SOPHIE HUTCHINGS - BECALMED
Published: The Big Issue #362, August/September 2010.
The title of this thread of delicate piano compositions from Sydney’s Sophie Hutchings seems an underestimation of its powers. Though the eight beautifully spare sketches that comprise Becalmed have a fragility and lightness of touch, they possess a rare emotive candour and breadth.
Indeed, the real strength of Hutchings’ work is its lack of any definitive sense of resolution. Tracks like opening vignette ‘Seventeen’ build from a skeletal series of piano phrases to peak in flurry of shimmering melodics, before dissipating into hushed silence.
Plaintive moments of calm like ‘Sunlight Zone’ bookend more complex, evocative exchanges. The stunning underlay of field recordings and propulsive crescendo of ‘Portrait of Haller’ (featuring older brother and Bluebottle Kiss frontman Jamie Hutchings on percussion) leads into the glacial call-and-response cello and piano of ‘Following Sea’. The beauteous, fragile piano of ‘After Most’ spirals into an ominous squall of textures, guitars and cello drones.
Though sparse, elegant and elegiac, Becalmed – which was recorded in part with home recording guru Tony Dupe – echoes with a loose, almost improvisational sensibility that resists simple definitions or outcomes.
Like the stuff of life itself, this poignant record is one of lingering sentiments and loose ends.
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, September 4, 2010.
WHAT Mari Funaki: Objects
WHERE The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Victoria, Federation Square, city, 8620 2222, ngv.vic.gov.au
Mari Funaki’s works are the unlikely sum of their parts. The late Japanese-Australian artist, who tragically lost her battle with breast cancer in May, possessed a rare ability to transpose even the most austere and angular of materials into highly gestural and organic forms. This collection of recent, sculptural Objects dates from the early 90s until the time of her passing, and charts the jeweller and metalsmith’s shift into the realms of fully-realised sculptural practice. The magic of the 20 small-scale and four large-scale heat-blackened mild steel works lies in their metamorphosis. Indeed, at first glance, the sculptures’ sharp, shard-like limbs and geometric forms assume an eerily mechanical, robotic and architectural guise. But with shifts in proximity and vantage, a very different set of qualities emerges. Tangles of abstract shards become assume figurative gestures; sharp, angled strands become the stoop of a human form. It makes for a striking dichotomy. Funaki’s Objects,in essence, defy their very materiality. They are harsh and softened, angular and ductile, industrial and organic. They are evocative, but ultimately, undefined. Tues to Sun 10am–5pm, until October 24.
WHAT Harriet Parsons: Homeland #1, Kristin McIver: Divine Intervention
WHERE Blindside, Level 7, Room 14, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, city, 9650 0093, blindside.org.au
Each of these fascinating shows at Blindside takes a very different approach to notions of place and landscape. In the front space, Harriet Parsons’ stunning Homeland #1 proposes place as an amalgam of personal and cultural memory. Across 12 works, or “maps”, Parsons uses a hybrid Polynesian/British mapping technique – practiced by Cook and others on the Endeavour following their voyage through the South Pacific – to plot her dreams in intricate arrangements of dried plant stalks, shells and string. But Parsons’ works transcend that of the personal document. Indeed, by plotting her own inner moments via a trans-cultural, pre-colonial mapping system, she bypasses colonialism’s broad white brush, instead casting the Australian landscape as a melange of innumerable individual identities and experiences. In this sense, Homeland #1 essentially attempts to eschew the belief systems informing the Western landscape tradition and its imposition of a European vision on Australia. In the back space, meanwhile, Kristin McIver’s striking installation Divine Intervention seems to place the natural environment at the behest of the bright lights of the consumerist cycle. A dense scattering of palms and other pot plants crowd the centre of the space, a steel frame rising abjectly from their midst. Mounted to the frame is a circular neon sign, the words “life unlimited” throwing a cold, white light throughout the room. The statement is cynical in its context. The materials and artificial light are an alien, somehow violent incursion into the surrounds of the plants. The offer of endless life is nothing more than a seductive marketing slogan in a consumerist world that so shamelessly pillages the natural world. Wed to Sat noon–6pm, until September 11.
WHAT Kate Rohde & Romance Was Born: Renaissance Dinosaur
WHERE Karen Woodbury Gallery, 4 Albert Street, Richmond, 9421 2500, kwgallery.com
There’s nothing too deep or philosophical about Renaissance Dinosaur the gleeful, garish new collaborative exhibition from Melbourne artist Kate Rohde and Sydney fashion duo Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett, known to most as Romance Was Born. But that’s its precise charm. The second chapter in a collaboration that began with the launch of Romance Was Born’s spring/summer range at Australian Fashion Week, the show comprises a series of Rohde’s fluorescent fake fur, paper mache and expanding foam dinosaurs, resin headpieces and breastplates and a collection of astonishing key garments (or “showpieces”) from the Renaissance Dinosaur collection. It’s stunning. Rohde’s adorable T rex and Triceratops are definite highlights, while Romance Was Born’s Kate Rohde tribute body suit and Renaissance garden wallpaper (available by the square metre) are spectacular examples of their incredibly ornate, psychedelic craft aesthetic. Indeed, Renaissance Dinosaur doesn’t offer some kind of conceptual revelation. Rather, it evidences the outlandishly playful, aesthetically thrilling results of an unlikely meeting of the minds. Wed to Sat 11am–5pm, until September 18.
