wax volcanic

Zigzagging Towards The Light



So in the end, the whole thing felt sort of bilaterally doomed. Any writer mashing together blunt paragraphs of information will resonate with this. Because you’ve been here—pajama-clad at a sharehouse kitchen bench under the duress of your own mythical deadlines or beneath the fizz of mercury-filled lights, pruning your article into a literary stump for someone who wants it “yesterday.” I’m talking about dichotomy—where what you simply can’t do with an article overlaps with what you won’t. This in context: I couldn’t fawn over Conor because of the damage it does to the readers and injustice it does the writing, but simultaneously refused to simply ignore the obsession, which was, for me, the beating heart of both experiences and willfully ignoring the core of the story seemed just as damaging and unjust as acquiescing to obsession.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Feel that I should clear up here: Despite a clear overinvestment in all of this, I’m not simply confusing my story for the story. The source of the conundrum is that obsession seems anecdotally (yet disproportionately) high in all Conor Oberst fans, me included. As nearly as I can figure, his music’s ability to ensnare so ecstatically is an emotional triangulation of high frequency lyrical content, universal themes and aching arrangements/vocal delivery. I’ve been captivated by it’s melodrama for over a decade. I heard ‘One Foot in Front of the Other’ (later to be renamed ‘Landlocked Blues’) on a red transistor radio that inherited from Grandpa. The radio was sitting with aerial outstretched on top of my mother’s Hapsburg piano, also inherited from Grandpa, with all 88 of its keys an even semitone out of tune. I remember a constriction settling over my limbs as I listened to Conor’s quavering voice—a voice like a deciduous tree. Like some wind-lashed poplar, creaking and bending naked in the weather. Over the next decade Bright Eyes basically became methadone for the ears, to be used in the event of breakup or remorse, a soothing balm for jobs I hated and those every-other-day existential crises that pepper the majority of years spread between the late teens and fully-acknowledged adulthood. I’m confident that this isn’t an entirely unique story.]

So anyway. The overwhelming feeling that presided in my skull and limbs after both of Conor’s shows articulated itself vaguely—insinuating something like: “I think I need some space.”
So I manufactured some, sitting on my thoughts for close to a month. This was the only way I could think of to prise myself away from the material enough to write effectively about it. I have no fucking idea if it worked. Information about the shows, and their related ephemera, is organized below in the way I remember it—direct quotes scrawled in a small notebook and on the back of a novel’s dust cover, and notes from my raw memory.

I REMEMBER:

The Three Most Salient Moments of Animalism (in Rising Order):
1. When, after a protracted silence, someone at the Corner Hotel found the need/volume to yell in the direction of the stage: “Play ‘Welcome to the Jungle’!” To which Conor replied: My old band and I actually had a ritual of playing Appetite for Destruction on tour at 9 in the morning…”
2. Walking through Melbourne Zoo’s ‘Lion Gorge’ with a can of Mountain Goat (beer) in hand.
3. During the set-truncating electrical storm at Melbourne Zoo, which evacuated from its clouds what can only be described as ‘hard sleet’. Two men who looked about as far from the doe-eyed, crippling reflective, headphone-adorned Oberst fan archetype as two men can look, peeled off their shirts on the rain-drenched platform at Royal Park station and threw them onto the tracks. One was rubbing his hands over the gothic font tattooed over his distended gut while the other mounted his back. Less entertaining was the way the abdominally inked one swayed with oceanic pitch, dangerously close to track and train. There was sweeping relief on the opposing platform when he finally tipped himself through the train’s open doors.

The Two Theatrically Greek Elements of Conor’s Shows
1. The people colonized over the second stage at the back of the Corner Hotel, evenly separated and washed with halcyon blue light like a Greek chorus. And also like a Greek chorus, they were perfectly placed to perform their dramatic function of collective comment and guidance, classically installed at the far end of the room—at a passive distance to the scene at play. Lastly, even the number of bodies involved was around 15, the amount most favoured by Euripides and Sophocles in their respective tragedies.
2. The clean, Aristotelian Three Act Structure of the show at Melbourne Zoo, a structure true to some of the world’s most ancient theatre. A structure which ran: ACT 1: Viewing of the animals, and building of anticipation, ACT 2: Conor’s first 3 or 4 songs during the gathering electrical storm and major calamity of the narrative¬—his show being cut short. And ACT 3: The breaking storm, bringing at first chaos, then release and finally, reflection (and refunds)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: It should be noted that Melbourne Zoo were totally chill about the whole refund situation. It was a choice between getting your  pprox.. $60 back or letting the zoo keep it for their campaign to save the critically endangered Eastern Barred Bandicoot (Perameles gunnii) whose ex-primary habitat (woodlands, grasslands and basalt plains) have been mostly destroyed. Particularly native grasslands, which are mainly located along rural rail lines and…nowhere. I’d recommend the ‘not taking the money back’ option to anyone—the money was spent so long ago as to seem nonexistent and makes you feel better about yourself for at least the rest of the day. A single day without any nagging self-loathing. Dare to imagine it.]

Snatches of a Very Bright Eyes Conversation Transpiring Behind Me at the Corner Hotel During ‘Lenders in the Temple’:

GIRL: Last year when my bulimia got really bad…

CONOR [Singing]: I would give a fortune to your infomercial if somebody would just take my call.

GUY: All of a sudden I had no family connection, no one…

CONOR [Singing]: Erase yourself and we’ll be free, Mandala destroyed by the sea. All we are is coloured sand.

The Obsession-Fuelled Heat Moving Through My Upper-Body:



Some Quotes from Conor

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: In truth, not remembered at all. As noted earlier these were scrawled in wild paraphrase through a small green notebook in the dark and over the borrowed (though not returned) dust cover of an American hardcover version of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, during an electrical storm.]

1. “We’re upstanding members of society…We still go to the bank.”
2. “You guys have been great. If I was a kindergarten teacher I would give you all gold stars.”
3. “This is kind of a long show, so I don’t mind if you wanna split. At the show at the zoo we can only play for a little bit or the hippopotamus get…disturbed” (This quote followed directly by ‘Zigzagging Towards the Light’)
4. “I heard my friend John Darnielle might be in the room tonight. This is for him.” (Swings into ‘Soul Singer in a Session Band’)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: John Darnielle, lead singer of the Mountain Goats was indeed in the audience and made an appearance onstage for a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Walls (Circus)’. Darnielle was in Australia promoting his (very excellent) novel Wolf in White Van. A couple of months ago Darnielle was interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on ‘Bookworm’, possibly the best literary-interview podcast currently (and freely) available, broadcast on LA’s own KCRW. During the interview Darnielle dismissed notions that Mountain Goat shows were depressing or heavy, referring to them as a “celebration”, a triumph of survival. His presence with Conor onstage exemplified this—far from heavy or morose, the effect of them both on stage is boisterous and cathartic]

Some More Quotes from Conor That Elicited Strange Audience Dynamics

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Again, not remembered so much as translated from scrawl.]

1. “Are there any alcoholics here tonight?” (Provoking a raucous, levitous cheering from the crowd)
2. “This song [Milk Thistle] is about killing yourself” (Provoking absolute stony silence—silence that was almost physical, a bronze shield of non-noise)
3. (To the eerily polite Zoo crowd:) “You’re a pack of wild animals tonight, I’m scared of all these…wild animals”—similarly bronze shield-like silence ensuing.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I say ‘polite’ because during songs there was full-scale singing along from the audience and whole-bodied movement in the aisles. People weren’t like, dead. Just excruciatingly polite, I think.]

That He Played Two Songs I Was Absolutely Not Expecting to Hear (But Was Close to Euphoria When He Did)

1. “An Attempt to Tip the Scales’ which on record, after about two minutes of actual song, descends into a bogus radio interview (not repeated live)
2. Milk Thistle (see above)

Some of the Animals Observed While Wandering around the zoo, Pre-Conor/storm:



The Reason Why the Thunderstorm’s Operatically Acoustic, Vertically Clouded Mass Was All But necessary as a Final Release in Oberst’s Run of Shows

I remember it being because of how both shows built relentlessly to places of high tension. Doing so like this:

CORNER SHOW: The whole show was like a giant unbroken breath—exuberant and hot-blooded, ever-tightening with a held intensity. Conor’s voice became tremulous to the point of near-gutteral at points, and more energentic songs like Zigzagging Towards the Light, Method Acting, Four Winds and Another Travelin’ Song were bristling with barely-contained fervor. But the energy was a captured one, a gathering fever that never broke.
THE MELBOURNE ZOO SHOW: The high tension of this show was (especially for those inclined to wander) extra-musical. Actually the Zoo environment went very much out-of-its-way Around the winding paths through contorted, muscular figs and small bamboo thickets were inclusive signs appropriated from Africa and South-East Asia about potentially dangerous animals. Signs like:
- “Caution Hati-Hati” (Elephants)
- “Be a Wild Dog”
- “Crocs Coming Soon – We’ll Make it Snappy”
- “Elephants Seen in Area Raiding Crops!”
- “Beware Tigers”
These and a collection of wooden carts, Thai and African-themed kiosks and the zoo’s lush, untrimmed foliage make the whole thing deliberately tinged with a manicured exoticism, an insinuated danger. The clothy humidity of the evening only added to the tension, all of which was (somewhat tragically) diffused by the storm.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This insinuated danger was a strange kind of philosophical logjam. In the same way that the animals’ environments are approximated habitats, in the Melbourne Zoo of 2015, the human environments (with the signs, the foliage, the displaced rickshaws etc) are equally approximated to imitate the human habitat of people living close to large mammals, a Russian Doll of a zoo experience. Maybe in the future it’ll all be placed under convex glass and rimmed a balcony, so people can watch zoo patrons react to the insinuated danger.]

