Thrillsong: Australian artists form ‘supergroup’ to call out NSW singing and dancing ban double standard

The group formed in response to heavily criticised footage of a Hillsong Youth summer camp that NSW Health has deemed “clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent” of a Public Health Order

A large group of Australian artists have joined forces to form the satirical supergroup Thrillsong, who say they’re ready to “take bookings for religious and sporting events” – pointing to a perceived double standard in enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions between those activities and live music events.

The supergroup features a wide variety of Australian artists across location and genre. They are: Alex the Astronaut, Annie Hamilton, Art vs. Science, CC:DISCO!, Confidence Man, Dune Rats, Hatchie, Illy, Jack River, The Jungle Giants, KLP, Lime Cordiale, Montaigne, Odette, Peking Duk, Set Mo, Stace Cadet, Sycco, Thandi Phoenix and What So Not.

“We firmly support measures to protect our fans and communities and to safeguard our health care workers, we simply ask that if rules are made, they apply to everyone equally,” the group commented. “We need to be in this together.”

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In a media release, the Thrillsong artists cited footage that emerged from a Hillsong Youth summer camp in NSW this week. The footage, shared to Hillsong’s own social media, shows attendees singing and dancing along to performances, with the majority not observing social distancing or wearing masks. The camp, for those in grades 10 to 12, kicked off yesterday (January 12) and runs until Saturday (January 15) in Newcastle.

In a statement sent to NME, NSW Health has requested Hillsong “immediately stop singing and dancing at an event being held in the Newcastle area”, noting that “singing and dancing at a major recreation facility is in breach of the Public Health Order”.

“While the Order does not apply to religious services, it does apply to major recreation facilities and this event is clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent of the Order, which is in place to help keep the community safe,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

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Prior to NSW Health’s statement, the footage had circulated widely on social media and attracted criticism from artists and members of the music industry and the media. “Love to post festival and gig postponements and cancelations while this is allowed to happen coz hillsong,” Frenzal Rhomb guitarist Lindsay McDougall wrote on Twitter.

“Looking good @hillsong @hillsongyouth,” wrote producer Christopher Emerson (aka What So Not) in an Instagram story earlier today. “We’d love to be afforded the same rights! Who’s [you’re] government point person to keep your music events happening?”

“We just had to cancel a tour we’ve had planned MONTHS in advance – people lost work. Because everything would have to be seated and divided across sessions to even make possible but THIS can happen?!” tweeted Yours Truly vocalist Mikaila Delgado.

Sharing footage from the camp of DJ Snake and Lil Jon‘s ‘Turn Down for What’ being played to the crowd, Illy joked on Twitter: “I can handle the singing, the dancing, and the no mask wearing at this Hillsong festival last night, even though it’s illegal for the entire arts industry to do the same. But playing “turn down for what” in 2022?! Too far.”

In a longer post on Facebook, the rapper elaborated, pointing out that he’d had two gigs unable to take place this year because of restrictions and had seen “many friends having to cancel/postpone shows”.

“I can deal with the NSW health minister *specifically* outlawing singing and dancing at outdoor festivals the other day, an unusual attack on a specific industry without any assistance to those affected.

“I can even just about deal with after all the music industry has done and dealt with in the last two years, seeing a Hillsong music festival allowed to go ahead in NSW last night where no others could, purely because the attendees are from the same church as the prime minister.”

In a statement provided to NME prior to NSW Health’s statement, Hillsong said their youth camps were “not similar to a music festival in any way”, saying they “involve primarily outdoor recreational activities including sports and games.”

“We follow strict COVID procedures and adhere to government guidelines,” they added. “Outdoor Christian services are held during the camp but these are only a small part of the program, and any singing is only a small part of each service (a video circulating on social media today reflects a few minutes of this part of the program).”

NME has reached out to Hillsong again for comment on NSW Health’s statement and on the formation of Thrillsong.

Last Friday (January 7), NSW premier Dominic Perrottet announced that attendees would not be allowed to sing and dance in hospitality venues (including bars and nightclubs) and entertainment facilities in the state until at least January 27. Exemptions were made for wedding services and receptions as well as religious services.

Three days after that, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant signed an amendment to the relevant Public Health Act that aimed to “prohibit singing and dancing by persons attending music festivals”, requiring organisers to ensure “no person sings or dances on the premises” other than performers.

Multiple festivals in NSW have been forced to pull the plug on planned events in recent weeks. On Tuesday (January 11), music and wine festival Grapevine Gathering announced that as a result of the policy change, it had been forced to cancel their NSW event, which was scheduled to take place this weekend in the Hunter Valley.

Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Sydney inner west event King Street Carnival, both of which were slated to kick off tomorrow (January 14), were both also recently postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

It’s the second time in days that Hillsong has prompted backlash regarding the apparent disparity in how the NSW government’s rules are being applied.

Earlier this week, artists including DZ Deathrays and The Jungle Giants took to social media to criticise the perceived double standard, prompted by an article in The Australian on the restrictions’ “devastating consequences” for the live music industry and how these rules did not appear to apply to places of worship that hosted performances similar to that of live concerts.

Written by Andrew McMillen, the article specifically cited a Hillsong church service at its Hills Convention Centre in Norwest, Sydney over the weekend that concluded with an extended performance by the megachurch’s praise band, Hillsong Worship.

Five vocalists and four instrumentalists performed their song ‘That’s the Power’ to a congregation of masked parishioners standing, some with their arms raised – looking not dissimilar to the kind of rock concert which is currently banned in the state, McMillen wrote.

In a statement to NME at the time, a NSW Health spokesperson said that the venues and settings where singing and dancing is currently banned – “music festivals, hospitality venues, nightclubs, entertainment facilities and major recreation facilities” – “are deemed as high risk.”

They received that designation “due to increased movement and mingling within and across these venues, the influence of alcohol consumption, and the removal of masks in these settings to consume food and drink.”

In contrast, NSW Health said, “People attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings.”

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