White Hex is the duo of Jimi Kritzler (Slug Guts) and Tara Green. We wrote a fairbit about the duo back in the heady days of 2012, upon the release of their first EP through Nihilistic Orbs. Now they have an LP forthcoming, set for release through it Records and Felte in June. Entitled Gold Nights, the track embedded below will feature on it.
The first reaction I had when listening to ‘Paradise’ was surprise, because the mood is quite far removed from their previous material. With production provided by Forces’ Alex Akers, White Hex sound less like an anomaly in the former-Nihilistic Orbs orbit.
These textures feel like reflective takes on transcendent ’90s trance, mixed with some of the ’80s pop deconstructions the likes of Games have been vendoring for a while. It’s refreshing to hear these sounds presented without the deftness-of-touch approach that a lot of ‘smart’ modern pop groups might be inclined to apply: the ecstatic extremeness of this song is a very beautiful thing. The synth walls sound on the verge of combustion. Everything is felt to its fullest capacity.
It will be very difficult to sit on the fence with this new White Hex album, I’m predicting.
Holy Sissy is Jimi Kritzler, best known as a guitarist for Slug Guts and one half of White Hex. That’s him in the picture to the left, looking at a piece of pizza. This solo project takes in a fairly broad range of mostly electronic and sampled sounds, most of which Kritzler has tagged with some form of ‘tropical’ descriptor on Soundcloud. There’s a lot of material to take in, including remixes of Total Control, Circle Pit and HTRK, among others.
The track embedded below is not a remix, but it’s pretty representative of his sound: this is a kind of drugged, palm-lined ’80s cinema excess, with enough discordance frittering the edges to suggest it was made several decades down the track, with the benefit of hindsight. The productions are definitely very rough around the edges, but that contributes to the sense of excess: the 4/4 frames can’t really hold it all in. There’s too much.
Tropical goth is the vaguely disparaging term used by White Hex’s European label to describe this debut. The “tropical” adjunct is only meaningful if you hold that goth is all asphyxiating corsets and Renaissance roleplaying, which White Hex is definitely not. Closer to home, if you’ve ever sat on a Redfern veranda at 7:30am huffing from a bottle of amyl nitrate while listening to Black Tape For a Blue Girl CDs, maybe that’s a stereotype more befitting this particular group.
Whatever the case, Heat is very lethargic, very grey, and almost ominously seductive. The duo, consisting Tara Green and Jimi Kritzler, create the type of music readily licensable to teen flicks with a morality tale about designer drugs at their core: it’s just so resigned, so “coming down”, and it creates that mood with relish. Green’s vocals sound equal parts cynical and dreamy, while Kritzler’s guitar – reminiscent of his work in Slug Guts – run slow melodic arcs over a drum machine, all the while accompanied by a bassline with a mind of its own. It feels very dry initially, but those slowly unfolding melodies do sink in over time.
Heat feels like a triumph of style over substance, but in this case that’s not a slight, because style and mood is clearly the goal here anyway. This record conjures images and states but it doesn’t hold forth about them. Glassy eyed and sedate, Heat is a pitch dark room on a sunny day. The world is out there, you feel a dread for not engaging, yet you’re not going to move a muscle. Don’t listen to this on the way to the train station, but do listen.
Jimi Kritzler is one half of White Hex alongside vocalist and songwriter Tara Green. Together they create grainy, minimalist rock music with a focus on repetition and mood. Heat, their first LP, was initially released on European label AVANT, and is now also available on Shaun South’s Melbourne based Nihilistic Orbs label. It was recorded during an especially frigid Berlin winter amid a period rife with hedonism, as Kritzler explains below.
Kritzler speaks to me over the phone from Melbourne, where the duo moved shortly after arriving back in Australia. He’s about to go on an extensive US tour with his other band Slug Guts, and has also finished writing a book about the last decade of Australian underground music, which we also discuss during the interview below.
How did you and Tara meet?
We’ve known each other for so long, since we were teenagers. We always vaguely knew each other and then one day after five years we were in the same town. She turned up on my doorstep and then a day later she’d moved in, and we started doing White Hex. After a few months we decided we were going to disappear, so we went to Egypt for a while and then moved to Berlin for a while, and that’s where we recorded the record.
Yeah, we went to Egypt I guess to see Egypt, but also to write some tunes. It was just after the riot so there were no tourists there or anything. It felt like a really weird place, very rigid, but you could just tell that everyone was ready to get wild. We were just laying in a resort pool looking at the pyramids a lot. It was nice, it was a good place to escape to.
You guys were based in Brisbane before you left.
Yeah, we were both there, that’s where we initially came up with the idea that we were going to do it, and we just started writing songs in the lounge room of this crack den of a house. It was good because we’d just wake up in the morning and that’s all we had to do, just write songs. Most of those songs became Heat.
On the press release it mentions you both lived in a “decrepit old house for neighbourhood criminals, junkies, scumbags and teenagers.” How did you find yourself in a place like that?
