Archive

NICK

gouda 4

It’s not even a pun, is it? Whatever it is, Canbeurovision spread like wildfire. What was conceived as a mid-week Smiths slot-filler swiftly snowballed into three heats and a final that had to move venues (twice!) to accommodate the fevered appetites of a city bursting with talent and self-deprecation.  Full credit to visionary Chris Endrey,  who was  unflappable in coordinating an ever expanding logistical nightmare. In anyone else’s hands, it would have remained a one-off, but Endrey’s foresight and organisational acumen was superhuman – he even found time to order promotional mugs! And as always, props to Bevan Noble – ‘sound guy’ is too casual a term for him – I’m going with Sonic Titan from now on.

When I saw the callout for Canbeurovision – simply a Eurovision song contest for Canberra suburbs – I knew I had to represent my beloved Queanbeyan (the joke is that Canbeurovision allowed Queanbeyan to enter the same way Eurovision allowed Australia and Israel).

gouda 5

Being indolent-orientated, I didn’t want to have to put together a band for it, or even, you know, write a new song. I reached back to a song I already had – a whimsical techno number overlaid with free samples of Heems talking about cheese. I mean, what could be more perfect for a Eurovision-style contest than a song literally about cheese?

The song in place, I had to think of how to present it – thank Catherine, ’cause after two years of Cell Block dance-offs, synchronised dance is now a go-to in my skillset. I asked Nick (natch), and Krewdbits to help out – I love Krewdbits and have been waiting for an excuse to work with them. Ink Bits was unavailable, but Bambi was an immediate yes, and we had a crew.

gouda 3

Leaning into the cheese theme, we all dressed in yellow and threw cheese sticks out to the crowd in the closing moments. I paired our performance with a deliberately basic karaoke-style video – the lyrics were accompanied by a a handful of Google-sourced photos of Queanbeyan, cheese, and lots of star wipes.

Nick and Bambi wrote the brilliant choreography, with limited direction from me on the structure. I knew from past experience that me – fat bloke least likely to have moves – bursting into synchronised dance towards the end of a routine was an absolute winner, and the cheers from the audience both times we performed confirmed this.

gouda 2

That’s right, we performed this twice – making it through our heat and to the final. We levelled up for the final by adding Zev as a fourth dancer, chiefly because they already had an entire yellow ensemble. Unsurprisingly, they crushed it.

The brief was slight, and most people went a different direction than myself, writing or adapting songs specifically to speak to their chosen suburb. Which was great, but a Canberran spin, as Eurovision acts don’t sing about their home country. I set out wanting our act to be the strangest and well, mission accomplished.

The other acts were all incredible – seriously, I want a compilation CD/DVD. The concept seemingly brought the best out of everyone. It’s hard to pick favourites, but Sophie Chapman’s song about Isabella Plains is still stuck in my head.

The final was a recklessly good time. I was buzzing off it for days afterwards – the amount of love and positive energy in the room was palpable – if you don’t believe me, check out the all-group singalong for winners Dickson. Bless.

Photos by Marin Ollman and Richard Tuffin.

Advertisements

Oh wow, I found a 2016 blog entry I wrote but forget to post! This concerns the EP In A Day 3 sequence, which ultimately became the grant-winning, NFSA-showcasing (and increasingly ambitious) This Band Will Self-Destruct.

Presented below for your immediate pleasure:

I said to Nick the other day – half-joking – these sessions have started to feel like The Five Obstructions, except we are now onto obstructions 13 through 20. There’s only so many ways to make a music video out of an in-studio band performance. To counter this, we’ve spent more time ahead of filming generating ideas to differentiate each song. In the first Ep In A Day, all the songs were filmed with an identical camera set-up; the challenge was making each unique via editing and post-production tricks. In EP In A Day 2, I went in with specific ideas about filming/framing each song differently – for instance, I knew I wanted to film only close-ups of each performer’s face in My Own Little Girl, and I wanted a single take for Song To Be Played In The Event Of My Death.

For EP In A Day 2, the point of difference is wardrobe, set design and lighting.  Nick engaged the services of Imogen Keen, one of Canberra’s best and most in-demand stage designers. I came in with some strong ideas, and over several meetings between the three of us, we hashed out four different set-ups.

