2013

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be looking back on the music that inspired and moved me in 2013. I’ll do this by posting on my favourite vinyl, favourite tapes and favourite labels. Over at Bandcamp Hunter I’ll be reviewing my favourite music that I found on the blog for the year, so in between the two sites I hope to provide you with a fairly comprehensive take on what I consider the best music of 2013. This post concerns reflections on other musical events of 2013, as well as taking stock of where I’m at with this whole caper.

Formless Fields and The Record Label

I haven’t posted on Formless Fields as much as I would have liked. This is mainly due to laziness, straight up. My lifestyle is quite conducive to more frequent postings but the extra time that I’ve afforded myself is often given to less energetic endeavours, or being unconscious altogether. Discipline and motivation are things I’ve always struggled with and I don’t exactly have a healthy lifestyle. I hope to be more productive in 2014.

This said I am happy with how Formless Fields has developed, in particular the regular interviews with the good souls who run independent labels have been the source of much inspiration. As nice as it is to get positive feedback online, blogging is a very solitary practice so it’s been a pleasure to talk with people who I admire, to learn more about them and to share in their passion for music. Thanks again to everyone I spoke to this year. I know how valuable your time is.

I still want to start a record label in 2014. I hoped to be further along in the planning process by now but it is still something I have a strong desire to do and the interview series has only motivated me to do it further. I’ve gotten a lot more interested in tapes this year and this is how I see the label beginning. I’d like to release local music then branch further afield, much like my first interview subject Steve did with Moon Glyph. The combination of music and design is something that greatly interests me and I hope to make beautiful packaging to accompany whatever music I push into the world.I feel as if I’ve grown as a designer over the year and I also hope to collaborate with some of my absurdly talented friends. I also still intend on going to the USA in 2014 and experiencing different music scenes while meeting some of these people I’ve interviewed and, I’m sure, some new folks. 2014 then – the year of getting busier, making things and going places.

2013 has been pretty great, here are some reflections of my musical year in Melbourne.

Good Things

A highlight of 2013 for me has been seeing musical friends gain success and recognition. I’m not a musician myself though I understand the difficulties that come with being a full time musician – the strain it puts on time, money and relationships. It warms my heart no end to see people I know and respect achieve success while continuing to smile and grow musically, seemingly unhindered by the pressures of musician life. Specifically I’m talking about two acts – Courtney Barnett and Batpiss.

The success Courtney has gained this year isn’t surprising at all. I’ve said for a while now that she’s the hardest working musician I know and certainly this is central to her gaining such a devoted following, however there’s more to her success than just gigging and gigging (Courtney also runs her own label, the terrific Milk! Records). You can play thousands of shows, but at the end of the day you’ve gotta have the songs, man. Personal, odd and utterly infectious, Courtney’s songs have always been very likeable and this year she wrote some her finest tunes, with Avant Gardener and History Eraser being the arrowheads that hit the bullseye with many respectable music publications and sites. Her live shows are always fantastic fun and Courtney has a great damn band (enthusiastic tip of the hat to Messrs Sloane, Luscombe and Mudie) to compliment her own brilliant guitar playing. It was awesome to see her so rapturously received in the US and in Europe, and she’s returning in 2014 to conquer even bigger and brighter stages. 

The combination of clever, honest lyrics with hook filled jams is no musical revelation but in this day and age of musical saturation I think we all respond to music that feels like it comes from a real place, a real human being. Music from a person that we feel like is doing it for the right reasons, making music that’s devoid of pretension. A person who is doing it because they dig it. This is what I get from Court’s music. It’s really nice to see that a whole lot of other people get it too.

A disclaimer on the following – Marty from Batpiss is my younger brother. These words are entirely non-nepotistic.

Having built a strong rep as an incinerating live act by the end of 2012, Collingwood’s Batpiss had nothing but scorched earth before coming into their wildfire 2013. With the release of the magnificent Nuclear Winter and a live show that intensified with every performance, their following grew from word of mouth buzz to fervent cult status as the three piece maimed and slayed all that came before them. Their music is violence, it is catharsis, and it is great fucking fun. It’s three young guys expressing themselves through a relentless strain of sludge punk that is of their guts, of their place, of who they are. They’re a true band, in that each member in utterly indispensable – Pirie’s psychedelic mind molesting guitar work (plus his unmistakeable artwork that has given the band it’s distinct identity), Thomy’s roaring vocals and pulverising bass, and Marty’s intense, super tight drumming. Replace one of these guys and they are not the ‘Piss.

Batpiss are a creative melding of these three musicians, yes, but the strength of their music comes from the combining of their personalities. This is true of many bands but it’s absolutely vital to Batpiss, and it has a lot to do why so many people got aboard the searing musical juggernaut that they let loose in 2013. So much sweat and blood was shed seeing them play in 2013, with the album launch of back in May at The Tote standing out as one of my gigs of the year. An unbelievably caustic punk rock show that may well have permanently damaged my neck. But that’s what you do for the music you love. You hurt yourself for it.