AND TO THE FAILURE…

But sitting on my notes seems to have only achieved resolution in everything surrounding the fact of the matter. My twin brother said it best when I was awkwardly trying to explain the trans-temporal nature of the music:
“It goes right through you—back to when you were listening to it…”
Basically no matter what, I have come to own his songs, embedding them in personal moments—excruciating, joyous and mine. So even when he, the songwriter, is there, sweating in front of me, it still only sounds like a meticulous cover, a strong reminder of that song I love. This was, for me, the hardened nut of the Conor Oberst experience circa 2015. Obsession transfigures—it turns the creator into pure symbol and the more you love them, the more distant they really become. Until, at obsession’s terminus, your love for them is about as true as falling in love with an advertisement projected onto the side of a building. Which is why obsession can be so toxifying—it exists at a magnitude of delusion that can effectively freeze time and wither an artist’s humanity into nothing.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Last year’s rape allegations leveled at Conor by an anonymous (then outed) blogger proved just how humanity-sucking this kind of delusion is, where the artist is no longer a living life, so much as Pure Celebrity. The allegations were retracted, and a statement issued by the blogger, verifying them as “100 percent false”.]

So if this light-medium grade obsession is at the core of the experience, the true nature of the thing, if the axiomatic ‘story’ was one that by it’s delusive definition prevented me from writing effectively about it…I guess this review must be a failure. I enjoyed every second of it.

“But failure’s always sounded better, let’s fuck it up boys, make some noise!”
- ‘Road to Joy’, Bright Eyes





Conor’s latest album Upside Down Mountain is available now where all good records are sold | streamed

Wax Volcanic Presents...

THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS PLAYLIST (Houseparty Dancefloor Edition)


1. AZZ EVERYWHERE – Big Freedia

As Freedia stresses almost 50 times with desperate cries of “ass everywhere”, a clean workstation is paramount for a productive working environment. How can you hope to manage an effective workplace when there is clutter on every useable surface? Sparing just two minutes a day tidying asses and other hazards could save you hundreds of dollars a month.

 

2. SEXY LADIES – Justin Timberlake

Similarly, the area around your workstation should be kept at an acceptable level of cleanliness. If, like Timberlake, you “got sexy ladies all over the floor”, then clean them up. It’s important to remember that this is everyone’s workplace and should be used respectfully. All sexy ladies and smouldering men left on the floor should be put away after use.


3. HOT IN HERRE – Nelly

Q: Does the following statement comply with occupational health and safety regulations: “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes”

A: No. If audited, Nelly could be immediately closed for up to two months and fined in excess of $2000 for operating in an unsafe work environment. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be worn at all times. No exceptions Nelly. For further information consult “Hand in Glove” by The Smiths.


4. TOXIC – Britney Spears

All hazardous substances, including Britney Spears, should be stored in a dry, lockable area. If you possess the relevant permits to allow the use of Britney Spears in your workplace, handling and use may only occur under qualified supervision and while wearing the appropriate PPE (see above).


5. TURN ME ON – David Guetta (feat. Nicki Minaj)

Always read the safety instructions before turning on machinery.

Never was a more urgent message delivered with such bone-chilling sincerity than Minaj’s plea: “Come on and turn me on. I’m too you young to die, come on and turn me on”. Whether as complex as Minaj’s life-like exterior or as rudimentary as Guetta’s 3-note keyboard, all machines must be approached with caution.


6. U CAN’T TOUCH THIS – MC Hammer

Even before he was officially ordained, Hammer was a preacher. Here he reminds us to take careful note of signage in the workplace. This especially applies in industries involving poisons, organic waste, machinery, hot surfaces and sharp objects. Widely used and vitally important in break room fridges.

 
7. WORKING DAY AND NIGHT – Michael Jackson

Many a tribunal has heard excuses for unpaid overtime. Employers beware. Jackson complains: “scratch my shoulder it’s aching”, “I’ll be workin’ from sun up to midnight”, “you say that workin’ is what a man’s supposed to do but I say it ain’t right” and “I’m so tired, so tired now”. While hearsay, if Jackson was to consult with colleagues and build a case against the company, then things could get Bad. Even Dangerous.


ADDITIONAL HAZARDS TO AVOID: ‘
Big drops’, ‘scratching’, ‘mashups’ and any beats that can be described as ‘killer’ or ‘sick’.

 




For Cool Accidents

UNDERTOW

For the second time in three days, Grant Hutchison, drummer in Scottish rock band Frightened Rabbit, was about to step onto a boat that aimed to take him nowhere. In Sydney two days ago, Grant had furnished himself with trappings from a Navy supply store before rolling around Darling Harbour at a stately pace with members of Chvrches, Haim and Daughter. Lorde couldn’t even swoon her way aboard. I imagined Grant had fond memories of being conveyed around the harbour, inhaling sparkling wine and watching the gentle wake of passing ferries unroll in long, white scarves as he drifted with the Laneway elite between Sydney’s harbour-side monuments of global renown. His memories must have seemed especially fond as he stood at the brink of Studley Park Boathouse dock two days later, listening to some tiny rowboats creak in front of him, probably thinking “why did he just tell us that Collingwood has the highest concentration of Tiger snakes in the world?” or “Why did he go on to mention that they can swim?” But it was too late to turn back. Scott and Grant Hutchinson were already in orange lifejackets, about to glide over the Yarra river, the river that a previous Scottish traveller in 1890 had called “the filthiest piece of water I ever had the misfortune to be afloat on.”

But despite the danger I had assured them, the brothers from Frightened Rabbit seemed to sink fairly comfortably into the drowsy, midday heat. After considering the condensed and slippery schedule of the Laneway Festival, a boat ride—regardless of venue and possibility of snake bite—was still fairly ideal.


“The whole routine thing [on the Laneway tour] is just gone because sometimes you’ve got a 5am lobby call to get to the next city, then you’re on at 3 in the afternoon and you’re drunk at 8 at night…” Scott lamented with a weary smile. And on occasion, as was the case the previous morning, the Hutchison brothers were still drunk at 8am. Co-hosting the Triple J breakfast show, Scott and Grant matched the youthful clamour of hosts Alex and Matt by remaining slightly inebriated for their duties behind the mic.

“He was more smashed than i was actually” Scott admitted, tilting his head towards Grant. “We were only meant to be in for half an hour…” But the brothers were on air for over an hour, providing the morning show with some anomolously entertaining banter and derailing any attempts at routine even further.

During their turbid on-air conversations, the brothers fielded a call from a listener called Sally, which was more telling than any of the album-cycle or touring-schedule type questions so popular with breakfast radio. Sally had seen Frightened Rabbit 8 times in 10 months over 2 continents. And I highly doubt that Sally’s fervour is an isolated statistic. Frightened Rabbit capture an emotional extremity in their music that makes it fertile for obsession. By his own admission Scott invests “a lot of [him]self lyrically” in the songs of Frightened Rabbit, groaning about loss, lies and the sickening way humans behave towards one another.

Word clusters like:

 

produce a thematic gravity that pulls particularly hard on the young. Such gravid themes provide what, in my youth, I called the ‘Radiohead Function’, of revealing something dire and personal to which the listener can tether their malcontent.

“Yeah, i remember reading a quote from Michael Stipe” Scott nodded, “he said 'if you felt something, then there’s a really high chance that someone else in the world has felt it too…” Scott Hutchison studied art for four years in Glasgow and learned early on the importance of creating access points into personal ideas. “Otherwise it’s just going to be for you” he explained, “and is ultimately a selfish act”. But most interesting about the 'Radiohead Function’ is how these bands of emotional extremity and thematic gravity almost always become the bands to which we are most attached. Are the reflective, arcane truths these bands whisper to us while we’re at our lowest what makes them most dear to us? Is our emotional response tantamount to the measure of love we feel for music? Is it impossible for bands to both make us happy and be among our most treasured? Do we enjoy misery? Scott Hutchison didn’t necessarily think so. He drew more conclusions about the unshakability of a fan’s belief from the musical honesty of the act in question.

“We’ve never really been a buzz band, and I’m happy with that…[there’s] an endless supply of young guys with the right haircuts who can play those drop key guitar chords”. But they don’t last. They don’t become the kind of acts that grow old with their audience.

And growth is something that is foremost on the minds of the Hutchison brothers. Despite the successful universality of Frightened Rabbit’s woe, Scott Hutchison has increasingly tried to avoid making his songs “feel like a diary entry” and on their latest record, Pedestrian Verse, attempted to plunge even deeper into the pool of collective experience.

“I think i wanted to be a little bit more cinematic in scope with the writing” Scott explained, “I use songs to process events but i was kind of externalising my viewpoint a bit more…” A mild but palpable vexation was passing through our small rowboat. The brothers seemed quietly confounded, their brows knotted beneath their sunglasses, listening to the hiss and flam of the small wooden oars being rinsed through the cool brown water. It was clearly hard for them to locate the exact point of genesis for their change in approach. Which made sense. Even without their initiation, change had found them. Frightened Rabbit were playing in larger venues, changing record labels and touring with bands they admired, all of which, according to Grant “changes you as a musician, in a natural way…” but something that was—Scott impressed—"more subconscious". For Frightened Rabbit, such change provided a key to the very survival of their band.

“I would like to treat our fans like they are intelligent people because they are”. Scott was looking directly at me, propelling his words slowly and deliberately, for maximal force. “Treat your fan base in the way that you would like to be treated by your favourite band. Expand and adapt. Try a new way of expressing yourself.”

But despite the enforced creative flux of Frightened Rabbit, the brothers Hutchison are careful to keep the band’s core intact. They won’t be:

1. Replacing all of their guitars with keyboards. A move that, to the brothers, “sounds like bullshit”.

2. Laying strings over everything. Which, instead of making a song bigger, creates something that “doesn’t sound big” but instead just creates “a mush, a saturation point”.

3. Playing a very particular drum line, “the scourge of all indie rock” according to Scott, which goes something like: “choo-do-do-choo-do-do-choo-do-choo-do-do-choo-do-do-choo-do” (think 'Clocks’ by Coldplay).

 


As our boat continued its haul through the full sun at a stately pace, long, creaking bird calls rippled out from the banks.

