Betaville Orchestra interview by Seb Chan


Over the last eighteen months CDRs have been being passed around Sydney containing deeply atmospheric, sparse beat experiments containing snatches of film noir dialogue, tiny Stockhausen samples, and cut ups of pre-1950s jazz. Under the name Betaville Orchestra these CDRs contained some striking moods and cleverly arranged samples, dark interludes, slight dub effects, subtle DSP, and vocal snippets. But in amongst making what now number over 30 individual moody tracks, Betaville Orchestra’s Andrew Maher has been busy with his other more well-known project, Alphatown Collective. Alphatown Collective, widely known for their supa-rocking house, techno and electro mix of DJ set and live electronics, are fast moving forward as prime innovators in their field in Sydney with regular appearances at Mad Racket and Technikal. So how does a producer keep up these two almost opposing sound roles?

‘Alphatown consists of me, Luke Mynott and Adam Zielonka. We all went to high school together and shared a similar musical background. Early on we had a primarily live focus but that has changed now with a few compilation releases and our first vinyl release which will be coming out on [Sydney DJ] Biz-Es label Cliq. We try to draw a lot of influences into our sound and maintain a high level of floor energy with the emphasis on innovative techno, electro and house . . . . The collaborative process with Alphatown is wonderful, but I found myself making these sad, quiet little tracks late at night which didn’t really fit into the Alphatown approach . . . . The Betaville Orchestra project came about because I wanted to do something that was a bit more personal and I found myself drifting towards doing stuff that wasn’t so much dancefloor oriented. [Unfortunately] a lot of people think that somehow dancefloor music is less important and that non-dancefloor music is somehow more worthy or cerebral . . . and a lot of artists shy away from doing work that is very personal in electronic music. [Instead] they talk endlessly about processes and equipment as a way of dodging the issue. Rather than that, I deliberately set out to make stuff that reflected my inner life and the way I was seeing the world at the time; to express utter personal desolation, emptiness. All the beauty I saw seemed fragmented and isolated in a loveless world dominated by self-interest and savagery . . . People seemed to be just acting out these sad, fetid melodramas and I found myself drawn to film-noir and began getting right into that whole feel, as well as a lot of music from that era, specifically early tape-based art-music and jazz, chaotic, sad stuff . . . . this was [probably]all fueled by a very nasty case of insomnia.’

Andrew has recently signed a deal with new Sydney label Floating Point. The label is a sister company of the recording studio of the same name is due to manufacture its own product in early 2003 so there is an inevitable wait before any of the Betaville material reaches commercial shelves.

‘I don’t consider anything I’ve done so far to be finished in any real sense and I’m building on some elements of what I’ve recorded for Floating Point. My early stuff is like a series of preparatory sketches, and what I’m trying to do now is more like a painting. I would like to use a lot of session musicians and vocalists, but put them through the Betaville shredder . . . notice i don’t say ‘real instruments’ . . . . [but]I love vocals. When i first started DJing people used to always ask why so little of the music I played had vocals. Now when I drop a vocal people look at me strangely . . . . We all use our voices and I can understand the skill that goes into a good vocal – they’re great for stating things explicitly when you want to, especially in love songs.’

Using the snatches of the vocal from Aaliyah’s pop hit Try Again and Beats International’s Dub Be Good To Me, Andrew is not coy about having broad tastes. ‘I think a lot of people create their music taste, indeed much of their character, around what they don’t like ‘ rather than what they do like. For instance the idea that ‘pop music is lame and it uses vocals so i won’t because i’m a cool guy’ or something. It is obviously a moronic and woefully adolescent attitude and I’m convinced as an artist you should build your ideas around what inspires and delights and seduces you. Purely reactionary movements in art are useful but rarely have much depth to them’.

Andrew elaborates; ‘like everyone, I grew up on pop music, thanks largely to a hip older sister. I also mucked around with loads of classical instruments and the mindfuck that that whole thing is. Then there was a lot of metal ‘ of all the varieties – thrash, doom, death – and playing in bands . . . . and then the bright, shining, mind-blowing revelation that was rave and all the possibilities it offered hit me in 1992 . . . . I ‘ve always thought that musical taste should be like a pebble thrown into a pond, rippling outwards and encompassing more and more ideas but still retaining the early influences. But for many people [it seems that]music is like fashion, and you throw out last years’ clothes i guess, or you cynically re-embrace them to show how ironic and retro you are. This is an appallingly concept to me . . . . I like re-assessing music I used to listen to. And it is interesting what still holds up and what doesn’t; how my ear has improved; how production techniques have moved on – it’s all very educational and reveals a lot . . . . I do still listen to the odd bit of Belgian hardcore techno ‘ PCP Records especially and acts like Mescalinium United. It still has a feel that is so uniquely compelling. And I’m also right into eastern European lullabies at the moment, they are so keening, sad and lovely. [At some point] I’d love to do an album of lullabies in that tradition. i devour music constantly, and I live for that moment when you hear something so evocative that it causes a physical reaction, that intoxicates you . . . I find the whole concept of safe, calming come-down music repulsive.’

Betaville Orchestra’s recommended top five film noir and noir-influenced cinema –

D.O.A (1949 version)
The Maltese Falcon
LA Confidential

Sebastian Chan.


About Author

Seb Chan founded Cyclic Defrost Magazine in 1998 with Dale Harrison. He handed over the reins at the end of 2010 but still contributes the occasional article and review.