Some may say that it was the Gold Coast skegs who helped steer Lucas Abela towards experimental music. Having moved to the city of surf and sand at the age of 12, it was rashies and wax that first held Lucas’s attention. Less than two years later and after being roughed up by the local toughs, Lucas found that strange and experimental sounds were captivating his interests more than the point break. Teenage Jesus, The Jerks and Foetus, strange early 80s experimentalists. “I found myself searching import stores for new sounds. I don’t know why, so I guess my quest for this bore my need to create new sounds after the well ran dry so to speak.” These ‘new’ sounds were soon a regular part of Lucas’s Sydney radio show he started hosting 1992. Describing his on air playlists as encompassing a style of violent turntablism, the subsequent and inevitable equipment breakages lead to modifications that made his noise making contraptions even sturdier. Pins, rings and razorblades. Two years of noise saturated airwaves later, local act Phlegm located the dial and invited Lucas to do his first live gig. Maybe it wasn’t the skegs.
Today Lucas has unrefined his craft to the point of being one of Sydney’s most inaccessible artists. DJ Smallcock, Justice Yeldham and The Dynamic Ribbon Device have all been guises that Lucas has used over the years to deliver both recorded and live versions of a style that he calls ‘free noise’. “Essentially I’m an improviser in the jazz tradition of free jazz, however the instruments I use create noise, hence free noise.” Continually pushing the sonic envelope, it seems that Lucas has dedicated his time to creating the most obscure noises and sounds possible, using whatever implements are at hand, mouth or foot. Favourite noise: “The sounds of computers crashing during a laptop performance interest me most, but when it comes to an aural aesthetic, I prefer abstract dynamic noise pieces to the wall approach some adhere to. I like to get loud then quiet – then all over the shop!”
Live experimental music, particularly with the increasing presence of laptop-tronica, has unfortunately created an audience/performer dynamic that is often very static and non-interactive. This visually unstimulating work of an artist hidden behind screens and buttons tends to take away from the sounds being produced on stage. How often has an audience wondered whether a DAT machine could be as equally effective? It is this aspect of experimental music that Lucas overtly detests. Describing himself as an entertainer, Lucas appears to ensure that his audiences can all watch and enjoy his sets on a number of levels. But, he is quick to dismiss the tag of performance artist. “If moving while playing makes one a performance artist and not a musician, I better sit down.[Because of my unconventional instrumentation] I am too often written off as a conceptual artist when conceptually I’m far more versatile. I produce sounds, a wide array of them, but people can’t seem to get past the performance element of my shows to actually listen.” If they get the chance.
Standing by the philosophy that the medium he works in demands short performances, and for the simple reason that he gets bored with long winded sets, Lucas’s gigs rarely reach the 10 minute mark. “My shortest show was 40 seconds to my longest of 15 minutes, I find that so more interesting than a thundering PA for 60 minutes.”
Engaging his audiences with the physical aspects of sound, Lucas has entertained listeners around the world with his unique collection of instruments. “I don’t make what is traditionally considered electronic music, to me, truly electronic music exists only in machines, which play people. What I do is ultimately a tactile way to produce sound. Any sound created during my shows is born from physical cause an effect, its created there and then, nothing is hidden away in drives or chips.” Instead it is mouth held styluses and spinning motors that form the foundation of Lucas’s sound structures. Everything from circular saws and vegetable cutters through to Tibetan Humming Bowls, all spinning at high speeds, are used as part of his unique take on turntablism. The real fun starts when the turkey skewers come out. As he explained to Sound Projector Magazine a few years back: “I stick a turkey skewer connected to a phonographic cartridge in my mouth and play that I really like the mouth work, I think it has a lot more dynamic and changeable.”
