Sunday, March 17, 2013

Adelaide: The City of Churches and Two Clubs

Behind the decks at Sugar nightclub is a lightbox that reads “Eugene is a cunt”. It’s a Thursday night in Adelaide and Peter Kremeier aka Losoul is about to play the first show of his Australian tour. What would normally come across as a crude insult in most countries, is actually a term of endearment in Australia explains Sugar club owner Driller Jet Armstrong to his slightly confused German guest. It was also his way of wishing his son Eugene Jet Armstrong a happy birthday.

From its source in the Adelaide hills, home to some of the worlds most distinguished pinot noir vinters, the River Torrens gently flows through the heart of Adelaide, exiting west and emptying into the Gulf of St Vincent. The city also flows with Coopers’ pale and sparkling ales (sacrilegiously dubbed green and red in the eastern states) in many of Adelaide’s refurbished pubs, hydrating a thirsty population of 1.2 million who inhabit the driest state in the world's driest continent.

Affectionally known as the city of churches, Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, “The Festival State”. The city itself is generally quiet for 11 months of the year, coming to life in March with a flurry of festivity and arts events, most notably The Adelaide Festival, WOMADelaide and the Adelaide Fringe.

Adelaide Unsound

The west end - Hindley Street

This year the Adelaide Festival will host an offshoot of Krakow’s left of field Unsound festival, commissioning an arcane prize of collaborative acts for conceptual one-off shows. Musical anchorite Ben Frost, originally from Melbourne but now residing in Reykjavic, Iceland takes part in two commissions, while occultists Demdike Stare, Raime and dark ambient mystic Lustmord play sets alongside contemporary elec-centric minds Oneohtrix Point Never, Actress and Hype Williams. Severed Heads will also play their last ever show with special guest ATOM TM.

But buried beneath the jubilee of March, Adelaide’s quiet winter streets and scorching summers, lies a micro-underground of die-hard electronic music lovers who without compromise or subscription to hyperbole, maintain a furtive club scene.

“There wasn’t anything more important to me than having a kick-ass soundsystem” Phil Rogers - 2012

When it comes to DJs, dancefloors and fortified sound systems, the city is a two-club town. East-side you have Sugar, Adelaide’s seven night-a-week faithful and across Rundle Mall, on the lower West-side you have Cuckoo - the new kids on the block. “The similarities between us and Sugar are still quite numbered really, we are pretty different in a lot of way,” says Phil Rogers who opened Cuckoo Bar with his sister Sarah in 2009. “There is very rarely a clash with the internationals we pick, only really with the Detroit cats, but we go for a bit more of the German type sound,” Rogers adds.

Rundle Mall's iconic Mall's Balls - A common meeting place for vistors

James Place located off Rundle Mall

Cuckoo is located in the heart of Adelaide’s late night district and the club itself sits underneath, next to and across from three strip clubs, one of male orientation. A 112 people capacity means it’s an intimate venue, boasting a robust Funktion-One sound system specifically tuned and installed to the clubs a cosy dance space by local audiophile Medhi. 

The club recently gave itself a facelift after four years of what Rogers describes as “really dark and minimal” - something Adelaide isn’t particularly used to. “The new artwork is balancing what we want to do and trying to bring other people in; people need to feel something, you can try and make them feel at home in other ways and then bring them into the (alternative music) fold - I think we have achieved that,” he says.

“I’ve been seeing a lot more younger heads coming out, but I still don’t think it’s going to be anywhere near a majority. It’s not going to go back to the way it was in ‘90s when Adelaide was a massive hub - there was stuff coming out of here that wasn't coming out of anywhere else,” Rogers explains. 

Phil Rogers of Cuckoo Music enjoying the clubs new refurbish

Long-time Saturday night residents Sanji & Tim Cater pre-refurbished Cuckoo

This statement is backed up by arguably Australia’s most respected DJ, Cam Bianchetti aka HMC, who says “the scene has grown in the last few years, there's a lot more people going out and more younger clubbers, as well as more DJs, and even though it's quite commercial, there are still a few acts and venues around the city that support underground sounds.”

