Evil Enya: Kahli Carter interviewed


Photo: Erin Tyrrell

The first time I met Kahli Carter we were in a friend’s kitchen. She was baking an upside-down pear cake, deeply lost in her cooking as an overwhelming symphony cranked through the speakers of her red portable radio. She gave me a quick hello and continued measuring flour and meticulously slicing pears in concentration. I noticed that she would smile, knowingly, every time a new song was announced on Classic FM. When the cake came out of the oven she left the room to let her confection cool. When I finally had a slice it was the best cake I’d ever eaten.

Kahli Carter is the bass player in Grotto – a celebrated scum-punk band from Melbourne with very little online presence and a solid following. She’s also in Cop Date, a grindcore and self-defined cop crust band who wear police outfits and throw donuts at their audience while blasting fast paced songs about Tinder dates with cops. I’ve seen Grotto in a squat and Cop Date in an abandoned sewer. Both times I smiled and pushed, lost within the catharsis of the pit, thinking about that upside-down pear cake.

One night, trapped in a Soundcloud vortex, I came across Kahli’s personal project. Coming from a background of heavy and industrial bands including Caught Ship and The Angel and Baby Chain, I was expecting discordant overtones or foreboding industrial noise. Instead, I found melodies: soothing waves of symphonic virtual pianos, an array of synthetic instruments weaving elegant arrangements, and a song labelled ‘#evilenya’. Kahli’s songs are impressive compositions that feel intricate yet simple, graceful yet obscure. Seamlessly, her music feels youthful and modern, despite drawing on both new age and classical music.

Originally from the Sunshine Coast, Kahli was captain of her school’s band throughout high school. She wagged most subjects to play the clarinet, oboe, and to teach herself the flute in the music block. After high school she moved to Brisbane where she joined Caught Ship on synths. In 2009 the band moved to Melbourne, where they produced the album Symmetricult before Kahli left the band. Now residing in West Footscray for the past four years, Kahli welcomes me into her sun-lit house to talk about her work.

Grotto. Photo: Christina Pap

Grotto. Photo: Christina Pap

What’s the intention behind the compositions on your Soundcloud playlist “To Sleep To” (#DeepSleep) ?
The sleep project came about three years ago. I was in between musical projects and I wasn’t participating in anything exciting or challenging at the time, so I decided to tackle Logic and create something that I would like to listen to. This was also a time when I was having a lot of anxiety issues and problems sleeping, I was awake at all hours. I knew a lot of my friends were going through similar problems including panic attacks and insomnia. I mainly wanted to make music with the purpose of creating a relaxing environment for myself and others. I wanted to create melodies that were not catchy – nothing that would get stuck in your head because that’s not very relaxing.

How do you go about creating melodies that are not catchy?
I keep it quiet and watch the dynamics – nothing too peaky or harsh to the ear. I try to make a nice, big, calm, floaty wave that’s a simple A B A structure. A wave with a soft resolution that leaves you in the same spot where you started.

Is your emotional drive when composing often derived from anxiety, sadness or exhaustion?
No. It’s purely melody-based. The writing process starts when I have a melody pop up in my head and re-appear whenever I pick up an instrument. Sometimes I stew on it for a month or for years, but eventually I need to get it out of my system – the melody, not so much the emotion. I guess I generally can’t see the emotions behind the songs until much later down the track when I re-listen to a song. When I listen to the Sleep tracks I immediately remember the times I was smoking a lot of weed and taking a lot of dexies. I can listen to it and remember exactly how I was feeling, how long I was awake for, how erratic I was. I don’t think of emotions when I compose, but it’s easy to see them in retrospect.

I guess – since your music is about creating a solution for anxiety, rather than directly expressing anxiety – it is important to keep emotions at bay.
I don’t know if I see it as creating a solution. My objective is to not cloud people with my emotions, I want for others to have the ability to think for themselves about how they feel. If anything, I want to create the background for them to be able to figure out what’s going on in their lives, I don’t want to put my shit onto others, really.

Your compositions have strong new age and classical music connotations, yet they feel very modern – how much of this is a conscious effort?
It comes naturally. I’ve never really considered my music to be ‘new agey’ but I suppose it is. I guess it doesn’t bother me what my songs are labelled as. You can play my stuff in a yoga class if you want to, that would be lovely. I mean, it’s never really going to sound old because I don’t use traditional instruments, I use my computer. Except for a song where I play the flute, I only use soft synths and I try to make it sound as organic as possible while using computer-generated sounds of violins, choirs and pianos. Part of me wants it to sound as organic as possible but then again I like synths so much I always add a touch of purely digital sounds.

Synth compositions and heavier music– what’s the best part about each of them, for you?
In terms of performing in Grotto and Cop Date I like to actually play instruments live and I like yelling. The nature of my personal compositions doesn’t really allow for a live show because it’s meant to be listened to at home, with your headphones on. There’s no point in going to a live show to feel sleepy or to calm your anxiety. Playing in bands also means that no matter how bad a show goes you have your bandmates to support you and this ‘team spirit’ also applies to the songwriting process. With my personal compositions I like that they are my own conceptions, they are often melodies that I’ve had inside my brain for a long time so each song feels like a little melody child.

Cop Date playing in a sewer. Photo: Jah Maskell

Cop Date playing in a sewer. Photo: Jah Maskell

Do you choose to play bass in grind and punk bands because of the live aspect?
As a musician I need to wag my wiggles out somehow. I need to have some form of physical expression when I perform my music. I don’t know what I would do with all my energy if I couldn’t play live in grind or punk bands. It’s definitely the live aspect that I find wholly satisfying. If it’s not about the live aspect of those genres then what’s it about? You can listen to punk or grind on your iPod or at home but it’s not the same as watching it in the flesh. I mean, the crowds that go to those types of shows will want to fucking move and see you move, they will want to see your energy throughout your short 15 minute sets. They are not there to sway, they are there to feel a sense of catharsis through movement.

