Melbourne’s MC Ivens first emerged from Burn City’s hip-hop scene a few years back as a founding member of the Awakenings Crew. Ivens’ live performances resemble the intense atmosphere of a hardcore gig more than your usual hip-hop throwdown, with Ivens delivering his sharp-focused dystopian lyrical flow to audiences at point-blank range.
Otherwise known as David Coen, Ivens founded Awakenings Crew alongside Hykoo, Nick Sweepah, Chasm, Aux-One, Osinaka and Grizzly Baddums. He’s still best known by his work with the crew, but that’s changing, with the recent release of his debut solo album, Sounds To Expire To, on his own Eco.Tone label. It’s a record that sits sonically separate from much of the hip-hop currently being explored by Australian acts. Coen’s original motivations for pursuing music came via distinctly different influences from your usual b-boy, although he has certainly been a fan of hip-hop from an impressionable age. Exposure to punk and hardcore bands, via his older sister, triggered the development of a committed DIY attitude that Coen sees as resonating throughout the music that he makes, and surfaces as a punk aesthetic that is an important part of his personality.
While much of the hip-hop currently being produced in this country could be characterised by catchy instrumental hooks, the production on Sounds To Expire To is notable for its brooding starkness, beautifully offsetting Ivens’ lucid and confrontational lyrical imagery. Production duties are handled by Awakenings Crew associate Plutonic Lab, repaying the favour for Ivens’ regular guest appearances on Muph & Plutonic tracks. The stripped-back, relentless gathering of buzzing synths and jagged drum breaks on such tension-fuelled offerings such as ‘One Last Trip’ and the fearsome ‘Well Oiled Machine’, suggests a closer kinship with the steel-plated industrial hip-hop explored by Godflesh and Techno Animal. Indeed, the reverb-drenched roars on ‘Well Oiled Machine’ come courtesy of guest hardcore vocalist Joel White from Melbourne’s Hit List. “I really like a lot of industrial music, as does Plutonic,” says Coen.
Perhaps the sound is not so surprising, given Ivens’ refusal to become easily pigeon-holed; we’re talking about a guy who’s previously shared the stage with Grey Daturas and Mountains In The Sky, as well as the slightly more predictable Boom Bip and Saul Williams. “I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision to ‘stray away from the pack,’” Coen explains, “when you are into so many styles of music, it’s only natural that you’re going to try other ideas and methods in order to create the right atmosphere for a song. That isn’t always found on a record, sometimes that needs to be built from scratch. Don’t get me wrong—I still love sample-based hip-hop when it’s done right, with so many ways to flip a sample, it spins me out that some producers are happy with their beats sounding exactly the same as a hundred others. With such influences, you’re bound to get a record that sounds a little ‘un-contemporary’, but that’s cool with me.” The early lessons learnt from his hardcore roots are something that Coen is keen to emphasise. “I grew up listening to punk music. Such music helped to shape what I am today, there is definitely a strong presence of that in my music.”
While much of Sounds To Expire To practically seethes with an intense atmosphere, his choice of collaborators will be immediately familiar to Australian hip-hop fans. Last year’s DMC champ DJ Perplex rubs shoulders with Def Wish Cast’s Murda 1, Fame, 13th Son, Brass and Nick Sweepah over the album’s ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ 37-minute length. When I caught up with the self-confessed ‘reclusive cigarette smoking, horror movie watching 23-year-old rapper with a penchant for the strange, esoteric and the slightly left of centre’, I ask him whether filmic sources end up exerting an influence on the darker, apocalyptic corners of his music. “I get a lot of inspiration from film, such as concepts and imagery. If I had to pick four directors, I’d choose Roman Polanski, Dario Argento, Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock, for their ability to create intense and believable atmospheres that are hard to shake from the mind. Polanski should get an award for his dream sequences alone.”
Given that Sounds To Expire To represents over a year’s work in the studio, I was curious to find out what sorts of factors lead to such an extended gestation period, as well as his reasons for reconvening with Plutonic Lab. “We were on the same page from the get-go. Plutonic and Muph were doing their records, and I was at art school,” he explains, “these things were taking up most of our time, but it all came together in the end. Originally, the album started out as an EP between Nick Sweepah and myself, under the name Living Dead Dudes. We had a couple of songs done, but it was never completed. Plutonic Lab and I ended up using bits and pieces of that as a guide for my own record. The main thing was to make a record that we were proud of, we are really happy with it; standouts for me are ‘Well-Oiled Machine’, ‘Brood of Five’ and ‘The Grudge.’”
When I ask Coen about his current status in Awakenings Crew, he gives the impression that his primary focus has shifted towards his own solo activities. “Awakenings Crew started as a group of friends who all made music for similar reasons. It’s a little different now, we are all busy with our own musical endeavours. I’m just trying to get the Eco.Tone stuff into gear, it started out as a label to release Sounds To Expire To, and an umbrella for all of my other musical activities. There are now a few people on the label – The Creep Team, Ourobonic Plague, Swerve and Kolide—all of them close friends of mine, I’m not a businessman yet!”
Ivens recently launched Sounds To Expire To, and I enquire if he has had many opportunities to perform the album live, if it has been a challenge to translate the tracks to a live setting. “It’s not that difficult to translate the songs from the record to the stage, it’s just something you have to do. We’ll be doing shows all over the place, along with DJ Snesmega. I’m surprised I can do the songs live with the amount of cigarettes I smoke! I’ve started doing breathing exercises before shows. That helps a lot with delivery.”
Sounds To Expire To is available now through Eco.Tone/Obese.