“Did you see that duck?” yelled Scott. “It just went under the boat.” Frightened Rabbit may have been demoted in regards to boating experiences, but in a musical sense, they are very much becoming. They have played sold out nights at the prestigious Barrowlands in Glasgow, a stage they played with varying degrees of nerves and disbelief and where they witnessed the seminal rock shows of their adolescence. And more recently Frightened Rabbit have not only played increasingly large festival stages around the world, but also toured the US with indie rock luminaries and defacto band mentors, The National. But despite being able to grasp the milestones that most rock bands only dream of, Frightened Rabbit’s dreams are far more insular.

“I think i’m more interested in creative milestones” Scott mused, “because that’s what ultimately people remember and so it’s the records for me that have the most importance…” Not to mention the personal milestones that the band have their sights set on. In 2014 Frightened Rabbit’s touring schedule is due to relax. Scott is moving to LA to live with his girlfriend and Grant is looking forward to spending some time in the apartment he spends money on but barely lives in. The constant tow of band and life has been a long one. And in 2014, the change in Frightened Rabbit’s focus and expanse looks poised to mirror the change in its members’ very lives.

“You sacrifice a lot over ten years of trying to make something of a band” explained Scott as we edged slowly back towards the dock. “And this year we’ve all decided that we’ve done that for long enough”. They’ll still write new record, they’ll still play some shows. But in 2014 Frightened Rabbit will largely stay grounded, and presumably on dry land; mining even deeper into their ever-changing lives for our musical benefit.

For Cool Accidents

No Zu - Invisible Cities

Part 1


“I like those notes Adrian. Sounds more unresolved…" 

DAY 1


It’s early December in Preston—a Tuesday wrapped in sticky, pre-holiday sun. The nearby Workers Deli Cafe—despite claiming the provision of both "wholesome lunches” and “gourmet food"— remains completely unburdened by customers.  An equally unsettling quiet has swallowed the rest of the street. The neighbouring KLG and Jodon Motors seem inert, not perceptibly engaged in either the "new car servicing” or the “all mechanical repairs” they so enthusiastically claim to offer. Driverless trucks are eerily beached in the horseshoe driveways of sheet metal fabricators and fleet management services. Weathered concrete husks with names like ‘Actrol Parts’ and 'GSA Industries’ sleep by the roadside, mastering invisibility and absorbing noonday sun. And buried inside this ghostly assumption is a small brick doorway. This is Headgap Recording Studio, where No Zu’s second album is unfolding like an instantly mutating organism, consuming the surrounding mood and converting it into fuel.

 

Staring into the wall of tinted glass in front of him, Nic Oogjes hovers over the talk button, mixing console spread beneath his fingers like a gigantic grey wing. A three note bass phrase rasps over a thudding kick drum—thickened by the sub-bass from a vintage Yamaha synth, percussion scattered wild and high in the mix. It feels alive, almost carnivorous. It’s music that has endured the loose-fitting label of 'Groove-Based’ dance music for the last four years, but during construction has the complexity of it’s scaffolding exposed. What is being conjured today is closer to an ebbing mass of sound, twisting lithely just within it’s creators’ grasp.

 

MITCH: “What bit?”

NIC: “Where you go 'da-da-da-da-dah’…with the cowbell.”

Even while watching him work its hard to imagine exactly how Nic Oogjes understands rhythm. As I watch him shuffle behind a small moat of keyboards, vocal effects units and samplers in the control room, I start to suspect that his understanding is somehow visual. From the world external to his skull, it looks like he’s telegraphing changes in the song based on landmarks that noone else can see. As Andrew Noble and Mitch McGregor’s drums and percussion thrum through the control room monitors, Nic raises fingers and bows his head— like a signal operator channeling the flow of junctioning trains. 

“1,2,3,4”

“change”

“next groove”

“keep going”

“now Andrew by himself”

It’s also an understanding of rhythm borne of practice. The cumulative, mushrooming structure of No Zu’s songs are clearly prefigured for the live environment, something that becomes clear in the tracking of the percussion. Percussionist Mitch sways and lurches, exacting a manic, tendon-rending savagery over skin, wood and metal. The one time I slink into the studio during a percussion take I remove my shoes carefully, not wanting my footfalls to be picked up by the room mic, positioned like a small gold nerve towards the back of the studio. 

MITCH: “Do you want headphones?”

ME: “Nah I should be okay, I’m pretty deaf..”

MITCH: “You sure?”

ME: “Yeah it’s sweet…”

The noise from the cowbell sounds sort of like a wildly sparking industrial welder, heavily amplified. I retreat after the take. Back inside the control room, Nic, mixer Nao Anzai and I watch as Andrew and Mitch scar patterns over the surface of their instruments. 

“Are the songs different every time?” I ask Nic, looking through to the studio.

“No, we rehearsed the grooves…” he assures me, “but it’s definitely merging into it’s own thing…” The tape purrs softly on its reels between takes. Nao Anzai, lowering his head towards the mic on the desk, murmurs: “Ready? Rolling”, and scratches into an A4 notebook before raising his eyes to the action pulsing from behind the tinted glass.  

 

Part 2


I mostly remember the last time I saw No Zu live. It was at 8pm in late November last year—when fragments of a Sunday afternoon crowd had finally knitted together and drunk through their hangovers. It was when Melbourne Music Week’s festival hub started turning into a lidded ball of steam. I remember the bodies thickening at the front rail, the familiar weight of an unbroken storm. It felt like people might be ready to move, but hadn’t quite gotten caught up in the mood; hadn’t lost enough of themselves. I remember No Zu drifting onto the stage. They looked like kids you might find sitting on milk crates at the back of the Greensborough Coles, listening to Albert Ayler on a Sony Mega-Bass boombox while power browsing Susan Sontag and coming up on liquid acid—kids I’d never seen. I remember their fury of limbs, multifariously meshed, leathered, ponchoed and singleted—an invitation extended to somewhere more truly ‘other’ than the considered otherness of the gigantic geodesic dome overhead. An invitation to somewhere more exotic than the stage dressing’s fern and wood pastiche would allow. I remember something cosmic leaking out of the beat, something in the music’s pulse that hummed like a magnet, bending bodies instantly in its wake. I remember all of this from the end of a long chain of the festival hub’s $10 pints— but nonetheless, I remember being utterly mesmerised.

 

DAY 2



In the jaundice of late Wednesday afternoon, the words 'Achievement’ and 'Excellence’ shine like rows of distant white teeth through Thornbury High School’s chain link fence. CYC Poultry’s lemon walls and red flag emblazoned with the words 'Meat Sale’ are drawing a similar crowd to the scratched, white brick workshop of Australian Metal Polishing—Noone. Only Darabin Budget Timber and Hardware seems remotely active, with their roller doors mostly open to the bronzing afternoon. 

 

But inside Headgap, things have changed since yesterday. I slide into a studio filled with a triumphant salvo of horn flourishes. 

ME: Wow, it sounds different…“

NIC: Yeah it’s changed quite a bit even from yesterday”

No Zu are adding “lots of trumpet tracks” to a new jam called 'Zeus Zam’. Adam, the trumpeter in question, strolls into the control room. Kane, the second horn player has spent the day emptying his lungs into a baritone sax. He’s now thoughtfully reposed, dragging a hand through his thicket of explosive curls. All overdubs are done on the fly. Adam takes a chair and finds the right voicing for any drop-ins Nic and Kane suggest. Adam re-enters the studio. The mix piping through the monitors is a different beast from the day before. A paper thin synth scythes through the song. The layers of brass are still being recorded and changed, high in the mix, rounding the mesmeric edge off. Eventually Adam reemerges. 

ADAM: I think it sounds pretty legit

NIC:     It sounds badass

ADAM: Badass is good

 

Mitch drops onto the couch beside me, throwing his wallet his 'Bad Motherfucker’ wallet onto the side table.

ME:       Are your arms fucked?

MITCH: Yesterday was worse

(Mitch turns his palms up and examines them)

MITCH: Congas. 

After listening back to some of the percussion tracks from the day before a grin spreads across his face. “Sounds like I’m playing ping pong in your fucking head…it’s got a little bit of 'Walk This Way’ about it…”

 

Just as the jams No Zu are knitting together are threaded with impulse and the unknown, the nature and time frame of the record remains a mystery. After a ponderous pause Nic nods. “It’s not for home listeners, more for the club”. A 12 inch dance record—or even a series—are floated as possible formats for the songs currently being tracked, but Nic’s not entirely sure on what he’ll do with the record. What he is certain of though, is how it will sound. Nao is recording No Zu hot to tape, in essence doing what he claims “the books say not to do”. The warm, analogue compression of their sound, their new, housier grooves, the sub bass triggers with the kick drum, lyrics like: “feel the conga beat” and “dance with it” and multiple references to Miami Sound Machine all conspire to convince me that Nic knows exactly what he wants from this record—despite what format it happens to end up in. Their new jams carve off a slice of abstracted 90’s house, smearing it over the bones of their 'Fela-Kuti-On-Barrel-Loads-of-Hallucinagenics’ type sound.  

 

The longer I lurk in the studio, the more it becomes clear that No Zu’s sound isn’t simply a staggering soundscape, but a dense web of elements, carefully coaxed towards its intended meridian. This becomes abundantly clear when they started talking about the “failed” Melbourne Music Week set intro. The word 'disaster’ is used, certainly not the word I was feeling at the time. But nonetheless, Nic’s attention detail provokes him to recall the beginning of their set, shaking his head and trailing: “I’m not sure if you were there but…” There’s something very particular about No Zu, and it’s a particularity obfuscated by the sweat drenched live show, by the manifold, outlandish characters within the band and by the trance-inducing nature of their music.

 

While I’m attempting (mostly unsuccessfully) to locate the genesis of No Zu’s sound, Andrew Noble is frowning on the couch, headphones on, bent over a small recording device, searching for a “lost Zu jam”. He finds:

- “a little funk jam”

- something called “Eurozone”

- A jam that “sound[ed] like Kraftwerk”

- “some weird, crazy shit”

But eventually Andrew’s search is abandoned and we both find what we are looking for. Nao stares at the screen in front of him, worried about how much tape is left. 

