Interview – Curse Ov Dialect
November 20, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, November 17, 2009.
Multifarious Melbourne posse Curse Ov Dialect are a genuine oddity in the Australian music community. Over a decade and three albums, the quintet – rapper mouthpiece Raceless (Adam Gauci), rapidfire MC Volk Makedonski (Borce Markovski), vocalists August the 2nd (Daryl Rabel), Atarungi (Earle Stewart) and DJ extraordinaire Paso Bionic (Shehab Tariq) – have merged wild theatricality with an urgent street politic, raw cultural expression with collagist, first generation hip-hop aesthetics, surrealism with activism.
But whilst records like the 2003’s abrasive Lost in the Real Sky – the first Australian hip-hop release to be released by a US label, in celebrated experimental imprint Mush Records – and 2006’s kaleidoscopic Wooden Tongues have brought them rapturous acclaim and extensive tour opportunities throughout Europe, North America and Japan, they’ve also alienated them from an Australian hip-hop community too often bound by narrow definitions of the craft.
With their brilliant fourth album Crisis Tales, however, Curse may have turned over a new local leaf. Enthusiastically released by Melbourne indie darlings Mistletone, the record is set to redefine the group’s local presence. We spoke to the ever-effervescent Raceless about growing old, nude French fans and sampling Siberian shaman alongside, black metal, Vietnamese karaoke and Chinese opera.
Adam, I’d love you to tell me a little about this notion of Crisis Tales.
The actual name came from the track on the album called ‘Colossus’, which is the posse track. One of the guys on that track named Abstral Compost, a Swiss guy, mentioned “crisis tales” and when we heard that, it was just perfect.
Just in the context of world issues and the stuff we always talk about – political issues and so forth – it became this combination of the socially aware content and also the personal struggles we’re all going through as adults. I think being an adult rapper instead of being a teenage rapper, there are different things happening in your life and you have to see things in a broader context. Hip-hop, in general, is seen as a youth thing, but we’ve brought it into our later years now.
All of you guys are over 30 now. Is it a real challenge continuing to be a rapper and a hip-hop guy when you get to this age? No matter where you fit into wider culture, there are always going to be different expectations of you in your thirties…
Yeah, you do feel that, but it’s other people’s expectations and not your own. Other people wonder when you’re getting married and wonder when you’re getting a job or whatever. I mean, I think being older and having more responsibilities makes things harder. I think life changes and I don’t know, you’ve got to change the way you exist somewhat.
How does that relate to this album? What did you want to do with it?
Well, one thing was that we wanted to sample things that we hadn’t sampled on any other record, and you know, we’ve sampled a lot of things in the past (laughs). So we were trying to tackle vibes that we hadn’t before and allow the influences to be as broad as we could. We’ve still got a lot of the old flavour, but there are also a lot of new things on the new record and our sound has really progressed. And it’s probably progressed because we’ve all travelled the world together and seen a lot of stuff and matured a lot as people. So in that sense, we’ve probably allowed our influences to become even broader.
I remember for the last record Daryl mentioned a really interesting point in an interview, in that the difference between when you had started and where you are now was first-person experience. Early in your career you were talking about international issues without having travelled so much, yet with the later material you had seen a lot more of the world and been able to re-contextualise your work.
I personally think is that when you’re of European descent or white or whatever is that you rethink your perspectives on culture and race. One thing that I feel that I’ve learned now is that you shouldn’t exoticise culture too much because then you end up sounding like a white liberal, and that’s not what we are. We’re not university arts students who are trying to be open minded and exploring other ethnic cultures.
I think a lot of the tracks touch base on that. As a group, we form all these cultures and grew up with other cultures from day one. So a lot of the lyrics tackle liberal attitudes and people who exoticise culture as well as issues racism.
That’s really evident in Borce’s continued engagement with issues surrounding Macedonia and Greece. It isn’t a popular or fashionable issue. It’s an issue affecting his culture and he’s not going to sleep on it, and each of his tracks on the issue seem to be getting more and more militant.
