Can you give AMO readers a little background about your agency?
What we do is pretty broad so here it is broken down by sub-agency. We used to use the banner ‘Snarl Heavy Industries’ to enxompass everything a bit like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries did in Japan but that’s now been jettisoned and everything exists under its own unqiue ‘brand’.
Cyclic Defrost Magazine started in 1998 as a zine to promote our weekly club night Frigid (established 1996, still going today!). The magazine was photocopied and given and sent out to about 600 people Sydney-wide until mid 2000. I edited the university newspaper with Dale Harrison (now of The Herd) in 1995 and we’d been friends throughout uni so he came on board as co-editor and art director. In 2002 we revived the magazine with the assistance of an Australia Council grant under their New Audiences scheme. The grant allowed the magazine to go nationwide and be properly printed. We now have a print run of 5000 copies and are nationally distributed to speciailist independent record stores by Inertia Distribution. The purpose of the new version of the magazine is to “assist in the growth of a critical music culture”, and to expose readers to “independent electronic music, leftfield hip hop, avant-rock, and various oddities that usually slip under the radar”. We have a very strong focus on Australian music although we also cover leftfield artists from overseas. Unlike a lot of other music magazines we don’t have fashion spreads, shoe advertising, or much in the way of ‘peripheral’ content – we strongly believe that music magazines should primarily cover music, not lifestyles. Magazines we like internationally that we feel share a similar philosophy to us are The Wire (UK), Grooves (Canada), Wax Poetics (USA) and perhaps De:Bug (Germany).
Frigid is a club night I set up with Luke Dearnley and Shane Roberts (Tooth) in 1996 after Luke and I had been running a series of one-off events and irregular small club nights for a few years. We met Shane at a rave when both of us were DJing – he was with his crew of the time Atomic Hi-Fi. You can read the full early history of Frigid at http://www.cyclicdefrost.com/article.php?article=45.
Frigid has played host to hundreds of emerging Australian acts as well as toured loads of big and small names in the international electronic music scene – from Squarepusher and Kid Koala to Jan Jelinek and dj/Rupture.
Sub Bass Snarl came together when I met Luke Dearnley at university in 1991 – see below.
We also used to run a small independent record label, Cryogenesis, that released the first two albums from Quark Kent (www.quarkkent.com), the debut album from Tooth (www.snarl.org/tooth), the two Freaky Loops compilations (in conjunction with 2SER) and a triology of 3” CD compilations. Running the label became to difficult and it closed down in 2001.
How did you get into this field – can you give us a bit of info about your career? What was it about organising shows specifically that appealed to you?
I started out in community radio in 1990. I was in Year 12 at high school and looking for something creative with which to procrastinate during the run up to the HSC. I saw an article in the local paper about Radio Skid Row in Marrickville and I decided to put in for a show. In the previous years at high school I was the one who wrote reviews of ‘weird’ music for the school paper. Community set off a string of new ideas in my mind and when I hooked up with Luke Dearnley in 1st year of university we formed a DJ+FX ‘band’ pretty much through ‘rehearsing’ live to air on my breakfast show. In the early years of uni both of us got heavily involved in the nascent rave scene of the time, the adventures of going to parties in abandoned warehouses and the like set up a desire to put on our own events and around 1993 we started our first tentative steps towards where we are today.
The three promoters who really influenced us in the 90s were the Vibe Tribe, punos, and Club Kooky. Vibe Tribe were a loose collective of ex-anarcho-punks who got switched on to techno and its possibilities around the same time as we started doing our radio show at Radio Skid Row. There was a punk show at Radio Skid Row called Oxford Babylon that used to be on before our show, and the punks who did that show were part of the crew that formed Jellyheads – a kind of early 90s community-run venue project in Chippendale. When Jellyheads was closed down the Vibe Tribe sprang up and focused on putting on innovative, politically oriented, free parties in the inner west, mainly in Sydney Park (Newtown/St Peters).
