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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.

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I decided this year to learn the drums. The idea’s been burning in the back of my head for a little while. It’s likely the confluence of a few thoughts – I’ve always imagined Violet’s first instrument as the drums and want to be able to teach her. Also, I’ve programmed so many drum patterns over the last couple of years that playing an actual kit feels like the next step to up-skill my arsenal. When Lou suggested we convert our junk-filled garage into a rumpus room, the carrot she dangled was there’d be space for drums. And now there is! 20180410_193738.jpg

One of the amazing things about learning an instrument (or any new skill) is how you notice and appreciate things you never did before. I’ve played with some amazing drummers but never considered the extraordinary coordination and dexterity they possess. I’m going to gigs and just watching the drummer. Songs I’ve loved for years I hear with new ears.

I’ve been taking lessons for the last couple of months and loving it. In another six months or so, I hope to have worked up my technique and speed to start playing with others – Lou, Nick and I have already discussed a live version of Lulu & The Tantrums!

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This is the second video I have done for Ups & Downs, following my video remix for True Love Waste. Darren – Ups & Downs drummer, alongside bandmate with me and Catherine in Faux Faux Amis – had heard about our Cell Block 69 Dance Off exploits. He thought the whole thing sounded like a great music video concept for Ups & Downs song Disco In My Head, right down to the 80s costumes and the venue (the Polish Club). The Ups & Downs would begin as judges, then be judged themselves performing the song on stage, and finally everyone would be up and dancing at the end.

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With all that already in place, as director I had to have it make visual and narrative sense (well, narrative for a music video).

I added a meta-textual element to mirror the lyrics and provide a structure to the role reversal. I like the idea of the lyric ‘when you go there’s no disco in my head‘ being about how other people can affect our mind and mood, and wanted to play with how the mind can scramble our thoughts and memories. To do so, I introduced another character – an actor in Tudor garb (he’s holding a skull so we infer he’s delivering the Yorick monologue). The dancers and the band thus represent parts of the lead singer’s mind in conflict with each other, but by the end of the song they are working in harmony. The Tudor actor represents Freud’s concept of ego, trying to restore balance. I sent a breakdown to the Ups & Downs, who loved the concept.

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Schedules meant Catherine wasn’t able to get all of the original Cell Block 69 dancers together for the shoot, but herself, Gem, Cris, and Hayley knocked it out of the park. All of them brought surplus energy and a ‘try anything’ attitude which made the shoot a breeze. The Polish Club was a perfect venue to film in, and already came with the lighting rig and smoke machine (we made liberal use of the smoke machine).

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The Ups & Downs were really good sports as well and indulged all of my directorial whims and requests. Cameron Thomas was the true star of the day, turning up in his full Elizabethan garb, and even bringing two of his own skulls for me to select from! He brought a much needed pathos to balance out some of the ham and goofiness of the rest of the set-ups. He’s a tremendous talent and I wish he was already starring in a Netflix series. disco pic 1

The band and I went back and forth on the edit a few times, and a lot of my story work (as in the above breakdown) got cut or truncated. That’s part of the nature of being a director-for-hire, but they were some of my favourite bits, so I was disappointed. Looking at it now (the video was released in February), I’m a lot less worried – it holds together and the energy is retained.

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Coolio approached me to direct a clip for Infinite Pandits. The track’s underlying sample is from Falco’s Der Komissar, and he thought it would be fun to also reference the clip (multi-level sampling).

A lo-fi greenscreen clip is just something I needed a good excuse to give a crack – like most of the video assignments I have taken on of late, if I haven’t done it before, that’s what I want to do next.

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Also, it goes without saying that Coolio & Housemouse are one of my favourite acts, and Infinite Pandits is an undisputed masterpiece. Of course I said yes!

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A good location is worth thousands in production value, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of including Canberra’s own NASA base in the clip. Coolio and Housemouse loved the idea, and Lou and I did a reccy a couple of weeks beforehand – Tidbinbilla Tracking Station is a hidden gem, with a cool permanent space exhibit and rolling hillsides dotted with satellite dishes.

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I used Tidbinbilla to add a bait-and-switch beginning to the clip, the long, quiet intro and title screens suggestive of a pastoral indie flick more than the subsequent bangin’ sci-fi comedy. It also bookended the clip well, the final shot static and turning to sepia, setting in amber the gallant space crew of the HMAS Solid Rolled Gold.