WHAT Caroline Rothwell: Transmutationism
WHERE Tolarno Galleries, Level 4, 104 Exhibition Street, city, 9654 6000, tolarnogalleries.com
There is an elusiveness to Caroline Rothwell’s traversal of the interface between the industrialised and natural world. Her discomforting sculptures of humans, animals and plants are riddled with perceptive and material contradictions. Seemingly defined objects are loosened and untethered, like evolutionary phases gone wrong. The taught, shimmering, balloon-like skin of her Tygers series is in fact the painted outer layer of a solid bronze cast; mutant plant formations are rendered in a slick, oily blackness; glittering, nickel-plated human forms sport misshaped rabbits’ heads. It is here, in this unsightly nowhere place, that Transmutatonism appears to find its crux. Rothwell’s augmentations of humanity and mutations of nature are an allegory for our ultimately fraught attempts coexist. Tues to Fri 10am–5pm, Sat 1pm–5pm, until September 11.
KATE ROHDE & ROMANCE WAS BORN - PREHISTORY PARADES PANACHE
Published: The Age, Arts & Culture, August 23, 2010.
Fake fur and dinosaurs make their presence felt in an unusual collaboration, writes Dan Rule.
To most minds, the cultural footing of the gallery and the fleeting experience of the catwalk couldn’t be further removed.
Chat with Anna Plunkett who, along with creative partner Luke Sales, is Sydney fashion house Romance Was Born, however, and you’ll be left with an entirely different impression.
”We have a few pieces in every collection that we call museum pieces,” says Plunkett, whose collaborative exhibition - with Sales and Melbourne artist Kate Rohde - Renaissance Dinosauropens at Karen Woodbury Gallery on Wednesday night.
”They’re there purely to help us tell a story or translate a mood.”
The duo, notorious for their daringly colourful, extravagantly detailed one-off creations - which have adorned the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Deborah Harry, MIA, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Cate Blanchett among a list of countless others - understand their work to transcend the seasonal whims of the fashion world.
”These pieces aren’t meant to be put into production and, you know, we certainly don’t expect someone to walk around town in them,” says Sales with a laugh.
”We already see them as, well, not necessarily in a gallery context, but definitely not as just hanging on a rack in a shop.”
The Renaissance Dinosaur exhibition features a series of Rohde’s lurid, synthetic fur and paper-mache dinosaurs, Baroque expanding foam cabinets and a swath of Plunkett and Sales’ vivid garments and prints.
It follows the unlikely trio’s collaboration on Romance Was Born’s latest range of the same name, launched as part of Australian Fashion Week in May, in which Rohde created bright dinosaur headpieces in response to the meticulously detailed, Renaissance and Jurassic-influenced garments.
According to Sales, who contacted Rohde on a whim after a trip to Florence, considered by many to be birthplace of the Renaissance, it was a creative match made in heaven. ”We were going to do a dinosaur range already, but then we went to Florence last summer and just loved it so much that we thought it would be cool to do a Renaissance collection too and kind of merge them together,” he explains. ”Kate’s really inspired by the really decorative nature of Renaissance and Baroque periods, so it just seemed like a really good fit.
”Plus, everything she uses is artificial - like fake hair and fake fur and glitter and diamantes - and I love all that, so it was great.”
Indeed, for Rohde - who has exhibited her synthetic taxidermy replicas, Baroque sculptures and odes to museum culture in various galleries in Australia, New Zealand and Britain - the link between the Jurassic and the Renaissance wasn’t nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.
”In a lot of respects it worked really well for me because my work tends to mash up historical art styles and natural history already,” she says.
”I’ve always been interested in the museum and that notion of the museum display being the perfect moment … but I’ve become less and less concerned with that realism and moved more into synthetic weirdness. Just this idea creating crazy patterns and decorations and these specimens that aren’t like a real thing; totally unnatural colours and forms and so on.”
Suffice to say, the process made for a fascinating parlay between art and fashion’s differing creative processes and modes of presentation.
”Luke and Anna would come down to Melbourne for these very sort of informal meetings and would just walk around my studio picking up things and putting them on their heads, putting them on their shoulders and come up with ways things could be worn,” says Rohde. ”Where I’m just always thinking, ‘How will it sit on a wall or in a gallery space?’ ”
Plunkett and Sales have already commissioned Rohde, who has completed residencies in Paris and Tokyo, to collaborate on their winter 2011 range. They echo her sentiments. ”I mean, the whole Renaissance Dinosaur thing was almost a joke at first,” says Sales.
”But when you bring someone else in to collaborate, they can make it real in a different way and you can all end up doing something that you might not have ever really thought about doing.
”Working with someone like Kate, who comes from a different creative world, you just don’t have any idea about what’s going to come out at the end,” he says.
”And I really like that.”
