Rhibosome – electronica synthesis

Rhibosome’s musical roots are somewhat different from the norm. The group’s members (Dave McKinney, Clayton Chipper and Chad Hedley) were originally a touring street theatre act, called Whak, which saw them performing on motorised wheely bins that were loaded with percussion, drums, a sampler and PA.

In 1998, the group was commissioned to produce the soundtrack for Glitch, which was an urban circus show in Fremantle. This provided an opportunity to produce more electronic music, and marked the genesis of Rhibosome: a three man electronic band with a fearsome array of equipment, encompassing samplers, effects units, turntables, a synthesiser, drum kit and percussion.

Since the group’s inception the lads have been very busy indeed. Amongst other well-known acts, they have supported Coldcut, Rae and Christian, Faze Action, Adam Freeland, Wiseguys and Freestylers. They have also successfully installed themselves as stalwarts of the Fremantle scene, regularly performing under their main name, but also as the Big Ear DJs at popular venues in the port city.

On the recording front, however, Rhibosome have had only one release (Impulse, on Offworld Sounds), which attracted much praise both in Australia and internationally. This situation is shortly to be remedied, however, with Rhibosome poised to release their debut album. In anticipation of the release, ITM spoke to Rhibosome member Dave McKinney.

There are a lot of people waiting for the new album, having had little in the way of recording material making it into their homes since your beginnings. What have been the main reasons it has taken so long to get Rhiboflavin together?

We didn’t actually get that much time to work on it in the beginning (of Rhibosome), as we were managing ourselves and performing a lot. It’s only been the last six months or so that we’ve really had a chance to sit down and work on it solidly.

We found that we would write a song and it would morph and evolve. It’s been a process of trial and error and we’ve only sort of really got the album happening in the last six months. It’s been good in that way: each song has evolved massively, to the extent that some of the tracks are a complete remix of the way that they were originally.

We started gigging with the material that we had from the Glitch show, so each song was a relic of that experience. For example, some of our drum and bass tracks were written for a fast, knife throwing routine and that’s why we wrote drum and bass, whereas other songs were slow and mellow because they were written for a body balance routine. So then those songs stayed in our live sets for ages and have sort of morphed into songs that are more musical and melodic and have more interesting arrangements.

Have there been any problems when it has come to recording tracks with samples you want to use (ie copyright)? Is this another reason why you have recreated similar sounds with other musicians?

Now that the album is finished, we’re in the long process of waiting for everything to clear. It just takes forever… We’re tending to really shy away from using samples now. This album has got a lot of vocal and spoken word samples, but not really any musical samples and all the new stuff we’re working on is not really driven by the samples at all. I like, creatively, not having to use samples. It’s interesting to use it as a scratch pad to start with an idea and then you can write the track around that, but then we’ll remove it and replace it with something else.

The sample thing is cool, though. I’ve heard some really good albums, like the (one by) The Avalanches, which are great, but I think we are moving more towards doing things ourselves musically.

Do you think that getting musicians playing real instruments makes some sounds too clean, or takes away some of the raw roughness of grabbing some samples from other recordings?

Dirty sounding stuff is good, but it depends on the sort of style that you’re doing. If you’re writing a jazzy two step track you need a really clean sound, but if you’re doing drum and bass or hip hop or whatever, dirty is good.

Could you describe the process by which Rhibosome will typically develop a new track?

We generally start with a groove, a beat. Then someone else might write a bassline for it, or add some keys and we just kind of stack things up until we think it’s becoming enough of a song and then we might break it down and arrange it properly.

It’s a little bit different from a normal band: you can’t just go into your jam room and jam something out. You have to program stuff and come up with samples. So it’s not as spontaneous (as with a traditional band).

There are stories of Rhibosome having literally left the crowd chanting for “more” in futility, for lack of having any more rehearsed material to play at the end of a set. How do you see the balance between the need to spend time on devising new material and rehearsing your existing stuff?

Well it takes us a long time to write a song, because we’re experimenting, we don’t really know what we’re doing. So sometimes we stumble on something and other times it just takes ages to get something that people think is good enough to take out live.

I actually think that it would be really good for us to be more studio driven. To sit down and write a pile of new stuff and take it out live. But we don’t find that we have enough time to do it all. If you’re doing gigs as often as we’ve been doing… you haven’t got any time to write new stuff.

The last six months or so have seen an explosion in the Perth club and electronica scenes, with new clubs, new dance music festivals and so on. Do you see Rhibosome and other local electronic live acts benefiting as much as DJ’s and producers from this? Is their more opportunity growing out there for you guys as Rhibosome or as the Big Ear DJ’s?

