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Wednesday, 20 May 2009 13:39

State Of Play

Film In Preview: State Of Play

In his latest film Russell Crowe plays a journalist in an American re-make of a critically-acclaimed six-part British serial, ‘State of Play’, which first aired on BBC One in 2003.

The film abridges the original story somewhat in the telling of a journalist’s investigations into the suspicious death of a Congressman's mistress and the web of lies that hold the White House aloft. Crowe concedes, he’s not the logical choice to champion the art of journalism - but that doesn’t mean he can’t.

Scene: Why did you want to make ‘State Of Play’?
Russell Crowe: “In fact, I was not predisposed to do this film at all in any way, shape, or form. I was back in Australia. The sun was shining. I was looking forward to a very long summer at home, and I got a call from the studio. They said Brad Pitt had left the project and asked if I would please look at this project. The first thing I did was to look at the work of Kevin Macdonald, and my absolute desire was to dismiss it completely. Do it quickly. Do it in a day and get on with my holiday. But you can’t dismiss ‘Touching the Void’, and you can’t dismiss ‘The Last King Of Scotland’. It’s as simple as that.”

Do you like Cal McAffrey? Do you have sympathy for him?
Russell Crowe: “I think he goes on a journey of rediscovery and finds out just how far away he is from his ethical standards, just how far he’s allowed himself to drift. I’ve sat in front of journalists for 30 years of my life, so I have a lot of observational material to call on. I’ve been praised, flayed and betrayed, and those experiences obviously are going to colour the way I think.”

Has playing a journalist changed your opinion of them?
Russell Crowe: “No, not really. But the fact that I may harbour disappointment and anger about journalists in certain situations, does not preclude me from having a deep personal opinion that it is a noble profession.”

Do you have a view on the future of journalism?
Russell Crowe: “If there is a crisis in serious journalism, it’s been created by journalists because we’ve been trivialising news for at least a couple of decades. We have been blurring the line between news and entertainment in order to try and achieve a larger distribution, more sales, and better ratings. But in every newspaper, no matter what level of seriousness that newspaper has a reputation for, there are pages of absolute tripe that the editor knows to be untrue, but they will titillate the readers.”

Would you like to direct a film yourself one day?
Russell Crowe: “I think about directing. I see it as a natural progression some day, and my next film represents my first major film as a producer. I’ve never produced a film of this size. I’ve done little documentaries and TV shows, things like that, in the past but nothing like this.”
‘State Of Play’ is in cinemas from May 28.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010 16:01

Valley Fiesta Review 2010

Live Review: Fortitude Valley Sept 8-9

Rohan Williams  

Jeremy Neale would clean up at the Frontman Olympics. The Velociraptor singer, in a feat that can only really be seen as showing off, remained the centre of attention at all times as his band played the Brunswick Street Stage on Saturday, despite the potentially distracting presence of no less than seven bandmates (they were undermanned, believe it or not - the full lineup includes 12 members). It's not that the other folks don't pull their weight - I certainly can't remember seeing a tambourine destroyed with such reckless abandon before - but this is clearly Neale's show, and it was a good enough show to make the sprawling garage rockers my pick of the weekend's festivities. Sure, Valley Fiesta demonstrated the strides Brisbane's taken in the club and hip hop scenes. But in amongst Dot.Ay’s technical wizardry in Club Fiesta and The Crate Creeps’ mastery of the Born Renegades stage, there were still guitars. Lots and lots and lots of guitars. On the Saturday alone, Ball Park Music, Dan Parsons, Rocketsmiths, The Boat People, John Steel Singers and Velociraptor proved that Brisbane indie rock is in a very good place right now. Not that you ever doubted, right?

Danielle Golding
With temperatures soaring and a small crowd milling, some wanting to see what was going on, others lost and asking directions to the closest yum cha stand, Courage took to the stage. They were the first cab off the rank on Saturday afternoon, asked to pave the way for the fantastic music-filled evening that would ensue; a tough job. And what a treat! Courage settled into their encouraging indie pop set properly when Becca Stoodaz took to the stage for the second song, ‘If I Were King’, to help out on vocals. A last minute change to the Fiesta program saw Dead Shades hit it next. It was 1:30pm at this point and my sore, recovering head was well in need of some dirty, bluesy rock and roll. Like a blacksmith would with steel, this three-piece forged a smile on my face for their entire 30-minute set, as they sang about women with eyes like the devil and being attacked by Chermside-inspired flat caps. Ball Park Music were next and it was with them that the crowd came. This band just screams fun and boy don’t they know it. This local six-piece, alt. pop band sang songs about making babies and avoiding alligators. It was best when the trombone came out, and funny when they attempted to make their lyrics family-friendly. Their set ended with the singer climbing atop the speaker and leaping into the crowd. My afternoon of reviewing was technically supposed to end here, but I couldn’t resist and stayed for the first few songs of Fergus Brown’s set. This quirky singer-songwriter was up from Melbourne for the show and made the crowd smile with his witty, soothing, guitar pop.

