By Alana Mazurke
With a name as gritty as their music, the three piece hailing from New York RATKING are coming to Australia for the very first time to take part in this year’s epic Laneway Festival line-up. The trio consisting of Sporting Life, Wiki and Hak released their debut album So It Goes early last year with appraisal from some of the industries toughest critics. Making their own unique music blending old Hip-Hop with the new; influenced by the city and past MC’s the group has managed to create certainly one of the finest debut albums to date. I spoke to Sporting Life about those influences as well as the production of the album, preconceptions of Australia and a whole lot about who I should be listening to this year.
“Above all, Ratking’s palette is restless, chaotic, and cluttered, and accordingly So It Goes sounds like it exists in its own world.” – Pitchfork
Forming in 2011 and having already released an EP in 2012 the group decided collectively to release their first studio album. “I don’t think it’s ever really ready, you just have to have enough people around you to tell you it is. That’s the good thing about being in a group; sometimes it will take me a long time to say ok I want to show people this but when you’re in a group it’s a little bit easier. We were just working on it for a long time and based off our ideas of what we thought sounded good to be a rap album.”Produced by Sporting Life and recorded in New York at Just Blaze’s studio, the album got its effortlessly primed sound with the help from notorious producer Young Guru who (keeping it in NY) has worked with the likes of legendary Jay Z. There are a few vast differences from the EP in comparison to So I Goes; there’s more fluidity to the LP that the EP was missing.
The LP is based around the ideology of the darker side of New York. It’s funny that first single from the album ‘Snow Beach’ replicates the weather over there perfectly, yet the first thing Sporting Life mention is the weather here. “It’s like 33 degrees here right now. We’ll be there on the 23rd so I’m planning a lot of hot weather hiking gear, shades and a big hat you know… I’m into the beach. I want to surf!” As for his preparations on coming to Australia…”I’ve watched a lot of crocodile Dundee movies”.
RATKING focus on the alternative in a way that gives them that ‘left-field hip-hop’ name. Aged between early twenties to thirties the group certainly have a knack for speaking more than just the rap scene in NY. They’ve taken what they’ve seen and learnt from the city and transformed it into relatable, new noise music. One of the stand out tracks from the album personally is ‘So Sick Stories’ featuring the talented King Krule. I was intrigued really as to how the collaboration came together but as Sporting Life says after listening to the track the pair makes a lot of sense. “Well I know Patrick used to listen to his [King Krule] first EP a LOT even before we met him and through XL who were trying to get him at the time so we ended up meeting him when we went into the studio when he was visiting. It’s always so awkward when people introduce you on the basis of trying to get you to work with each other. And even though yeah it was initially a little awkward like even thinking back now I can’t even believe we made some stuff; when we met he sat down and wrote his part on ‘So Sick Stories’ right there on the spot so sick and we were all vibing so it was good. It made sense to us because we thought his music had that kind of blue grey tone to it that’s similar to New York so we’re happy it worked out.”
“I think the whole thing living here and making work here…if you can detach yourself from the idea of having that “big break” that’s the first thing. You got to go to work like everyone else. Then if you put in a certain input of craftsmanship and if you’re eyes are open to what’s around you – that’s how you got to take it. A blue collar approach – that’s what we did. You’re gonna do everything you’re gonna do today, tomorrow and if you carry that work ethic today it should carry over tomorrow and maintain it…have patience you know.”
The trio have already played with the likes of GZA, Death Grips, King Krule and Trash Talk and has collaborated numerous times with renowned filmmaker/photographer Ari Marcopoulos. “Ari always has an ear to the ground for what’s going on creatively so we’ve sort of known about each other for a long time and now he’s done a couple videos for us.” Having already played with a number of acclaimed acts already I was interested to know about Sporting Life’s taste of music and what music or musicians influenced him growing up. “My dad is from Nigeria and my mum is from North Carolina and between Nigerian highlife music and traditional music that he grew up listening to that he then showed to me, to the music my mum listened was all a big influence. I remember speeding, driving down to school listening to a Cam’ron album hah.” Seemingly, these influences don’t sound apparent in the latest release for the group even though he admitted that they all will send and share new artists with each other. “I think we try to make it come out in music but you don’t know what one of your influences is going to sound like when once you take it and you show to it someone else. It’s going to get filtered through your own thoughts and changed which could be completely different to what you originally wanted.” Well, whatever it is they were trying to do, works extremely good for them.
