After the February release of her sophomore album Crushing, Julia Jacklin played to a sold-out crowd at iconic Melbourne venue The Forum Theatre whilst on her first national tour for 2019. Having recently moved to Melbourne, and on her last tour selling out two Corner Hotel gigs, she is clearly loved in her new home-town.
In the venue, the audience’s adoration was evidenced throughout the night – gentle humming and singing in the background of every tune. Nevertheless, Jacklin still seems surprised by her fame: “I’m struck by the absurdity of what I’m doing. I’m just playing guitar on a stage with my friends.”
And that is exactly what she does. Jacklin’s live show doesn’t rely on any distractions or tricks. Instead, her performance is one that is understated yet immense. The instrumentals are sparse and restrained, but powerful in the way they fill the space. This allows Jacklin’s voice to be the centrepiece, and the acoustics are clear enough to showcase her skills as a classically trained vocalist.
Her music is the perfect fit for a venue this size or smaller: its lyrics are intimate and thoughtful, reflective in nature and tending towards self-examination. With the Forum’s cerulean-blue ceiling lit to imitate the evening sky, the overall effect is breathtaking and powerful. This was felt particularly moments before ‘When the Family Flies in‘ as Jacklin recounted for the audience the loss of a friend, and to whom the song was dedicated – “this song isn’t pleasant at all.”
However, the entire evening was punctuated with more moments of humour than seriousness. Not long after this sombre moment she gave a shout out to “Ryan The Sound Guy”, recalling a time when they had a night out which ended with her waking up, covered in fries. She is everyone’s secret spirit animal.
Stories aside though, Jacklin’s music is immersive and captivating, uniting her audience as one big-love-entity. As the night came to an end, with her eyes closed, head rocking back to the sky, crowd singing along to ‘Motherland‘ and hearing “And oh I’m good, I think I’m good; Will I be great, will I be great?”… well, we believe the evidence is clear that Julia Jacklin is and always will be “Great”.
Off the back of his self-titled debut in 2015, Roland Tings became a mainstay of the Australian electronic scene. Throughout 2016 he played countless gigs, peddling his unique brand of layered, rolling electro across the country before taking some time to regroup.
In late 2016 he released the first pieces of new music in over a year, with his recognisable arpeggios and percussion accompanied by a slight shift in tone and influences. New, house-ier moments in tracks like ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Eyes Closed’ set the tone for what was to come in the critically praised EP Each Moment A Diamond. As we learned from our recent chat with Roland, this EP was a long time in the making — and perhaps even longer in securing it’s release.
Roland recently embarked on a massive Australian and New Zeland tour, and despite the delays in releasing new music it became clear that fans had not lost interest. Kicking off in March the tour covered Canberra, Wollongong, Perth, Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane before heading south for Wellington and Auckland. The new live show brings to the stage the two man live arrangement recently seen at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival and supporting RUFUS on their tour.
We were lucky enough to catch the extra Thursday show at Howler in Melbourne, only added after the Friday night performance sold out very quickly. As the Howler band room slowly started to fill, the audience found their feet to high-energy, intricate house productions by Fishing. Highlights from their recent EP Pleasure Dome — such as ‘Yuma’ and the title track ‘Pleasure Dome’ — perfectly set the pace of the evening.
After the support from Fishing and Venus II, there was an atmosphere of excitement and heady anticipation by the time Roland Tings took to the stage — which he capitalised on by immediately launching in to new material. Long, progressive tracks helped build tension in the room — like the distorted harps of ‘Turn Your Face To The Sun’ — and made the most of the impressive rack of synths and relays that adorned the stage.
Accompaniment from a live percussionist gave many tracks an added sense of weight, without overpowering the overall sound output. New numbers like ‘Hedonist’ particularly benefitted from the heightened performance value added by live drums. Its broad, reverbed-out synth lines left heaps of space for the full-bodied bass and punching kicks to cut through Howler’s sound system. Inspired by the Australian outback, the track’s sense of atmosphere made it a stand out on the recent EP and it was received as such live.
More upbeat new tracks like ‘Eyes Closed’ and ‘Garden Piano‘ were spread throughout favourites from Tings’ debut album, which helped to maintain a strong energy during the hour and a half set. The progression from track to track was often seamless, largely due to the extensions and reworks of key elements between each one. The live aspects of the performance helped to transition these extended versions together to create one continuous soundtrack for the night. The slow-to-start but eventually powerful ‘Slow Centre’ proved to be a highlight of these transitions, as it moves from a Bonobo-esque percussion piece into a powerful dance floor shaker. Another highlight was the unexpected move into a Roland staple; ‘Floating On a Salt Lake’. Its drawn out introduction was weaved so effortlessly into the proceeding sounds that the dramatic cut to only the bass line came as a welcome surprise.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest moments of the night came from recent lead single ‘Higher Ground’. The stabbing top line synths and bouncing bassline would have been more than sufficient to raise the energy in the room again, but the inclusion of the first vocals lines of the night (from local singer Nylo) gave the audience an additional element to latch onto and inevitably sing along with. A crowd singing back the words to a recently released song always creates a special moment, and through the impressive light and smoke show Howler had put on it was clear that the two piece on stage were enjoying it just as much as the audience. Bringing the set to a close was undoubtedly Roland Ting’s biggest release to date, ‘Pala’. Hearing such an often-played track live gave it a new energy that the crowd lapped up in their final dancing moments.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Buoy before her show at Boney for a brief and lovely chat. We spoke about her move from Tamworth to Sydney, her plans for the future including Paradise Music Festival next month and facing harsh criticism from six-year-olds.
Marcus Rimondini: Where are you from originally?
Buoy: I grew up in Tamworth. I moved when I was 18 after I finished school and moved to Lismore. I went to Southern Cross University and I studied piano there, I was there for three years. It was a contemporary music performance course.
When did you cross over to become Buoy?
After University when I moved to Sydney. I’ve always loved pop music.