“It’s short” Nic assures him, “2 minutes.” He turns to me, smiling. “This groove’s stolen straight from Gloria Estefan. 'Conga’, you know that song?” Finally the new sound of No Zu feels closer at hand—in terms of taking the temperature of their sound, 1990’s Estefan is a useful touchstone. I’m still thinking about it hours later as I’m leaving and the band have pulled themselves around the studio’s kitchen table with familial comity. No Zu have augmented their organic rhythms with more synthesised beats, have become less drenched in myopia and more euphoric, adding more precise and considered horns lines to their rolling rhythms. It’s still rich with noise, seething with impulse and squalling with abandon, but they’re definitely in the midst of sculpting something more particular than the glorious sprawl of their debut album 'Life’. In the stagnant heart of industrial Preston, No Zu are making a dance record. 


For Cool Accidents

3


Wax Volcanic caught up with Cool Accidents fave Skaters (by way of frontman Mike Cummings) for a chat and turned the whole thing into a NYC skyline inspired typed up piece of radness. Make sure you click on the images so you don’t have to break your eyeballs to read it.

Like a radio caught between Sandinista!, Paul’s Boutique and The Ramones, Skaters’ debut Manhattan is all kinds of awesome and luckily for everyone is OUT NOW! Hop to it.

Wax Volcanic Reviews Ratking



NOTES TO MYSELF

During Ratking From Within the Crowd (Center and Towards the Back).



- Find more friends. My social toxicity is clearly at some kind of all time high. An hour pre-show I still can’t find anyone to take this ticket from me for free. I’m actually giving it away. I hadn’t predicted this, not for Ratking—They who breathe the 5 Burroughs, who rapidly graduated from ‘Ones To Watch’ lists to the 'Best of 2014’ lists with the velocity of uncontrolled fire, they who seemed, last year, to carry the perceived future of New York hip-hop squarely upon their conspicuously young shoulders. Gratifyingly enough, everyone inside the Ding Dong’s sunken, quadrilateral bandroom has clearly been waiting to see them at least as long as me. 21 year-old rapper Wiki is palpably relieved to be yelling and bouncing in front of a crowd that gives the enthusiastic same back to the stage.

- Try Not to Age So Quickly. I have a crematorial headstart on 2/3 of this room by almost a decade. I’m surrounded by skin like unused Bakelite, faces that looked almost ironed. [Author’s Note: Naturally expected from a band who boasts two out of three members south of 22] But Ratking, roiling and fizzing from the stage, make the increasingly familiar 'Feeling-Awld-at-a-Yung-Person-Show’ more complex than usual. It’s in their visuals, which are mercilessly edited and filtered slices of 80s Troma celluloid, early anime and a whole bunch of Very New York 70s stock  footage—everything from candid footage of gangs like the Savage Nomads, residents clashing with police and spidery maps of the New York subway. The whole visual aspect has been curated to capture a very specific attitude—something about place, struggle and lineage (ie New York/New York/New York) The whole thing comes off beautifully, buttressing Ratking’s gritty NYC narrative. But it has a strange resonance also. Wiki broadcasts vocally and physiologically as young and vital, transmitting the same kind of sweat and tension, the same sort of outrage and disaffection that the watery images spilling over the stage are showing. This vaulting from past to present isn’t anything new, and absolutely works at a spiritu-creative level. But it feels weird when you’re the one who’s been vaulted. It gives the creeping invisibility a sense of completion, like I’m generational glue. Or maybe generational soil— where younger generations spread themselves through me and rhizomatically back towards earlier decades, folding the slightly more distant past against the current day. But its all mostly fine really, especially for the socially disinclined [Author’s Note: me] even if it is a little existentially eerie.    

- I Should Rewatch 'The Toxic Avenger’. One of the problems with the (and I feel like I’m definitely now heaping together molehill sand into something larger) liminal age thing, is that I’ve seen a lot of Ratking’s visuals before in different places, so unlike the youthful majority of the audience, their footage doesn’t exist for me as a series of disconnected vignettes, but tantalising snippets of things half forgotten that I always merely begin to twist over in my brain before the screen lets them go. It’s all pretty distracting. By far the most distracting is a car chase sequence from The Toxic Avenger (1984) where Slug and Bozo are in a small mustard yellow car which is being pursued on foot by Toxie (the film’s homunculus-like, chemically deformed hero) until he eventually makes it into the car, sending it careening through the streets, de-awning buildings, scattering pedestrians and generating cinematic pandemonium in all directions. It’s great. But I keep losing track of Ratking, my brain swerving ever back to the Toxic Avenger, and feeling close to dismayed when the visuals move on.
[Author’s Note: Beyond the simple fact of my age, I also attribute my child-like inability to not be wholly enraptured with the on-screen activity to the fact that I have not have lived in a house with a television since I was about 18, making my relationship to any kind of televisual medium increasingly 'awestruck moth to naked flame.’]





- Gotta Try (If It’s Even Possible) To Be (Even a Little) Less White. I feel like, even in this mostly peach-skinned room, I’m the whitest guy here by a fair margin. There’s only two possible challengers, and they’re pretty remote. The first is a guy thrashing against the lip of the stage, long blonde locks spraying wildly about him as he moves in unadjusted metal/punk moshpit style—straight up and down on high repeat. The second is a girl (blonde also) who has this compulsive thing where she crooks her arms in front of her and shakes her fists in the same way as Wheel of Fortune contestants do when they manage to build a full sentence out of two vowels. But neither of them have anything on me. I’m swaying at the middle-back in gold-rimmed spectacles with a book-length essay in my pocket by a UK author (Deborah Levy) called ‘Things I Don’t Want To Know’, a response to an essay by another UK author (George Orwell).

- Where is Hak? I’m sure there’s a totally legitimate and publicly available reason for this, given the fact of his absence wasn’t given a single word of attention from stage or crowd. Anyway. There’s never any way of truly appreciating the commensality of any particular organized unit until one of its parts is missing. But maybe ‘missing’ is the wrong word. The show doesn’t seem to lack anything as such, but naturally the colour palette’s maybe a little reduced. On record, the delicate, mournful tune and flow of Hak wreathes beautifully around Sporting Life’s melodies; makes Wiki’s crackling staccato feel like it hits even harder.

- Holy Moly, Sporting Life is Incredible. What Sporting Life does is deceptively complex. Behind his duel-console station (which, during setup, coaxes some serious mileage out of the sound engineer, striding repeatedly from desk to stage) Sporting Life approaches live performance with an ambidexterity rarely seen in electronic music. One hand is almost permanently draped over some kind of automated low pass filter, which, with a magician-and-crystal-ball-type flourish, sucks all the treble from the mix at will. His other hand flips around console controlling loops and lead lines. This is in addition to manually hitting snares in particular songs and percussion in perfect time with the cadence of Wiki’s vocals. And that’s just his arms. North of the torso, he’s chiming in with backups over Wiki and even abandons his post completely towards the set’s end and leaps into full-scale lead vocals.

- ‘Things I Don’t Want to Know’ (the book in my back pocket) – Pg. 83. “England was an exciting word to write. My mother had told me we were in exile and would one day return to the country of my birth.” Looking around at a roomful of kids (myself included) who had grown up embalmed in American culture, I wonder if, for some of them, this is sort of frustrating. To sing along and for the words to come out somehow wrong, to watch the images on the screen and identify deeply with a place that has been so grafted to their memory and cultural universe. I keep wondering if it’s infuriating to be in a kind of subjective exile (and I’m talking about your Very Serious hip-hop fans) from what they would undoubtedly see as a ‘cultural home’ [Author’s Note: These thoughts tend to get me somewhere towards a kind of sympathy with someone like Iggy Azalea, music notwithstanding.]

- Wiki’s Vocals Are Impossible to Resist. Most of the time it sounds like Wiki (Patrick Morales) isn’t so much rapping as gnawing on the beat. Despite being only half intelligible, his flows are undeniably limber and irresistibly percussive. The heavy introduction of his voice to a track, matched with his posture (eyes squinted to almost shutting, body tilted towards the audience) functions instrumentally as well as it does narratively…I’m into it—no more on this really.

- ‘Canal’ is the Final Song (Besides a One Song Encore) And Elicits the Most Dramatic Crowd Response of the Night. Also nothing more to add here. It was limb-bendingly, head-rollingly good.

- ‘Things I Don’t Want to Know’ (the book in my [now front] pocket)  – Pg. 67. “If I had poured all my childhood anxieties into Billy Boy’s tiny carcass, he had a lot to carry.” As the images moving over the screen distract me again, the paradox of the projection becomes clearer. That is, the visuals are more than just images being projected against the band. The band is projecting their sound, and themselves into the tension and struggle that the visuals represent. The very thing that listeners are invited to do in their various subjective exiles—to project themselves into the struggle. To feel synchronically like representatives of—and represented by—their cultural home. The audience’s cultural home might be a different place, Ratking’s might just be a different time.

- I Guess I Should Listen to Phantogram. Wiki: “Anyone ever fuck with that Phantogram shit? Well you about to hear it…” (Before playing Ratking’s ‘Falling Off’ remix of Phantogram’s ‘Fall In Love’.)



Learn To Learn Yourself Through Rap. Ratking’s So It Goes – A Review.


LISTEN
When anyone asks what I do for a living, I don’t tell them I basically convert government money into black coffee, or at least not right away. I also neglect to tell them I work in a bookshop, or that I’m a freelance writer. Most of the time I say: “I interview bands for a living”, which is mostly a lie, both professionally and financially. But I continue to say this for the same reason anyone else in my ‘position’ says this – because it sounds cool (and is a better conversation starter than the yawning abyss of unemployment that my career has solemnly promised me). There’s always been – especially from a distance – a kind of cool that music confers upon the music writer, something radiated and then captured by sheer proximity. It’s bullshit of course, but that’s beside the point. The point is this: whatever reflected cool can be caught as it bounces off the surface of modern music, it all stops at hip hop. At least it does for music writers who are slightly older, middle class and white. Which is a lot of us. Outside of the ubane alt-country scene, there’s almost nothing that plumbs the depths of uncool like an overeducated, sycophantic white guy dissecting hip hop. Take Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene giving Mobb Deep a perfect 10 recently (much to the groups chagrin) as an example, or Anthony 'the Internet’s busiest music nerd’ Fantano from the Needle Drop, discharging rabid torrents of praise over Death Grips, A$AP Ferg, School Boy Q or Ratking. At best it’s irritating and irrelevant, at worst, vaguely insulting.