Punk and grind definitely have a better guarantee that your audience will physically engage with your show. How did it feel to play in a band like Caught Ship, which was more experimental?
With Caught Ship it was a Russian roulette – you never really knew which nights the crowds would engage and which nights the crowds would be dead. The thing is, if the crowd is silent and still then it’s too daunting for you to move as a musician, you just freeze – you are afraid of being judged. I also think an important aspect from my time in Caught Ship is that I was playing the synths, not the bass. When you are playing synths you are much more restricted in terms of motion and your performance is limited. You can’t really move the instrument with you, you’re sort of stuck in place.

It wouldn’t be as liberating to play a gig where you don’t know if the crowd will positively engage or be dead quiet, particularly if your motivation is physical expression.
For sure, being too cool to move is endemic in a lot of capital cities, I’ve noticed. It happened [with Caught Ship] in Brisbane when we lived there and also in Melbourne when we moved here. In retrospect, I was never really comfortable on stage when I was just playing synths for Caught Ship or The Angel and Baby Chain, but that was also influenced by the fact that I wasn’t fully comfortable in my own person. I have gradually become more confident in my own skin and as a musician – I guess it all works collectively in that respect.

What other genres would you like to explore in the future?
I want to branch out and do more beat-driven music. I feel like this means that I would like to do more pop-driven compositions, which would be a huge challenge because of its structure but I’ve always wanted to write pop music. I don’t know, really. I’m going to move to Mexico soon and I’m only taking my drum pad with me, so I feel like what will end up happening is that I will write mostly dance-y stuff. I would love to do that.

Photo: Dominique Elliott.

Photo: Dominique Elliott.


A Glimmer of Hope: Orion interviewed


Photos: Tristan Price

Since forming in late 2013, Sydney-based quartet Orion has grown to mean a lot to people. The group makes accessible, powerful and sometimes danceable pop songs. Uplifting melodies and synced bass and drum machine blend with dark undertones of guitar and morose keyboards. It’s unsettling at first, but the delivery on every track is unabashed, and they’re a band unafraid to connect with human emotion.

Orion is made up of Yuta of MOB and Oily Boys, Kerem, aka Dizzy of Oily Boys and Low Life and Sarah and Chris, both formerly of Whores. While Orion invites little comparison to any of these bands, there is a familiar underlying aggression to their brand of new wave pop. The group’s live shows are sure to break out into a pit of undulating bodies, some heaving, some dancing, many embracing frontman Yuta as he struts around the stage.

I caught up with Yuta, Dizzy and Sarah at the Huntsbury pub in Petersham to talk about pop, emotional maturity and the flicker of a future. The group is currently working on their first LP – a follow-up to last year’s demo cassette through Paradise Daily.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first straight pop band that any of you have been in before?
Sarah: Indeed.

Yuta: Pretty much. I was in one when I was 16 with Al (Haddock). It was rubbish. That’s actually when I first met Sarah. The band didn’t really work out, we didn’t really know any better back then. Everyone’s in shit bands when they’re young.

Was it hard to write pop songs initially, given that you’d never really done it properly before?
Y: Yeah it was – I think with pop music, you need to experience a lot of different emotions in order to write a good pop song.

Is that to say that your other bands were less rooted in emotional experience?
Y: Definitely less so than Orion.

S: I think the emotion was just different. In our early twenties I think a lot of us felt like we had no future so all the music was really bleak, mostly just grim shit. Now I guess the idea of a future is growing.

Dizzy: I dunno – aren’t we all still making that same fucken harsh music that we were before?

Y: Totally, but now there’s just like a glimmer of hope in it, I reckon.

D: I think now we’re just able to write good songs because we know what’s good and what’s not, so we don’t put out trash or anything.

So does Orion represent an evolution in songwriting for all of you?
S: I guess we’d just never tried this mode of songwriting before.

D: I think we just honestly have better taste now. I think if we all tried to be in a pop band in our early twenties, it would probably be pretty bad.

Y: Yeah, because we’ve played in other punk and hardcore bands before, I think now we just have a much better approach to writing pop music. Orion is just a different dynamic to any other band I’ve been in.

D: Just being in this band, it’s a much more communal thing – there’s way less ego in Orion. I mean, I suppose there is ego in this band but we don’t let it get in the way of anything.

Was the goal to try something different when starting the band?
Y: It all happened pretty naturally. Me, Sarah and Chris always talked about starting a pop band. The song ‘Sexy Alien’ came from a jam between me, Sarah and Chris – it was pretty much just us sitting in a room writing songs that captured what we thought pop was. Then I had a jam with Dizzy, and that’s when we wrote ‘Church Bells’, and then we figured we’d all just combine and start a band as we were all writing music that related to each other. It was never a conscious or set thing to start Orion.

D: I think we played our first show as a two-piece while Sarah and Chris were out of action. But it was always the intention to have them play.

Your music obviously draws on a lot of other much-loved bands. The instrumentation, particularly the bass lines and the drum machine compliment each other pretty precisely. Which came first for Orion, the sound or the idea?
D: I think the drum machine was actually just a stopgap for a while. We always said ‘Oh yeah, we’ll get a drummer some time’. We were debating it for some time, and then we all ended up deciding to go for the drum machine. People always asked us ‘When are you getting a drummer?’, ‘Uh…well maybe we won’t.’

