Sunday, 23 December 2012

Interview with Yolanda Be Cool

You may have heard of Yolanda Be Cool from a fairly well known track of theirs scattered with cheeky trumpets, Latino verses and general dance-floor swashing. The pair has just issued a product recall claiming that “the beats are no longer fresh” and that the song has taken over their entire image – just in time for the release of their album Ladies and Mentalmen. We got speaking to one half of the Sydney-based dance duo, Johnson “Durango Slim” Peterson, on the creation of the album and freaky fan interpretations.

“I think there are a billion, to be honest. I mean some funny ones are like seeing a group of Arabian men in their gear, dancing to the songs – it’s kind of funny. There’s definitely a few.”

If you haven’t checked out the press conference – basically we’re urged to destroy any digital or analog version (“if anyone still has a CD player! – Johnson questions) of the infamous track. Two years on, despite the international craze Yolanda Be Cool has surpassed the fame of that one hit. “I’d like to think an album establishes you in some way or another past ‘emerging’. A good two years of our lives have gone into that.”

Ladies and Mentalmen has only been purchasable for a week or so, but it seems that so far the reception has been positive. “The people that have been telling us they love it have been saying they love that it’s not what they expected. We listen to new music everyday so it’s sort of inspired by all of the new and old music around. I think people are definitely vibing on the fact that it’s really eclectic and offers something for everyone.”

Everyone - is not far from correct- with the boys already having harnessed fans from all corners of the globe. This year touring locations included Tokyo, Budapest, Paris, Johannesburg and summer staple Ibiza. For Johnson, it’s hard to remember off the top of his head since they’ve covered so much ground. “We’ve definitely seen some cool places but it’s equally exciting to be home, we’re really happy about that.”

Maybe they’re so happy because they have escaped their Swiss lovers.

“I think the weirdest thing was when we played in Switzerland once we had these two old guys, I’m sure they weren’t really fans because they just didn’t seem like people that were into music. They printed out big A4 posters of ourselves and were waiting in our hotel but they wanted us to sign that and they were probably hoping that one day it would become valuable. So I guess they’re still waiting for that day but it was kind of weird at the time, like how do you know we’re staying here?”

Back home, Johnson agrees that it’s a great time to be in the Australian dance scene with 2012 bringing less commercial acts to the surface. In terms of artists to watch – he rattles off a list: Playmo (definitely), Casino (really exciting, we’re loving it), Indian Summer and What So Not as well as Ajax, Danny T. and Parachute Youth. “We’ve been back for a few weeks and seeing all the parties that are springing up, it seems that the commercial scene is taking a back step to cool, good parties.”

And at these cool, good parties where the two perform, it’s usually formal on top and party on the bottom. Johnson says that the tendency to suit up! references the vibe of the song recalled. “It’s how do you distinguish yourself from every other DJ wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans. There’s nothing wrong with looking good! We don’t wear suits to an office so we may as well suits to the club from time to time.”

When asked about the dynamics of working in a duo, Johnson finds expression from Ajax: “We always use his quote, something like ‘sex is pretty good by yourself but it’s better with someone else.’ It applies especially when we do spend a lot of time on the road. God, I’d hate to be that guy in the airport queue by himself for two hours. Whereas, with Sylvester, we’re just constantly talking shit or making plans or going over stuff but it’s definitely a lot more fun with someone else. And in terms of the writing process, it’s quite comforting because we know we’re going to get an honest opinion.”

Ladies and Mentalmen sees many a music guest ranging from funk/soul veteran Betty Wright to dance diva Crystal Waters. Johnson said that it wasn’t really a case of having a wish list as many of the collaborations came about from being in the right place at the right time. When the boys were working in a studio in Miami, some top-notch voices heard their beats, enjoyed, and ended up recording for their album.  

“We didn’t have anything written for her but we played her some tracks and she listened, chose one, and then in one take she did a perfect recording of what became ‘Paper Girl’. So that was all pure chance.”

Never mind working with American artists - YBC also looked closer to home for talent, featuring indigenous artist Gurrumul on ‘A Baru in New York’. Johnson said that it’s their next single to be released and in the near future will be working on a music video…hopefully on Gurrumul’s island. Taking into consideration the fact that he has previously rejected collaborations with Elton John, and Sting, it’s no surprise that everyone went quiet when he accepted.  

Johnson hopes that the variety in atmosphere makes its way to listeners. Traditionally Yolanda Be Cool tunes are for the club but Johnson said that in envisioning the album, the pair was keen to create something which could exist on its own and not just as singles.

“We kept going back to groups like Groove Armada, Basement Jaxx – artists that can write club bangers but then they’ll also write a ballad or a trip-hop track. Their albums are like real experiences that take across different genres and that was sort of our reference point.”

“We’ve programmed the album so it can be listened to as a whole rather than track by track - so it does sort of have its peaks and troughs, the slower tracks lead into the faster tracks, and vice versa and you know emotional followed by party.”

