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Picked Last: How a Collective of Melbourne Underdogs Foundtheir Pack

The Melbourne collective unites like-minded creatives with a common goal of representing their city on the world stage. We caught up with members of Picked Last to hear more about their origins, what keeps them pushing forward and why they should be on your radar.

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If you ask MAMMOTH. to describe what’s it like being part of forward-thinking Melbourne collective Picked Last, the introspective MC’s got a simple answer:

“Bond is thicker than blood.”

If you can think of a type of creative, chances are you’ll find one in Picked Last, which features videographers, photographers, artists, producers and more. Members of the collective include Agung Mango, Sam Varghese, A81yann, CD, 3K, Boy Ace, Crybaby, Blipskii, MAMMOTH., Porter Rico, Manny Müla, Sjay, comegetshot, Brick Gaddafi and Shady Trees, and together, they represent a range of sounds, disciplines and backgrounds. PL is an excellent representation of the new generation of Australian artists, and Moey Khalifa, who acts as the glue of the group, tells Acclaim that there’s a simple reason Picked Last works so well: “We’re all on the same wavelength”.

The group’s just released ‘NO CLUE’, a late-night anthem that features some of PL’s best spitters all firing off in rapid succession. Speaking about the track’s creation, Moey says that after he and Eissa spent some time with America’s UnoTheActivist, they were motivated by his ability to be “inspired by the moment”.They got everyone in the studio – including videographers and a photographer – to capture the night’s energy. The results are a track and visuals that feel like an unfiltered insight into the inner workings of Picked Last.

’NO CLUE’ showcases the varied vocal talents of Agung Mango, Boy Ace, A81yann, Manny Müla, Porter Rico and Eissa, while Sam Varghese created the song’s booming production. ‘NO CLUE’, as well as the accompanying music video, were made in one night, and this spontaneous energy can be felt radiating through your headphones/earphones/speakers. The music video’s similarly magnetic, as well as spontaneous: Moey says that “there was literally no planning, the only planning was making sure certain people were in the room”.

There’s a certain magic that happens when you get the right mix of talents in the one spot, especially when everyone understands each other’s strengths. A81yann’s hook is buttery smooth, while Eissa’s gruffness cuts through the track like a knife. You can run the risk of spoiling the meal when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but PL consistently manage to get the balance just right – whether they’re working on a project rollout, teaming up for a posse cut or putting on a live show. 

Picked Last, Finish First 

Part of what makes Picked Last so compelling is the fact that everything they do feels organic, which has been the case from the very beginning. After being a collective for a while, the group stumbled upon their name following a conversation in Agung Mango’s garage. The name references their collective view that they’re underdogs in the Australian music scene, and explaining it to Acclaim, Moey says that PL are united by their drive to make what they believe in. They don’t listen to outside noise. “We feel like we’re the underdogs. We’re kind of overlooked, because we make what’s true to us,” Moey explains. “Whether you like it or not doesn’t really matter. It’s what we like and what we fuck with. That’s what Picked Last is.” 

While the group has only released two official singles under the banner of Picked Last – 2022’s ‘LIL STUNNA’ and now ‘NO CLUE’, there is a plethora of music out there from the individual members. MAMMOTH.’s recent project with chub.e, Traces Of A Star, is one of the best hip-hop projects to come out of Australia in 2023, while Agung Mango’s 2022 EP MAN ON THE GO is an excellent representation of the lane he’s carved out for himself. It’s slightly off-kilter, combining jazzy elements with a pop tinge that makes it a logical entry point for new fans. If you want to get a sense of what Picked Last can do, this may be a great place to start, as A81yann and MAMMOTH. feature on the project.

Part of Moey’s role in PIcked Last is managing expectations, ensuring that they’re always pushing towards their goals. There’s a mix of more established and emerging artists in Picked Last, which gives those who are further along in their careers a chance to expose their fans to the PL artists that are starting to carve out a spot for themselves. For example,in addition to MAN ON THE GO, A81yann features on Traces Of A Star, which introduced him to both Agung and MAMMOTH.’s audiences. It’s a calculated strategy, one that Moey describes as “like a cheat code to breaking an artist a little bit in this country”. 

It can be easy to get bogged down in statistics like listener numbers and play counts, especially in a collective where artists are at different points of their trajectory. However, these same statistics are often the enemy of great art, and this is something that is emphasised within PL. Moey explains, “When you know the song’s good and then you compare how good it is with numbers, that’s where it gets a bit iffy. “For me, it’s more just building a back catalogue, and just continuously dropping work that you know is really good yourself, right? And then at one point or not, it’s gonna speak for itself. If the music is good, your moment will come.”

The Power Of Friendship

Faking chemistry is futile in the long run. Picked Last’s success can be put down to their respective musical talents, but this is only part of the puzzle. CD offers an insight into how the group comes together when the studio mics aren’t on. “Our writing camps are top-tier, the family birthday parties are prime bonding moments and something that’s been super special for me is having the whole crew at my live shows singing my lyrics back to me and making the biggest scene in the crowd.