Y: I definitely don’t think about the sound that often, like what sound we’re gonna make or what goes where – it all just happens naturally.

D: It’s never contrived or anything, never too much forethought goes into any of it.

Y: That’s why every Orion song sounds different I think. Like there’s a strong difference between ‘Red Lights’ and ‘Turbulence’.

D: We want to be able to write in a lot of different styles. We never want to box ourselves in to any particular mode or genre. Not to say that the past was great or anything, but I think bands were much less limited on albums where they could do like ten different styles. It seems like nowadays bands get boxed in much easier like ‘you’re this kind of band, so you’ve gotta subscribe to this style’, and it’s hard to move out of that.



Yeah, funny you say that, I remember at Maggot Fest last year during your set, some punter shouted out ‘Fuck the ’80s!’ Do you ever feel pigeonholed as an ’80s style, new wave bad?
Y: Definitely – but they’re fucken ignorant.

S: For sure, but we’re not ashamed to be heaps of shit from the ’80s, we all love it. At the same time I’d like to think that we have our own take on it.

Y: People are always gonna look back on music from the past and it just so happens that the ’80s is where our music fits best. That guy who says fuck the ’80s is probably into millennium hardcore [chuckles].

S: Pop music is like a language – you draw on certain things because that’s just the mode of it, that’s the medium that you’re working with.

D: I’d say one thing about making pop music and I think why Orion formed when it did was mainly because we’re much more confident musically now to make pop music. When you are a bit less confident, and I’d say we all definitely were, it’s hard to make music for listeners to ‘have a great time’ to. I think that definitely takes a bit of bravery.

Y: I’m much more nervous about making pop music than any other type of music.

Is that because you feel there’s more honesty in it?
Y: I think so. I think there’s a lot more personal shit coming out of you in pop. Personally, I definitely have never ever sung with as much emotion or aggression before. When I was younger I was much more shy.

Do you guys find it challenging to perform live in Orion sometimes?
S: I do – I’m pretty fucken socially anxious so yeah, it’s pretty hard. I’ve gotten better at it with practice, but there’s no way I could ever sing.

D: I wouldn’t wanna do what Yuta does. It’s easy enough to hide behind an instrument.

Y: It was hard at first. But there was definitely one point in time where I was like ‘fuck this – fuck feeling anxious, I should be more confident in our songs.’ Once that happened, it became much easier. The more we played the more comfortable we became.

D: I don’t know if I’ve ever been nervous playing in Orion. I’m not too sure how Chris feels but he has his back to the audience mostly.

It’s palpable that when you see an Orion show, you really feel the emotion and passion emanate from the live performance. Audiences get really rowdy and into it.
D: Yeah it’s really cool to see people express emotion and respond to music you put out there.

How satisfied with your demos were you?
D: Very happy considering the amount of effort that went into them. It was all pretty rushed, and Lawrence [Hall] did a great job of making that shit chime. I mean, it’s definitely not great, and all of those songs are gonna be on the LP, and they sound so different now.

In what sense do they sound different?
D: The vocals are a lot better, there’s new drum tracks. Everything has a different feel to it now.

Y: When you get used to a song, you can play around with it.

I see you’re playing Maggot Fest again in Melbourne. How do you find Melbourne audiences respond to your music?
S: They were very receptive, and maybe initially I thought they wouldn’t be.

D: I think it almost embarrassed us. We had this preconception of Melbourne crowds and how they’d respond to our music and I think we were all totally proven wrong.

What’s been your most memorable live experience?
S: They’re all a blur.

Y: The Birdrib one was pretty fun. Even though we sounded like absolute shit.

S: Ha, yeah that was awesome. Christian (Low Life) just like Godzilla’d it on stage and knocked over the synth and all the shit – those are definitely the mad ones. The one’s where everyone gets really raucous and it doesn’t even matter so much what you play.

D: Playing a great set to people who don’t give a fuck is actually nowhere near as good as playing an absolute horror show to people who are really into it.

Y: The funnest ones are probably the ones where we don’t complete a set for whatever reason that might be.

A lot of people seem to be quite enthusiastic about Orion. Do you feel that you’re filling some sort of void in Sydney music?
Y: No, not at all.

S: That’s definitely not something I would have ever thought about. We just wanted to fill our time and do something fun with people we like and just do some shit musically that we’ve never tried before.

Orion’s demo cassette is sold out, but it can be downloaded here.


“The suburban ethnic fringe of dolewave”: Hurtsville interviewed


L to R: Henry Luvsan Avila and Luke Vitale

Hurtsville is a pair of producers from south-west Sydney: Luke Vitale and Henry Luvsan Avila. They have no internet presence other than their Soundcloud, where they occasionally post the odd piece of instrumental grime or dubstep-inflected music. While the duo veers between delicate and aggressive, Hurtsville is always imbued with a curious, beautiful suburban melancholy.

While a lot of music made in this mode seems increasingly shiny and post-geographic, gesturing towards lives lived on the internet as much as anywhere else, Hurtsville’s songs (and accompanying blurry photos) feel somehow different – local, emotional and full of granular detail. When they perform, they’re usually accompanied by their friend Kevin Duo Jin, a performance artist who plays a sort of surrealist Bez to Hurtsville’s Happy Mondays – eating baklava with chopsticks, flexing, instagramming himself, and generally weirding out the audience.

I’m friends with them, so when I went around to Lakemba to have dinner at Jasmin’s and interview them at their apartment, I relaxed and forgot to hit record. We did the hour-long interview over again and started to slightly lose our minds.