At a You Are Here meeting a couple of years ago, someone said they always throw out their first idea because it’s invariably terrible or lazy. I could not disagree more. To me, a primary idea is undoubtably stronger than a secondary one, and I remain a firm advocate in the adage ‘first thought, best thought’. Lightbulbs is testament –  literally, I had Nick hold a lightbulb. It’s not without precedent – I love concert footage of Tom Waits with a similar apparatus to what we used.

The remaining band is filmed (and lit) by a roving spotlight attached to the camera.  The song is lyric-heavy, and Imogen struck upon the idea to highlight the words – these hang in cut-up segments strung above the performer’s heads – a point of interest in the inky darkness. The band is in white, providing a unity and simplicity to the set-up  – it also helps them stand out against the background.

My one concern at the outset was length – at nearly eight minutes, I worried the lighting gambit wouldn’t be enough. Thankfully, Nick is an increasingly magnetic screen presence – the clip leans on his ability to deliver the song direct to camera.

My Captain Obvious tendencies also resulted in a warmer/brighter light each time Nick sung ‘sun’ (get it?). Aside from the lyrical connection, it gave needed variation to the palette.  Some makeshift strobe lighting at the end complemented the rhythmic change in the outro, serving as a adrenaline hit (and recalling the lighting in numerous metal videos).

When coming up with ideas for music videos, my process is to listen to the song a few times, writing ideas as they come. Most are junk, but rough diamonds always emerge. Typically, I get one strong visual, and then build outwards. In Lightbulbs, it was Nick holding the bulb to his face. In this case, I saw the band looking towards a camera above, spinning as if in a Busby Berkeley sequence.

It didn’t make it into the clip, but something Technicolor and Busby Berkeley inspired (albeit on a Playschool budget) was the genesis for this bright and camp video. The set design is an abstraction on an under-the-water theme – the blue balloons are the ocean, the green netting is seaweed, the pink metallic streamers are… I don’t know, coral? I don’t know if it’s because the song is the most up-tempo of the group, or if it’s because it was the last performance of the day, but the excitement and energy of the band is palpable. The last things we filmed were the band goofing around – this included everyone swapping instruments and miming along.  A special shout-out to drummer/bandleader Grahame Thompson for his fully committed lead singer performance – probably the funniest moment in a day full of them. One day the footage of that incendiary performance will emerge (slash be leaked by me) and leave all lesser front-persons running for their mothers.

My other idea for this clip – and one of my favourite things I’ve filmed – is a mimed story about a relationship played out through the studio window. I still can’t believe how well this worked out – in most art-making you aim bigger than you need, knowing you will fall short. This is the rare occurrence where reality exceeded my expectations – all credit should go to the performers Aaron Kirby and Fiona McLeod (and to Nick for casting them). I explained the concept to Aaron and Fi and then they invented their own routine, far funnier and personal than what I envisioned. It’s a mid-video Easter Egg and I love how it is not referenced or explained in any way – just a slice of vaudeville sandwiched into a live performance.

Talking with Imogen and Nick in our pre-production meetings, our most elaborate ideas were reserved for this clip. I remember looking over my notes and having a panic attack – if we’d proceeded with what we had in mind, this clip would have taken all day to shoot.

Essentially, our raft of visual ideas needed set-up and filming independent of the actual song recording. In many ways, this is the natural progression for the series (the closer the sessions move to full-blown music videos, the happier I am – it’s more my wheelhouse than documenting live performance). In other ways, it’s a digression (and a distraction) from the central premise of the project.

However, removed from these philosophical concerns, it remained unfeasible to add more set-ups to what would already be our longest and most exhausting EP In A Day yet. We did keep the coolest one though – the idea of opening on a wound bleeding through a shirt. Imogen came up with the apparatus (and brought the blood) – however, in testing we used up two of our three white t-shirts. We got the shot on our third and last try, but I think our second attempt looked better on film. Unfortunately, the second attempt was with cameraman/stand-in Shane Parsons wearing the shirt – this meant I couldn’t use it for the opening, but I did end up using it (reversed) in the closing of the clip.