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The nature of greenscreen means the majority of the work is in post. Once you have edited the clip – the point you’d normally finish – the work starts. It was time-consuming sourcing appropriate backdrops, but thankfully there is a great community sharing free greenscreen elements (including the inside of space carriers!), and I eventually found everything I needed.

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This is the most effects-and-automation heavy clip I have done – my next challenge should be adding in more interactive greenscreen elements rather than passive backdrops.

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The clip was timely as Nick soon approached me to do a fun karaoke video for Adelaide’s birthday – I took what I learnt this time around and we shot a high-energy dance-a-thon, with several ideas I am definitely going to re-use for future videos (shout-out to Yen Tso who suggested making the Fleetwood Mac segment resemble the cover to Rumours).

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This is the second time Coolio and I have collaborated on film – expect more!

 

 It sounds like a radio station in GTA” – Catherine James on Return To Lion’s Mansion.

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 I completed my second mixtape Return To Lion’s Mansion two days before Christmas. As I’ve written about, my plan was to go old-school and build it around samples ripped from records I brought back from crate-digging across Japan.

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I’d been casually listening to my haul since returning, but I spent a super-fun day sitting by my record player sampling any open notes and fills, along with anything that sounded like a potential loop. The records comprised Brazilian music of the 60s and 70s (four albums), soul (five albums), hip hop (2 EPs), spoken word, Japanese film music, 70s soft rock, 80s dancehall (one album a piece),  and one stunningly misguided blackface Japanese doo-wop group, The Chanels.

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I had learnt a lot doing the previous mixtape and found this one much easier to put together. I pushed myself to make the beats longer and to add more variety. In the last mixtape, I often only looped a section and added some drums (which was hard enough to get right when I started!). This timeI tried my hand at more modern sample integration – in most cases the sample is heavily filtered and/or chopped, plus I’ve added a lot more instrumentation – chords, basslines, sound effects – as well as using contemporary drum sounds and rhythms. To my ears, the beats hold up a lot more on their own than the first tape, with less reliance on mash-up novelty and a greater variety of arrangements.

 In some instances, the sample only formed a very small part of the overall track – for instance, the final (hidden) track only has a few Biz Markie utterances floating over the top – with me playing guitar and Rhodes as the backbone of the track. Magnolia Shade just has some micro-chopped wordless vocals turned into a quasi-bassline.

Several of the last mixtape’s mashups were happy accidents – I made more of an effort this time to think of which vocalist might best complement each track. For instance, when I discovered the song that forms the basis for Capoeira on a 1967 Brazilian LP, it just screamed Wu-Tang to me. I added verses from separate Inspectah Deck and U-God songs, plus some ad-libs from Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Honestly, it sounds more Wu than their last couple of albums!

There’s also several interstitial pieces – some were deliberated created as such, others were beats I dug but not enough to turn into a fully-fledged song. My fave is the thirty seconds or so of JLo and Ja Rule singing over Yellowman’s interpretation of the ubiquitous Sleng Teng rhythm.

The last mixtape had an emphasis on garage rock – this one is indebted to Central and South America. Not only are samples sourced from four different Brazilian LPs, but scattered throughout are verses by rappers B-Real, Daddy Yankee and Pitbull. I also discovered this amazing record in Kyoto – How To Speak Hip – which I didn’t buy upon first seeing it, but after listening to some tracks on Youtube that night, I had to return the next day. It’s a satire on beatniks masquerading as a self-help audiobook, delivered seriously and all the more hilarious for it – I used samples of it across the mixtape as a sonic glue.

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 The cover is so good I’m going to show it again:

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I’d been listening to several Awesome Tapes From Africa and wanted to imitate some of their art brut graphic design. The image is utterly perfect (and the first thing that appears when googling ‘house shaped like lion’). Amazingly, it’s a real place –  a hotel in Senegal.

Return From Lion’s Mansion has scratched my itch for mixtapes at present – making more feels like folly when I now have a surplus of beats that need a home. I’ve earmarked some for upcoming Babyfreeze projects but I would love to get some out to other rappers and hear what they come up with.

Listen here.

