Red Bull Music Academy Melbourne – an insiders view


One of our writers, Simon Hindle, was selected as a participant in the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne. This is his story.

“I’m having a hard time avoiding clichés when trying to come to write this. I suppose the best way to begin is to try and describe what the Academy is, and the first word which springs to mind is “loose.’ Things seemed quite haphazard and coincidental – the only real framework we had was a rough timetable of the lectures which soon got thrown out the window as the constant late nights started catching up with folk. As we arrived at the Academy building for the first time, it became apparent that they hadn’ actually finished building parts of it yet. Rumours flew around that some of the lecturers for week two hadn’ even been booked yet. And nobody seemed to work out what had happened to the missing Logic Pro dongle.

Of course, this looseness was quite wonderful, as it allowed you as a participant to pretty much do whatever you wanted. Sheryar, our Pakistani counterpart, chose to spend most of his days asleep or in the park, making beats, and would wander endlessly around the Melbourne streets during the night. Oddisee from Philadelphia could perhaps be located at the other end of whatever spectrum we might be employing here; he had one of the studios on lockdown from the word dot, even forsaking our plush hotel for good once he discovered there were showers in the Academy building. At the end of the two weeks he’d finished something in the region of 20 tracks by his reckoning. The seven I have are fantastic.

So what, then, is the Academy? I’m sure it wouldn’ be difficult to poll a wealth of different answers to this question. First and foremost, it survives by being a marketing exercise. The whole operation would be totally unsustainable without a sizeable cash injection from Red Bull (massively sizeable – all 60 participants were put up in four-star serviced apartments for two weeks, flights paid, giant building in Richmond rented for months, big-shot music folk brought in to do stuff, boxes of Intel iMacs lying around, NINE STUDIOS, full-time media crew of about 40 etc etc etc) and so the first loyalty, if you like, lies to them, and it is honoured in the form of content. Loads of it. A 24-hour radio station, masses of online video from the lectures, tracks made by participants, millions upon millions of photos (we were constantly trailed by two full-time photographers and a video crew) and that’s just the content that’s generated in-house, so to speak. The buzz generated from the operation spreads all over the world – for example, each lecture behaves as a viral ad targeted at a very specific market (genre-specific message boards across the world light up whenever a lecture from one of their particular luminaries appears online), each junketed journo returning to their hip publication to enthuse about the coolness they’d just witnessed.

Besides the marketing stuff, the Academy is essentially a big geekfest, where people come together to get all nerdy for a couple of weeks, maybe make a tune or two, swap some stories, go to some parties, buy some records, make new friends and generally have a good old laugh at someone else’s expense. What prevents this from being utterly superficial, however, is the degree of passion involved in it. Everybody’s really crazy for their music – and open to everybody else’s. No egos, no idiots – only open, warm, respectful people. You could sit down and have a conversation with anybody, even the famous people – who seemed to be as enchanted by the environment as us mere mortals were. To illustrate this with a rather fabulous bit of namedropping, I’d like to tell you about the time I was sitting next to Derrick May at the internet terminals. I was checking my emails and he was looking at hot chicks on Myspace. We started talking about the 909 they had up on the studio floor; his eyes lit up and he started raving about the machine and how it had been over ten years since he last had a play on one. A couple of later, I went down to the dining room and there he was in the corner with a pair of headphones on, sequencing away at the Roland.

Of course, it’s not all just music geeking in the studio for two weeks. There were lots of parties to go and music geek at as well. Every lecturer got to give a show and some of them were quite memorable – µ-ziq at the Corner was one of the standouts, his junglist bass making my eyes vibrate on the meaty rig they had in there. Another highlight was Kode 9 nailing it DMZ-style with all the lights out save for a little red one in the corner. The room was heaving, the Melbourne dubstep faithful down the front, delightfully confused hipsters unable and unwilling to escape the pressure. In the middle of the week we seemed to occupy Honkytonks, which was handy as it was a block away from our hotel. These shows were really outstanding, as the lack of demanding weekend punters meant that things could be a little looser (there’s that word again) and impromptu jam sessions abounded as the magic weaved in the studio continued to flow into the night and an ever-changing band took to the stage for hours at a time. And – of course – we mustn’t forget the wonderment of Todd Osbourne aka Soundmurderer’s mighty set of booty techno in the ladies’ toilets.

Simon Hindle (DJ Somefreak)


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.