Mitch Stringar
What to do? Where to start? There was so much going on at the Valley Fiesta this year that I found my indecisiveness delaying my experience. So let's kick off at the incredible Pyrophone Juggernaut show in the Chinatown Mall. Besides having the coolest name for ... well anything really, this giant pirate ship was exactly what I needed to 'fire up' my Fiesta. A group of people with amazing rhythmic ability, bashing a musical instrument manufactured from what seemed to be off-cuts from a construction site, while incorporating blow torches to add visual stimulation to an already impressive audio element. Fire is cool as! My remaining Fiesta journey proceeded to be beer, bands and toilet breaks - then repeat. I caught a very impressive Spod on the Brunswick St Mall Stage in between beverages at Ric's Café. From there things get a little hazy, but I do remember that this Saturday evening was eventually spent shifting between the Yacht Club DJs on Winn St and the Club Fiesta Bar. The 2010 Valley Fiesta lived up to the hype and surpassed my high expectations.  Everyone, please give a round of applause to the Strut & Fret crew for such a great weekend!

photos by danielle golding

Wednesday, 04 August 2010 16:12

Splendour in the Grass Reviews 2010

Festival Review: Woodfordia Jul 29 - Aug 1

Alex Roche
Oh shit. Where is my mind? Splendour’s tenth anniversary has been and gone, and nearly everyone I know is in tears today. In its first year at the Woodfordia site, Splendour didn’t disappoint the 30,000 punters who packed every square inch of the festival site.

Lineups were long and patience was a virtue, especially when trying to get into the magnificantly positioned Golden View VIP bar, which we did just in time to hear the opening strains of The Temper Trap’s set. And it was beautiful. Dougy’s voice was in top form, the band clearly tight after a European summer smashing the festivals. ‘Sweet Disposition’, ‘Love Lost’, ‘Science Of Fear’, ‘Fader’ - all the big songs got an incredible airing, and the crowd had to be seen to be believed.

Eschewing the madness happening at the main stage on Saturday night for The Strokes, I headed for Band Of Horses and into one of the most beautiful live sets I’ve ever seen. Newer tracks like ‘Loredo’ sounded bigger and more festival-ready than they do on the album, and most of the tunes off 2007’s incredible ‘Cease To Begin’ - including ‘Is There A Ghost’ and ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ - got an airing, with Ben Bridwell’s voice in fine form. Truly an amazing festival. Now where the fuck is my wallet?

Majella McMahon
It’s Monday night, many hours have passed since seeing Florence + The Machine and still I am unable to put into words how unbelievable her set was. Sitting smack bang in the middle of the festival timetable, the Saturday night pre-Strokes slot was almost too good to be true.

Having already witnessed the wonder of Florence at Laneway earlier in the year, my expectations were high and all were met, blown away, smashed to smithereens - whatever your cliche of choice is. Wearing a floor length white sequinned cape and dress, Florence seemed otherworldly and ethereal, contrasting superbly with her bold, brash vocals that have to be heard to be believed. If I could only write a review that just said ‘Oh My God’ - it would sum it up perfectly. Having had a mini-meltdown at the wonder and beauty of Florence, I could not have been more perfectly placed to see The Strokes (literally, as I was standing close enough to almost touch Fabrizio’s curls at one point).

One of my all time fav bands, they could have just stood there and it would have been enough. Instead they proceeded to play each and every one of the songs that have shaped my world, their sound the ultimate rock and roll, their look, their banter, sheez even the way they walked screamed New York cool. I am a changed woman. My life is complete.

Rohan Williams
The great thing about Splendour 2010’s ridicuclous, never-ending, never-to-be-repeated-in-our-lifetimes lineup is that you could cross a whole slew of bands off your “must see before you die” list in the space of a couple days.

