Unsurprisingly, Seekae don't fit comfortably within any the aforementioned genres. And therein lies their appeal. Knowing they offered live support for Mount Kimbie in Sydney might point you in some vague direction, but it just as easily leads you down the wrong path. As quickly as dubstep rears its head, it disappears under the gentle frill of a live drum kit, or 8-bit soundwaves, or shoegaze guitar, or Brainfeeder beats.
Cameron, Hassell and Nicholas aren't dilettantes, though. They somehow coalesced all these influences and sounds into a wonderfully coherent and exploratory album earlier this year called +Dome. Indeed, without being pejorative, Mount Kimbie's Crooks & Lovers sounds like rigid computer music when held up to +Dome.
Though their limited national tour in April was received with enthusiasm, it is fair to say that eight months on they occupy a greater presence in the Australian independent music consciousness. And where hype seems to herald +Dome as Seekae's breakthrough album, it's easy to forget that it is their sophomore effort—a follow-up to a debut that is just as complex and seductive.
The Sound of Trees Falling People, released in 2008, "was a mixture of having written songs for live [shows], which we sort of shaped and morphed over time," says Cameron. "After about a year of playing live we realized we had enough for a record," he adds. "George was going overseas to uni and we just thought 'let's just push out a release.' We thought we'd put out a couple of CDs and give them to a bunch of radio stations."
Sound of Trees made a bigger impact than they had anticipated. Sydney community radio station, FBi, and other local music press backed the album heavily. It bared its teeth in parts—devolving into noise and abstraction—yet it won over local audiences because it was ultimately an accessible introduction to a contemporary, foreign brand of electronic music.
"We filled a niche that community radio was looking for at the time," says Cameron in humble reflection. "I'd probably say it was timing that was lucky for us, to start out." It didn't hurt that the group was quickly signed to hometown label, Rice is Nice, who re-released their debut production, giving it an invigorating second wind.
The success did not stop there though. Around the time of the re-release Seekae won a Soundclash grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. "We kind of went out on a whim with [applying for] that. We were like, 'Ah, we'll give it a go, but probably won't get it,'" says Nicholas, reliving the surprise as he tells the story.
At just over $7,000 AUD it was a windfall for a band that only a year prior had been burning CDs of their music from their home computers. "[The grant is] how the majority of the writing happened for +Dome," Nicholas explains. "We were able to rent a studio for six months and actually get microphones and do real recordings rather than just sitting in our parents' houses, in our rooms writing music."
As beneficiaries of public funds and support, Seekae are a contemporary testament to the fertile ground for independent musicians in Australia. The trio have given back in other ways as well. "About two years ago we started up this thing called 104 Beat Collective, which was an idea to have weekly meetings with like-minded beat makers and we'd all get together and have beers and bring in our beats and play them and make up a mixtape every month and put it out," says Nicholas. "We've all kind of drifted away from that as we've become more involved with Seekae," admits Cameron, "[At] one stage we were all really involved in that scene and now it's a pretty big collective."
All three understand the importance of a thriving, local underground, but Seekae is also aware of the inherent conservatism of local music scenes as well. Far from being parochial about their music production, Seekae strikes a wonderful balance between their local influences and sounds from further ashore. "We are getting fed a lot of music from our mates in the UK. One of George's schoolmates—he'll always have the new shit for us to send over," says Alex, referring to the UK bass and post-dubstep scene.
Understandably, many artists feel isolated living in Australia, which can manifest itself in fierce, local pride or an eagerness to emigrate. Seekae breaks with these common tropes—their uniqueness and inspiration glides easily between Sydney, the UK and the West Coast of America. Perhaps this is why journalists and audiences found Seekae's UK tour so enchanting. Far from being derivative, they performed "some of the most original and hypnotic digital music of the last ten years," according to one review of the Great Escape Festival.
Hyperbole aside, the sentiment is common to many of the group's performance testimonials. That's in part due to the convergence of their different personalities: While Nicholas' head jags up and down to his syncopated beats, Hassell is lost in his layered textures and Cameron's tall figure leans calmly over his drum kit. It's a completely different experience to hearing them on record. "It was almost an opportunity to correct problems that we thought we had," Cameron says. "We tried to completely recreate songs how they sound on the record and it was like, 'Fuck, why didn't we do this?' In some tracks we've got a whole new groove, a whole new rhythm, and it would have been cool on the record."
"There's always a bit of a pressure getting our music which is so intricately put together and affected. You always have to make compromises between what you're going to play on the keyboard and what you're going to key in as MIDI data," admits Nicholas. "That's the hardest task, choosing whether you're going to sacrifice sonic quality for an engaging live show…".
Hassell, seemingly for the first time, pipes up: "[It wasn't that we thought] we couldn't do it. It was just more that we didn't want to [perform] it exactly like the record; we wanted to make it a bit more interesting live. And if we were going to do it similar to the record it would restrict what we actually could play on keyboards or what we could affect with MPCs and all that kind of stuff."
It's at this point I begin to realize why Seekae have created such a dynamic live show. All three bring different philosophies and approaches to bear on performance. "I think you should just do what you did on the record, live," says Cameron, "You wanna see what was part of the process. You don't agree?" he says, looking at Nicholas.
"I sort of agree. I don't wholly agree…It shouldn't be as much about replicating it but finding that balance between what you like and what's just for the sake of making it live and engaging...You can extend what was on the original mix, but you need to do it with a certain sensitivity."
Not long after this dialogue, Seekae took to the stage surrounded by laptops, a microKORG, a drum machine, an MPC and a Roland SP-404. A drum kit featured heavily and an electric guitar made a brief appearance as well. The only other "real" instrument was a plastic melodica, which took its place amongst the racks of gear and held its own.
Do they feel pressure to bring more live instruments on stage?
"Definitely. But fuck that. We don't want to do that," Nicholas says bluntly. "We're not happy to make that sacrifice like a lot of groups are. I don't think we're skilled enough musicians to do that anyway."
Traditional skill aside, the trio are pushing forward. Cameron assures me that Seekae are "hungry to do more stuff, production-wise." With a tour of Japan, the States and a return to the UK coming up, it'll be interesting to see how they find the time. Considering Seekae emerged from a few Sydney bedrooms, the trimmings of a studio aren't required. "The good thing about electronic music is you can write it anywhere. Some places are harder than others," explains Nicholas as they leave for the stage, "Like in a hotel room is alright, but, say, on a bike? That'd be fucking hard."