“There’s nobody who’s going to open you up to it if you don’t open up to it. And you can’t depend on a store to tell you what to listen too. I think the people whose music means that much to them they seek out what they want.”
The group collate their observations and perceptions of the city into this 11 tracked conversation on the city the live in. It was really humbling hearing someone talk so honestly when I asked about the current state of the Hip-Hop music scene in one of the biggest cities releasing the genre. “I think with rappers and rap music there’ll always be people leading the curve, on the curve or behind the curve and I think the people that are leading recognise that they don’t necessarily have to be weird or commercial you can just perfect whatever you want to present and work on it over time. Since you do have internet and do have ways to record videos and if you do have ways to make something that’s creative that’s all you really need now. There are enough people who are still interested in good music to be able to recognise people who are out there making good music so as far as that goes; I think hip hop is in a good creative developing place.”
RATKING play 2015′s Laneway Festival – ticket info here.
Tickets for their sideshows can be found here.
Purchase So It Goes here.
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PHOTOS BY BILL BATE
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PHOTOS: BILL BATE - http://billbate.com/bio/
REVIEW: FRACTURES at The Shadow Electric01.12.14
By Alana Mazurke
Last Saturday night at the summer fit out that is The Shadow Electric, Mark Zito aka FRACTURES performed to a solid crowd showcasing the newly released self titled EP. The 8 track debut was released in July this year following the success of hit single ‘Won’t Win’. Warming up the crowd were youngsters Lanks who provided a fitting start to the show but were noticeably lacking in stage experience which will come with time, but unfortunately showed through the lack of interest from the crowd. In saying that, going by crowds these days aren’t exactly tell all signs of what’s good and what isn’t especially, when people would rather start talking about their days when the music starts rather than (the less abnormal way) during the breaks.
Opening with what lead singer Mark Zito phrased as “a sexy number” the band delved straight into the set. Admirable lighting work by whoever was on shift that night – it’s always that little bit nicer to see the lights actually coincide with the music. Zito along with fellow four piece band were tight throughout the show; most notably with the effort of having a live bass guitar not being overshadowed by an electronic synthesizer and rather harmonizing perfectly.
Performing two new tracks on the night as well as songs from the EP the set was a mixed bag. At one stage the band performed a song with live instruments only and no use of synth at all claiming to be what Zito referred to as “a real band” yet unfortunately for them it still sounded pretty much exactly like all the other songs from the set. Synth and all. However, the performance did showcase the significance of using multiple genres at once which FRACTURES does emulate well on the EP and with a change of sequence in songs during live sets could perhaps become on par with the recordings. Highlights for the night were certainly the songs from the EP which included tracks ‘Cadence’, ‘Ghost’ and ofcourse ‘Won’t Win’ which was an obvious favourite for the hundred or so crowd. It was a perfect show to have at The Shadow Electric in the Abbotsford Convent; almost as if you were trespassing on someones little dug out they’d made for themselves which thankfully happened to include a fully stocked bar. The overall night worked well for FRACTURES, it was definitely a solid event and I look forward to hearing those new tracks again.
Buy the new EP here.
Listen to single ‘Won’t Win’ below.
FEATURE: Little May27.11.14
Written by Alana Mazurke
Over the next two months Sydney trio Little May will showcase their self titled debut EP to Australian audiences. Having already sold out their first Melbourne show at Northcote Social Club the group have added an extra date playing two nights at the infamous venue. Whether you’ve caught the girls recently at this year’s Splendour In The Grass or happened to stumble across them as opening act to your favourite band, these girls have been killing it as of late in the Australian music scene. Their latest single ‘Bones’ taken from the EP was recorded at iconic Sydney venue Studios 301 has received much admiration from critics, piling on from the already overwhelming reception received since the EP was released early in October. I spoke to lead guitarist Annie Hamilton about touring, the making of the EP and even begged the question of the perils of being an all girl band.