Renaissance Dinosaur opens on Wednesday and runs until September 18 at Karen Woodbury Gallery, 4 Albert Street, Richmond, 9421 2500.
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, August 21, 2010.
WHAT Polly Borland: Smudge
WHERE Murray White Room, Sargood Lane (off Exhibition Street, between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane), city, 9663 3204, murraywhiteroom.com
There’s an alluring polarity to Polly Borland’s portraiture. One of only eight photographers to be invited to photograph the Queen on her Golden Jubilee, the celebrated Melbourne-raised, London-based photographer’s work oscillates between a direct, unabashed intimacy and an unhinged, mildly grotesque performative quality that seems to both defy and accentuate its evocation of subject. This beguiling new series of works seems to take its cues from notions of beauty and sexuality. Across 31 photographs and five tapestry recreations (crafted by prison inmates), Smudge blurs gender delineations as much as it complicates definitions of beauty. Pink protuberances jut from curtains of a glossy wig; stockings cover faces, make-up smeared on the outside. A common motif is that of the synthetic and augmented body. A man sports a flowing, rainbow-coloured wig, balloon-like fake breasts almost bursting through fabric of his top; another sports a skin-coloured muscle vest; golf balls fashion dramatic lumps under a full body stocking. It’s funny, playful and disturbing all at once, as if a reflection on the hilarious absurdity and the tragedy of our quest for beauty at all costs. But Borland’s work isn’t so cut and dry. Indeed, on another plane, Smudge reads like an insight into others’ fantasy selves. Borland’s subjects are malleable, undefined and only limited by imagination. Tues to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–4pm, until September 11.
WHAT Robin Fox: Proof of Concept
WHERE Centre for Contemporary Photography, 404 George Street, Fitzroy, 9417 1549, ccp.org.au
Renowned sound and visual artist Robin Fox’s live Laser Show has become a visceral staple on the Melbourne experimental music circuit. Using digitally synthesised sound and an oscilloscope to power and manipulate a laser, his spectacular performances represent a genuine mergence of the sound and image. Proof of Concept is an apt title for this striking exhibition of still photographs of Fox’s laser in motion. Indeed, this suite of large-scale prints captures a level of complexity, detail and minutiae imperceptible during one of Fox’s break-neck live performances. While there’s certainly an almost scientific fascination to these works, what makes them so effective is their incredible, often beautiful graphic quality. These works bear silent witness to Fox’s thunderous synthesis of sound and vision. Wed to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat to Sun noon–5pm, until September 25.
WHAT Gestures & Procedures
WHERE Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 111 Sturt Street, Southbank, 9697 9999, accaonline.org.au
As its title alludes, Gestures & Procedures hones its focus on recurrent action and effect. Featuring over twenty artists, spanning decades and continents, this extensive show proves a homage to practice; the at times poetic, at times powerful outcomes artists can achieve via simple, sustained actions. There are some definite standouts. Veteran Australian artist Mike Parr’s early 70s endurance works Hold your breath for as long as possible and Hold your finger in a candle flame for as long as possible are gruelling, yet enthralling to witness, while Lucy Gunnings’ incredible 1993 work Climbing Around My Room – which sees the artist gradually scale the circumference of her four bedroom walls without ever touching the floor – becomes a thrilling study of physical and tactical capabilities. Other highlights include a work by Swiss artist Delpine Reist and young Australian artist Beth Arnold’s Discarded Object Poster Project. But perhaps most strangely captivating work is Belgian artist Francis Alys’s documentary Paradox of Praxis 1, in which he pushes a large block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it gradually melts away to a puddle on the footpath. It seems a stunningly poetic allegory for the futile realities of labour. As the film’s title articulates: “Sometimes making something leads to nothing.” Tues to Fri 10am–5pm, Sat to Sun 11am–6pm
WHAT Carla Cescon, Tony Garifalakis, Simon Scheuerle: Bela Lugosi’s Dead
WHERE Death Be Kind, Upstairs at The Alderman, 134 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, 0401 346 520, deathbekind.com
Claire Lambe and Elvis Richardson’s new Brunswick East gallery space Death Be Kind continues its ghoulish induction with this ode to the aesthetics of horror. A reference to the Hungarian actor famous for playing Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi’s Dead sees its three artists playfully tackle various horror archetypes. Tony Garifalakis’s pair of inverted crucifix wall drawings, made with stretched VHS tape of cassettes from The Exorcist series, are a fantastically creepy negotiation of the theme, while Simon Scheuerles little shop of horrors – which includes a life-sized, levitating, god-like figure, a diamante-encrusted ticking time bomb and a collection of severed human ears is a macabre joy. Fri 6pm–8pm, Sat to Sun 2pm–6pm, until August 29.
INTERVIEW - PHIFE DAWG, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Excerpts Published: Music Australia Guide #79, August 2010.
Fronting legendary New York crew A Tribe Called Quest alongside Q-Tip and DJ Ali Shaheed, diminutive rapper Phife Dawg (aka The Five Foot Assassin) is one of hip hop’s most influential figures. On the eve of Tribe’s inaugural Australian tour, he clues in MAG’s Dan Rule on overcoming personal struggles in his mission to immortalise rap’s golden era.