Another high-minded idea was an overarching throughline across all four videos. Eyelash opens the sequence with the band waking up, beginning in a seated/static position, and with a desaturated palette. Deadly Game Of Cat & Mouse is the last video – thus we start with the least animated and conclude with the most animated (emphasis on animated, DGOC&M being the most cartoonish). We don’t integrate this throughline as successfully in the other videos but I like that we were thinking of these things, and it’s something I want to explore further in other sessions (and other projects).

When I heard we had a set designer, this was one of the first ideas I had – to dress two different spaces and have Nick perform in one and the band in the other, only revealing at the end they are performing next to each other. The rest built from ideas Nick and Imogen had about making one space warm and earthy, the other cool and silvery. Nick performs a series of costume changes while singing the song, which also must have come from him or Imogen – while Nick always rises to these challenges, it’s a big ask for a performer and not one I’d be inclined to suggest.

On the day, camera maverick Shane Parsons had the idea to film Nick’s section in portrait. It’s a novel (and cool) idea which also serves to further differentiate the two segments. Filmmakers rarely monkey with aspect ratios and split-screens (especially during a piece) – I think part of this is that it dates a film to a specific era. Knowing this, and still using it for aesthetic effect, is increasingly in vogue – Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the recent (and most successful) examples. More and more music videos are tinkering with framing (particularly portrait vs. landscape, noting their audience use smartphones to watch their content). Recent great videos from Chance The RapperPusha T, and Charli XCX all shirk from using the entire widescreen/landscape frame available to them. For Going Home, I wanted to treat the frame similarly – to not feel obliged to fill it up entirely and to mess with people’s expectations around size and spatial relationships.

SF 1

I describe Chenoeh Miller’s Sound and Fury parties as the sort of parties that a classic Bond Villain would throw. Lurid colours, pockets of performance firing off in every corner of the space, in and around the crowd, and an abiding sense that you’ve stumbled into a scene from some larger, life-and-death sequence in the lives of the performers.SF 3

I’ve been performing in the Sound and Fury Ensemble for I guess three years now. For me it’s a mix of out-of-the-comfort-zone (being part of full-blown production-number dance items alongside a group of actual highly-trained dancers) and fantasy self-indulgence (straight up pop ballad singing in an array of garish outfits). Chen and the rest of the ensemble are among my favourite people I’ve ever worked with, and the busyness of all our lives means that the normally once-a-quarter instances of Sound and Fury tend to rush by in a blitz of last minute rehearsals and frantically-rigged sound cues.

SF 4

That was until a few weeks ago, when S@F did more nights of performance in the space of a week than we normally do in a year. Five nights at New Zealand Fringe, comprising four 3-hour parties and one 5-hour party. My first tour as a performer in an ensemble rather than as a performer/writer/Producer and yes it was straight up my fantasy of Performance Art Sleep-Away Camp come true.SF 5

I got to sing some of my favourite ever weepie anthems- Nothing Compares To You, It’s A Heartache, Heart-Shaped Box- and leap around like a madman to our resident DJ/best DJ living Dead DJ Joke. I got to have my first experience of roving performance/space filling performance that I could actually enjoy (it’s not my skill set but being part of the shock and awe factor of a 10-person ensemble is defs the way to do it). Most of all I got to indulge my love doing of Long, Extended, Physical performances. Like seriously, doing physically challenging stuff for ages in front of an audience is so my thing. So so my thing.

SF 2

Venus 1

When Mayor Of The Canberra Arts Scene Venus Mantrap invites you to be her second banana for a 2-hour performance at the National Gallery of Australia, launching and taking aesthetic cues from the David Hockney exhibition, you say ‘How High?’.

Lip-synching, even just back-up lip-synching, alongside Canberra’s greatest drag performer was a daunting challenge, but the fact that every song Venus programmed is one etched into the fibres of my heart (yes there was more than one B-52s track) made it easy to dive right in.

It was so so fun learning into the sidekick/bit-of-stuff-on-the-side role, and if I do say so myself Venus and I had an easy chemistry that the crowd loved. I really really want to do it again.

Babyfreeze launched their new EP Sometimes Leather back in November.

sometimes leather cover.jpg

Set to play at LoBrow, the venue sadly closed a week before our launch! After scrambling to find another venue, I had a ‘eureka!’ moment – what if we put on the gig ourselves, guerrilla-style? I’ve always wanted to do a guerrilla show like Hashemoto and The Cashews, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. We hired a generator, I brought my PA and the gig went ahead at Commonwealth Park amphitheatre (previously the location for this amazing video).