The only true point of difference between me and the guys I mentioned above is that I’m, if anything, even more ignorant. Before I’d even listened to Ratking’s So It Goes, I was assured that it was the most 'Real New York’ hip-hop album since Nas’ 1994 record Illmatic. Yup, okay. I’m sure this comparison has produced a small amount of nodding and/or chin-stroking amongst those more familiar with the intricacies of golden age hip-hop. It means exactly nothing to me. So instead, I’m just going to offer you a cluster of intentionally uneducated impressions about Ratking’s So It Goes unstrung in strict chronological order. Make of it what you will.

-      So It Goes employs a Kurt Vonnegut quote as the record title. Or more precisely, it employs a Kurt Vonnegut quote that appears no less than 106 times in Vonnegut’s cult classic Slaughterhouse 5 and is used to change the subject after talking about death, dying and questions of mortality. So before the first syllable has been uttered, my mind’s already on death and whatever follows. Is this what Ratking want to be? Disconnected from all previous rap culture, or a symbol of its rebirth, a weed spilling from the soil of a freshly filled grave?

-      The first track, entitled ‘*’ Rewards any curiosity about the album’s title with conversational slurring about how generational differences in rap make generational comparison impossible, drawling: “You ain’t got no point of reference really, you gotta stick with the here and now…so it goes…”

-      ‘Canal’ is pure adrenaline, a howling sample looped underneath Wiki and Hak’s dueling voices, every word creaking with disaffection. With the borrowed phrase ‘New York Rap Album’ spilling like a cloud of dye through my brain, I can’t help but hear the snare as feet slapping cement, or a snow-stricken New York street in their vocal hiss and gale of instrumentation. There is something inescapably New York about gritty hip-hop production coupled with a snarling anti-authoritarianism. But still, I wonder how inevitable these relationships would feel if the seed of Ratking as ‘Quintessential New York Hip-Hop’ wasn’t already pre-sown in my brain. 

-      Archy Marshall from King Krule casts a dolorous East Dulwich gloam over the already darkening New York soundscape in ‘So Sick Stories’. But it’s an inviting kind of grey-blue - wintery, percussive and languorous.

-      The anti-police squall of ‘Remove Ya’ which starts with Wiki spitting “I’m a mutt, you a mutt, yeah we some mutts” finishes with a singular voice singing soft, mournful and tuneless, like something buried at the end of a forgotten Lomax spool.

-      By the time ‘So It Goes’ (the track) drops in, the staggering half sung, half spoken style Wiki and Hak lean into occasionally is opening up, creating tonally satisfying flows, flecked all over with Spanish Harlem. Wavy Spice’s guest vocals on ‘Puerto Rican Judo’ pushes this sound even further forward in the mix.       

-      By the final track I’m still trying to guess at how genuine Ratking are. Are they truly the maladjusted pack of strays they so convincingly sound like? I analyse and re-analyse, trying to triangulate the social conditions which may have produced Ratking by examining their lyrical content, their production quality and the tangible self-awareness of the whole arrangement. Luckily I manage to stop myself. Thisis it. The exactly point where white, privileged music writers most often overstep their critical jurisdiction. I have no idea how genuine Ratking are — how the fuck could I possible know? And from my position as a listener in a Brunswick studio 17,000 kilometers away, it barely matters. What matters is not that they’re genuine, but that they’re genuinely interesting – something which I decided comfortably by the fourth track. Ratking are genuinely interesting. Noise-rap doesn’t cover the breadth of their range, DIY Hip-hop doesn’t account for their dense, complex arrangements. From an outsider’s perspective Ratking seem anomalous in the hip-hop landscape in that they seem to roundly reject the current fascination with excess and abandon. Contemporaries A$AP Mob, Danny Brown, Flatbush Zombies (et al) all seem pretty happy to lurch around mostly paralysed, making loosely rhyming lists of their liquid assets - as well as what they’ve been drinking, what they’re huffing and the ways in which ways they’d like to threaten any female orifice within reach. Ratking, not so. I mean ‘Puerto Rican Judo’ is an actual love song, of the distinctly non-flesh-crawling kind.

So by now you’ve all realized that this ‘review’ has run just the way it was always going to run: where the slightly older, white reviewer — incapable of writing about hip-hop without analyzing his own experience of discomfort while writing about hip-hop — has created a review comprised almost solely of naivety and guilt (in relatively equal parts). But maybe that’s just the point. Writing about music sort of should be self-analysis. After they were awarded a perfect score on Pitchfork, Prodigy from New York rap duo Mobb Deep, in true Hardcore East-Coast Hip-Hop style, tweeted viciously at writer Jayson Greene: “If u don’t come from our blood stream how can u make a proper assessment of our music [sic]?” I’ll be the first to raise my pallid right hand and say: “I can’t”. My windowless house and student loan aren’t really in the same realm of human experience as Mobb Deep, or even Ratking. I understand hip-hop the only way I know how to understand it, as well, me. I’m not really young, and certainly not underprivileged, both of which seem tantamount, most of all in rap culture, to creative vitality. And as I finished listening to So It Goes and switched to looking at Ratking’s two videos ‘So Sick Stories’ and ‘Canal’, this unspoken balance between youth and cultural veracity became all the more apparent.

LOOK
The visual accompaniment to Ratking fills in a lot of gaps except, (importantly) Wiki’s triumphantly broken smile, which is missing about three teeth. These kids are young, which whether by accident or design, acts as the engine that drives their creative vitality, and by extension, their appeal. But before I go any further, I just wanna be clear: I’m definitely not saying Ratking’s success is hinged from their image, these guys are, even to my thoroughly untrained ears, very fucking good. However, what they are is certainly playing a very active role in the success of what they do. The ‘So Sick Stories’ video shows members of Ratking and King Krule with their bodies slackened against concrete dividers and miles of chain link fence, huffing smoke and wandering the streets of seemingly abandoned industry. And here’s where I found at least some of Ratking’s cool. Especially in King Krule’s Archy Marshall and Ratking’s Wiki, both of whom are conspicuously young, there is the distinct impression of willfully lost kids. Coupled with the thoroughly dystopic backdrop of abandoned industry, an almost Lord of the Flies atmosphere is evoked. To see kids, (the vessels wherein parents hoard their hope and unspent love) wandering the streets of failed industry alone and hopeless is pure horror for the old; simultaneously the symbol of a world without promise or hope, and a mumbled accusation: “You made this”. And therein lies the allure. The sublime opportunity for the young to say: “Fuck you. I ain’t your hope, I ain’t your future. You created this. Deal with it”


Ratking’s ‘So It Goes’ gets 4 out of 5 Boroughs.


For Cool Accidents

Step-Panther x Wax Volcanic - Another Zombie Summer


Another zombie summer. They leak in long palls from luxury coaches, drifting overdressed from conditioned air and semi-recumbent snacking to the trapped heat of indoor sun, vinyl restaurant booths and plates stacked with dunes of fried batter.

Jimmy’s shuffled away from the grill again. When Janet tears the order off her pad and slides it over the steel counter she can just see his legs inside the back flyscreen door, one arm hooked around the inside of the frame. His body is hung around the door into the alley.

“Order in.”

“What?” Jimmy’s body and head arch back into view, wrapped in smoke.

Janet peers back through the kitchen to the restaurant. “Give’sa go.” She plucks the cigarette from Jimmy’s hand, the flyscreen whimpering quietly as she pushes her head through. An old ginger cat is watching them from the alley.

“That your cat?”

Jimmy shrugs. “I call him Danger. He…” Jimmy exhales for two full seconds “…he tries to eat the ash from me ciggies…”

As Janet walks back through the kitchen there’s an interview on the radio, the broadcasted voices mingling almost perfectly with the festive squawk of the Hook and Anchor’s overnourished patrons. It’s on through the whole establishment. After years of staff fighting for stereo control, Steve the weekday manager enforced a radio-only policy. It was mainly Jimmy’s fault, who thought Slayer was the “shit-hot energy kick” the pre-dinner period needed.

Janet listens for a moment, standing at the water station, pretending to work. The interviewer sounds like a fuckwit. Some private-school city kid. Probably. One of those “Look-at-me-I’m-so-cool-I-interview-rock-bands” guys. Janet had known some kids like that. They’d all moved away.  

 

INTERVIEWER

Strange But Nice ranges from brittle, affecting pop to almost Sabbathesque riffing, often within a single song, especially ‘Nowhere’, ’User Friendly’ and ‘Something Must Be Done’. And the paradoxical nature of the record is also evident in the album’s lyrical and thematic content, especially in songs like ‘Strange But Nice’ and ‘Summertime Zombies’. Was the juxtaposition in the tones, textures and themes of Strange but Nice intentional?
 

STEP-PANTHER

It’s kind of intentional; it’s just the way we are. I think it’s more that we don’t care too much if songs sound really different from each other. We usually get to a point when writing a song when we say “This needs a little something else, right?” and that’s probably where weird unexpected changes within the songs come from. After playing in this band for a while we’ve tried lots of things - sometimes it works and sometimes not so much, but we just have to accept that is just the nature of Step-Panther songs.


Janet’s worked at the Hook and Anchor for 14 years. It’s one of four seafood restaurants perched on Parallel Bay’s teeming summer esplanade. She’s been here all her life—seen Large milkshakes become dwarfed by the arrival of the Jumbo size, noticed ‘Bubble-O-Bill’ icecreams recede in diameter and colour and witnessed the tourists’ clothes change, but rarely their mood.

Janet’s brother works at the User Friendly at the end of the row of shops, a convenience store that uses the word ‘Bonanza’ liberally, attaching it to seasons (The User Friendly Spring Bonanza!) products (The Helga’s Lower Carb Mixed Grain Bonanza!) and even people (The Penelope Tallis Memorial Bonanza!) Every time she visits the water station for a momentary reprieve, Janet gets hit with the radio interview again. The band sounds interesting, relaxed. But the interviewer reminds her too much of an ex-boyfriend she had the year after she left high school—using long words, obsessing over music he couldn’t hope to make himself. He moved away too. Apparently works in Harvey Norman somewhere.