How did you find it coming up through Sydney, did you associate yourself with certain artists? How did people find you originally?
I recorded it all. When I chose to start the Buoy project, I just made some recordings and then I sent them around, nothing really happened from that. Until I asked the booking agent of the band I used to be in.
What was that band’s name?
It was called Hello Vera.
What kind of music did Hello Vera make?
It was kind of alternative, piano, pop, synthy. It was a funny set up. It was a really good experience though. I learnt how bands work and I was very naive before then. Also playing piano growing up, it’s a very solo instrument, so I just wasn’t used to playing with other people.
What venues did you start playing at when you started Buoy?
The venue I first played at as Buoy was Goodgod. Which is called Plan B now. My manager happened to be at that gig and she moved very quickly, in working with me.
What are your regular places to play now in Sydney?
Well, I just did my launch at the Newtown Social Club. I’ve played there a couple of times, it’s always a good sound there.
What’s your day to day life like?
I teach piano, and I teach singing at a primary school to little tiny kids. Actually I had a six year old tell me, when he was about to play ‘Hot Cross Buns‘, before he played it he said “don’t take any offence, but I don’t want you to sing along when I play it, because you don’t actually have that good of a voice” [laughs]. I do that a couple days a week, and the rest of the time I get to write at home in Surry Hills.
When did you record the Break EP?
I recorded it over the past two years in my room, and Christopher Port had a friend who got me some studio time at his friends studio. It was just a couple of days in the studio, just doing things that we couldn’t do in our bedrooms pretty much, fine tuning and stuff. Using better quality gear.
Is that fine tuning the vocals or the instrumentation?
It’s mainly the vocals. If there’s also a piano in the studio, that’s really nice too.
What was the difference in approach between the Immersion EP and the Break EP?
Immersion was solely in the bedroom. Break was mostly in the bedroom, except for one song, ‘Clouds & Rain‘, [which] we did in the studio.
What were you listening to while you were recording Break?
The goal was to make it a bit more uptempo. At the time we were listening to In Colour and ‘All Under One Roof Raving‘ by Jamie Xx , that sort of vibe.
What’s your connection with Jack Grace?
I met Jack at University and he was also in Hello Vera.
What instruments do you use on stage?
I use a keyboard, MIDI, Laptop and a sampler. I have a little synth at home that I don’t get to use on stage that much, because it’s too hard to carry around. It’s used in the recordings. Sometimes when I play in Sydney I take it with me.
How do you supplement it live? with the laptop?
What’s the plan for summer, touring wise?
In October I have a national tour supporting Lisa Mitchell, Paradise Music Festival and The Plot in November, and then Subsonic Music Festival is the last thing.
Do you know much about Paradise?
No! I have never been, but everyone tells me amazing things about it. Like “it’s the best festival. It’s so nice”.
What are your plans for next year? SXSW?
There is talk of it, but it’s really hard with visas and everything. Carrying all the gear… You know, funds [laughs].
Then do you plan on world domination? [laughs]
[laughs] I don’t know, I don’t really have one. I’m just enjoying being me. I’m just really enjoying writing songs, putting them out and playing.
T O U R D A T E S
October 13th & 14th @ Howler, Melbourne
October 15th @ Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane
October 22nd @ 23rd – Newtown Social Club, Sydney
October 27th @ Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth
October 28th @ Rocket Bar, Adelaide
November 19th @ The Plot, Parramatta Park
November 25th-27th @ Paradise Music Festival, Victoria
December 2nd-4th @ Subsonic Music Festival, Riverwood Downs Mountain Valley
Yeo played his first headlining set at the Corner Hotel in September for the Melbourne leg of his east-coast ‘Got No Game’ tour. The home crowd lovingly welcomed him with open arms, as well as his support acts Take Your Time and Saatsuma, and Sarah Chavdaroska and I were lucky enough to be there to witness it.
With the Corner still steadily filling with people, Saatsuma took to the stage under dreamy, red spotlights. Their set began to lift when they announced they were playing a cover of Little Dragon’s ‘Twice’, a slow, romantic rendition of the original and a good intro to the band for Yeo fans who hadn’t heard Saatsuma play before. Everyone was captivated when they performed their popular first single ‘Storm’, and when the beats grew louder and faster lead singer Memphis Kelly brought out her tambourine and broke into a little dance in the centre of the stage.
Saatsuma are a collaborative electronic project between Memphis, Cesar Rodrigues and Joel Ma. The trio have merged their unique musical styles and backgrounds together to create sweet electronic beats. For their live shows Saatsuma share the stage with Memphis’ sister Maddy Kelly, Lachlan Stuckey and Andrew Congues (who also plays drums for Yeo), elevating their music from a studio-based creation to a 5-piece live band.
Their newly released single ‘Floating’ captivated the audience with Memphis’ dark, velvety vocals. As with all electronic music, I was interested to see how a studio project would translate onstage with the multiple layers of sounds and beats. This group delivered, and played like a well oiled machined with a fantastic stage presence.
With recent appearances at Big Sound in Brisbane, a sold out show at Shebeen and the single launch for ‘Floating’ at the Toff in Town, this talented group of musicians has certainly gained momentum fast and left with many fans at the end of the night.
Yeo opened his set with ‘Kobe’ – an oldie but a goodie – a perfect start to his night. The stage was simply lit with a few spotlights, which was a bit unusual considering the visual-heavy performances we have come to expect from his live shows. That was until the intro for ‘Girl,’ came on. The venue was suddenly enveloped in darkness – except for the constellation of colourful lines flickering on and off in unison to the beat of drummer Andrew Congues’ glow in the dark drumsticks hitting those claps against the throbbing bass that lit up the stage. The song is light on the lyrics but focuses heavily on the hypnotic beats, although annoyingly the chatter of the crowd broke the spell. The songs following ‘Girl,’ were all accompanied by alternating projections from black and white glitches to colourful, eclectic 90’s dance moves and visually complemented the slightly different vibes of each song incredibly well.