2013 was a year I drew a line in the sand on seeing bigger bands in larger venues. I’ve found that in bigger venues the crowd is mostly disinterested, the sound poor and the performance lacking. I’d much rather see a band perform in a smaller space, with better sound and greater comfort. Yep I’m getting real old. So this year it was wonderful to see two of my favourite international artists Mark McGuire, Dirty Beaches and Barn Owl perform in smaller venues, at the (sadly defunct) Gasometer, The Tote and Northcote Social Club respectably. I’d had a deeply solitary relationship with the music of these artists up until seeing them perform so it was a great thrill to be immersed in their music in a more expansive environment, alongside people who also appreciated the music.

It’s difficult for me to pinpoint a list of gigs by local artists that I enjoyed the most, my memory also fails me in my latter years. However I can say that gigs by The Ocean Party, Michael Beach and a very recent show by The Stevens stand out as some of the best I saw. Then of course there was the Formless Fields launch party, a great day of music and sunshine held at my own house. Events like those are what I enjoy the most, in getting to see bands perform and meet a whole lot of folks that I’d only had online contact with up until then. I’ll be organising more shows in 2014, starting with a new series of nights that I’m organising called Formless Mondays. More about those gigs soon.

One of the great musical moments of the year was seeing one of my favourite bands of all time You Am I perform their two classic albums Hourly, Daily and Hi Fi Way at The Forum. I was wary going into this gig as I’ve become very anti-reunion/album performance shows. I’d attended a few fizzers and dislike the exploitative nature of some of these gigs, they prey on nostalgia (like much of the music industry does) and often don’t do the band justice. My apprehension was misplaced for this show however, as You Am I delivered a blinding gig and upheld their title as The Greatest Rock and Roll Band I Ever Did See. I hurt myself at this show too – strained my face from smiling too damn hard.

Sad Things

Continuing the local slant of this post and it was saddening to lose two of our best music venues in melbourne this year, The Gasometer and, just recently The Empress. The Gasso had established itself as one of Melbourne’s best local venues, hosting an amazingly diverse range of music across its two stages every night of the week. As a venue it sometimes lacked in atmosphere however I always enjoyed the gigs held within the walls of this beautiful old pub and will miss it greatly.

The Empress shut its doors just this month amid an outpouring of public grief. It’s a grand pub that had become a strong part of Melbourne’s culture, both musically and socially. People held this place dearly in their hearts, something I have not really understood until taking up employment in a similarly beloved pub in the same area. These buildings are not just about booze and bands, for many people they are central to their day to day lives and social interactions. Places to meet, talk and laugh. I had many fond memories of nights spent at the the Empress and will miss it’s red interiors, that lovely little stage and the personality of publican Sandra.

As glum as all this I have great faith in the ability of Melbourne’s live music scene to rebound from such losses. In my time spent in Melbourne I’ve seen many a venue close, only for another to rise elsewhere. These are not fatal blows. Mourn their loss but let us move on. The best way to do this is by getting out and see as much music as we can in the new venues that will inevitably take their place.

Not to long ago I was disappointed to learn that favourite local band Sandcastle had called it a day. Those who have followed my blogging for a while will know that the psychedelic marauders were a favourite band of mine, having impressed me greatly with their stunning debut EP and consistently gripping live shows. With their rhythm section dispersing across Australia the band called it quits, though frontman Max and guitarist Ryan continue to work on their own projects. The two have an intriguing new project named Conatus while Max continues in his sonic alchemist guise as Nothinge. Fruitful times ahead for them I’m sure but vale Sandcastle, and thanks for all the good times.

A Good Thing and A Sad Thing

Back in March I was fortunate enough to witness a remarkable performance by my chief musical hero, Neil Young, held as one of these “Day On the Green” type deals out on a winery near Geelong. The weather was foul that day my friends. Neil and Crazy Horse’s set was gloriously defiant in the face of howling gales and torrential rain, a stunning display of stoicism that encapsulated all I love about Neil and the music that he’s given us. His performance of Like A Hurricane during the most intense period of the storm was one of those moments that cannot be described, it was truly magical. You just had to be there.

While I was witnessing this spectacle another musical hero of mine was leaving this mortal realm. Jason Molina died that night. Molina and Young are often linked and while I feel this comparison is not always appropriate from a musical view point (I consider Jason a superior lyricist), I do consider them to be similar in being defined by their great artistic integrity. On this night we drove back to Melbourne listening to my favourite Songs:Ohia album Didn’t It Rain. I looked at factories in the moonlight, saw wires swaying in the rain and wondered how Jason was doing. Little did I know that he was dying. I’ve never been so saddened by a musicians death. I miss him every day but will always be grateful for what he gave, and am thankful that I’ll always have his music. I plan on writing a more in depth tribute to Jason, hopefully in time for the anniversary of his death in March.

