"There’s always been amazing experimental and independent Australian music (just look at Australian punk and post-punk) but even with the evolution of the internet, it is still a real struggle for the rest of the world to get much of an opportunity to hear it. In fact, at least for a part of their careers, it is almost a given that the best will leave Australia and move overseas to be able to sustain their music. Australia is an unforgiving and under-populated, spread out, and sport-obsessed nation, but every so often these geographic, demographic, social and cultural factors make us strike out in spite of them."
The above quote comes from the editorial of the latest issue of Cyclic Defrost, an Australian magazine dedicated to promoting the best of home-grown and international alternative music. The mag's publisher, Sebastian Chan, very kindly sent me a couple of issues, including the latest one (issue 11) which includes a double CD full of 'interesting music from Australia'. Well written, nicely designed, commited, inspiring, covering a wide variety of artists and sounds and completely free, Cyclic Defrost is the sort of publication that could put us bloggers out of business if it had international distribution! Yet the rest of the world is regrettably ignorant of it's ample charms (although 2000 copies of issue 11 were available at Barcelona's Sonar festival last month). Thankfully it's also published on the internet, so I strongly recommend you have a browse. You won't get to hear any of the tracks from the CDs though, so here's a small selection. The discs are divided into "Beats & Bass" (disc 1 aka 'the red disc') and "Ambient/Experimental" (disc 2 aka 'the blue disc'). Although not everything is to my own taste, the quality is remarkably high throughout and it was really hard to pick just a couple of tunes from each disc, but here goes...
MP3: Mieli - Bystander
Mmmm...sounds a bit like Jimmy Edgar doing one of those really sparse electro-tech things circa "My Mines I". Nice! This one is from Meili's album "Version" on the Feral Media label. More info here.
MP3: Disjunction Reunion - Names Are For People
This is the work of one Luke Killen, who records for Couchblip Records, among others. This track reminds me of Miami artist Push Button Objects, with the spectral, atmospheric pads and in-the-pocket downtempo breaks. More info here.
MP3: Tim Koch - Haarlem Posture
Tim runs the Surgery Records label which, if trippy, melodic/organic electronica is your thing, might be worth checking out...
MP3: City Frequencies - Pedestrian Pulsars
There's lots of really atmospheric, enviromental music on disc 2 and this one is a particular highlight for me. Looking at their website, it appears that the sounds are genuine field recordings from their native Melbourne, which then undergo extensive editing/processing. The Australian Hafler Trio?
As Seb's editorial comments suggest, the outsider's view of Australian life, beamed-in from TV dramas like Neighbours and Home & Away, conjures images of beach parties, barbeques and general laid-back fun and games, devoid of the particular pressures of life in places like London, Sheffield and Manchester that have shaped the face of innovative music in my own country. Intrigued by both the sounds and the writing, I decided to dig a little deeper to find out what makes the Australian underground tick. What follows are interviews with Seb, Scott Brown (SouthernSteppa) and of course 'my mate' Minikomi which will hopefully shed some light on the subject, plus a look at the Vibragun label.
THE MAGAZINE PUBLISHER
Gutta: I'm intrigued to know how you can print and distribute this magazine for free. What's the deal there?
Seb Chan: When it all boils down, if we had to do it these things to pay our rent they wouldn't happen. But we don't do it as a 'real job'. Dale (Harrison, co-editor) is a graphic designer and I manage online interactive development at a museum in Sydney.
G: But you must need revenue from somewhere?! I'm surprised the mags aren't stuffed full of useless adverts for useless products...
SC: If we did it as a real job then we'd have to take adverts from fashion, alcohol and other companies with peripheral and tenuous relationships to music, which is something that we just don't want to do. Its funny being here at Sonar this year and seeing all the "music mags" over in Spain that are 60% fashion, beer, vodka and shoe adverts and commentary, 20% gig adverts/advertorial, and 20% regurgitated music press releases. I don't get how anybody can be bothered to read them - there's nothing to read.
G: How much support do you get from the Government?