 

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As I’ve spent the last few years sliding and stumbling into the role of (coughs, gags) Interdisciplinary Artist, Newcastle’s Crack Theatre Festival has been an invaluably reckless enabler of my stuff. It’s a festival that presents unfinished and still-developing work to a engaged, savvy and generous audience. I hadn’t taken anything to Crack since launching Bomb Collar in a storeroom full of empty boxes and pigeon feathers (still the most correctly suited venue I’ve ever had for a work) in 2014.

I remember being nervous ahead of that one but it was nothing compared to this year. I feel more pressure to get Single Leg right than with anything I’ve ever created, just because of the sense that I’m repping wrestlers and the world of wrestling while not being the best wrestler myself. The Crack production team were amazing (sourcing a combat-sports-enabled venue in the centre of Newcastle was no mean feat but they achieved it through bloodhound-like tenacity) but sourcing participants in a town that has no specific wrestling scene was a down-to-the-wire nailbiter and there was basically no possibility of anything as fancy as a rehearsal before the show.

Instead Team Single Leg (Co-Devisor Rachel Roberts, Producer Skye Kunstelj and me) did as much combing over the script (which is largely just a performance model as the idea is for my interaction with the wrestlers to unfold spontaneously) as we could, trying to make sure the ideas were tight and clear.

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In the end the show was largely defined by my participating wrestlers:

-Mark Howe, a good friend from Club ACT who agreed to travel with me and do the show at one week’s notice. Mark is a loquacious Man Of Letters who shares my obnoxiously cerebral approach to the sport, and also happens to be twice my size. Mark’s unguarded and dry observations about the psychology of combat sport were a hit with the audience, as was the brutal spectacle of me getting crushed beneath his leg sprawl.

-Jye Milton, a purple belt in Brazilian Ju Jitsu from the Newcastle area. I only met Jye in person 30 minutes before the show, which was purely a function of necessity but added something truly potent to the set-up. The audience fell completely in love with Jye, his earnest drive to represent his sport well (BJJ is both very similar and very different to wrestling, which added an extra expositional challenge to this iteration of the show) was matched with the natural flair for holding a room common to martial arts instructors.

-Luke Beston, Jye’s teacher and a BJJ black belt of some 25 years experience. Luke took over from Jye for the second of our two performances and was a similar hit with the crowd, projecting a craft-loving humility alongside a deep deep well of experience and skill.

I was the smallest of the four wrestlers by a fair few kilos, so the ‘underdog in the sport’ aspects of the narrative took no effort to sell (though I still managed to score here and there in the live-for-real-wrestling bits). As nervous as I was before both shows (the narratives’ recurring focus on my injury history had my paranoia about getting hurt sky-high-through-the-roof), once I was in the moment my instincts to care for and curate the experience of my participants took over and the whole thing whooshed by quite smoothly.

Which was good and bad. The show went over great with the audiences, who were made up equally of Crack crowd and Jye/Luke’s friend-and-family. Judging from the audience survey that Rachel ran they found it to be a warm, fun experience that made them feel well-educated about the subject matter. Many of them also seemed to relate the themes and ideas back to their own lives which is a key goal of the show. The form of the show is sound and the right form, we can proceed confidently from where we are.

BUT, warm fun and diverting is not gonna cut it. In my instinctual drive to care for my participants I defaulted to my Endlessly Positive Coach persona, even when demonstrating the depths of my failure and frustration. That can’t be enough. I need to be moving towards complete vulnerability, complete breakdown, my guts strung out on the floor. I need to make a space where my participants can feel free to be vulnerable, and more importantly to pounce on and exploit my vulnerability in a way that reflects the nature of athletic competition. Balancing that with the duty of care inherent in the premise will be the centre of the next development of Single Leg.single-leg-crack17-2-51

Still, we got through two super-physical shows unscathed so that’s enough for one festival right? Definitively yes, but since I’m a complete idiot…

That’s right, the third day of the festival Claire ‘The Dervish’ Granata and I zipped up our leotards and graced the people of Newcastle with the latest edition of our three hour fitness-industry-roasting live aerobics telethon Aerobicide: Feel Better. Our first daytime foray into this show, the chief highlight was the two of us dealing with the weather conditions by spontaneously incorporating a constant butoh-slow application of sunscreen into the choreography.

Crack is many things, but most importantly it’s a theatre festival that takes place at the seaside, essentially right on the beach. Never more important that when you finish three hours of non-stop heavy-costume-based physical performance. I’m asking for the ocean to be included as my primary artist support need in all of my festival applications from now on.