Hey, is that Phife?
This is Dan Rule from Music Australia Guide in Melbourne. How you doing?
“I’m good. Hold on one second, hold on.”
Where are you living right now Phife?
“I’m living back and forth from Atlanta and the Bay Area, California. But right now, I’m in New York.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
It hasn’t really been widely publicised out here, but it seems like you’ve been through hell and back in the last few years, with the kidney transplant and going through dialysis and that whole process. I’d love you to take me through some of those last few years and what sort of brought you through.
“Man, basically my support system. I just took it one day at a time and I pretty much knew I was going to be back; I just had to be patient for once in my life and that’s the road I took, you know, and God and good at the end of the day.”
Sure. I mean, working and doing what you’re doing now, do you feel like you’re a very different man for having been through all that?
“Yeah, definitely. I’m much more humble. Well, I think I was always humble, but I’m much more humble and I learned how to be patient. I think that was my worst quality before the operation; I had no patience for anything. But nowadays I’m a lot more laid back and I kind of let things come to me instead of forcing the issue, you know.”
Talk me through Songs in the Key of Phife in that sense…
“I’m like three songs away from being done with the album. Like you said, it’s called Songs in the Key of Phife, Volume One: Cheryl’s Big Son, Elma’s Grandson. Originally it was just called Cheryl’s Big Son, but just last Wednesday evening I decided to name it Elma’s Grandson as well because that’s my grandmother and she passed away last Wednesday.”
I’m sorry about that man…
“Thankyou. The funeral’s tomorrow so I definitely had to include her because a lot of people have heroes, like Malcolm X – who’s one of my heroes as well – and Magic Johnson and different celebrities of that nature, but my grandmother is definitely one of my heroes bar none, you know what I mean? So I had to involve her one way or the other.”
“So like I said, I’m three songs away from being done and, you know, it’s a record for everybody man. There’s party records, there’s records where you get to evaluate your life and maybe what it should be, things of that nature. I’ve got the, I wouldn’t say ballad, but the little lovey-dove opening, you know, because I am a married man at the end of the day so I understand what it is to be loved and to love in general, you know. All them types of records are on there.”
“I’m definitely more mature than on the last solo album in 2000 or the last Tribe album in 1998, you know, so it’s definitely a grown man’s album, but I’m still definitely a kid at heart.”
I’ve heard you’ve got a whole different bunch of producers on there, even people like Madlib’s little brother Oh No?
“Yeah, I worked with Oh No, he did a track on the album; Ali Shaheed did a track on the album. I have a production company by the name of Riddim Kidz Incorporated and it consists of myself, DJ Rasta Root from out of Atlanta and my man Snack Box and he’s from out of San Jose, California, so Snack did about seven tracks, Rasta Root did about three and I did about two or three. Ill Mind did a track, Oh No did a track… I don’t want to forget anybody… Oh, a guy Bobby Ozuna, he did like two tracks as well.”
“So we had a bunch of fun making the album and in a few weeks we’ll be starting a compilation album because I have a host of artists that I need to put out there to the world.”
I’d heard that you’d been working on straight production for a while, but hadn’t been writing lyrics. What sparked you to begin writing again?
“Good question. Honestly, after taking ill and what have you, I really didn’t want to rhyme anymore. I was thinking about just producing and putting them out, and even after the transplantation took place, I was still in that mind frame where I didn’t want to rap anymore unless it was a Tribe album, you know, and I’ll just put out artists and produce. But then I took a trip to New York and got the bug, pretty much, you know what I mean? My man Khalil out here in New York, he’s our road manager and he’s got a company that is doing a compilation as well and he asked me to do a record for the compilation and I was just like ‘Aiight, play me some beats’ and he played me one beat and I was like ‘Yo, I like that one’. I wrote a verse or two for it and then pretty much just had the bug again.”
“The other person I have to credit to Michael Rapaport, because he kept telling me I needed to do another album as a soloist. He’s directing a documentary on A Tribe Called Quest and while he was filming that we would have different talks about it during breaks and whatever and I just began to think ‘Okay, I should have a little play around with it again’.”
“So it was a combination of going to New York, Michael Rapaport and one of my best friends from St Louis, Missouri telling me, basically, that I had to get back in tune with my music and things of that nature.”
I think one of the reasons people are so excited about seeing Tribe again is that there seems to have been a lull in terms of hip hop lyricism over the last decade. There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening in terms really interesting production crews – like what’s coming out LA at the moment with Flying Lotus, Ras G, Nosaj Thing and all those guys – but we sort of haven’t seen a kind of Native Tongues or Project Blowed or Anti-Pop Consortium rise up in what seems like a long time. Would you agree with that and, I guess, why?
“Honestly, the way I see it, life is a cycle and what comes around goes around. So I think what we represented in the late 80s and early 90s, it’ll come around again. I think you’ll see that kind of hip hop again where the vintage, so to speak, will reign supreme. And not even so much that it’s a competition or like we’re competing with the new school or anything like that, but I don’t think they understand the respect factor that’s supposed to be involved when you’re in this game. I think it’s a fly-by-night thing for them. This industry is so much of a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ type of industry that they overlook the longevity that one would want to have.”
