ITM’s Looking Local: Espionage, Melbourne

Celebrating its first birthday this weekend with DJ Marky as the guest of honour, Espionage has packed plenty into its short life. The party is a labour of love from Melbourne collective The Operatives, which has grown over five years to cover event promotion, artist management and touring.

If you’re a lover of underground sounds on the dub, hip hop or drum & bass tip, these guys have brought a whole lot of good times to M-Town. In 2010 alone, think Klute, Gaslamp Killer, Dam-Funk, Maurice Fulton and Scuba to name but a few. Ahead of the Espionage knees-up, we tracked down the man who leads The Operatives Jerry Poon to hear how he keeps the beats alive. Oh, and while you’re reading, have a listen to this tidy little mix from The Operatives on ITM-FM.

A broad question to begin with – how healthy do you feel the Melbourne club scene is at the moment?

Melbourne has always had strong musical diversity and a variety of clubs, events and places to go to. Sure, we don’t have the extreme super-clubs dedicated to beats, but we have pockets of little venues, and the larger scale events are consistently amazing.

The recent changes in licensing laws and the way that media has portrayed the city has definitely led to the concept that violence in the city has increased and the nature of clubs is negative. I think the city is still amazing for clubs. There are a great number of dedicated promoters (who not only are dedicated in quality, but in developing fresh talent as well) in the city, who push the sound they love and are great operators in terms of production.

I think the city is abounding with talent (I could spend all day mentioning names) who are now pushing the boundaries overseas as well. Some may see it as competition, but I think that within the DnB, dubstep and future beats scene, there is communication, and the desire to maintain a strong community which is music-oriented.

So, how healthy is it? I think it is strong, but perhaps the law-makers should look into the city deeper and consider how important music and club culture is to the future of the city. I think it is our responsibility as promoters to educate the cabinet on the positivity of clubs, instead of accepting or going against this seemingly conservative government.

Can you tell us a bit about how The Operatives began?

It began with an obsession with everything spy-related as a child, and was only established in 2005 when I was finally assigned to covert missions in the music industry after years of training. After having run events for several years with Elementz (which was co-founded in 1999), it came to a point where I felt that I wanted to focus on more artists from the Asian Pacific region as well as the desire to find new artists who were pushing boundaries.

Five and a half years later, The Operatives are now an event promotions, artist management and touring and club booking company, working in all facets of the industry. In the beginning, the focus was largely on drum & bass events. As time has gone on, after working at The Red Bull Music Academy Melbourne and booking Roxanne Parlour and Miss Libertine for its formative years, it became clear that the parties need to give more to the punters. Personally, I felt that it had to have a wider scope – and what better way to do it then to combine all of it into one night.

Over the time The Operatives have been in business, what have been some of the standout memories from your gigs?

There have been many. Watching DJ Marky smash a packed-out Prince Of Wales; listening to Maurice Fulton’s rare records; watching Amp Fiddler play in such an intimate gig at Miss Libertine with an encore that lasted a very long time. Having Flying Lotus out for the first time years ago and not knowing how busy it was going to be and the having a line that went round the block. Him absolutely ripping into it, watching the whole dancefloor go mental to these beats which at the time I had felt there were not that many people into it.

Running a 26-person tour for the first time was pretty entertaining too, with towed vans and packed clubs. I think it has been a blend and what stands out is people reminding you of how they had a good time at certain events as well.

How long have the Espionage parties been running now?

Espionage will only be in its first year this August, with DJ Marky back in town to celebrate it with us. I think Espionage represents a crossover into a sound which links all aspects of beats, and music that I love. Basically it’s about breaking down the walls that genres hold, and maintaining a quality environment in every aspect.

What do you feel is the best way for parties to build a loyalty?

To be true, to maintain the passion, to have quality in production, musical content and a youth squad. In all respects, hopefully opening up the eyes of a younger generation to music that we love; something that’s on the forefront. And of course not forgetting all the old heads who represent. They know what’s good, so you can’t rest on your laurels…


Having made your name as a drum & bass DJ, your sound diversified somewhat a couple of years back. What brought about that change?

Firstly, I’d like to say that drum & bass has been my first love in DJing. It gave me my beginning as a DJ and allowed me to play at many clubs, events and festivals. There’s nothing better than being in a mix and playing drum & bass to an amped-up crowd. However, about two years ago, I started to feel that the drum & bass that I was hearing wasn’t appealing to me. It seemed to become a bit stagnant and boring and the musicality of most of the tunes that were being released just weren’t quite there for me.

I remember listening to Flying Lotus for the first time in 2006 when he was here for the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne and the sounds and beats that he was making was something I had never heard of. It was so fresh, creative and new in my opinion. Fast forward a year, I entertained the idea of trying to incorporate, push and play other genres of music in my sets. So I started to explore music similar to what FlyLo was producing and came across a group of producers around the world who were making this wonky, glitchy, futuristic, Dilla-inspired electronic hip hop, where the bass is heavy and beats are phenomenal.

As part of The Operatives crew, you’ve played on some stellar line-ups over the years. What have been some of the standouts memories?

Where do I start? There have been so many good shows and memories over the last few years. Playing after The Nextmen gig earlier this year was loads of fun with myself & JPS on four decks and the crowd sticking around dancing till the wee hours of the morning. Another standout memory would be the DJ Marky & Stamina MC gig at the Prince of Wales in 2008. Big show, amazing vibes, great crowd and the music was amazing!

The Gaslamp Killer show in February this year was special too. Awesome crowd, heavy tunes and wicked energy on stage from all performers, in particular Harmonic 313 and Gaslamp. What made this particular show special for me was that in 2008, before Gaslamp had blown up, he came and did a show at Miss Libertines, where just over 100 people turned up, and this time there was over 500 people. It just goes to show how much this type of sound and music has grown over the last two years.

There was also the New Years Day gig 2009 when we had Flying Lotus, Platinum Pied Pipers, Gilles Peterson and more. Flylo absolutely killed it on stage. The crowd was loving it and he was so drunk by the end of it. Awesome day. Big shout-out to my man JPS for having booked me to play at some of these shows over the last few years.

Do you feel there’s a strong community in Melbourne for the kind of music you’re pushing?

Most definitely. We have so many talented artists in Melbourne right now. I’ve watched the scene and community for this kind music grow so much over the last two years. It’s so exciting! We have radio shows that support and push this music such as The City Rises show on Triple RRR, presented by the elder statements of Melbourne’s underground music scene and walking human encyclopedia of music – Martin Langridge, Richard ‘Rambl’ Campbell and Inkswel. These guys are also talented musicians and DJs in their own right.

Just watching The Operatives shows blossom over the last two years with this music has been crazy. When we started getting cats like Hudson Mohawke and Gaslamp Killer over to Australia two years ago, the turnout wasn’t great, but now these guys will easily garner a turnout of a few hundred people to a show in Melbourne. DJ Shikung and myself started a night about 16 months ago called Glitch This!! at Workshop Bar. And it has gone from strength to strength. We’ve had parties where the queue to get in stretched all the way down to Elizabeth Street.

Espionage celebrates one year of operations this Saturday 14 August with DJ Marky at The Hi-Fi. Check out The Operatives mix on ITM-FM to get properly hyped.