“Since being overseas and playing CMJ in New York where we did 6 shows over 5 days with no sound check and were completely exhausted – we played at 2am having played 1pm; from that experience we learnt that things can go wrong, we could sound fucking terrible so let’s just own it and make sure our performance makes up for any bad sound or whatever. Just roll with it and do the best that we can do and try to ignore the fact that we might not actually be able to hear ourselves but to always give a good show…”
The trio consisting of Liz Drummond, Hannah Field and the lady herself Annie Hamilton met through school and have already accomplished a lot together. Setting themselves up in Sydney the group through a stint at an open mic night showcased themselves to the public and people like what they saw. Now the group are rapidly adding to their CV with festival slots at Laneway, Splendour and Bigsound as well as New Yorks version of Bigsound – CMJ. Not to mention the admirable opening slots for acts such as Mikael Paskalev and Rodriguez. “We went to Perth last weekend for the first time supporting Rodriguez with something like six thousand people watching. Bit of a difference to playing a pub show in Sydney.”
“When we first started we put way more thought into it…we all have a pretty different sense of style. When we first started gigging three years ago we’d all either be really dressed up or really daggy. I remember at one stage I would wear high heels which is crazy as I can barely walk in heels anyway! I think we’ve got our look a bit more down pat and cohesive now haha.”
Annie admitted that the debut EP took longer than expected to make with the recording process varying over the two years. “I think at first it just started dragging out so long because we weren’t completely happy with the songs and wanted to keep re-working them. Also because we were releasing them independently; we weren’t signed for the first few songs.” Regardless of the length of release the album is extremely well rounded and executed perfectly, making the small delay well worth the wait. The effortless vocals and shoegazy rhythms of the tracks create this easy, floaty vibe setting themselves apart from the stereotypical indie/folk label.
“We ended up scrapping two of the original songs that we had decided to put on the EP; listening to them on the record again we thought they sounded so old so we recorded two new tracks earlier this year – it was an ongoing thing hah. Yet I think it worked out well for us because if we released it two years ago we would be regretting that now.”
Already making their mark in the Australian music scene and Melbourne alone, the trio have recently set off overseas including the US and plan to continue taking their music around the world. However, with places like Jindabyne as their main source of writing inspiration, they’ll continue to stay home over the Summer playing as many festivals as possible. “Our very first gig in Melbourne was at a place called the Chandelier Room in Moorabbin. Without really checking we just typed Chandelier Room into Google Maps and started driving there. It turned out it to be an hour away in this massive industrial area. We thought it had to be wrong and had just driven all this way out of town but in the end it turns out it really in this crazy industrial area hah.” Fortunately for us all, with the announcement of a new EP comes an Australian tour. All details can be found here!
Buy the debut EP from Little May here.
Watch the live recording of latest single ‘Bones’ below:
PHOTOS: Kimbra @ The HiFi Bar Melbourne – 22-10-201424.11.14
FEATURE: Augie March17.11.14
By Alana Mazurke
It’s becoming as adamant as ever that there’s this looming feeling that Australia is losing more and more of its much loved branded bands; the one’s that give you that nostalgic feeling from their profound singles and memorable live shows. Fortunately it seems we’ve been able to attain one of those bands with the return of Melbournian five piece Augie March. Drummer David Williams answered a few of my questions in regard to the new album, tour and comeback.
“The band’s inner curmudgeon/misanthrope is off the leash a little more these days. We are 16 years weirder.”
Since the release of first album Sunset Studies in 2000 the band have released three more studio albums including the infamous Moo, You Bloody Choir. After 2008’s Watch Me Disappear the band went on a hiatus. “Glenn who was looking to make a record with his brother and some mates initiated it, which coincided with us needing a break from one another and the circus.” During the five years apart the band spent a lot of their time continuing to make music and take refuge in the break. “All members collaborated with other musicians, recording and touring throughout time away from Augie March.”
“If we listened to people’s opinions when we first started we would have chucked it in. No reason to start that practice now.”
This year saw the release of the band’s fifth studio album as well as the announcement of a return to national touring, seeing the band sell out numerous shows around the country. The bands hometown of Melbourne saw them sell out five shows alone. Despite the bands solidarity of fans there were no preconceptions of what the announcement of their return would hold. “I leave trying to predict things to the bureau of meteorology and reading peoples’ minds to Criss Angel.”
2014’s Havens Dumb is an exceptional album easing the band straight back into Australians line of sight. Its fluidity start to finish makes you want to leave the album on repeat; in its entirety Havens Dumb solidifies the bands musical abilities, Glenn’s unquestionable knack for lyricism and enforces this want to see it performed live. “We have never been good at doing singles but plenty refined at putting together a record with a narrative running throughout. Have not worked out the ‘how to make the thing shorter’ though.” The album was produced by long term friend and notable production engineer Paul McKercher. “Paul is a colleague who is well credentialed, well read and a spring of wisdom.”