That house is weird, it’s been in Brisbane for a long time. It’s one of those houses where it’s super cheap to live there and there’s always a lot of people there at once. Unfortunately the wrong – or right – combination of people, depending how you look at it, moved in and it turned into a strange drop-in house for a lot of people. It ended up being a really fun house, and then quite a horrible place, a place people generally avoided. I remember after one tour I got home and moved all my stuff out, because I couldn’t live there anymore. Tara moved out the same day. We live in Melbourne now, after returning from Berlin, but we went past the house recently and it’s now completely rid of all its old residents and it’s a nice house now. If you could afford to live there with one other person it’d be a nice house. Sorry, I feel like I’m talking about real estate now. [laughs]
That’s okay. Heat does sound like the kind of record that would come from a place like that.
Yeah, I think it reflects the time well, and I also think it reflects our time in Berlin really well. Just how cold and wild it was. It was a strange six months there of -17 degrees, and we were living in this apartment in Kreuzberg writing songs, and Olle Holmberg was recording it. Suddenly all these people from Australia were there, just friends: Nic De Jong from Naked on the Vague was there, DX [Straightjacket Nation, UV Race, Total Control] was there, Mitch Tolman from Low Life was there, Anna from Holy Balm was there, for some reason all these people had converged there. It was a really interesting time, but the songs reflect that weird ten month period quite well.
It sounds like it was a good time though. On the other hand, Heat sounds quite bleak, especially ‘Holiday’.
Really? I thought that was an uplifting song, I thought it was going to be a pop hit, I thought it was going to get me a 41k! I understand your perspective, but I also think there’s a subtle optimism too. Sorry what was the question, did I answer it?
Yeah, basically it sounds like you were having a good time but generally speaking Heat sounds like a dark record.
I think that’s the thing: it’s that thing where you’re having too good a time. I’ve been in America and in Europe during Winter before but this particular Winter there seemed like a morose cloud hanging over things.
What do you mean?
Without going into too much detail, I’d say it was a lot of our own doing. Without going into detail. I certainly, with a lot of Berlin friends, had a good time. I guess when the good times keep going and the weeks keep going by… it happened every day. And then you wake up and it’s snowing outside and it’s difficult to keep it going. It does get a little bleak, I guess.
Tara’s vocals sound quite exhausted.
She’s a very patient woman [laughs]. I agree. I’d never heard her sing before we recorded, and I personally think there’s a beautiful lethargy to them.
So Tara’s the main lyricist then?
Yeah, she writes all the lyrics, I stay well clear of that.
Do you write them in Slug Guts?
No. On the first record I did, and then the second me and JD did, and then the third it’s all JD.
We’ve spoken about environmental influences, but what about sounds, or other groups?
[Long silence] Gianni Rossi, this Italian disco guy from the ‘70s I love, he did really contorted electronic music. Chris & Cosey a little bit, Les Rallizes Denudes, mostly the repetitiveness and simplicity of that. They’re the three we come together on. I know Tara’s ultimate band is Mamas and Papas, so maybe on some dream melodic level she thinks maybe we can write a song that reaches the apex of their ability to melodicise with each other. But I guess also stuff like Dark Day, where it’s just very primitive and simple. Just using the instruments they have in a very repetitive way, but the songs are still very strong. Using minimum tools to create the strongest songs possible, and I think all those bands do that. Aesthetically, I’d say [fashion designer] Karl Lagerfeld also, definitely.
How is being in Melbourne? Why move back there instead of Brisbane?
I think we’d just come back from living in Berlin, and it was just never on the cards to go back to Brisbane. If I stayed there it wasn’t going to end well. It’s not a place I ever want to return living to. Melbourne is just aesthetically a lot more beautiful and it’s just a better city to live in. Certain things have happened in Brisbane, and a lot has gone down there in the last year. There’s too much history and certain things have just changed so dramatically, certain events have happened, and I’m happy to leave it all behind and start afresh in Melbourne.
You mean events of a personal nature?
I guess so. Last year and earlier this year was a pretty intense time. Things just got a bit out of control. I think there was definitely a period where it really blossomed in that city but I also think it’s just not a city where we could ever live again. The period when it did blossom, when Blank Realm, Kitchen’s Floor, Slug Guts, Brendon [Annesley] of Negative Guest List was just starting to do a lot of his magazines and starting the record label, I think that was a really good time then. Then a lot of bad lifestyle decisions were made by a lot of people and certain shit went down and Brendon passed away… it’s not a place I want to live in. It’s never going to happen again. I feel like I have more friends in Melbourne now anyway, it’s neither here nor there.
Do you feel like that was a golden period in Brisbane?
