I’ve never actually played Commander Keen myself. Hadn’t even heard of it. So I googled it and found a large number of Sega Master System-era graphics for a fairly generic looking scrolling adventure game. The midi files of the game music don’t make things any clearer either. Yes, they’re electronic, I guess, but, well, cheesy obviously. Nothing like Seekae. Only an obscure Scottish band who already have the name stopped them being directly named after the commander, but the initials will do fine, thank you. (Actually, there must be something in the name, because that Scottish band is not a million miles away from Seekae’s sound. I reckon they might even like each other.)
Apparently, Alex and John parted with many hours of their early youth playing the game. But that would have to have been 10 years after the game was anything like cutting edge. This kind of anachronistic problem seems to define Seekae in my mind. The kids these days aren’t into just electronics. But Seekae seem to be. You couldn’t accuse them of being trendy, but that fact opens up entire vistas of terrain that they, alone amongst their peers, can explore. They aren’t a ‘scene’ band, in spite of their growing reputation. Modular probably won’t be signing them up anytime soon. So I try some other options to find out just we’re they’re coming from and how they got to be at this point.
In one of his final interviews, Kurt Cobain said that once Nirvana became famous, he lived in fear that everyone would work out he was just ripping off The Pixies, and out him as a fraud. I ask the band, if there was any other artist they hope everyone doesn’t realise they’re ripping off, who would it be. “Boards Of Canada,” John offers without hesitation. “Aphex Twin, Kettel, but that’s the good thing, we’re copying so many people, it mixes into one thing and becomes Seekae.” They later mention Apparat, Hot Chip and Telefon Tel Aviv in glowing terms. So that’s some of the influences and you can certainly hear them. But, again, what’s striking is that these are artists highly regarded more by fans of an older generation, not so much by 19 and 20 year olds. “A lot of our mates are slowly getting into it,” Alex says, “I’d say most people our age aren’t – the closest they come to electronic music is Ministry or something like that. Daft Punk. Hot Chip.”
“We got semi-heckled at the Sandringham Hotel once,” says Alex. “We were on before these two kind of industrial, heavy bands. The audience was calling out songs for us to play. We should have just played completely ambient.”
Seekae bring a very present sense of hand-made lo-fi to their electronica. Electronic musicians have traditionally been gear fetishists, ever seeking the mix of the perfect ‘classic’ synth to run through cutting edge software. Even someone like Pole who has created a career out of a piece of malfunctioning hardware produces his music with impeccable clarity and polish. Seekae don’t even have their gear midi-synced when they perform or record. Each member has a piece of gear they bring and which is their main instrument – John a Roland SP-404, Alex a Microkorg and George an Akai MPC. While the MPC runs most of the rhythm tracks, all the other instruments are played as live instruments. So if an arpeggiated riff needs to be fired off the Microkorg, it has to be triggered by hand, in real time. It’s gone awry on stage on the odd occasion, but volume faders come to the rescue. On top of this is a range of other distinctly lo-fi sound sources – melodica, glockenspiel – as well as the gradual introduction of guitar, drums, even flute. So even though their inspiration is coming out of electronics, it certainly isn’t the cyber-futurism that are at the roots of electronic production.
“It’s such a different way of recording.” We’re discussing an album the band is near completing. They’ve been in old fashioned studios, overdubbing layers onto those raw electronic bits. “We’re not tempo-syncing in any way, we’re just overdubbing in time by ear,” says George. Ahh, now there’s something to show their age – conventional recording systems are brand new to their thinking. “We’re recording in Q Studio at the moment… It was actually designed by INXS or something, it’s a really beautiful studio.”
If I had to describe Seekae in my own words, I would discuss lightness. Everything floats around and nothing is affronting. It stutters and slips and you never quite know where you are floating off to with them. Maybe like leaves blown about in autumn, just before and then just after they detach from their branches and float off. Maybe that’s just the drawing on the front cover of their first demo CD directing my perception. I’d probably also list their influences, because they’re important, but they’ve already done that.
“We were playing in Songs For Surgery since high school,” says Alex, “then all of a sudden, John would come up with a track that was heaps electronic, and it was like ‘I don’t think we can fit this in.’ But then, we were both into electronics so we thought we’d start something on the side.” Songs For Surgery still exists, and the reasons why Seekae can stand apart from other late teens begin to be a little clearer. George also moonlights in an art/performance group called Yeti, alongside his early training in classical flute and cello. Maybe that’s where a bit of space to explore anachronistic music comes from; the more rockist, or art-music urges that should be expected are sated elsewhere. But then, there are new tracks where Alex sits on the drum kit, John plays a guitar and George fires off the basslines from his MPC. So maybe they aren’t the purists I always imagined.
“I always do that,” says George, “search for artists online (and listen to them) before I go to sleep.”
“Oh, it’s the best way to conclude your day,” says John.
Yes. Bower birds unafraid of admitting they have influences.
by Adrian Elmer
Seekae’s music is demo only at this stage. More information at myspace.com/seekaemusic.