Listen to the album here.
Listen to first single “After The Crack Up” fromt he new album below:
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Melbourne Zoo Twilights Series 201529.10.14
By Alana Mazurke
Returning again for another year of splendour in the heart of the Melbourne Zoo, the Twilight Series kick off last week of January and proceed through to early March making it all the more easier not to miss. The shows this year are even more diverse spanning from Australian hometown royalty with Bernard Fanning and Paul Kelly to the delightfully surprising return of the renowned Village People. Whether you have a pre-picnic dinner on the lawns, watching the sun slowly go down whilst Conor Oberst performs his lyrically outstanding and emotionally driven folk tunes or grab a beer and walk around the zoo before coming back to the stage to sing along to “that Black Betty song” as Spiderbait play it live or dance like no one’s watching (although we are) to The Cat Empire, Melbourne Zoo Twilights 2015 offers up more than just another live event. Full program details are listed below as well as links to all ticketing details. There’s also some links to pictures and interviews from last years series to give you some idea of what you could be experiencing.
Friday//January//30th James Reyne Plays Australian Crawl
Doors open 5.30pm With special guest Jack Carty
Saturday//January//31st Bernard Fanning
Doors open 5.30pm With special guests Little May
Friday//February//6th Sarah Blasko
Doors open 5.30pm With special guest Luluc
Saturday//February//7th Paul Kelly presents the Merri Soul Sessions
featuringClairy Browne, KiraPuru, &Vika and Linda Bull
Doors open 5.30pm With special guests Hiatus Kaiyote
Friday//February//13th Dan Sultan
Doors open 5.30pm With special guest Benny Walker
Saturday//February//14th Boys In The Band
Doors open 5.30pm
Friday//February//20th The Budos Band and The Bombay Royale
Doors open 5.30pm
Doors open 5.30pm With special guest Jen Cloher
Friday//February//27th Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
Doors open 5.30pm With special guests Twerps
Saturday//February//28th Conor Oberst
Doors open 5.30pm With special guests The Felice Brothers
Friday//March//6th Village People
Doors open 5.30pm With special guest DJ Andee Frost
Saturday//March//7th The Cat Empire
Doors open 5.30pm With special guests Dorsal Fins
Info: 1300 966 784
Q&A: The Smith Street Band28.10.14
By Alana Mazurke
I first noticed The Smith Street Band when I moved to Melbourne because Smith Street was the only street I had really ventured to and found the name quite humbling. Turns out it was more ironic than first thought, the title deriving from a usage my fellow old mate route 86. They’re known for their ridiculous on stage energy and off stage antics, solidifying their name as time goes on as an iconic Melbourne band. I managed to get some answers from Chris Cowburn whilst in the midst of the lengthy drive from France to Germany; the band is currently on their massive European leg of their tour and has some interesting comparisons.
You’ve already sold out 4 shows for your upcoming Throw Me in the River Tour; do you ever anticipate selling out gigs, especially in Melbourne?
Yeah it’s crazy and we’re really excited for the tour. Usually before we announce any tour I think that nobody is going to come and do everything I can to make sure anyone and everyone knows about it, haha. Even when you’ve been at it for a few years and you realise that people like your band and probably will come to the show, I think having any expectation of selling out a show is the wrong way to think about it. The exciting part about going on tour is continuing to push forward, meeting new people, playing with different bands (both locally and internationally) and keeping things fresh so that people will want to keep coming to hang out and make shows fun!
How do you think the Melbourne music scene compares to other Australian cities?
I’m completely biased, but Melbourne has the best scene in Australia in my opinion. There are so many different little pockets of great communities within it, and so many great venues that you can go out pretty much any night and see a great show. That’s not to say that there’s not great stuff going on everywhere in Australia though, we have some incredibly awesome friends/bands everywhere in Australia. I reckon the Australian music scene in general, and particularly the punk community is pretty strong right now!
Your attitude to playing music seems pretty easy going yet you’ve already got two albums soon to be three under your belt and a newly released EP. What’s the band’s writing process when making new music?
Yeah Wil’s a very prolific song writer and is constantly writing. He uses it as a diary or a form of therapy I guess. Wil will usually write all the lyrics and basic structure and send around acoustic demos he’s recorded on his phone. We’re usually always messing around with new stuff between touring, and having so many demos to work on makes things a lot easier.