Hurtsville isn’t a Jack Ladder reference, is it? Why Hurtsville?
Luke Vitale: When we first started hanging out we bonded over being from Hurstville and Yung Lean. So when you combine the performative sadness of Yung Lean and the suburb of Hurstville, you get Hurtsville.

Henry Avila: I was going through some sadness in my life – we all were – so we thought that name would fit.

L: Actually, before it was a music thing it was originally the name of a group chat on Facebook, like, “uhhh what are we doing on Saturday night?” A whole bunch of people got referred to as the Hurtsville sad boys. Most of them are here hanging out at our apartment every night.

But it’s significant that the title’s referencing a place. Is a sense of place important to the Hurtsville project?
H: I’m not sure that when we started we thought “yeah let’s make this about place”. That was an organic thing that happened. Luke and I would always talk about place and Sydney geography – demographics, anthropology. That was something else me and Luke bonded over, because he studied sociology and history and I studied anthropology.

L: We used to go to the club and sit there doing fieldwork. Interpreting things.

H: That’s my fascination with “the club”, if I think about it. The anthropological view.

L: We still always over-analyse every interaction that happens in the club. We find it interesting! The way the club, as a field, works. But the stuff about geography came up a lot in conversations, and like we said, one of the things we bonded over was being from the same area, and somehow that was a basis for a friendship, living near each other and knowing the same places.

You guys were also around the inner-west punk scene growing up.
H: Luke was heavily into it – I was there a lot but never really felt like I was a part of it. I always felt like an outsider, being there. But then I’ve always felt like an outsider at the club as well.

L: Ever since I was 14 I was going to warehouses in Marrickville and stuff, seeing punk bands and doing activist things and hanging out in anarchist bookshops. And yeah, over time I began to feel this weird disconnect between this stuff and where I would go home every night, where I would go to school. It began to feel almost wrong in a way. Going all the way to Newtown or Petersham to do something… why not look for that or find that in my own area? That became really important for me by the time I was about 17-18, to really create something in the area I grew up in. It turned into quite a strong negative reaction against the Inner West or whatever, I felt almost militantly anti-Inner West for a while.

H: I remember! We’d want to go to a restaurant in Newtown, and you’d be like “Nah, man, that’s shit. ‘Cos it’s in Newtown”.

L: Yeah, cos it was so valorised or whatever compared to where I lived and I just wanted to… I mean, I was doing stuff with activists in anarchist bookshops, and you want to talk about revolution? Revolution happens everywhere. It’s not a little centralised activist hub, it’s the world, it’s everywhere. And I also thought, if all these things are good – DIY, or activism – then I’d like to share them, or do them, in that place where I am, and I don’t have to sit on a train for an hour to experience something.

That’s what I loved about discovering Bankstown Poetry Slam. I met a whole lot of people who were from the area who were doing really cool, artistic stuff and we became friends. Every month you’d go there and people would be telling stories and just sharing themselves really sincerely, and it was amazing. To not have to catch a train to the city or catch a train to Newtown – it was just down the road. And as well as that it felt different. There’s a feeling of a different sort of cultural space, when you go to something like Bankstown Poetry Slam. The way in which people act and be there. It felt more connected to the kind of space I grew up in. After the Slam, we’d hang around and have a jam, and people would be singing Turkish songs or whatever. And I felt like there was this… maybe the absence of the white gaze, or the middle-class bourgeois gaze?

But just becoming friends with people through that, and realising people were doing cool shit here, and that it’s happening – it’s nice.


I found it interesting when you talked about places being valorised, whether that’s the Inner West, or London, or Berlin…
L: Or south-west Sydney being valorised for, like, food or cultural tourist-y things… the cultural capital that you can gain by visiting there.

For me, part of the way that sense of place is communicated with Hurtsville is with songs named after “ethnic” food or accompanied by photos of suburban shopping centres or Chinese supermarkets. I wasn’t sure whether I was projecting something onto that, as a white Inner Westie. And when you put it in terms of that question of cultural capital, it really does seem like I’m exoticising the place, or exoticising you guys. But there is this feeling of a series of small details that add up to a sense of place.
L: On one hand, there is something intentional about that, but on the other hand those were just the things we bonded over – the food we ate together when we hung out and made beats. The photos of Hurstville shopping centre or whatever, that’s just where we’d hang out. It’s just this part of our life that happens to come out.

H: I don’t think it’s very intentional, but naming our songs food names… I mean I’ve always had trouble naming songs, sometimes it’s just the first thing I see lying around. (pointing to packet of pitted dates lying on the floor) Like ‘PittedDates‘!

L: ‘buried in pandan‘ is just called that because we were trying to sound like Burial and we were drinking heaps of pandan. You’re right that we have a strong attachment to place, though. Just in the way I like to talk or write or take photos. I have a disposition towards geographic, local detail. And that comes out.

H: And that does come out when you study something like anthropology or sociology, it brings out your interest in minor details, what makes a place a place.

This stuff is noticeable in your presentation though, because a lot of the electronic artists you see on Soundcloud, the imagery they use is free-floating: it’s all jpgs of shiny 3D CGI spheres or whatever. It could come from anywhere, it’s post-geographic. It’s the result of a scene that’s constituted or even located on the internet. So all the stuff about Hurtsville that I’ve interpreted as local references, it sticks out.
L: I guess in a way that was kind of intentional. Because we’ve had conscious discussions about this. In this internet, late-capitalist, post-modern thing, how do we go about creating culture? My answer to that was always… to draw from that local space. Because no matter how much these broader, larger internet cultures might become much more homogenous – in terms of like grime or punk or whatever – as the internet makes it faster for these things to be picked up and appropriated by people all over the world, the way that can keep them interesting or different is the way in which they can have inflections of hyper-local cultures. Because obviously local cultures do exist. And that’s not necessarily on a provincial or national level, it can be just a matter of a suburb or an area of a city. It can make stuff interesting, set it apart from the same sounds and aesthetics that are reproduced over and over again.

