Melbourne octet NO ZU began as a lo-fi recording project for Nicolaas Oogjes in 2007 and evolved gradually into an intense experimental mutant funk outfit, with delayed trumpets, and heavy percussion, vaguely reminiscent of the intensity of the sweaty brutality of early Hunters and Collectors. Their sound though has continued to evolve over time, incorporating Latin elements, picking up members from Rat Vs Possum and making every performance an ecstatic bombastic party. They released their debut LP Life (Sensory Projects) in 2012, whilst its follow up Afterlife (Chapter) was released just last month, drawing upon the energy of their incendiary live shows, and creating genres and sounds all their own. With such a strange cacophony of sounds and influences, on the eve of their performances at Womadelaide and Golden Plains, Cyclic Defrost asked these ‘heat beat’ pioneers to map out some of their formative music.
Hunters and Collectors – Alligator Engine (Nic)
This was among the post-punk, funk, percussive starter-culture goo that eventually evolved our own strangely-mutant Heat Beat. Throughout their first few records, videos and art-work, Hunters and Collectors presented a fairly bleak dystopian world-view, that while likely taking cues from international funk-leaning post-punk groups, was definitely very Australian. Metal percussion clanks, the bass clanks, a voice is strained, under-water foreign noises and feedback colour the world and the undercurrent of groove provides the foil to it all. Alligator Engine dances in destruction along a bleak Hume Highway. It’s a post-apocalyptic Australia that mirrors the reality that our continent is, in many ways, a post-apocalyptic place. It’s not all doom and gloom though – cathartically facing up to reality can lead to moving on and to an optimistic future. This is what I always took from the early “Hunners”. The continent is living a second life right now, an Afterlife, so let the sun shine down with samba whistles in hand!
Black Box ft Martha Walsh – I Don’t Know Anybody Else (Daphne)
From the beginning NO ZU was, and continues to be, a real education in groove music for me. As a kid I never could have predicted that I’d grow up and play in a band that featured slap bass. Funk had embarrassing connotations for me before I joined the band…white guy dreadlocks and fedoras. I didn’t really develop an appreciation for hypnotic percussive and bass grooves until I joined NO ZU. My adolescent years were spent listening mostly to goth and post punk, but I’ve always loved dance music, and in my younger years I’d listen to a song primarily for the quality of its vocal, probably an influence of listening purely to pop as a tween. Nowadays I approach music listening more as a layered, tactile, sensory experience.
Whenever we end up in a living room or hotel room after a show, at home or on tour, I always get up to dance when someone throws this track on – no matter how overtired I am or how over the party might be. I always wished I had a booming diva voice but have had to make do with melodic shouting. One of my favourite things to do on Youtube is to look up the isolated vocal tracks of iconic singers. Martha Wash’s voice is uplifting and ecstatic, a pitch perfect angelic shriek. That little gap of silence before she belts out the line, “just come and touch me”. How is this
voice even human?
Tantra – Macumba (Adrian)
An Italo-disco gem, and one I keep coming back to. To me, this is a track which encompasses all the best elements of great dance music; it’s beautifully simplistic, has a bullet proof-groove, is loaded with atmosphere and texture, and is irresistibly infectious. There’s something indefinable that makes it more than the sum of its parts, a reminder that music sometimes should just be felt, not intellectualised.
This was a track which inspired me to play dance music, and as the NO ZU band has grown and evolved over the years it’s become a bit of a signpost for me. It’s also one of the tracks which made me fall in love with the sound of synth bass, and inspired me to try new sounds. Best enjoyed in the extended 12″ version!
Use No Hooks – Do The Job (Becky)
I’ve always loved music that inspired me to move my body, from a young age I was listening to whatever I could find which was mostly electronic at the time, or on the edges of grunge rock that somehow got dancey like 90s electronic-pop-legends Regurgitator. I’d trek out to raves in my teens to chase that moment on a dance-floor where you’d look around and feel synergy in the crowd moving in the same groove. I caught on to Fela Kuti & Liquid Liquid and proto-disco / post-punk bands that created that trance like rhythm with a live band and always dreamed of playing music like that. Much later I moved from Sydney to Melbourne and a friend took me to a NO ZU show. I was amazed that in Melbourne there was this kind of band doing this thing I craved so much.
At the time I’d become attached to the punchy ocker un-sung vocal delivery in Use No Hooks’ Do The Job. When Nic asked me to do some vocals for some new NO ZU tracks I thought something in that vein might be appropriate. It’s more percussive and rhythmic and helps to drive the groove along, and I particularly love the lyrical content. Use No Hooks were formed soon after the ‘Little Band’ movement in Melbourne during the 80s which involved impromptu bands put together with a different assortment of artists, poets, filmmakers, musicians thrown together to do 15 min sets for a warehouse party with 10-12 bands playing per night. Perhaps the remnants of that time is found somewhere in the spirit NO ZU. Each member has a different approach to musicianship and it’s all thrown together in a melting pot of rhythm, melody and groove. I think that is Heat Beat.
The Bar-Keys – Holy Ghost (Kieran)
It’s a daily occurrence for my ears to pick up on a song or a rhythm that has elements of the ever kaleidoscopic and fluid Heat Beat. Not surprising considering the amount of influences and genres the band brings to the table to squash, manipulate and reform. We each approach the Heat with different tastes and sounds reverberating around our heads, but it works together because of the two principles that underpin most of the contrasting music we listen to; groove and texture.
