INTERVIEW - THE NATIONAL
Excerpts Published: Music Australia Guide #77, June 2010.
The National’s High Violet was made in Brooklyn, New York, by two sets of brothers and a lead singer, in a garage converted from 100-year-old stables. Aaron Dessner tells Dan Rule about life in The National.
To my ears, the arrangements on this record, while substantial, are kind of reigned in a little…
“To me the record is more cathartic and I think, musically, there are more rough edges and I think, release in this record than there is on Boxer, because a lot of Boxer is kind of very subtle and restrained and meditative. I mean, there are a few rock songs on Boxer, but for the most part it’s very restrained, whereas this record, even from the very first song, there are these very distorted, rough freak-outs.”
“I know what you mean, but we have this habit of building a lot of tension in our songs – like suspense that holds you there for a while and keeps you on the hook – and that’s something we’ve been doing for a while. But I guess we do a lot of it on this record. It’s almost religious or something, like you have to really stay with us. We don’t have a lot of changes in songs and Matt definitely doesn’t really follow that very easily. Like, if you write this music that has all these different parts, Matt won’t write to that because it’s not what he likes and it would be hard to follow. What he’s looking for is one kernel of emotion, and that one kernel of emotion is usually found in the something more repetitive.”
With the orchestration on tracks like Little Faith, you kind of shackle the string section so it never flies off or flourishes in the usual way…
“I think we use orchestration in a very integral way. A lot of times in rock music or in popular music in general, orchestration is used as icing, to make things prettier or kind of like more melodic or something. But for us, it’s much more about texture and colour and this much more kind of integral thing of using it as backdrop, like a watercolour of the horizon or something, or it’s used to subvert the harmony in some way or play a kind of foundational role.”
“So I think it’s a combination of texture and subverting the kind of harmony. Like, you’ll hear a few moments where things get turned on their head in the orchestration. It’s also about creating this kind of thick weave of accidental harmonies and intentional ones. There’s a blurriness to it all that I find really beautiful. It might be hard to penetrate for some people, but once you do penetrate it then you’re there.”
“It’s a more evolved harmonic world than Boxer, for instance, is a little more elegant. This world is a little more rough and textural. But I really do feel that this record is the sound of a band that has its wits about it; it’s a confident sound to me and a very intentional sound. Any of the tug of war you hear between epic and garage – because it runs the gamut of really rough, raw things, all the way to these really grand, orchestral, epic moments – and that was intentional. We wanted to create a really bold, grand record, but also, we really wanted to make a garage record, and literally, we recorded it in my garage. So it’s a weird mixture.”
Did you also record with Peter Katis, as well as in your garage?
“The whole record was recorded in my garage, but we mixed the record at Peter’s. We spent almost a year working at home in my garage. We’ve got a nice studio in my garage, but it’s still a garage (laughs). I own a Victorian house from the turn of the century in Brooklyn and behind all the houses in the neighbourhood, they used to have stables and at some point they were all converted to garages and that’s what I have.”
“It’s not big, but it’s big enough and did all the work there. It really allowed us to experiment more and sort of predetermine the sound a little bit more. It was also a good experience working at home and engineering some of it ourselves – although we also did that on Alligator and Boxer – but then we brought it into Peter Katis’s studio and he mixed it.”
“We spent nine weeks there, so there was quite a bit of re-recording and playing with things. It was mainly two songs – Lemonworld and Bloodbuzz Ohio – that we really worked on. Most of everything else was done in the garage.”
“It’s always an intense process for us to finish something. It’s really difficult for us, actually, just to decide that something is done. Matt really doesn’t commit to the lyrics until the very end, which makes for a very tense environment (laughs).”
I talked to Matt when Boxer came out and I was quite surprised to hear that you guys go through this extended process of putting the songs together and then he starts work on the lyrics afterwards, which will then re-inform the songs.
I don’t know if too many bands could handle that kind of labour. What kind of holds you together and holds your focus through that whole process? Is it a familial thing?
“I think it’s very important and has a lot to do with how we play music. Like, my brother and I have the ability to play very intuitively and finish each other’s thoughts in a way and mirror each other with guitars and you know, play these interlocking roles. We’re sort of born to collaborate together, basically, and I think it’s similar for Scott and Bryan – they’re very close – and the band kind of balances out really well around Matt.”
“There aren’t a lot of ego issues, even though Matt is a strong personality. He doesn’t play any instruments, but he has big opinions about music and there could be more butting of heads if we didn’t have this weird family dynamic where we all manage to laugh about it a lot, almost like it’s embarrassing that we’re even in a band.”
“We take it seriously and we love what we do, and we want to make compelling music and we want it to feel purposeful, but at the same time we’re kind of cynical about rock stardom and that kind of thing. We don’t have any assholes in the band really. We’re nice to each other generally. Obviously people get tired and there’s creative friction, but I think the family roots and all of our roots in Ohio have a lot to do with our personality as a band, in that sense of the laid back, Midwestern sensibility. That helps the band in a big way, because being in a band there can be a lot of pressure and hype and spin, and if you don’t take that in your stride and have a sense of humour about it, I think that can eat you up.”