For sure. He uses the medium and he makes sure that every album has his own solo track so he can do that. The good thing about this record is that I’ve got a solo track and Earle’s got one too.
To me, this record really sounds like the most concise you’ve done. While it takes all these tangents in terms style and sample sources, I think the beats really tie it all in. There’s a denseness and consistency to the actual rhythmic component.
They’re very fat beats. Daniel San, the DJ from Koolism, we’re really friendly with him and we worked with him on that. He wanted to give it more of a boom-bap feel. The other records were a little more electronically based, but us personally, we’ve always been more into the hard beats and the scratching. Shehab does a lot of scratching on this record and I’m really happy with that, because it harks back to the golden age of hip-hop and that kind of sound. So I think we’ve gone back there in a sense, but still with the very different samples. Then there are some tracks like ‘Media Moguls’ where there’s no beat at all, and that’s more about just riding on the bass line. And ‘bH’ is like musique-concrete sounds and has no beats at all. Earle produced that one as well.
I loved that electro-pop track…
Oh ‘Paradigm’! That’s completely different. It’s very weird; it’s electro but it’s got Chinese singing in there too, so I don’t know what that track is.
Everyone in the band was into doing something different; no one wanted to cover old ground and we made a conscious effort to try and make a record that was different to the last two. We wanted it to be basically nothing like Wooden Tongues. We were into bringing back the darkness, because we got really light on Wooden Tongues. We wanted that real roughness, like some of the stuff on Lost in the Real Sky, we miss that.
Tell me about the actual process of putting the tracks together?
Well one of us might of the initial idea on computer, then transfer it to another computer and someone else will work on it, the transfer it to another and so on until we find the best combinations of stuff and what works. Curse’s style is produced by Curse Ov Dialect, you know. Paso is still the brain behind most of it, but everyone else has got their direct input.
What about the shift to Mistletone?
I’m really glad that we got on Mistletone and I kind of feel like it’s the right label for us. I’m really excited about being on it and it’s the first time we’ve been on a label in Melbourne as well. It’s being released in Europe and America as well through that label Staubgold, so we’re not doing the Mush thing anymore.
Your record and Mistletone just work so well to me. It seems a really good match.
I was thinking that people might think it was a bit weird, but you know…
Going back to this notion of Crisis Tales, especially the socio-political aspect of the idea, do find it almost disappointing that four albums and over 10 years into your career you’re still forced to talk about this stuff? That all these issues still exist?
I think the whole idea of Curse, in the beginning, was to tackle those issues and a new time brings new ways of looking at it. But yeah, if there was nothing to fight for, I don’t know what I’d write about. I’d probably write more surreal lyrics. But there’s always going to be something to talk about and I’m always going to want to hear hip-hop with something to say, because we’re still up against a massive wall of ignorant hip-hop and wack, non-hip-hop gangsta, which I don’t call hip-hop at all anymore. We’re still up against that wall and when we were in Europe we saw a lot of bands, and a lot of bands that we played with, that got up onstage and did this faux, ironic gangsta rap. There’s this whole thing going on in Europe at the moment of taking the piss out of gangsta rap by taking on that gangsta rap aesthetic, which not everybody gets and understands. It just sounds so cheesy and wack and it’s just white dudes doing it and to me it’s just disgusting.
They’re just not doing anything interesting and to me, well, I just feel sick when I see that shit. Sure, they’re taking the piss, but to me it’s still just talking shit. What they’re doing is just making fun of hip-hop. They’re not progressing the art form or doing anything new and that’s what’s really popular at the moment. It’s disgusting. Trash.
Do you think people abroad understand the real hip-hop basis what you do more so than in Australia? The hip-hop scene has never really understood you guys here.
I’ve met plenty of people who understand that we do have that sort of old school aesthetic. It’s weird, we’re sort of purist without sounding purist or something. We’re about the mentality of what hip-hop was and what I believe it still really is. But that said, in the end, we’ve sort of ended up becoming our own genre because I don’t know if anyone else is really doing what we’re doing. That might sound arrogant, but I’d really like to hear other people doing what we’re doing.