Take Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, for example - they were my favourite band in high school, but I’d never actually seen them live until that magical night in the Ampitheatre. It was a straight-up Greatest Hits set, each song delivered with the passion it deserved and oozing with surplus menace (seriously, you guys, ‘Red Eyes And Tears’... so fucking evil, in the best possible way).

It was a decade-old dream realised. The Pixies? The Pixies, not so much. You’d have to be insane not to love them, but they didn’t do themselves any favours here. They seemed to go out of their way not to project any sort of stage presence, overshooting ‘enigmatic’ and going straight to ‘boring’; their trademark quiet-loud dynamic lost in a dirge of flavourless Greatest Hits and inane banter (‘are you guys camping, or did you all drive here?’). But, you know, it’s another name crossed off the list and something else to tell the grandkids about. It didn’t detract from the festival, and for that matter, neither did that wacky Richard Ashcroft. By that stage, the result was already in: this was as good as festivals get. Now let’s do it all again - and cross some more names off that list - next year.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009 14:43

Tooheys Extra Dry uncharTED

Top 3 Finalists

Over the last two months 50 of the country’s finest unsigned indie bands have been battling it out for your vote in the Tooheys Extra Dry uncharTED competition. With the field whittled down to the final three acts; Sydney band The Deer Republic and Melbourne outfits Hot Little Hands and Foxx On Fire, the heralding of the next uncharTED champion - who’ll win a 25k development package and a spot on this year’s Splendour in the Grass bill - is only weeks away. So without further to do, we present to you the three finalists.

The Deer Republic
(Answered by Mike Andrijic)
Now that we've made the Top 3 of uncharTED, our plan for world domination is...
to make love not war.

Our policy on...
rock 'n' roll is long and hard and that's why you need to vote for us.

Something we've never told anyone about our band is...
that our policy on rock 'n' roll is our policy on everything else.

If we win the opportunity to play Splendour in the Grass, look out...
for Nick, our drummer.

If we win uncharTED
, we'll be throwing the biggest melon at someone's head.

The bands we're competing against can...
support us anytime.

Hot Little Hands
(Answered by Raph Hammond)

Now that we've made the Top 3 of uncharTED, our plan for world domination is...
being work-shopped at present by Kim Jong-Il's political advisors.

Our policy on life is...
to win it to death.

Something we've never told anyone about our band is...
that the mum of someone in the band (not naming any names) turned the keyboard player vegetarian with her ‘cooked’ chicken. 

If we win the opportunity to play Splendour in the Grass, look out...
your window and meditate on how awesome Tooheys Extra Dry is for putting on this damn competition. And get ready for your bones to rock.

If we win uncharTED, we'll be throwing the biggest ...
gumboot in the biggest gumboot throwing competition held in the universe.

The bands we're competing against...
are both fricken great. Good luck!

Foxx On Fire
(Answered by Paul Housden)

Now that we've made the Top 3 of uncharTED, our plan for world domination is...
nearing fruition. Our Splendour spot will be to brainwash the people into  thinking that dancing will save their souls.

Our policy on life is...
if elected Foxx on Fire will use the healing power of music to transport the hearts and minds of our troubled souls to nirvana and that's why you need to vote for us.

Something we've never told anyone about our band is...
that we breathe fire.

If we win the opportunity to play Splendour in the Grass, look out...
for inferior Foxx on Fire wannabes, such as MGMT and The Flaming Lips.

If we win uncharTED, we'll be throwing the biggest ...
slumber party ever. We'll mostly be sleeping at this party so let us know how it was.

The bands we're competing against can...
hang out with us on our yacht we’ll be purchasing if we win.

To make your vote, head along to and make your selection; you may even win a prize yourself. The uncharTED Grand Final takes place at the Oxford Arts Factory in Sydney, July 9.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009 14:58

Elbow 18.03.2009

altBig Brother Watching
With a musical lineage that can be traced back to 1990, the UK’s Elbow have been peddling their wares for close on two decades. But it’s only been in the last year or two that the five-piece from Manchester have enjoyed mainstream support, despite a back catalogue of work that is the equal of any of their British rock peers.

Winning last year’s Mercury Prize for the brilliant ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ LP, Elbow are at the top of their game, though keyboardist/producer Craig Potter says the group aren’t getting too carried away.

