Australia: A Minimal Scene On The Rise
- Published on Monday, 03 December 2018 23:15
Australia has long held a mysterious and exotic appeal for people the world over. It’s rugged, untamed natural beauty entices travelers from across the globe to visit its shores, creating a melting pot of culture and ideas. This unique atmosphere also permeates down into its underground music scene, injecting a cosmopolitan vibe onto dancefloors and inspiring its producers and promoters. Australian’s two biggest cities; Sydney & Melbourne became the setting for the explosion of the rave scene in the late 80’s, as English expats coming out of the UK’s Summer of Love brought with them the house, disco and techno sounds that swept the globe. Seminal warehouse parties and mammoth raves across both cities sparked a longstanding affair with House and Techno. This laid the foundation for more niche musical tastes to flourish with Australia’s current minimal scene putting down preliminary roots around 2011. This is about the people and spaces that have kept this music alive.
As influences from German labels like Perlon, Keinemusik, Kompakt and Playhouse began to find favor on Sydney dancefloors during 2011, collective ‘Braille’ appeared and began playing the forward-thinking sounds of micro, dub, deep house and minimal techno. Their progressively motivated tastes saw them spin regularly at iconic Burdekin & Imperial hotels, alongside hosting their own warehouse parties. Combining German influences with the emerging Romanian sound to great effect. The now defunct group opened the door for successive groups to evolve Sydney’s minimal scene. These early years also saw the rise of seminal event ‘Spice' ..a legendary after-hours party held in the intimate underground club called ‘The Spice Cellar’. Striking a chord with Sydney punters who yearned for a more European clubbing experience, it was a breeding ground for more experimental sounds, many of which were minimal in nature.
Tragically as the scene was blossoming, one of Sydney’s most defining moments landed like a hammer with the introduction of ‘lockout’ laws in 2014. Using inflated crime statistics to pursue a hard line against what they deemed to be rampant alcohol-fueled violence, State authorities instituted 1:30 am lock-outs and a 3am last drinks policy on clubs and bars. Targeting clubbing hotspots in Kings Cross, Oxford Street, and the CBD. Famous clubs like Goldfish Bar, Goodgod Small club and The Cellar were just a few of the many, that closed their doors due to heavy government regulations. Irrevocably changing the house and techno scene.
One group who not only weathered this storm but has emerged as the current spearhead of Australia’s minimal scene, are Mantra Collective. Forming in 2012, It’s three core members Telly, Whitecat and Aboutjack (Aboutjack left in 2018) have heroically maintained a steady influx of reputed minimal artist into the Australian club circuit. Their warehouse series (now onto its 16th installment) continues the legacy of the 80’s rave scene. One that took advantage of the inner west industrial districts as a refuge for countercultural movements, now utilized to escape the over-regulation and hostile attitude of state authorities. They were the first to bring artists like Vid, Cosmijn, Lazar Hoche, FUSE London’s Enzo Siragusa, Seb Zito and Rich NxT to Aussie shores. As well the being the ones responsible for major highlights in Sydney’s underground scene. In 2016 they collaborated with S.A.S.H., Romanian visual artist Cote and producer Arapu to pull off ‘Inner Space', a breathtaking audio-visual immersion at the ArtHouse. Their two ‘Reconstructed’ parties in 2017 also hosted iconic producers East End Dubs & Barac as well as Cezar & Subb-an in an incredible underground carpark location. These groundbreaking parties cemented Mantra as the current leaders of this scene.
Before the lockouts damaged Sydney’s nightlife, there were already established crews in the city and SASH is one of them. Although not focused entirely on minimal sounds, they have toured many artists in that realm like swiss whiz Alci, Romanian’s Cristi Cons and duo Vinyl Speed Adjust. Their weekly Sunday parties have been a ritual for Sydneysiders over the last several years. They host a daytime, open-air gathering at North Sydney’s Greenwood Hotel and an evening rager at the iconic ‘Home’ nightclub next to Darling Harbour. They’ve been a big supporter of local talent , whilst still consistently flying in talent from across the world to showcase on Aussie soil with the support of touring agency Solid Circles.
