Ask any electronica musician or fan what IDM stands for and you’re guaranteed to get a wry response rather than the actual ‘Intelligent Dance Music’ answer. You’re much more likely to get something like Itchy Dick Membranes or Insignificant Droning Mongs. Many reject the elitist nature implied in the ‘Intelligent Dance Music’ moniker and prefer to take the piss instead. That Pretty Boy Crossover suggest Introverted Dumb Men as their definition says a lot about their open and expressive approach to this sometimes very exclusive-nerd music. Avoiding the laptop trickery employed by many of these programmer-cum-artists in the IDM world, Pretty Boy Crossover succeeds in targeting the heart, rather than the head.
Pretty Boy Crossover are Cailan Burns and Jason Sweeney, both confessed “self-trained geeks”. They met in Adelaide in 1996, and began a radio show together at 3D and “giggled way too much on air”, playing other people’s tunes. Sweeney released a CD of works for theatre and dance shows which Burns contributed to and so began the fusion of the Prettyboy and the Crossover.
They have released two full LPs, featured on a number of compilations and had vinyl-only pressings. Their new EP Any Number Can Play, released on Clan Analogue, features four new tracks and four remixes, a pre-cursor to a new LP to be released later this year. Probably the very antithesis of ‘soulless’ IDM exclusiveness, their sound falls between their soundtrack and pop side-projects and their eclectic tastes for ‘sad’ electronica and pop. What remains constant is a gentle and soulful melancholia, reminiscent of older Autechre and more recently Dntel or Monolake, or in their own words: “tales of loneliness, taking trains across desolate landscapes, walking through cities at dusk, falling or needing to be in love, staring at architecture in the sun…”
The tracks on Any Number Can Play range from ambient to beats, always atmospheric and delicately composed. The opening track ‘Mystery Sentence’ features Sweeney’s vocals, just fractured enough to obscure the mystery sentence and to whom its yearning is directed – perhaps a lost love? ‘Inventor vs. Invention’ is an echoing ambient piece with a deep, rich resonance perfect for headphones. ‘The Translucent’s and ‘If You Could Go Anywhere’ are both reminiscent of Autechre, with sliding melodies overlaid with trademark scattered drum patterns.
The four remixes are thorough reinterpretations, of equal quality to the originals. Automotive, Melbourne producer and DJ, Daniel Feary, morphs the watery ‘Inventor vs. Invention’ into a deep house delicacy. Ai Yamamoto, know best for her noise scapes of found sounds, game noises and melody deconstructs ‘Component Curve’, creating a foreboding environment of machine clicks and heavy drones. Melbourne based Shimmer (Kate McAnergney) contributes ‘Pretty Boy Megamix!’, presumably consisting elements from a number of tracks, the result being an evil alien soundscape. Clan Analog favourite Kazumichi Grime extends ‘Mystery Sentence’ to its ultimate ambient end, with eight minutes of refined beat-and-vocal-less headphone sugar; or as Prettyboy themselves describe it: “a moody, spine-tingling thriller”.
The whole album has a contemplative and sad air, an expression of the artists themselves: “It’s just in our nature,” explains Sweeney “we’re both very contemplative people and we see a lot of beauty and sadness in things.” The artwork too, is organic, with pastels and handwritten tracklistings and autumnal leaves.
But Pretty Boy Crossover assure me they aren’t entirely morose and melancholic. “I’ve always wanted to be a Casio keyboard,” confides Sweeney “and so, by strapping on one to play, I feel like I can almost be one. All my other projects are more pop oriented, vocal based. Pretty Boy Crossover is definitely the more experimental of the projects and probably the most changeable in many ways, in that we make music that is inspired by the friendship Cailan and I have. We don’t have any set musical agendas, except for our mutual love of sounds and melody. Oh, and beats!”
The duo’s other projects, particularly Sweeney’s, reveal a more upbeat pop nature. Sweeney plays every instrument for indie electro-pop outfit Simpatico. Described by adequacy.net as bordering on “a work of genius” with “perfect” warm and emotional vocals, Simpatico has toured extensively on the east and west coasts of the United States. With Other People’s Children there’s been a “very exciting” 7″ release on Morr Music. Sweeney also has releases on Gifted and Matinee, a Californian label. As Pretty Boy Crossover, they are about to start work with Sound Summit stars Cocosolidciti, a collective-based label in Montreal, Paris and Manchester. There’s the experimental theatre and dance stuff and a film soundtrack for Triple J’s Megan Spencer. Plus a European/UK/USA tour to promote Surgery Records. Sounds like some busy times ahead. “The whole thought of it makes me very sleepy” admits Sweeney.
So what keeps them going? Sweeney explains: “In essence, I’d rather make music, play it to people and have them hear it, rather than making useless small talk in overcrowded, smoky, venues. Cough cough. It only leads to nicotine poisoning.” A good enough reason as any to create music. Forget about the Introverted Dumb Males with Mac tans and get on with these I Do Macram’ types who create great aural craft!
Interview by Bim Ricketson
Pretty Boy Crossover’s Top 12 records as of Oct 8, 2002, in no real particular order:
1. Robert Pacitti – Evidence of Life After Death
For (very) personal reasons. Ask me about Wagga Wagga sometime. And if you ever meet this wonderful man please don’t tell him he sounds like Marc Almond.
2. Qua – Forgetabout
Cornel is dreamy. I think it’s the Italian in him, and he’s also very good friend. He inspires us both immensely. The new stuff he’s making is so beautiful too – it’s quite a rare treasure.
3. Mum – Finally we are No-one
You call us melancholy! I get a little teary just thinking about this album.
4. Glen Campbell – By the Time I Get to Phoenix
An all time favourite and will probably never leave my top five.
5. Notwist – Neon golden
My soundtrack to May 2002, Simpatico indie pop road tour of USA. I think we had ‘Pilot’s on repeat for most of the way between Chicago and New York.
6. Styrofoam – The Point Misser
This and so many more records on Morr Music. I’ll slot in Lali Puna, B. Fleischmann and Team Forest here.
7. Underground Lovers – Cold Feeling
… and all their other records. Underground Lovers are one of the reasons Cailan really wanted to make music.
8. Kim Hiorthoy – Melke
9. Fingers Crossed – Architecture in Helsinki
10. Takagi Masakatsu – Eating
11. Le Tigre
12. The Buzzcocks – Singles Collection