Months of planning went into Melbourne hip-hop trio 3K's hometown launch show for their City Of Fever EP. After all, they've had a lot of time to think over the last couple of years. Playing to a packed crowd at the revered Howler was a reminder of just how far hip-hop and R&B have come in Australia in recent times - and it was a look at what's possible over the coming years. The night was also an example of the power of community, and the bond that exists between the artists that make up Picked Last, the collective that includes 3K and a host of other Melbourne artists. Describing the experience of being on stage, 3K explains that "it felt incredible to see everyone cheering and going wild to what we spent so much time working on."
To help make the night a success, 3K (made up of Beluga, Benny Lago and Eissa) brought along the ever-exciting 1300, as well as two fellow Picked Last members: CD and Fokage. Both artists are part of PL, with CD's silky-smooth take on timeless R&B proving to be a favourite with the audience (the performance of her 2020 single Mr. MIA saw one of the biggest crowd reactions of the night), while Fokage held it down with well-crafted DJ sets in between the performances.
Playing at the City Of Fever launch is an experience that CD won't soon forget, remarking, "I had been doing shows frequently in the weeks/months leading up to the gig, but at a smaller scale. Knowing 3K were going to attract a larger audience, as well as having the chance to support people I consider family was all the more motivation to put on a good show that night, so I prepared as much as possible. I changed up my set and played some new songs, and it turned out to be one of my favourite sets to date." The love that each artist received from the crowd was immense, while each act was just as hyped to be in the crowd watching their fellow artists perform. Whether you were a first-time attendee to a 3K show, or a long-time devotee, it's hard to imagine a more appreciative live music crowd.
All the artists on the bill were hand-picked by 3K - "1300 and CD were our dream supports, to us they’re family, and it was great to grace the stage with them" - and it was a night that celebrated the ever-growing bond between the Sydney and Melbourne scenes. 1300's performance did more to strengthen the relationship between the two East Coast capital cities than a lifetime's worth of major newspaper op-eds could ever hope to achieve. Arguing about which city has better coffee is a waste of time when you've got artists from both communities coming together like this.
Main support 1300 are arguably on the hottest streak in Australia right now, and judging by the unreleased tracks that they played on the night, that's only set to continue. Their debut mixtape, Foreign Language, is set to be released on April 29th, and the five-piece mixed in upcoming tracks from the project seamlessly alongside fiery performances of recent singles Oldboy and Rocksta. Whether they were rapping in Korean or English, the crowd was hooked - and once the group threw in a few dance moves, it was on for young and old. By the time 1300 left the stage, it was evident to all those in the room that future live appearances in Melbourne are going to be box-office events.
Getting swept up in 1300's energy when they're performing is inevitable, and one of the group's favourite aspects about being an artist is performing live. They recently told NME that getting on stage is "what our music is made for. It’s not for sitting down at home with headphones on. It could be that too, but it’s better live when everyone’s jumping and shit and you can see the energy.” Those aren't idle words, either - the joy that was evident on the faces of each member when their fellow MC had the crowd's full attention can't be faked.
In the lead-up to the show (which the group described as an audiovisual experience), 3K went all out to promote it. Posters popped up around the city of Melbourne to let people know about the gig, while the group used their flair for comedy to produce skits to remind people to grab some tickets. The attention to detail behind the scenes was just as precise, with the group planning out every element of the show. The group recalls, "There was a lot of preparation behind the scenes that made the show an experience. We created a script to be narrated throughout the performance, collected props for the set design and had a homie sitting there in a bomb suit for half the show.
"We wrote down a list of visuals and lights for each part of the show that came to fruition with the help of our Visual Director, Isaiah Morris. There were many more minor things involved that, when incorporated, came to create the audiovisual visual experience for City Of Fever." As soon as they hit the stage, it was clear that this was a performance that'll go down in 3K history, as well as Melbourne hip-hop history. Next time 3K grace the stage, you won't want to miss it.
From the group's outfits and accessories (the balaclavas were a personal favourite) to the set design, the theatrics on display meant there were multiple things happening at any time. The more mellow moments on City Of Fever, like Defibrillator, were met with just as much love as the songs that were designed to create moshpit mayhem, like Swipe and Smackdown, giving the set a pace that allowed 3K to weave a narrative that existed beyond the music.
