|Deeper shades of Melbourne
Tornado Wallace, Mic Newman and more are among the leading names in what is arguably one of the most vibrant house music scenes in the world at the moment. Tyson Wray explains.
Detroit may be forever associated with techno and Chicago for house, but Melbourne has never held a dominant presence within the global electronic music scene. The city took to techno in the early '90s, but for the past two decades breakbeat, nu-disco, minimal and drum & bass have all had their moment in the sun.
Needless to say, this is a good and bad thing. Ask people like Tornado Wallace or Mic Newman, however, and they'd likely opt for the former. It means that Melbourne has a strong support system of dedicated nightclubs, fearless promoters and independent radio stations—all elements that foster a scene's development. What they don't have? A legacy to come to terms with, slot neatly into or react against.
It's part of the reason why things seem to be taking shape currently. All of the artists featured below are hesitant to put a name to what that is. But everyone seems to agree, at the very least, that modern deep house and disco are strong referents for everyone involved. And that there is something in the air in Melbourne right now. We'd go so far as to say that it's one of the most fertile breeding grounds for house music of a certain ilk anywhere at the moment.
What follows is just a taste of the DJ and producers that are currently making waves locally and internationally—and an insight as to why Melbourne has developed in the exciting way that it has.
-- Todd L. Burns
Tornado Wallace is the production alter-ego of Lewie Day, arguably one of Melbourne's most successful contemporary exports. Day has seen his penchant for sample-heavy house, low-slung basslines and frequent Simpsons references find homes on labels such as Delusions of Grandeur, Instruments of Rapture and Sleazy Beats Recordings, while receiving a constant home in the DJ bags of Andrew Weatherall, Motor City Drum Ensemble and Tim Sweeney.
Day spent a lot of time in Europe the past few years playing the role of global ambassador, but he also holds an integral role within the underground Melbourne clubbing scene. Hosting the monthly C Grade parties and co-running the local promoter agency Animals Dancing (alongside the Otologic duo and Andee Frost), Day realises the importance of a vibrant, diverse and passionate club scene—not to mention its impact on local producers. "It's always encouraging to see the music you like making working on dance floors sometimes only hours after a track's been made. For a city with a smaller population than the bigger dance music hubs (for lack of a better term), it isn't too hard to find yourself a good time. There's probably not enough people to support one specific sound either, so you're exposed to a lot of different things over a weekend. I think that's important—it hints that there is no 'right' sound, and one can try lots of different things."
"There is a nice community vibe amongst producers in Melbourne. But I wouldn't attribute our geographical proximity to the musical output. I've met a few people overseas who like to group Melbourne house producers together and that's always strange to me as I think we all just found music production our own way. My favourite music coming out of Melbourne broaches many different styles, and it does appear—to me at least—that there are more and more people making great music from this humble city."
The Francis Inferno Orchestra
"The global consensus about what is happening in Melbourne still feels quite foreign to me," says Griffin James. At the mere age of 21, James is one of the youngest Melbourne producers featured here. Not that you'd know. His CV includes releases on Under The Shade, Wolf Music, Voyeurhythm and Kolour Recordings, and has received endorsements from the likes of Iron Curtis, Jacques Renault and Soul Clap.
While still learning how to best craft twirling disco and fluttery synths, James' development as an artist is very similar to many in the local community. "I took a short trip to Europe last summer and even after meeting so many amazing people in a bunch of cities, I came to understand that Melbourne (or Australia) feels like the great unknown to those who haven't been. We're [a] 24 hour flight away from the heart of Europe and most places. It's still [a] very small and tight [knit scene in Melbourne], but I've noticed over the last year, especially, the scene here is definitely starting to snowball uphill."
However, global influences still hold imperative sway. "London, Berlin, etc.—all these crazy cities who just live and breathe art, music and culture have a huge musical history [in comparison to Melbourne]. There's a few knocks and scratches, but it's the same everywhere. Melbourne is also a place of nanny-state style government. Never would you ever see a place like Club der Visionaere, it would be closed before it even opened due to a million OH&S issues. But with what we've got? People are making the most of it—which [is] really good to see."
Another relatively adolescent producer, Torquhil Anderson's 2011 debut EP on 3rd Strike Records found approbation from the likes of Vakula and Erdbeerschnitzel, which subsequently led to the lending of his talents to Dirt Crew and Kolour's sister label Undertones. Like many producers in Melbourne, Anderson has plenty of European label affiliations. But he doesn't see it as anything other than natural: "It was a thrill sending tracks over to labels that I'm a fan of, and seeing how they would respond," he says. "I think that's the ultimate test for your tracks is to see whether someone likes and believes in them enough to shell out the cash to press them on vinyl."