Solid Circles Touring have been a big force in feeding the Australian underground circuit with international tours from the likes of Sonja Moonear, Varhat, Sammy Dee, Priku, Traumer, S.A.M. and many many more. Led by Gregory Pepperpot the agency is a key player that’s connected overseas talent with Australian promoters. Their event series Hello has forged a strong partnership with local outfit Lokomotiv over the past year and a half. Focusing squarely on minimal house and techno the two brands have widened the scope for touring European producers. They’ve thrown shows with artists like Janeret, Anthea and Sepp at Oxford street venue The Bunker. Whilst having also showcased talents such as Germany’s Fabe, Italian Giuliano Lomonte, VBX frontman Ferro and Greek producer Lee Burton under the moodily lit lampshades of inner west nightspot Slyfox. Led by Tyson Brunn and resident Lachie Simpson Lokomotiv’s rise to prominence in Sydney was born out of their incredible podcast series and vinyl label which is capturing the current wave of Romanian music.
With vinyl being such a key ingredient for the dissemination of underground music, a huge windfall for Sydney came with the opening of ‘Something Else Records’ early this year. The first physical record store dedicated purely to underground house and techno music. It was a long-held dream for founder Dave Stuart, who alongside business partner Alex Dimitröff has played a pivotal role in Sydney’s nightlife for many years. Their weekly show’s at the Burdekin Hotel back in the day, were legendary, as they treated Sydney to the who’s who of international talent from across dub, minimal and techno spectrums. Now their record store is having a huge influence on the scene, importing quality vinyl into Australia, becoming the go-to spot for Sydney selectors. You can find vinyl releases from local labels like Addition By Subtraction, Touch Of Loft, Lokomotiv, Unic, Dokutoku & Elision on the shelves here, joining digital imprints like Museme & Conspiracy as they collectively contribute to Australia’s growing, more minimal focused discography.
Another vital crew within Sydney’s minimal community is collective ‘Roots’. Spearheaded by talented selector Marlie, their clandestine parties beckon partygoers to secret and exotic locations across the city, treating them to intimate and exhilarating musical experiences. Constantly experimenting with new concepts and spaces, Marlie leads a star cast of residents who are also sought after djs in their own right. Each bringing a unique flair and sonic flavour to the mix. Producers Venda and Variance join selector Nikola as core members. Their combined forces injecting a fresh and vibrant new energy into the cities underground consciousness.
A recent addition to Sydney’s minimal community is crew ‘BeAvanteGarde’ (B.A.G.). Having relocated to Australia from Brighton in the UK, the experienced team (led by Manfred Spagnoli and Andrea Dev) have had an instant and memorable effect on the scene. They’ve brought the likes of Junkie Inoue & caLLy to perform on Aussie soil for the very first time. Combining mesmerizing visual effects with world class sound systems in a formidable series of secretive warehouse raves. Their work striking a chord with Sydney punters who are hungry to experience the skills of foreign minimal icons.
While the Sydney scene continues to battle against bureaucracy, further south in Victoria’s capital Melbourne it’s been quite a different story. Similar lockouts were trialed in 2008 but were scrapped shortly after following a huge public backlash. As Melbourne is now fast becoming a 24hr city, its nightlife is booming. There are promoters and venues pushing minimal sounds there, but it’s still a niche scene. Ultimately the freedom of expression that comes from a scene not bound by government influence and oppression, is also one that’s more relaxed when it comes to pushing groundbreaking music. This hasn’t doused the fire of the few purveyors of minimalist music in Melbourne though, those who have built iconic parties within more mercantile surrounds. One such phenomenon is ‘The Breakfast Club’, a weekly, Monday morning afterparty that's a hotspot for Melbourne’s minimalist underground. Based at club Onesixone it pulls both local and interstate revelers who are treated to internationals like Nima Gorji, Dana Ruh & Bill Patrick. The guerrilla campaign to take Mondays back for the people is run by Gabriele Terlicher and Ethan Mclaren and has become a uniquely Melbourne institution. Complete with fresh fruit on offer to patrons and a Nexo sound system that provides the grit for their devilishly long 18hr long parties.