To be honest, I thought we might run into more issues, but the entire night went smoothly, both the acts and the audience galvanised by the clandestine novelty (I counted fifty punters). Listening to devdsp as the sun set over the lake was one of my musical highlights of the year.

Typically this is the point in the blog post where we’d breakdown the making of the EP, but that got its own one page splash in BMA!  

bma babyfreeze

Here’s the transcript:


BABYFREEZE have been making electro-waves across Canberra since 2008 (even fronting the cover of this esteemed publication in 2012). Despite that, they’ve only just dropped their second EP – the fantastic Sometimes Leather. We invited the core duo – Luke McGrath (L) and Nick Delatovic (N) – to do a track-by-track breakdown of its four songs.

Hound In A Collar 

LM: We recorded the EP in the spare bedroom of my house. All Nick’s vocals were recorded with my one year old daughter Violet at his feet – you can hear her banging percussion in the background of this track. It was in time so we left it in!

I wanted this song to sound like a party – my model was Swingin’ Medallion’s Double Shot Of My Baby’s Love. The most important thing you need for a party is PEOPLE and as such, it didn’t really come together until adding bass from Kevin Lauro, guitar from Fossil Rabbit, vocals from Lulu Tantrum, and congas, scratching, and rapping from Coolio Desgracias.

Fun fact: the synth solo is actually Nick’s voice run through a guitar amp and re-pitched.

ND: I’d been re-reading a lot of 80s X-Men comics by the famously perverted writer Chris Claremont. He constantly uses sexually-charged mind control scenarios and sub/dom imagery; it was all pretty formative on me as a kid. This song ended up a Submissive’s Anthem but a few of the specific lines are direct quotes from Storm and Wolverine. 

Luke’s track is mega bouncy and friendly so I wrote a vocal that deliberately didn’t match the chords or bass line, so it could only work as an obnoxious shout. 

Frantic 

LM: This is the song that kicked off the project – I had the high concept that the EP should be garage rock except played on electronic instruments. I wrote the riff on guitar then listened to a lot of Tobacco, and decided it needed to be pitch-bent synth. I wanted the verses to mirror the title so performed them in an out-of-breath full-on style. For me, being in a band is like being an actor – I love to play characters different to myself.

ND: Luke’s lead vocal turns are always the highlight of our live set. We knew this was a good track but the first time we played it live it was like we forgot we were even at a gig with a crowd – we both started pogoing around like we were alone in our bedrooms. This whole record has a level of self-indulgence that I really like.

Pussy Mad

LM: Nick came in and recorded the vocal with just single root bass notes as backing, allowing me to build the rest of the track around it, doing my best impression of Future Islands. Fossil Rabbit added the guitar which raises the anthem-ness to U2 levels.

ND: I wrote this song about four years ago, back when I had a lot less modelling for how to handle my non-monogamous wiring. It’s a 100% earnest, serious song about being trapped by your own limited vocabulary around sex and relationships. The word choice will be a dealbreaker for some, which is more than valid of course, but this record was the perfect place for it to finally land and I’m thrilled with it. 

No Solomon

LM: I got the title from watching Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship. Kate Beckinsdale describes a particularly dense character as being ‘no Solomon’. I thought that made a great opening line for a list-song, where we sing to an imagined ex-girlfriend and list all of the things her new boyfriend is NOT.

ND: The chorus is my favourite thing that I wrote for the record, it’s like a genderless sci-fi version of an Isaac Hayes ‘Lover Man’ thing. Which I’m sure will be the premise of a whole future Babyfreeze record one day. 

LM: The first and last sounds on the record are Coolio Desgracias scratching. This is not a coincidence.


To cap off a bumper year for Babyfreeze, Hound In A Collar was recently named ‘party track of the year’ in 2XX Local’n’Live’s top 20 songs of the year!

2018 is set to be even bigger – Nick and I are currently working on several Babyfreeze projects, including a Dead DJ Joke helmed EP, a Coolio Desgracias collaboration, and our first full length album, Disco Room.

