Interview – My Disco

February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, February 11, 2010.

Since emerging from the city’s underground in 2003, Melbourne trio My Disco have built one of the city’s most enviable reputations for their serrated, gauntly economical take on post-punk abstraction and condensed, highly rhythmic rock. Earth-shattering live shows aside, the band’s recorded material has left an inimitable stamp on Australian landscape. The assaulting frequencies of 23-minute debut album Cancer (2006) and the visceral, hard-edged minimalism of follow-up Paradise (2008) are revered as genuine signpost releases.

Perhaps most remarkable, however, has been My Disco’s unaffected, downright utilitarian ethic. Self-booking and self-funding tours, playing warehouses and sleeping on floors, the trio – bassist/vocalist Liam Andrews, elder brother and guitarist Ben and drummer Rohan Rebeiro – have traversed the US, Japan, western and far eastern Europe on little more than their own meagre savings accounts.

Ben Andrews took some time out in the lead up to the launch of their expansive new 12” Young (which comes replete with B-side remix by local electronic auteur Qua) to chat minimalism, jazz, the late 90s Melbourne hardcore scene and the band’s upcoming third record.

Hey Ben, what’s been happening?

We’ve just been rehearsing actually.

Nice. I just got the 12” the other day and I found it really interesting. It follows that kind of reductive path that a lot of your work does – that idea of sustaining the one, relatively unpadded set of elements – but unlike your other stuff, it’s really quite long.

Yeah, true. But I reckon that song is pretty full. People bandy around the minimal word a lot, but I reckon it’s going pretty full-on most of the way through the track. It’s just that the structure is pretty simple. That song to me is really in two halves – the kind of full-on intense stuff at the start of the song and then kind of mellowed out drum solo section – but initially we had it different before we stripped it back. I don’t know, I think it’s still pretty full sounding.

Is that sort of jam-like quality of the song, just riding that one groove, kind of reflective of how it was written? Or was it more a case of throwing a lot more at it and then gradually stripping those elements away?

No, we always just write in the rehearsal room. We don’t bring any pre-conceived notions to room; we basically sit on something for a while and if we like it we’ll do something with it, and if we don’t we’ll shelve it. This song kind of came about by jamming on a bass and drum groove and I was able to muck around with more chords than usual. Originally it sounded a little more grungy and Sonic Youth-y, just because we don’t usually do all those jangly chords in quick succession. So we were really excited by it.

But it all came about pretty naturally and it kind of almost structured itself. We mucked around with a few more mellow ideas and then just decided to bring it down. Originally it was kind of up to me how far the song went.

Because you had to stand out twiddling your thumbs for the second half of the track?

(Laughs) Yeah, something like that. But no, it just kind of happened and kind of suited what we were trying to do. With these newer songs, it’s just kind of like we’ll have a jam and then it will all kind of fall into place over a series of months. We’ll even just play them live before they’re really well formed and they’ll just form themselves, which I kind of like. It’s good to just throw around ideas and not be too precious with them and see what happens as they naturally develop.

I think what really works about ‘Young’ is its kind of duality. It’s a really accessible, listenable groove in a sense, but just the sustained nature of it and how subtle the shifts are, especially in the last half of the song, means that it becomes quite challenging in that way. You kind of wonder where it’s going to go and what might happen and just how long it’s going to go for.

Yeah, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see from a listener’s point of view. When we’ve played it at festivals and stuff, where people might not have heard us before, they’re still nodding their head because, like you say, it’s a pretty accessible four/four groove. But I reckon listening to the version that we’ve recorded, there are a lot of subtle changes for the more astute listener.

A lot of people talk about jazz as if it’s a dirty word, but that idea of sitting in the pocket, which is associated with more freeform, improvised jazz, seems to really apply to you guys. Do you ever think about what you do in those kinds of terms?

We’re all really big fans of some of the classic stuff and some of the weirder stuff, within the free-jazz scene anyway. But we’ve never really thought of our music that way though. We’re just a rock band. Even though that’s a massive, broad term, that’s still how I see us.

I guess you could see songs like ‘Young’, with its different movements and so on, being more of a jazz composition than a rock composition. But we never really delve that deep into the theoretical side of things. That’s for other people to do.

What’s in the title?

I don’t know really. Liam made it up. We just ignore the names of the songs, especially since most of our songs are mainly instrumental with just a bit of vocals here and there. We were calling this track ‘Australia’ for a while, and then we were calling it ‘Welcome to Yamagata’, which is a town we played in Japan, so it went through a few names. ‘Young’ just seems to fit. I think it will look really good on vinyl anyway (laughs).

I really like Qua’s remix.