“If Adelaide seems provincial to others then it certainly comes from having a distinct sound, so I guess being insular breeds creativity, the need for expression and freedom brings out your creative side.” Cam Bianchetti - 2012

Cam Bianchetti is to South Australian music what GĂ©rard Depardieu is to French cinema - or what Dixon is to Berlin. His tracks “Phrekin’”, “Cum On” and “LSD” are widely regarded as some of the most treasured underground techno classics of the ‘90s and his Juice Records and Dirty House imprints helped define the sound of Australian techno (both labels ceased output in the early 2000s as did Bianchetti’s productions and DJing). 

Bianchetti was the longest standing resident at Sugar, playing every Friday night for eight years. After his temporary hiatus, Bianchetti resurrected himself as the disco editing Late Night Tough Guy and in late 2012 he relaunched Juice Records with his album City Rhythm. “I guess the reason I hung up my headphones was because I was burnt out and felt that there was nothing really left to give. One day I realised that my love of music is first and foremost and this what I am meant to be doing,” he says, adding “I feel like I've found a whole new appreciation for it, a new audience and new inspiration.”

Cam Bianchetti aka DJ HMC

New years eve 2012, Theo Parrish, Kerri Chandler and Mathew Jonson all played at three separate Adelaide venues (Carl Craig also appearing at a festival that day). It’s a tectonic shift from the line ups of 2011’s end of year celebrations which saw both Sugar and Cuckoo call upon their resident DJs to welcome in the new year. For a city of Adelaide’s size, the scene - be it temporarily or not - it is a bulging one. The eastern states have long held a monopoly on Friday and Saturday night bookings, often leaving Adelaide with the optional Thursday or Sunday night alternative, but that is changing.

“What are we Paris? New York? To have those people in Adelaide (on new years eve) of all places in 2012 is unheard of. Can you believe those three are playing?” Driller Jet Amstrong tells me in a Sushi restaurant in Adelaide’s Chinatown. As he explains his amazement of the Detroit-New Jersey-Vancouver NYE invasion, he look’s at the sushi plates he’s accumulated, compares his stack with mine and says: “I’m fucking smashing you on this dude. I’m seriously wiping you off the planet,”.

Driller is somewhat of an Adelaide icon. He has been going to nightclubs since he was 17, DJing in them since ‘85 and owning them since 2002. His appearance falls somewhere between Bootsy Collins and Bono from U2. He is Adelaide’s proudest advocate of the cities music and art scenes and his cackle is an infectious one regardless of subject matter. Driller is no ordinary promoter either, inviting international DJs to his “brother’s daughter’s 21st birthday” to get drunk with the Armstrong clan - like he did with Jacques Renault - or driving Jaime 3:26 up the South Eastern Freeway to Cleland Wildlife Park to feed the Kangaroos.

Jamie 3:26 getting down with the locals

The charastmatic Driller Jet Armstrong at Bird In Hand Winery

“Lets face it, all they see (touring DJs) is the inside of a hotel room, the inside of a nightclub and then an airport again, and that’s the end of it. It’s very rare to get a nice personal experience as well,” Driller explains. “I like to take them up to Bridgewater - my place freaks them out, it’s pretty unique in a way; it’s got a mosaic kitchen floor and it has very arty furniture, then they meet William Henry, my owl, and get their photograph taken and then we take them out for dinner,” Driller says enthusiastically.

“I simply don't do shows on Friday nights because I have HMC and I won't move him for anyone.” Driller Armstrong - 2010

Driller’s Sugar club in many respects has put Adelaide on the disco-map, but there is a new institution, existential to the nightclub, which is doing the same thing. Located on James Place, a cobblestoned lane way off Rundle Mall, is Hans Kempster’s Transition Records, a vinyl specific record store trading since 2011. His decision to open a record shop comes at a time where countless others are closing world wide, with the most recent in Australia being Melbourne’s longstanding DMC Records, abruptly shutting up shop in September 2012.

Whether Kempster knows it or not, having a record store in Adelaide purely dedicated to quality electronic music, has helped rejuvenate a sleeping city’s interest in club music and vinyl culture. “If you just believe what you read on the internet nobody is going to do anything,” Kempster says, adding nonchalantly “you know...people who study the internet will say over and over again that vinyl is dead, but it wasn’t dead for me and it wasn't dead for my friends.” 