H: That’s also due to place though! A lot of cities, especially global cities, are homogenous to each other. A person my age somewhere in Tokyo would probably be into the same stuff I’m into. I don’t necessarily feel like our stuff is that different from that internet aesthetic. That’s why it’s interesting that you’re telling us it is different.

Well, I’m starting to wonder now. I suppose a lot of the time when I get into music made by people I know, I can’t help but read it as a kind of meta-text. I’m listening to the music and looking at the way you’ve presented it, but for me it’s also tied up with conversations that we’ve had, or other projects you’ve done, or stuff that I know you’re interested in. It’ll be interesting to see, when I write this up, whether it’s going to make sense for someone else.
L: Yeah, but there does seem to be this obsession at the moment with cultural production coming out of urban Australia, with dolewave and stuff… there is something in trying to reflect a local-ness, an Australian-ness. Look at You Beauty. You have all these bands like that who are going on this Australia thing, and sometimes I don’t think we’re that different from that.

You made a joke before we started the interview about Hurtsville being on “the suburban ethnic fringe of dolewave”.
L: Exactly! But the dolewave stuff seems to be looking for an Australia of the past. It’s a very nostalgic, ironic exercise. To me it feels like it’s romanticising an Australian-ness that’s very specific but ultimately, not the Australia that I’ve experienced. I feel like there is this very specific romanticisation of Australian working-class whiteness, or something. So what I’m very conscious of here on the “suburban ethnic fringe” is: if we’re all gonna have a bunch of fun using our art to negotiate or come to terms with whatever the fuck Australia is, the contribution I want to make is to have it represent Canterbury, Hurstville, Bankstown, whatever.

Not many people have been doing all that through electronic music though.
L: Well, yeah. We want to do it in a way that isn’t playing stuff that sounds like what my dad used to listen to. Why would I listen to a dolewave band when I can go through my dad’s records? I grew up with that shit, we’re in 2015 now!

What do you think you’ve taken from club culture, and what have you taken from punk or DIY?
H: I used to go to Dirty Shirlows all the time and see all these amazing Sydney emo, skramz bands… I loved it all, the emotion, the sincerity, the fact that anyone could just get up and scream. I thought it was really powerful to be able to witness this catharsis in front of you. But no-one really danced at those shows. Whereas in club music, everyone dances but no-one’s emotionally sincere!

But yeah, more recently I started listening to guys like Bones and Xavier Wulf and Team SESH… and other producers who were capturing that same sense of emotion in their electronic music, like FIFTY GRAND, who used to make grindcore. And they were kind of reinventing that standard hip-hop, boom-bap sort of stuff. That sounded amazing to me and I wanted to get in on that. To put across how I’m feeling in a finished song instead of just sitting in my room playing sad guitar loops to myself.

L: And as well, this stuff is rough, it’s not perfect. It has the same roughness that I found appealing in screamo. It’s rough but it captures a feeling. That’s what was so appealing about finding producers like that – it felt punk! It felt like they were using the same kind of approach. The idea of releasing stuff yourself, your own label, or putting everything up on Mediafire. They were doing it in a way we understood and recognised from our “punk upbringing” or whatever. But with a different sound.

H: Electronic music has a lot more possibilities.

L: And you can make it in an apartment block.

You’ve told me that when you were actually asked to play a show, though, it felt really weird.
L: I was aggressively against it. Hurtsville was purely a thing we did in our bedrooms – capture a feeling, deal with an emotion. Hang out together. When we got asked to play I was like “oh fuck, I dunno if we’re good enough, what are we gonna do? I don’t wanna just fuckin’ stand there with a laptop and play shit”. So on the original Hurtsville Sad Boys group chat we had a brainstorm, we opened it up to the greater Hurtsville tribe, like a dozen people. Out of that came Kevin’s role, his performances.

H: Being an extrovert, he was happy to be like, “yeah I’ll get up there and draw attention away from you guys”. The concepts for his performances are kinda planned, kinda improvised on the day.

L: I have this guilt about whether I’m good enough to take up that space. You’re gonna give me half an hour to play my songs over a club system for a bunch of people? Am I worth that? Bringing Kevin in is a way of alleviating that guilt, maybe.

The performance that I saw and loved was Kevin Duo Jin standing in front of you guys while you were playing, solemnly eating baklava with chopsticks. It was this great incongruous combination and a perfect visual metaphor for what it’s like to live in a global city, a Eurasian city.
L: I bought a kilo of baklava for that! He was meant to offer it to everyone. But yeah, in a sense that combination of baklava and chopsticks isn’t that incongruous. Because those are like the incongruities of everyday life in places like Lakemba or Hurstville. Everyone’s just being, and doing shit, there’s no pretence to authenticity.

H: Also, the other day our mate Edmund was eating Doritos and dip with chopsticks, so…

L: Part of this whole exercise though, this interview, is us realising things that we took for granted. Like the food references. We didn’t even notice that. Or just little things that seem very normal to us – having it shown to us from your viewpoint, there’s like a “oh, really?”

