"You write it, you sing it, we'll create something together." 

By Sophie Davis

Tucked away on level 3 of the City of Sydney Creative Studios, managed by Brand X, is an arts organisation making a profound impact on the lives of young people. Brand X sat down with powerhouse CEO and General Manager Nerida Woods, and music maker-producer-extraordinaire Adam Bozzetto, to learn more about the incredible work that Heaps Decent does. 

“We were set up in 2007 by Nina Las Vegas and Andrew Levins, who were two young DJs working at FBi at the time. They were interested in hearing more diversity in local music,” explains Nerida, “and they began running music workshops, starting at the Riverina Youth Justice Centre in Wagga Wagga,” contributing to the start up was the prolific American producer Diplo who they teamed up with, “…from there it just kind of snowballed.” 

Heaps Decent went on to set up a more permanent collaboration with Key College in Redfern, an independent school for teens who experience difficulties like homelessness, or who have left mainstream schooling. “At the same time, we started doing Youth Justice Centres regularly,” tells Adam, “all the facilitators were Sydney’s top DJs and producers. It's funny, I put into Chat GTP the other day for my TAFE class ‘Can you name the top 10 Sydney DJs?’ and the top five all worked at Heaps Decent in the past! I used to make a joke that the best way to get on rotation on Triple J is to work for Heaps Decent.” 

Beyond the organisation’s impressive catalogue of talent, Nerida and Adam recognise the transformative power of artistic expression, speaking to the benefits for teens coming from all sorts of backgrounds: “If you're working in youth justice, you’re often working with teens who are incredibly traumatised, and just to go into a space where they can tell their story in their own words is extremely important” says Nerida.  

“For me, it’s always been about the process of making and the benefits that has for the individual rather than the endpoint,” says Adam, “I’m there to say, ‘you write it, you sing it, we'll create something together’. And I think that kind of self-expression is so powerful.” 

Through music and multimedia, workshops, and various projects, the organisation encourages participants to share their ideas and perspectives, fostering a sense of empowerment, especially for some youth who want to reclaim the narrative of their own lives. “Some young people open books of stuff they have been writing in front of me. I don’t prompt the stories they tell. Some of these stories are very intense and hard to hear”. 

Nerida and Adam explain what a typical week looks like for them, from Bank Studios down the road, then to Key College on Monday, Glebe Youth Centre on Wednesday teaching teens production skills and how to use the sound studio independently, “last year, there were nine people who got their licences to use the studios themselves, which is great” explains Nerida. On Wednesdays Adam travels to Cobham, a Youth Justice Centre in St. Marys. Thursdays to a school for students with challenging behaviours in Campbelltown, “Then I go to another Youth Justice Centre that houses all female detainees in New South Wales, and boys under the age of fifteen. Then after that, we go to residential care for young teens with very high needs; sometimes they have been in youth justice and they have no home environment where they can live, so these are super vulnerable young people.” Adam and Nerida ask “is that a whole week yet?” before remembering that it’s not, last term they were also working with a girls refuge too. “And then we've got regional trips”.

While based in Sydney, Heaps Decent has a strong presence in regional communities. “When we started people were interested in offering something new, something different for the community of young people. This would be through regional schools, youth and community centres.”

Heaps Decent particularly has a strong presence in the Riverina area of NSW and travels all over the state as far as Broken Hill. The organisation recognises the importance of bringing its workshops and collaborating on projects in these areas, ensuring that all youth, regardless of their geographical location, have the chance to discover and develop their creative talents. 

“You know, some schools don’t have a music teacher, or a visual arts teacher, so it can be the expectation that another teacher, the English teacher maybe, would be offering the creative learning. So they need people like us, or other creative groups who can offer these skills.” 

As our cultural understanding deepens, our society is increasingly acknowledging the transformative power of music and arts in fostering personal growth, emotional well-being, and social connection. When it comes to forging partnerships outside the arts  “It used to be much harder than it is now. I think gradually people are getting more of an understanding about the holistic value of art and creative expression,” says Nerida. 

As a heaps decent organisation, Heaps Decent stands as a testament to the growing recognition of the significance of creative expression and its benefits for individuals. “You can have someone who's so resistant to sitting down and writing anything, but they will write lyrics, they will write down their story, you know, and that's a gateway to a whole new world.”.  

Interested in learning more about Heaps Decent? Check out their website HERE or their Instagram HERE.

Image by Heaps Decent: Adam Bozzetto (left) pictured with workshop participant.