Regarding the scene in the city specifically, he's not sure how it came to be so highly regarded. "I'm not sure what it is about Melbourne that is conducive to the proliferation of the house scene and emerging house producers. There is definitely a growing community that has emerged over the last couple of years, I've really enjoyed getting to know some of these people and bouncing ideas back and forth...." But when asked about another topic, his answer seems to hint at a reason why things may continue this way: "We seem to be spoilt for choice these days being able to see great international acts almost every week. I think that as long as there are enthusiasts generating new ideas and pushing music which they are genuinely passionate about, this will hopefully inspire an equally enthusiastic audience and prosperous scene."
Daniel Ooi has only been releasing under the Weekend Express name since 2011 when he debuted on Chicago's Still Music's offshoot Stilove4music, but he's been making music since the '90s. With forthcoming releases on Wolf Music and Quintessentials, you can immediately hear Ooi's deep understanding of production. So have others: The endless arpeggios that rotate underneath his atmospheric rhythms have caught the attention of the likes of Deetron, Al Kent and the 6th Borough Project.
Noting the global attention gradually fixating on Melbourne producers, Ooi pays respect to the various channels providing the outlets of promotion. "I think a contributing factor is that Melbourne has a diverse music scene with a group of core promoters, club owners and supporters that are providing an atmosphere that motivates the aspiring producer to step up and contribute. Local events and gigs supplied by The Operatives, Animals Dancing, Stable Music and Bamboo Musik. Clubs including New Guernica, Revolver Upstairs and The Mercat Basement. Also radio stations and sites like Triple RRR and the Melbourne Deepcast podcasts are all supporting Melbourne's house scene by continually providing the right acts, music and environment to inspire everyone involved in our local dance community."
A house producer for almost a decade, Mic Newman has played a cornerstone role in a host of Melbourne progressions. Acclaimed by the likes of Jamie Jones, Steve Bug and Gilles Peterson via his releases on Freerange, Tsuba and Let's Play House (under his Fantastic Man alias), the stalwart holds an eagled-eye view on the city's history. "There's a good, albeit, small-ish underground scene developing, where the focus is more on good music and less on making money. Musically, it goes far beyond just deep house. Melbourne is regarded as a cultural hub in this country, so we've never been starved for variety. In our case though, it helps that there's been some amazing music around, especially over the last few years. Good promoters with the right attitude are doing more parties at more interesting venues. That along with the punters, local DJs, press and Christian Vance have all been key in the development of our local scene.
"I think the post-minimal and current state of house music, along with the more recent revival of disco had a lot to do with it. It's drawn in a fresh wave of punters, especially in Melbourne. I think musically, a lot of lines have been blurred in recent years. More DJs are embracing an eclectic style of DJing. For example, it's not uncommon nowadays to see young local DJs playing four-hour full vinyl sets [that takes in] soul, disco, house and Detroit techno."
The Melbourne Deepcast
The Melbourne Deepcast is the brain child of Andy Hart and Myles Mac. Both venerated DJs in their own right, alongside Hart's production prowess, in 2009 the duo formed what was then a podcast and online hub intended for the sole purpose of "celebrating quality house music from Melbourne and beyond." It's since become a record label, but its original aim is undeniably its most important. The website has shone a light on all of the above names (and more), helping to create the sense that something special is happening in Melbourne.
"Melbourne Deepcast started out solely as a podcast but quickly we decided that we didn't want it to be restricted to just the one entity," says Mac. "We soon had plans for a record label as well as a place to share interviews and news and eventually to host our own parties on top. Our online hub really includes any of the places where you can come and see what new content we have out or what other interesting things are happening in Melbourne or with our friends abroad."
A definitively evocative name, the Deepcast has played a major role in coining and promoting the idea of a distinctly "Melbourne deep house." "It was really important from the outset that we included the word Melbourne in the name," explains Mac. "We were trying to have people associate this amazing deep music with our city. I think people like to associate great music with the city it originates, so it just made a great deal of sense to us to have our city's name as part of the brand. This year we will be releasing more music from some more familiar Melbourne Deepcast artists as well as some new artists from interstate. We are also planning to include music on the label from some of our friends overseas. As much as we love the idea of keeping the label solely a Melbourne thing, it's silly to discount the amazing work of mates overseas who share such similar tastes and whom we have such huge respect for.
As for the future of Melbourne's scene itself, Mac thinks that things couldn't look brighter: "The fact that new promoters are willing to put their money on the line and throw parties with internationals that would have been considered much too risky a few years back, means that there's more people interested in this music than ever before in Melbourne, which I think we can all be proud of."