Rhythms from the West

Video: Katrina Tap.

When dance music arrived on Perth’s shores in the late eighties, it found a home at community radio station RTRFM.

The station offered listeners in Perth an alternative to mainstream radio, and RTR became a hub for the rave scene.

Music director Matt Perrett says as the station moved away from classical music into new genres, it began to embrace the counter-cultural movement.

“A few overnight shows began playing dance music pretty much all night, and because of the wild nature of them, it gained notoriety,” he says.

Dance music’s DIY approach is making waves in Australia’s music industry. Photo: Katrina Tap.

The station’s history was far from electronic, first forming as a radio station at the University of Western Australia in 1977 playing classical music.

As dance music grew in popularity, it began to be showcased on the stations’ peak-time shows, such as Full Frequency.

There was a period of time in the mid-90s through to the 2000s when RTR heavily featured dance music.

“Now things have leveled out as we have a slightly more globalised outlook, but we still like to think currently RTR is a reflection of the underground community, and we’re platforming the counter-cultural movement that is the dance music scene here in Perth,” Matt says.

Perth’s dance music scene has fostered a strong sense of community, and for many contemporary figures in the scene, this is what has attracted them to get involved.

Matt says dance music spaces provide genuine support for some people. Photo: Katrina Tap.

Matt joined RTRFM initially as a volunteer in the music department, with encouragement from his partner and fellow DJ Kailyn Crabbe.

“We met throwing parties together. We both DJ, we both party, we both still do,” he says.

Having grown up in regional WA, Kailyn first discovered dance music by travelling to Perth on the weekends when she turned 18.

“Dancing makes you feel like you’re part of a community,” she says.

“The events that are put on, especially in the Perth community, feel really inviting and makes everyone feel like they’re a part of something bigger than, just showing up to a club.”

Kailyn Crabbe says the sense of community in Perth’s dance music scene is unheard of. Photo: Katrina Tap.

Kailyn began as a presenter at RTR, before moving to Melbourne at the start of 2023 to take over as the presenter of Triple J’s long-running dance music show the Mix Up.

“Being a DJ felt like a part of me being able to give back to the dance music scene. Not just being someone who showed up at all the events, but got involved in running them and playing music for people,” she says.

For several years, Matt and Kailyn ran a music platform and dance music party Crab Claw.

After organising an event on a date that clashed with another dance music event, they were invited to join a shared calendar, run by other promoters in Perth.

The calendar was designed to allow promoters to share dates for events without clashing with each other, as well as establish points of collaboration and cross-promotion for events that are held on the same date.

“Being thrown onto that just felt like a really lovely sense of community and support,” she says.

 “It’s completely unheard of anywhere else, I think, and really blows people’s minds in Melbourne when I say that.”

Kailyn Crabbe

Co-owner of ONO Records James Enderby first got involved in the music industry by throwing punk shows at The Bird and other DIY spaces across Perth, before moving into dance music.

He says the shared calendar is vital for promoters, as there are few venues in Perth.

“Everyone is looking out for each other, and there’s no territorial attitude,” he says.

“We kind of need to work together in order to make it work.”

Starting a record label was the natural next step for him to facilitate Perth’s growing music artists.

“Finding an artist and trusting them, giving them what they need to complete the project that they want to do and releasing it out into the world, and tell people to give it a shot, give it a listen,” he says.

“That’s what we want to do.”

ONO Records released internationally acclaimed producer Guy Contact’s LP in 2022. Photo: Katrina Tap.

James says that although it’s widely recognised that Perth has talented output, broader media representation of the city’s music scene is lacking.

“Our scene could be really amazing if there was a bit more attention on us,” he says.

Matt says it’s tricky finding a balance when it comes to official avenues of funding and support for the dance music scene because of its strong connection to underground culture.

However, as dance music genres rise in popularity, he says there needs to be more support to protect its cultural value from commercial interests.

“I think that does need to be more support for something that’s like genuinely art and like a cultural experience with an understanding that although for so long dance and music and warehouse parties or club nights are seen as something transgressive,” he says.

For Matt, community-focused spaces, such as RTRFM, gave him an opportunity to cut his teeth as a DJ and meet like-minded people in the scene.

“The folks hosting the show, DJ on the weekends. They’re finding the tunes. They’re being sent them by friends, they’re hearing them at some god-forsaken party on a Saturday morning,” he says.

“It’s always been an extension of the dance music community, from when it first started, all the way to now.”