Best Practice: Four Door Reviewed


According to the artists, “civic banalities” is the theme on this Four Door debut, and it’s a topic they’re not taking lightly. Look at the song titles after all: ‘Meeting Rooms’ and ‘Claim’ both lock into ambivalent and hunched 4/4s with on-rails melodies and tempos that seem to poke fun at any kind of initiative. For the first half of this 12 inch, Four Door is slouched and mentally unapplied techno: it’s amusingly disengaged.

Four Door is Sydney’s Jonathan Hochman (Holy Balm) and Matthew Hopkins (NOTV, Half High), and it’s the culmination of a long term collaboration between the duo which yielded its first public release, It’s The Submarine, back in 2009. Whereas that release and a couple of ensuing cassette albums were typical of the Australian tape scene’s late ‘00s gravitation towards electronic music, Four Door sees the duo complete the transformation. There’s nothing designedly “rough” about this record: any semblance of lo-fi has been removed. In fact, Four Door’s central theme demands a fussy, neurotic kind of order. That’s exactly what you get.

Meeting Rooms

 With their pointed refusal to deviate and menacing singlemindedness, this EP’s opening tracks sound like music to control whole accountancy firms and call centre floors; functional ambiance designed to numb workers to the interminate processes of capital. These crisp but textually barren tracks prize precision, formality and working to the blueprint, even as they promise that shit will hit the fan if these principles aren’t adhered to. Listen to the end of ‘Meeting Rooms’ for example: the song appears to have gathered some courage towards its end but it ultimately just fizzes out, with Hopkins’ heavily affected “beeps” ringing like some hysterical alarm. “You can’t go there,” they seem to warn.

Four Door maintain fidelity to their theme both formally and through their vocals, which are drolly yet necessarily literal. The lyrics during ‘Claim’ sound like a list of tedious administrative tasks, and the music itself is even more neutral than ‘Meeting Rooms’. ‘Claim’ contains the embryo of a dance track, but its shorn of groove and lacks the requisite kick, resulting in dance that sounds composed on an austerity budget.

While this all sounds sickly – pleasureless even – Four Door doesn’t lack purely aesthetic charms, and these lay mainly in the music’s amusing positioning of corporate authority as some kind of inscrutable, Klamm-esque puzzle. Actually, Four Door’s central theme of “civic banality” feels like a direct nod to Kafka, particularly The Castle, where dedication to paperwork, bureaucracy and “best practice” far exceeds any material benefit. Here is a blandly neurotic world where processes, even while never completely understood, have us all on a firm leash and are accepted as indispensable.

Four Door feels like an analogue to James Ferraro’s 2011 LP Far Side Virtual, especially in the way that it shirks the “pleasure principle” central to dance music and attempts instead to capture a condition, or the culmination of various modern phenomenon. Four Door and Ferraro share an interest in the incidental but pervasive textures of modern life under capitalism, in the music’s implied acceptance that real pleasure and freedom is interstitial in our lives. And that’s where the comedy in Four Door is most apparent: in the fact that we know yet permit this. In the fact that we do it anyway. Isn’t that weird.


Luxury Tax

But all this collapses when you flip the 12 inch, because ‘Moods’ and ‘Luxury Tax’ are an emphatic departure from “functional”. They’re leery, nauseating and vaguely freeform, lacking reliably ordered 4/4s and familiar synth lines. ‘Moods’ is what you could loosely term an ambient piece: six minutes of airy and tangential sax chintz dogged by echoed vocal effects. Meanwhile, ‘Luxury Tax’ is almost whimsical: it’s locked to a subtle grid but is nothing like the glazed-eye automation of the A-side tracks.

It’s a neat response to the A-side, because these tracks are basically Four Door gone recreational. It’s still not freedom or pleasure though. Hopkins’ vocals – the celestial corporate figurehead from side-A – haunts the periphery of ‘Moods’ like a bedside mobile phone vibrating in your dreams. Still, the incursions are more violent in ‘Luxury Tax’, working in concert with the grindingly bright and major key melodies. Here the voice – the authority, the administrator, the chief, the executive, the team leader – works harder to insinuate itself because it must: it cries beyond the cubicle.

Or maybe it’s merely the voice of recreation: the processes and systems we actively submit to in the name of recuperation. Budgeting, itinerating, purchasing, consuming, preparing. Four Door renders life as a feedback loop of banality. Work or play, it’s all interconnected and it’s all very, very banal. Unless you turn it into art.