Nicky DI

So I long ago gave up on the idea that I was ever gonna learn to play an instrument properly. I’ve gotten a good singing voice together through pure attrition, and collaboration and co-writing is my whole thing anyway, plus I’m lazy and I don’t care who knows.

But like I’m still hammy enough to want to do solo sets sometimes, and I get asked to sometimes. So that’s been a thing to work out.

The This Band Will Self-Destruct songs are maybe my favorite I’ve ever written (along with my co-writers of course) but the militancy of the band-that-only-exists-for-a-day format posed the question of how I’ll ever get to sing them live.

Cut to- Me on stage at the Phoenix, singing along to backing tracks on my phone that are just the live Self-Destruct tracks with my vocals removed to as much of a degree as Sam ‘producer of modern music’ King could remove them.

The Blade Winner was the first artist I saw do the Yes-I’m-Just-Singing-Along-To-My-Phone-And-BTW-You-Love-It thing. He’s since moved on to actual live instruments like an idiot, so I feel even less bad for biting his style. My girlfriend Adelaide helped me come up with the stage name Nicky DI, I know you don’t care but names are very important to me.

God knows how well it works, but’s it’s a Sometimes Food that you’re all have to swallow from now.

Superior Man 3

YOU: Hey Nick, I hear you’re been cast in Chenoeh Miller‘s new show?

ME: Yeah, I mean (sigh) I always just say yes to Cheneoh’s shows sight unseen, ’cause it’s just always a great out-of-the-comfort-zone time. But I think I fucked up with this one. Apparently it’s about Men and Masculinity and How To Be A Good Man and it wants to provide a voice for Good Men and oh fuck what a boring awful idea and I don’t wanna doooo it!

(3 months later)

YOU: So how did the development week go on Superior Man?

ME: I mean, selfishly I had a great time. The cast is 100% people I’ve wanted to work with on a bigger project. We all gelled big time. Like with all Chenoeh’s stuff I was pushed way out on a limb in a way that I really value and enjoy. The usual focus on physical ordeal, duration, repetition and person-to-person intimacy. And look even though I’m still in my wanky space of not feeling like category:man is the right way to explain anything about my personal experiences I realise now that I am perceived as a man by others and that that creates phenomena that’s worth talking about. But I still worry that we’re gonna fall into obvious traps of gender essentialism and false equivalency and just plain being boring and pointless.

Superior Man 2

(Two months later)

YOU: So how’s rehearsal week going?

ME: I mean, Chen has done so much patient work in addressing our concerns and I realise now that it’s first and foremost a Chenoeh Show. You know, non-literal and imagery-based, and fundamentally from her creative point of view. Hopefully not non-literal in a cop-out say-nothing way, but I feel like Chen’s always balanced that well in the past so I’m just being precious. There’s a lot of meta stuff in the show now, like our actual concerns and worries about how to do the show is in the text. If that’s a cop-out it’s one that’s gotten me over the line in terms of being comfortable with my involvement in the show. I definitely feel like I can invite people now. If they hate it or they’re bored by it then that’s okay, as long as they see that we get their concerns.

(One week later)

YOU: How did stuff go with the show? Sorry I didn’t make it, house-hunting stuff has been a nightmare! This is why people give up on renting!

ME: Oh no sweat, we had good turn-out. Yeah like it went well. Intense. It’s a Feelings-Heavy show. But the audiences were lovely. Lots of positive feedback, and the critiques and reviews all engaged with it really generously on it’s own terms. I mean at best we offered the obvious message that Ideas Of Manhood Are Both Damaging And Alluring. I doubt that was a huge revelation for many. But a lot of people seemed to key in to us specifically as individual performers, which at least alleviated my panic about whether we would be seen as trying to represent all men. Look we were a bunch of middle-class Canberrans performing for same so take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt. It was a very selfish show for me, it was really about getting to work with Chen and the cast.

Erica Fields’ unfailing rigour and intelligence.

Raoul Cramers’ honesty and skill.

Chris Endrey’s trust and versatility.

Oliver Levi Malouf’s sheer craft and sense of perspective.

And as always, Chenoeh Miller’s pure command of form.

Sorry, I broke my little literary conceit there.

Superior Man 1