The Melbourne-based songwriter/producer/singer experiments with countless genres and breaks the mould of expectations around artists needing to commit to a single genre. Some of his earlier songs like ‘Kobe’ and ‘Girl,’ (released in 2013) compared to his newer tracks from his LP Ganbaru (released earlier this year) really showcased his musical progression, while holding onto the dreamy beats that make his sound so enthralling.
Yeo really turned up the heat for ‘Got No Game’ which was accompanied with his new video, directed by himself in collaboration with Trevor Santos, Alix Petah and Ben Dennis. The modern dance music video was somewhat distracting at first but got really addictive to watch and complimented the lyrics of the song, which got the crowd dancing. Yeo was then joined onstage by Saatsuma vocalist Memphis Kelly and saxophonist Ollie Whitehead together to perform ‘Secret Powers’. The live saxophone added an extra dimension to the sound and it honestly sounded better than the recorded track. The next song was a special treat for his hometown and the girls in the front row swooned when Yeo kneeled down in front of them and sang a rare live version of ‘Jetcooler’. The guitar solo and freestyle saxophone in this song felt more like an intimate jam-sesh with Yeo and Ollie, the crowd appreciating being privy to something special by dancing harder than ever.
Their set peaked at the end when Yeo dropped ‘Quiet Achiever’, the spotlights blowing up onto the crowd simultaneously with the bass drop. I turned around to see a sea of smiles. As the end of the song began to fade out, Yeo thanked Melbourne and left the stage with Andrew but came back almost immediately for an encore as the chants for “one more song” filled the room, and ended the show with ‘Always Open‘. What an absolute treat for the Melbourne crew.
Yeo definitely lit up the Corner Hotel, literally and metaphorically as he moved effortlessly from the microphone, keyboard, guitar and performed ripper keytar solos while dancing energetically around the stage throughout the whole night. Yeo is probably one of the most talented and energetic performers I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Can’t wait to see what else he has tucked up his sleeve for the future.
But with the title of this tour, the temptation to point out the obvious is too strong. Yeo has certainly got game!
The bandroom at Howler was the perfect space for lush electronic tunes from Kllo, on the hometown stop of their ‘Well Worn’ EP tour. Good Manners curated a fantastic lineup, the Harpoon DJs playing beats between support acts CORIN and Martin King (of The Harpoons).
CORIN, an electronic artist from Sydney, was the first to preform. Her blend of experimental sounds and vocal loops was balanced with strong keyboard melodies. CORIN is a classically trained pianist, which is reflected in her incredible technical skills. She used her Nord to its full capabilities, experimenting with different sounds and scale-like melodies over electronic drum pad beats. The lighting at Howler is incredible, as you’ll be able to see in Sarah Chav‘s photos, and soft lasers and entrancing lights during her set created the perfect vibe to start the night.
Martin King, member of the Harpoons, played next. His set was less methodical than CORIN’s and more interactive, both with the crowd and the sound/light technicians. For other acts, requests to change the levels or the lights can be distracting. But paired with his self-deprecating banter on stage it made the audience feel like part of his set; part of the bedroom jam as he tried different things and pulled in some of his friends to play brand new songs.
Guest vocalist Juliet Rowe brought late 70s disco/soul vibes, and after requesting to use the mirrored disco ball she got everyone moving. His last song with the rest of The Harpoons was a true party, charming and joyful. The Harpoons DJed again afterwards as the stragglers of the sold-out crowd made their way in.
Kllo appeared on stage to cheers, and though the audience were devoted they were also particularly chatty. A group near me complained loudly and at great length about how annoying it was seeing people on their phones, irony lost on them as they talked through soft, subtle moments of Kllo’s set. The chattiness of the crowd is a by-product of the popularity of the duo, who have moved into bigger venues now that they have been touring near constantly. Consistently preforming has given both Simon Lam and Chloe Kaul an obvious sense of being comfortable on stage, while their quiet cool kid vibe stays as strong as ever.
Chloe’s soft vocals and Simon’s artful producing work is completely in sync live, and every song was met with great appreciation. After their last EP gave a sense of the sound they were moving towards, this EP is a clear foundation of what their sound is. Now they’ve mastered the format and found their voice, I’m looking forward to seeing how they riff on and play with it in the future. After the conclusion of their Australian tour dates this weekend, Kllo are heading overseas to play support for RÜFÜS across London and Europe.
Saatsuma are a Melbourne-based collaboration between Memphis Kelly, Cesar Rodrigues and Joel Ma on the recording side, but the group transforms for the live shows to a five piece — Cesar and Memphis perform, along with Maddy Kelly (sister to Memphis), Andrew Congues and Lachlan Stuckey. With support from Eilish Gilligan and OCDANTAR, they put on a beautiful night of electronic music at The Toff in Town to celebrate the launch of their sublime video for ‘Floating’. Dream Kit (Declan Kelly), sometime collaborator with Saatsuma and brother to Memphis and Maddy, provided solid vibes throughout the night DJing in between the acts.
Singer/songwriter Eilish Gilligan and her live band (consisting of Max Dowling and Lewis Coleman) had just started when I arrived, and were firmly setting the scene for a night of ambient synth and rich dance tracks. Gilligan’s emotive lyrics and vulnerable performance style created an intimate atmosphere immediately for people walking through the door, drawing people in with her powerful vocals. The earlier songs in her set tended towards a similar structure and sound, and while they were engaging her real strength as an artist came through in the final two songs. She played her beautiful single ‘All the Time’ second to last and it was the standout, captivating the crowd with haunting lyrics and sparse beats. Her last song, which is new, was less beat heavy and was exciting to see as a signpost for how her sound might expand to add more variation to her catalogue.
During Gilligan’s performance there were moments of slightly overzealous lighting, particularly the incidence of a brief green strobe breaking the spell she had over the audience for a minute to give way for laughter from crowd and band alike. Unfortunately the distraction from the lighting continued into the start of OCDANTAR (Joshua Delaney), before calming to give the artist space on stage. It was great to see someone trying interesting effects, particularly at the Toff which hasn’t always had the setup to do so, however it was overbearing at times.