 

INTERVIEWER

You’ve spoken before about how much of a relief it was to not play so aggressively, and to write songs that were more relaxed. Interestingly you’ve also said the opposite— that the heavy, riff-laden material on the record was also like a “lever of tension was released”. Have you been waiting a long time to be able to write material like this, or did you finally feel like the moment is right?


STEP-PANTHER

We’ve always had songs that were kind of laid back but they always seemed to get pushed aside in favour of the riff-rock, especially in our live shows. Generally people watching us don’t know many of our songs so I guess it’s easier to get people riled up with more energetic music.  When it came to this album the more chilled out songs seemed to be stronger, and influenced us to tweak some of the heavier songs with extra special sweet spots. Anyway to properly answer the question it wasn’t a choice to write more songs like this - it was more that these songs just felt like the right ones to use.

INTERVIEWER

 The 24-hour recording of the Dreamcrusher EP with Berkfinger in Berlin sounded hectic. This time you recorded in Melbourne with Tom Iansek. What was the process like this time around?

STEP-PANTHER

This time we had a little more time to work and think about things - we did it in seven days which is the longest we’ve ever spent on a record. But more time would have been better, time and money are always hovering above us with big whips. We had made pretty detailed demos so we knew going in a lot of the parts we wanted. So I think that saved time, and that gave us more time to work on the vocals and getting the other sounds right.



Parallel Bay has the usual kind of semi-mouldered feel that attends a lot of seasonal tourist spots. It has the same partly corroded mini-putt course and brittle weatherboard antiques shops, the same tawny-coloured modern bistros (mid-late 90s decorative concrete and tinted glass) and packs of preteen kids roaming at breakneck speed from the main jetty to some backstreet play equipment they’ve claimed. Janet pretends to clean the windows overlooking the esplanade, the radio interview still in progress, the interviewer’s voice galloping nervously through his long, overwrought questions.


INTERVIEWER

Tom Iansek is most notably one half of Big Scary, a band known for their catchy pop and radio-friendliness. You clearly wanted to make this record a bit prettier, but it still retains its natural grime. Did you have to be careful that it didn’t clean up too much?


STEP-PANTHER

We didn’t worry about that at all, even when deliberately trying to sound impressive and nice this is what happens. It’s a permanent mark.

INTERVIEWER

On Strange But Nice there’s Snow White references, a song about Namor, Prince of Atlantis and a song about zombies. Steve’s even described ‘It Came From the Heart’ as a “fun nod to sci-fi and monster movies from the 1950s and 1960s”.  The album has a lot of childlike fun about it—even the name of the record was something a kid wrote in an art-show guestbook. Were these themes and references more a product of personal nostalgia or just a way to keep the album’s mood light?

STEP-PANTHER


Keeping the mood light was definitely something I realized I wanted after recording. There were a few songs we cut because they had a bit more of a downer feel, they weren’t even  that dark but all the songs on the album including the sadder ones have a kind of positive edge somewhere. In terms of the childlike themes it might be a subconscious thing. I watch a lot of movies and more or less this is just how I communicate and relate to things. The stuff that does come up from my childhood is actually some sporting references I put in there from playing footy when I was a kid - ‘hit and spin’ in “Parallel” is a good move, and I wrote something about being on the ball in “Let Loose”. I guess these kind of references work as a nice thread with all these different types of songs together, that’s what helps make them fit.



Parallel Bay is different to other tourist towns in one, fairly iconic way. It doesn’t possess great swimming beaches, a relaxing counterpoint to urban life or even tasty regional food (Janet should know). Its main attraction is the annual appearance of a particular mammal who chooses the height of summer for its yearly display, preferring warmer waters, and wherever possible, an audience. This mammal is the reason the Hook and Anchor’s patrons are talking in high, excited voices, unable to hear the radio interview being broadcast through the restaurant.


INTERVIEWER

The songs on Strange But Nice sound like songs that’d be a lot of fun to play live. How has the new material with its wider sonic range and genre-resistant variety altered the live show?

STEP-PANTHER

They are really fun to play. We’re still in early days playing a lot of them because we haven’t done too many shows but so far it works okay - there are only three of us so at times it’s a bit bare-bones compared to the album. We add a bit of venom if we can - hopefully by the time we do an album tour we will be able to provide the full “Strange But Nice” experience.



The mammal that acts as Parallel Bay’s sole tourist magnet is a 63 year-old man. Every year this man wades into the sea out the front of the Parallel Bay lifesaving club, setting a boombox on the sand which emits a constant loop of Donovan’s ‘Atlantis’, while he capers in the gentle waves. But his capering has, over the last five years, become somewhat of a national phenomenon. He half moans and half-sings incantations at the horizon, words like: “Prince of Atlantis, indifferent to humanity, please forgive the ignorance of man! I offer up my servitude to the regions of the deep!” There’s something initially ridiculous and funny about it. The state and national news services predictably paid a lot of attention to his green leotard and trident rather than his carefully prepared and lovingly enunciated words. But after a while his small, dancelike motions and hymnals of aquatic fealty become almost heartbreakingly beautiful—“Strange, but nice” as one young onlooker was noted to yawn. His shoreline audience has doubled in the last two years. The nation has nicknamed him ‘Aqua Man’, but locals still know him as Gary, manager of the Shake Shack. Janet just calls him Dad.




For Cool Accidents


Step-Panther’s Strange But Nice is available now where all rad records are sold | streamed

 

Unanswered Questions - A Conversation between Wax Volcanic & Hopium


PART 1

DOES JIMMY PAGE HAVE AN INSTAGRAM?

 "Why’s that interesting?“ Acton Bell demands, leaning away from his long black, looking just past me. George Sand, the second member of Hopium, is smiling across the narrow wooden table at Bell, a hand planted under his cheek and a grin splashed broadly between both ears. Hopium are an electronic two-piece wreathed in mystery, unwilling to give up their identities and unrolling their wounded, undulating pop just one song at a time. The second song, ‘Dreamers’ (featuring Phoebe Lou), has just dropped. It already looks poised for explosion, with 20,000 plays on its first day and climbing the Hype Machine charts with meteoric speed.

The question Acton Bell has swung towards me at head height is in response to their public invisibility…and my enthusiasm towards it.

So why do I find an intentionally low profile so interesting? Is it because of the dramatic tension the preservation of the secret bestows upon its keepers? Because I can mould the shadowy forms in an image of my choosing? Is it because a riddle is like an extended hand, further inviting me to engage more deeply with something I don’t fully understand?

I don’t think/say any of these things. Instead I mutter something along the lines of identity subsuming musical quality, of personalities being more prominent than the music they’re supposedly recognised for.


ACTON BELL

Oh you mean the managing of celebrity?

GEORGE SAND

That’s always been rock and roll…

WAX VOLCANIC

Uh yeah… but maybe in increasing volume these days…

ACTON BELL

Would Jimmy Page have an Instagram? People over-share so bad these days. Like everything. I guess I’ve read some books on Led Zeppelin…I probably did want to know.

The anonymity of Hopium is less about the cult of personality culture in the music industry and more because the music is their only real interest, their only true focus.

"We almost couldn’t be bothered thinking of a name. Everything seems trivial apart from the music” Bell remarks flatly. But where sought-after music is concerned, the planless has a way of becoming the plan itself.

“We haven’t really thought about the long term at all” Sand admits. “The 'anonymous’ thing was [because] we don’t have a plan and then someone was like: 'that’s a really good idea, you should make a thing out of that’…”

 
PART 2

HAVE YOU EVER CHEATED?

GEORGE SAND

Have you ever cheated?

[Long break, like a pause riding atop a small silence]

WAX VOLCANIC

On someone? Yes.

[Internal Monologue, WV]

Okay, this was a very long time ago. I’m a scumbag for completely different reasons now. I’m trying to be way better. I’m polite to baristas, I let people pull in front of me in traffic, I give up my seat on the tram. I have perfect feedback on ebay. Gimme a break.

ACTON BELL

We’ve got you on record.

[More double-stacked pause, mingled with uneasy smiles from WV]


We’re talking about the band’s first single 'Cut’, a frigid, desolate and utterly benighted electronic gem, dripping in an almost masochistic loyalty. Lines like: “I’ll cut off my legs so I can never leave you/I’ll cut out my tongue so I’ll never deceive you” betray an oceanic sense of guilt, a dark tone garnished perfectly with a video completely comprised of steam and human form in monochrome silhouette. George Sand admits that the 'conundrum of commitment’ in the song is “a combination of both of our experiences”. 

Hopium’s newest single, 'Dreamers’ is quite different, thematically and sonically. It’s brightened with pop flourishes, high, euphoric synths and vocal lines/loops that tattoo themselves instantly onto the listening brain. There’s also a lot more hands in the mix, with M-Phazes thickening the track with additional beats and the glassy voice of Phoebe Lou (from beloved Melbourne band Snakadaktal who suffered an early extinction this year) shimmering over the top. The duelling vocals ghost each other, chime in almost to the point of interruption, and it works. Perfectly. I"m going to use the words 'pop gem’, the phrase 'catchier than bird flu’.


PART 3

'THE TRAP’

 Both members of Hopium have spent years in bands, playing music utterly unlike what they are making together under their shadowy new moniker. But Hopium wasn’t simply a reaction against the band scene they’d spent so much time in, it was more of an expedition, something to refresh their sense of discovery.  

“We just thought it was interesting I think” George Sand yawns. “Because we hadn’t really done it before so we have been learning the whole time…I think [‘Cut’] was one of the first beats we put together…”

And it’s clear, even after only two songs, that Hopium are evolving. ‘Cut’, despite being a brooding, sparse electronic jam, had exactly zero synths on it, (besides a Moog Minotaur which acted as a bass).

