Good Buddha – Flights of fancy
July 31, 2008 § Leave a comment
Published: Sydney Morning Herald, Metro, July 18, 2008.
Good Buddha go beyond the normal confines of hip-hop. By Dan Rule.
ALEX YOUNG has a deep respect, it seems, for what has preceded him. The man better known as MC Xela – the chief lyrical force behind Sydney’s genre-bending hip-hop ensemble Good Buddha – launches into joyous ramblings at the slightest mention of an early influence.
“I’ll never deny any of my musical heritage, man,” he says. “I mean, I love AC/DC, I love James Brown, I love Bob Marley.” He pauses, taking a quick breath.
“I love the psychedelic stuff, I love Jimi Hendrix … Man, you can just always go back and back in music.”
It’s not necessarily what you would expect from a rapper, but Young and his Good Buddha cohorts are hardly your average hip-hop crew. From the funk-flecked breaks of their 2001 debut, Skillathon, to its soul-seared 2004 follow-up Futurhistrix, the group’s aesthetic has echoed with the unerring flavours of epochs and parties past.
That’s not to suggest the six-strong collective – who next week launch their third album, Hit The Sky Running, as part of their national tour – are out to rehash former musical glories. Far from it.
Young says the crew’s creative compass rests in revision rather than retrospection. “All things considered, I never want to write music that is deliberately backward-looking,” he says.
“I think we write modern music, but withx a nod to the past in terms of the musicianship and collaboration and dynamics. We were all brought up on hip-hop to an extent, but I think the essence of our musicianship comes from learning to play the guitar, you know.”
Along with fellow innovators the Herd, True Live and, more recently, Illzilla, Good Buddha has set the precedent for live, band-based hip-hop on the Australian scene. Their sprawling live line-up – complete with two DJs, drums, percussion, guitars, bass and keyboards – has driven their reputation as one of the tightest local groups, hip-hop or otherwise, around.
For Young, playing live provides something the traditional DJ and MC archetype can never capture. “I mean, hip-hop is so great,” he says. “It’s so funky and the sound is incredible and the textures and stuff are great, but it’s that dynamic songwriting that’s often lacking in the modern, charting stuff.
“It’s usually just one groove and maybe a few pullouts and it’s all based on the vocals. We want to explore what you can do with the band; you know, how far you can push that.”
Recorded over an intensive two weeks at Byron Bay’s Rocking Horse Studios, Hit The Sky Running fits the live bill. Pulsing with razor-sharp rhymes, soaring vocals and kinetic, funk and soul-scored instrumentals, it pushes hip-hop to its most organic and fluid ends.
“We’ve always sort of fallen between the cracks in Australian hip-hop,” Young says. “On the one side, the real Aussie hip-hop heads can’t dig it because it’s not straight boom-bap with two mics and an MPC. But on the other side, the people who really dig live music think it’s a bit rappy,” he laughs.
“But I think with this record we’ve kind of bridged it a bit more, without trying to really be anything but ourselves.”
“It just feels like all the loose strands, all the things that we’d touched on in the past are finally starting to come together.” He pauses. “It really started to cook, you know.