Ali Barter has something. It’s something that leads from her eyes to her hips; it coils around 70s stadiums and backroom bars; and it clears it’s throat from the neck of her guitar. When people are fumbling to describe it, they use words like “presence” or “compelling”. It’s something that prevents people from turning away.
The former triple j unearthed winner has spent the last few years honing her sound, testing combinations and serving an almost old-fashioned musical apprenticeship in her home town of Melbourne. The journey has been about embracing the power chords and dancehalls that filled her teenage years, as much as the delicate harmonies she’s been drawn to lately. There is a high wire somewhere between He War and Like a Prayer, and Barter has been determined to find it and walk it. With sweatbands.
Like the best of them, Barter was literally a classically trained choirgirl turned rambler and ‘rat bag’. The darker end of the street beckoned and women liked Hole and Juliana Hatfield called her in. Youth didn't really suit, now she had something to say.
It’s taken a long time to come from nowhere; Barter is not in a rush. Initially collaborating with friends and strangers, Ali found her musical soul mate in Oscar Dawson (Holy Holy) and the pair recorded and toured throughout 2013 and ‘14. Somehow, the combination resulted in Barter finding confidence in her direction; trusting her voice and songs, and discovering the will to carry it live. She gathered musicians who could flesh out the songs she was building. They played pub residencies, regional tours and supported the likes of The War On Drugs, Phosphorescent and Vance Joy, tightening their sound and building a show, testing their metal for the studio and beyond.
In 2015, this has resulted in the six-track EP, entitled ‘AB-EP’. Lyrics describe the eternal nothing of a baking Melbourne summer day ("Ode to Summer") or a farewell to innocence ("If You Go"). The guitars can be both lush and aggressive ("Blood"), building in layers and then stripped down to bare vocals, or pushed to the back to let that sound run free ("Hypercolour"). There is ambition here and and an increasingly clear vision. "I Ask For So Little" could almost have been picked straight from a 90s grunge playlist. That’s no-one’s idea of cool, but in Barter’s hands it is lifted into something “compelling”.
Melbourne has a musical soul that stretches deep into its bitumen. Every corner seems to spawn a stage and a microphone and a knowing crowd. It creates a high bar for recognition, but Ali Barter is finding her own space and is appreciated for it. She brings it all to the stage with the sound, the steel and that something else.