Yeah, it came about really quickly, because we knew we wanted to do something like that, but we weren’t sure who we to do it with. We went to a few people overseas, but they couldn’t do it within the timeframe. We’ve played with Qua a bunch of times and knew that he had a studio down in South Melbourne and he knocked it out in literally a couple of weeks.

Crazy.

Literally the first pass that he did was the one we went for. We got him to extend a couple of bits here and there, but 95 per cent of what he did initially was awesome and we just went with it.

It was quite cool, we weren’t sure whether he was going to do some three-minute slamming version of it or what. So it’s pretty cool that he’s kind of made it with these extended passages and how it drifts through these different sections and then goes into that really industrial part at the end. We were really happy with it. We didn’t give him much time and he just did an awesome job. We’re doing the launches with Qua, so that will be kind of cool.

It’s pretty much exactly the same length as the original isn’t it?

Yeah, two seconds the difference. I don’t know if he intentionally did that because originally it was one or two minutes shorter and we extended the end section. But yeah, it’s pretty cool that it’s kind of as much a challenging listen as the A-side.

Does the remix sit on the same rhythmic signature as the original? I swear it has a faster beat in parts.

That’s a good point, I’ve never listened to them one-on-one, but yeah I’m sure he’s done all sorts of things. I’ve only really listened to them separately and not really thought about it. We definitely didn’t record it with a click-track or anything, so he’s probably just used the bass line as a rough grid, I guess. It’s definitely not metronomic, but it sounds cool to me anyway!

You guys came up in the hardcore scene at the end of the ’90s, going to those rehearsal space shows at places like Thunderfield and Troy Balance, yeah?

Yeah, totally!

I went to a lot of those shows in my last years of high school…

No way! Yeah, it was such a cool little scene, just being able to check out a bunch of bands. It just seemed so distant from everything else that was going on. I used to go to Pushover and these shows at Prahran Town Hall, but when you were underage and you wanted to see heavier stuff or more punk orientated stuff, you’d just find a flyer on the old Missing Link wall – when it was in Flinders Lane – and you could always find something to check out.

Good times.

Yeah, it was a good time. I don’t know if it’s just because we grew up and grew out of it, but it seems like those sort of smaller scenes don’t really happen like that anymore. I know a few kids who are in bands and just want to do all-ages, and I think it’s increasingly difficult. There wasn’t much in it for the rehearsal rooms, that’s for sure.

Like the shows at Troy Balance were always on a Sunday and apparently the guy who ran it didn’t tell the owners. He just worked there doing the rehearsals and charged bands $100 or $150 and just pocketed the money, until one time his boss actually found out what he was doing and fired him. And that was the end of that.

Yeah, I remember some dodgy stuff going on there. Once we were at a show with Mindsnare and that vegan band Ultimatum…

I remember them!

Yeah and we were locked out of the space because Dave Graney and Claire Moore were using it to rehearse. I remember them coming out to be confronted by about thirty grotty, snarling little hardcore kids…

(Laughter)Hilarious!

Do you see My Disco as informed by that scene? I’ve always thought of you guys in that way.

I suppose I do. I mean, what we’re doing these days is pretty far removed from that scene, but at the same time we’re always doing things of our own accord, in the sense that we haven’t been the kind of band who sits around waiting for people to book us shows or to get a deal. I think we’ve taken that DIY element from that early hardcore scene.

Touring America and stuff you get to see just how many bands go out and hit the road and end up building a fan base, whether or not they’ve got some sweet label or booking agent or whatever. On paper it kind of looks like you need this, this and this, but in reality all you need to do is play and that’s all we ever did. I don’t think that if we started now and just kind of sat around, I don’t think we’d achieve anything. Essentially we just made it ourselves – everything – from booking our own shows to playing our own shows, and that whole element we definitely took from the hardcore and punk culture.

I guess the world really wasn’t so open then – it was kind of pre-internet as a mainstream thing anyway – so you really relied on direct community building.

Yeah, it was so small and you would never read anything about it in any of the street press. It was just kind of the poster wall at Missing Link (laughs), which is pretty crazy when you think about it.

Is this 12” the starting point for a bunch of new material?

Yeah, we’ve got a new album coming out this year as well. We’re recording it in mid-March at Electric Audio with Albini again.

Oh great.

Yeah, we’re not mixing it there this time; we’re tracking it and then bringing it back and mixing it in Sydney at BJB, where we did the 12”. We really liked it there and we’ll be able to spend a bunch more time on it and we’re hoping it will be out by August or September.

What informed that decision to record with Albini again?

We just had a great time. Everything is really easy, everyone’s really friendly and it’s just kind cool hanging out there. It’s a really quick process. If you can play your songs, then everything else happens really quickly. You don’t have to wait around for a drum sound or something; basically anything that you want to do can be done in a matter of minutes. I can totally understand how bands can go in and bust out an album in a weekend with him, or even a day and then take it away. It’s so relaxed. You don’t have to be all tense and stressed and stuff. You can just go in there and play your songs.

