Monthly Archives: December 2020

Nick here. I have two day jobs, one at a gym as a strength coach, one as a creative producer for You Are Here. Over the years I’ve charted You Are Here’s transformation from an over-maxed indie arts festival into a artist development org with stridently specific values.

A residency program with a tight and contained event season was the right arts work to be doing in 2020 Canberra, in terms of actually being able to do it. The general vibe of the whole planet having to re-examine how art practice can happen emboldened my boss Ketura Budd and I to further lean into the idea of presenting the artists and their making process as the actual most interesting bit. And look we were pretty arrogantly confident about that already.

This year we gave the residency program a name, Cahoots (I was aggressive that the name should be dorky and warm), to help Canberrans clock that we have a new format and easily to distinguish between the residency program and the event season. The latter point ended up being less critical than we thought, as our truly delightful gang of artists (including a filmmaker, a textiles artist, a poet, a clown, and the usual mess of hard-to-categorise interdisciplinary folk) were mostly in need of license and support to iterate and test work without the pressure of presenting something ‘finished’.

We presented our artists to the public as a suite of work-in-development called Cahoots Lab. Basically you could rock up and move through a series of rooms and interact with the artists and test versions of their work, often with specific offers to offer critical feedback of the work and where it’s up to. It’s likely that many of our audience interpreted this approach as a Covid response, a compromise on a big slick festival program. If that helped them be generous to the new structure then great, but the truth is this is what we’re gonna be doing now. Presenting work that is still being made is more useful to our artist development goals, plus we’re increasingly militant about the public’s potential to understand more about the costs and needs of art production, and engage with it with interest. It also allows for us to have the resources to present ambitious finished work by Cahoots alumni as a a parallel stream of our program.

It’s funny that I feel the need to do so much explaining of our public events when 90% of Cahoots is the residency sessions, the behind-closed-doors part where our special and generously-spirited artists spend months and months becoming a community of trust and support that can come at each other with honest critical feedback, and where each individual has time to create a development goal and process that is measurable and useful. If that sounds hard to actually do , it is, but it turns out you can do it. We think that in another couple of years we will have a model of creative community building that can be useful to the rest of the world. It’s such a good job, just so good, and the level to which is refining and reinforcing my hunches about the ways that art can be are sure to make me more insufferable with every passing year.

LUKE: I’d watched Rock The Bells and heard the stories – still, I thought it was silly how hard it was to get all the Wu-Tang Clan together in one place. But now that it’s seven years since the Northside Swag Unit has been a thing, and at least three years since we started pulling the EP together, I feel a small amount of their pain.

But here it is – four emcees, two producers, six tracks and two interludes! It sounds amazing to me. Each track has a theme (the Heist one, the Revenge one, the Diss track, etc.) and hearing each of the other guys take the concept and go off is a pleasure. Coolio Desgracias and Housemouse have long been one of my favourite groups so to share an EP with them is pure butter.

Production wise, the beats I contributed come from my earliest attempts at sampling, before I knew all the do’s and don’ts. I love that phase of learning an instrument – you come up with stuff you will never do once you are more polished! The samples I used are from all over the shop – a scratched up Toots record I’ve had for years, an early 70s soul song I jacked from Youtube, and a snatch off Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion that caught my ear while watching the movie (I grabbed it, with foley sound still intact, straight from the blu-ray). The Female Prisoner 701 series also formed the lyrical basis for that particular track – Grudge Match – hence my shout-out to screen goddess Meiko Kaji!

And like all songwriting, but especially sampling, I was helped by a good splash of serendipity. I had just watched a video of Marley Marl explaining how he layered two breakbeats on top of each other for LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out and tried it for the song that became Goin’ Through My Mind. It worked perfectly – so good in fact, I’ve never been able to replicate it for any other song!

Lyrically it ended up being a combination of writing in the room and woodshedding at home – I’m pretty happy with just about holding my own among such esteemed company. When it came to Zonin‘, I had already written a couple of verses on the topic for an impulsive early remix – so what to do for the real thing? I ended up using the second verse of my original track but in trying to fit it in, I rapped most of it in double-time.

Coolio and I mixed and mastered the tracks, adding a few flourishes as we went along. He had the brilliant idea to add some audio of our favourite Youtube drum sensei Stephen Taylor talking about zoning to Zonin‘, and I went widescreen with sound effects on Crackerjack.

I asked Gustavo to do the cover again – it was Coolio’s idea to model it on The Doors’ Strange Days, but with the Mandalay Van in the background.

I wasn’t sure what the Brazil-based Gustavo might make of the iconic Canberra eating spot, but he said he was excited to draw a dope-ass bus after getting requests for the same sports cars over and over for other rappers’ album covers!

NICK: This one didn’t seem to take quite so long to me, cause I was just coming in as a rapper as and when we were all free. I wrote most of my stuff in the room with the other guys which was handy for maintaining a sense of healthy competition. Which probably isn’t apparent from the mid-paced slackness of my rhymes, but look the others are all so hard on their fast-and-nimble tip that it’s kind of the obvious hole to fill! I appreciated having a brief to work to for each song, and then I just did my usual Babyfreeze shit of making raw personal disclosures in a context where they will never be read as such.

I was a deliberately terrible team player on this one, scrolling my phone for any part of the sessions that didn’t require me to write or record, but I like to think I made a pretty good contribution with the chorus to Zonin’ which is easily one of my favourite things I’ve ever written for anything. That was a case of just vibing on a loop that Simon had on one of his many mixtapes, and yeah now that I think of it Luke is right I wrote that literally years ago. Anyway, the others all did a great job of writing to the theme of Travel Braggadocio, and of general world-building across the record. In fact I would love anyone who listens to the record to send me their best wikipedia summary of the NSU biopic that is suggested by the and includes the plots of all these songs.