SC: In 2002 we applied for a small grant to start up the mag. We've had decreasing support since then which basically goes to keeping the advertising rates down for local labels (we give indie labels and producers from Australia a 25% discount on advertising). So the print costs are funded about 75% by advertising and 25% by the decreasing Govt. money.
G: Did they help with funding the CDs?
SC: The double CD project was self-funded by the artists on the comp. who each put in an equal amount for their track (after we had selected from about 200 submissions). We got some Govt. assistance from the Trade and Export area to cover the shipping costs of getting them to Sonar where they are being given away . By getting everyone together and ensuring a generally pretty high quality amongst all the tracks (especially on the blue disc) everyone who got on the CD benefits. You get so many crap sampler CDs at Sonar that we wanted one that was actually interesting musically and reasonably coherent to listen to.
G: So how did the idea for Cyclic Defrost start, anyway?
SC: The mag started as a zine that grew from a club flyer which we supported by running it thru the university printing presses on the sly.
G: Club flyer? What club?
SC: It's a night in Sydney called Frigid. It's been running for nearly 10 years and we've toured people like Baby Ford, DJ/Rupture, Squarepusher, Luke Vibert and Mike Paradinas over the years. This means we are in weekly contact with a large base of pretty committed punters. We like to compare ourselves to the Big Chill in the mid-90s in London crossed with elements of Optimo in Glasgow. It's the club night that spawned the idea of the magazine as well as this festival I set up down here in 2000 called Sound Summit which was about building up production skills amongst new producers and mcs, which is still running but I resigned from directing it at the end of 2003.
G: Okay, so the mag came from the club...but how did the club thing develop?
SC: The club idea came from radio stuff and then DJing we do down here. We were involved in the free party scene in Sydney in the very early '90s - kinda like Spiral Tribe meets Big Chill. We never went down the patchouli oil and fluro clothes route but just took the community-minded ideas and applied them to other electronic music genres (other than acid techno). By the time Jungle hit Sydney around early '95 we were wanting to set up stuff that took the concepts of the free party scene but the sounds of early jungle, d&b, breakbeat stuff and mashed it with IDM and that early Warp/Rephlex/Mu sound.
G: Wow, you guys have been busy over the years! Seems like a lot of hard work for very little financial reward. What's the main motivation for all this activity?
SC: Everyone involved in all the projects was basically sick of there not being anything decent going on down here that was slightly leftfield and non-commercial. For a while we all tried doing our own seperate things and realised that the real problem was that to support a scene for any length of time you need to build your own infrastructure - radio, some regular club nights, and print media.
G: Is there any money to be made?
SC: We learnt from the early days of rave that the idea of making a living out of decent music was not going to happen (not in Australia), so we reconciled with that and focused on doing stuff that was interesting and stimulating to ourselves and also had a snowballing effect and helped out others around us.
G: I get the impression that there's a small but dedicated Grime scene developing down there now...do you think the same 'snowball' effect could happen with that too?
SC: In many ways I see lots of stuff from experiences like ours as being really relevant to emerging super-localised scenes like grime, etc. You have to ensure you build up a strong, reliable, trusted infrastructure for these scenes to last and develop. Otherwise you get a big burst of energy that dissapates relatively quickly.
On that note, let's meet...
THE GRIME ENTHUSIAST
Even though Australia's Grime scene is still relatively miniscule, Southern Steppa is fast becoming one of the most informative resources on the net, featuring regular interviews, features and reviews. The site is run by Scott Brown, who agreed to share his own thoughts on Australian culture...
Gutta: From a British point of view, Australia isn't generally considered a hot source of innovative talent. Why do you think that is?