Definitely. We’ve been really fortunate. Perth is really receptive to dance music. I reckon a big reason is because of (local station) RTR FM. They’ve always got the best DJs presenting really upfront shows. The scene here is really fantastic now and it’s because guys like Greg Packer, Ben Stinga and Jeremy Junk have been around for a long time pushing it forward.

Is there anyone that you would particularly like to collaborate with?

We sort of do our own thing, but there’s a great thing called the Perth Producer Posse, which is sort of an email discussion list. Those guys are really active in pushing the Perth scene. Jase From Outta Space, particularly, is definitely a key player in the Perth production scene.

There is some really good stuff coming out of Perth at the moment. Greg Packer, Adrian Sardi and Shane Norton of Soundlab, for example, are all excellent producers.

The other guys who I reckon are great are Downsyde. They’re an excellent team with a really strong stage presence and a wicked show. They’re the first guys to really release hip hop from WA, and it’s of a really good quality.

Can you tell us a little about your musical influences. How much of your sound is inspired by brand new electronica compared to funk, soul and jazz from many years ago?

As a band, it’s pretty diverse. We’ve all come from World Music kind of circles and playing a lot of that stuff in bands and percussion groups. Funk and Soul would be really high on the list in terms of music we listen to, and I suppose that comes out in the sort of music we make.

You can see it in the way that our set is comprised of heaps of different stuff. I don’t own any drum and bass, but I love it and I like playing it live. If I DJ out, it’s funk, soul or hip hop, with a little bit of house – often quite jazzy, mellow stuff. We all like jazz as well. Clayton has come from playing in metal bands also: Rhibosome is a mish mash of all of that stuff.

During a typical Rhibosome performance, you (Clayton, Dave and Chad) will typically rotate roles sporadically (between the different percussion positions and the DJ position). Did you all have this versatility when you started Rhibosome?

We all evolved together. The band was never really conceived as it is. We would write a song and someone would just play the beats, but someone else would have to play the keys. So everyone got to try everything. It just fell into place.

When you’re on stage, they’re all very different roles. The drum pads control the bass lines, while the person on the keys supplies the more melodical musical loops and the vocals and the percussion provides the rhythmic combinations. They’re quite different roles, so when you’re doing each one on stage, you really feel like you’re doing something different, so it’s good fun. As we write more stuff, we try to keep it fairly balanced, so that no one is just stuck on the keys (for example).

You have been celebrated for the diversity of musical styles your performances, in contrast to the dance music scene that has become increasingly fragmented, with artists being pigeon-holed and punters becoming “educated” such that they expect to hear a certain style when they go out. What’s your take on this?

Sometimes we don’t know where we fit in. We drop down tempo stuff at a club at two in the morning and a DJ would never do that: it’s full on cranking. We seem to somehow just get away with it.

I like that (variety) though. I like watching DJs who move around in their sets and play funk and drum and bass and hip hop and soul and whatever. I reckon that’s really good.

Are you still intending to run “production workshops’ in conjunction with any of your tours, as you have mentioned that you would like to in the past?

We’ve been wanting to do those for so long. What we do, and the way we do it, is pretty unique: no one really does live stuff the way we do it. Most people use sequencers, or whatever, and we don’t use any. So we kind of want to show people how we do things.

People always come up and asked, so we would just like to be able to show people how we do it. We’ve done it already at schools, where we’ve held electronic music workshops.

We play our songs and break them down into their elements. We get the kids up and playing the samplers, scratching and on the kit. It’s great, because they get a chance to physically do it. Not many people have access to the gear, especially if they’re young. It’s really interesting showing people how the parts fit together, to let people know how we do things. It’s also good for us, because you really have to know what you’re talking about in order to explain it to someone in a way that they can understand it.

You seem committed to remaining based in WA. Do you see yourselves as touring increasingly or are you content to remain very much based here, touring only to support new releases etc?

Yes, you have to. The way we run our band is that the live shows are our focus. So we need to be playing in front of people. I want people to see us playing, because that’s what I enjoy as well (seeing other people play).

I like the interaction as well, with the crowd when you’re on stage. You make a lot of sacrifices to perform live: it’s hard to sound as good as your record. But that challenge is really good and so we will be touring increasingly.

Anything else to add?

Just that we’re really proud to be from Perth. I think that it’s really a good scene here. People are always looking to the States or to the UK for what’s happening musically, either electronically or otherwise, but I actually think that people should look around a bit more in Perth because there’s so much good stuff happening.


Rhibosome is currently having a live gig hiatus. The second half of the year will see them return to the eastern states before heading to the UK in September. After that it’s back to Oz for Livid in October.

Check out the Rhibosome website for more information.
Also, visit the Offworld Sounds website, home of the band’s first recording.

Photos in this article by Ashley de Prazer