“There’s no more groups like Earth, Wind and Fire, who came out with 200 albums, or The O’Jays or The Supremes or bands of that nature. And I’m not even talking about their brand of music, but their longevity in the game. And being that hip hop is the most fickle of all music – because you can be number one for two months then not heard from for the next 12 – so at the end of the day you have to at least honour your craft, do your best to put out good music and keep it coming. Unfortunately for us, we have to do so much, yet gain so little. It’s not like the NBA where they’re guaranteed their millions, you know. The fans are the reason we eat, so we have to be on top of our game.”
“With these rap kids, it’s hit and miss, you know. It’s here on day, gone tomorrow. And they don’t seem to really care. It’s like ‘Lemme get this quick money and lemme just dash out’ and that’s not really helping the music.”
“It’s reminiscent of college basketball, college basketball being horrible because people want to go straight from high school to the league, although nowadays the rules state that you have to at least do a freshman year in college before you go to the league. But to me, that’s not only messing up the college game, it’s messing up the professional game as well because they’re really not learning how to play, you know what I mean? A lot of people will argue that that’s not true, because a lot of the greatest players in the game right now are Coby Bryant, who came straight from high school, Kevin Garnett came straight from high school, Tracey Mcgrady came straight from high school and the list goes on. But there are only two them walking around, not only with a lot of money, but championship rings.”
“I’m not saying that they don’t know how to play, it’s just the championships begin with the team’s front office and to me the front offices of these teams aren’t making wise decisions. They’re just going for the hype and running with it instead of just sitting there and really doing their homework.”
“Winning is a team effort! The front office has to think for the long haul. Everyone else is just thinking for the moment. This is the same thing with hip hop music, but with the artists. The labels really don’t even care anymore. You can look the label as the NBA front office and you can look at us as the players, and unfortunately in the rap business, the labels do not care anymore. They’re not looking for the next best thing; they’re looking for what they can pee back off of. ‘Oh, so and so went platinum with this style, you need to use that style because we’re trying to make this safe money’. They’re not trying to make good money, they’re trying to make safe money and a lot of it.”
Because they’re desperate…
“Exactly, and that’s what’s messing up the game.”
When you look back to the Golden Era, when you guys came up in New York, do you feel like the social and political contexts have changed shape so much now that the music will be forever different?
“I hope something will come up, but at the same time I kind of think it has passed because nobody want’s to do all of that thinking right now. Nobody wants to be told what to do or what should be done in their records or when they’re listening to music, you know. I think it’s better for hip hop to have balance and options. Okay, you have your select group of MCs who are strictly party, party, party, so when you go to the club you’re going to hear them and when you turn on the radio you’re only going to hear a certain calibre of rapper.”
“But back in the day, what was good about hip hop was… Let’s take the Juice Crew for example, one of the first of many crews, you had Kool G Rap who was like the criminal of the Juice Crew. He was NWA all by himself as far as we were concerned, you know what I’m saying, so he had his own way. Then you had Biz Markie who was like the funny guy of the crew, but he could rap his ass off. But you know, he was out to have a good time, so Biz Mark had his own thing. Then you had Masta Ace who was like the brainiac of the crew. Then you had Big Daddy Kane who was like the battle MC/ladies man. You could look at Big Daddy Kane and know that all the girls were sweating on him, boom-boom-boom-boom-boom, but you didn’t want to test him because you knew what he was capable of when it came to the battle rhyme, the metaphors and everything. So all you could do was respect him. Then Craig G, he was the freestyle fanatic and he would just battle you at the drop of a hat, wasn’t thinking about nothing, just spit off the top of the head, and that’s why he’s one of my favourite MCs because he didn’t need no pen and pad to get across what he needed to get across right then and there on the spur of the moment. That’s a great talent to have. Then Marley Marl, who’s one of the greatest producers of all time, as we know…”
“There’s no crews like that no more. Okay, Wu-Tang, yeah, but they’re also from the Golden Era, you know what I’m saying? There’s no more crews like that anymore. Nobody cares anymore, because as long as you’ve got one or two hits you’ll do alright, get nominated for a Grammy (laughs), you know?”
I’d love to ask what we can expect from the Tribe shows and whether you see what you’re doing at the moment as a sort of back-in-the-day reunion or something that has the potential to grow again. Do you think Tribe has unfinished creative business?
“I do, I do personally. I absolutely do. I don’t know whether it’s going to come to fruition though. That’s the only thing I can’t answer. As far as the show, I have not idea what to expect. But that’s kind of how we perform. We don’t really discuss it too much. We rehearse every once in a while. It’s like, two guys live in Jersey, one lives in Atlanta and I live in California most of the time now, so a lot of the time we don’t even discuss it. We just get onstage and handle our business. A lot of the time, that’s the best way for us. Once that music comes on it’s like 1998 all over again.”
Tribe’s relationship to jazz is one of the key things that we all talk about. This freedom of expression and fluidity that perhaps wasn’t there in a lot of hip hop. What do you think of as Tribe’s legacy in that sense?