OCDANTAR started ethereal, with minimal vocals and then ebbed and flowed impressively through deeper bass without losing momentum. He played a cohesive set and made excellent use of samples, both of his own voice and others. I would love to see him headline, because although there were a few people keeping the dancefloor going it seemed like people took his set as a chance to have a dance break and enjoy his music from afar and he was in turn less engaged with the crowd.
People were still taking advantage of the break in music to get in drinks and cigarettes when the screening of the video began, slightly ahead of schedule. It’s a beautiful film clip, with minimal action and a focus on choreography and movement which reflects the push and pull of insomnia explored in the lyrics of ‘Floating’. The video was projected onto the back of the stage, and would have benefitted from a more dramatic setting with lower lights so the crowd could see the indigo colouring more accurately.
After the curtains closed on the stage, Dream Kit started playing tunes again and the crowd jostled into position, ready for Saatsuma to play. The atmosphere shifted from cheerful anticipation to a bit antsy, as the wait between the video and their set was just slightly too long to hold the excitement over from the screening of the video. Nonetheless everyone was there to see them, and when they took to the stage all was forgiven.
Occasionally electronic acts seem awkward or lacking in a live set, as they can struggle to find a way to translate sample and effect heavy tunes to the stage. Saatsuma beautifully navigate this, with an altered lineup for the stage and a real depth in their live performance. Memphis Kelly is a captivating front-woman and the addition of live drums and Maddy Kelly on backup vocals give richness to both their sound and performance live, keeping the live show interesting and something special. The lighting for the rest of the night made more sense now, as the changes and intensity were used to incredibly good effect to draw focus back to Memphis where needed, and not overwhelming while there were more people on stage, though still occasionally clunky in parts.
Their set peaked beautifully towards the end, playing their first single ‘Storm’ which got the crowd dancing and then new song, ‘Breathless’, which was a satisfying change and a good choice for between their two best known songs. ‘Floating’ was of course their closer, and exemplified the mood change from their recorded songs to live in a beautiful way. There was a lot of love in the room, the band clearly impressed with the majority of crowd singing along and all of the crowd dancing. Vocals start dominating at the end of the song, music fading for Memphis’s voice to ring out over the crowd sans accompaniment, with a split second break as though the crowd were awed into silence before many cheers and fierce applause.
As soon as the red velvet curtains closed, Dream Kit began playing again to a satisfied crowd. Saatsuma and supports put on a sweet night, and it’s exciting to see them developing a breed of electronic music which is danceable without sacrificing feeling and emotion.
Trams clamour behind us heading down Brunswick Street as we sit on a park bench, shaded beneath the broad Oak Trees, evading the late-summer morning rays. It front stands the tall Fitzroy Memorial Rotunda, a quintessential landmark of this Melbourne Park that if I was to be completely honest looks like it’s seen better days. The chipped paint on the railings and murky water pooling at the bottom of the staircase acts as a poignant representation of the grit and grime that’s seemed to fuse itself onto the classical architecture of the place. The results of overuse, or maybe just under care. But I guess that’s half the charm, isn’t it? We are at North Fitzroy’s Edinburgh Gardens and I’m sitting with Vachel Spirason, aka Vincent D, the enigmatic frontman of Melbourne’s eclectic disco quintet, Total Giovanni, and I’m in raptures with just how damn ‘Melbourne’ the entire scene is.
Vachel has a coffee in one hand, and a brown paper bag of chocolate chip cookies in the other, offering them to our crew before we get started on the interview. They’re the good kind of cookies – generous, sweet, and loaded with quality chocolate. The kind you get in the ‘nice’ cafes around here. We let the taste of gentrification melt on our tongues.
I came into this interview armed with a host of questions that certainly differed from other artists I’ve interviewed. Questions relating not only to music development, touring plans or recording process, but questions I’d like to think had a little more substance.
Questions on the social commentary that seems to underpin everything Total Giovanni touches. It’s evidenced in so much of how this band presents itself; the flamboyant performativity on stage, the costumes, the dancing, the band name, the palpably inclusive ethos when the five of them get on stage, necks laden with gold chains and hips already gyrating against the keyboard.
“The things that are important to you end up falling out as part of the project,” Vachel tells me. “Getting this opportunity to play to a lot of people, you kind of go, well alright, how can we make this say things that we think are important, or how can we make that reflect things that we think are important.”
It doesn’t take long for me to understand exactly what this band finds important. Having grown up in St Kilda, fellow band member, Jules, in Flemington, and other band guys hailing from Frankston, Vachel has previously dubbed the band as a group of tongue-in-cheek “working class heroes.”
Which brings me to the band’s aesthetic. One of the main ways Total Giovanni effectively translate to their audience their unique brand of social politics is through their aesthetic, something Vachel explains as continually evolving.
“The stuff that it was early on aesthetically and musically has already changed a few times, and the new stuff we’re cooking up at the moment is really different again. Whenever we rehearse we’re always laughing, and we’ve got such a deep history together that I think many aspects of the band, whether it’s outfits or name, a lot of it comes from that playful space of enjoying each other’s company and fucking around.”
For most fans of the group you’d identify their look as emanating a strong “Italian sailor” vibe – replete with white turtlenecks and cropped linen pants, glitzy gold jewellery and round-rimmed glasses that are worn even (or especially) at night.
“Early on we used to ham it up,” Vachel explains. “Once we had the name I used to rip off that. Some of our early gigs I would always talk in an Italian accent, which would really confuse people.”
I ask him if he is part Italian.
“No, I’m not. I’m half Greek, so I was sort of playing off this pan-Mediterranean identity thing, which we thought was really funny, but then I started getting a couple of homesick Italians coming up after the gig and I felt really bad and I was like, you know what, that’s just cultural appropriation. So … even though it’s a fine line, you know, if you’re a Greek trying to do Italian it’s maybe not as offensive. Or is it? I dunno. So that kind of faded out.”
