Melbourne Noise-Punks Super-X’s George Ottaway: “Mechanical and wild sounding…”

Photos: courtesy of Super-X; handmade mixed-media by B.

Super-X’s debut self-titled album is full of aliveness, possibilities and risk. The Naarm/Melbourne trio walk the tightrope of balance of control and dissonance that’s beautiful and ugly at the same time. Gimmie interviewed co-vocalist-guitarist, George Ottaway.

Hi George! How are you? What did you get up to today?

GEORGE OTTAWAY: Hey Bianca! I’m pretty good, it’s the weekend, so I’m taking it pretty easy so far. My girlfriend is from Madrid so tonight we are heading to what’s meant to be one of Melbourne’s best Tapas bars. Will report more on this later!

What’s an album in your music collection that’s important for you?

GO: For me, it’s got to be Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92. It’s a really beautiful album and I find myself coming back to it again and again since first discovering it in my mid-teens. It evokes a lot of memories for me, including a really memorable solo trip I did to Iceland for All Tomorrows Parties Festival back in 2015, when I listened to it a lot. I also think it’s probably the most coherent and consistent Aphex Twin release, and maybe the only one where he isn’t intentionally trying to fuck with his audience!

How did you first get into music? Did you and your brother (Super-X’s co-vocalist-guitarist) Harrison get into music together?

GO: Growing up, music had a very important presence in our house. Our parents are both music fans and liked to fill every possible moment of silence with community radio or a CD from their collection. I remember hearing a lot of the Rolling Stones, Nirvana and Nick Cave. Our dad in particular made it his personal mission to impart his musical taste on us; by the time we hit primary school he was pumping The Stooges’ Raw Power on cassette in the car as he drove us to school! When we were teenagers, we both picked up guitar and formed garage bands with our friends. It was a pretty interesting, exciting time to be making music, websites like Myspace and programs like Garage Band were suddenly making it really easy and accessible for young kids like us to record songs and get them heard by a wider audience. This was also around the time we discovered the Melbourne underground scene! We got into bands like Kiosk, Bird Blobs, Sea Scouts, Circle Pit, Witch Hats, ECSR, Zond, the Nihilistic Orbs label and started going to a lot of shows.

When did you first know that you wanted to play music yourself?

GO: I think around the age of 13. I was pretty obsessed with music and just knew it was something I had to do. In primary school I had a pop-punk band that played to the other students in the school hall, which was pretty cute and my first taste at playing music.

What inspired you to start Super-X?

GO: I’d watched Harrison – he’s a bit older than me – play shows in different bands over the years and I was itching to get into it myself! We were both living together at home at the time and both of us playing guitar just made it easy. We were intrigued by each other’s styles – I’d say Harrison is more technically astute, while my own style is a bit more naive and abrasive. We both wanted to play in a band that was a bit grimier and more ferocious than what we had previously done, so we outlined a bunch of key influences that we both enjoyed and started jamming regularly. After a while Harrison wrote the guitar line for ‘Weapon-X’, which is where we found our sound. A little after that we recorded our first demo, with me playing drums – it’s still up on our Soundcloud!

Can you tell us a little bit about the writing process for your debut self-titled album? Do you write collaboratively?

GO: A lot of the time we just bring in a riff or even a drum idea to practice and see where it takes us. Super-X rehearsals are always really fun: we spend a lot of time just jamming and improvising together. Harrison, Kaelan [Emond ] and I have been playing together now for a while so we all know how to interact with each other, when to rise and when to tone everything down. After we have the instrumentation down then we usually work on our lyrics – often it just begins with a murmur and becomes more fully formed as the song grows.

The album was recorded over six months between August 2019 and February 2020 at Invention Studios in Footscray working with Ryan Fallis and Mathias Dowle. Ryan & Mathias are fantastic to work with – they are incredibly patient, contribute great ideas and have one of the most incredible guitar pedal collections I have ever seen, including a number of pedals from the former U.S.S.R that they let us use! They are also lovely dudes, highly recommended!

Was it intentional to take your time recording or was it a necessity because of other commitments?