Tell me about the new material.

It’s definitely freer and there’s a bunch of songs, like ‘Young’, that are pretty lengthy and pretty loose. But then there’s some weirder stuff and some mellower stuff. But yeah, it’s definitely our largest amount of material. It’ll probably clock in at around forty-five or fifty minutes.

Shit! That’s long for you!

Yeah (laughs), Cancer was under twenty-five and Paradise was like thirty-eight or something, so it’s pretty crazy.

Dan Rule

Young is out now via Mistletone/Inertia

myspace.com/mydiscomydisco

My Disco launch Young with Qua and New War:

SYDNEY: Friday, Feb 12, Oxford Arts Factory$18+bf, moshtix.com.au

MELBOURNE: Saturday, Feb 13 and Sunday, Feb 14, The Toff$18+bf, moshtix.com.au

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Interview – Beach House

February 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

Published: The Vine, February 8, 2010.

Victoria Legrand has a way with analogy and metaphor. She speaks of herself and creative partner Alex Scally as wild animals; as horses in their stride. She pithily compares creative process to ten-pin bowling; to hitting a series of strikes. She laughs at herself, sets off again.

Speaking from her home in Baltimore, the former French opera student and now frontwoman of haze-pop duo Beach House is on-edge; energised, electric. Mention she and Scally’s momentous new record Teen Dream and she takes off – elaborate adjectives, justifications and creative philosophies unfurling, spilling and darting every which way.

Considering the shimmering scope of Teen Dream, Legrand’s disposition comes as little surprise. Spend some time with the album – the duo’s third – and you’ll be transfixed. Where 2008 opus Devotion expanded on the woozy, vintage organ atmospheres and beautifully oblique, sun-drunk melodics of their 2006 self-titled debut, Teen Dream bursts with sweeping dynamics and an almost insatiable sense of drive and momentum. Put simply, it’s their most accomplished and ornate work yet.

Legrand – the niece of prominent French composer Michel Legrand – speaks about she and Scally’s artistic growth, their fluid creative process and uprooting their lives in Baltimore to record with Chris Coady in the isolation of upstate New York.

Hey Victoria.

Hi!

I love the new record.

Thankyou, I’m glad.

I’ve only had it for a couple of days, but I guess the thing that struck me immediately was the dynamics. There’s such a sense of momentum and layering compared, even, to Devotion.

Yeah.

I’d love to here your thoughts on that.

I feel like every record we’ve done is different and that’s just natural thing, you know. That’s just what happens when you make something; it’s never going to be what it was like before. We’ve always believed in growing very naturally, evolving naturally and every decision we make is based on an intuitive feeling, that being that it feels right. With this record, the main difference in the creative process was that, compared to the other two records, we had way more time. We had an uninterrupted nine-month period where we stopped touring and we were working on the music and we were able to just make the record for nine months uninterrupted.

We had everything written and everything set in place; we had made demos for months in the studio. Whereas with Devotion, we recorded it in three weeks and the first record, we recorded in two days. So for us, it was really a change and I think that time period made us feel like that when we had an idea, we were really able to follow it to an end that we felt was right. So in the writing of the record, that’s very much what happened. We spent a lot of time in our practice space – like eighty hours a week in our practice space – and it was just a total obsession, and we really worked these songs and brought them to a level that we believe is more of an epic level.

You can hear that.

It’s the same instrumentation; we didn’t change any of the instrumentation. It’s still Alex on guitar and my keyboards and we use the same kind of blend of real drums with the drum machine from our organ. So a lot of things were the same, but just our hunger and our appetite was bigger and a lot of that had to do with the amount of touring we had done.

On the first two records, it felt as though the instrumentation informed the songs a little more than on this record. On this record it feels as though the songs have much more of a life of their own outside of the instrumentation. The instrumental palette acts more as a colour.

I see what you’re saying but, no, I feel that we’ve always cared about the songs. We’ve never been a band that gets too hung up on pure aesthetics. We definitely, above and beyond, prize melody and the structure of our songs. So if the structure doesn’t feel right, we don’t feel that the songs are complete. If it doesn’t reach the necessary highs and lows then we don’t feel that it’s ready and that’s something that has never changed.

The songs we wrote on Beach House, the self-titled album, are songs that we’ll probably never write again because, I mean, we wrote them, we believed in them at the time, they were very simple, but we couldn’t ever write those songs again because of the experiences we’ve had. We’ve learned so much in terms of what we want to get out of our instruments and it’s happened in ways we never predicted.

