If people come up to me after a show, they usually say something like ‘Good job!’ or ‘That was great!’. At Babyfreeze’s last gig at Smiths, three people independently came up and said ‘YOU GUYS BLEW MY MIND’. It was testament to the spectacular run of gigs we’ve had lately, which continued at The Phoenix last night. Driving home afterwards, I got the idea to attempt a potted (and digressive) history of the band.
I Drew A Picture Of You
2008. Nick had written a clutch of electro-pop songs, and was casting about for a collaborator to record them. Meantime, I was fronting Cool Weapon, already making electronic music (and, umm, wearing red suspenders. We looked like droog firemen).
One week, I wrote a handful of songs that veered towards the Suicide/Peaches/Fad Gadget end of the electronica spectrum. While I presented demos of them to Cool Weapon, I already had visions of performing them solo (one – Interview Song – was recorded by Cool Weapon but never released). Recognising I didn’t have enough material for a full set, I shared them with Nick and we combined them with his electro-pop numbers to make the first Babyfreeze setlist (Nick came up with the name, taken from the breakdancing move).
I arrange all the songs on my drum machine, the BOSS Dr. Groove DR-202. Determined to become Queanbeyan’s answer to Beck (it was circa 2000), the DR-202 was my next purchase after a guitar and four track recorder. Which is to say, I’ve had it forever – it’s probably the instrument I am most comfortable with. While I use it extensively on demos and home recordings, I’d never performed with it live before Babyfreeze. Its limitations became our signature (you can have any sound you like… as long it’s drums and bass). Combined with a KAOSS pad, and a smattering of saxophone and guitar, we were ready to gig.
Keep Going No It Hurts
Our first gig was a Thursday at Bar 32, one of the infamous Gangbusters nights. We wore keyboard tie t-shirts, and I unveiled my pink luchador mask (now forever linked to my El Lukio persona). We got a great reaction from the small crowd. In one of the oddest moments of kismet I’ve experienced, following us was also a debut punky electronic duo where one member wore a pink mask. It was PARTYBUS, who became our new favourite act.
Playing the drum machine is freeing as a performer – mostly, I only have to mute/unmute various sounds and cue up the next loop. I spend the rest of my time dancing or adlibbing back-up vocals – I imagine it’s similar to how Bez feels.
Nick and I have rarely mixed music and politics, but the plainspoken pro-equal marriage banger Single Sex Couples is a glorious anomaly. The song is one of my favourites, and played a big role in defining the band’s persona. It’s been in our set since the start, and it’s shameful that it is still relevant today.
A few gigs in, we asked Paul Heslin to produce our first album (my first time working with the boy genius). Stretched out on the floor of Nick’s living room, we recorded all the tracks in a day. Paul took away the recordings and added heavy reverb and electronic wizardry (he was going through a Martin Hannett phase). I’ve always been pleased with these tracks – they’ve got a unified and enviably dank sound. We tentatively planned a release (I wanted to sell pink and black balloons with the tracklist and a download code written on them), but didn’t arrange it before I moved to Cairns a couple of months later.
One of the last songs I showed Nick before I left was Worked Up – Nick and I had been riffing one day when he described Babyfreeze as ‘po-mo homo electro’. I took it as a challenge to compose something for this microgenre, and came up with a busy drum’n’bass track detailing a fictitious gay crush and rendezvous. Performing it is probably the closest I’ll get to being David Bowie.
It was three years before I moved back to Canberra. Babyfreeze was on hiatus, but Nick and I still collaborated on and off. I wrote four or five afrobeat-inspired instrumentals while in Cairns’ tropical climes – Nick added lyrics and vocal melodies. They were never meant for Babyfreeze per se, but one – Salt Is No Liar – has become a mainstay and high point of our live set (especially when Julia Johnson is available to sing co-lead).
Baby I’m A Golden Guarantee
Phase two of Babyfreeze kicked off when Nick Peddle, Canberra’s favourite drummer, joined. Dubbed ‘Face Face’ by Nick, Peddle breathed new life into the songs and made them rock ten times harder. Here’s proof – the first song of our first gig back.
Just two weeks later(!), we landed on the cover of BMA, to promote the You Are Here festival.
For the photo shoot, we were told to dress like ‘hipsters’ – I hadn’t realised the term was so specific, and ended up the odd one out (I’m pretty much dressed as Corey Worthington). Regardless, it was surreal.
At the same time, I started to get itchy about making films (I have no idea where this urge came from, but I’m glad that it did). My need to start making films was so dire, I unearthed Lou’s discarded iTouch (I didn’t own a smartphone until late last year), and started using Babyfreeze as a testbed.
Once I purchased a ‘real’ camera, the first thing I did was make a video for Babyfreeze.
More clips followed after Nick suggested Babyfreeze make a Christmas ‘video EP’. I loved the subversiveness of it (it’s not exactly Metallica doing a Christmas album, but it’s still an unexpected diversion). We covered a favourite Christmas song each (Ramones’ Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) for me, Prince’s Lonely Christmas for Nick), and recorded Nick’s brilliant Christmas Number One. I’ve blogged about the videos before – the only update is that while the others notched a couple hundred views, Lonely Christmas racked 9,000… before Warner Bros. had it taken down. A shame, and I’m sure if Prince himself actually heard it, we’d be in Paisley Park jamming right now.
When I See You Boy I Just Want To
People always comment on the chemistry Nick and I have onstage. It stems from being friends and playing together for so long, but part of it also comes from Babyfreeze being our perennial side-project. This isn’t the band where we fret over arrangements or trying to get everyone to rehearsal; this is the band where we get up and just have fun. The kind of band where if the sax breaks, we just stop performing with sax, where if the guitar’s out of tune, we play it louder (our gear is rapidly breaking down – I’m dreading the day the DR-202 gives up the ghost).
We’re also both hams, but in Babyfreeze it manifests in different ways. I stay hunched over my drum machine, dancing and singing to myself, lost in reverie. Nick stares down the audience, performing acrobatics, jumping and lunging across the stage. Meanwhile, I’ve also developed this habit of singing along to all of Nick’s parts – not into a microphone or anything, just for my own benefit. I’m not sure what an audience makes of it, but for me it’s like being in the band and performing karaoke at the same time.
We’re now recording a new EP, again with Paul, and roping in some esteemed musicians to slather the lean arrangements in gold. This next chapter is shaping up to be the best.
Photos (mostly) by Adam Thomas.