GO: In 2019 we had actually hit a bit of a slump with the band. We were all beginning to lose a bit of interest and all had a lack of direction with what we wanted to do and had all considered breaking the band up. We had tried recording a year prior but were pretty disappointed with the results. With work and other musical commitments (Kaelen plays drums in Obscura Hail, and I play rhythm guitar in Future Suck) we were also struggling to find the time to devote to Super-X. It was at this stage we decided to take a gamble and head back into the studio with Ryan Fallis & Mathias Dowle at Invention Studios. We were pretty unprepared in a number of ways, a lot of songs were only 80% complete, but I think taking this risk definitely added a bit of vulnerability and excitement to the sessions. We weren’t really sure what was going to come out of it and we just dived in head first. The album was recorded as live as possible with very minimal overdubs. We’d been thinking about the structure of the album for a while: we wanted a strong narrative and a focus on ambient and sound pieces throughout. Figuring out the exact track listing and order of the album was really exciting – we experimented with it as the tracks started to take shape – and ultimately pretty satisfying.

What influenced your choice to go with a real bare-bones vocal?

GO: Harrison and I aren’t natural singers, and the focus of Super-X has always really been on instrumentation, with lyrics and vocals taking a bit of a backseat a lot of the time. I think a lot of our inspiration vocally came from a the early Iceage LP’s. We wanted a delayed sound on the vocals and to have them gritty and pretty low in the mix. I think lyrically we just wanted them to be direct and to the point as possible so they could pierce through all the distortion and effects.

The album came out right in the middle of lockdown because of the global pandemic; how did you feel about not being able to play shows for its release? Any plans to play shows soon?

GO: I was actually quite thrilled with the album coming out in 2020. It’s such an iconic year for all the wrong reasons, but with no shows on and everyone having a lot of solitude I think it enabled us to carve out our own space and get the interest of Spoilsports records and Polaks, who did a joint release for the album. I think a lot of people took the time to actually give it a spin who might not have given it the time of day in other circumstances. Friends and fans have always described our music and live shows as a bit dystopian so I think having it released in 2020 is sort of fitting funnily enough?

We’ve actually got two shows coming up! Thursday March 4th at the retreat with Crash Material and our official LP launch on Saturday March 27th at Old Bar. We will be revealing the full line-up a little further down the track for that one.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had playing a show? Where was it? What made it a blast?

GO: I lived in a massive pretty run-down house with an enormous backyard in Caulfield from 2015-2020. A lot of the LP was written in that house and is based on that particular chapter of my life. We had a bunch of parties with my housemates and would get bands to play in the lounge room which would always go off. There’s something about seeing live bands outside of the normal constraints of a venue which gets people really fired up. We had over 100 people at one of the parties and set up smoke machines and strobes, we had a fire lit outside and a TV at the end of a dark corridor looping Clint Eastwood’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on high volume. Super-X played with Tony Dork (who just released a brilliant LP on Legless last year!) and it went off! Both bands played well and I’ve got some pretty memorable photos from the night. After bands we had a bunch of techno sets going well and truly into the early hours. Someone put the smoke machine on full blast and the dance floor turned into a thick, smoky nightmare scene for an hour or so with people panicking and spilling out into the backyard. My neighbours wouldn’t look me in the eyes for months after! I went to a music festival a year later and a guy I swear I had never seen before in my life came up to me and was preaching to me about how it was one of the best parties he had ever been to haha. It was loose.

Travel has been off the cards for most people for a while now because of the pandemic but if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

GO: I had plans to go to Brazil for a 6-8 weeks on my own but COVID of course fucked everything up. I’ve always loved hot weather, good food and to be as far away from anyone who’s first language is English as possible when travelling. In 2018 I travelled through the Balkans and wound up getting a bus from Athens to Gjirokaster in Albania. Its where the dictator Hoxce was born and has a pretty fascinating history. There’s loads of old Nazi war loot that the Albanian army kept after they defeated the axis in the castle, including old tanks and captured flags, weapons and a documentation on how they defeated the retreating axis armies, which is pretty interesting. Albania was definitely a highlight of recent years, beautiful country and off the beaten track.

You did the artwork and design for the album; did you study art? How did you decide on the imagery? What made you go with a stark black & white palette?