Scott Brown: As you will no doubt hear from the Cyclic Defrost boys and the others, Australia’s geography and climate are possibly the two main things working against it. Even though it makes for a great holiday destination for cold, miserable Europeans, it tends to breed an overly relaxed type of person. Not to say that we’re without artistic talent – quite the opposite – however, for a lot of people, the outdoor BBQ culture down here doesn’t inspire a need to create through art and music that someone in say the UK may feel. And Australia is surprisingly big. I don’t know how many times you can fit all manner of countries side by side within the Australian land mass, but it’s pretty damn big. Yet still has a small population. Around 20 million. So, here we are, all spread around the coastline, having too many BBQs and too lazy to catch the long plane flight to the next nearest city. Not to mention having to take days out of your life to make the trip all the way to the UK or US.
G: I guess most people in the UK would associate Australia with groups like Inxs or, at best, Nick Cave (who doesn't actually live there anymore!). Are these stereotypes a true indicator of mainsteam Australian music right now?
SB: Personally, I have no idea what “commercial” music is in Australia. I couldn’t tell you any artists in the Top 20, or who is the “next big thing”. It doesn’t interest me and I’m able to comfortably detach myself without feeling like I’ve missed anything.
G: So where does one get to hear 'interesting' music?
SB: In Sydney, we are fortunate enough to have a few great community radio stations, which perform a similar role to the pirate’s in the UK, breaking new music, but still having access to a massive audience here. It seems Australian’s are a pretty open minded bunch of people. I would have to acknowledge the hard work of people like the Cyclic Defrost/Frigid crew as playing an important part in not necessarily changing the musical landscape, but definitely opening people’s minds to the possibility of what can be achieved and indeed even termed “music”.
G: Would you say that the internet has helped to expand and widen people's tastes?
SB: Without doubt, the advent of the internet has changed things in a massive way. Being able to speak to musicians and artists anywhere around the world instantly, exchanging ideas and throwing more into the melting pot than ever before has made a huge difference for Australians, for obvious reasons.
G: And presumably this improved access to underground music has shaken things up a bit?
SB: No longer do the large commercial radio stations and record labels have control over the musical taste of the populous. Everyone has been thrown in the deep end, with more influences than ever before, and people seem to be embracing it. Underground music is a funny term, and certain styles will continue to be that way, particularly with dance music, but the ease of access to more styles has forced record labels and radio stations to rethink their place in the musical landscape.
G: But as everyone keeps saying, Australia is a BIG place. Presumably there are only localised zones of interesting activity...
SB: Unfortunately, musically at least, culture centres around the major cities (in particular Sydney and Melbourne), and so leaves many people without physical access to live music or DJs catering to emerging styles.
G: Let's talk about your favourite music of the moment: Grime. Just how popular is it down there?
SB: Grime/Garage in Australia is still very small, but without doubt gaining rapid recognition here. Sydney is the breaks capital of the country and like myself, many people disillusioned with the stagnation of breaks have discovered the more open minded feel of garage/dubstep/grime.
G: From your own perspective, what is it about Grime that connects with your life in Australia?
SB: I grew up in a small seaside town, 10hrs drive from Sydney called Byron Bay, and although I had always planned to make the move here (and never regretted the journey!), have often found myself feeling cold, overwhelmed, disillusioned and insignificant in this huge city. I think dubstep and grime can hold resonance with anyone who has felt that. Even if they don’t live in an urban environment, it seems the tendency of culture worldwide to put these extreme pressures on people, and this type of music almost puts a sonic voice to these feelings.
G: Unlike, say, Riddim.Ca in North America, your website tends to focus on the more instrumental side of garage and dubstep (Vex'd, Digital Mystikz, Slaughter Mob etc). Why is that?
SB: The MC has not yet found its place here. Obviously, Australians cannot relate to many of the issues faced by London MCs and crews, instead the rhythm of the voice plays more of a novelty value within a track. I am completely inspired by a lot of the dubstep coming from the UK scene right now, not necessarily bound for the dancefloor, instead creating an atmosphere foreign and enticing. It is this foreignness that ensures it won’t be pinned down. The great producers of the style mesh instruments and styles from all around the world, making a style that is not rooted in one city or country, but making a music for the global consciousness.
G: Are you optimistic that, at some point, Australia might produce some interesting Grime music of it's own?