The night before I wrote this I was straining under the weight of what song to pick; the Ashford and Simpson track Bourgie, Bourgie looked like the front runner because when I joined the family ZU I had spent a year devouring as much disco as my stomach could handle and I walked into rehearsals with my fingers twitching to play subtle string arrangements, joyful piano riffs and heavy brass. But idly going though a list of songs I noted in my phone I stumbled across this absolute beast of sounds and ideas by The Bar-Keys. Each player knows when to drop back and let another muscle forward allowing texture to appear, and the groove created by the bass and drums is simply unrelenting – all cornerstones of the Heat Beat. The percussion breakdowns stop me in my tracks; dishes are dropped, people are told to ‘shh’ and repeat is inevitably hit.
Arvo – Bikini (Nic)
Well this found it’s way into the hearts of many in the balaeric/groove/dance/music-searcher/dj kind-of-scene in Melbourne/Sydney over the last couple of years. For me, and I know definitely for Becky and Andrew also, this Arvo track fills a special little bikini-shaped place in the collective ZU heart too. It’s always funny to come across songs from another place/time that weren’t influences on you, but seem to exist as kindrid spirits in terms of approach to music (instrumentation, vibe, humour, taste, sound). In fact, I have often only discovered (now beloved) tracks and artists by reviewers of NO ZU claiming we were influenced by them or referencing them. I find this fascinating. The idea that much more is being communicated by sound (political views, social views, world views) than can be analysed on paper. You just have to feel it, and that’s all I ever wanted NO ZU to do – to make something that you can feel.
23 Skidoo – Coup (Andrew)
I remember when Nic, Ado (aka Tapout) and I first started rehearsing with NO ZU as a 3 piece we would chuck on music that had a sound or energy that would put us in the mood. This track along with loads of other punk funk classics were the soundtrack to setting up and packing down. Before joining the ZU I was playing drums in a super fast, busy and intense way. The punk funk sound and groove music in general opened the door to slowing down and simplifying. ‘Keep it simple’ is my mantra when it comes to drums. Boil it down to the core and lock it in. We talked about this constantly in the early days and it formed the backbone of NO ZU.
Can – Vitamin C (Cayn)
This was really hard. I’m not an electronic music connoisseur, but have developed a deep appreciation of dance music and dance floors through playing saxophone with DJ’s for many years in Melbourne. When I began I was fresh of the farm so to speak, and had no idea that there was an entire section of the population that went to clubs and lost their minds on the dance floor every weekend. It was a revelation, and being a part of it helped me to understand what dance music is actually about.
Scanning through my music collection I was tempted to put forward some music by composer’s that foreground texture in their music (John Luther Adams, Donnacha Dennehy) as I feel this is part of my role in NO ZU. Walls of noise and horn hooks. Then I saw the Can track, Vitamin C. The bass and drum groove in this track is one of those ones that doesn’t really start or finish, it just kind of surfaces for a bit while you’re listening to the song and then fades off to some other place. Andrew (drums) and Adrian (bass) manage to pull this off for me with their grooves. I think NO ZU and Can have a lot of similarities in approach to music, spontaneous composition, sampling ourselves in the studio, re-editing, and general funk inspired experimentation. Noise, fun, hooks, heat and love.
Big Pig – Hungry Town (Mitch)
From the beginning, I’ve always been a groove man. Records like Parliament’s Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome and James Brown’s In The jungle Groove reeled me in and got me started.
I first heard Big Pig’s, Hungry Town, on ABC’s Rage back when i would stay up all night with my finger on the record button, waiting to see if there was something worthy of getting on my 180 minutes of VHS tape. They had all the grove elements I was into but also had something else, something weird and strange that I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe the aprons they wore? I still don’t know and I don’t care.
What captured me most about Hungry Town was the simplicity and the basic male and female vocals that compliment the manic drums and percussion. Throw in some bass, synths and vibes and you have a ripper dance track.
Blekbala Mujik – Mibala Yubala (Nic)
This is a perfect example of the kind of thing that continues to give NO ZU life for me and i’m sure the rest of the ZU family. A track that I hadn’t even heard two weeks ago and is now a current obsession. Songs/obscure-grooves that are floating in history and in cyber-space waiting to be heard again and reconsidered in a different context are more accessible than ever. Andrew sent me this. We have long been sharing old, half-forgotten memories of songs that, to us, are sparkling and new. Very often these tracks have a directness and simplicity that is lacking in today’s commonly over-produced-overly-clever-music. Mibala Yubala is an excellent example as an antithesis to that. Then to hear it amongst an all indigenous music mix on Invasion Day (“Australia Day”) and for that to connect in feeling with a growing collective consciousness that is disgusted by the national celebrations on that date…well, it makes that groove hit harder and the vocal delivery sound louder. Direct playful groove – dancing to push forward positively.
Afterlife is out now on Chapter Music.
Live dates are below:
MEREDITH – Saturday 12th March – Golden Plains Festival
ADELAIDE – Sunday 13th March – Womadelaide
NO ZU – Afterlife Tour
WOLLONGONG – Thursday 24th March – Waves Nightclub (Presented by Parkside)
SYDNEY – Sunday 27th March – Newtown Social Club
FREMANTLE – Thursday 14th April – Mojos (Presented by Cool Perth Nights & Camp Doogs)
PERTH – Friday 15th April – Babushkas (Presented by Cool Perth Nights & Camp Doogs)
ADELAIDE – Saturday 16th April – Rocket Bar (Presented by Young Muscle and Lost City)
MELBOURNE – Saturday 23rd April – Max Watts