GO: Yeah, I did! I did a fine arts course at RMIT specialising in drawing, so I was glad to put it to use for creating the imagery for the album. I’ve always been a firm believer in that the imagery and aesthetics of bands are just as important as the music. It’s got to be strong, bold and to the point. I honestly think if the Germs and Black Flag didn’t have their great aesthetics (the four bars symbol and Germ’s circle one logo) they wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular as they are today. People want to feel cool when they wear your band t-shirt or buy your record so the aesthetics have got to hold up.

Locally HTRK have incredible design for every release they do, I’m a massive fan of them. Nigel Yang is one of my favourite guitarists.

With Super-X I wanted something equally as bold so I decided on an industrial looking electrical plug image. Super-X is pretty mechanical and wild sounding at times so I think it suits what we do. I think for a debut LP classic black and white can never go wrong. I also drew a lot of inspiration from Peter Saville’s design and techno/ambient LP’s from the ‘90s like Underworlds Dubnobasswithmyheadman and Autechre LP’s. A lot of musical groups the less you see of the artists themselves sometimes the better, it creates more mystique and intrigue.

I never want Super-X LP’s to be about my Harrison, Kaelan or myself, or the way we look or whatever or to have us pictured on the front or back cover. I want the experience of listening to a Super-X LP to be like putting on a film with narrative of beginning, middle and end. With a strong emphasis on visual bold aesthetics to suit. The less focus on us as individuals the better. I’m a firm believer in that.

Have you been working on anything new?

GO: We have! We’ve got a bunch of tracks we’ve started to develop and have been working on some ideas in terms of sound and aesthetics for the next piece. It’s going to sound a little bit different.

Who are some bands you love that we should know about?

GO: I think locally Romero – shit hot band that a bunch of our buds play in. I used to play drums in the guitarist Ferg’s post-punk band Eyesores years ago when I was cutting my teeth playing my first ever shows. These guys are working on an LP that I am very much looking forward to, it’s really fun rocking power-pop. I really dug the new TOL album, Justin Fuller has influenced me a lot, he’s an amazing guitarist and always creates a very intense atmosphere. It’s like gothic tinged hardcore? I’m really enjoying Snowy Band, beautiful gentle pop and the production is excellent.

What’s something that’s been interesting you lately that you want to share with others?

GO: I recently discovered Japanese cyberpunk metamorphoses films from the early ‘90s. 964 Pinnochio (check out the trailer on YouTube for an idea) is fucking wild, I guess you could describe them as industrialist-fetish films? and the soundtracks is an absolutely incredible mix of techno and ambient selections I’ve never heard. The director Shozin Fukui also directed Rubber’s Lover which is just as twisted as 964 Pinnochio. There’s also Tetsuo The Iron Man which is more well known by Shinya Tsukamoto. These films are very confronting! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Please check out SUPER-X on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram; on Tumblr. Super-X’s self-titled debut album out via Spoilsport Records and Polaks Records.

London Post-Punks Girls In Synthesis: “Elation, anxiety, energy, a closeness…”

Original photo: Bea Dewhurst. Handmade collage by B.

A perfect soundtrack for our time of upheaval, Girls In Synthesis, present a fresh approach to noise-punk, going well beyond, with their long-anticipated debut album Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future. Emotionally intense, urgent, relentlessly questioning, thoughtful, self-aware and highly conscious observers of the world around them, GIS put everything they’ve got into this quintessential album of 2020! Gimmie caught up with bassist-vocalist, John Linger.

Why is it important to you to make music?

JOHN LINGER: Partly because it is an outlet that enables us to direct our aggression and focus into our music and lyrics. Maybe it’s just our chosen form of self-expression…? On the surface of it, it isn’t important that we create music at all. For most, music is purely a form of entertainment, but when you connect with an audience who feel they identify with what you’re putting across, it validates your reasons for projecting your emotions and feelings through music.

How did you first discover music?

JL: My dad was very much into music, so I had that around me growing up. He’s not a musician, but he loves music, and took me to see lots of groups during the early-mid 1990s, despite only being about 12/13 years old. They were really important events for me, I remember them like they happened yesterday. The buzz of waiting for a gig to start was incredible.

Nirvana were probably the first band of my generation to speak to me in the early 1990s, then Blur, then a huge amount of obscure 1960s music and 1970s post-punk. It’s led on from there, really. I’ve never stopped discovering music. I think that’s the same for the three of us, it’s a never ending journey.