SB: Local DJs are finding themselves on radio, playing at breaks and D'n'B gigs (or anywhere with an open minded music policy) and bit by bit, people are putting their heads down and writing tunes. I don’t think it will be too long before we find a great talent in this country.
Following on from my recent post on Quiet Storm, I notice tonight that Southern Steppa's latest interview is also with Mr. Stormin'! Great minds think alike, Scott?
THE ISOLATED ARTISTE
By day Adam Moore is busy with his research at University, but at night he turns into Minikomi - DJ, electronic musician and inveterate message board slut. I featured him in a previous post, but couldn't resist inviting him back for this one, especially as he has some interesting new projects on the go...
Gutta: So how come you weren't featured on the Cyclic Defrost CD, mate?
Minikomi: Cyclic Defrost peeps are a long way away (Australia is HUGE) and since I don't have any 'official' releases, I guess they just don't know who I be! haha...
G: I have a different sense of scale, I guess. So where are you exactly?
M: I come from a city called Adelaide which is smack bang in the middle of the south coast of Australia.
G: So does Adelaide have it own separate scene?
M: There's a few other kids here doing electronic stuff, like Ichanic (weird weird impulse tracker stuff), Tim Jackiw (some ambient noodlings) and there's a crew called Surgery Records, headed by Tim Koch (see above) my second cousin! - the town is like that, incestuous, everyone knows everyone else - but they're more into
m e l o d i e s... in fact it seems most exposure for electronic artists goes to those who are doing nice, melodic background music. Not that that's a bad thing, I've made my share, but it's not really what 'does it' for me anymore.
G: So what 'does it' for you these days? I know you were into your breakcore at one point, but I'm hearing the dubstep influence coming through now too..
M: I've just started getting into grime, coming off of a year or two long breakcore binge, and thought that it would be interesting to have the space and the robo-swing of the music, but somehow fill in the gaps every now and then...add a bit more 'pressure' I guess.
G: Anyone else you know there following a similar path?
M: To be honest, I'm pretty much on my own at the moment!
G: Poor thing...do you get much opportunity to perform live in Adelaide?
M: I enjoy playing house parties, the rare squat party and a gig every now and then at the Exeter Bar (top bar in Adelaide - but no dancefloor, only sitdown beergarden) and doing my own thing I guess...
G: You've got a radio show too, haven't you? What station?
M: It's on a local station called Radio Adelaide, a show called Mixtape Radio, Saturdays 11-12.
G: So how popular is it?
M: It's not super well known but it's pretty much the only show which isn't playing straight 4/4, and I've had some 'high profile' guests do interviews/mixes, including Knifehandchop, Chevron, Shitmat, Drop the Lime, Utabi, Shex, edIT and Terminal 11. Get good feedback and phone calls from people fairly often, but haven't met anyone who says 'oh that show! yeah!' .. so take from that what you will!
G: You mention Drop The Lime...he's involved with the Kidmagnet label that you're in the process of setting up, which also features other artists from the USA and Japan as well as yourself. How did you make the connection with these international artists?
M: I guess just through message boards and emails I got to know a few of them. I came across Starkey's music and got blown away. Drop the Lime I had interviewed for my radio show and I knew he was into grime so I got in contact with him and asked if he'd be keen.
G: You seem to know quite a few Japanese producers...
M: Cow'p is part of the 19-t crew, who you should definitely check out - dudes like Shex, Utabi, DJ 100000000 - all great Japanese guys making music. Cow'p uses Gameboy for all his tracks and I thought that, since the square wave is so popular in Grime, to take it to the logical conclusion it should take some raw 8-bit squares straight out of a Gameboy! Haha..
G: The MP3 preview of the first Kidmagnet release that you sent me seems to be coming from a similar angle to Werkdisc's "Grim Dubs" series...grimey IDM bizzness . I really like it. Is this an indication of where you're heading creatively?