“We laugh about every single little thing. We’re constantly making fun of our songs and ourselves and that’s a really positive thing.”
While Matt gives a lot of feedback in terms of the band’s musical direction, do you guys give him much feedback on his lyrics?
“I think we do give him feedback, especially when we think that things aren’t working. He often over thinks things and keeps wanting to change lyrics that he’s already written and start again, and sometimes he feels that he really needs to do it and there’s nothing you can do about it. But there are times when he’s just over thinking it or he’s kind of sick of himself, you know, and then we’ll step in.”
A theme of breaking free or escaping the city or something seems to resonate throughout the record. I’m not that inside the lyrics yet, to be honest…
“I think there is a nostalgia for the past and for Ohio and there is this feeling of leaving New York. I don’t think it’s so much about moving away from New York, but the feeling that people are moving around the country; one character is in LA and another one is in London and then they see each other; or there’s this feeling of going to Ohio and that your blood is in Ohio and worrying about your families and worrying about the state of things.”
“It’s a more panoramic perspective; it’s more communal; it’s less of a confessional man; it’s more voices singing, more often. I think it’s more about all of us than just about Matt.”
High Violet is out on Remote Control/Inertia
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, May 29, 2010.
WHAT Kiron Robinson: If I take the time will I get it back?
WHERE Sarah Scout, Level 1, 1A Crossley Street, city, 9654 4429, sarahscoutpresents.com
Kiron Robinson translates landscape and location into something pressurised, somehow suffocating and inescapable. Across three large-scale photographs and one text work, his concise new show at Sarah Scout If I take the time will I get it back? casts what might be interpreted as an atmospheric beauty as a carrier of oppressive psychological weight. A mist-heavy sky bears down on a handsome, turn-of-the century farmhouse in the stunning All the numbers in the universe. Spectacular trees take on a towering, ominous quality; the sheer uniformity of the composition assumes an almost solemn obstinacy. There are no people, no animals and no movement; as if all has been expunged but the locale. On the adjoining wall, film flares and drip stains scar a pair of opaque, fog-drenched landscapes, literally erasing portions of the images – burning away memory – in front of our eyes. The text work is of particular importance. Like the photographs, the seemingly supple, balloon-like letters “Don’t Forget Me” are simultaneously weightless and weighty. Indeed, on closer inspection, the inflated forms are in fact solid plaster casts. It’s this interplay that – so subtly, so poetically – informs Robinson’s work. A simple, throwaway line may be the last that two people share. Strong, beautiful memories and connections may fade with time. Robinson’s work isn’t just a reflection on the tenuousness of our time here, but the fear of being forgotten and erased once gone. Thurs to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until June 12.
WHAT Alasdair Mcluckie: Fields of Ecstasy
WHERE Murray White Room, Sargood Lane (off Exhibition Street, between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane), city, 9663 3204, murraywhiteroom.com
Young Melbourne artist Alasdair Mcluckie continues his fascination with ritualistic and folk-art inspired work with his elegant, tactile new show at Murray White Room. Comprising 10 compact, woven glass seed bead on chenille works, Fields of Ecstasy forges a fascinating dialogue between loose, organic materiality and striking, graphic qualities. Effectively, each of the works is the same design: a panel criss-crossed by the same snaking pattern with a mask-like, totemic face marking either end. The differences lay in the colour combinations. Rhe works alternate between multi-coloured patterns on single background colours and vice versa. Other irregularities reveal themselves in the stretching and attachment of beaded panels on the chenille. Despite their almost geometrical nature, the panels are never perfectly aligned due to their materiality. Mcluckie’s inspiration for the works comes from an interest in rituals of ancient harvest festivals and the worship of harvest deities. The 10 works look at monthly processes (with the three months of Autumn condensed into one process) vital to the cycle of a successful yearly harvest. But the works are resonant with or without this prior knowledge. Fields of Ecstasy is a study in finding means to an end. By using the same colour palette and the same pattern parameters, Mcluckie finds completion via incessant combination, repetition and perpetuation. Though striking on their own, his ritualistic motifs find their real power in numbers. Tues to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–4pm, until June 19.