When you formed Girls In Synthesis I read that the band wanted the music to “be intense because life is intense” and that The Fall were a foundation in the formation of GIS – the attitude and work ethic more so than the sound; can you tell us a little bit more about these ideas?

JL: The Fall made it clear that a strong work ethic was important, and that dedication to the cause is paramount. The days of sitting around waiting for a record deal to drop through the letterbox are well over, and you can’t wait for other people to start the wheels in motion for you. We work fucking hard, if you can’t do that for yourself and think pissing about in rehearsal rooms and playing a show every 6 months is acceptable, then try another outlet.

The Fall were, alongside Swell Maps, Crass, disco, dub etc, a foundational pillar that spurred us on, but I don’t think we really sound like any of those groups. They’ve all been chewed up and spat out as part of the sound and identity that is GIS. That’s the key to having influences, you have to draw out what you like and absorb it into the fabric of your life. Otherwise, you’re just copying someone.

I know that you had a very strong vision for how you wanted GIS to be, an aspect of that was knowing you wanted a female drummer, which you found in Nicole Pinto; why did you specifically want a female drummer?

JL: I’m not sure, really. We didn’t question it, it was just something that felt right. It’s important to use your instinct and we do a lot, it’s rarely wrong. We also wanted to have a different input and to offset some of the masculine edge to the sort of music we play. All in all, I guess it wasn’t really as important as it seemed, as Nicole was the right drummer for us, the first that we tried out, so it fell in our laps.

We love your new album! What is the story behind the title, Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future? It’s a line from your song “They’re Not Listening”, right?

JL: It is, yeah. I think the phrase has a context in the song, which is about the government’s disregard for the general public and also the inability to learn from previous mistakes. In a wider term, and as a title for the album, I guess it could apply to our music which is informed by the past, but sounds nothing like anyone else, really. It’s also about our tendency to repeat the same mistakes in our lives, as people. Aside from that, it just scans amazingly.

How do you feel the album cover represents the title? Where was the photo taken?

JL: The photo was taken just after New Year in January by our photographer Bea Dewhurst. Jim [Cubitt] works on most of the photographic ideas with her, and we knew we wanted a wide shot that we could wrap around the front and back of the LP cover.

It pans across the whole of the Thames at Surrey Quays, so you see the both the North and South bank of London. The fact that its London doesn’t have any great significance, we just knew we wanted an external shot that was visually arresting, and not reliant on a bloody band photo or some abstract pattern.

Photo: Bea Dewhurst.

I think it links in with the title really well, but that was quite circumstantial. On the right of the shot, you’ve got ‘the future’, with the new office buildings and skyscrapers. On the left, you’ve got the older, 1970s/1980s housing and flats. So the bulldozers haven’t quite got to those yet. Most of central London is being decimated of any history and culture, and becoming another faceless city of glass and shops.

Overall, again, the photo is just amazing. There’s that to consider, too.

You wrote the songs for the album over the course of about three to four months; what was happening in your life or what were you observing happening in the world that inspired your writing? I feel like this album feels more introspective than your EPs.

JL: Yeah, I think it is more introspective. I think when you form a band, you’re full of the wrongs and rights of the world, and that energy that you’re an amorphous machine that can tackle anything head on. But when everything ramps up, and you’re playing live more, there’s more people coming to shows, there’s more expectation…. well, I think that can cause some internalisation.

I wouldn’t say our lives changed hugely over that period, not more than anyone else in the world, but I guess it’s us taking the task to hand a bit more seriously, maybe? Realising that the scope has to widen a little to stay fresh and appropriate. Having said that, there are still some songs that are tackling politics and external issues, so I’d say there’s a nice balance.

You released zines of your collected lyrics and poems called Beyond The Noise; how did this come into being? Why was it important for you to get your lyrics down on paper? Do you feel they sometimes get lost in the noise of the music?

JL: I think sometimes, yes. Also, I’ve got quite a slurred, Thames estury-esque accent at times, so maybe it’s tricky for people to latch on to? I think my diction is clear as a bell, though! Haha. I think the meld of mine and Jim’s voices work so well, so we tend to double up on choruses and parts where we want to hammer the point home. I quite like the lyrics being a bit hard to work out, though. It gets people’s brains working. Everything shouldn’t just be on a plate, you need to put some effort in to stick with it.