“All the chords were made up of samples and vocals” nods George Sand. But even ‘Dreamers’, despite being notably more synth-friendly, still is peppered with strange treatments and interesting arrangements. Again, the chords that fill the bulk of the songs verses are vocals, cut and filtered. And despite the sonic breadth and emotional magnitude of ‘Dreamers’, we’re still spared huge synth builds. There are none of what Acton Bell refers to as “overdone filtering whoosh whoosh synths”, the song’s epic quality distilled in just four or five colourful, reverb-drenched stabs (of what sounds like a Korg Monopoly).

But despite the colour that is steadily leaking into their sound, all of the music Hopium has made so far, has been made without the same historical conventions surrounding electronic music. And whether it was because, as they admit, they “didn’t know what [they] were doing”, or because they deliberately wanted to defy genre conventions, they avoided some of the platitudes that stagnate so much modern electronic music.     

“Every genre has its rules” Acton Bell enthuses, “but also every instrument has the Trap…but then I started to realize that computer music meant that you could do absolutely everything…”


PART 4

SO YOU HAVEN’T HEARD ANYTHING? THERE HAVEN’T BEEN ANY LEAKS? HAS ANYONE HEARD ANYTHING?

 GEORGE SAND

I’ve played in a few bands. I moved from Adelaide to Melbourne with a band, with my high school buddies…Adelaide is a bit of a backwater place so it’s kind of the suburban thing, you just listen to pop punk and emo and shit, then that’s the world…I feel like I’m still trying to figure out how to make good music. Because I made a lot of bad music.

ACTON BELL

I actually met George when he was in a band and I was supposed to record them, remember? But then it just never happened


As people who have both spent much of their previous musical careers on stage, it’s mildly surprising that when asked about if they’d thought about playing live, George Sand’s response is a lethargic: “Not really…” But conceptually they’re full of ideas, and all ideas very in-step with the Hopium way. Their ideas favour “heaps of visuals, projections and lights”, keeping their music disembodied, faceless.

“We want to develop a way of making music live in the same way that you make it in a studio, which is more of an experience. We don’t just want to play a CD” Acton Bell states coolly.

But these ideas are, of course, all conjecture. Who truly knows how Hopium will continue to evolve. This is part of the joy, part of the magnetism of Hopium as a project. The mystery isn’t purely manufactured. These guys actually seem to be making it up as they go along.

“There is a lot of unanswered questions” Bell admits. “Every time we have gone to answer these questions we realise we don’t have the music yet, so we just go back to the music.” And their focus is gratifying. That fact that Bell emphatically feels like Hopium “can’t be too easy…can’t just be one sound that anyone else could have done” means that progress is slow. But it’s also deliberate. Bell’s own band motto of “the strangest way you can get to a sound, the better” is part of the reason that ‘Dreamers’ has wrapped the blogosphere in a sudden fever. Bell’s half-mocking plea of “So you haven’t heard anything? There haven’t been any leaks? Has anyone heard anything?” It’s more than a little fitting that Hopium’s own name means, basically, a vested interested capitalising on illusion or rhetoric. But Hopium the band, thankfully, aren’t sophistry without substance. Their mystery and slow careful output are very real, even to Bell and Sand. And more important than their anonymity, than their planlessness and sideways-approach to electronic music, is their material. Whatever may happen in the smoky fringes of Hopium, the songs, few as they are, speak for themselves.



For Cool Accidents

The Great Flood


My fingers are smeared crab-like against the tinted perspex of my front window, my gut assuring me that either I’ve ingested too much Low Sodium Mealshake or I’ve made the wrong decision. I can see that other parents in residential pod 59 are feeling the same way, watching their spawn gallop off into the morning, their rangy limbs swinging, smiles spread wide over the lunar surfaces of their skin. The young and smiling are moving in large, ropey clouds towards STEREOFUTURE, the self-proclaimed “Most Expensive Music-Type Even in the Southern Hemisphere”. I can feel my bowels loosen as I picture these kids slouching through gleaming aluminum conductors, ticket-hands raised skyward, emerging in lightly irradiated cordons before spilling back into pack formation. They call this the ‘Entrance Gate’. I can picture rippling seas of teenagers, rolling at the steel shore of the main stage, swarming with bacterial speed to the 6 bands that verify the kind of kid that they 'Are’, while the other 112 bands (that fill the gelatinous bulk of STEROFUTURE’S 13 lineup announcements) play to wet grass and howling silence. They call this 'good playing times this year’. I can imagine the sun stroked lines of older kids mazed behind electrified fencing and wall-mounted Digital Body Mapping equipment, every body leaning towards a narrow counter serving 55% water called 'Extra Dry’. They call this the 'Beer Tent’. And I’ll never forget the black and blue gangs of masked thugs, oozing sweat beneath 3 layers of Kevlar and industrial plastic. Ready, waiting and hoping to unleash storms of vulcanized rubber (from their sidearms), debilitating noise (from their personal audio cannons) and beatings (from their armoured fists) over any transgressors of STEREOFUTURE Law. They call these 'Health and Safety Officers’. I want my own sons to realise that it wasn’t always this way. I can’t put my finger on exactly where the slippery slope began, but there was one thing that happened all the way back in 2014, that certainly contributed. That one thing was the end of Camp A Low Hum, the greatest music festival the world had never seen. 


Even back in 2014, finding a decent music festival that didn’t require winning a ballot was proving difficult. Most of the one day festivals that rumbled in and out of Australia’s major cities were different colours of the same drunken juggernaut, annually collapsing under their own weight. I had to go farther afield. Watching the pale scar of Australia’s east coast disappear into the Tasman Sea, I knew I had, for the third time, made the right decision—my gut felt just fine. 


In previous years, my attendance at Camp A Low Hum coincided with it’s relocation from Wainuiomata to an abandoned agricultural college sunk into the rolling pastures behind Bulls, a town 160 km north of Wellington so quaint, that the Police station was signed 'Consta-Bull’. The college, or 'Flockhouse’ as it was still called, was in such an advanced state of decay that certain buildings were altogether out of bounds, just in case they chose to voluntarily condemn themselves mid-festival. Nestled between the sun drenched elysian hills of New Zealand’s west coast, and the murmuring, pine-forested surrounds, Camp was a wonderland. Lineups were never officially released, no media passes existed and bands and audience mingled freely. Late one February morning I shambled out of my dorm room and almost tripped over a broken circle of bodies outside my door. It was Chad from Toro Y Moi and members of Tame Impala (playing as POND) smoking a joint on the grass outside, adjacent to a food vendor, silent and hirsute behind a steaming cart of corn. Some of the corn was three dollars. Some of it, more ominously, went for fifteen.


But Wainuiomata claimed back Camp in 2012, and there it stayed, wrapped in the fog of a forest valley at Camp Wainui, Homedale. It’s always been hard to convey the nature of Camp to my sons. I tell them stories when government blackouts shut down our Wallscreens and Voiceweb, but my descriptions always take on something of the mythic and in a way, condemn it to history. But it’s hard not to capture something utopic when talking about a festival where I maintained various states inebriation for four straight days in the New Zealand mud, hastily built lasting friendships, listened to beautiful and strange music, and most of all, felt almost completely unsupervised.  


In the final Camp 2014 there was, again, almost no security. Just 5 faces to beam at you and throw their arms towards the carpark. By the main camping area (aka The CBD), a green Kolbelco digger was beached in a small mud pit, bordered by a sagging length of orange tape. A few hundred metres up the wide gravel road you’d find a gap in the foliage at the roadside. A small bridge was knotted over a small, rabid section of creek, the bridge composed of a thin chain and a few hunks of carpet. After picking your way raggedly across the bridge, you could walk back towards the CBD and reach the Lagoon stage. This stage was set up next to a swaying body of brown water, generously titled 'the Lagoon’. The Lagoon had a narrow concrete walkway hanging off it’s right side—opaque turbid dam on one side, and a full meter drop into a concrete drain (replete with small torrent of gushing water) on the other. And if you were truly in the mood for adventure, you could walk away from the CBD towards the Journey stage, following the buckling lines of increasingly damp humans into the forest. This small hike involved fording two creeks, navigating an increasing number of slippery banks and creeping through the spindly mud tracks of Camp Wainui’s fern gullies. When you could spy a yellow power cord snaking naked through the undergrowth, you were almost there. Finally you’d reach a small clearing littered with fallen logs and lateral ferns, covered in pelts of moss. A huddle of kids would be nodding around a small table in the middle of the glade, covered in a tangled nest of electronics. 

Everyone navigated these (very) possible agents of catastrophic injury while profoundly fucked up, in the inky black of the country dark, and with—to be best of my knowledge—no major incidents. There were no major warnings, no restricted access. In fact the only real safety information I was given was this: 

 

It was gratefully received. It was clear, even in 2014, that Camp A Low Hum summoned a different sort of crowd. They were the immaculately disheveled, the carefully unravelled. They were the easy-going kids with perfectly dated jumpers and talismans of the early internet adorning their gaunt frames. They were the army jackets with beard, the whorls of hair with black jeans. And they had been going to Camp since 2008, with a devotion that could only be described as 'near holy’. Every year encampments were augmented, re-designed and relocated to either capture or repel sun or expanded to envelop a new cluster of allies.

But most utopic of all—and indeed fundamental to the mythic in general— was how Camp A Low Hum gathered the unknown around it like some mesmeric cloud. The badge I found in the mud outside the Renegade Room (a rustic portable with a separate timetable, partly preloaded with bands in varying degrees of rehearsal and even formation, and partly filled in as the weekend rambled on) proclaimed (almost) what captured the most precious part of Camp in a convenient maxim. It read: 

 

Camp 2014 had woven together a lineup of bands that had, for the most part, played previously. A sort of 'best of’ bill. Discounting the Renegade room, some of the best acts (chosen by title) were:

- Spermaids
- Microsoft Voices
- Viking Weed
- Tanned Christ
- Perfect Hair Forever
- Team Cat Food

In contrast, some of the best acts (chosen by performance) were:

- Beastwars (stoner/sludge/metal)
- Kangaroo Skull (industrial dance/EBM/techno)
- Liam Finn (ecstatic Rock and Roll)
- Making (tangled, aggressive math metal)
- DJ Douggpound (DJ/Comedy) *Not a widely held popular choice

In further contrast, some of the best acts (chosen by volume of recommendation/adulation) were:

- Trust Punks
- Glass Vaults
- Surf City
- Lawrence Arabia
- Orchestra of Spheres

Even with repeat sets, there was a lot of new music buried in that remote New Zealand valley, all small parts of a unique experience. And some of the acts of the A Low Hum bill rarely play regular venues, and were described in the winding mud avenues of the CBD as 'Camp Bands’. Camp, through chief curator and executor Blink, had created it’s own phantom scene. A function more vital than mainstream New Zealand seemed to credit it for.