If you want to catch the guys in their hometown, YBC will be playing at the NYE Pacha Party at the Ivy in Sydney. There are also NYD performance plans in the making which Johnson can’t quite tell us about yet…

Meanwhile…some advice from the album intro:  Stay cool motherfuckers y’all know the rules! Stay cool!

Published on Purple Sneakers.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Tame Impala at the Enmore Theatre

Tame Impala have done their fair share of live performances - at festivals, concert halls and even television studios - but it never seems that the band is sick of playing their music live. For a group with only two albums worth of songs, it doesn't leave much room for changing the set list. However, Tame Impala's performance at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney re-created the distinct nostalgic yet contemporary atmosphere which characterises their music.

Kevin Parker and his band appeared in the darkness as silhouettes, outlined by the vivid back lighting among a haze of smoke on stage. It was a dramatic opening, and didn't seem to bother the crowd who was clearly happy enough to listen to the music without worrying too much about what was going on on stage.

There was a welcome mix of tracks from their latest album Lonerism, 2009 debut Innerspeaker and even pre-album days with 'Half Full Glass of Wine' closing the set in an extended outro. Despite the fact that most of the lyrics were lost in the instrumentals and reverb, there were plenty of sing-a-long moments (especially 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards'). It seems that the Tame Impala music does well in a dark, enclosed space although it can't begin to feel any spacier after a few of their psychedelic tracks.

After a string of live performances in the second half of 2012, it's clear that the band has become a very cohesive unit with a seamless show and energetic impro at parts. Their music existing on the album is very produced and so it's great to be able to see the band emulate the deep, sonic feeling of the recorded version. What is great about a live show is the jamming in-between tracks - Parker knew how to keep his audience on the hook with jazzed-up breaks in the middle of hits such as 'Lucidity' and 'Elephant' showcasing the experimental scope of a live Tame Impala.

After a few rambunctious moments in the crowd - stage-diving and circling in a pit - Kevin tried to calm everyone down and most people got back to either swaying along with the hypnotic tunes or dancing frenetically immersed in  bass-driven jams. Although their music is something utterly unique in the Australian scene, it would have been nice for the band to leave some space in between tracks but it's clear that they're not out there to promote a personality or chat up the audience. Never mind the bass player and hair-thrashing drummer keeping to themselves. Let it be.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Australian Ballet's 'Swan Lake'

In an era of hyper-stimulation, short attention spans and fast-forward entertainment, it can seem that the ballet has no place in the commercial arts scene. However, a sold-out season of Swan Lake at the Sydney Opera House as put on by the Australian Ballet indicates a public craving quality performance and remarkably only small changes were made to the classic ballet which resonates despite a shift in audience tastes.

In some ways, it was more of a minimalist production with the dancers occupying the entire stage - free of heavy props or set. Stephen Baynes, choreographer, allowed the artists to showcase their skill while leaving space to tell the story. No words were spoken, but the expression shone through the emotionally complex characters and their choices.

For a classical ballet, Swan Lake relies heavily on the company to support the principal duo. At times there were a few slip-ups among the group but overall the cast executed the choreography in time, sensitively and honestly. Tchaikovsky's monumental score is essential to the production and chief conducter Nicolette Fraillon lead a fine orchestra through the key moments, both dramatic and more lighthearted.

It is impossible to overlook the artistry of the principal dancers, with Adam Bull as Prince Seigfreid displaying a perceptive and expressive performance, navigating the dynamics of the Prince's journey and communicating the awe-inspiring love which marks the ballet. Amber Scott, as the main swan, appears so fragile and innocent, that her strength in lifts and leaps seems illusory. At first, in the establishing ballroom scenes, those unfamiliar with the story will feel lost and disconcerted, especially due to the little dancing but the following act blooms into a powerful piece.

When Amber Scott returns to the stage donned in all black, as Odile, she suddenly emulates the wicked yet seductive famed character of the ballet. The solos of the second act are astounding - the ballerinas, both male and female, let loose and dance with the utmost passion and technique. Stephen Baynes allows each dancer his or her space between the plot-driven moments and it seems neither over-the-top nor over-performed.

There are some modern tricks with lighting and background which create even more of a spooky atmosphere than established by the cast. The hand-painted moonlit sets are a complementary and romantic backdrop to the action. It really is a case of all elements of the performance coming together in a meaningful way.

The final scene of the ballet reaches the height of haunting with the company flooding the stage around the two estranged lovers. Unlike most interpretations, there is no visual death or suicide, yet it is still such a moving scene without any words. The orchestra draws on the high tension and the effect visually, of all the swan dancers fluttering about in an organised chaos, is something special.

The Australian Ballet 2012 summer Swan Lake performances certainly serve justice to the original and interpret it in a fresh yet romantic manner. A must-see for ballet fans and new audiences alike.