here