We first met the punos people at a Jellyheads gig where we were playing. The were in the early stages of promoting their first party (promotion which included flying a banner over Happy Valley 1!) and eventually I ended up DJing at their first party which was a crazy two room rave in Alexandria. After their first rave experience they decided to shift focus and put on these wild, theatrical, ambient techno parties themed by colour (red, blue etc). These events were really inspiring because of the effort that went in to decoration and ‘transforming’ ordinary spaces into psychedelic playgrounds. Because they were generally pretty ambient events they attracted a slightly different crowd to pilled up shirts off types, and punos really was the beginning of the IDM/ambient scene in Sydney.
Club Kooky started a year before Frigid in 1995 and remains one of the oddest and most interesting club nights in Sydney. Back in the early days they captured the imaginations of the Darlinghurst community as well as art school types, musicians and freaks. In some ways they took the best elements of the various niche art/alternative scenes in Sydney and mashed them together.
There were some great nights back then.
Setting up our own parties was and remains a matter of creating new spaces for interesting music to be heard. We are rarely satisfied by the events other people put on , either here or overseas, and part of the drive to put on events is to put on the kind of event that excites and challenges us, and also does the same in our audience.
In your opinion, what are the best venues across the country for live music, and why?
It's hard to say but in Sydney we like the sightlines and sound system of the Metro, the location and pricing of the Gaelic Club, the cosy indie atmosphere of the Hopetoun, and the crisp high ceilings of the @Newtown. Of course, if these could be combined into the one space...
The best venues were, and remain, the illegal ones. Secret warehouses, tunnels, caves, abandoned buildings. But since the mid-90s it has become virtually impossible to do anything along those lines in Sydney.
There are plenty of lovely outdoor spaces too which no one uses. If something could be done to remove the need for Public Liability Insurance things would change for the better.
For acts starting out, what’s one of the most important things to keep in mind when approaching venues for shows?For us, we like to work with acts who are unique and have a certain flair, style or edginess to what they are doing.
In Sydney you have to remember that venue owners have probably paid inflated prices for the real estate that you want to perform in. As a result most venue owners are predominantly interested in paying their enormous mortgages, rents and other costs. This means that the aforementioned ‘flair, style, and edginess’ is often the last thing venue owners care about. However if you can pull it off and draw a solid crowd early on then you are more likely of being able to succeed in the long term.
You also put together Cyclic Defrost, a mag dedicated to covering the best of the local electronic and dance scenes. Can you tell AMO a little bit about how that started, and why you chose to head into the print world?
As I said earlier, Cyclic Defrost began as an extended flyer for Frigid in 1998. For two years Frigid had had a series of great ‘collectable’ flyers that were themed along the lines of infamous people, cult films etc. But we felt that doing normal flyers was too disposable and didn’t really give anyone the requisite extra ‘scene knowledge’ needed to build an extended community for the long term. Because we were and still do host performances from a lot of emerging artists the zine provided a place for punters to read more about the artists they were hearing and seeing.
Dale Harrison (bass plyer in the Herd and Elefant Traks designer) and I had been editors of Tharunka at UNSW together in 1995 and so we knew that we could pull off a bigger magazine so the zine kept growing in size. At the end in 2000 we were sending out, by post, 600 copies plus having them available at Frigid. It was just too labour intensive.
As a result of working with Marcus Westbury on This Is Not Art and setting up Sound Summit in 2000-3 things changed. Marcus put us on to the Australia Council’s New Audiences scheme which was in its final year (2001/2) and both of us were talking about putting in applications. Eventually Dale and I reworked the idea of the zine into a proper magazine. The idea was to extend the idea of the Frigid flyer/zine helping build audiences for the Frigid night and applying that more broadly to establishing a proper magazine to cover emerging artists and labels in the independent sector. We got the grant which was effectively seed funding and Cyclic Defrost was born as proper magazine with national distribution by Inertia in 2002.
We did discuss doing Cyclic Defrost purely as a website but we quickly realized that we’d need to do both a web and print version. Dale is a print designer which is a rare thing in this age when everyone wants to work in digital media. He has always had a fascination with books, magazines, typography, page design and layout. And although I now work in digital media I’ve always felt that magazines work best in delivering large scale text content to audiences. Not only that, you can read them on the toilet – which is not somewhere I’d want to take my laptop.