It’s weird though, I guess we just have our niche. Some people might get into Curse because of the wacky costumes and some people might get into Curse because they think the music is weird, but I’d love people to get into Curse because of our message.
I don’t know, especially in Europe, we get massive crowds and really amazing crowd response. The people are quite mixed and into different types of music; old hip-hop heads in the their 30s to young electro kids, you know.
I was talking to Earle the other day about your connections to Bambaataa and the Bomb Squad and that first generation sensibility. That idea of hip-hop being a truly creative outlet…
Yeah, that’s right. We make it fun because we want to make it interesting, not because we want to pretend to be weird or ironic or come from a perspective where we don’t know the history, because we do. It’s just that we get misunderstood because we’re not stereotypical in our look or our clothing or whatever. I think that makes a difference to how people perceive us.
But the fans are nuts. There was a guy in Paris who jumped onstage, tried to kiss us, pulled his pants down (laughs). And you know, if we can get French men – and I don’t know why it’s just men – but French men to pull their pants down onstage and scream ‘I like your band!’ then we must be doing something good (much laughter).
So you feel that what you’re doing transcends language in that sense?
If we’re causing people to go crazy during our gigs then it must be to a certain extent. Hopefully they’re going crazy over the lyrics, but they’re probably not because they don’t understand a word we’re saying. But if we’re creating a vibe that’s unique, then that’s good.
Let’s talk about the significance of your costumes and what’s happening onstage at the moment.
Shehab is still himself. I’m currently wearing a 17th Century Maltese medieval costume, which I got made. It cost me two grand (laughs). I was online and found this Maltese costume book and found this museum piece and got it made, so that’s pretty crazy. Borce’s got his revolutionary Macedonian costume and Earle is kind of a concoction of all of the costumes he’s ever worn. Daryl’s wearing all kinds of things.
The focus is less on ethnicity in a way. I’m kind of sick of being labelled as that multicultural band. We really want to get rid of that stigma, because it’s really not about that anymore. It’s just about being people, because we don’t represent anyone but ourselves in the end. We’re our unique selves, you know? We’re not trying to be spokespeople. I mean, Borce’s being a spokesperson for his people for sure, but in general Curse is about us.
Tell me about some of the sample sources on the record.
Sure, that track ‘Draindrop’ is slowed down bagpipes and about eight or nine drones from a bunch of sound art records layered on top of each other. That tracks kind of about the end of the world and these subterranean vigilantes coming up. The end of that is a black metal sample with Borce rapping two different verses at the same time through each channel, and has a sample of this gypsy lady from this Spanish gypsy film, but just slowed right down to sound really evil.
What was that on ‘Identity’?
People thought that was a growling dog, but it was actually a Persian tribal tradition where they all get in a circle and do a kind of cipher and make this growling sort of noise to ward evil spirits away. So I used that, looped it up and then put some Swiss yodelling on top (laughs).
That song ‘00’ was all weird cartoonish sounds and musique-concrete; ‘Paradigm’ is Vietnamese electronic karaoke music and Chinese opera; ‘Media Moguls’ is like psych stuff with Japanese drone stuff on top; ‘Missionaries’ is Brazilian capoeira stuff mixed with Siberian shamans looped up, then the chorus is Thai music with medieval music; ‘Connections’ is little bits and pieces of everything; ‘Honesty in Monasteries’ is Turkish psych and Cambodian funk; ‘85 Percent’ is musique-concrete and American TV commercials from the 50s, with a bit of old school hip-hop thrown in; ‘Vanishing Point’ is concrete; ‘bH’ is concrete; ‘Aegean Ghosts’ is anything from the Mediterranean to Central Asia; ‘Colossus’ is just everything; and ‘Runaway Tears’ is just the crying after the storm.
Crisis Tales is out through Mistletone/Inertia
Curse Ov Dialect Crisis Tales launches:
November 20 – East Brunswick Club, Melbourne
November 27 – Spectrum, Sydney