While on nationwide tour of Australia, UK’s Neotropic interviewed her tour buddies ollo from the backseat of their tour bus…
Two weeks of travelling between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, plus playing shows after ten-hour-drives would be enough to frazzle even the most patient. Alex and Lars, the duo that make up ollo, however, take it all in their stride. “It was great, it was a really good experience, and it was the first time we’d taken gear on the road. It was quite intense at times, we drove from Newcastle Sound Summit to Sydney to Melbourne, Adelaide, Byron Bay, Brisbane and back to Sydney. The Melbourne to Adelaide leg was full on – 4 hours sleep, then the drive, straight to the soundcheck, then we didn’t play until 4am. We only saw one street in Adelaide, and that was my first visit there.” Perhaps having Neotropic in the back seat made it more bearable, or not:
Alex: Of course we were touring with the wonderful Neotropic
Neotropic: I believe she’s a bit of a diva!
Lars: I believe so.
Alex: In fact she’s pretty unbearable.
Neotropic: Yes, but like all great artists . . .
Alex: Yes, so she’s awful, but the tour was fantastic.
Neotropic: And how were her shows?
Alex: Dreadful load of twaddle.
Lars: Her computer kept crashing, and it wasn’t actually until I started keeping my fingers crossed when ‘Muddy Water’ started that she was able to play it all the way through from beginning to end.
Alex: No, It was really great to see the next progression in the Neotropic sound and I’m very excited to hear where it’s going. It was good also to see more interaction with the audience, this is very weird talking about you in the third person
Neotropic: I know, and we won’t elaborate. This is about you.
So, back to ollo.
ollo are part of the latest crop of Australian electronic musicians that are tickling Neotropic’s fancy at the moment. “I first came here about 4 years ago. And this time around I definitely feel that there’s a great scene bubbling around and in fact it’s far more exciting here for me musically than it is in the UK right now, purely because I feel that people aren’t so maybe jaded and living in that London bubble bullshit thing.”
Alex agrees, “It’s definitely an exciting time. There are albums coming out that are just as interesting and exciting as anything coming out of anywhere in the world, if not more so. There have been many albums of that standard before, but at the moment, there’s just so many. There are definitely some extremely creative and exciting new sounds coming from this country.
A first-time tour by an electronica duo about to release their first album can go either way, but the feedback from the crowds has been very positive. Alex points out that “the music hasn’t been out there much – it would have been the first time they heard it – so I finally feel that maybe people actually want to hear this stuff!” Lars elaborates, “It was really great to have people come up afterwards and give us their feedback, and ask whether we had any music that they could buy. That was a really nice thing to hear.”
There were even calls for encores in both Brisbane and Sydney. “Everyone that was playing on the night improvised a track together at the end. In Brisbane, it was Neotropic, Lawrence English, and ollo, and in Sydney without Lawrence, just doing a bit of an experimental ambient improvisation off the cuff. That’s a very different feel to the rest of the material that was played throughout night, which was a bit more compact, a bit more song-based. Alex chimes in “And highly worked. To launch into something where you don’t know where you’re going in front of an audience was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. It was good fun to feel that free and to not be constrained to a track length. We just stopped when we felt like it or felt that that particular movement had come to an end.”
Another major part of the ollo show, and another medium for getting the ideas behind some of their tracks across, are the visuals that Alex has been creating, which were used on tour for the first time. “It’s all been very lo-fi so far. I’d like to do some visual work that is more thoughtful and structured some time. There are certain things I’m doing with the visuals at the moment that I don’t feel I’ve exhausted the potential of, so I’ll continue with that. I realised I am a bit obsessed with the way water moves. I like playing off the organic and the digital against each other in that I tend to film real world or natural forms or movement and process them through the camera. I also like playing with the edges of what the camera can do, not using the camera in the way it was actually intended to be used, and using the defects in the camera to create something new, whether that’s while shooting or during editing.”
The album that all these new-found fans were clamouring to buy contains a song called “Reconciliation Train”, a track that interested Neotropic because of its political agenda: “Electronic music can be faceless and doesn’t necessarily have figures within it that have a political agenda. With punk or hip hop, people’s political agendas often quite clear – whether they’ve been personally exploited in some way or feel strongly about an issue. A lot of people that I work with have that way of thinking but don’t express it.”
It is an issue that continues to pervade electronic music. Alex points out that “part of the reason is that it’s quite difficult to incorporate issues you care about into electronic music without having lyrics and a song. You can do it through titles of tracks, but that’s not really sufficient. Most of the time we never know what electronic musicians think about anything other than their musical ideas. There might be a sleeve concept that communicates something, but that’s very rarely got any relationship to anything other than music itself. Or it’s simply a great looking design and that’s it, so essentially it seems to exist in a bubble – there’s no context. I think it’s a challenge, but it’s a creative challenge, and I wish more people would take that up. Not that I want every album to be haranguing me. It’s hard to find a way.”
Lars points out that “it can be expressed through the use of samples perhaps, and being part of certain events that are politicised, whether it be playing at a squat party or at a reconciliation event is one way of showing your political colours. I’m not an activist by any stretch of the imagination, but there are some things which I think are very wrong at the moment, so perhaps being part of an event that stands for something.”