So I’ve used the same keyboard now on three records, and on Teen Dream I’m just using different sounds on the same keyboard. We’re just really trying to simplify and at the same time expand on what we have. You can work constantly with something that’s in front of you. I think there’s an endless amount of depth and directions in which you can go using just the one thing, and I just kind of feel that that’s where we’re at with Teen Dream. We’ve just expanded a lot more on what we were already using and I think we’ve demanded a lot more of ourselves as well.

Was touring really important to that? The idea that you had to use your voice and you had to make the songs work and make them fresh for yourselves, time and time again?

It definitely had a huge effect. There was absolutely a huge learning process, and you know, we’ve always liked touring but now we both love touring. We’re about to do a shit-tonne of touring starting this February. There’s going to be like seventy shows and it’s just a really insane run.

Wow.

Yeah, wow is right. So we make the record and go on tour and learn a lot about the songs again, and then those songs inform us of new songs that haven’t been written and it’s almost becoming a system for us now. It happened as kind of a surprise, but now I think it’s a real tool that we can use for ourselves because we just learn so much. Playing those songs from Devotion every night, it really helped us learn what we didn’t want to do again and we started to crave this kind of energy that we hadn’t done before. You can feel that in songs like ’10 Mile Stereo’.

For sure. I was going to mention that song…

You can feel it both as a player and a listener. Playing live definitely informs you of what you want, because you’re living and breathing the music every single night.

That’s what really stood out on this record, that energy and real rhythmic drive, which perhaps wasn’t there before. There was a kind of meandering quality to the rhythmic component of the earlier material.

The earlier material, by comparison, feels more frail to me. It’s innocent. When I look back at those records I kind of see myself years ago, and it’s not bad – it’s the place where we were at. Every record is the place where you are at. So I really hope that by next year, we really learn about a new place in which we want to go and that we keep making records and never feel that a particular record was our peak. I feel very far from our peak and I don’t believe in the peak (laughs). You’re turning your own light off if you believe in that kind of thing. For me, this is just the beginning really. We’re really in our stride and we’re kind of like horses now (laughs). We’re like creative animals – we get out and run our asses off…

And then you sleep it off in the stable…

And then we run again (laughs).

When I was talking to Alex about Devotion a couple of years ago, he kind of pointed to your creative process having this very natural, kind of osmotic quality.

Absolutely.

In that context, how did Teen Dream begin to take shape? Was it just a matter of you guys kind of getting together and playing quite unthinkingly?

I think it was very much like that, kind of one song at a time. For us what will happen generally is that we’ll start on a song – and this is happening again because we’re already writing new material – and a person will have an idea and we just grow the idea together. And then, as we get more and more songs, we’ll generally be working on two songs at a time. So we’ll work on one until we reach a dead end and then we’ll go to the other one. So the energy that you give to a song goes onto to inform other things, so each song kind of gives you something of a realisation and things kind of build on top of each other.

For us it’s very much melody, chord progression, one song at a time, and the next thing you know you’ve got like five songs and it’s like ‘Wow, we’re going to have a record!’. Because when you have a few songs and you can feel that they all give a certain kind of energy or light or darkness, then you know that you’re on a path to making a record. I don’t know what to compare it to (laughs). Maybe like, when you’re bowling and you start to string together a few strikes, you know you’re having a good game (much laughter). Oh man, that’s really bad…

No, no, please continue the metaphor…

(Laughs) You know, I just think that there’s a momentum that happens and it really took hold in Teen Dream, and you know, it happened in Devotion too. Devotion’s writing process was very fragmented, because we would write between touring. We would come home and we would have three weeks and we would write, and then we would go on tour and come home and then we would have a month to write. That didn’t happen with Teen Dream; we had a lot of space and I think we know now that it’s always going to be a blend of the two.

We get very inspired by words too – we just start throwing words at each other and then things go from there. That’s how we got the title Teen Dream. We were working late on ‘Silver Soul’ and then it just suddenly struck us: like ‘Teen Dream! That’s the record’.

So we’re into fully collaborating and talking about things that are exciting to us and we both have very highly active minds, and I just think that that’s very conducive to making records, because that’s what a record needs. It needs inspiration and it needs inspired moments and we’re doing that pretty much constantly.

Is isolation really important to that? I was taking to Frida Hyvonen the other day – the Swedish songwriter – and she had a really elegant way of putting it, in that she described being alone in the countryside as allowing her to be ‘thin-skinned’ in the way she writes. It was such a lovely way of describing that kind of permeability to inspiration, as opposed to when you’re in the city, where you have to build higher walls around yourself.