This has been a really interesting exercise for me as well, because I realise the assumptions I’m bringing to my observation of Hurtsville. There’s a real sense in which the idea of these suburbs of south-west Sydney is genuinely strange to me. I grew up in a town with only a thousand people living in it, and multiculturalism was the Chinese restaurant at the bowlo. I didn’t even know what laksa was before I moved here. So I necessarily read all of those perfectly normal local references you make as different and interesting, exotic even. I didn’t consciously realise that I was doing it.
L: What’s come out of this interview for me is that what we do is this strange mix: an intentional, self-conscious thing, but also with this spontaneous, embedded stuff. I mean, we do talk about these ideas of place, or emotion. We discuss it, we have self-awareness of a lot of this stuff, but when it comes to expressing it, it often is a matter of spontaneously drawing on who we are and where we live.

Hurtsville can be streamed on Soundcloud.


Threads of Beginning: Vincent Over The Sink revisited and reissued


L to R: Chris Schueler, Matthew Hopkins

Vincent Over The Sink were a Sydney two-piece you’d sometimes see on experimental and punk line-ups in the mid 2000s. They were low profile, and in the beginning at least, responsible for overblown and formless guitar noise the likes of which didn’t stand out at the time. Their first 7 inch released in 2006 through a small Newcastle imprint called Shriek Sounds operated by Alps’ Chris Hearn. Then, a year later, or maybe in the same year, they released a CD-R split with Holy Balm. Both recordings sounded decent at the time, but didn’t strike a chord with me.

In 2008 I found the duo’s newly released third album, 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers, in a now-closed Camperdown record store. At the time I was surprised to find it, but I can’t remember why. I think most bands that orbited that scene – the types that played venues like Lan Franchis and Yvonne Ruve – released their handmade CDs into a less-than-receptive world. Unlike a lot of those recordings though, 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers felt like a proper album. It felt like more than a documentation or sketch. It sounded like something a band would want to draw attention to.

Listening to the record now, it’s easy to remember how it made me feel, but I can’t quite remember why it had such a powerful effect on me. I suppose there weren’t many bands doing gentle and cryptic lo-fi pop music at the time, especially bands willing to explore such a broad expanse of territory. Sydney’s underground at the time was a diverse one, but few had explored sounds like this, especially sounds that dabbled tentatively in traditional pop song structures. Songs like ‘Mrs S and Mrs H’ were unlike anything I had heard before, a tired and manic march tempered by ghostly vocals and piano melodies. The abrupt mid-verse end to ‘Waiting For Your Hair’ is one of the most poignant songwriterly decisions I’ve heard, while the somnambulant melancholy of ‘Heavy Gum’ is achingly sad. Even now I can’t figure out whether these songs are works of meticulous craftsmanship or accidents. That ambiguity is one of the special qualities of this record.

If these personal highlights paint a bleak picture for the album, then that’s my own taste speaking: a lot of it is funny, and bright, and modestly smart. Sometimes it’s really creepy. Vincent Over The Sink is not a band you turn to seeking one specific mood. Each song sounds like a new idea, and nothing sounds like an iteration on a former success.

Adding to the album’s allure was the fact that no one seemed to know anything about this particular recording. It felt like something beautiful that only I could see. The band played a launch show a few weeks before I bought it, but didn’t play again for years. There was nothing about the album on the internet. Their MySpace page had no important information, least of all about 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers. I’d Google them pretty much every day, to see if anyone else had found this strange transmission. Maybe someone else could make sense of it.

It wouldn’t have been hard to approach Matthew Hopkins at a show – his other band Naked on the Vague played regularly at the time – but what kind of answer was I hoping to hear? Aside from shyness on my part, I might have preferred to keep the band a mystery. I interviewed Chris Schueler for Cyclic Defrost eventually, and my purple prose serves to illustrate how obsessed I was with the band for a long time. I just wanted other people to know about the album and love it. I wanted it to be acknowledged because I thought it was the best Australian pop record ever made. That’s seriously what I thought. I listened to it every single day.

Though I know all the songs, segues and dead ends on this album intimately, I have no idea what any of it is about. When I listen to a song like ‘Threads of Beginning’ I hear something profound, though I’ve sculpted my own meaning. In reality, Hopkins and Schueler don’t provide much to hold onto, and that is a huge relief. These songs feel like puzzles in a way, and trying to understand them or glean meaning from them is part of the fun. The duo offer vivid images the listener must interpret according to their own needs. I think most of my favourite lyrics on this album are misheard anyway. 

As time has passed I’ve grown reluctant to make declarations about music, so I won’t write that 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers is essential, or an invaluable artefact, or a masterpiece or anything like that, though it’s all these things to me. I just think you really ought to listen to it. It’s not something that you should hear in order to ‘make sense’ of a particular period in Sydney’s music history, because it’ll lead you in the wrong direction – it’s an anomaly. Instead, you should listen to 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers because it’s a very beautiful and strange record, one that still prompts me to question its origin, its meaning, and its logic. 

Vincent Over The Sink had two releases after this: a 2009 cassette on Goaty Tapes called Bible Bashers, and Dust Studies, a Kye 7 inch released after Chris Schueler’s death and dedicated to his memory. A related group, The Bowles, featured the VOTS duo with fellow Sydney artist Mary McDougall. Nowadays, Hopkins records solo, as well as with Half High and Four Door. To usher in the new double vinyl reissue of 22 Coloured Bull Terriers through Melbourne label Another Dark Age, Matt was kind enough to answer some questions about the record below.

Cover for the original 22 Coloured Bull Terriers CD-R, released in 2009. No label.

Cover for the original 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers CD-R, released in 2008. No label.


Cover for the 2009 cassette reissue of 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers, released on Near Tapes.