“It’s a slow build still. Yeah, we’ve got some success because we won the Mercury Prize and it gave us a lot of attention and sold us - probably in the end when you compare it to our other sales - about double the amount of records we’d normally have sold. It’s great to be recognised.

“The difference between this album and the last one, ‘Leaders of the Free World’, was that hardly anyone knew it was out, which was frustrating for us because we felt like it was one of our best albums - but it’s good now that people will go back and buy it. But this new album has been fantastic, we’ve just been nominated for three Brit Awards and we won the South Bank Show awards over here a few days ago. There’s always something happening, which keeps the band going. It’s been the best year for us, it’s been an amazing year.”

Continuing with the outfit’s rise up the musical ladder has been the coverage they’ve received in the entertainment and sporting worlds. Their track ‘Grounds for Divorce’ - lifted off ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ record - was used in the trailer for the Coen Brothers’ ‘Burn After Reading’ as well as the most recent ‘Top Gear’ series. While their song ‘One Day Like This’ was featured in BBC’s coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games as well as the UK’s ‘Big Brother 9’.

“You quite often hear bands used all the time in TVland and I think there’s a fine line that you don’t want to cross if you’re used too much. I think the only one we weren’t too keen on was the ‘Big Brother’ montage at the end of the final show. But that was the only one where we were a bit cringing but everything else has been great. It’s nice to hear your song pop up on telly every now and then.”

Currently enjoying the fruits of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ the band aren’t standing still on this release, with work already beginning on Elbow record number five.

“It has. We are starting to write it now. We’ve all been really busy with the success of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. But we’re doing writing whenever we can and we’re going up to an island off the west coast of Scotland where we’ve done some writing before. We’re going to go up there; a friend of ours has a converted church and we’re going to camp out for a good week or two and that’ll be the first serious bit of writing for the next Elbow album.”

Penning a fresh batch of tunes is never an easy task. But Craig admits there are certain songs that write themselves, so to speak.

“There are songs that suddenly come together and you’re like, ‘wait a minute, that could do really well’. My favourite songs on any of our albums are never the singles. But sometimes you just take a step back and think ‘that came together really easy, it just seems like something that could become a classic’. As a songwriter, you’re always looking out for it and obviously other people outside of the band are always looking for the singles. The one that came together, that we didn’t play around with hardly at all from the initial idea to the initial recording was ‘...Tower Crane Driver’ off ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. It was great from the beginning, no one had any doubts and you do get tracks like that now and again.”

Elbow will be joined by The Killers, Snow Patrol, Kaiser Chiefs, Duffy, Madness, The Human League, The Do and many more when V Festival touches down at the Avica Resort, Gold Coast Sunday March 29. For more info, visit Elbow also play a Brisbane side show at the Tivoli March 31. 

Thursday, 10 September 2009 14:35

Apoptygma Berzerk: Interview


Being gloomy isn't always easy. Not that Norway's Apoptygma Berzerk have let that stop their international rise. Formed in the late 80s and one of the original exponents of the EBM / synthpop, the group has found itself back in the spotlight as music has shifted back towards all things synth orientated.

The name Apoptygma Berzerk either has a secret meaning or does not mean anything at all. It really depends on which interview you read. Frontman Stephan Groth claims that it was randomly picked out of a dictionary but he tends to change that story on a whim. Whatever the case, the band was formed by Groth and Jon Erik Martinsen in 1986. They recorded a few demos before Jon Erik left.

While the group were originally known for their electro / industrial sounds, in a career spanning 20 years they've managed to run a gamut of sounds and influences. Back with a new album, 'You and Me Against The World', APOP have once again managed to reinvent themselves. As Groth explains: "Two years ago I was tired with the future-pop sound and everything trance related. I started going clubbing and got into trance in the early 90s so in 2004 I was just fed up with the whole vibe of it. When we started this crossover between euro/trance/house and EBM in the mid 90`s almost no one else were doing it, but the last years this combination has become so common. I just didn't see the point of me continuing making this kind of dance floor music anymore. 'Harmonizer' would have been the last APOP album if I was to make a follow up to it in that same style. So in order to keep APOP alive, I had to re-invent the whole sound. I went back to the roots, analysed what APOP is about, and found out that it has ALWAYS been about the melodies. So that was our focus on 'You and Me Against The world'."

Amongst the changes involved in this new album, Groth found himself working with a band in the studio first for the first time. He claims to have enjoyed the process. "It was great ... We had a lot of fun, and it was nice for a change to let other people have some 'say'. I'm a control freak, so at times it was hard to let other people be in charge. Looking back now, there are MANY things I would have liked to be done differently, but over all I'm happy with the results."