I totally agree with what she says, because when you tour you kind of get thick-skinned; you’re in survival mode. I love touring, don’t get me wrong, but you get into this almost automatic process where you preserve your energy. But when you’re being creative and you’re writing, you’re in a much softer place. You’re in your space, it’s just the two of you and things feel very gentle – and of course, things get very intense – but you do have to kind of get into, not a protective environment, but a place where thoughts can just happen. I think that’s what she means by ‘thin-skinned’. In being thin-skinned you are allowing things to pass through you.

When I’m on tour I tend to store a lot and keep it inside, and I just kind of wait and fill my tank up, and when I get home there’s a period of time where nothing can really happen to me because I’m still getting over the way I felt on tour. But with time you kind of melt a little bit and you let things in and let things out and it starts to happen.

In that sense, was the trip to upstate New York to record with Chris Coady really important to the way these songs formed?

It was very important because we just took what we were doing in Baltimore and just moved all of our life up there. We just wanted to just kind of get out and take the record to a place where it could get even more intense. We were a little more isolated and none of our friends were around and there were no distractions. All you can really focus on is the music. That’s just something that we really wanted to do. We didn’t want to be in Baltimore and then be like ‘When are we going to go to the bar?’.

When you’re making a record, it’s so intense that you don’t really want to go out because your mind just becomes recording (laughs). You are recording, you know. It’s really hard to interact normally because you’re so invested and obsessed.

Dan Rule

Teen Dream is out now via Mistletone/Inertia

myspace.com/beachhousemusic

Frida Hyvonen – The Spirit of Inclusion

January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: Broadsheet, January 22, 2010.

For Swedish songstress Frida Hyvonen, music is about connection. By Dan Rule.

By the end of last year’s European summer, Frida Hyvonen found herself facing something of an odd conundrum. Having already completed a round of tours for her beautifully rendered second album Silence is Wild, the Swedish singer, songwriter and pianist had gladly accepted guest roles in an 11-piece traditional ska band as well as in a Finnish orchestra. The only problem, she recounts, was that the experiences were just too damn enjoyable.

“People actually danced when we played,” urges the 32-year-old in her softly spoken manner. “They just danced and danced and danced and really participated in that way, which I kind of came to feel is the way music should be.”

Although relatively unknown outside of Scandinavia, Hyvonen’s two studio records – 2005’s Stockholm Prize-winning debut Until Death Comes and 2008’s Silence is Wild – have made her something of an indie luminary in her native country. Dance records, however, they are not.

“I feel like I owe it to my audience to give them more of a rhythm or something to move against, so they can be a part of the music,” she offers, chatting over the phone from her temporary flat in Stockholm on the eve of her maiden Australian tour. “Sometimes during shows I’ll be like, ‘Hey, you can dance to this song.’ But my music is not really very danceable – it just makes people feel awkward.”

“I’ve been performing in theatres a lot, where people have to sit still, and I’m beginning to feel that I take too much attention up there onstage,” she continues. “So it’s like, ‘Maybe this isn’t right?’”

Nonetheless, Hyvonen’s piano-based compositions and quietly feisty song-craft are nothing if not engaging. Since emerging on the international scene, her oeuvre has found its resonance in both a stark intimacy and an almost loquacious sense of dramatism. While Until Death Comes saw Hyvonen deliver her unadorned, matter-of-fact lyrical sketches in the form of elegiac piano balladry, Silence is Wild’s stark, seemingly confessional verses were counterbalanced by a clutch of swooning, almost theatrical full-band arrangements.

The rowdy honky tonk of Scandinavian Blonde pitches a snide, slightly unhinged take on cultural typecasting, where the spindly, impish piano melody of December belies a incredibly sober, diaristic reflection about the experience of abortion. “You’re the only man in the room, you’re by my side / When it’s my turn to get the injection, you’re sent outside,” she sings. “We’ve had a problem with boyfriends / They often faint if they see blood, the nurse explains.”

“I’m really curious about what happens when you actually build a special world on a record or onstage,” she muses. “At the same time, I often just long to do things very clean and acoustically and with no props and no false eyelashes,” she laughs.

“It’s really a fine line between being too familiar and too strange – I want to be somewhere in between.”

Music was always a part of Hyvonen’s life. Growing up in the small, northern Swedish town of Umea, she wrote her first song on the piano at the age of seven (“a simple instrumental piece in D minor”) and spent her childhood consuming anything from Madonna, Neneh Cherry and Michael Jackson to traditional Swedish folk music.

Nevertheless, writing and playing music didn’t take a serious turn until Hyvonen moved to Stockholm in her early twenties. As she goes onto explain, the moment she realised she had a talent for song-writing was the moment she wrote the first song for Until Death Comes.

“The first song that I was really happy about in that way made me want to make an album out of it,” she says. “I must have been about twenty-two or twenty-three and it was about four or five years before the album came out, but I just knew it.