Half an hour south of Camp, was Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. Most people I’d spoken to who lived there agree that it’s a generous term. An older resident who made their fortune in the city confided that if the Beehive (Wellington’s House of Parliament) was to move to Auckland with the other ¾ of the New Zealand population, “they’d just turn the lights off, that’d be it”. Cupped between distant, thundering hills and a sweeping coast, Wellington, particularly to the oversea(s) visitor, was a beautiful city. Lights filled the boughs of it’s trees along the esplanade, cable cars rolled slowly over it’s San Franciscan hills and the days there seemed to glow, like they’d been polished by the wind. But the entertainment infrastructure in Wellington, despite the demographic lean towards the artisan, was fractured and gaunt. Two of the chief live music venues, the San Francisco Bath House and Mighty Mighty were, while I was there, closed and on the cusp of closure respectively. Dirtier clubs like Sandwiches or the Big Kumera were already gone for good. Even Wellington’s newest live music venue ‘Puppies’ (the club run by Blink, CALH’s Festival Director) was rumored to be only partly new, as it filled the space of yet another closed venue. Wellington needed Camp A Low Hum. Or at very least something like it. While Camp was unfolding invisibly half an hour away, Wellington was wrapped in the throes of the 'Sevens’ rugby final, where the crowd would dress up and drink their collective weight in booze before even entering the stadium. Last year around 40 people were ejected from the Sevens, this year it was over 200. The morning papers would fill with photos of haggard Roman gods and Wonder Women fully prostrate on the footpath outside the game. During Camp we made a small supply run into Wellington, and witnessed the semi-naked tide draining towards the Westpac stadium. We were asked at a coffee shop “Are you guys going to the Sevens?” Our answer, firmly planted in the negative, inspired another coffee shop worker to ask furtively: “How’s Camp guys?”


I pull on my white, cotton Sunsuit over my clothes, coating my hands and face in zinc before unlatching the door. Most of the other residents of pod 59 are indoors. Only five houses are without digital garden beds and have to bully their roses into life amid the aggressive excess of ultra violet light. I remember what it used to be like. When a downpour could last for days…  


After the first night, the surrounding valley of Camp Wainui became a forested bowl, rapidly filling with water. At first it fell in a mute mist, licking stage roofs and thinning the crowd at the back of the hollow fire truck which was vending the festival’s coffee. But gradually the rain summoned a new volume, a new speed, hissing against tent walls and spraying lines of cowering kids from the forest stages. As stages closed and Camp drew itself into a tightening ball against the weather, the weekend continued to expound the qualities of the mythic. Blink wandered deliberately between Camp’s remaining venues, an invisible Noah, Deucalion of a fast submerging valley. His calm would’ve seemed misplaced at any regular festival. Timetable changes, stage closures and constant rain spelled a quiet doom for any outdoor festival in 2014. But Camp was different. People knotted tightly together and partied in the sideways rain that sheeted through Camp Wainui on day 3. Some pushed their limbs through garbage bags, some swung between the Noisey Stage and the Renegade Room (the only places left that could simultaneously provide both music and shelter). Others simply raged as hard as their vital organs would allow, lathered in mud and weather, lurching chemically vertical through their personal trials of stamina. Then there were the people who piked early. People like me. 

There was a moment that had splintered itself into my memory from Camp 2014. It was on Thursday night, before Camp had officially started. DJ Douggpound (the touring DJ with cult comedy duo Tim and Eric) was inflicting himself (gloriously) on a relatively fresh (if wholly inebriated) crowd. At the end of his set Douggpound played the musical jewel in the Tim and Eric crown, a song called 'Sports’ and Blink, festival organiser, walked onto the stage (cabin veranda) and started scratching and beat mashing with Douggpound. It was a unique moment. But what I remember liking most about it was that almost every time I told someone, the response was: “holy shit, really?” There was always a degree of hearsay in what transpired at Camp A Low Hum that at once made the experience incomplete, and the myth whole. Leaving early saw me miss Circle Jerk’s colossal audience group hug (allegedly) as well Daedalus and Astronautilus improvising during a last night split set in the Noisey stage. The room was (supposedly) a breathless mass of slick bodies hanging off balconies and rafters while Astronautilus freestyled about how Truly Fucking Amazing Camp was. And I had it from numerous reliable sources that despite the words 'freestyle’, 'rap’ and 'amazing’ being almost linguistically repellent, this was, true to Astronautilus’ own message (and against all odds), Truly Fucking Amazing. Only at Camp.
 

June 27, 2038.


All photos snapped by Seth Rothery

Middle Aged and Rabid: Guy Sebastian Fan Slags off Flume



“WE’VE GOT PARTY KANGAROO IN THE HOUSE”

- The Stafford Brothers during their performance at the 27th Annual Arias


It’s seems almost redundant for a thirty year old music fiend on a fairly lean diet of popular music to review the ARIAS as an event. It’s clearly not for me. The ARIA Week showcases, by comparison, are in real venues and showcase (as a broad rule) actual talent worthy of excitement and scrutiny. Despite being held in the same city as the ARIAS, they’re a world away, culturally. There was nothing about the 27th Annual ARIAS that bore any similitude to watch people seethe like a cauldron in front of the stage at the Standard to the music of DZ Deathrays. Samantha Jade, wearing as little as possible and shambling through a routine with whoever she managed to scrape off the beaches of the north shore, had nothing in common with the ghostly heartache of Thelma Plum. So like most people, between the vacant banter, a nerves-ravaged red carpet interviewer and a gallery of contenders for ‘Lowest TV Moment Ever’—at the hands of the Samsung Galaxy Gear (an “essential” phone/watch/camera)—I had a fairly ordinary time. So I enlisted someone else to watch with me. Someone who might understand some of the things I clearly wouldn’t. Someone who would greet Guy Sebastian with enthusiasm and upon hearing the title quote would coolly remark “well, they have to provide something for the little kids I suppose”. I enlisted by Mum. Her wisdom is listed chronologically:


ON THE EVENT/PEOPLE:

- “it has to be an ego trip for these people”

- “How did these people get to where they are?”

“It has to be modelled on the American model of ‘look at me, look at me’…”

- “Make a mention of the background, the waffle thing. It’s distracting.”


ON BIRDS OF TOKYO

- “repetitive”

- “monotonous”

- “chanting disguised as popular music”

 “non-musical”


ON THE SINGING LADY IN VANCE JOY’S RIPTIDE CLIP

-          “Is she okay? That’s what ice does to you”


ON VANCE JOY

-          “Is he for real? We’ll never hear from him again. It’s appalling really…”


ON SAMANTHA JADE

- “Yep. I think we’ve got the gist of her.”

 


ON FLUME

-          “Look how he’s holding the award, it’ll stab him through the heart if he keeps bending down to the microphone like that. Then that’s the end of him.”

-          “Phlegm. Cough it up.”

-          “Yeah but pull the plug on him and he’s nothing.”

-           “So he does those sounds with his fingers…and he can keep a beat with his head.”

-          “I feel sorry for those classical players in support of these no-talents. It’d be good money though.”

-          “Bloody hell him again. Celebration of the nerd year”

-          [On Isabella Manfridi in Flume’s Live Performance] “She’s posturing. I like that.”


ON GUY SEBASTIAN

- “He’s talented. He can genuinely play the piano and sing.”

- “He’s alright, Guy.”


ON THE SNIPPET OF SHEPPARD’S ‘LET ME DOWN EASY’ VIDEO

-          “J. J. Richards. They made that video in front of a compost bin.”


ON KATE PECK

-          “She needs a good feed.”


ON BLISS AND ESO’S LIVE SHOW, AFTER THEY DROP THE F-BOMB

-          “Well I got that word but I couldn’t work out anything else they’re saying. Electricity. There, got that one too.”


ON CODY SIMPSON

- “Look its Peter Gabriel.“


ON RICHARD WILKINS

- “They must’ve used a shoe horn to get him into that suit…Jesus. Look at that hair.”


ON AIR SUPPLY’S ‘LOVE AND OTHER BRUISES’ ALBUM COVER

- “They’ve got their Taekwondo outfits on. [Laughs] They’re only white belts.


ON MOLLY MELDRUM

Mum: Now Molly Meldrum…he’s a broken man.

Me: Is he? What do you mean broken?

Mum: Well he fell of a roof. Christmas decorations.


ON ILLY

-          “At least his t-shirt’s clean.”


ON TAME IMPALA

- “These guys look like something out of the 70s”


ON KRAM INEXPLICABLY DEMANDING THE CROWD STAND UP

-          “Oh look, he’s making the crowd levitate. Now that’s power (sarcastic)”


ON LORDE

-          “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 


*Authors Note: Despite wanting to stay out of this, there were two amazing moments during these ARIAS that bear repeating:

- The amazingly shambolic acceptence speeches of Tame Impala, the two best parts of which belong to Jay Watson. The first where he stands side on to the mic with a wary leer, drinking on stage, and says “thanks to everyone who work so hard while we lounge around eating soft cheese” . And the second, after they perform when Kevin’s still barefoot and says: “Kevin’s going to melt it down into liquid silver and make himself a pair of shoes”

- The shamelessly gratuitous red carpet shot of Bonnie Anderson that started on her breast and then reluctantly panned up to her face. Just in case it got too classy. It came in right near the end of proceedings and somehow captured the feeling in the room.  


and his mum for Cool Accidents