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BIGSOUND Gig Spotlight: RISSA @ Stranded Bar

11 September 2023 | 3:42 pm | Ella Sterland

So, how do you kick off a festival that thrives on attention-grabbing pace and the ability to move swiftly across multiple locations? With grace, of course.


RISSA (Supplied)


The extensive 150-act lineup at BIGSOUND 2023 can be overwhelming for anyone trying to make basic "what do you feel like seeing!" decisions.

However, I knew one thing for certain: RISSA was a must-see. The soul/pop musician had a prime 7:00 PM slot at Stranded Bar, effectively opening the Brisbane festival, alongside several other talented artists performing at different venues.

I've followed RISSA's discography for a while now, having had the chance to chat with her over Zoom during the perpetual ambiguity of 2020.

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I've been delighted to witness her receive the recognition she truly deserves. Her approach to composition is profoundly musical, characterised by vibrant and gymnastic ease that lies at the heart of her craft.

I had been eagerly anticipating experiencing her live interpretations of songs I've cherished for years, and beginning my BIGSOUND journey with her showcase felt almost preordained.

So, how do you kick off a festival that thrives on attention-grabbing pace and the ability to move swiftly across multiple locations? With grace, of course.

Specifically, with an unfurling gospel arrangement of her 2023 hyper pop-R&B release Save Me. This approach resonated with me because it felt intrinsically sophisticated, like a primer for a night filled with bold personalities, a reminder of why music connects us to each other and to ourselves.

As the three-part harmonies unfolded, I was struck by the delightful and unexpected instrumentation of RISSA's set; she was accompanied on stage by three backing vocalists and a DJ. RISSA later shared with me, "Backing vocals and group vocals are at the core of my music creativity, so I want to showcase that above all else."

We swiftly moved into Twisted, a regular guest on many of my Spotify playlists. The groove in this song is so addictive that it might as well be a medical condition — it's just that good.

Hearing it live was everything I could have hoped for, and RISSA has a knack for restraining herself, not revealing all her musical cards at once, which gives her total control over the audience.

The live performance of Twisted reminded me of her collaborative release Truth with Kindagood, possibly because RISSA consistently brings melodic and rhythmic cohesion to everything she's a part of.

Transitioning to another classic in her discography, Do Ya Feel It? was a genuine expression of RISSA's vocal prowess. Her improvisation at the end of the track was inspiring, and she exuded a clear sense of loving every moment on stage.

Gospel music holds a powerful communal energy that's hard to match in other genres, and Do Ya Feel It? exemplified that "you are welcome here" kind of connection that RISSA does so well. Speaking about group singing, RISSA shared, "Group vocals and the vibe of others singing along give me the most fulfillment in why I create music." Also, her vocal runs are simply extraordinary.

About midway into the set, we entered a low-tempo moment, which provided a pleasant change but, to me at least, didn't take the set beyond where it had started.

I admire her vocal choices and the ethereal blending of the backing vocalists, and the melody of Deep was particularly beautiful. However, I couldn't help but feel that it might not have been compelling enough to justify the pause in the groovy momentum.

You Can't Stop was the last track I was able to catch from RISSA's set. Her body language created instant intimacy, giving her command over the room and making it impossible to look away. She clearly has a blast on stage, and her high level of skill becomes a gateway to trustworthy playfulness.

I thoroughly enjoyed what RISSA brought to the opening night of BIGSOUND, and her infectious charm was the perfect armour I needed heading into such a musically overwhelming week.

Ella Sterland is a musician and writer. Her musical projects are Dreaming Soda and Bares, and you can find her celebrating female and non-binary musicians on her platform 'Record the Resonance.'

This piece was commissioned as part of The Music Writer's Lab, a project by Creative Australia and MusicNT