“I’ve never really thought about it. That’s something that I want to supporters to define, at the end of the day. I don’t really sit there and think, ‘Well I hope the figure this out about us’ (laughs), ‘I hope our legacy is this or that’. I’m just happy to be wanted by the masses. I personally think that that’s nothing but a blessing because we haven’t done a studio album together since 1998, it’s now 2010, and they’re still wanting us to do shows, they’re still wanting us to do albums and that’s a blessing. I personally think that we need to absorb that and count our blessings every day and embark on that.”
“So we’ll see what happens.”
BEATS with Dan Rule
Published: Music Australia Guide #79, August 2010.
Though clearly a record of the laptop era, there’s a rare, indelibly human quality to LA kid Will Wiesenfeld’s debut under the Baths moniker. Among Cerulean’s sea of instrumental nuances, shoe-gaze textures and atmospheres, wonky beats and rhythmic structures are some of the most pure, heartbreakingly beautiful melodies you’ll hear. Cuts like Maximalist and Animals see swirlings choir of diced vocal fragments shatter into a clouds of static; tracks like Hall and Plea make for swooning, angelic pop ballads of the highest order. This is an undisputedly postmodern work by kid who’s an old romantic at heart. In a word, stunning.
Jimmy Edgar’s hometown is in his blood. The precocious young Detroiter makes music anchored to the pillars of first generation techno, pre-1985 hip hop and bombastic, sexed-up synth funk. That’s not to cast his second longplayer XXX, which follows electric 2006 debut Color Strip, as a purely retrospective affair. Indeed, Edgar’s slick, propulsive synthetics owe just as much to the agile beat structures of IDM and driving groove of contemporary club-based hip hop. It’s a kinetic, tantalising mix. The only issue here is with Edgar’s churlish, sexualised lyrics. Indeed, so obsessed is he with the ‘bedroom arts’ that it almost becomes a heavy-breathing distraction.
Let Em Ave It
Hype can be a voracious beast, and UK hip hop’s latest rapper-du-jour Giggs is well and truly lodged between its jaws. Second solo record Let Em Ave It has been one of the most hotly anticipated joints to come out of the post-grime environment. Unfortunately, that doesn’t defuse its flaws. The main problem is Giggs’ much talked about delivery. While there’s a lot to like about the record’s narrative thread – an at times moving, council estate rags-to-riches tale – Giggs’ deep, husky drawl is void of personality and his lumbering rhyme-schemes tend to deflate even the more engaging of lyrical details. The UK’s answer to Fiddy Cent may well have arrived.
If there’s one thing that The Numbers says about its author, it’s that he is a student of the golden era. Part of an impressive new generation of Sydney MCs, Skryptcha has crafted an uncannily mature debut here. From the unassuming downbeat groove of Jase-produced opener Good Music, this is a record without bluster or hyperbole. Skryptcha lets his agile mic skills and ear for a hook do the talking. For a kid so young, his beat selection – the stabbing funk of M-Phazes and Domingo’s lush, soul-drenched orchestrations included – is impeccable. Forget short attention spans; Skryptcha is here for the long haul.
Move of Ten
Less than six months after 10th longplayer Oversteps melted Autechre’s highly abrasive rhythmic clusters into a melange of dense atmosphere and arcane melodic gesture, the UK’s seminal pair of abstract electronic architects explode back onto the airwaves with a new full-length rippling with muscular beats and rhythmic details. Indeed, Move of Ten is about as beat-focused and even hip hop-like as Sean Booth and Rob Brown have been for some years. But the key to this record is balance. Where stuttering, angular rhythms threaten to dominate, the tonal and melodic qualities that marked Oversteps mould Move of Ten into a shape all of its own.
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, August 28, 2010.
WHAT Immanent Landscape
WHERE West Space, Level 1, 15–19 Anthony Street, city, 9328 8712, westspace.org.au
This stunning new show stretching across all three galleries at West Space, poses landscape not as something defined or immovable. Part of a two-year creative dialogue between a group of Australian and Japanese artists, Immanent Landscape frames place as at once fluid, porous and multidimensional. Nobuaki Onishi and Kiron Robinson, who share the front space, each seem to trawl the outer limits of the notion of place or the object. Robinson’s two, large-scale photographs exist on the peripheries, the points at which one place becomes another. The stronger of the pair sees three, rectangular metal frames foreground a setting of towering trees and mountains. Though their function is unclear, the frames seem relics; a sign of a failed or forgotten attempt to widen the frontier. Onishi’s resin casts, meanwhile, create intricate “doppelgangers” of everyday objects: a twig, a rusting, steel trestle, a light globe, a strip of barbed wire. So realistic is Onishi’s brushwork that we are left all but convinced, only for him to cut his rendering short. At the stem of the twig, or the lower legs of the trestle, the resin is left unpainted and transparent. The object phases from authentic to illusory. There are several other highlights. Hamish Carr (who is also showing at John Buckley Gallery this week) and Ai Sasaki’s wall pieces render landscape as the sum of its innumerable, tiny parts. In both works, an endless series of minute repetitions and gestures multiply to create an overall texture. In the rear gallery, Atsunobu Katagiri’s installation of ikebana, crafted via Australian plants, seems to offer a deft articulation of the show’s crux. By imbuing materials from the Australian landscape with Japanese cultural tradition, he shows the permeability of each. Wed to Fri noon–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until September 4.