I don’t want to romanticise it, as in it was a “glory period”. There were just good bands. I guarantee, give it a few months – it’s probably happening right now – there will probably be some phenomenal young kids doing something great there and they’ll put on shows and do what we used to do, break into cinemas and play shows [laughs]. Things will get exciting. It’ll be a good place I’m sure. But you’ve gotta change your circumstances sometimes otherwise you won’t grow as a person. If we had visas I’m sure we would ideally be living on the beach in Spain, or in Paris or America somewhere. But we’re happy here. We’re content in our Carlton North home.
Someone told me you were writing a book about Australian music.
Yeah, it’s completely finished. It’s thirty interviews with like, HTRK, Eddy Current, Circle Pit, St Helens, Lost Animal, Stabs, Whores, Witch Hats… fuck I’m trying to remember. A lot. It’s a ridiculous book with really detailed interviews. It’s all done now. Briony Wright, who’s the editor at large for Vice, she’s helping edit it and we’re just hoping and working out how it’s going to be released, with publishers and all that. We’re trying to make it become something more than just a bunch of words on a page. I think it’s a good document of a certain time in Australian music. It’s an interesting read I reckon, because there’s a certain personal quality to it. When I was sitting down with the people I interviewed we’d usually known each other for some time, and the rest are friends of friends. So there’s a real personal tone to the interviews. It delves pretty deep into people’s personal life and stuff. I really hope it comes out as a book. It was a pretty arduous piece of work to undertake. It’s hundreds of thousands of words. So if you know anyone…
You must be fairly busy. Slug Guts have a good work ethic: you release records regularly and you’re about to go on tour.
Yeah, we leave in two weeks for thirty shows. That’s to launch the third album [Playing In Time With the Deadbeat], or fourth if you include the live record. So it’s a thirty date tour. It’s a little bit haphazardous because Falco the guitarist can’t come with us. It’s a bit shit, but that’s life. Unfortunately Cameron the bass player can’t do it, so we got Albert Wolski who played in the Nevada Strange and the Jack Mannix band. He’s been a dear friend for a long time so he’s coming on the tour. It should be interesting, a month long endurance test.
It’s interesting you mention the Nevada Strange, because just before they released their EP Down By Law, you guys had just released Down On The Meat. It felt like there were a lot of dark rock bands emerging at the same time. Did you have much connection to those Sydney bands back in 2008/09?
Totally. When we first toured Sydney our first shows were with Naked on the Vague and Circle Pit. Then we met Nevada Strange and Atrocities and instantly bonded with them and have been great friends ever since. Atrocities not so much because they’ve all gone their separate ways and there were so fucking many of them. Definitely we felt a kinship with Nevada Strange, we had very similar interests.
I agree that during that time there was an uglier element, compared to today, where there’s a more nice guy, “nice bloke next door playing indie rock” [mood]. You’ve got Woollen Kits and all those kinds of bands: honest indie rock, whatever they call it. I’m not slaggin’ them off, they do what they do and it’s not my cup of tea, but I just don’t relate to it as much [as I do to the music that was around] when we first started. I guess it was slightly uglier and more fucked up. We’d go down and play with Whores, Nevada Strange, Circle Pit. Then Stabs and UV Race in Melbourne. Stuff like that. There was a kinship with those bands for sure.
It seems that a lot of those younger bands that were a bit darker – Nevada Strange, Circle Pit, Slug Guts – were often accused of not being authentic, or not true to the current condition, whatever that was. I remember the Mess+Noise review of your first record in particular.
That turned into this legendary thing. People would come up to me and say “have you bashed Rene Schaefer yet?” When that review came out I understood his point, but to be honest, we have far bigger problems and far more interesting lives to worry about [rather than] some guy writing a review who doesn’t know us, who is saying we’re not authentic. We’ve just got better things to do. I think the ultimate thing was a couple of months later someone played me his band and I thought, “fucking hell, this guy doesn’t have a leg to stand on”. It was some Sleater-Kinney tribute band or some shit like that. It’s the same as the nice-bloke-next-door indie rock thing, there’s a dividing line: you either turn up, play in a t-shirt and sing about how your centrelink cheque is due next week, or you do something more fucked. That sounds really inarticulate, but I hope the point comes across somehow.
I think because we’ve never hid anything. We’ve always done exactly what we wanted and tried to have as much fun with it as we can, and sometimes that’s caused some enemies or whatever, and it’s been at the expense of other people maybe not having as much fun. I stand by what we’ve done. Four people with not a hell of a lot, we did what we did and it’s fine. I don’t think anyone should get too academic about it. At the end of the day you can write 1000 words about authenticity but if the songs are rubbish, I don’t give a fuck. That’s all I think about in either band.
So White Hex will be an ongoing concern, Heat isn’t just a one off?
Yeah, definitely. We’ve been writing quite a lot. We’re buying more equipment and we’re excited about what we could possibly explore with it. but it’s definitely going to be on our own time: it’s purely for our own satisfaction. I’m sure we will tour and put out more records but it’ll be when we’re ready. We’ll only release something when we feel it’s definitely the best record we can put out. The reason we put out Heat so soon is because we really loved the songs.