I appreciate all the support you’ve given me in my blogging endeavours this year. I look forward to continuing to bring you new music and articles in 2014 while also embarking on new adventures. In closing I’ll invoke Molina and use the words he would say at the end of nearly every song he performed live : “Thank you kindly.”

OPENING MISSIVE

Hello and welcome.

Isn’t it a curious thing, this ever expanding universe of music and our ever increasing exposure to it? How does it affect us? How does it change the way we listen? The way we connect? The way we experience art?

These are questions I’ve pondered over the last three years while running a semi-successful music blog, an experience that has shaped not only the way I listen to music and the type of music I listen to, but altered the way I see the world. I feel as though I’ve had my field of vision widened as I’ve attempted to comprehend the depth and variety of music scenes from around the globe. The amount of music available online is mind boggling but mostly it fascinates me. This blog will be about this continuing experience, and it will be about other things too.

What’s captured my interest especially has been small independent record labels. Whether it’s labels that release music created by artists from within their own local community or labels that document obscure artists from exotic locations, these small operations are performing a vital role in a time when the musical landscape is being drastically altered. I feel as if nothing is certain, that we are in something of a transitory period where the way people engage with music is changing, and that things are becoming less defined. Less restrictive.

Big record labels are going by the wayside and a few large niches are now filled by countless small niches. Systems that have seeked to define and limit our cultural experiences have had their fences dissolved. The gates are open, and the fields are formless. The title of this blog refers largely to this amorphous situation, while also being a reference to my intention for this blog to be a flexible project that may shape-shift into other forms over time.

We are all familiar with talk of the importance of the curator in this Age of The Great Digtial Music Deluge (they are important, it’s true). While the humble blogger performs their own work at one end of the process, it is the small labels that are ensuring this music is available in the first place (and often providing it to be heard in beautiful physical forms). I’m astonished by the many labels out there and the work that they do, often by only one or two people. I find this inspiring.  And so I intend on starting my own label.

Formless Fields will concern many issues and ideas about modern music, but the running theme of the blog will be documenting the creation of my own label. I have many ideas about this already and I’ll be gradually sharing them with you. I hope this blog is highly interactive experience and that as I share my ideas, you will offer your thoughts, advice and criticism. I believe a great label has a certain sense of community built on strong relationships with artists and listeners. This blog is the beginning of the formation those relationships.

A large part of this blog will be conversations with people involved in music. I want to talk to people who run labels, promoters, people on radio, artists, bloggers, and music fans. The music fan is an empowered person in todays world of pay-what-you-want music and I want to talk to them about what they listen to and why; how they listen and why. I’m seeking to engage with people involved with these things, to learn from them and to be inspired by them, but largely I want to put personalities to the people who dwell in the world of online music – a place that is not destroying music but advancing it, an exciting place full of imaginative and creative people that make our world a richer place. You can tell people who live in fear of the internet apart those that wish to embrace its boundless potential. I’m interested in talking to the latter.

This blog will be divided (mostly) into these sections:

Conversations

Conversations with people from around the globe involved in music. From people who run labels to promoters to music fans to musicians. What they do, how they listen, what they like, where they are going. Articulating ideas. Espousing opinions. Gushing about their new favourite band.

Found music  

Music I find online that I’d like to share with you, be it from Soundcloud, Youtube or any other platform. I won’t feature much from Bandcamp, for obvious reasons, but will likely single out releases that stand out to me from good ol’ BCH.

Missives

Considered calling this section “Rants” but thought better of it. Here I’ll write pieces regarding issues on music that interest or concern me. Trends, styles, profiles. Opinions. More reflective than invective, I should hope. This is also where I’ll keep you in the loop on all things concerning the conception of my label.

Encounters

Documentations of musical or artistic experiences I have undertaken accompanied by photography and quite possibly a quantity of alcohol and or/tea. It might be me visiting someone at home, them visiting me, me dropping in on a recording session, or a gig I attended. Words and pictures of real life musical based incidents, essentially.

This blog is not negative, it is a force for good. If negative things are said about, say, Spotify, then this should not be seen as an anti-corporate attack but as merely my opinion as a music fan. I understand that I have much to learn, I’m no expert in the machinations of commerce or the “industry”. I am above all a realist and a music fan.

I’m not interested in dry analysis of the situation, I’m interested in the human aspect of online music – in creative processes, in communities and imagination. I’m interested in change, wonderful change, and in music that is important right now.

Too much negativity has been spouted about online music, too much good music is buried beneath waves of sentimental nostalgia – I’m interested in looking forward and embracing the situation, in making the most of all these wondrous tools the internet equips us with and the connections they allow us to make.

I’m interested in starting new projects and being inspired by creative people. I’m interested in burning the maps and exploring our surroundings, in getting lost. Lost in these formless fields.

I hope you enjoy sharing this experience with me.