Total Giovanni // Paradise Music Festival 2014
As suggested in Total Giovanni’s newer press releases, however, the group has undergone a sort of aesthetic rebirth, taunting fans with the prospect of similarly evolved new sounds. Ditching the whites and golds for an inspired sports lux and 80’s retro chic hybrid, their “new look” is something I find particularly interesting.
“We’re exploring tracksuit aesthetic because I’ve lived in Coburg since that last house move,” Vachel explains, half jokingly, but also being very, very serious.
“I just really like how relaxed it is. It reminds me of growing up in Prahran and St. Kilda in the 90s before that got gentrified. I dunno, I just like being able to wear your tracksuit pants down to the supermarket. I think that having lived in a lot of areas that got too fancy there’s this point at which you can’t wear tracksuit pants.”
“You’re bringing it back, basically. You’re gentrifying the tracksuit pants.” I tell him.
“Well that’s the thing as well, I mean I am wearing fancy tracksuit pants right now.” He laughs, looking down at his comfy albeit fashionable tracksuit pants. “But I think that really we’re all just fucking around.”
I wonder if, for this group of boldly expressive lads, it goes aesthetic first, and then the music. Or maybe by this point, the two are working in tandem for Total Giovanni.
“I think it’s music first,” he confirms. “Once that’s done then we can start playing with that other stuff, which I’m looking forward to but I don’t know what it’s going to be yet. I love being able to surprise people or do something weird, and I think once we get the opportunity to make some more clips and do some more things like that I’m really excited about aesthetically shaping that stuff. That’s always been a big part of what we want to do.”
Almost straight off the bat and during their early stages of their musical career, Total Giovanni have been booked for some impressive gigs – an indicator of not only their adept musicianship and technical skill, but also suggests an Australia ready and waiting for their specific brand of musical bravado on stage. It was not last year but the year before that Total Giovanni were asked for play at the inimitable mid-winter festival Dark Mofo – one of Tasmania’s biggest draw cards for every art-loving Melbourne and Sydney hipster. “We’d only done a handful of shows and we were like, ‘What the fuck? You want us to play?” And we had the best time! It was so nice.”
“We deliberately didn’t take on any gigs over that new years period even though we had some gig offers. It was sort of like, you could continue to keep gigging off the back of these four singles that we’d put out, but for us the whole long term plan had been to go away and write and album and come back with that. So I think the choice was to give ourselves the time to create new stuff we sort of wanted to not gig for a while. And we’re still in that period now.”
Aside from their gig at Sugar Mountain Festival this year, and a few top secret and more clandestine shows they trickled out earlier in the year, it is true that Total Giovanni have been laying low. So what exactly is in the works?
“We’re drafting the songs at the moment,” Vachel tells me. “And we’ve finished about six or seven and we’ve got another four or five that we want to finish off. So in the next few months, we’ll be working on them and then record them as we go, and then have some time off and then some back and listen to the recording and then go at it again.”
“Later in the year we will sit down to record a good copy, but I don’t know where, I imagine it will be somewhere local, we’re pretty lo-fi.”
Even though they’re two-thirds of the way through their creative process, the group undisputedly has a few other commitments on their hands. Vachel tells me he’s not only in the midst of moving house, but also has a baby on the way. And so the real question is: will he do a Kanye West and include a baby song in the new mix?
“Well actually Kanye stole my fucking thunder!” Vachel cries. A sentiment I’m sure he’s not alone in thinking.
I tell him I speak on behalf of all of his fans when I say I would love to hear a baby song.
“There’s already been quite a number of baby momma songs, but you know maybe I’ll write a baby album! I want to put some more pressure on the other guys in the band. I think some of them are probably not far off making babies themselves, so TG kindergarten I guess.”
I laugh at the prospect of the five freely dancing costumed men performing dance tracks at my local kindergarten – an image that strangely doesn’t seem too at odds with their band’s identity. Nothing would really be too weird.
“You know the Wiggles?” Vachel explains, “Yeah, we’re gonna be like the Wiggles. We’re going to slowly evolve into a child-friendly dance act.”
“We just need to sort of phase out the semi-nudity and gyration and maybe tone down what Jules does to that keyboard,” he admits.” “Actually, Jules is already a dad I should say.”
All that gyrating, it’s no surprise.
“All that gyrating, babies happen. His son is half keyboard. But no, that is something on the cards: baby album, toddler album. Untapped potential there in the local Melbourne scene. There’re not enough people playing at kindergartens I think. Too many people at the Mercat not enough people at the kindergartens – that’s the pull quote right there.”
Total Giovanni // Paradise Music Festival 2014
Despite the relatively small number of songs they’ve had to work with for gigging and airplay, their most popular song and highly danceable funk number ‘Can’t Control My Love’ has over 500,000 plays on Spotify. So what can we come to expect from this new sound?
“The new stuff evolving is really nice,” says Vachel. “There’s definitely some slower jams, and I think in our live shows we’ve always had some slower stuff as well. It’s broader spectrum from slower jams and it’s not all up-tempo dance foor stuff. Probably half the album will be that, but also exploring different territory lyrically as well. You know, it’s not all love love heartache stuff, it’s kind of evolving beyond that. And it’s been really nice discovering what the songs are about and how they end up falling out.”
One of the contributing factors for their delayed releases of newer tracks is due to them being an unsigned band, Vachel admits. “It’s always been a massive DIY project which makes it slower but at the same time you get to retain complete creative control.”
“It’s a bit like running a socialist collective,” Vachel explains, “you’ve got to spend more time chatting about and getting everyone’s opinions. But I think creatively it benefits from that. I’m hoping that our little sonic caboose that we’re running is gonna have some really nice ripe fruits to show for the labours later in the year, and until that point, we’re just gonna keep trying to be methodical and try and squeeze it in writing in rehearsals when we can. We’re getting there.”