Hans Kempster crunching numbers at Transition Records

Transition’s range of music comprises of more than the classic Detroitisms and Basic Channel dubs, with Kempster employing a honest bravado when buying the shops music form distributors or the artists and labels themselves. His friendly and softly spoken demeanor means an absence of intimidating record clerk pretense and along with the assistance of Phil Rogers, it’s a comfortable place to buy music and talk shop. “Having Phil in here on a Monday, people want to come in and speak to him about his label; then there are people who come in and bump into someone they half-know and I introduce them, so it’s a lot more than just records,” Kempster explains.

“There’s much better records coming out exclusively on record than exclusively digital” Hans Kempster - 2012

With a Christopher Rau record playing softly in the background our conversation segues into the Australian summer music festival, where names like Jeff Mills, Luke Slater or Sandwell District are restricted to the bill’s fine print. What would normally coax a tiresome groan from discerning deep house or techno heads like Kempster, actually comes as a sigh of relief. “I feel as though things are going underground again, it’s like when you look at festivals, you put some DJs on stage and give them a guitar, maybe some CDJs or something and people don't dance, they just mosh or get smashed and it has nothing to do with what I do here. I think in some ways that is good,” he says.

In the middle row of Transition Records is a milk crate shaped time capsule of Adelaide’s DIY techno of the ‘90s, labelled “adelaide artists & labels”. This especially allocated lot - nestled alongside "detroit techno"holds rare and back-alley cuts from homegrown legends HMC, DJ Bold, Aquila, Simon Haynes and Tim Jackiw, to modern exports The Carter Bros and Untzz. “It’s always a big day when the Carter Bros have a new record out,” Hans adds.

The Carter Bros are not only brothers (ambiguity still surrounds who is oldest), but they are best friends. They originally hail from Mildura, a small country town in regional Victoria and had the option of moving to Melbourne but “would go to Adelaide more because it was closer to Mildura; we’d go to the record stores and buy up big,” they say. 

They also explain the live and DJ sets happening at the time was a reason for keeping them in Adelaide. “Not long after I moved to Adelaide, DJ Bold had just got back from Germany, he played a crazy live set and I was blown away. I remember thinking that I’d made the right choice in moving to Adelaide. The live work and sets going on at the time were incredible, I wanted to be a part of that, or at least learn from it,” Tim Carter explains.

“You want to be able to rock up and go bang with a big brick, put that brick on the desk and manipulate it with a few knobs and keys, then bash it and push a big punching sound through the system.” Tim Carter - 2012

Another reason for staying was local figure Sanjit Dhillon, well known to the long-time Adelaide club goer or jock. Rumoured to have spent an entire year’s wage on records (more than once), Dhillon is credited for providing an alternate scope of listening to the cities dancefloors for many years."Sanji has been our favourite DJ for a long time," the Carter's say. "He is what we like to call a risky DJ. He won't play it safe. Some DJs are happy beat-matching some nice neat little house record into the next, but not Sanji. He is playing everything at once and making it work," the Carter Bros add.

The Carter brothers have remained relatively anonymous themselves for the better part of their producing lives, self releasing their first two albums on their own Well Pitched imprint, later releasing their third LP Metropolitan digitally via Cuckoo Music. “Those tracks on the first two albums were tracks influenced by us DJing in Adelaide’s clubs. The samples came from the records that we played, so we created a couple of albums for our friends, family, clubs and local punters,” Tim Cater told me in January of 2011.

Gavin & Tim Carter

Their Metropolitan LP then landed in the hands of Kevin Griffiths, with his Tsuba imprint deciding to give it a double 12” pressing. Tim and Gavin Carter are now Adelaide’s biggest electronic music export since HMC and the first international label to spot the Carter Bros was seminal Dutch imprint Rush Hour, who released their Full Disco Jacket 12″ in 2011. Also trailing the Carter Bros scent was long time right hand man of Carl Craig’s Planet E imprint, Monty Luke, who swooped on the Carter Bros music for the second release of his upstart Black Catalogue imprint. 

“We sent them (Rush Hour) a CD and they happened to be interested in one of the tracks, they held onto it for a couple of years and then decided to put it out. Monty from Black Catalogue got hold of one of those CDs too and tried to pass it on for us, but that fell through. In the end he hung on to it and got in contact a few years later saying he was ready to rumble and ready to put that shit out cause he was a believer -  that‘s some pretty legendary stuff from both crews,” Tim Carter explains.

