ITM’s Looking Local: Ulterior, Brisbane

A flag-bearer for progressive house and techno on Brisbane’s club scene, Ulterior is three years old in 2010 and going strong. With past guests like Henry Saiz, Sean Quinn and the Argentinian don himself Hernan Cattaneo, the party has built a dedicated following of music-lovers. For this edition of Looking Local, we spoke to the man behind Ulterior, Rich Curtis.

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

In terms of our particular niche, being strictly ‘underground’ and in the more progressive genre compared to a lot of other events and clubs out there, it’s in a lot of trouble! Being so tucked away in a city with a music scene that feels isolated from the rest of a country let alone a world which generally shows more awareness, acceptance, and interest in such music it’s an ever steepening uphill battle to bring the sounds we love to Brisbane via our favourite international artists as well as our own talented DJ roster.

But in terms of the clubbing scene in Brisbane generally, there’s no shortage of reasons being tossed around lately as to why the scene is faltering. I personally feel it’s more of a generational shift in taste, trend, and attitude which none of the key players in the scene could have predicted – factors like the increasing prevalance of mainstream electronic music on commercial radio and TV to which school kids and graduates (the most dominant demographic in the scene) are heavily exposed, as well as the dominance of festival events vs club events on the rise each year.

From a businessman’s perspective, I applaud the ability and wealth of those festival organisers to broadcast their event promotions to a wider audience (most likely tuned into those very same commercial radio or TV stations), yet am disheartened by the reduction in interest shown by those audiences in underground music, and club events.

What inspired you to start Ulterior three and a bit years ago?

At the time it was seen as the quick way for us to leap-frog a few of the steps required to get a profile as upcoming DJs in Brisbane, being that we didn’t have too many connections with the key decision makers (booking agents) and weren’t playing nor particularly interested in commercial music. Once the brand started getting a head of steam behind it, however, Ulterior became more of a way for us to filter quality underground producers and DJs into Brisbane’s clubs and provide the relatively small audience that we’d started to attract, with a decent alternative to the mainstream acts choking up the clubs every weekend. Not to say that we were alone in this goal but our chosen music policy encompasses the slightly more progressive end of house, or the more melodic end of techno when compared to our comrades.

A point of pride for Ulterior has been bringing acts to Queensland for the first time. Is there a risk involved with debuting more ‘underground’ names?

Very much so, and several times we’ve had to create hype all on our own bat versus relying on past experiences or events with those acts, or them having impressive discography back catalogues and so on. We have however been lucky when taking such risks, to have had the support of some seriously committed venues and booking agents but it’d be fair to say that the available pool of such agents and venues has significantly shrunk in the three years of our operation, to the point where we now are having to be strictly realistic in our bookings, which is a shame. The clubbing scene is no different to any other industry in this regard though; it’s always difficult bringing a fresh, untested talent to an often-times close-minded audience!

Of all the guests you’ve hosted – international or otherwise – who has gone down best with the Ulterior crowd?

There has been an seriously talented line-up of acts come through Brisbane for Ulterior and of course you couldn’t go past Hernan Cattaneo as a standout with the crowds due mainly to his almost god-like status within the industry around the world. But in terms of who the crowd lapped up most? It would have to be Danny Bonnici – the man has a magnetic energy that gets delivered both through his DJing as much as his personality and attitude. It’s a shame he’s hung up the headphones only just this year, but we’re on his back to make an exclusive return from retirement sometime soon.

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

Consistency with adaptability. There have been many an act offered to us over the years that would surely have created a massive crowd, or even allowed us to make some money but in the end, if their sound didn’t fit within our music policy, we steered clear knowing a more appropriate promoter would add their twist and allow US to experience those acts as punters ourselves. Interaction with the ‘heads’ has been something I’ve seriously enjoyed over the years, making great mates with the folks who show up each and every time, and ongoing with their mates, and their mates’ mates and so on. The underground scene’s size has that as one advantage, pretty soon you get to know so many more people who share your same passion for music.

As a DJ, what’s your ideal club situation to play? A warm-up? Deep into the night?

In the last year I’ve been lucky enough to have dabbled into the festival scene yet still being able to bring my own ‘underground’ twist to the various slots I’ve played and I must say that’s been the most satisfying situation for me. The crowds are somewhat uneducated in terms of the style of music I play which makes their reactions and energy to the sounds they’re hearing, that much more rewarding.

It’s probably due to the festival experiences that I feel more confident in the club setting these days when playing either the warm-up or closing sets. The energy exists in the club setting; it’s just a matter of creating the right atmosphere to be able to release it – somewhat vital when an international DJ is approaching the booth and expecting a rocking crowd to greet them!

What’s next for Ulterior heading into 2011? Any guests you’ve got on the wish-list?

We have Kasey Taylor playing for us this Friday at Barsoma, and then onwards into November 20 we’ve been lucky enough to secure Vince Watson to play a full live set for us, before Anthony Pappa steps up to take that same night home. Next year will be quite large with the list already, including Slam, Chris Fortier, Cid Inc, Darin Epsilon, and hopefully once again, Hernan Cattaneo.

Ulterior hosts Kasey Taylor at barsoma on Friday 22 October.