We started creating the books early on, though, as we just felt that the aesthetic of them is another part of the puzzle, and it also enabled us to maybe put lyrics and prose out there that didn’t make it into songs. People really seemed to enjoy them, in fact we’ve printed a compendium of them, including the full lyrics of the album, and they look amazing.

Who are the lyricists that you admire? What is it about their words, approach or technique that resonates?

JL: I think Mark E Smith is essentially an unparalleled lyricist, there’s a lot of absurdism and word play in the best of his lyrics, but also lightning-bolt clear realism at times. Lots of room for interpretation, I think, too. I really enjoy the sheer amount of words fit into Crass songs, if not always what they’re saying. Ian Dury’s humour, and again, word play…

On the whole, though, I can’t enjoy lyrics without enjoying the music, too. Probably why I can’t stand Dylan. They go hand in hand for me. I mean, the following is as fucking poetic and important as any cerebral, intellectual nonsense, and set to the music it’s hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff:

When you feel lost and about to give up / ‘Cause your best just ain’t good enough / And you feel the world has grown cold / And you’re drifting out all on your own / And you need a hand to hold: Darling, reach out

The Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

Could you talk a little of your own writing process?

JL: For me, I write at home and I complete demos up to about 80% of being finished, then we add our own elements in the rehearsal room. Ideas might stem from lyrics, or I’ll sit down and try to write music in some form or another. Jim works similarly, although more often he sparks off really exciting ideas which we then complete as a duo.

We don’t write very consistently, but I would say we write 25-30 songs a year, that then gets whittled down for releases. Sometimes the tunes that didn’t make it will be used for something, often not, though. We’re not precious, if something doesn’t work, we discard it. We’re not a ‘jamming’ band, we don’t wait for months and months for something to develop. If it’s not happening in the first 10-15 minutes, we get rid.

There’s a few surprises on your new album; which is your favourite? What influenced it?

JL: I love “Human Frailty” the most. It’s a really, really fucking strange song. And not even just by our standards. I mean by anyone at the moment. The horns on that are incredible, as are the strings (props to funkcutter and Stanley Bad, for those). I also really like “Tirades of Hate and Fear”, that’s a really menacing tune. It’s an amazing album closer, too.

I think broadening the scope of the album, but also making it concise and direct, was at the forefront of our minds when choosing material and getting the arrangements together. We wanted to push the envelope for ourselves a little, and also give some signposts of where we could go in future. We really achieved that, in my opinion. The horns and strings, plus the dub at the end of “Set Up To Fail” have been something nearly everyone who’s listened to the album has mentioned.

The album was recorded over four to five days; do you find it hard to capture the intensity you play the songs live in on recording? How do you capture that spirit? I know you record yourself.

JL: It is difficult. Your immediate thought would be to record live, warts and all, and thrash the living hell out of the songs. But that would kill them stone dead. Although the music is intense and quite confrontational, there’s actually a lot of subtle, but key, things going on UNDER the music. It’s getting that balance right of an aggressive performance but also leaving space for other things underneath.

We do record ourselves, up until now that’s been for time, financial and control reasons, but something will have to change soon. It’s getting too stressful now that the pressure is slightly higher, so it might mean we’ll have to add another outsider to our tiny, creative bubble… perish the thought!

You’ve described your live shows as “unique” and said that doing things the way you do – not playing on a stage and being set-up so you face each other rather than the audience – has “laid some important groundwork”; in what way? What interested you in playing this way?

JL: Really, it was to connect to an audience. We wanted to take the show to them, not drag their attention to us. There’s a good portion of old-fashioned performance and drama to it, too, but on the whole it breaks the barriers down a little and enables the audience to be part of the show. It literally has the opposite effect of the audience you’d think it would. They don’t feel uncomfortable, they loosen up and then THEY want to perform. It’s amazing, really.

What feeling do you get from playing in the crowd?

JL: Elation, anxiety, energy, a closeness I’ve never felt playing music live before… you get every feeling under the sun. There’s always a chance someone will take umbridge and thump you, but they haven’t. I think people know we’re not invading their space, we’re sharing ours with them.

Please check out GIRLS IN SYNTHESIS; GIS on Facebook; GIS on Instagram. Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future out now.