A lot of ink has been spilled about youth activists fighting for climate justice. We hold up examples of Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez as beacons of generational hope. Every other week it seems like there’s an op-ed about Gen Z’s enduring spirit in the face of the climate crisis. And it’s frustrating Imogen Jones. Jones is a musician by trade, performing ephemeral, electronic music under the name Lupa J. They’re also the (semi unplanned) subject of their mother, documentary filmmaker Kathy Drayton’s latest film, The Weather Diaries.
The Weather Diaries follows the plight of flying fox colonies in familiar parks around Sydney and the devastation that rising temperatures wreak on their population. Filmed over six years, it also follows Jones’s own journey and the tension between the mundanity of getting through school in the midst of the looming calamity of the climate crisis. “It’s frustrating, there definitely is an expectation that the younger, more progressive generations will be the face of the climate activist movement,” Jones tells Syrup. “My mum didn’t start filming me because I was an activist, or even because I spoke about climate change a whole lot—I didn’t necessarily—and to me, that’s the whole point of the film.”
Ahead of tonight’s streaming of The Weather Diaries, Syrup spoke with Jones about their experiences making music in the year nobody expected, pushing through to find hope in the darkness and how they feel about the “generational awe” people can’t stop slapping on them and their peers.
First off, hi, how are you, can you tell us where you’re based and what you’re up to at the moment?
Hi! I’m based in Melbourne technically, (that’s where my house is) but I only moved in November last year and so I came back to Sydney to stay with my loved ones when COVID hit. I’m currently up late anxiously awaiting the release of my new single and music vid tomorrow! [Editor’s note: Lupa J’s ‘Supermarket Riots’ is out now. Watch it on YouTube and stream it here.]
How has this year felt for you? Has your creativity or music-making been affected during the events of this year?
It’s been pretty insane honestly, as it has for everyone. I moved to Melbourne to immerse myself in its amazing live music culture after years of waiting for the right moment to move, and then had to essentially abandon that dream (for now) only five months later. My family and partner live in Sydney though so I’m glad I’m back here now, especially considering the current state of Victoria. Although I’m heartbroken live music won’t be the same for a while, the one thing COVID has been good for is that it suddenly gave me a lot of much needed time to write new music. I produced the bulk of my upcoming album during the initial lockdown period!
What’s it been like to both see The Weather Diaries come together over six years while also becoming a major part of the documentary?
I think what I’ve been through with this film is a pretty unique experience. I could never have imagined what it would turn out to be—when my mum first started making it, her focus was not really on me at all. Initially, she was wanting to film a much larger number of different people that were in some way related to or working with our local ecosystems. She was always telling me about it, and I was always really invested and interested, but it was hard for me to comprehend how significant a part I had in it until I began to see her early edits. Seeing the final version for the first time when it premiered in Sydney Film Festival was an incredibly emotional and beautiful moment, I’m very proud to have my own personal journey aid in telling this story about climate change.
You’ve mentioned that you don’t necessarily see yourself as an activist, but people interpret you that way after the film. How do you think about the pressure people put on Gen Z to fix the complex problems we’re facing down right now?
It’s frustrating, there definitely is an expectation that the younger, more progressive generations will be the face of the climate activist movement. My mum didn’t start filming me because I was an activist, or even because I even about climate change a whole lot—I didn’t necessarily—and to me, that’s the whole point of the film. Like all teenagers, I’m so focused on the pressures of my own life—getting through school, embarking on a career in music—that it’s difficult for me to think very far ahead into the future. I care about the planet and if I think about it very much I feel helpless, but it’s just inherently difficult for any young person in a capitalist society to think beyond their immediate individual needs; to consider what kind of world we’ll be living in 20 years time. My generation, myself included, are largely somewhat numb to it—we grew up with this information at the back of our minds. It’s our normal. That’s why it’s ridiculous to expect us to all be fired up about it all of the time, or to have all the answers.
How do you think about trying to pursue the life you want in the face of the climate crisis?
I honestly just feel unable to imagine what my future will be like most of the time at the moment, and the only way I manage that is by continuing to work at the things that I know I do best, that make me happy. Music is a powerful outlet for all kinds of expression, and I think no matter where the world is at, people will need music, or art in some form. I’m someone that needs to create to be happy, and so my feeling is that I should just continue spending my time trying to push myself to create better. If I could have any impact on anything I can only see it happening through my art.
You’ve mentioned you feel nihilistic, can you tell us about things that keep you hopeful or motivated to keep going/creating/pushing for change?
I think seeing other artists, musicians, etc finding ways to express the things they care about is the main thing that gives me hope and motivation. Consuming other peoples’ art and being put in touch with what they feel deeply about reignites my love for people, for ideas, for the world. Witnessing other people dedicate themselves to the things they care about reminds me to care, if that makes sense?
Do you still feel fiercely protective of nature, or has that relationship changed? If so, how?
I was immensely passionate about wildlife and the environment as a kid. I knew facts about so many species of animal; when I first got Facebook as a 12-year-old I would spend my time arguing with hunters on US-based anti-wolf groups about whether or not wolves were a vital animal for American ecosystems. Somewhere along the way… I lost that fire. When I hit 14-15 I realised it was uncool and nerdy for me to be like that, I stifled myself trying to fit in, and then had a bit of an teenage identity crisis around trying to conform to ideals of femininity and heteronormativity. I came out of that period no longer with so much anger about the environment, but with more anger about gender and feminism, and more recently, my sexuality. And I guess at some point it just started to feel like that I, personally, could not have the impact I wanted to have on the environment. I could be as angry and as passionate as possible, but nothing would stop hundreds of species going extinct each year. It’s sad to admit, but I guess I’ve resigned myself to the reality that so much of the Earth has already been lost, and will continue to be lost, even if we turn everything around immediately.
What are the three self-care habits/products/things that are keeping you level right now? (If you mention a product, please tell us what it is!)
Journaling, writing music, and running!
Both your music and this film are quite personal, how do you think about authenticity as an artist right now, especially as someone who’s gone through some significant evolutions in their own identity?
My favourite art is always the most honest and vulnerable art. Stories are so much more powerful when they are revealing something really true and authentic from their creator. Maintaining a level of transparency (whether that’s within the art itself, or in the media around it, or however) is the only way to have a lasting impact on people. I’ve grown up and evolved a lot while publicly releasing music, but I don’t have an issue with it so long as I believe I’ve been as true to myself as I could be at the time.
Do you have any parting words of advice for people grappling with thinking about the future or dealing with eco-anxiety?
I honestly don’t think I’m the best person to give out advice on this—my mum might be though! She’s spent the last 6 years thinking about it. She said to me tonight that if she’s anxious about it, she reads more about it, so at least she can understand it better. The only thing I can say is that when things are as unpredictable as they are right now, it’s best for me to not try and imagine all the possible outcomes for the future, or it’ll send me spiraling even further!
Live stream The Weather Diaries on FanForce TV tonight at 7PM AEST. Visit www.fanforcetv.com.