WHERE Neon Parc, Level 1, 53 Bourke Street, city, 9663 0911, neonparc.com.au
There’s something playfully insidious about the works that inhabit Tapeworm, this new group show from Melbourne artist Rob McLeish, London’s Luke Rudolf and New York-based Brazilian artist Eli Sudbrack (aka assume vivid astro focus). Each of the three artists gnaws at the edges of their chosen form, genre or subject. Rudolf’s work is particularly engaging. His two paintings see thick, loose, seemingly abstract smears of oil plastered across geometric acrylic shards and flat, fluorescent backdrops. But not all is quite as it seems. The fact that Rudolf considers the works portraits offers an entirely different vantage. Vague figuration emerges; foundational shapes become heads and shoulders; free gestures become a mess of lurid facial features. McLeish’s installation of smeared, scrunched and otherwise defiled Julie Andrews posters, toilet plungers and a weapon-like, tar-covered bell clapper sculpture is melange of crazed humour and implied violence. Sudbrack’s series of blacked-out, manipulated and redrawn nudie posters and “assume vivid astro focus” anagrams, meanwhile, recast soft-porn archetypes to assume a half-hilarious, half-grotesque concoction of psychedelic aesthetics and cultural mutations. As with the rest of Tapeworm, Sudbrack’s works leech off resources, styles and references to created something toxically new. Wed to Sat noon–6pm, until September 4.
WHAT Lost in Painting
WHERE Dianne Tanzer Gallery, 108–110 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 9416 3956, diannetanzergallery.net.au
There are several interesting negotiations of materials and form amongst this diverse compile of contemporary Australian painting, curated by Nellie Castan Gallery’s Olivia Poloni and Dianne Tanzer Gallery’s Gillian Brown. Amid solid works by Chris Bond, Craig Easton and Megan Walch, Giles Alexander’s paintings obscure and cloud their highly intricate oil-on-canvas details with swathes of opaque resin, while Louise Paramor’s fluid, abstract oil-on-glass paintings ripple with almost cellular textures and details. Kate Shaw’s arcane acrylic landscapes, meanwhile, continue her engagement with the lurid, polluted world. Perhaps the cheekiest take on “painting” here is by photographer Drew Pettifer, whose trio of photographic portrait feature naked young men “slimed” by paint. Tues to Fri 10am–5pm, Sat noon–5pm, until September 21.
WHAT Zofia Nowicka: Framing the spectacle
WHERE John Buckley Gallery, 1 Albert Street, Richmond, 9428 8554, johnbuckleygallery.com
Young Melbourne artist Zofia Nowicka’s large-scale, gloss-coated digital photographic prints effectively reverse the gaze. Shot at a recent Leonard Cohen concert, Framing the spectacle sees Nowickia turn her lens not on the stage, but on various subsections of the audience. Her view is both macro and micro, collective and intimately personal. In several of the works, we witness segments of the crowd as a whole, transfixed in a state of near-meditation. Others capture various individual reactions: a young woman joyously applauding, as if a child; an older woman, seemingly in deep reflection; a handsome busboy dashing by; the grainy shadow of Cohen himself, a mere member of the throng. Indeed, Cohen’s image seems to elucidate just what Nowicka is getting at here. No matter the reason for the gathering, the real spectacle is the experience of hundreds, if not thousands of people in the one place at the one time. Wed to Sat 11am–5pm, until September 11.
THIS WEEK IN ART - POLLY BORLAND: SMUDGE
Published: Broadsheet, August 18, 2010.
Celebrated photographer Polly Borland’s new body of work at Murray White Room oscillates between intimacy and warped theatricality. By Dan Rule.
There’s an unyielding ambiguity to the beautifully economical series of photographs that comprise legendary Melbourne-raised photographer Polly Borland’s Smudge. Her purely performative, anonymous portraits seem in a rare state of flux; her subjects drift between genders, between public and private states, between fantasy and reality.
“It’s sort of about this idea of revealing and hiding at the same time,” says Borland, who was born in Melbourne in 1958 and left for UK in the mid 80s, where she has since been recognised as one of the international art world’s leading portrait photographers.
“The pictures are kind of childlike, but there’s something very sinister and seedy about them as well,” she continues. “There’s that real sexual tension in a lot of them that is very un-childlike.”
The faces of Smudge’s small clutch of subjects – the “teenage surfy boy” and the “weird, fucked-up rag doll” – are obscured from view via garish wigs, mutant hair growths, phallic protrusions and stretched stockings smeared with lipstick and blush. A “Denis the Menace type kid” wears a fake muscle-vest; a “clown-y but kind of voodoo-y” man sports a flowing, technicolour wig, giant fake breasts bursting from under his shirt.
