Fdel: If you’re not with us, join us!
“I would suggest that, in fact, we are experiencing something now which is no less than a sea-change in the way we view ourselves and our history.” – Philip Glass
Although Philip Glass was speaking of avant-garde and electronic classical music, the same notion can be applied to the current state of Australian hip-hop. With one swoop of an album drop, we must now reconsider where things are going, where they’ve come from and what this means for us. The album spoken of is ‘Audiofdelity’ on Invada. The artist, Perth’s Fdel.
The philosophy is simple. The music consists of the reorganization of yesterday’s existent music and reprogram it for tomorrow. By now, an old philosophy. No longer revolutionary. And yet, yes! Revolutionary in its outcome. Fdel, with his debut album, has taken inspiration from hip-hop, funk, old school breakbeats, nu-skool rhythms and spoken word and infused it with flare and panache. The revolution lies in the fact of how good this is. Unbeknownst to Fdel, the ownership of his music must be relinquished to the masses. The revolution lies in the fact that this is now our music. ‘Audiofdelity’ is something for us to unite behind. We can now proclaim “Look what hath been wrought from our midst!”
What Fdel has accomplished in doing is to take this music and its specific form of creation, that being funk based hip-hop and the form being sampling, and stamped a certain global nature on its origins. No longer is the idea significant where Fdel is sampling from; even less significant is that this is Australian hip-hop. Fdel is an Internationalist first and an Australian second. Even so, what a leap forward for Australian music! And more finitely, for Perth originated music!
A Perthean community is evident in that DJ Armee, Downsyde’s DJ, doubles as Fdel’s manager and lays down the scratch-cut-slip-n-slides to the utmost effect on each of the tracks. At no point does the scratching have domination over a track, but rather, becomes a part of the song. The instrumental album also features Downsyde, tossin’ some lyrics onto a track.
‘Audiofdelity’ is the epitome of the sample. A mosaic collage (Is that a contradiction?) of formatting bits and cuts from anywhere to create fresh air. If your musical instrument is a sampler and your notes and phrases are snippets of other songs, then surely there is some thought process behind this format of musicality.
“I don’t think there’s any particular ethics to sampling. You can sample portions of music from any media format. But I do steer clear from ones that are overdone. Like sampling James Brown or someone like that. And I don’t really sample from anything new. I try to find reasonably old stuff. But then there’s artists today who are making great music, like Sharon Jones or Deftone.” What we have here is a Bob Dylan statement. First the negation of objectivity. The notion of ‘to each his own’. Then some personal restrictions. Then the negation of some of those restrictions. For Fdel, sampling becomes a total freedom then, without limits, without rules, just the right combination of the right cuts, regardless from when or where (except the overdone samples).
It is upon sampling that Fdel builds his cornerstone for hip-hop as a whole. “I think sampling’s the central part to hip-hop. Hip-hop’s been moving away from sampling. Too many plug-ins and too much MIDI. I mean, I use plug-ins too, but for me, sampling’s the essential part to hip-hop. I love analogue and the 70’s old school sound. You can try and recreate that, but it never sounds the same. It’s like Breakestra says – ‘It’s hip-hop that is keeping funk alive’.” Not only is hip-hop helping sustain funk, it is recontextualizing its importance by modernizing it, updating its thematic properties and pushing it ahead.
There’s the wide and easy road one can go down when describing artists who are making funk and breakbeat inspired music, as there are the obvious and asinine references to supposed godfathers of funk. Or one can get particularly clever and egomaniacal and refer to a group like the Apaches, but fact is, the best hip-hop and breaks producers are the ones who have the best record collections. Why compare the music to whomever, when the cat makin’ the music is gonna pull out references too obscure for us laymen. So let the man speak on influences we would never have guessed.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of this guy Walter Murphy who was making disco, but it’s basically mixing Beethoven and funk. Or also this great jazz musician named Sven Luebeck. I’ve also been listening to this Ethiopian artist named Malutu. It’s all stuff I could never play out, but it’s great for listening to or sampling.” Ok, just to give some perspective, Fdel has got to be diggin’ into some serious depths in those record crates with those kind of influences. Ethiopian music? I used to think I was eclectic. My coolness just got worked by his ice-coldness.
It is the amalgamation of Fdel’s influences that compile into block party style live sessions. Having been a DJ around Perth, Fdel wants to flip the switch and present Audiofdelity in a whole new atmosphere, that is, to take it roots and play it live. “With DJing, I basically am either doing funk or breaks or hip-hop. So depending on the venue or who I’m supporting, it’s one of those, or a combination. Depending on budget, I want to take a band on the road where I’ll have my MPC and a turntable and then have a drummer, a bassist and maybe a guitarist.”
One can imagine Fdel, hunkered down in a back room, pouring through piles and piles of records, spending all of his time searching out the elusive break or instrumental bit to a song. With that being said, it is much easier to grip the idea that it is not quite as important with where you are producing the beats, but more so, with whom. “I don’t think that Perth has necessarily had a big impact on the music. It all comes down to the circles you’re with and I think the scene is really evolving right now. But as far as the isolation goes, that hasn’t really mattered.” Perhaps not the isolation of the city, but most definitely the isolation of Fdel’s studio has shaped his sound into something fresh and real.
A necessary factor to consider in the evolution of fdelity is how the west coast can coagulate with the east. How did Invada, the Sydney-based hip-hop label run by Katalyst (Ashley Anderson) and Geoff Barrows of Portishead, come into the orbiting the same planets? The story is as random as they come.
“I’ve always been a fan of Katalyst and of course of Portishead and once when Ash came to play in Perth, I was gonna pass on a demo to him. Kind of like, ‘Here, what do you think of my music?’ Well, as the night went on I had way too much to drink and I actually don’t really remember what happened. I wake up the next morning with a massive hangover and I don’t have the demo anymore. Anything could’ve happened. Two weeks later I get a call from Ash saying he loves my music and they wanna talk about releasing it. So, however unconventional, it all worked out.” The only person who can now complete the story is Ashley Anderson and word has it, he’s not talkin’.
It’s pretty commonplace for an artist’s debut album to contain years worth of work as they choose the best of their productions over that lengthy time period. (Think Mylo’s Destroy Rock & Roll as the summation of 3 years and 200 songs in actuality.) For Fdel, this is just as true and yet he flips the mix on it. “For the demo I had written an EP and Invada wanted to do an album, so after lots of procrastination, I did the rest in just a few months. Some of the album goes back a few years and some of it is brand new.” So, in actuality, ‘Audiofdelity’ is the combination of the ‘best of’ of the last couple years and also the product of a compacted frenzy of artistic creation.
Never fear, the fidelity is hittin’ the road and it’s all up in the air what you’re gonna get. “July is when we start touring. We’ve got a couple of dates locked and are looking to do a full east coast tour. The 2nd single off the album will come out in July as well. We’re even thinking of doing a film clip for the single.” The tour is still taking shape and Fdel isn’t even sure whether it’s going to be an all out live band show or a solo effort, pushin’ buttons and layin’ it down.
Joining the ranks of Katalyst, Dynamo Productions and Flow Dynamics, Fdel is pushin’ the limits, pushin’ the buttons, pushin’ the funk and pushin’ a fist into the air like a tiny antenna reaching to the trees. Here’s to roots! To earthtones! To fdelity over locality!
If you’re not with us, then in the words of Jeru the Damaja “ya playin’ yaself!”
Fdel’s album Audio Fdelity is out now through Invada/Inertia.