Why was 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers so scarce when it released? How many copies did you print?
Scarce it was. I cannot recall exactly how many we made up, although I’d offer a guess at somewhere between 50 and 100 copies. It didn’t make sense to do a large amount, as we just needed enough to simply pass around to friends or whoever was interested. The idea was that we’d press a double LP ourselves, but it never happened, as our finances were miniscule at the best of times…

22 Coloured Bull-Terriers was quite different to the 7 inch and Holy Balm split that released earlier. What prompted you and Chris to move in this more pop, songwriterly direction?
Both the 7 inch and the tracks for the split documented an early sound we’d begun with around 2002, a process that was shackled to forms of punk and noise I suppose. These tracks represented a kind of ‘jaggedness’ we were trying to carve out, but it just didn’t seem right to continue down this path… did the world really need more young angry men making a racket? Plus, the early sound was excluding a whole lot of other influences and moods we wanted to indulge in, like ’60s/’70s pop/folk/psych sounds.

I do have a distinct memory of us both agreeing on moving towards a pop song-y type sound, and clearly remember us discussing Syd Barrett and Faust as chief influences for the Bull-Terriers album. We would enjoy late night discussions about deconstructing songs down to their bare essentials, which I think explains the brief, snippet style feel to many of the tracks. I think we wanted to simply suggest songs, rather than actually write whole ones most of the time.

It sounds like you’re both having fun on the record, even during the more reserved tracks like ‘Mektoub’ and ‘Heavy Gum’. Can you describe how the record was made? What were the circumstances?
We had fun, we had hell, and everything in-between. We spent about two years making this album, between Sydney and the Western suburbs of Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and Melbourne. Throughout its creation we were anywhere from 5 kms to 1000 kms apart. I remember on several occasions each of us taking the bus between Sydney and Melbourne to visit each other and record. Bus for 12 hours or so, a couple of days of recording and then a bus home – cheap air travel wasn’t an option at this time. I have fond memories of Chris picking me up in in his Toyota T-18 and us collecting tapes from $2 shops in Penrith on our way to record, and then feverish chatter in the car about our plans for the session. Early on we were both kind of stuck out west in the ‘burbs, but full of bohemian enthusiasm!

A large chunk of the album ended up being recorded in Melbourne at Chris’ headquarters on a rather deserted street in Abbotsford, at the Grosvenor St Manor as we affectionately named the house. This was an incredible old wooden shack, with no real neighbours and a huge backyard where we would have fires, late night rambles, and hours of recording at all hours. We did have much fun and silliness but it was also an incredibly tough time for both us, and at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to indulge some sort of redundant rock myth or mystery, the making of this album had it all: break-ups, breakdowns, mental illness, drugs, deaths of friends and family, poverty, run ins with the law and more.

But this is life, yeah? These things are the nuts and bolts of life for some, right? What to do, what to do… make brooding, harsh, angry music???? No, no, no. Instead we chuckled at the devil, and danced around the fire rather than let it engulf us. We were incredibly focussed on the band, very pious about Vincent we were. We attempted to channel all the above anguish, all the heavy, lived things, into the songs that make up the album.



How did you and Chris meet? What were the origins of your friendship?
The origins date back to teenage years. Chris and I became acquainted through riding skateboards. We were part of a large group of people that would hang occasionally around the mountains and Penrith skating. We didn’t really know each other that well then. Years passed, then we reconnected when I was studying at the University of Western Sydney, it was at a film night or exhibition or something. Chris’ partner at the time was also studying there, and we got talking and found we both had shared interests in art and were on the same page, so we hit it off and became incredibly close from then onwards. Music wasn’t a shared interest early on, we were meeting up and making visual art and discussing ideas around painting and drawing. One day I noticed a drum kit in Chris’ room, and I’d been mucking around with a bass guitar. We just sort of thought to ourselves ‘let’s have a bash’, and that was that.

How was writing with Chris different to say, Lucy [Half High, NOTV], or Jonathan [Four Door], or any of your other collaborators?
Writing stuff for Vincent Over the Sink, which was equally shared between Chris and I, was rather hard. It involved both of us writing whole, structured songs, with lyrics and various instruments. I’m untrained musically and suspect I’m tone deaf. I can’t tell one note from the next if truth be told, so me writing a song involves tons of clumsy trial and error. Writing music this way was a real challenge! But an interesting experiment nonetheless.

With various other projects I’ve done over the years, if they’ve not been improvised, other members have taken the lead with writing and programming. The solo music I’ve been concentrating on for the last few years employs a very different approach to the song writing Chris and I did. Pop songwriterliness is not something I currently work with at all now, and haven’t done so for many years. My music making these days is largely about gathering various source materials, musical and non-musical, and spending time shaping these into something that resembles electro-acoustic/ambient/tape composition. [I’m] currently less interested in songwriting and more concerned with feedback loops and electronic squeals, some piano, maybe a bit of wonky trumpet, tape, processed breathing and absurd descriptions of things.

Who’s Vincent?
The name Vincent Over the Sink was one we selected from a list of possible band names we both made. Chris came up with it, and I think it might have been a line lifted from a poem, although I can’t for the life of me remember! It may have been in reference to Van Gogh huddled over a sink after doing the chop on his ear, although maybe I dreamt that. Anyway, Vincent became like an invisible third person, a connective force, a shared identity. Vincent was not so much a product of Chris and I, but rather, us combined equally, a shared identity, us two merged as one.

How do you feel when you listen to the album all these years later?
Often I look back on things I’ve made and feel ambivalent, or sometimes I can’t understand why I did a particular thing, you know? But this album really hits the spot, even after all these years. Listening makes smiles form, sometimes tears on occasion. It still gives me a buzz. Like an actual buzzing feeling in my skin. Hands down one of the best things I’ve ever done with my life, no question.