“I think something changed when I started writing songs out of letters that I had written. It was like ‘this is a really rhythmic letter’ and I would write it into a song. It was like a new door had opened, like a way into something, because I wasn’t especially goal-oriented when I did it. So it was like, ‘This is a good song! I wrote it and I like it!’. It was like something that was an extension of me, like a quite pure expression of something that I can associate with.”

Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before Hyvonen became ensconced in the craft. When it came time to begin writing the material for Silence is Wild, she packed up her life in Stockholm and journeyed back to the relative isolation of the northern Swedish countryside. “The most important thing for me when I’m writing is to be in a place where I cannot be disturbed.”

Seclusion, Hyvonen explains, affords a particular creative permeability. “When you’re in a city, you have to put up guards and shields because there is so much impression,” she says. “It’s easier to relax and be kind of thin-skinned if you’re in a safe environment, which is really interesting for the writing process. You reach a level of intimacy with yourself faster.”

Creativity, though, is hardly an exact science. And for Hyvonen, that’s the precise seduction. “The thing I love most is the fantastic feeling and the pride that you’re somewhat of an alchemist for that moment,” she urges. “Out of nothing you draw up a formula that has a life of its own, which is extremely fascinating and somewhat addictive.”

And that counts for playing live as well. She may not have her audience dancing, but connection is still the key. “I really long for something onstage and I know when it happens, but I don’t really know how it happens,” she pauses, drifting off for a moment.

“It’s about making the audience feel very outward and inward at the same time,” she offers finally. “It’s like making a circle, perhaps.”


Frida Hyvonen plays the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall on February 10. $27, bellaunion.com.au

Silence is Wild and Until Death Comes are available through Chapter/Fuse.

fridahyvonen.com

Party of Four

January 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: Broadsheet, January 18, 2010.

With the touring and festival season in full swing, we offer you a slice of this summer’s best music that may not be on your radar. By Dan Rule.

Joanna Newsom
January 20, The Forum
$50, Ticketek

When a diminutive, elfin, 22-year-old Joanna Newsom emerged out of rural California with her remarkable 2004 debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, it was as if she was from another time, if not another world. The classically trained harpist and positively idiosyncratic vocalist crafted a sound so singular that it traced medieval folk as closely as it did the avant-garde, propelling her to the head of the so-called ‘new-folk’ movement in the process. But as Newsom’s majestic 2006 sophomore, Ys, revealed so emphatically, the precocious artist was far more than a fashionable folkie. In fact, the record’s five expansive vignettes – orchestrated by the legendary Van Dyke Parks – cast Newsom not only as a truly innovative artist, but as a significant contemporary composer. After playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House last year, she returns with her new band for what will prove to be an extraordinary performance.

The xx
February 3, The Corner Hotel
$50, Corner Hotel

One of the wonderful things about the last decade in music has been the loosening of both stylistic and methodological restraints. Where the 90s saw clear delineations running between indie music, electronica, hip-hop and so forth, the 00s have been about breaking down boundaries; mixing, matching and mutating schools of musical thought and process. You only need to turn to Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance or Battles for evidence. London quartet The xx are the latest act to defy what was once set in stone. Released a couple of months back through XL/Remote Control, their xx debut witnessed stunning indie-pop tropes and interlocked R&B vocal harmonies skim atop a swathe of tectonic electronic frequencies and textures. Suffice to say, their inaugural run of Australian performances will offer a telling chronicle of music’s brave new frontier.

Frida Hyvönen
February 10, Bella Union Bar, Trades Hall
$27, Bella Union

Singer, songwriter and pianist Frida Hyvönen is something of a star in her home country. The Swedish chanteuse’s intricately rendered, intensely personal song-craft saw her scale the heights of the country’s music industry, winning the prestigious Stockholm Prize for her 2005 debut, Until Death Comes, and garnering trans-continental acclaim for 2008’s beautifully orchestrated follow-up Silence is Wild. An arresting, hypnotic performer, Hyvönen will play one of only two intimate Australian shows at Trades Hall’s beautiful Bella Union Bar in February. Her towering vocals, meticulously composed songs and unabashed lyrical honesty are bound to change the way we think about Swedish pop.

Jamie Lidell
February 13, The Corner Hotel
$38, Corner Hotel

Jamie Lidell has been experimental, white-boy soul’s poster boy for about a decade now, and with good reason. The Berlin-based vocalist’s work with Cristian Vogel in Super Collider – not to mention his own suite of solo albums for Warp Records – set new precedents in future-funk and neo-soul and saw him mash his prodigious vocal talents into the wildest of electronic soundscapes. On top of that, his one-man live show is legendary. Utilising a cache of samplers, microphones, cameras, effects pedals and general electronic flotsam and jetsam, Lidell will turn The Corner Hotel upside down and inside out. This squall of soul is not to be missed.