WHAT Jeremy Blincoe: Wander and Wonder
WHERE Lindberg Galleries, Level 2, 289 Flinders Lane, 0403 066 775, lindbergcontemporary.com,.au
The title of New Zealand-born artist Jeremy Blincoe’s opulent new series of photographs is an apt analogy for the tension that rests at their core. Highly staged and orchestrated, Wander and Wonder captures a friction between innocence and ominousness, childlike wonderment and something more sinister. Capturing lone child subjects exploring dramatic Victorian landscapes – Hanging Rock, Kinglike, Lake Eppalock, Wilsons Prom and Trentham Falls included – Blincoe’s photographs use a combination of studio and natural lighting to give the works am augmented, hyper-real quality. Objects glow dramatically; shadows are cast in various directions. It’s spooky, beautiful and fantastical all at once. But despite the exaggerated atmosphere and vastness of the environs, the child protagonists seem blithely at play. They express an unease only when when they make eye-contact with the lens, and in effect, the viewer. It is as if we have interrupted, broken the narrative of the fantastical scene. Left be, childhood exploration, perception and imagination is wondrous thing and Blincoe takes us there. The ominousness that we sense in these works is one that we impose as adults. For children, the landscape – huge, colourful and dramatic – is just a backdrop for the wilds of the mind. Tues to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until June 3.
WHAT Mercy Street
WHERE Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, 200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 9419 3406, gertrude.org.au
Running as part of the Next Wave Festival, and alongside David Beaumont’s equally hilarious and disturbing Oh Susannah Those Sleazy Elders, this dynamic group show sees artists taking very different approaches to broaching personal, emotional understandings of ethics and mercy and how they relate to official notions of justice. CJ Conway’s stunning kinetic installation The World is Bound by Secret Knots is a definite highlight. It sees a glass table rest stacks of academic texts, borrowed from the artist’s university library. A scattering of magnetic spheres pepper its surface, while further magnets, suspended from the ceiling via string, sway continual, erratic motion, seemingly charting a fluid interpretation around the foundation of formal, rigid texts. Kaori Kato’s striking origami sculptures, meanwhile, assume both a remarkably unyielding and delicate form, with tiny, fragile individual pieces forming a solid form. A further standout is Nick Waddell’s brilliant series of “shrines to inadequacy”, in which motifs of religious and cultural devotion are snidely trivialised. Tues to Fri 11am–5:30pm, Sat 11am–4:30pm, until June 12.
FLYING LOTUS - ‘COSMOGRAMMA’
Published: The Big Issue #355, May/June 2010.
Much of the hyperbole surrounding Steve Ellison’s meteoric rise from the LA underground has seen the abstract beat conductor, aka Flying Lotus, framed as some kind of alien futurist.
It’s understandable. Spending time with his remarkable third album Cosmogramma is unlike most musical experiences out there. But perhaps what makes Ellison’s negotiations of arcane hip hop, chaotic computer noise, subterranean sub-bass and swooping, soft-lens orchestration so thoroughly engaging is their unlikely, nonetheless tangible lineage to black music’s past.
Indeed, where 1983 (2006) and the much-lauded Los Angeles (2008) saw Ellison –nephew of avant jazz legend Alice Coltrane and grandson of Motown songwriter and producer Marilyn McLeod – recast fluid grooves and glitch-strewn sonic data into a kind of tectonic future hip hop, Cosmogramma mines his family heritage to craft a microchip-heavy, contemporised take on free jazz.
It’s a tumultuous and thoroughly rewarding ride. Cousin Ravi Coltrane contributes some wonderful flourishes of tenor saxophone, while harpist Rebekah Raff, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and mind-bending bass virtuoso Steve ‘Thundercat’ Bruner (of Sa-Ra Creative Partners) add their own flashes of flavour.
But Ellison is the star here. This is a rare and redefining record. The future and past have never sounded so bizarre, so beautiful and so damn good.
ACRASSICAUDA - ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD
Published: The Big Issue #355, May/June 2010.
Over the past decade, Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda went to hell and back for their music. But, while their prospects have improved since seeking asylum in the US, the band now face new challenges.
Marwan Hussein Riyadh is relieved. A decade since his he and his band of best friends played their first underground show in their former Baghdad neighbourhood, Acrassicauda finally have a record to call their own.
“It’s sweet, man!” he urges, speaking on the phone from the band’s adopted home of Brooklyn. “It feels much better knowing that people will now get to judge us for the music rather than the story.”
“It’s just overwhelming that people are enjoying it, because you know, this is who we are: we’re musicians. Being refugees is just an unfortunate part in our lives that we hope to break through one day.”
A four-track EP though it may be, the squall of detuned guitars, cavernous drums and growling vocal attack that characterises Only the Dead See the End of the War charts an experience of war, rupture, upheaval and as the 25-year-old drummer happily points out, a steadfast commitment to the metal cause.
“A lot of people get to do a lot of stuff, but really, there’s one thing meant for each person,” he says. “We were suppressed by a culture, but we knew who were and we stuck to it.”
Indeed, the Acrassicauda (the Latin name for a species of black scorpion common to the deserts of Iraq) story is almost mythical in scope. Forming in Baghdad during 2001 after meeting at university, the group (Riyadh, vocalist Faisal Tala Mustafa, guitarist Tony Aziz Yaqoo and bassist Firas Al-Lateef) have been widely credited as one the first Iraqi metal bands. Journalists and translators by day, they played underground, basement gigs and shared contraband Slayer and Metallica tapes by nightfall, becoming facilitators of the diminutive, nonetheless active Iraqi metal scene.