“Someone came up to me at the start of the show and said ‘They’re very disturbing, but they’re actually very funny too’,” says Borland, who was one of only eight international photographers invited to photograph the Queen on her Golden Jubilee and whose folio includes portraits of old friend Nick Cave, Michael Hutchence, Cate Blanchett, Kylie Minogue, Gordon Brown, Silvio Berlusconi and Germaine Greer among countless others. “I think he really got it. There is this sense of humour as well as that strange sense of privacy.”
Indeed, by completely concealing her models’ identity via costume and directed performance – a first for Borland – she allows for a very different kind of inquisition. “It’s really about me messing with what’s in front of the camera,” she says. “Because of that anonymity, I’m able to just play and have the model completely give themselves over. It’s almost like I’m photographing people doing things that they would only ever do in private.”
Polly Borland’s Smudge runs until September 11 at Murray White Room.
PVT - ‘CHURCH WITH NO MAGIC’
Published: The Big Issue #361, August 2010.
Church With No Magic
PVT are a band with an extraordinary sense of focus. The Sydney and Perth-raised trio’s career – which has survived numerous line-up shifts and a recent name change from Pivot, following a legal challenge from a US band of the same name – has been marked by the unswerving refinement and synthesis of ideas.
New album Church With No Magic is the realisation of a long line of gestures, interests, direction and experiments. It is the Pivot sound, only condensed, reduced and honed.
Indeed, where 2005 debut Make Me Love You partook in an agile expansion of postrock and jazz, and 2008 follow-up O Soundtrack My Heart stripped their aesthetic down to a kind of a punchy, loose take on electronica and krautrock, Church With No Magic rids whole chunks of the PVT sound; namely guitars. It’s an exhilarating, electrifying shift.
Buzzing swarms of synths and arcing, reverb-laced vocals (courtesy of Richard Pike) dominate; tracks are economised to key tonal and melodic elements and layers. Laurence Pike’s hammering drums ring out like gunshots; Dave Miller’s electronic negotiations fracture and reconstruct melodies and rhythmic structures at whim.
The loss of PVT’s vowels has come with the cutting of dead wood.
FABLE OF THE LABEL - XL RECORDINGS
Published: Music Australia Guide #79, August 2010.
Fable of the Label profiles iconic labels past and present. This month, XL Recordings’ Richard Russell tells MAG about unwavering self-belief. By Dan Rule.
There’s always been a fluid, transient sensibility to XL Recordings. “I don’t think about music in terms of underground or mainstream or genre or anything, and I never have done,” says label founder and acclaimed producer Richard Russell.
Joining the dots amid the independent London label’s divergent catalogue offers few clues at first. The Prodigy and Basement Jaxx precede The White Stripes, Badly Drawn Boy, Peaches, M.I.A. and Dizzee Rascal; Gil Scott-Heron, Thom Yorke and Radiohead share space with chart-topping soul popstress Adele, Ratatatat and Vampire Weekend; stylistic threads and lineages veer off at right angles.
According to Russell, there’s rhyme and reason to the apparent melange. “All I think about the individual,” he says. “Success comes in all different forms and I’ve never wanted to be confined to these notions of success being about critical praise or success being about selling all these records. It doesn’t matter. Success is achieving whatever it is you set out to do, and if you work with diverse people, they’ve got diverse aims.”
It’s an idea that can be traced throughout XL’s history. Rising out of the late 80s rave and acid house scene, the label opened its doors in 1989 with Russell and co-founders Nick Halkes – with whom Russell shared UK chart success as DJ duo Kicks Like a Mule – and Tim Palmer steering the imprint through groundbreaking European techno such as T99 and hardcore rave and drum’n’bass like SL2, Jonny L, plus early releases from label mainstays The Prodigy.
But with Halkes and Palmer parting with XL in the mid-90s, Russell broadened his horizons. “A lot of those early XL releases were really just about 12” single,” he says. “They weren’t about an album or about a career or about a tour.”
“But having said that, the best of those records were the ones that Liam (Howlett, of The Prodigy) made, because he was interested in turning it into something more than that and taking it somewhere else. We spread his wings musically and pushed beyond that electronic scene and that’s what I tried to do with XL.”
“The basic premise was to make it a really, really great platform for people to do exciting things.”
It’s difficult, even for Russell, to pinpoint XL’s signpost releases. While each of the early Prodigy releases chalk votes, he also sees The White Stripes’ self-titled debut, Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in Da Corner, Thom Yorke’s Eraser Head and Radiohead’s In Rainbows – which XL famously authorised to be released online for free ahead of the record’s physical release date – as clear standouts.
M.I.A.’s singular 2005 debut Arular, however, holds something of a special place in XL’s catalogue. “She was someone who really turned up at XL and was like ‘I’ve got something that I want to do’ and I believed her,” he says.
“Someone like Maya can do anything she wants to do. It’s a certain type of personality that can do that and doesn’t really care about what we are told we should be doing.”
And when it comes down to it, that’s where XL finds its grounding. “ “It’s sort of about fantasy, in a way,” he says. “It’s about not listening to others and just following your dreams.”
“The label, where it is now, was a fantasy for me; going into the studio to make a record with Gil Scott-Heron was a fantasy,” he pauses. “Having dreams is the most important thing in any creative pursuit.”