Neotropic agrees that benefits, protests and the like are important, but also likes the idea of presenting an agenda as part of a live show, although not necessarily in a soapbox way. “I think as an outsider coming in to see someone live and they mention it, I think it’s really important that in that instance, people then can get an idea that you do have a conscience, and I think that’s really important, rather than maybe making it so obvious within the packaging or in the lyrical content”.
ollo did exactly that as an introduction to “Reconciliation Train”. “A lot of what we do doesn’t have lyrics as such, but that doesn’t mean that the tracks don’t have meaning, and so I wanted to communicate the meaning behind that track, which is me waving a little flag for Aboriginal reconciliation. Now I’ve realised it gives me an excuse to talk about it when we’re playing, so I can do my bit, however small, to keep it on the agenda when many people would like the subject to completely disappear. The few lyrics there are on the track basically say that we’re not going to stop, this is a train that is in motion, however often some might try to derail it. It’s got momentum. Until there’s some form of resolution it’s not going away.”
Future plans for ollo include a potential tour of the US, supporting Neotropic, as well as more work in the studio. Alex explains, “At the moment I feel that there’ll be two strands, one I guess will be like a lot of the material on this album, in that it’s accessible, and then I’m interested in doing a lot more abstract work, and experimenting a lot more with sound, and I feel we’re at the point now where we can do both. The reason the album is quite diverse in terms of styles is that we listen to lots of different kinds of music and don’t want to be restricted, so basically maybe that will be the common theme. I want to keep exploring.” They’ve also been collaborating with their back-seat driver: “Last night we recorded about seven or eight tracks with Neotropic. It was a very enjoyable and I’d actually like to see that project go a bit further myself.” Any suggestions for names for the new oufit of ollo + Neotropoic should be emailed to the ollo boys at email@example.com.
OLLOTROPIC TOUR BUS TOP TEN
1. Various – Studio One Rockers
Soul Jazz comp from 2001 which contains a good few singalong boredom breakers, especially Marcia Griffiths’ “Feel Like Jumping” (which, after that many hours in the car, we certainly did). By the end, we’d worked out all the harmonies and were considering a new acapella project (for deaf audiences).
2. The Orchestra – Look Away Now
Upcoming release from a London orchestra that collaborates with contemporary artists, such as some mystery act called Neotropic. This ‘white label’ EP contains collaborations with Spacer, among others. Track one we remember as being a standout, but have no idea what it’s called.
3. Can – Radio Waves
CD of Can bootlegs left in the car by Sir Robbo. A superb accompaniment full of dark wonders, with an excellent sleeve by Mr Sir Robbo of Shaneness too. Can’s Tago Mago was also on high rotation. Must be the autobahn effect. German driving music, in both senses of the word.
4. The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour
One of several Beatles albums that made an appearance. An education for Alex who’s always had an inexplicable aversion to the fab four. Strangely, the album title’s appropriateness never occurred to any of us. A particular favourite was “Flying,” which may or may not have had something to do with the druggy effects of the high cocoa content dairy-free organic chocolate we were chomping on.
5. Burnt Friedman and the Nu Dub Players – Just Landed
An old favourite. Mellow yet percussive enough to prevent dozing-off-at-the-wheel type disasters. We discovered on this trip that avant-garde abstract noise experiments are perhaps the worst driving music in the history of the world ever. But you can’t sing all the way, so albums like this were good at keeping the wheels turning.
6. Pretty Boy Crossover – Any Number Can Play
Both their album and this newer EP made for great journey soundtracks, and formed part of our download to Neotropic of what’s going on that’s great in Australia. We had the honour of sharing a stage with PBXO in Melbourne too. Neotropic’s next radio show is going to consist entirely of Aussie stuff, some of which was handed to her at events and gigs, so she probably has a better idea than ollo now. Which isn’t hard.
7. Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
A mix of more singalongs interspersed with rapturous silence as we were transported by the most spine-tinglingly raw yet skilful Aretha vocals ever recorded. “A Change is Gonna Come” is enough to make you convert to something or other. And she played all the piano on this album, too. Bitch.
8. Qua – Forgetabout
Stunning fusion of glitch, guitar, and electronics and sound exploration. We found that while driving that the ear needs a hook to carry you through more abstract sounds, and this has it. (After we’d been driving a good few hours, if the music was too abstract and sparse we started to get jumpy – has something hit the car? Was that the suspension going twaaaannnng?).
9 Mum – the new album
A glaring omission from the ollo collection, we got well acquainted on the tour, courtesy of Neotropic. Also prompted discussion of the specific pleasure of not knowing what people are singing about, adding that frisson of mystery.
10 Donnacha Costello – Together is the New Alone
Surprisingly appropriate across the outback. This was good ‘lull’ music, for the bit after the chatter and before the delirium kicked in (at about the 8 hour mark, aided by the aforementioned chocolate).
Frank Sinatra – Songs for Swingin’ Lovers
Ritual – Le Myst’re des Voix Bulgares
Lots of Stereolab and Muslimgauze
Truckloads of dub
Some track on the radio as we approached Melbourne with the dainty lyrics “lick my clit, lick my crack.” We laughed as the vocalist tried to fill out the song with a verse. Where do you go from there? We had a go, and it’s much lower. We’re saving that for our filthy slut electroclash project.
Outkast – “Miss Jackson”: “ooooh, ah am fo’ reeeeeeal” singalong special