“Even in a third-world country, there are these micro communities,” says Riyadh. “It was the same with metal. We could be passing each other in the street and we would just recognise each other straight away, you know? The hair, the t-shirt, you know.”
“You could see a hundred or even a thousand people walking down the market bazaar in the alleys of Baghdad and then you just see that one dude with the big goatee and a Black Sabbath shirt and it was just like, ‘Ah, that’s one of us’.”
That’s not to suggest things were easy. Performing under the Ba’ath Party’s rigid censorship regime proved a trial in itself, with the band being forced to perform songs with pro-Saddam lyrics. Access to music, on the other hand, required careful planning. “It was extremely, extremely hard to get your hands on stuff, but metal heads need to feed,” says Riyadh with a laugh. “It usually came from someone who had travelled outside and smuggled back a couple of cassettes, or somebody got their relatives to send them some CDs or tapes hidden in other packages.”
“Other times, a couple of metal guys would infiltrate a radio station and once every twenty songs or something, play ‘Roots, Bloody Roots’ but Sepultura or something,” he laughs again. “It was like ‘Am I hearing right?’.”
When American forces invaded Baghdad in March, 2003, however, the band’s prospects dived further, with the city and their lives thrown into chaos. Mounting violence, constant power outages and the destruction of city infrastructure made rehearsing, let alone performing, a near impossible proposition. They continued on regardless. “There is always that kind of survival instinct,” says Riyadh. “If they closed this loophole then we would find another one, another way to keep the band going.”
It was only after a bomb blast tore through their rehearsal space and Saddam-loyalists made threats on their lives that the quartet fled across the border to Syria in 2006. After US publisher Vice released a documentary on the band in 2007, they were granted asylum status in the United States and made the move to Brooklyn in 2008, where they could finally set about tracking Only the Dead See the End of the War.
Recorded under the watchful eye and ear of legendary Testament lead guitarist Alex Skolnick, the results speak for themselves. A storm of roaring guitars writhe amid chugging tempo shifts on tracks like ‘Massacre’, where ‘Garden of Stones’ sees the band feed traditional Arabic percussion and vocalisation into searing thrash metal. Perhaps the most powerful track, however, is the record’s towering closer ‘The Unknown’, which explores themes of discrimination and otherness in a unfamiliar land. Unsurprisingly, it was the one song on the EP written in the States.
“The fact that we were so young when we left Iraq – like, I was only 21 – and just arriving in America only about a year later, I can’t even begin to explain how overwhelming the psychology and the mental struggle is,” explains Riyadh.
“‘The Unknown’ was really that, you know, about the psychological aspects of being a foreigner. The fear of the unknown; not knowing what to do; not knowing where to belong; being stuck between two cultures.”
That said, acclimatising to New York City’s frantic lifestyle isn’t such a challenge when there’s the reward of unhindered rehearsal at day’s end. “That’s one great thing about the music,” urges Riyadh. “It actually stops time. As much as you work on the music, the music will give you back.”
For Acrassicauda, it’s a mantra that’s finally beginning to ring true. “A lot of people over the years thought we were going to give up, but we didn’t,” offers Riyadh proudly.
“We believed that one day the music would give back. It’s not quite happening yet,” he laughs. “But it’s a start.”
by Dan Rule
Only the Dead See the End of the War is out now through Vice/Inertia
BEATS with Dan Rule
Published: Music Australia Guide #76, May 2010.
Venturing to describe what goes down during Cosmogramma – the extraordinary third album record from young Los Angeles producer Flying Lotus – is a challenge in itself. Resonances of hip hop, IDM and brutal, sub-bass dubstep are loosened, fragmented and liquefied; mazes of stuttering rhythmic and melodic intricacies melt into buttery soul and tangential free jazz. Lotus’s cousin Ravi Coltrane chimes in on saxophone; harpist Rebekah Raff adds rare orchestral flourish; Sa-Ra prodigy Thundercat defies physics on bass; Thom Yorke’s wraithlike vocal tranquilly ebbs and flows. It’s remarkable. This is cosmic future noise with a divine ear for black music’s rich and varied past.
Canadia’s Dan Snaith has explored countless musical terrains over his decade-long career. Where his early outings as Manitoba ventured into minimalist folktronica, his work has as Caribou has explored an increasingly vibrant strain of pop-psychedelia. Fifth album Swim shifts course almost completely, with Snaith ushering his once bountiful vistas into intricate, precisely phrased, melancholic dance music. Suffice to say, he pulls it off remarkably. The beauty is in the tonal detail here, with Snaith fashioning stunningly realised, hazily emotive songs into understated techno and house arrangements. Meek, Arthur Russell-like vocals and all, Swim shows just what dance music is capable of in the right hands.