M: I'm pretty all over the place when it comes to 'direction'! Grime-wise I'm starting work on what's basically a late '90s style clicks-and-cuts track that will evolve into a dubstep track...but very slowly. Almost poking fun at the whole 'big drop' phenomena by making it evolve from something so minimal into something heavy. Problem is, when I started making connections and sharing my music online I had way more time on my hands, and now things have caught up so I don't have heaps of new music I'm afraid. It's a hard thing to juggle with full time studies, but I've finally got some more time on my hands lately so I'm going to get the records underway.
G: So will I get a complimentary copy?
M: You're definately in line to get a free 12" when they're pressed - your site has given me a lot of inspiration, and good exposure to lots of music I wouldn't otherwise hear, so thanks!
G: Hurrah!! And thank you, Minikomi.
You might've spotted Junglefarmer lurking in my blogroll recently. This is Minikomi's own blog, which he started recently. Check! With a little gentle persuasion he's also prepared an exclusive riddim for me to host, which gives an indication of where his head is at right now.
MP3: Minikomi - Envelopes & Heart Attacks
LABEL SPOTLIGHT: VIBRAGUN
Based in the iconic paradise of Bondi near Sydney, Vibragun is a small experimental label run by Chris Tourgelis. A few months ago he sent me a copy of their latest release, "Junk Extensions" by Blackletter. Although I haven't mentioned it yet, I really enjoyed it - my first taste of experimental underground shit from Australia. Actually one track from it did feature in my "Phon Mooda" mix back in April. Blackletter (Mick to his mum) has been fiddling about with musical ideas since the age of nine, starting out with domestic cassette recorders, guitars, Casio keyboards etc, eventually moving towards the bit-crushing possibilities of computers. In 2001 he was involved in a collaborative noise project called The International Colouring Contest, but since then has returned to solo experimentation, exploring "rhythm and the sheer sonic extremes of noise and melody". "Junk Extensions" is his debut release and I must say I find it all very charming and inventive. There's a nice review of it in issue 9 of Cyclic Defrost here, which pretty much sums up this albums unique allure. Although I haven't had the time to quiz him personally, Blackletter has created a special mini-mix to give readers some idea of the flavas on this album, focusing more on the ambient/noise elements of his muse (I'm picking up a bit of a Fennesz vibe in places). "It goes for about 8 minutes and has some new stuff at the beginning and the end", says he...
MP3: Blackletter - Live In My Lounge
Check the links page at Cyclic Defrost for further info (hey - wait a minute - how come I'm not on there?!!), but here's a few more places of interest, with a little commentary from Chris Vibragun...
Aussie 313/electro/tech label - well regarded, etc.
I think this was the first electronica label in Australia (in the '90s anyway). My first electronic CD was one of theirs and they gave me great advice when I was starting my label many years ago. I haven't bought many of their releases recently though. One of the co-founders is Ollie Olsen from post-punk band No and MaxQ.
Melbourne experimental shop and label - you've probably heard of them via Mego, etc.
Oren Ambarch and Robbie Avenaim's baby - I haven't been to many recently though...
Label of Kevin Purdy of many `80s bands and my mate Robbo is in the Tooth project/band. Great stuff esp. the forthcoming Tooth album which is their best yet. There should be a Kevin Purdy interview in one of the issues of Cyclic Defrost online.
Experimental label and cut-price CD manufacturing brokers.
Hardcore/Breakcore label and party promoters. They also do an interesting Halloween party in the cannon bunkers on the cliffs in Malabar.
Severed Heads site.
I used to go to these parties religiously.
Experimental festival in July (Thomas Brinkmann headlining).
Guys putting on the Liquid Architecture after-party with Brinkmann thanks to me bringing them together : )
Lawrence English's label - mostly ambient experimental stuff - v.good. They did a Scanner/David Toop CD.
Online label. Shannon has been doing stuff for ages - check out his bio if there is one there. Experimental plunderphonics...
So there you have it...a vast, unforgiving landscape dotted with little pockets of self-help underground activity, battling against the odds, and nobody making a living out of it - just doing their thing cos they have to. Gutter territory, innit...