Which local musician has been one of your favourite interviewees so far? Why choose them?
From the musicians that I have interviewed personally I would have to say Clue To Kalo (Adelaide) or Purdy (Sydney). Both are fascinating people with interesting things to say beyond just their own music, or their latest release. We have always tried to steer Cyclic Defrost away from the press release fodder of ‘normal’ street press, and all our contributors are encouraged to suggest artists to do stories on and then go off and write them. As a result I think we have probably the highest quality and diversity of music writing in the free press in Australia (if not anywhere) at the moment. Of course, we can always improve and we all feel that issues 10 & 11 have been the best yet in terms of all round quality.
What are your 3-5 most played Australian releases? Why?
At the moment I’ve been playing a lot of Saddleback’s Everything’s A Love Letter (Preservation) which is a beautiful somber wintery records, Oren Ambarchi’s Grapes From The Estate (Touch) – a deep minimal and lovely record for close attention listening and the microsounds of Snawklor’s Dived In A Microphone Universe (self-released) which has the most amazingly wonderful poster-size sleeve as well. Unkle Ho’s Roads To Roma (Elefant Traks) has been getting a lot of lounge room play too, and I’ve dug out a few older things from my indie rock days too like the first Underground Lovers album Leaves Me Blind, which really is a classic record well ahead of its time. Also I’m really looking forward to the debut album from Pivot (Sensory Projects) who have been doing some blinding live shows.
Beyond that most of my recent time has been spent listening over and over to the new Cyclic Defrost double CD sampler which we’ve been making for the European festival circuit starting with Sonar in Barcelona. One CD is beat-based and the other is ambient/experimental stuff and basically features the most exciting Aussie talents around at the moment.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing local music jounalists today? What’s the biggest misconceptions?
Very very few journalists, music or other, are really indpendent. I’ve noticed that the best new writers are foregoing the ‘press’ altogether and just setting up their own blogs, particularly in the music sector. On one hand this is great because it means that there is some amazing web writing available out there, but its also quite depressing because these writers are exactly who we need writing in the print media. Its going to remain the case for many years more that only a limited public will ever read blogs, so we can’t give up on trying to change the print media.
It also continues to disappoint me that we are becoming an ever more visual culture. I used to think that this was really exciting – new graphical zines, comics, design books all the time– but at the end of the day I am pretty conservative in as far as I want words. And I want other people to want and appreciate words. I want a more literate public, and more deeply literate in terms of visual and media literacy too. It is a fallacy that a ‘picture tells a thousand words’. In reality it is just visual wallpaper, and in some cases anti-intellectual. And I take a look at a lot of new magazines now and the words are gone – they are often all pictures, from adverts to content, its all the same. It is almost as if the mantra of ‘the audience can’t be bothered reading words’ has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The ‘youth’ magazines are the worst perpetrators.
With Cyclic Defrost we are trying to struggle against this trend. We are actively increasing our word lengths, making our layout more text heavy, making the magazine more, rather than less serious. I know that we are probably alienating some casual readers by doing this, but I hope that in time we will be creating a bit of resistance amongst the readers to overly graphical publications.
Lastly, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the local live music scene today?
It’s the perennial thorn of venues which is in turn a result of public liability insurance issues, real estate speculation, gentrification, and over-regulation.
Beyond that, for interesting music in general the major issue is distribution and digital distribution for microlabels and independents. Its going to be a real struggle for microlabels to adjust to the digital distribution world which is going to, no matter what happens, still coalesce down to a few major global corporations controlling it – just the same way the very few major labels do now. The controlling corporations might not be the current major labels, indeed, they probably won’t be, but it’s a false hope to expect that digital distribution will ‘democratise’ the music industry. Economic and media power will just shift to another centre – we are already seeing this with iTunes. It remains to be seen whether small independent players on the global market like Warp’s Bleep project will survive for the long term.