Four Door’s debut 12 inch is available through Nihilistic Orbs. Purchase on Eternal Soundcheck.

New Music

Listen: Four Door – Meeting Rooms


Four Door is the duo of Jonathan Hochman from Holy Balm and Matthew Hopkins of Naked on the Vague and Half High. Together they create drowsy, uncomfortable techno that deals with “workplace relations, taxation, policy and procedures, and various other civic banalities”. The fittingly titled ‘Meeting Rooms’ does sound very grey, but it’s infused with a kind of workaday surrealism – the inherent strangeness of banal processes, the illusory concept of freedom. Indeed, the locked 4/4 rhythm here is very functional and plain, proceeding at a serviceable and unobtrusive tempo, but the modulating synths and submerged vocals offer a kind of drowsy menace. Stare at the grey wall inside your cubicle and realise why you’re really here, and why you’ll never leave.

Four Door’s debut 12 inch will release soon on Nihilistic Orbs.


Photos from Fitz Fest 2013

When you go to a festival, especially one as good as the inaugural Sydney Fitz Festival, it’s very nice to go home and look at photos of it. We know this, and that’s why we’ve got a slideshow for you below. Look at that, or check out the individual photos below.

All photos of Yasmin Nebenfuhr.

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New Music

Watch: Holy Balm – Losing Control

Pretty much everyone in New South Wales likes Holy Balm, and if someone doesn’t, you know to worry about them. Sorry if that sounds a tad fascist, but this is factual journalism. With the release of their debut LP It’s You, the rest of the country is learning that it’s a bit weird not to like Holy Balm, and by extension parts of the Rest Of The World. As a result some music website across the pond premiered this new Holy Balm clip, and for once we’re going to “harvest content” from abroad because you probably want to watch this.  If you don’t, maybe go read about Foo Fighters. If that’s too much for you, here’s a fascinating history of the Pokémon video game franchise from Wikipedia.


Holy Balm – It’s You (LP)

There’s no murk anymore. The lights are on, smoking has been banned, and Sydney’s Holy Balm have finally recorded a proper dance record. Here the group’s lo-fi grime has been scrubbed away, leaving sharp-focus textures and 4/4s that never wobble out of step. All evidence is gone of the drone-y jam band that debuted on a split CD-R with Vincent Over The Sink back in 2006.

Holy Balm are a dance group that have rarely (if ever) played in a club, appearing instead mostly on punk line-ups. It’s You is released locally on R.I.P. Society but also on Californian label Not Not Fun, and the association with the latter makes a lot sense: some will write Holy Balm off as amateur dance music for people who don’t like dance music, an accusation sometimes leveled at Not Not Fun’s dance offshoot 100% Silk. But this only holds true if keeping things tidy and in their right place is really important to you.

It’s true that precision is not a concern for Holy Balm. Bass lines fall slightly out of step with the beat sometimes (especially on ‘Holy Balm Theme’) and their panicked improvised lead lines always sound like they’re rushing for a bum note. Holy Balm sounds defective, but only just: the clean right angles and white textures of techno are bent crooked here, the shades all mixed up and the components bolted incorrectly. Brief lead lines pop up in ‘Phone Song’ that sound like cameos from other songs, but their intrusion is a pleasing sensorial jolt, like sonic detritus from another transmission.

Holy Balm never sound bad though, just endearingly wrong. Their sound is halfway between rigidly functional techno and the decrepit no-wave of groups like Excepter, and while the group don’t sound especially invested in either extreme their music could satisfy either inclination. Techno-existential dread is swapped out with party tune whimsy, but it’s a weird and almost exhausted kind of revelry: all frayed at the edges and somehow incomplete.

But for all that, the most welcome development on It’s You is the songs. Emma Ramsey’s vocals are still reverberated but they cling closer to a tune now, offering a breadcrumb trail through the matrix of locked beats and askew leads. You can take It’s You however you like, as either an especially blazed dance record or a weird pop one, but it’s never boring. Now that the murk has lifted, we can finally hear them properly.

Holy Balm – Holy Balm Theme from Not Not Fun on Vimeo.

Label: R.I.P. Society / Not Not Fun
Release date: August, 2012