“I’ve done shows where there were literally three other people in the room and I still had at least three or four PL members standing there, gassing me up on stage as if I was playing at a festival.” Being part of a collective also helps inspire some friendly rivalry – which Agung feels helps elevate his output. He explains, “For me, I’m a student at all times, as cliché as it sounds. So growth for me fluctuates but being a part of a team gives me motivation to always work towards representing something, and it also triggers friendly competition. That’s something I miss, [having] played sports growing up.”
Of course, any great team needs a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, which Picked Last has in spades. Sonically, the group collectively contains artists that exist in many musical spaces, like R&B, trap, experimental hip-hop and more. Boy Ace says that this is a big advantage: they’re all able to contribute a slightly different musical flavour whenever they’re making music together, which elevates the art of everyone involved. He says, “Even though we’re all different musically, everyone contributing their different sides has helped create this sound we all can relate to. It’s like that scene in Ratatouille where Remy first makes the soup in the restaurant.”

It’s a sentiment that MAMMOTH. echoes when describing what it’s like to be in Picked Last. As any creative will attest to, it’s easy to feel isolated, but having a community (or ecosystem, which is how Moey describes PL) helps lift everyone up. Speaking to PL is a reminder that it’s crucial to tread unfamiliar territory by working with other people within one’s chosen medium/s. If you’re ever in a creative rut, leaning on those around you can elevate your creations to new heights “I am inspired everyday from the people around me and am able to gather knowledge to grow as an artist from seeing different ways us members approach our art,” MAMMOTH. says.

“I know I got their support & vice versa, we are all held accountable and all bring each other up when needed. it’s important to have a team to help you push your boundaries to the maximum.”

Looking Beyond Down Under

Picked Last’s aim isn’t necessarily to put on for Australia – Moey explains that they feel “it’s fake to say Picked Last, yeah, we represent Australia because we don’t know what Perth, Queensland and Sydney are like”. However, there is a strong desire from the group to represent Melbourne as a city. He compares the way PL feel about Melbourne to how you can feel Toronto on Drake’s Views. Even if you’ve never been there, Drake wants you to know what it’s like (in an interview with Zane Lowe, Drake explained that Views was inspired by Toronto’s weather). Speaking about their connection to Melbourne, Moey reveals, “I’d say we’re Melbourne artists before Australian artists in a sense, right? And we’ve all said this, when we do find international success, the representation will be of Melbourne – because that’s our truth.”

PL eschew the notion that they’re local artists – as Moey explains, it’s a term that can hamper the prospects for Australian artists overseas, intentionally or not. He says, “The goal is definitely to [achieve] international success. This is my personal opinion, but being called a local artist is disrespectful in a sense, because you’re almost boxing yourself in as an Australian artist.” He points to Genesis Owusu and Tkay Maidza, two of Australia’s most innovative and successful artists, of what artists from this country can achieve on a global scale, if they don’t restrict themselves to viewing success through an Australian lens.

It’s fair to say that the Australian music industry isn’t always at the coalface of global musical revolutions. Often, sounds filter down to Australia well after they’ve popped off overseas. Drill is a notable example, which ONEFOUR helped pioneer in Australia in the late 2010s, themselves influenced by UK groups like Harlem Spartans. Rather than looking to contemporaries in Australia, Moey and the rest of the PL crew are looking to places like the US and UK for inspiration. It’s how they’ve consistently managed to keep in step with global musical movements, rather than attempting to dominate the ARIA charts. “We’re very aware of what’s going on [in Australia]. We’re just going to stick to what we know is best and it might not work right now,” he says.

“But we know what we’re doing is dope and people will catch on and it’s just like, not really trying to make music or make moves or do events or do anything that caters to what we know the Australian audience wants based on where the market is right now in Australia. We’re just going to stick to what we know what we like and just continue to do what we like.”

Moey’s acutely aware of how Australian artists can be perceived on a global scale, and he doesn’t want PL to get pigeonholed based on where they live. Instead, he wants music fans across the world to connect with the collective’s sounds. He says, “When you make that Australian sound, I think you can only go so far. You can get on festivals, you can open up for this person and do that, but you’re still stuck in Australia.”

Picked Last’s ethos is a different, and refreshing, way of thinking about art as an Australian creative. Recent conversations around the ARIA charts and the lack of perceived support for Australian artists are important, but there is often also an underlying assumption that all Australian artists actively want to make the ARIA charts. The members of PL aren’t the only examples of Australian artists that want more from their musical trajectories than Australian success. However, it’s rare that Australian artists are willing to be so candid about wanting to make music that caters more to the taste of music fans half a world away than in the next suburb. PL might have once been the underdogs of Australian music, but it feels like they’re primed to escape the confines of their local backyards and run amok across the world.

Follow Picked Last here for more.

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