Total Giovanni as a socialist collective is an analogy that resonates with me, and coincides quite beautifully with what I’ve gathered is the impetus for them dressing and playing and acting the way they do.
“From our early gigs we were dressed up like idiots and we were having a really fun time and I think people gravitated to that. They were like ‘who are these guys dressed up like idiots having a really fun time? They look like such idiots that it’s okay for me to do whatever I want!”
With a background in both comedy and dance, Vachel explains to me the parallels between the different artforms, describing it as an excuse for a kind of “weird social catharsis, where by me being an idiot you get to laugh, and we all get to let off this energy together.”
This kind of social permission and allowing for a collective release is also particularly relevant when Vachel talks about the culture of toxic masculinity that continues to pervade Australia. After keeping his dancing lessons secret up to the age of 15, Vachel reflects on just how engrained the social stigma is around gender norms – something he seems passionate in dismantling.
“Australian culture in general is very uptight,” he goes on to say. “Especially when it comes to certain forms of freedom of expression. Like even going on dance floors even club nights, people don’t fucking dance. It’s like people go see DJs and don’t dance like, what the fuck are you doing? The whole point of dance music is to dance, and the idea of people going to see DJs and just being like ‘yeah, cool man’ it’s like, well, you know, I’m not saying that that’s wrong, it’s just that I think a lot of those people would like to dance but feel unsure. And maybe that’s because we live in a culture where people don’t dance, so then people get to 25 and they’ve never danced and so they feel like ‘well I don’t know how to start now’.”
Throughout the interview, I note that this concept of dancing as an “expression of joy” and a way to create community perhaps sits at the core of what this band is about. “We talk about all the political social stuff, and this is the nonverbal way to overcome that shit,” he tells me. “You can sit down and have a chat or you can dance with someone and it’s like ‘cool, now we’ve done that, that’s great’ and you’re all on the same page. It melts those boundaries and the more that people do that the better.”
Speaking with Vachel makes me think about my own experiences dancing, and I realise that some of my most memorable dancing experiences may have in fact been during their sets. There was White Night 2015, Golden Plains, a few of their highly memorable, sexually charged side shows I’ve been lucky enough to attend over the years.
Total Giovanni is a band that certainly comes with a message, but they’re also not here to ram politics down your throat. They make it clear they’re no arbiters of what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or necessarily know the ‘best’ way to be socially progressive and aware. What they are is a band determined to get people dancing, to make good music and feel comfortable enough to get down and dirty with a crowd of screaming, adoring fans. And if this in turn helps to unhinge a culture that is inextricably linked to antiquated notions of masculinity, gender norms or social pretension, then that’s just the icing on the golden cake. So maybe grinding in tracksuit pants to a few of their tunes really is the first step towards social revolution, or maybe it’s something fun and unifying to do in the meantime. At the end of the day, look out, Total Giovanni coming to a Kindergarten near you.
I didn’t want our time with Habits to end, really – it felt more like a friendly catch up than an interview. Habits are pioneering a new space for music in Melbourne, so I felt privileged to have the chance to chat with the pair about their thoughts on our local scene, music genres, the birth of Habits, and the process behind the creation of their music and visual art.
I am so excited not only for the future of these talented musicians, but also for the inspiration they spark in their peers, fans, and community. Ugly Cry, their debut EP, is absolutely magical. It’s so humbling to know that the artists behind such a creative and striking piece of work are also genuinely marvellous people.
Kassie: I’ve heard so many great reviews from friends about your Ugly Cry launch gig. How was it?
Maia: Well, there was a lot on our plate, so it was quite stressful leading up to it and I kind of don’t remember it. It was amazing but it just sort of passed in a flash, and I was kind of somewhere else just constantly thinking about the next thing. Looking back, there was really amazing energy from the audience, it was really special.
Kassie: I know that feeling, when you have a huge adrenalin rush from so much anticipation.
Maia: It did kind of rush past. Now I can look back and I remember it, but at the time it didn’t feel like that.
Mo: It did just rush by.
Maia: It was really beautiful though, everyone was dancing and giving us a lot of energy to work with.
Kassie: You have quite notoriously amazing live shows, what’s the preparation for a show like?
Maia: I find now, I have to be at least one to two drinks in, just to let out the inner diva. We do – I don’t know if this is interesting – but we do throat gargles so our voices are fresh.
Mo: We have a ritual. It’s Aspro Clear, at least two drinks.
Kassie: What’s Aspro Clear?
Mo: Kind of like panadol for the throat. Not that glamorous.
Maia: You gotta undo all the damage from chain smoking. Gotta chain smoke while we’re rehearsing and then undo it all when we perform.
Kassie: What was the process of creating the debut EP like?
Mo: Long. We recorded it about two years ago and then it kind of swapped hands once or twice. It took a while to get out there. It went between mixers, so it’s two years old.
Kassie: You can’t tell from the sound.
Maia: Thank you. Yeah, I still like it and it still represents us. Some of those songs are the first songs we ever really made together, so it definitely represents this time. Some of the songs we still play and I still really like them.
Kassie: How do you hold onto the freshness of the songs when you’re playing live?
Mo: They definitely have a place.
Maia: I think because we still play the songs live, we find new ways to relate to them. I think they were genuine when we wrote them so it’s still genuine. Also I think a two year wait is something to be expected in this glitz glam industry (laughs).
Kassie: I read in an interview about Reverend Mother that Maia, you bring the pop element, and Mo, you bring a goth sound – is that something that applies to your process throughout the whole EP?
Mo: I’m more attracted to gothy, industrial music, but I still have a place for R’n’B. I’m trying to mesh them together. I think post-EP, the sound has kind of honed in a bit more. It’s a bit more together. So yes, that’s the sound we were after, and it’s been an experimental EP and us getting to know what we’re after too.
Maia: It’s not intentionally formulaic, but I feel like it ends up with that pop/goth kind of mix. It just sort of happens every time.