New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
America’s queen of neo-soul Erykah Badu loosens the reigns a little on the second instalment of her New Amerykah series. Following 2008’s brilliantly tense, outwardly challenging and socially engaged 4th World War, Return of the Ankh is like a cool summer’s breeze. This is all about arrangement and groove, melody and resonance. The pared back hook and lilting vocal of lead single Window Seat make for one of Badu’s most gorgeous moments since 1997’s Baduism. Cuts like the Dilla-produced Umm Hmm and the lush, supple boom bap and of Fall in Love, meanwhile, are reminders of Badu’s sexy, sophisticated mastery of the art.
Wu-Massacre is the latest in a string of recent Clan related recordings and projects. Coming off the back of Rae’s masterful Cuban Linx sequel, this no-filler affair makes for something of rarity in a hip hop game: a tight, razor-sharp record comprising a mere 12 joints. That said, there’s plenty of gold here, with arguably the Wu’s most charismatic trio of MCs clearly enjoying each other’s company over a suite of maximal, brass-stabbed cuts from Mathematics, Digem, BT and RZA. While it all feels a little rushed and unpolished, Wu-Massacre’s rawness is almost part of its appeal. Playful, gritty, at times even hilarious, it shows three eminent rappers spitting verses straight off the cuff.
Canadian rapper, vocalist and producer K-OS is a cultural pillager in the truest sense of the term. The Toronto and Trinidad-raised artist’s vibrant new record Yes! bubbles and boils in a sea of recognisable genres, lyrical reference, samples and appropriations, never hanging around too long to become full-blown pastiche. It’s a fascination approach, which sees him visit rolling southern rap on tracks like Zambony, jangling pop on Burning Bridges, plus various golden era and rap-rock mash-ups. Such unyielding genre flipping does leave Yes! feeling a little disorientated at times, but K-OS’s curious vision and engaging voice remain strong enough to hold this disparate bunch of tunes together.
AROUND THE GALLERIES Dan Rule
Published: The Age, A2, May 22, 2010.
WHAT Points of View
WHERE Tolarno Galleries, Level 4, 104 Exhibition Street, city, 9654 6000, tolarnogalleries.com
There is little in the way of clear curatorial brief that binds the six young artists that comprise Points of View, but this expansive new groups show at Tolarno proves nonetheless dynamic. While the push seems to be for Brendan Huntley, whose charmingly arcane, neo-totemic sculptures and drawings are afforded their own semi-enclosed space in the gallery, but the standouts are elsewhere. New Zealand-born artist Jake Walker’s small-scale, re-imagined landscapes are quietly enthralling. Using a relatively muted colour palette, he weaves wraithlike human forms, faces and abstractions into vast, at times imposing mountainsides, valleys and riverbanks. It seems an ode to memory – to the imprint of the land – the inseparability of psychology and place. The other highlight is Melbourne artist Riley Payne’s new collection of astonishingly rendered graphite works. Following an equally impressive exhibition at TCB in early March, Payne’s meticulous works pair close-cropped botanical studies with dry, smirking phraseology, leaving the viewer in an odd middle ground. A field of mushrooms is emblazoned with the words “super mario brs.”; a sunflower reads, “let’s all get totally nuclear”. It’s beautiful, abject and hilarious all at once. Elsewhere, Dan Moynihan’s “post-cinema” seating arrangement dominates the centre of the space, while Connor O’Brien’s series of small and large-scale photographs are interestingly installed, but not necessarily all that interesting. Tues to Fri 10am–5pm, Sat 1pm–5pm, until June 26.
WHAT Owen Leong: Birthmark
WHERE Anna Pappas Gallery, 2–4 Carlton Street, Prahran, 8598 9915, annapappasgallery.com
Owen Leong’s digitally altered photo works float in a kind of post-cultural either. Uniformly staged, composed and lit, this set of 12 portraits of Asian Australians seems an astute and poetic meditation on an ugly, backward, but in some cases, still existent typecast. Leong’s subjects are young, beautiful, sensuous and of different gender and heritage and ilk. Their eyes, however, are blackened uniformly, their faced masked by the ornate wing patterns of the migratory Bogong Moth. On first pass, the allegory seems clear enough. Leong’s works show individuals tarred by the same brush – the Bogong, the pest – their uniqueness quashed and blackened out. But there’s something transcendent about Leong’s works that makes them anything but morbid and one-dimensional. An added complication is a number of his subjects’ slight androgyny. Indeed, difference and distinctiveness shines through at almost every vantage: bone structure, a scar, a piercing, a hairstyle, the hint of a gesture. Human qualities. In Australia, the Bogong may have been cast as a pest – migrating in hoards, reproducing at will – but despite attempts to homogenise, Leong’s moth-people cannot be defined so easily. If one studies without prejudice, each and every set of Bogong wings possesses the most inimitable of patterns and characteristics. Leong – quietly, gracefully and beautifully – acknowledges the fact. Tues to Fri 10am–6pm, Sat noon–6pm, until June 5.
