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06 May 2024  •  Student News

'Soundcheck' - an Interview with USYD POC Revue’s Directors

“Soundcheck is POC Revue in BOLD. It’s edgy, it’s angry, it’s sexy, it’s dark.”

By Bianca Drummond Costa (she/her)
'Soundcheck' - an Interview with USYD POC Revue’s Directors

Few bands have profited off people of colour (POC) so blatantly that they get an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to it. However, Led Zeppelin has managed to carve an entire rock career out of it, and they’re not alone. Countless other high-profile artists have done the same, such as Elvis, Pat Boone and the Beach Boys just to name a few. These household names, made famous for shifting the music landscape by presenting the world with new sounds, have hosted entire shining, glamorous, successful careers, off the chords, lyrics, and even entire songs of POC, particularly Black people. 

How many of you recognise the names Black Mama Thorton, Otis Blackwell, Little Richard, and Memphis Minnie? Unless you know your music, let’s face it, probably not many of you. These artists all had their work stolen by white creatives. Is this the world we want to live in? And what kind of message are we sending to young creatives when they grew up listening to these musical pioneers whose careers, unbeknownst to the public, relied on the work of POC? It is important we talk about this, especially because most mainstream genres now dominated by white people were created and pioneered by Black people. 

Rhythm and blues, which originated in the Deep South, was the genre that influenced the creation of rock ‘n’ roll. Country music stemmed from ‘Hillbilly music’, a combination of folk songs by African immigrants in the 18th and 9th centuries. In fact, Black people invented the banjo and fiddle. House music was popularised by Black DJs in the late 70s who remixed disco music (which in itself was a Black genre!). Techno beats were created by the Black community in Detroit. Jazz came from blues. The list goes on and on and on.

This year, USYD’s POC Revue theme is a response to decades of exploitation and mistreatment of POC creatives. Titled “Soundcheck”, their show will be centred around the rock, punk, and alternative music scenes – all genres that were created by people of colour, but which over time, have been appropriated and stolen by white artists.

Aditya (Adi) Rao and Victoria Georges, the co-directors of this year’s revue, have played and been surrounded by music their entire lives. Growing up in households filled with classic 80s bangers (like the best of us), was something they bonded over since the inception of their friendship. Given this, and the history of many of their favourite genres, it became clear that this theme was the loudest and the boldest option for them to choose.

“It’s a very ambitious show, but I think it speaks to a dichotomy of POC in performance/art, in that we’re often asked to be better than the best in order to prove ourselves… but also that's sort of telling of our inherent talent and power, because WE CAN and ARE way more talented because of it,” Victoria asserts.

Punk in the mainstream, especially in the 21st century, has a historically nasty habit of glorifying the aesthetic without speaking to the substance. As a culture, we have separated the aesthetic from the ideology. Piercings, eyeliner and leather jackets have been commodified as ‘edgy’, and no longer signify a person’s disjuncture with wider points of social, cultural and political concern. To minimise an entire subculture to an aesthetic ‘look’, is in turn reductive of everything that movement has, or used to, stand for. 

“POC truly embody the essence of punk and grunge and all the alternative subcultures,” Victoria says. 

Adi adds, “The core of so many of these subcultures is being working class, fighting oppressors, being anti-capitalist and anarchist. It’s so weird to separate the aesthetic from its roots.” 

This year, Adi and Victoria are also super excited to expand and grow the community of artists within the USYD POC Revue by framing it as more of an autonomous collective, rather than just a revue society. Although the show is the main focus of the society, there are a myriad of opportunities to work in the space and “connect with people that will eventually become your family”, as Adi explains. As a fellow revue veteran (shoutout UTS CRAP), I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

Revues have brought me and people who I now call some of my dearest friends together like no force has ever before. The energy of the creatives in the room is electric, and after spending up to 15 hours a week together (especially as show week creeps up on you), you spend an obscene amount of time bonding over how insufferable, hilarious and talented you all are. Most of all, you develop a deep sense of admiration and comradery for one another.

However, theatre in Australia is a predominantly white, male space. Finding opportunities in theatre to accurately represent the characters that we identify with, is hard as a person of colour, especially because there are not often many available in the first place. In the end, it results in the entire creative community going up against each other to play the same part – one that is all too often lacking dimension. In other words, the POC aspect of the character is their entire identity with no room for nuance.

Moreover, the professional creative world finds itself mirrored even within student-led spaces.

“Without singling societies out, I see a lot of university theatre just trying to ‘satisfy the quota’. They’re pushing this agenda of inclusivity and diversity without doing anything meaningful,” Adi says. “Even when we’re in these spaces, it never feels like it’s entirely our story, and we don’t have full creative control and autonomy.”

Identity-led revues like POC Revue give us opportunities to perform what we want, the way we want to, without the pressure of performing and being analysed by a white gaze. As Adi explains, “We’re allowed to have fun onstage and be political if we want to, but we don't have to. We can joke about our experiences and at the same time make a statement and be radical”.

Adi’s point here is clear. At its core, POC Revue is by people of colour, for people of colour.

Victoria elaborates: “Revues are very silly, which is a great atmosphere to have when you’re dismantling the Eurocentricity and privileging of white people in theatre, because we essentially take something so revered like theatre and we turn it on its head – we decide what is funny, what is entertaining, what stories we want to tell and on top of all of that, we get to rub it in our oppressors faces by making fun of them! 

“Also, I’m of the firm belief that trauma informs humour, and who has more trauma than the children of immigrants and ethnics? #TheCinPoCStandsForComedy!”

Given the theme of this year's revue, it “just made sense” to have a live band playing during the show this year. It’s a first for USYD POC Revue, too!

“They’re so metal, it’s just so cool,” gushes Adi. “It adds a whole new element to the live show experience. The musical numbers are really big, and the whole cast is working really hard. We’ve got a fabulous choreographer too”.

Alongside this change to the revue, they’ve begun to host events, such as trivia nights, music nights, and later this semester, an open mic night. Since they only host one show a year, their major project for semester two will be a zine in which POC artists will have the opportunity to showcase their creative works.

“We’re so keen to do all this, but it’s also honestly really scary. Ultimately, it’s awesome to keep pushing the barriers of what we can do.” says Adi.

There’s nothing more punk than ambition, especially when it comes to the ambitions of POC.

In terms of their favourite (and arguably underrated) POC musicians, the pair have put together a sexy little playlist for everyone to enjoy. Relish in the gorgeous artistry of our creatives.


The USYD POC Revue cast is set to take the stage at the Seymour Centre from the 8th-11th May. You can find tickets here. See you there!


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