Apoptygma Berzerk play The Arena Friday December 15.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 09:54

Mista Savona Interview

A Slice Of Kingston

Mista Savona is a truly prolific producer, songwriter and keyboardist hailing out of Melbourne town. Now onto release number four, his musical journey so far can be simply described as 'epic'.

With a keen ear for quality both old and new, Mista Savona (also known as Jake Savona) is a brilliant force in the world of reggae, dancehall, hip hop and dub. Starting music at a young age, it was not until his teens that Savona's true passion shined through. â€œI started playing piano as a kid, mainly from the encouragement of my mother. The kid didn't know too much about music but ended up playing a lot of classical stuff. Through my teens I started really getting into my family's vinyl collection. I didn't really get into reggae so much until I was 16 or 17. That started with Bob Marley, but a friend also lent me a tape of Augustus Pablo who is a great seventies instrumentalist. Then I ended up finishing a music degree over in the UK, living in Brixton for a bit. That's really where, with a massive Caribbean population, I started hearing serious dub and dancehall music. I came back to Australia and it really inspired me as something I'm super into and am going to start making.”

From there, Savona put out two Australian made releases, ‘Bass And Roots’ (2001) and ‘Invasion Day’ (2004). It was not until release number three, ‘Melbourne Meets Kingston’ (2007), that his musical journey stepped up to a whole new level. Travelling over to Kingston, Savona worked on the ground with some of Jamaica's finest. What would seem like a daunting process for many, proved to be profoundly successful one for Savona. â€œBy album number three I was starting to realise that with the kind of vocals and music I wanted to be making, we were too far away from it all in Australia. I love to travel anyway so I felt like it was a good excuse to get overseas and work on different music projects.”

It seems that if every artist has a moment in his or her career that really sets a new path for inspiration, this was that moment for Mista Savona. With an already healthy discography and reputation, his work in Jamaica pushed him into new territory in a world where music is life, and life is fast. â€œThe thing we need to understand about Jamacia is that there's just so much talent. Music is an intrinsic everyday thing for everyone. Most people sing and have talent, it’s just phenomenal. We got over there and pretty much within the first week of working in the studio we had artists rocking up looking for us rather than the other way round. Jamaica is a melting pot of music and culture and people want to work. It's just not a problem making music over there. Music and life also moves fast. It's a whole other level because the benchmark is already so high and everyone is working towards that level. People over there will write an amazing song in half an hour and record it in an hour or two after that.”

There is no doubt that Mista Savona's work is truly something special. His combination of a strong work ethic, initiative plus talent on talent makes him a truly great Australian musical treasure.

Catch Mista Savona with his band July 3 at The Hi-Fi AND THE BEACH HOTEL, BYRON JULY 4. ‘Warn The Nation’ is out now through Elefant Traks.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 10:15

Stylin’ UP Interview

Still stylish, ten years on

Ten years on, Stylin’ Up has not only given us wicked beats and launched many hip hop careers; Brisbane’s multicultural community now has something to bond over - music.

Indigenous Intrudaz' MC DCP remembers way back when the Inala festival was just being born, the group would be on stage so early that the roadies and stallholders would still be setting up.

Flash forward ten years and the boys have been on the line-up ever year since, alongside big names like Jessica Mauboy and Christine Anu. They're local celebrities these days, are headlining the show and even help to organise it.  

"I see it as an illegitimate child so to speak,” MC DCP says. “We saw it grow and prosper from a baby, then it started walking and now it's almost fully grown and it keeps growing every year. When we started in 2001 it was really community-based and you would have been lucky to get 100 or 200 people show up. From that to 15,000 is a giant leap in the right direction. It's been getting bigger every year."

Tons of emerging artists feature on this year's line-up, along with Archie Roach, arguably our most iconic indigenous musician. MC DCP says the message in Archie's music inspires many musos when finding their feet.

“[It's all about] being true to yourself and putting indigenous flavour in the music instead of just going for what's hot at the time. Real people can relate to it; it's not made up stuff; it's speaking from experience and the spirit and soul.”

MC DCP says the tenth anniversary show is going to blast Stylin' Up’s past out of the water. He's particularly excited about catching some of the smaller acts that are making their way onto the scene; hopefully it'll kickstart their careers like it did for Indigenous Intrudaz.