WHAT Misha Hollenbach: Forewards
WHERE Utopian Slumps, 33 Guildford Lane, city, 9077 9918, utopianslumps.com
Misha Hollenbach’s happily wonky works seem an ode to pop cultural happenstance. The found photographs, pixelated digital prints, collages and neo-grotesque sculptures that comprise his latest show at Utopian Slumps’ new city space channel a kind of oddly exploratory spirit. A drunk asleep in his chair, an upturned image of a hand entering a rubber glove, a beautiful man with his mouth agape and eyes rolled back; this is the bizarre, discarded cultural flotsam that can be found in the morass if we only care to stumble upon it. A recurring motif is the blank face – be it that of a mannequin with its face chiselled off, or a portrait with the face cut out or covered via collage – a kind of non-image that somewhat perpetuates Hollenbach’s approach. The expected and planned are void. Ugly, esoteric, purely aesthetic or otherwise, the magic is in the droll twists of fate. Wed to Sat noon–6pm, until June 5.
WHAT DongWoo Kang: Candlelight Protestival
WHERE Kings Artist Run Initiative, Level 1, 171 Kings Street, city, 9642 0859, kingsartistrun.com.au
Screening alongside Trevor Flinn’s trio of video works and Soda Jerk’s re-edit of The Wizard of Oz as part of the Next Wave Festival, Korean-born artist DongWoo Kang’s exploration of Korea’s Candlelight Protestival makes for a dynamic and powerful documentary experience. Gathering amateur, internet and international news footage from the massive ‘candlelight protest/festival’ – which saw over 100,000 people take peacefully to the streets of Seoul on New Years Eve 2008 – to create a triptych of sub-narratives, the multi-channel video work proves a chilling study of media political spin-doctoring and the limits of Korean democracy. Wed to Sat noon–6pm, until May 29.
THE FUTURE ACCORDING TO FLYING LOTUS
Published: Music Australia Guide #76, May 2010.
Nephew of avant-jazz great Alice Coltrane and grandson of Motown songwriter Marilyn McLeod, Los Angeles producer Steve Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) is taking instrumental hip hop to places it’s never been before. He introduces Dan Rule to future sounds of his third record Cosmogramma.
The complexity of Cosmogramma’s rhythmic and melodic detail seems to suggest that you’re channelling your aunt and your family’s musical history more so than before.
“I was definitely feeling some comfort in exploring that side of my musical life and letting it speak more. I’ve been playing more piano and stuff like that… I’ve really just learned a lot more about musicianship and kind of embraced my musicianship much more.”
Speaking of which, there’s a lot more live instrumentation on the record from people like your cousin Ravi Coltrane on saxophone, harpist Rebekah Raff and Thundercat from Sa-Ra on bass.
“Man, it took a while to find the right people to do stuff. A lot of people are really good players but they don’t really get the direction; they don’t really get the influence and where I want the music to go. But you get a guy like Thundercat, I could call him and tell him I want to do something and he can get it going already so it just pops. It was just amazing, like, ‘Okay great, I’ll have a little Thundercat over here and a little Rebekah over there, maybe some Ravi there’, and there it was.”
The record feels like a very complete and realised work. The tracks really work as movements, like means to a much greater end.
“Yeah man, that was the totally the point. When I first started working on this thing, it was right after my mum passed away, you know, so this record was definitely the furthest I’d ever ventured within myself personally and emotionally and I feel this is the most honest I could be. I want to make sure that my shit is worthy of spanning back to a Beatles record or whatever, you know. It’s going to be on the same shelf in some record store, so let that shit be a statement, something honest and complete and truthful.”
People describe your work as futuristic, but you also seem to be creating a gateway to obscure past genres and sounds. Do think of your work in that manner?
“Definitely man! Definitely! It’s like, if you like this record then check out Soft Machine and check out George Duke and check out Alice Coltrane, and take that shit to a new level. People look at their influences and think that they’re the pinnacle, but if you think like that, your music won’t go anywhere. You have to take you’re your influences and think beyond them.”
When you first started making beats, did your family understand what you were getting at?
“They were definitely into me making music. My mum and my grandma were always like ‘What are you doing? What are you creating?’ and it was a really, really supportive environment. But did they get the music? No (laughs). They were like, ‘Stevie, it sounds like a little boy beating on garbage cans!’”
Cosmogramma is out now via Warp/Inertia
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - THIS IS HAPPENING
Published: Music Australia Guide #76, May 2010.