The film clip for ‘Surrender’ is ridiculously good; how did the band team up with Callum Preston the creator of the masterpiece?
Thank you! Callum’s been a friend for the last few years and has done a few bits a pieces for us. I’ve always been a bit of a design/art nerd and followed him and the Everfresh crew for a long time, so I’ve really wanted to have his creative genius help us out properly for a while now. It was actually myself and Andy Johnson (the amazing man responsible for the vast majority of our photography, and the Throw Me in the River cover photo) who did most of the planning and lead-up work for the clip, but when Callum heard the idea he was totally into it and keen to help out, and some of his ideas and his help with direction on the day was totally invaluable. Both he and Andy are such positive and creative guys and we’re so lucky they’re keen to help us out. Very much looking forward to doing more stuff with both of them in future!
You’re either currently overseas or had just played a string of shows overseas (I’m not sure when exactly you’ll get this) – where are you now and what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you overseas?
At this very second I’m sitting in a van on the 9 hour drive between Tours, France and Freiburg, Germany. We’ve had some truly great experiences on this trip so far, the majority of the shows were with the Menzingers and the Holy Mess, both from Philadelphia, and both bands of entirely awesome people – so that was a blast. There’s plenty of weird stuff that happens overseas and if you come at it from the right perspective, it’s usually all good weird! We’ve been in France doing our own shows the last few days. A couple of days ago we literally just played a show on a guy’s farm in a tiny country town and everyone we talked to had either a) never heard of it, or b) never heard of a band playing there. But it’s those situations that you see the real beauty in people… This guy Hervé and his wife opened up their home to us and treated us so well. We played a show to almost no one, but then we ate like Kings, drank red wine and French moonshine and tried to explain Australian slang through a language barrier! I think the best weird experiences I’ve ever had were in China, once a bunch of uni students swamped our van like paparazzi and told us we were “famous like Green Day”… Haha!
How does touring overseas compare to touring in Australia? What are the most notable differences?
All in all they stack up fairly similarly in the end I think. It takes a little while to get the hang of touring somewhere new, but that was the same as early Australian tours, and that’s exciting. No matter where you are, there are people who are excited about seeing live bands and hanging out and having a beer. Places like Europe and the US tend to be a little bit easier travel-wise because there’s so many options for cities you can play in, and promoters in Europe particularly are really great and always provide great (and free) food and accommodation. Each place we go tends to have its positives and negatives, but it’s kinda always a positive at the end of the day because were travelling the world playing music.
If people hadn’t heard of the Smith Street Band, how would you summarize your music to them?
Ahhh I always struggle to answer this question… Even after 5 years! I guess these days it’s folk, singer songwriter type stuff, but with a more sonic and dynamic thing going on. Wil also sounds very Australian and sings exactly how he talks. I always laugh when I read a review or hear someone say that he sounds too British or American or that he’s putting the accent on too thick. He sounds like him and it’s awesome.
‘Throw Me in the River’ is set to be released soon; where did you first meet Jeff Rosenstock and how did you know he would be the one to produce the album?
Jeff’s the best – we first met in early 2012 when we toured with him doing Bomb the Music Industry solo around Australia! Since then we’ve been lucky enough to tour, play shows and hang out a bunch in both Australia and the US. We’re all very passionate about the band and usually every decision we make has to be carefully navigated because we all have differing views. Asking Jeff to produce was the opposite of that. Not sure who first had the idea, but instantly all of us were on board and knew it was what we wanted to do. We’ve never had a “producer” before, so it just needed to be someone positive who we knew we’d get along with and who’s opinion we trusted. Jeff was all those things and is an incredible thinker with an amazing sense of melody to boot. I reckon it made the process a whole lot more production (duh!) and less stressful for us, having the fresh opinion of someone who wasn’t so emotionally attached to the songs ruled.
How do you decide the band is ready to make another full length rather than opting for another EP? Alternatively, why release ‘Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams’ rather than waiting to release it as a long play?
That’s all just a case of timing. As I said earlier, Wil is always writing and there are always new songs about, but it ebbs and flows in terms of when we have the chance to jam them around touring and whatever else is going on. We generally push ourselves to schedule recording time though – it keeps us on our toes and keeps things productive. There’s also the thematic aspect of it. “Dreams” was a conscious decision to do an EP because the songs were all written in the same time period and roughly based around one event – we wanted it to be raw and immediate, so we recorded it live over a few days and released it as soon as we could.
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