The great bastion for minimal in Melbourne has to be the institution, Killing Time. The intimate Chapel street club has had a storied history over the course of its 10 years of operation. Famous as an intimate, perfectly tuned sounding room, Killing Time has hosted an endless list of underground players. One crew that has been utilising the Killing Time space regularly is Losing Control. A new brand yet a highly experienced crew, with years spent in the booth in the Uruguayan, London and Glasgow scene between them. Their bookings consist of Losoul, Audio Werner, Vinyl Speed Adjust and they've booked and assisted Georgia Girl, Harry McCanna and Junki Inoue to tour the country. A fiercely independent club that embodies a true underground ethos. Killing time also plays host to newer event series ‘Over’ run by local producer Peruw. It’s a hometown favourite for veteran selectors like Brock Ferrar and locals Mimm and Made Inc.
With Mantra at the helm of Australia’s minimal movement, newer collectives have formed and bought with them renewed energy as they carve out their own space within the scene. Up North in Brisbane, brand Flux have established a solid reputation from warehouse jaunts with internationals like Cristi Cons, Lazar Hoche & East End Dubs. In Sydney, industry brand ‘Unic’ run by Hendrik and Elia, continue to garner fans with exclusive premieres and vinyl reviews. They’re building strong international ties with Romanian and Ukrainian producers, as they build on their noteworthy podcast series and newly minted vinyl imprint.
With their masterfully decorated and flamboyantly themed raves, the ‘Conspiracy’ crew have curated an event series that have become a huge favourite for Sydney locals over the past year. Reigniting that mid-morning magic that was lost with the close of Spice, brand ‘Afters’ has now established itself as Sydney’s go to after party. Alongside these budding new additions to the scene, Club 77, a historic Sydney club steeped in two decades of history has just reopened its doors after an innovative renovation. Sporting a brand new, world class KV2 sound system it’s now set to become one of the new bastions for underground music in the city.
Growing numbers of minimal artists have also begun to infiltrate boutique festival line ups. Festivals like Subsonic and Babylon are set to bring out icons Zip, Raresh, Fumiya Tanaka, Cezar and Cristi Cons to Aussie shores over the coming months, solidifying a growing taste for this niche music. The real distillation of the Australian scene, however, can be found in the output of its local producers, many of whom have begun to break ground on international labels. The most recognizable would have to be Monika Ross, of Serialism, FA>IE and Metroline Limited fame. Talented producers like Litmus (Signature Records / Pathway Traxx) and Sun Archive (Politics of Dancing / Hoarder) are certainly names to watch in the future, alongside rising producers like Nate S.U & Yokobus from the Conspiracy crew. Variance (Weather Recs), Dan Baartz, Harrison Morris and Papa K (Flux) are also amassing a solid following. Fellow Sydney artists on the minimal techno side are Venda (Bodyparts, Norse Projekt) and Mike Watts (Mantra Collective). These two are constantly honing their craft and are set for huge things next year. Down in Melbourne, promising producers like Peruw, Occult Funk (CMOK), Thomas David (Museme.), Dylan Griffin & Chad B (Subsonic Music) are all beginning to garner attention for their productions, channeling worldwide influences to create brand new sounds. They perform alongside favoured Sydney selectors like Le Brond, Jac Frier, Persian Rug, Jackson Winter (Conspiracy), Val York (B.A.G.), A.lias, Thilini (Flux, Mantra Collective), Cassette, Marley Sherman (S.A.S.H.) and Tiril, all of which continue to push an exciting and essentially minimal house and techno sound.
Although a geographically isolated community, Australia’s minimal scene is gathering momentum, spurred on by numerous passionate supporters and creatives who seek to build a world class movement that can take its place on the international stage.
Words by Hendrik