Best Live Act
Presented by Young Henrys
It’s one thing to make great music. It’s another to turn it into a live show you’ll remember for the rest of your life. These five artists got on stage and shattered boundaries, captivating crowds and melting hearts. Which one got you totally lost in the moment?
The MC from Sydney’s South West is a natural behind the mic and in front of a crowd. James Iheakanwa, better known as B Wise, dropped the Semi Pro EP in 2016, produced by regular collaborator Dopamine. In support, he proceeded to sweep us away with a live show we’d usually expect from a hip hop titan 15 years into their career. He’s got that perfect, playful swagger you just can’t fake. This year alone, B Wise has performed national support duties for big internationals Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples and Freddie Gibbs plus local stars Horrorshow and Illy. You’d expect such gigs to be daunting, but he took to the stage with such easy confidence that crowds stopped and took notice, and within minutes were eating out of his hand.
The uncompromising rage of Dispossessed leaves you breathless and disoriented in all the right ways. On stage, the three piece (Serwah Attafuah, Jarrod Smith and Birrugan Dunn-Velasco) translate the post-colonial death metal of their first demo, Insurgency, into a fierce and bracing live show. Dunn-Velasco’s gut-wrenching vocals, sung in both English and his native Indigenous language Gumbaynggirr, filter in and out of Attafuah’s classic doom metal guitar lines, varying chaotically in tempo just when you think you know what’s going on. The fury of Dispossessed live brings us closer to glimpsing the true violence of dispossession and white supremacy—an unconventional education we desperately need.
A live show from Marcus Whale is unflinching and revelatory. He’s a classically trained musician, an electronic production powerhouse, and a smoking hot on-and-off–stage dancer. And he sings! Whether it’s the local bowling club or the Sydney Opera House, Marcus transforms whatever space he’s in with remarkable agility. Few artists throw themselves so completely into their live performances—what you see on stage is 100% Marcus Whale, an extension of his deeply personal album Inland Sea (nominated for Record Of The Year). This year he supported international names Julianna Barwick and HEALTH, joined the first-rate lineup of Volumes festival, and played alongside a list of local artists too long and varied to begin here.
Papua New Guinea-born, Sydney-based Ngaiire released her second album, Blastoma, this year. Named after a cancer diagnosis she received at age 3, it’s a record of deep soul and sparse electronic production, marked by standout singles ‘Once’ and ‘House on a Rock’. Ngaiire has taken it on the road over a year of spellbinding live performances, tearing up festival stages at Beyond the Valley, Listen Out and Splendour in the Grass. Wrapped in extravagant costumes, Ngaiire’s live presence is led by a whole-body sense of rhythm. Seeing her in person, moving in perfect sync with her soaring voice, is something you’ll cherish forever.
The delightful, earworm pop of Rainbow Chan’s album Spacings (nominated for Record Of The Year) is only half the story. On stage, her diminutive frame balloons into a kaleidoscopic, room-filling presence. She radiates charm and poise, simmering with attitude and flair. Chan has fashioned a dazzling live performance that cements her place as one of our city’s finest pop stars. She’s spent the year performing at Volumes festival, at the Heaps Gay x Vivid Sydney all-day megaparty, and on stage at Big Sound in Brisbane.