"The organisers aren't really concentrating on a drawcard like the other years ... it's more based around showcasing up-and-coming artists and that's what I like about it. Without Stylin' Up we would have had to struggle a lot more than what we have, just in terms of getting ourselves out there.”

But he says it's not just the indigenous community that benefits from the gig, because acts from a whole range of backgrounds are on the bill. The award-winning event, which was set up by a group of local elders, has played a great role in taking positive steps toward reconciliation and cultural pride. After all, music's a language everyone can speak.

“It's something that gets the whole community involved, not just the indigenous or non-indigenous parts. It's basically the community's event so everyone feels like they're a part of it. Music can cross colour lines and social boundaries, so to speak.”

Indigenous Intrudaz address many issues Aboriginal kids face in their lyrics and they try to be a good influence by being good role models and putting positive messages into their sound.

“[We're] trying to teach kids that music can be an outlet for your voice; you don't have to do what everyone else is doing because it's cool and you can feel free to speak about whatever you want in your music."

And to do that, MC DCP has been running hip hop workshops in the lead-up to the event, teaching kids how to create their own music.

"Out of them the children get a CD at the end with all their tracks on it. Basically they get the skills to write their own music, learn how to structure songs, pick topics. Hopefully it's a push in the right direction.”

Away from the main stages there'll be traditional dance performances, dance comps, good eats and market stalls. MC DCP has big dreams for the event's next ten years, wanting it to move out of Inala and go national.

"It'll hopefully just grow and grow from here. I reckon it'd be good to put it on the level of Big Day Out where it travels around, rather than keeping it in the Brisbane community. It'd be good to get it going on around the whole of Australia."

Stylin’ Up will be held at the CJ Greenfield Sports Complex Inala this Saturday May 29. It’s a free, all-ages, strictly no drug and alcohol event.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010 10:07

Undertow Interview

Ain't Got Time To Waster

With a debut album ready to drop and another one already written, Sydney MC Undertow is en route to Brisbane City to get busy.

There are some people you come across from time to time who are so focused on what they're working towards they don't even know how to fail any more. They take control of the situation they're in and adapt to their environment. They get their eight hours every night because they believe, at the end of the day, that they've achieved what they set out to do. And they dream of bigger and better things.

Sydney MC Undertow didn't share the subjects of his dreams over the course of our 20 minute phone conversation (not the first thing strangers typically share outside of a therapy session), but the energy emanating from him was indicative of someone that doesn't need to sleep to dream. He visualises success and makes it happen.

Over the course of his more than ten-year career as an MC, both in hip hop as well as over drum and bass and breaks, he has toured the country extensively on the merit of winning Triple J 'Unearthed' in the category of drum n bass/ grime/ electronica under the genre-specific alias of DTech MC for act Kobra Kai, as well as supporting innumerable international drum n bass heavweights who have had their passports stamped on our shores.

But it's with the pending release of his debut album 'Mind Believing' that sees Undertow ready to break out of the gate and chase that fluffy white bunny down the rails 'til his legs fail him. But then, we know how he feels about failure. So eager was the man that he took control of the conversation before it had even started - asking if it would be alright to send through a CD for better preparation of the interview, intent on making this (his third or fourth phone interview for the afternoon) as purposeful as possible. Scene had received a copy of the new album, I learned. Unsurprisingly, it had already been checked out for review. It would be my loss: the one full track plus album promo snippet on his MySpace would whet any hip hop purist's appetite.

Speaking about his initiation into hip hop, it could have been anyone's story; that familiar tale, though all the more comforting for it, recounting of days spent as a teenager, either getting up to no good or nothing much at all - skating, tagging and ciphering in the park. For Undertow this is no longer very recent history but his memories are held onto fondly.

“I used to stuff around,” he says of his humble beginnings during the mid 90s. “You know … trying to freestyle. We were inspired by artists more like the Beastie Boys and stuff, and people like that from the early days. And then I met some skaters that were into hip hop. Like, good stuff, like Wu and Nas, and they were all 'Tommy Hilfigered' up,” he laughs.

It is clear from his go-get-'em attitude, though, that they were only that: memories. His tireless work ethic has seen him progress into a well-rounded and topically diverse MC, and one deserving of the title 'artist'. Having originally played guitar and written songs for a more Webster's-defined band, he has since made the transition into the hip hop genre and embraced it for its honesty, injecting his own into it. On 'Mind Believing', he has used the medium to address important issues, either his own or those of society at large.