It felt like a night where the 'underdogs' were allowed to win, and their success was being celebrated by all in attendance. That's not always a common sentiment in a country where tall poppy syndrome can, at times, reign supreme. It's something that CD will take away from the show, commenting, "At the end of the show, Beluga emphasised the importance of continuing to do exactly what you want to do. The 3K boys have persisted and stayed true to their artistry for a long time now.
"Of course, they’ve evolved along the way, but they’ve stuck to their own creative needs/wants, which in turn has given them a sustainable and ever-growing fanbase. As the saying goes, “real recognise real,” and people will always catch on to something authentic. They’ve built their own loyal community because they aren’t just riding trends, and it’s a lesson for other artists following a similar path."
The response to the set's more emotional moments was something that stood out to 3K, with the trio revealing, "Seeing our fans rage to our hard songs was something that we missed and it reinforced our love for doing live shows. But an even better feeling was the fans’ response to the moodier music we’ve been making. Sometimes you’re anxious performing songs that are on a different vibe to what you usually do but that anxiety was washed away by the crowd's response." The crowd was locked in for the entire set, and by the end of their performance, where they played City Of Fever's closing track Beginning (a song about winning alongside your team), they had achieved a flawless victory. They came, they saw, they (figuratively) conquered Howler.
The entirety of City Of Fever was self-funded (you can check out the breakdown of costs below), and while it wasn't all smooth sailing for 3K, the ability to shape the project while working with people they believe in and trust made it worth it. "It’s an extremely rocky roller coaster but to be able to have total control of the creative direction is what we believe makes us better artists," the group explains. "You get to learn so much about the entire process when it’s self-funded that is able to fuel us creatively and practically for future endeavours."
The sense of community that was evident at the launch, and is fostered by a collective like Picked Last, means that artists are given the space to grow alongside like-minded creatives. It's an experience that isn't lost on Fokage, who highlights that "you need a team, whether it's a circle or a dot. You just need someone like-minded who can fuel your imaginative thoughts, who can encourage you, who knows how to finish your sentences, who's just happy to see you shine and can add to the glow." While it was 3K's night to shine, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that it was a wider representation of what's achievable when the Melbourne music community comes together (with some help from one of the most exciting Sydney groups in the game).
In a recent Acclaim All-Stars 2022 cypher featuring 1300 and 3K, Benny Lago raps "two groups, two cities tryna hold it down" - which has never felt truer. Gone are the days of an inter-city rivalry that fuelled the hype that surrounded the 360 vs Kerser rap battle a decade ago. Instead, in recent times, Sydney and Melbourne hip-hop artists, and indeed, artists from both cities in any genre, have shown the kind of love to the other scene that helps everyone to grow. The recent On Demand Festival in Sydney saw members of Melbourne's 66 Records go up to feature on a line-up alongside Skenzo, Young6ix and Jaecy. When Melbourne and Sydney's music scenes come together, it feels like anything is possible - even if just for a night. March 26th at Howler felt like a glimpse at the future.
During 1300's set, they were joined by Western Sydney producer/DJ/radio host/Australian proponent of the phrase "tapped in", SOLLYY. His production is set to feature on an unreleased track from 1300, and speaking to him about the bond between Melbourne and Sydney's music scenes, he explains that while the scenes might be separated geographically, the overarching struggles of artists within both scenes are the same. "There definitely is a relationship forming now, especially in the underground hip-hop/R&B spaces," he highlights.
"You’re starting to see a lot of solidarity due to issues being faced in both cities (industry access, gatekeeper mentality, lack of resources). I also feel that this generation of Australian artists share similar inspirations and influences and this may drive the sense of community between the two cities." Both scenes are much better off when they're working together, as the night definitively showed.
The self-belief is palpable when you see 3K perform, and it's clear that their peers and their fans believe in them too. The group says that they've got a lot in store over the next 12 months - as they describe it, they're preparing to release "hectic motherfucking shit that is about to blow your minuscule brains to fucking smithereens ". Have a back-up plan for your brain, and maybe a fire blanket too. Burn City is turning into an inferno.