This is Happening
If you’re going to bow out, you may as well do it in style. It’s a mantra that rings true on This is Happening, purportedly the swansong record for DFA boss James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem project. Following on from what has since been touted one of contemporary dance music’s defining releases – 2007’s shudderingly brilliant Sound of Silver – this third LCD longplayer epitomises Murphy’s creative development from rough and raw dance guy, to genuine songwriter. What remains is Murphy’s rare knack for capturing and expanding a hook. Indeed, if their’s a quality that defines This is Happening, it’s Murphy’s ability to take the immediacy of two-minute pop song and morph it into an extended, sometimes transcendent, dance epic. Suffice to say, there are some great examples. The Gary Numan-esque synth line and baritone croon of One Touch stretch into an insatiable electro anthem, while a wiry drum break and jagged guitar pulse emerge from a cloud of arcane synth atmospheres on the impeccably snide You Wanted a Hit. Perhaps the finest track is the finale, Home, which sees tightly interlocked mesh of guitar, keys and percussive intricacies anchor one of Murphy’s most beautiful melodies yet. It’s not all joy here – the plonking discordance of cuts like Somebody’s Calling Me is unrealised to say the least – and a lot of these track lack the depth and vitality of Sound of Silver. Nonetheless, This is Happening is a record to be proud of. If LCD is to end, this is a fine note on which to do it.
JAMES LAVELLE - POWER IN NUMBERS
Published: Music Australia Guide #76, May 2010.
UNKLE main man, MoWax label founder, DJ and serial collaborator James Lavelle stands as one of electronic music’s most influential figures. The release of UNKLE’s fourth studio album shows an artist who thrives in the company of others. By Dan Rule
1974 Born in Oxford, England to a musical family, Lavelle takes to the cello as a child, studying under the watchful eye of his grandmother.
1989 Lavelle starts hanging out with future UNKLE and DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy at Cherwell Upper School. Already a precocious crate digger, 15-year-old Lavelle starts DJing block parties around Oxford.
1992 At just 18, Lavelle establishes downbeat label MoWax, releasing a slew of 12”s traversing anything from minimalist breaks, through to cutting edge hip hop. He hooks up with legendary broadcaster and label owner Gilles Peterson to found That’s How It Is, which goes onto to become one of London’s longest running nights.
1994 Lavelle founds UNKLE with Goldworthy and Masayuki Kudo of mythical Japanese breaks collective Major Force West. Lavelle plays the role of musical director, while Goldsworthy and Kudo handle the technicalities of recording and production.
1994–1996 MoWax soars from local underground tastemaker to one of the most influential and important labels of a generation. The imprint’s Headz compilation virtually invents the trip-hop genre and goes onto to become a legendary, signpost release. Lavelle drops DJ Krush’s revered Strickly Turntablized, Dr Octagon’s Dr Octagonecologyst, DJ Shadow’s famed debut Endtroducing, plus early EPs and 12”s by Money Mark, Andrea Parker, Luke Vibert and UNKLE.
1998 Lavelle replaces Goldsworthy and Kudos with DJ Shadow to create UNKLE’s all-star debut longplayer Psyence Fiction, which also features Thom Yorke, The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, Beastie Boys’ Mike D, Badly Drawn Boy and Kool G Rap. Lavelle commissions first generation New York graffiti artist Futura 2000 to make the artwork, putting him back in the international spotlight and enlivening his career as a gallery artist.
1999–2002 Shadow distances himself from the UNKLE project and the pair fallout. Lavelle joins forces with singer-songwriter Richard File and begin working on new material.
2003 Drops epic, rock-flecked but ultimately unrealised UNKLE follow-up Never, Never, Land.
2007 Lavelle again teams-up with File to create third album War Stories. The record features guest contributions from the likes Josh Homme, Ian Astbury, Massive Attack’s Robert del Naja and producer Chris Goss. In a further progression of UNKLE’s band-based approach, the record also sees Lavelle play guitar and sing for the first time. The group hit the festival circuit for UNKLE’s first ever live tour.
2010 Following 2008’s moving image-inspired End Titles…Stories for Film, a new-look UNKLE (with Richard File departed and Pablo Clements onboard) release lush, spacious fourth album Where Did The Night Fall.
On becoming a band: “Writing lyrics has been a massive change and that element of playing guitar and performance and being on the road has been hugely influential in the way I think about music.”
On the new album: “When I listen to this record there’s a lightness to it and a sense of space. It is a really production-heavy record in a way, but it doesn’t feel like that when you listen to it.”
On DJing: “I think Pablo and I still work like DJs. Our process is still very DJ culture based in the way that we record something like 50 demos before whittling them down.”
On creative relationships: “I always seem to do best by channelling not just mine but other people’s creativity. Maybe it’s just because I’m co-dependent (laughs), but I’ve never been good at being on my own. My achievements are all about bringing people together.”
Where Did The Night Fall is out now via Pod/Inertia.
STUDIO VISIT WITH MISHA HOLLENBACH
Published: Broadsheet, May 20, 2010.
