Down under the radar: Local underground artists to write home about
It can be hard to find the time to go on the hunt for new or previously undiscovered music. So to help you out, ITM has done some of the searching for you – and we’ve been digging around in our very own backyard. Our new Looking Local series Down Under The Radar will showcase not only up-and-coming Australian electronic music stars, but also shine the spotlight on those who have been plugging away in the background for years and provide them with the wider recognition they truly deserve.
The perpetually busy Sofie Loizou (AKA Anomie) has been everything from a studio owner to a composer of theatrical scores throughout her lifetime. Amongst underground music aficionados, she is respected for her unique, interesting approach to production and DJing that draws influences from electronica, future beats, bass and hip-hop – anyone who hasn’t heard her work yet needs to fix that ASAP. Incorporating everything from subtle, nuanced atmospherics to grinding, raucous basslines into her sound, Sofie demonstrates a knack for making leftfield music danceable and accessible.
What sorts of things draw you to a particular track?
I like to get creative with mixing so I get drawn to tracks that have killer drum breakdowns, exotic rhythms, crazy synth lines and big basslines, but I also am a sucker for those really unique tracks that push the boundaries a bit. I like it when a track creates an atmosphere, whether it be dark and brooding, mystical and consciousness-raising, or downright dirty and animalistic. There is so much music out there but when I hear something that really takes me, it’s an instant affinity. Personally I look to make sense of the world through music, to build up a kind of intangible representation of the world around me. It’s not really about genre for me: different kinds of music can affect you in different ways, but I notice I tend to go for music that takes you on a journey of some sort.
Something of a cult legend in Melbourne but criminally underappreciated elsewhere, Simon Slieker has been DJing and producing music for 18 years. He has played at large scale outdoor events like Rainbow Serpent Festival and sweaty underground venues such as the iconic Brown Alley, both as a support for techno luminaries and as a headliner in his own right. Whether he is playing techno, tech house or progressive, Slieker’s sound is best described as hypnotic, layered and percussive, splicing together sounds to create an absorbing, but never overly-cluttered groove.
You’ve been DJing for nearly your entire adult life (18 years), which is much longer than a lot of DJs stick around for. What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to? What is keeping you interested in DJing?
Firstly, I’m going back to playing vinyl. I started out playing vinyl, but in 2008 I embarked upon a journey to investigate the emerging DJ technology Traktor. Despite the possibilities that digital DJing offers, personally, I can’t feel what I do with it because I’m so busy thinking about what I do with it. How what I do feels and what it creates has always been of paramount importance to me, and in the end vinyl feels better to me. I love the exposition and the art of playing vinyl: my body memory understands it, and in the tactile truth of its physicality, I am fully engaged in a feedback loop involving the music, time, place, people and me. I love engaging with other music lovers who distribute and sell it, enjoying a sense of community, and appreciating when I return home with the physical expression of this in a sleeve. I love flicking through them while I play to a dancefloor of people who I can see, feel and appreciate because I am in that sort of relationship with them, rather than in an intellectual exercise with my computer.
Part of Perth’s music/art collective The Community, Ylem (pronounced Eye-lem) has been steadily gaining a fan base thanks to airplay on local and interstate radio, including triple j. His sound is hard to pin down. Sometimes he leans heavily towards traditional dark, spacious dubstep that would make Youngsta proud, while at others he goes for a buoyant, heavily synthetic and choppy vibe which has grabbed the attention of Monk Fly. But, no matter what, it’s always expertly produced and interesting, and YLEM demonstrates an ability to craft great music, rather than simply master a particular sound.
You create a wide range of futuristic beats; is that a conscious move, and is there any particular style you like to work within most?
I make a wide range of beats because I like to think about music in terms palettes of sounds, rather than beat structures and tempos. Playing around with and refining those palettes is what I find most enjoyable about making music. It’s just as much the process as it is the outcome. For the last few years I’ve been exploring half-time structures between 120 and 140 BPM, whereas this year I’ve been making 80 to 90 BPM stuff. So at the moment that’s the style I’m enjoying working in.
If you like progressive house, then there’s really only one thing to say: listen to this guy. Now. Brisbane’s emphatic answer to complaints of “where’d all the melody in dance music go?”, Rich Curtis has had releases on labels such as Sudbeat and Mistique Music and is responsible for the popular Ulterior parties, which have hosted legends like Anthony Pappa, Hernan Cattaneo and Henry Saiz. His sound is a lush blend of driving basslines, crisp percussion and uplifting, warm melodies reminiscent of Sasha and Digweed at their best.
Your sound is very melodic and harmonically complex, but still credible and not just “obvious”. How do you go about maintaining this balance?
It’s not really a conscious move on my behalf but I guess it’s due to my distaste for anything ‘expected’, ‘normal’, or ‘appropriate’ when I’m creating music. When I’m trying to fire up a new track it will take weeks before I’m happy with the basic elements, I’ll sift through so many different synths, presets, arpeggiators or melodies that may sound really cool at the time, but they never properly satisfy this nagging need to be awkwardly distinctive rather than comfortably standard. I also prefer to have many complimentary elements layered on top of each other so that the listener’s brain is never bored, but it’s pretty tough to not go overboard and to know when to stop. It also makes the engineering side of things extra challenging but I’m still self-taught in terms of studio processes so I think I’m doing alright!
The Silent Titan
Sydney’s The Silent Titan has been crafting his own unique take on hip-hop for over a decade, inspired by greats such as J. Dilla and Flying Lotus. He’s toured the country as a part of Thundamentals, and in 2011 released his debut solo work For The Rest Of My Days. From jazzy, downtempo instrumentals to hard-hitting, sample-laden bangers featuring rugged flows from guest MCs, and even the odd exploration of raw synthetic sounds, he demonstrates a sound knowledge of the roots of hip hop, but also a desire to take it into the future.
What made you decide to start making music, and hip hop in particular?
I had a friend who was going to school in Sydney and returning to the Blue Mountains every weekend to visit his mum. He’d bring these mixtapes back with him, and we’d throw them in the stereo and play them real loud. We had no idea who the artists were on these tapes, but we started researching and discovered the likes of Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli etc. I was already DJing, but then I had an epiphany one day, and began producing my own stuff around 2001. My father is an electronic-based visual artist, so he helped me learn the software I needed to start producing. I love writing hip hop beats because there are no boundaries: you can pretty much borrow sounds and ideas from any genre of music you can think of. At the moment, the beats scene is going crazy worldwide. There are so many different genres that have branched out from hip hop, it’s incredibly inspiring.