Kassie: I feel like those two elements together do carve such a fresh sound. One of my favourite parts about Ugly Cry was that I felt no need to even try and define it within a genre. How do you describe Habits to people like your grandparents for example?
Maia: Anyone who asks me what kind of music we make, I struggle.
Maia: Yeah we usually say electronic. There are so many electronic music genres and I just wouldn’t even know some of them. I don’t really try to explain it, except one time years ago one of our friends was like “I like Habits because it’s like party jams but also sad goth”, and then we started using that phrase – ‘sad goth party jams’.
Mo: It’s everywhere now!
Maia: Yeah it’s got a life of its own now. So now I just say sad goth party jams because I think it works. It’s just easier to say that too.
Kassie: Your EP includes some remixes by Catlips, me_irl and Air Max 97. Has networking with other Melbourne musicians influenced your music in any way?
Mo: It’s quite special when you get another musician to extract something from a song that you’ve created yourself, and come up with something completely different.
Maia: I think the industrial vibes in Melbourne have been influential. I don’t know how much of that is ‘networking’ as much as just being fans and then happening to know them. We’ve just been very inspired by our peers in Melbourne.
Mo: We’re quite spoilt. Everyone is giving here, instead of like “no one’s allowed!”. Everyone’s sharing.
Kassie: Yeah there’s definitely an ambitious atmosphere, but not in a competitive way.
Mo: Yeah, especially at the level we’re at, no one seems bitter about “making it” – whatever that means.
Maia: The remixes just happened very casually as well. Catlips we met at Paradise, and she was just like, “Oh hey, I want to do a remix”.
Mo: Ollie (Air Max 97) also came to us – that was at Paradise as well.
Kassie: So I read that you started out as a garage band?
Maia: Kind of. I mean, we started out as a garage band that only sometimes had a guitar. We used to use my housemate’s guitar when she wasn’t using it.
Mo: And my drum kit.
Maia: Yeah, so Mo’s drum kit was at my house. It was still kind of gothy. It was a drum kit, my loop station, an old keyboard, and sometimes a guitar. It did have garage vibes.
Mo: Synth-garage Rihanna covers.
Kassie: Omg that sounds amazing.
Mo: And really loose rave bangers. Borderline tragic.
Maia: Yeah but our tragic is cool (laughs).
Mo: Oh teenagers…
Kassie: What brought about the change in sound?
Maia: I feel like we just sort of started working towards making the music that we liked listening to.
Mo: We took a chance and bought software. That’s what has really made it all come together.
Kassie: What do you use?
Maia: We didn’t know anything about music production, but we had already sort of started playing.
Mo: So we’ve just been growing with it.
Kassie: Did you learn to use Maschine from friends or just on your own?
Maia: Maschine is very user-friendly; I think it’s a lot easier to learn than Ableton, but still very vast in its capabilities.
Kassie: Yeah I’ve heard that sometimes it’s just better to learn it on your own and work out what works for you.
Maia: You come up with great stuff when you don’t know what you’re doing.
Kassie: I love your cover art. How long have you been making visual art? Is that something you share?
Mo: We met in art class, does that answer everything (laughs)?
Maia: Angsty teens in art class.
Mo: Emos without being actual emos.
Maia: I think – and I don’t know if this is embarrassing to say in an interview – but I kind of thought initially, something like the Versace logo. Just something that was uniform so they all kind of matched. Ever since I was a kid I have always loved things like that. Like the Power Rangers, they’re all the same but different colours.
Mo: Like a collection.
Maia: But to be honest they were all pretty like, “Oh shit, we need a cover! Oh..”
Mo: But I felt like it was a real collaborative effort. Our styles are quite similar, so it worked out well. We tried to include our latex black long fingernail hands.
Maia: Kind of a motif in our career (laughs).
Kassie: Which came first, visual art or music?
Mo: I think my outlet is music. It’s a lot more cathartic and somehow less stressful.
Kassie: Outside of music, what are your main inspirations?
Mo: Goosebumps on TV – that was integral. I’m really into horror; when I was a kid I watched so many scary films. The slime and the art was just… It was so spooky, and I loved it.
Maia: I guess just my peers and I moved to the northern suburbs from Oakleigh. Everyone is doing things that they’re passionate about there, especially the queer and trans scene. Melbourne is very inspiring for me; there aren’t lots of opportunities, but everyone is working away regardless.
Mo: Yeah, we started to play interstate, and it’s really eye-opening to how different it is, especially with the new laws – there’s hardly anywhere to play. Yeah, we’re spoilt here. And everyone is in a band!
Maia: Also Melbourne and its environment. The gloominess is really conducive to creativity sometimes.
Mo: Coming back from Sydney, we had a great time and we kind of weren’t ready to come back. But once we landed, it was gloomy – there was a big foggy cloud over the city – and it was sort of like, well, all of these industrial, gothy bands wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have the landscape as well.
Maia: After one of our shows in Sydney, people came up to us and asked us what Melbourne was like, and we said that there’s really amazing industrial synthy goth stuff, and they’re like “Oh, ’cause it’s so gloomy!” (laughs).
Kassie: What’s next for Habits?
Mo: We’re going to try and work on an album, hopefully by next year.
Maia: It’s going to be very collaborative, we’re going to get lots of our friends to work on it with us.
After a hiatus interviewing, the arrangement to meet with the Melbourne electronic pop/hip-hop duo Hoodlem at Schoolhouse studios was a little intimidating, a little nerve wracking, but of course very exciting. Fortunately, having a chat with the humble yet enthralling vocalist was enough to level out my manic emotions and make me re-realise why I enjoy interviewing musicians. With her last show in Melbourne approaching, having the chance to talk about her studio life, touring life, and some tumultuous phases she has gone through with music was a treasured opportunity.
With Hoodlem’s debut EP having been released last week, as well as the planning for the final Melbourne show at Howler this April, I’m enthused about the way the project will continue to thrive when they take on the rest of the world.