One half of design duo PAM, Misha Hollenbach is an internationally recognised artist in his own right. Dan Rule drops by his studio for a tour and a chat about his exhibition at Utopian Slumps.
Better known as one half of eclectic husband-and-wife fashion and design duo Perks and Mini (the other being Shauna T), artist Misha Hollenbach likes to keep his creative practice on the home front. Hidden behind the Perks and Mini warehouse, which doubles as the garage and laundry of the couple’s Richmond home-office, Hollenbach’s studio is a magnificent mess of found objects, paint tins, paper scraps, general clutter and creative trash and treasure. We take the tour and chat with the internationally recognised artist about place, family, his unconventional process and his new exhibition at Utopian Slumps.
Is having a space in the home really important to you?
Yeah, actually, one of the things that’s a running thread through all of the things I do – whether it’s this artwork or our label or whatever – is that it’s part of our life. It isn’t just work or my art practice or my studio. It really is our life. It’s all day long and kind of moves in and out of itself.
Eventually, I would love if the studio got bigger and especially if it was in the countryside somewhere, but yeah, it’s a conscious decision to have the studio where we live. Just with the amount of projects we have going on and having a new child, it allows for me to nick down here for half an hour to finish something, then to nick upstairs to finish something else, then further upstairs to baby-sit the kid. So it just allows my art to be part of life rather than a separate chunk. It’s the best situation for me actually.
Your new show, and a lot of your work, seems to be about attuning yourself to the materials around you. I’d love you to tell me a little about that.
I think it’s about perception. It’s not so much about creating, but discovering and acknowledging and also filtering this stuff. Aestheticism, for me, feels sort of innate, but it also feels like it’s an artistic practice in the sense that it is practice and it takes a long time and I love this idea that you can go deeper into it. You can go deeper into researching or deeper into looking, and that’s kind of what it is for me.
Our everyday surrounds are so rich and I love the non-hierarchical quality of that kind of image search, where it’s not like a really intellectual, learned process – it’s much more natural than that – but it does involve fulltime looking and thinking.
Do you feel that you’ve acquired that ability over time?
I think so, I think I’ve been able to acknowledge that it’s something you can do and realised that it’s something I don’t ever want to switch off. Life seems so rich and our environment seems so rich, even in the most banal places, and you do find yourself in banal places. To kind of make the best of the situation, I try and find the things that speak to me, or have the potential to speak. “It’s hunting as well, which is a very primal, human thing.
Is getting away from your studio and immediate environment important to that?
I think when I do travel I really fill up. I fill up with ideas and I fill up with images in my camera and I fill up with bits of junk that I’ve found in the street, because I’ve actually been on foot for a long time, walking from place to place or whatever. So coming back feels quite calm, kind of like you’ve had a huge meal and you need to lie on the couch.
Then the digestion period occurs, looking back at all these ideas and all these things you’ve found. It’s a really nice process and it does follow the same sort of path as eating and digestion and really basic, primal, human existence. I’m really interested in art being part of that process, rather than this thing that is higher than us or completely intellectual. I like the process of eating; I like the process of finding nice ingredients and making a nice meal and sharing it with friends and collapsing on the couch; and I love shitting it out in the morning. I think I’ve been able to acknowledge an art practice that follows that same kind of cycle.
Tell me a little about your day-to-day working process in the studio.
I think I’ve acknowledged that I don’t get much time, so when I can have a minute then I just come down here and do some work. I’ve been lucky enough to channel that idea that things can be very quick and direct. I don’t have the time to sit down and ponder it. I don’t have the attention span actually. I don’t have the necessary skills to sit down and draw a super-detailed picture. So acknowledging all those things and channelling them into some sort of practice has been really fruitful for me. I think having a child really helps. My daughter is 10 months old and the last 10 months has been the happiest time I’ve had, through having a child, but also the most focussed and considered time in making artwork. It’s been a very focussing and grounding situation and it’s really shifted the balance for me to recognising a much bigger picture, which is the world and human life and realising that art fits into that. It’s not the most important thing in the world, or something to beat yourself up about or pursue in some serious way, but when you get to do it, it’s fucking amazing. It just becomes fun.
Tell me about the collages in your new show.
My practice is increasingly heading towards making things, rather than thinking about making things. I’ve always had this incessant need to pick up pieces of paper and crap, but not really known what to do with it, so I decided that I needed to start sticking stuff down.
I have a real problem putting my name to something, because all I’m doing as an artist is putting it out there. I author it or whatever, but as soon as I’ve finished it, it’s really out of my hands. It becomes cultural matter and then what I think about it or take from it is as valid as what you do, but no more valid. I love that idea, that you’re just taking stuff and then putting stuff back and it’s all part of a bigger energy, and if you make people smile and make people think a little, then you’re helping the world in some way, however small.
Misha Hollenbach’s new exhibition Forewards runs until June 5 at Utopian Slumps.