While touching on the impact of topics such as mental illness and the untimely passing of close friends, Undertow still exudes positivity and returns to the idea of remaining positive routinely. “We can all rap as hard as we want and talk about whatever we want … but at the end of the day, if the music's not positive then the music's not gonna go anywhere,” he muses. “And if the music doesn't go anywhere, as an artist, I don't go anywhere. Positivity can be seen in a lot of different ways. Pushing yourself and pushing your music - that's what it's about. Positivity is a big thing for me.”

Undertow is launching his debut album ‘Minds Believing’ at Step Inn May 14; Shark Bar Miami May 15; Buddha Bar Byron May 21; Coolum Beach Hotel May 22. The album is out through Foreign Dub/ Vitamin now.

Wednesday, 05 May 2010 10:42

Ozi Batla Interview

Fighting His Own Battles

Rhyme veteran Ozi Batla, best known for his tours of duty with The Herd and Astronomy Class, has taken a hiatus from band duties to write and record a long-awaited solo release - ‘Wild Colonial’.

Batla (aka Shannon Kennedy) is appreciative of the opportunities he's been given in his more than decade-long involvement with Australian hip hop, pointing out that he's been lucky enough to have “an album out every year for the past five or six (years)”.

While he's been planning on releasing a solo album for a while, until recently group projects have taken priority.

“I started working in earnest with Sandro (producer) in July last year and we recorded in January/ February (this year) and had it mastered shortly after that ... I've had the idea to do it for probably a year or two before that, but felt it was more important to get another Astronomy Class album out last year,” he explains.

Batla describes the circumstances that led to him working with two of Australia's most lauded hip hop DJs, namely Sandro (who produced beats for the entire album) and Bonez (who collaborated on four tracks), as some of those “happy coincidences” in life.

“When Bonez came down to Sydney, we were kind of part of different cliques, didn't really cross paths that much. But we've got to know each other in the past couple of years and we've definitely got similar ideas about how we like our hip hop. Same with Sandro, I've known him for years, we've got a lot of mutual friends and I've been a big admirer of his work for a long time.

“Initially I was looking for a few different producers, was going to have a few different people on the album but pretty quickly I realised Sandro had enough beats and was continually writing when we were working together, writing new beats and I liked them all ... most of my favourite hip hop albums are all produced by the one person or the one team. I think in the end it was the right decision because it made the album a lot more cohesive.”

Batla took advantage of the opportunities for creative freedom a solo project offers, exploring subjects he was passionate about and focusing on the potential for hip hop to elicit an emotional response.

“I've been able to explore a few topics that are important to me that might not be as important to other band mates ... '1000 Drummers' is one of those, quite a personal track about relationships and loss of love and that kind of thing ... I don't think it would have worked as a Herd track or maybe even with Astronomy Class,” he says.

He's also taken on the vocal duties in the choruses, a skill he honed through his recent involvement in a Paul Kelly tribute, where he did covers of 'Careless' and 'Sydney From A 727'. Batla points out he's been singing with The Herd for a while, but his contribution has gone largely unnoticed because of the presence of two other accomplished vocalists.

“It's something I've been growing in confidence in and I really love melody in hip hop and the contrast between rapping and a melodic, lyrical approach. I initially had a few people in mind I wanted to get on the choruses, but then I just thought 'Stuff it, I'll give it a go'. I'm sure it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea but it was sort of important for me to be able to do it.”

On the production side, Batla says he and Sandro drew inspiration from their mutual admiration for albums coming out of New York in the early to mid 90s, citing acts like the Gang Starr, Diamond Deez and Nas as some of his favourites.

“I think with every musical genre it goes through a period where everything clicks, the same way as funk music is always going to be associated with the 70s ... you always refer back to the time when it was all coming together. For us that sort of period, probably between '88 and '93/ 94 for us was when some of our favourite music was made.”

And what does he have to say about the progression of the Aussie hip hop sub-genre? Has it reached its zenith?

“I don't know if it's reached it yet ... there was a lot of time when people were just plugging away in the wilderness and then probably 2002/ 2003 was one of the big peaks when it kind of jumped to national prominence, but I think it's still developing. If you look at a year like last year, the number of amazing releases that came out was pretty impressive, so I don't think it's peaked yet at all.”


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