The sound of Detroit resonates in the city, with word-of-mouth stories passed around about Detroit techno legends visiting '90s Adelaide for weeks at a time. According to Tim Carter, a possible explanation for this “strange ‘90s connection” between Adelaide and Detroit is “maybe they (Detroit) thought people in Adelaide were doing it the right way and we made them feel at home...Maybe we shared the same values as Detroit in the way we produced music, ran our labels and went about doing things,”.

Kempster supports Tim Carter’s theory by saying, “I still think back to Tristan who brought Underground Resistance to Adelaide in 1991 and they played at Le Rox. Tristan had to set his alarm at 4:30 in the morning to make a phone call to Mad Mike in Detroit and they arranged it all (the booking) via fax,” adding “The Detroit sound is still massive in Adelaide. I have customers who come in and buy every UR record, no matter what; they are older dudes...ok well they are all older dudes,”. 

So what does the future hold for Adelaide? “I’ve thought this so many times over the past four years - like ‘fuck man, it’s happening’ and then it doesn’t,” Rogers says, explaining his frustrations further. “You feel these little waves and you feel like its picking up and you feel like more people are getting into it, but then it plateau's, goes back to normal, maybe picking up again later.”

“Cuckoo is a part of the one or two small creative outlets we have here in Adelaide, and it’s our chosen one. It’s a rad little bar with a great sound system, set up correctly. They do great cocktails and it has a great atmosphere. For us it is just a little house that we live in.” Gavin Carter - 2012

Driller also shares Rogers' frustrated sentiments. ‘We are definitely flying the flag for underground music and showcasing other music than commercial hip hop which is what most other venues are doing.” Driller says. “Let’s face it a lot of these people (running clubs) are into it for one thing only and that is the money. There’s no love, there’s no passion; let’s just get them in - stuff’em in - feed them shit music, feed them shit piss, get them smashed and grab their cash and that’s another night gone,” he adds.

Mic Newman playing Cuckoo 2011

But, “Sometimes its just worth it,” says Driller, reminiscing about (one of the many) DJ sets Sugar has hosted making eveything worthwhile “Andy Weatherall took me back to a nightclub in the early ‘90s; so incredibly deep and dark, he is amazing, great DJ and such an interesting guy - the young crowd was blown away.” 

And as disgruntled as Rogers former comments may seem, they are counterbalanced by: “Seeing someone like Matthew Jonson in a venue of our size with a big sound system and to be standing this far away from him,” Rogers says, gesturing and arms length, before continuing, “or the same with Robert Hood - when would you ever see a guy like that in a venue of 112 people and have a good sound system? Especially in Adelaide. I’m sure it happens elsewhere, but I doubt it’s happening anywhere else in Australia.”

Pic Credits
Bird In Hand Winery // Driller Record Sleeve
Andre Castellucci // New Cuckoo Club 
Benn Glazier // HMC at Mad Racket 
Claudio Raschella // Black Sparkle Driller
Stephan McManis // Red Phone

Phil Rogers has supplied a podcast of solely South Australian artists, slowly making his way through instrumentals, hip hop and disco sounds, to house, techno and everything in between.

Phildo - Intro (Edit) [Pilot]
Menagerie - Whirlwind [Pilot]
No Birds - Always To The Left [Pilot]
Zebra Johnson - Blue Safire [Unreleased]
Oisima - Hardtime Delight [Pilot]
Oisima - Trying To Remember (Feat. Adam Page) [Herbede Records]
Phildo - Galaxy Interlude 1 [Unreleased]
Sidwho? & Woolfy - Hit [Unreleased]
The Carter Bros - Too Many Lovers [TSUBA/Cuckoo Music]
Kozel - Spacebow [Unreleased]
Fission Theory - Untitled Groove [Forthcoming - Cuckoo Music]
Project Tone - For Your Love [Forthcoming - Cuckoo Music]
Nil By Mouth - Sarcal [Nite Grooves]
Fission Theory - Moon Drive [Cuckoo Music]
Daniel Constantine - Forgotten [Heartheartrecords]

Phildo - Interlude 2 (Fear) [Unreleased]
Martin Regan - Mexican Stand Off [Cuckoo Music]
Babicka - Zero [Untzz]
The Carter Bros - Ritual Business [Black Catalogue]
TACE - Mechanismo [Cuckoo Music]
M-Thirteen - My Pogo [Unreleased]

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