While skewers on metallic saws may seem like a noise to avoid rather than enjoy, Lucas feels that his performances do offer something to his audiences. “I’m not trying to drive people out with my noise. I’m more interested in engaging people within the physical aspects of sound, not – ‘I’m loud take this!’.” Besides, audiences have more than just harsh noise to avoid. “My latest [instrument]is a deck made from a sewing machine motor with a top speed of 2850rpm. I bolt down a stack of records like a wedding cake and play it with my skewers. I played this recently at Imperial Slacks and by the time I was done, chunks of vinyl jutted from the walls as if they were throwing knives.” Performances like these come with their own ‘Don’t Try This at Home’ tag, even the self trained experts suffer for their art. After a 1999 show in the UK, Lucas told Sound Projector that “apparently [the turkey stylus]has caused some damage to my mouth – everyone says it’s bruised. The inside of my cheek is torn apart every time I play a show and I have to leave a couple shows before I can play again without intense pain.” And then. “There was this one time in band camp, I lacerated my right wrist with a blunt drum cymbal, which was mounted to a high powered motor. I was playing it with an amplified spring device that managed to catch on the cymbals jagged edge before forcing my arm down. Much damage to nerves and tendons as a result.”
It is easy to assume that the free noise and unique instruments Lucas uses to create his decibel-demented pieces are best suited for a live setting. Spinning motors and flying shards of vinyl don’t easily translate to headphone listening. But three albums have been spawned from this experimental beast. “I believe music is for the moment,” agrees Lucas, “and it’s always better live. That’s why of my three albums in seven years, two have been unrelated to my live music.” These include an album composed by a car (A Kombi), a second played on a high powered turntable (his live project) and a third of real time tape manipulation (Peeled Hearts Paste). “I could have made many more albums based on my live shows,” he concedes.”Instruments like my stylus glove were never really documented, but I like that. I’m here for the moment and I don’t care about prosperity. I want the seven people in my audience to experience something now, not later at a controlled volume.”
Recorded in 1994, A Kombi – Music to Drive By was Lucas’s debut release. Harking back to his surf roots, it was an album composed by a Kombi Van, with Lucas insisting that he was merely the recording observer. “My old van simply made extraordinary sounds! Bad earthing with the car stereo caused the entire vehicle to become amplified through its speakers most evidently when you turned the wipers on – the screech would fill the speakers!” Apart from being Lucas’s most recognised album, the release of A Kombi was the catalyst for the creation of the Dual Plover label and his subsequent venture into CD manufacturing.
After recording the album, Lucas found himself facing a hurdle familiar to most new artists. A record with no outlet for release. Having already knocked on the doors of virtually all the existing Australian experimental labels, and at a loss for any other local or overseas options, Lucas decided to set up Dual Plover. After a relatively successful release that prompted positive responses from both within Australia and overseas, (Merzbow thought it was “fucking great”, Bananafish wanted an interview) Lucas found he now owned a record label.
With virtually no financial base and with the dole as his only source of income, the harsh financial realities of pressing up the record emerged. Letting his fingers do some walking, Lucas made contact with a local CD manufacture, striking up a deal that promised substantial business. “I was doing Jerker, Sigma, Psychojama, and averaging one disc a month. Then word of my prices spread overseas and the orders started flooding in. Eventually the workload was enough that the factory reduced my prices my prices further then further still to the point where it now subsidises my Dual Plover label.”
While still a small scale operation, Lucas’s CD pressing business has definitely been a boost for local artists. Albums that would normally never have been released are now reaching overseas markets, with reviews and tours resulting. It has also attracted interest from some overseas producers whose work, for various reasons, has been refused by other plants. Without going into too much detail, as it is still a sensitive issue for Lucas, the existence of the operation did mean that the Kid could still get his freak on Down Under.
Uncomfortable from the beginning with the idea of running a label as a vehicle to release his own music, Lucas used the opportunity to mine some of Sydney’s many untapped resources. Avoiding any definable music policy, Lucas instead took on artists that would have otherwise remained untouched by other labels. As he told No Frills magazine in a previous interview: “No cohesion exists between the artists on our roster, except maybe a certain sense of otherness. As a label, our main concerns are audio works by people whose work is outside of current trends.”
Making a home available for music that most local labels wouldn’t touch, Dual Plover has put its name to a healthy number of releases including the now (underground) acclaimed Rebirth of Fool compilation series as well as a number of other artist releases, including Funky Terrorist’s 5!5!5! and the self titled debut from Alternahunk. As an amusing aside, Deano Merino, who released his Baby Crocodiles CD through the label was voted by the women of Australia as the new Diet Coke man back in the late 1990s. Dual Plover is very proud to have him aboard.