Kit Wise – Where the city meets the sea

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, Arts, December 29, 2009.

Inspired by the giddy delights of St Kilda, artist Kit Wise’s new video works turn idealised resort towns into surreal dreamscapes, writes Dan Rule.

As beautiful as it is, there’s something uncanny about this scene. The sky is such a vivid blue it almost borders on iridescence; the sand radiates the purest of white glows. It’s only when we focus on the beachgoers milling about on the sand, or scan the bordering hillsides dotted with beachside hotels and opulent coastal homes, that the flawless symmetry of it all becomes – almost eerily – apparent.

The video frame of this Marseilles beach scene is split down the middle; its vibrant summer scene duplicated in a seamless mirror image, its sequence set to short, repetitive loops. It’s a characteristic common to each of the eight video works that comprise Summertime, the new installation by British-born artist Kit Wise, which runs until the end of summer at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s satellite gallery, Mirka, in St Kilda’s Tolarno Hotel.

Inspired by his fascination with St Kilda, the 35-year-old’s “hyperreal” coastal vistas offer an augmented view of some of the world’s most famed coastal resort towns and cities. Drawing on footage garnered from Getty Images and other open-source online archives, and playing out on variously scaled LCD screens, the works “mash up” images of Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema, Monte Carlo and Waikiki, among others, creating perceptibly constructed and accentuated composites of the various spectacular sea and landscapes.

“I’m very interested in this idea of arcadia and these idyllic natural spaces and where the city meets these spaces,” says Wise, a senior lecturer and acting head of fine arts at Monash University, who arrived in Australia in 2001, later settling in Elwood with his young family. “In Australia, and particularly in places like St Kilda, that sort of beach culture and coastal, waterside way of living is a big part of that. Coming from England, the palm trees of St Kilda kind of represent this exotic paradise for me.”

Themes of paradise and the spectacle can be traced throughout Wise’s work, which has seen him complete residencies in Rome, Paris, New York and Tokyo, and is currently on show in Taiwan as part of the 2009 Asian Art Biennial.

His 2006 exhibition Superhappiness comprised a fantastical reinterpretation of Tokyo’s flashing neon cityscape, while in 2007’s Rhapsodia he created a glittering, utopian city bordered by the most spectacular of natural landscapes – however altered. Natural Disaster in 2008, meanwhile, featured footage of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2006, duplicated and mirrored to create an equally beautiful and horrific mutation of the gigantic waves striking the land.

While Wise sources imagery that promotes widely held notions of the idyllic, his subtle manipulations result in outcomes that prove as unnerving as they do pretty. It’s no mistake. “The beach, for example, is something we’re fascinated with and something we idealise and it saturates the media,” he says. “But underneath that is the fact that at the same time as consuming nature as this glamorous spectacle, we’re destroying it.”

Wise sees Summertime, with its mirrored beachside images, as a gentle reminder of such a paradox. “Symmetry is a classic device for describing perfection, whether that’s in architecture or constructed landscapes or the human face.”

When such qualities are applied to images of nature, Wise explains, a shift takes place. “There are moments in each of these works where they flip from being really beautiful to being really kind of wrong.”

In one of Summertime‘s works, a duplicated Waikiki beach borders either side of the frame, while the ocean fills the centre like a lake. Ocean swells emerge as a single rising lump in the middle of the frame, only to rupture and roll off towards opposite, mirror-image shorelines. While filled with familiar signifiers, the image is alien. “You could see it as quite … disturbing or even quite monstrous if you wanted to,” says Wise.

This evocation is at the heart of the exhibition’s St Kilda setting. “St Kilda is sort of the epitome of hedonism and pleasure and consumption,” says Wise. “Whether it’s the beaches or the cake shops or Luna Park, it’s sort of saturated in pleasure.

“I don’t want to criticise it at all, but underneath all of that one has to be aware of the price of all that pleasure and consumption, not just on a local but a global scale … Living in Elwood, I know all about things like water levels rising because it’s front-page news every few months.”

That said, Wise understands Summertime as celebratory. “I love the way this part of Melbourne makes you realise we live in a coastal city. I want the work to celebrate all the pleasures that brings, but I hope it can also remind people of the price.”

Summertime runs at ACCA Mirka until February 28.

accaonline.com.au/mirka

5 Things – Martha Wainwright and her Muse

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.

Raised on the lovelorn recordings of Edith Piaf, Martha Wainwright has released a suite of her own live interpretations of the legendary French songstress. By Dan Rule.

1. Piaf was a defining influence on Wainwright’s entrance into music. “She was my favourite singer as a kid and I adore her greatly. When I was about seven or eight my brother Rufus introduced me to her music via my mother’s album collection. Looking back, she started my love affair with very emotive female singers, who I still really enjoy listening to today. She affected me and affected the way I perform myself.”