Kassie Junkeer: Your debut EP is coming out in a few days, what was the creative process like?
Hoodlem: It was long. We basically recorded all of it in Northcote – we’ve made a bit of a studio out of a shed. So that was really cool. It was a lot of just hanging out there and making weird and wacky shit. It was good fun. We’ve made sure that we don’t do anything very long distance, so it was mostly done at the one place, which is good.
Do you usually do much long distance recording? I read that you’ve been doing a bit of travel overseas.
We haven’t recorded long distance. It’s really hard to do. And you get better chemistry if you’re in the room together. Ideas travel a lot faster. So no long distance.
I read recently that ‘Kintsugi’ was inspired by your experience in Japan with the art form kintsugi, which is repairing broken pottery with gold. What was your first encounter with kintsugi like?
I guess I went to Japan and came home with a few little concepts really. That one just stuck with me because they make these broken pots into something really beautiful. They kind of embellish the cracks I guess. And then at the time it sort of mirrored something I was going through and just all came about from that encounter. I didn’t really come home really gung-ho about kintsugi, but it just struck a chord.
Other than music, are there any other forms of art that you have experimented with?
As much as you do until you discover that you are actually only good at one. So I guess I’ve done a bit of painting and dancing. I love that sort of stuff. I’m definitely drawn to art in forms other than music, definitely. As far as whether I’d call myself anything else – no.
And are there any other types of art that you’ve been inspired by?
Sculpture, painting… I love watching dance. I think I’m very drawn to just through the body movement and how that represents sound. I’m really drawn to that. I’d love to do more with that concept.
I love the idea of the physical representing the sonic.
You both have backgrounds in classical music, so what music were you interested in when you were growing up?
I was kind of forced to do classical music, I’ve never really chosen it. I think I only really appreciate it now as an adult. I wish I appreciated it back then, because I would have taken it more seriously. But I loved classical, and I really do genuinely like anything. But I think the classical stuff we’re far enough away from that we can leave it behind, and draw on it when we need to. It’s very subconsciously in there so we have the flexibility within that which is handy, but we don’t go to it to create.
It’s good to have those foundations so you can unlearn them.
Yes, so you can break all the rules.
What sort of projects were you doing before Hoodlem?
I was doing a lot of vocal work and finding my feet in what I wanted to do. And then I thought that I didn’t want to do music anymore so I quit for a couple of years and stopped playing and listening to music altogether. I started exploring other areas, but I came back to it and then started Hoodlem.
What was that experience like – the years off music?
It was kind of weird and I think I sort of forced myself to not do it. I sold all my music equipment and I didn’t listen to music. I sort of had this hateful break up, which was really strange and I just had to start writing again because I didn’t have any other outlet at that time. It was kind of like self punishment or something… I don’t know, it was really bizarre.
It’s been such a busy past few years for you with touring and releases, how are you experiencing this momentum?
It’s nice to be able to just get a good run on working outside of the studio. That’s been really good. We’ve nearly finished the next EP now, which is nice to have done and it’s just felt really good to get a really good run. And touring was great and heaps of fun, we met heaps of great people along the way. It’s sort of exhausting but it’s nice to be spontaneous and write on the go and have to sort of force yourself to immerse yourself. You can’t really just stay at home in pyjamas.
Yeah that must be the validating part of all of it – the exhaustion.
You traded tunes with us recently but I’d like to ask you what sort artists you would collaborate with? And what do you take into consideration when collaborating?
I would generally collaborate with anyone who would want to collaborate. I think sometimes the worst sounding pairings are the best sounding pairings in the end. Anyone can bring anything to the table, so I’m genuinely excited to wait and see what happens out of it. I love people that love hardware. Anyone that brings weird synths or weird things to hear is always really fun.
We’ve got heaps of plans, it’s going to be really fun. I’m a huge Nico fan, I think he’s so cool and he’s such a sweet dude too. I’ve sort of picked artists that I personally really like because it will be my last show in Melbourne.
Oh really, for how long?
I don’t know, a while I think. I’m moving overseas again. It’s going to be good. And that’s why I wanted to put my own spin on who’s going to play with us. But we’ve definitely got lots of special things lined up!
Can you share?
I can’t! you’ll have to come to the show!
Fair enough. How do you usually prepare for gigs?
I still haven’t really got that down. I still get painfully nervous, so generally a few drinks before I perform (laughs). I don’t know – if you know your shit and you’ve practised… We’re still pretty old school, we’ll still practise a lot before our shows. We take it pretty seriously, we don’t just rock up and not know what’s going on. We’re very organised, and we always still make sure we’ve got all the right things and are prepared.
I really like performing – we both do. We both have a really good time performing together, which is nice but also sad, because we won’t be doing that anymore. I think I do a lot of shows solo, so when I do get to perform with someone else I really enjoy it. But I still get really nervous, so there’s generally a bit of quiet time and pretending like nothing’s happening, and then imagining everyone naked.
Yeah you never know who could be out there.
Exactly, I try and block it out and just enjoy it. There have been so many gigs I haven’t enjoyed through taking too long to settle into them. I now just try and enjoy it from the start, because what’s the point in doing it if you don’t enjoy it, really?
Exactly. I know this is a broad question but what’s your favourite part of being in Hoodlem?
I love the recording process, we have so much fun. Anything goes in our set up. Some of things we’ve sampled… it feels like an adventure every time. Every time we’re setting up a beat we’ll run around and find all this crap we can hit, cans we can spray… anything. So that’s really fun, we’re like two little kids. That’s always my favourite time.
Do you experiment much while you’re recording or do you have a set plan?
The whole thing is pretty much experimenting. There are so many bits in songs that have been accidents that we’ve liked after it’s happened. Like the headphones will echo into the mic, or someone will hit a guitar and we’ll just end up keeping it. So there’s a lot of experimentation.
You mentioned you were going overseas, so what other creative plans do you have for the future?
Lots of writing once I get a few collaborations, which will be really good. A few shows. Just working on the next stage I guess!