The two Freejack cassettes I own come packaged in crudely photocopied slips decorated with hand grenades and assault rifles. The music on the cassettes is a similarly crude, lo-fi minimal techno. These items seem nasty. They feel like contraband.
It is not uncommon at the moment for musicians associated with hardcore punk or noise to experiment with techno music. Like hardcore, techno can be relentless and ugly, and like noise it has an absorptive element: factors peripheral to the music can shape the identity of sounds which might otherwise seem neutral of tone and feeling.
Blame it on the hand grenades, but Freejack sounds hostile to me. The way the music comes packaged positions it as a series of instructive signals, or communiques, rather than just sounds. These tracks sound like shivs in the arsenal of a secretly waged war. Their calmness is sinister because rather than shout and threaten, these productions breathe deeply and steadily in the shadows.
Freejack is the work of Melbourne producer Liam Osborne, who has previously played in hardcore group Flesh World, and produced as Synthetic Texxxture. The four tracks spread across these two cassettes are sonically arid and ungenerous. They sound like the bare scaffolds of more colourful and assertive productions.
I tried to write at greater length about the tapes – because they’re fascinating and addicting – but couldn’t manage anything coherent. Instead, I emailed Osborne a series of questions, and here’s what he sent back.
You’ve previously played in punk band Flesh World. How long have you been making electronic music?
In one form or another for around two years now. My first experiments were jamming with casiotones and loop pedals, which quickly changed into samples, synths and drum machines. It’s not too dissimilar to playing in Flesh World in the sense that my role was to kind of help cobble the elements together, organise practice, write riffs, come up with suggestions for composition as well as being the front man. It’s just now I only deal with machines.
Where is Flesh World at, at the moment?
Dead. Flesh World was a teenage band: it was our transition from adolescent to young adult, for the founding members, both geographically and emotionally. That’s not to say that I view traditional band structures or punk as a teenage pursuit, just that Flesh World was a time and place. We have a reissue of our first EP and a new EP recorded around three years ago coming out on No Patience this year.
What do you get out of producing techno that you don’t from playing in a punk band?
Autonomy foremost. Not relying heavily on anyone else to realise a project is very freeing. Outside of that it’s mainly a frustrating but very fulfilling series of operations, trying to build a song that resonates with you as well as being structurally sound, while fitting into some self-imposed idea that you [determine] at the beginning of your session, or completely changing your expectations. I have been in a state of writers block for a while now, which is possibly the most frustrating position.
What has inspired the sound of Freejack, sonically or otherwise?
That particular project is all my house and techno stuff, I guess, the stuff that’s not too sonically aggressive or harsh. The inspiration comes from a wealth of European and American techno past and present. The way I consume dance music usually comes in the form of mixes, so I guess it’s the faceless stuff I like. Outside of that I like to mainly listen to industrial or early electronic artists for cues: Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Severed Heads, RJF etc. The aesthetic is inspired by militancy – the fetishism of left-wing activism and industrial unionisation – so the two elements make sense together.
What interests you about left-wing activism? Early industrial stuff – like SPK and Throbbing Gristle – seemed more interested in the extremes of the right, especially fascism.
I guess it’s being in opposition of what has become a well-worn topic in underground music. I mean, it makes sense when your generation is coming out of a world war, to find fascination in the ‘enemy,’ and to acknowledge contradictions in society. Also I understand the fetish of fascism and Nazism: the symbolism is powerful and creates strong imagery and music.
That said, I personally find the history of dissent much more interesting, and the contradictions in the new left make better source material. I am not dogmatic or fervent in my dismissal of this imagery, I just want to do something that resonates with me, and as somebody living in a time of constant surveillance and human rights abuse, anti-state violence makes more sense.
The Untitled Document cassettes are both packaged in slips decorated with rifles and grenades. You’ve tagged Freejack as ‘Militant Music’ on Soundcloud. Why?
This has to do with my label. I think it’s very important to brand music that doesn’t have lyrics, or samples with immediate reference points, with a strong aesthetic identity. I’m interested in the history of anti-state militancy, anarchism, student activism, trade unionism etcetera and I think it’s an interesting pairing for techno and industrial, which are two genres that theoretically came out of the working class: Detroit techno being made by the kids of auto workers, and Industrial coming out of post-industrial Britain and the decimation of industry.
As objects, the Freejack tapes feel like they’re aiming for a similarity with samizdat, or illicit propaganda. The slips are hastily photocopied, and there’s a makeshift quality to the art. Is that an effect you were aiming for?
I guess mainly the effect is [borne of] a simple and effective dispersion of information, but it’s also the aesthetics of an era bygone which used pamphlets and posters as its means of communication. It’s disingenuous for me to say that this is an effective means of communication to a broader audience now, because of course we have stronger means of communication now, but I’m a culture fetishist and the output of organisations like the Situationist International, Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers, RAF, SLA, The Weathermen, The Black Panthers and a multitude of different Anarcho and Marxist organizations I find historically and aesthetically very engaging. Especially paired with pumping, moving, mechanical music.
A lot of musicians known in noise and hardcore circles are moving into techno nowadays. Why do you think this is the case?
Trend I guess, but I have quite a postmodern idea about music and subculture in general, that is: why would you ever stick to a genre and place your flag in the ground? I guess when I was younger that was my downfall: I was too fervently and dogmatically into punk music and that was it. That being said, it can feel bad being engaged in a mass exodus, but I think the general consciousness changes and that’s not always a bad thing and as long as people make good tracks and not just make the music completely gentrified and within the genre then it’s a positive I guess.
What kind of equipment do you use?
Just whatever I can cobble together, I’m not a gear fetishist at all and I think you can make good music with anything. I have a synth and a few drum machines and groove boxes.
Is Future Archaic limited to only releasing electronic music?
Not at all, it’s a blank canvas. I want to release a lot of harsh noise and punk in the future among other genres and projects.
What happened to Synthetic Texxxture?
It was a learning curve. I started to become exposed to other music that made me re-evaluate those tracks. It was fairly uncritical and just making music for the sake of it. Freejack and various other projects now are more refined and streamlined.
What are the other projects you’re currently involved in?
I have another solo project called BAADER which is harsh noise, rhythmic noise, Industrial and power electronics kind of stuff. I am currently jamming in a new punk band and I have a few bands that have yet to jam but should be coming to fruition in the future.
Freejack’s Untitled Documents Volumes 1 & 2 are available through Warehouse Music Disposal. Freejack will play at Goodtime Studios on February 28 with Flat Fix, Asps, Word of Life Church SS and Von Einem, among others. Full details here.