Melbourne-born producer/remixer/musician Josh Abrahams (b. 1968) has earned a reputation as one of Australia’s foremost electronic music purveyors. He began his musical career, somewhat inauspiciously, playing bass and singing in a covers band, Havana Moon, on the early 1990s corporate circuit. After abandoning the covers scene, and joining techno outfit FSOM (Future Sound of Melbourne), Abrahams became a fixture on Melbourne’s rave and club scene.
UK DJ Carl Cox signed Abrahams to the Worldwide Ultimatum label, with his solo, debut album, The Satyricon, becoming the label’s first release (1996). It was a diverse and ambitious album that went beyond the usual techno boundaries. The CD single, ‘Scenes from the Satyricon’, for example, used a different theme for each of the three tracks: acid-funk, house and ambient. Abrahams contributed a track, ‘The Joker’, to the soundtrack of the film Hackers (1996), that also featured the likes of Underworld, Leftfield, Machines of Loving Grace and Carl Cox.
Abrahams left FSOM, but not before the group had picked up the 1996 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Best Dance Release Award for the album, Chapter One. In 1997, Abrahams’ short-lived group, The Edison Project, issued one single, ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, on EMI’s Interdance label. Featuring Suzie Ahern on vocals, the track mixed house music with soulful grooves. At that stage Abrahams came to the attention of director Baz Luhrmann, who employed him as a producer/remixer/musician on the Bazmark Presents Something for Everybody album (#16 in December 1997). The album made for fascinating listening, containing new, or remixed, ambient versions of music from Luhrmann’s films and plays.
The Bazmark single, ‘Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)’, which was a reworking of Quindon Tarver’s rendition of ‘Everybody’s Free’ (from the feature film Romeo + Juliet), became a cult hit in the US where it reached #23 on the dance chart. The single then made history by becoming the first Australian single to make its debut at #1 on the UK chart. Abrahams’ next CD single, ‘Thrillseeker’, was a big beat instrumental.
After signing to the Prozaac label (home to Boo Boo & Mace), Abrahams came to wider attention in Australia. With high rotation play on the Triple J network, the Josh Abrahams Featuring Amiel Daemion CD single, ‘Addicted to Bass’ (October 1998), became an immediate success. It peaked at #16 on the national chart, as well as logging the #16 placement on the 1999 Triple J Hottest 100 list. It was certainly an addictive slice of dancefloor beats, backed by Amiel’s terrific vocals.
It was the first single lifted from the album, Sweet Distorted Holiday (also issued in October). Abrahams took great pains to describe his album as not being techno, rather an eclectic mix of jungle, drum’n’bass, breakbeat, groove and ambient. His main inspiration was the success of UK outfit The Chemical Brothers, whose album, Dig Your Own Hole, incorporated funk, breakbeat, techno and 60s psychedelia.
Following his relocation to Sydney in late 1998, Abrahams set up his home studio, Fishtank. The new CD single, ‘Headroom’ (April 1999), may not have been as immediate or catchy as ‘Addicted to Bass’, but it featured a more atmospheric Portishead-type feel, with Amiel’s crystal-clear vocals being the highlight. In mid-1999, Abrahams signed a five album, worldwide deal with Sony Music, through its Sony Independent Network Europe (SINE). He remixed ‘Addicted to Bass’ for European release.
By that stage, he had produced the debut releases for the 19-year-old, New York-born, Australian-raised Amiel. Both the CD single, ‘The Chase’ (August 1999), and album, The Chase (also issued in August), boasted a mix of ambient trip hop beats, funky electronic pop and soulful vocals. Abrahams took out the awards for Best Dance Artist Album and Best Independent Release, for Sweet Distorted Holiday, at the 1999 ARIA Music Awards.
In 1999, Abrahams also recorded covers of the Russell Morris classics, ‘The Real Thing’ (with Kylie Minogue on vocals) and ‘Sweet Sweet Love’ (sung by Morris himself). Both tracks were included on the original soundtrack of Clinton Smith’s feature film, Sample People (May 2000). During the early months on 2000, Abrahams was reworking Sweet Distorted Holiday for the UK market, and collaborating on the music for Luhrmann’s new feature film, Moulin Rouge.