22 Coloured Bull-Terriers releases November 27 on Another Dark Age.

Phantom Game: a brief chat with 100%

L to R: Chloe Baxter, Lena Molnar, Grace Stevenson. Credit: Chloe Alexandra

L to R: Chloe Baxter, Lena Molnar, Grace Stevenson. Credit: Chloe Alexandra

Earlier this year I saw Brisbane three-piece 100% play at the Rag Rag festival in Sydney. I don’t remember much about the show specifically. I arrived just as they started and, standing at the back of the room, forgot where I was.

It’s not that 100% make meditative music – it’s upbeat at the surface – but the synth, bass and drum machine blend into something amorphous. It’s like witnessing an energy, rather than feeling it. That mood is captured well on the group’s first independently released cassette demo. Released late last year, it sounds like a lonely city highway at night. Traffic pulses as the listener stands on the median strip, brushed by the forward momentum but not pulled into it. Rigid basslines are smeared by synths and the submerged vocals of Lena Molnar. It sounds like a synth-driven rock trio shrouded in a spectral fuzz.

That first demo was followed by another self-titled, Moontown-issued cassette earlier this year. Featuring three songs not featured on the debut, these newer tracks bring a greater sense of clarity to 100%’s sound.

I spoke to Lena, Chloe and Grace via email.

Who is in 100% and how did the group form? Have the members played in any other groups?
Grace: We are Chloe, Grace and Lena. 100% started with Chloe and I jamming in Chloe’s rehearsal space over the idea of cocktails. We then then asked Lena to join on bass and vocals, and things found their place over the early summer. This was about a year ago. Chloe drums in Cannon. Lena has played for Harriet, Tangle, Manhunt, Overrun and currently also plays bass in Heavy Breather. This is my debut band.

Why the name 100%?
Grace: Why not? We all have different ideas around the name and what it means at different times, but it came from a bottle of water. We like the name.

How did the three of you arrive at the group’s sound? Was it a conscious stylistic decision or something that came naturally?
Grace: There’s a particular vision in what we try to go for in writing and staying true to that. Our writing process is collaborative (I will make a beat, Lena or Chloe will have a melody and bass lines) and taking from our different backgrounds, the sound we’ve created definitely takes from the intersection of those tastes and abilities. As we keep working and writing and playing we’re getting stronger at pulling together that glittering intersection.

What was the particular vision you mention?
Grace: Our initial vision for synth direction was heavily influenced by the Drive soundtrack and when asking Lena to join we asked her if she liked the Eurythmics and other diva music like Kylie and Madonna. That “vision” is what we keep developing from.

There’s a drowsy energy to the tracks on the demo. Particularly ‘Prisoner’, which sounds like a submerged, syrupy dance track, though the bassline is very ‘rock’. What’s that song about in particular?
Lena: That feeling can be credited in part to production from that recording, which was a lo-fi production made in Sam W’s bedroom, which was quite relaxed and made the best sense at the time. The rocking bassline was to effect a kind of trance with the beat, something Chloe and I worked on. The feeling incidentally suits the lyrical content. I was thinking about the British TV show, The Prisoner, and how one may feel simultaneously stifled but also supported at times in their body, community, town or country. The lyrics reflect on this as an Australian feeling.

How is it an Australian feeling?
Lena: Well I mean my feeling or perspective of being an Australian, or from living here. I don’t think it’s necessarily one that’s shared nationally, or a feeling that only Australians have, but a common one. I don’t know what it’s like to be someone else or from somewhere else… I guess I felt like there is a parallel to the themes of Prisoner, to ideas anyone could form about national identity. It’s a beautiful country that is both your home but also a place you may want more from, and internalising that feeling of potentially being stuck or belonging there [is] a fairly parochial tension… These thoughts can come from being a part of something anywhere I guess, but here we are in Australia. I think the song feels like that tension.

When I saw you play at Rag Rag the group covered ‘I Can Never be Your Woman’ by White Town. What’s appealing about that song?
Lena: We agreed that ‘Your Woman’ was a banger of our youth, and we couldn’t help ourselves. It’s elusive and cool but also very funky, without seeming like an obvious choice until we started covering it.

What’s is planned for the band? Is there another release coming?
Grace: We’ve been working on new songs for a 7 inch we are recording for next month. We’ve been exploring some new avenues of performing too. Hoping to change it up a bit and creating a different atmosphere on stage with a bit more energy. We’ve recently been playing a new song where Lena puts down the bass and dances. It is lots of fun and great to watch. The song reminds me of something you would hear at the end of an 80s romantic comedy movie (even though the lyrics are about a spy movie!) Hopefully this new idea will be ready for our next show on November 7 with Multiple Man.

What’s important to you in a live show? What do you set out to achieve?
Chloe: At the end of the day ,100% is there to entertain the people. We’re all about the people. That’s our prime motivation. That’s our goal. That being said, we like to boogie, we like dance, we like to dress up. We’re part of the glamour revolution.

Lena: Right, We want to put on a show! And a memorable one that leaves you thinking about it, like the end of a movie. Mostly that’s about making ourselves comfortable to perform in front of whoever, enjoying each other musically and reflecting this in our dynamic. I think this definitely makes a better show. We want folk to feel a part what we give, 100%. We found it really inspiring to share this in Melbourne, which were some very special gigs.  The 100% vision is one that people can get amongst and engage with at a show, I think? So that means not just holding ourselves back too much as performers and hoping that the audience will be happy to let go of their reserve when they see us play.

Grace: Yeah, it’s much more rewarding for us when people engage (obviously) but it just makes for a happier, more enjoyable time for everyone. I think people need to loosen up and just have a groove, you’ll have more fun… trust me.

100%’s self-titled cassette is available through Moontown.