2. For Wainwright, the project was about assuming the role of the professional performer, rather than the confessional artist. “This was about being a singer; it was about walking into a room with a great bunch of musicians and great bunch of songs and trying not to look like an idiot and deliver something that, as a singer, wasn’t lame. So it was about using my voice to the absolute best of my ability.”

3. Wainwright isn’t afraid of flaunting her ego. “Divas, like opera singers, have this attitude and ego and it’s there for a reason. It’s because they too can bring something to the table and have that belief in themselves and in how they are going to live up to the material. You have to put yourself in that frame of mind when you interpret songs like this; you have to believe and feel that you can do it.”

4. Recorded live with a full ensemble over two nights in New York’s Dixon Place Theatre, the pressure was on. “I tried to have a good time, especially in the last performance, but it was really about the challenge of trying to get something on tape. I knew that we only had a couple of chances with each song and there was an audience of people watching and money was being spent. So it was a very challenging and focussed performance.”

5. While the recorded results speak for themselves, the performances were not the most, err, appealing sight. “It was very physical and you can see – we filmed it – that my arm is up in the air and my face is contorted into these crazy, screwed up faces (laughs). It’s not a very pretty sight, but it helped to convey the songs and the sound in that way, then no problem.”

Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris is out now via Shock

Visit: marthawainwright.com

Daniel Johnston – Forever Young

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #72, December/January 2009-2010.

Texan outsider musician Daniel Johnston has battled mental illness to become one America’s most prolific and most loved songwriters. By Dan Rule

VITAL STATS
Name Daniel Johnston.
Born 1961, Sacramento, California, USA.
Passion Marvel Comics, The Beatles.

‘60s/Early 70s Born in Sacramento, California, Johnston moves to rural West Virginia as a child. It’s clear from an early age that Johnston isn’t like other kids. Intermittently shy and manic, he spends much of his early alone listening to the Beatles and poring over Marvel and DC comic books.

1970s Johnston avidly takes to drawing and music and soon begins writing his own Beatles-inspired material on guitar and piano. He buys a Sony boom-box and begins recording his songs.

1980 Johnston’s often obsessive behaviour takes a turn for the worst and he becomes deeply depressed and self-destructive. He is later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He releases his first, crudely recorded cassette Songs of Pain, replete with hand-drawn packaging.

1983 Despite his illness, he moves to Austin, Texas and is embraced by the eclectic music scene. Releases his classic album Hi, How Are You?

1985 Features on an episode of MTV’s The Cutting Edge. Almost overnight, Johnston becomes an underground cult hero.

Late ‘80s/Early ‘90s Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Tom Waits name-check Johnston in interviews, but while his star is on the rise, Johnston’s mental health becomes increasingly unstable. He releases his classic record 1990 between stints in a mental facility.

1994 A major label bidding war breaks out after Kurt Cobain is snapped wearing one of Johnston’s Hi, How Are You? album t-shirts. Atlantic eventually releases the acclaimed Fun.

1995–2003 With his illness under relative control, Johnston records a string of catchy, intelligent, refreshingly honest pop records.

2004 Releases Discovered Recovered, a collection of Johnston covers by the likes of Mercury Rev, Tom Waits, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips and countless others.

2005 Dutch documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston receives the Director’s Award at Sundance, though the the experience leaves Johnston disillusioned.

2006 Johnston’s artwork is included in the esteemed Whitney Biennial.

2009 He releases his reflective, lushly produced new album Is and Always Was.

JOHNSTON’S WORD

On creativity… “I just like to get to work, you know. I feel my best when I’m doing something, but when I’m not doing something I’m like the laziest sod you could ever know, just laying in bed and sleeping all day. Because I’m a manic depressive, when I get depressed it’s serious business, you know. I think that being creative, in whatever way, is just the best way of staying alive. It’s good therapy.”

On comics… “Jack Kirby was always my favourite, but I like all kinds. I like Paul Glacey – he did The Master of Kung-Fu with Marvel Comics – and all kinds of guys. A lot of my favourite art comes from Marvel and DC really. I’m into Batman right now. I like Batman.”

On The Beatles… “I was very shy and withdrawn and I didn’t have any friends, but I started listening to the Beatles and the first thing I knew, I was coming onto girls in an English accent. I started to get popular and I started writing songs and destiny was calling me, you know. It was the Beatles that led me.”

On collecting… “Because we go on all these tours, I buy comic books and records a lot – I can spend 500 dollars in one shot. And now, I have so many books and so many records and so many albums and things that dad’s going to build an addition to the house.”

Is and Always Was is out now though huB the laBel/Albert Productions

Visit: hihowareyou.com

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