Dreaming of electric beats

Five lessons from the Inner West’s burgeoning electronic scene, feat. Kassia Aksenov.

Sweet eclectic thumps, tinkly high-hat simulator sounds, then insert soothing vocals. There’s a build-up and the beats going to drop (we think) but instead the bass turns out a groovy pulse and suddenly all the complex layering of sounds makes sense. This year Splendour in the Grass has some of our Inner West musicians on the line-up, almost all peddling their own style of electronic beats.

A chat with long-time Inner Westie Paul Mac, born and bred local twin producers Cosmo and Patrick Liney of Cosmo’s Midnight and Inner West enthusiast George Nicholas of Seekae let me in on what it takes to get started as an electronic music artist, and how the Inner West has played a role in transforming these ‘bedroom producers’ of electronic music into some of Australia’s biggest festival highlights.

Move to the Inner West

All the artists agreed that the Inner West is integral to what they do. Artists and young people have flocked to the Inner West for decades and with venues like The Vanguard, The Factory Theatre and the Newtown Social Club, former ‘Sando’ at one’s doorstep, it’s no wonder!

“It used to be cheaper to rent here which attracted students, musicians and people on the dole that led to a creative environment,” Paul Mac says.

The electronic music scene has also thrived over the years. “There have always been really good electronic parties happening in secret venues in warehouses around the Inner West, even if they are not supposed to hold them,” Paul said.

Getting out there

Getting people to listen to your music is often one of the biggest challenges today’s music groups face. Social media truly does play a large role in artists delivering their music to their audience. While in some ways this has made it easier for artists to get a following it also has its own set of challenges.

“Before social media you often had to pay for advertising, street press or do endless poster runs yourself to get your name out there,” Paul says. “It’s easier now but also a lot harder because there are so many people out there, so how do you cut through the noise.”

By his own admission George from Seekae says they have never been that good at self-promotion, which shows that success is achievable even for the social media non-savvy. This is where musicians’ pretty faces, contacts and management come in handy.

It’s all about who you know

If you have noticed that everyone in the music industry seems to know one another, let me tell you that you are not the only one. It’s true, musos tend to stick together. “It’s always going to be cliquey because it’s based on who is cool… that’s how the scene evolves, you show up and support bands and hope that they show up to your gig, it’s a two-way street. If I love them I’ll ask them if they want to write a song together or do a collaboration,” Paul says.

Often management help facilitate networking and collaborations.

“Some groups under our management Astral People are constantly working together and helping each other on projects, they tend to cross-pollinate. Just like us and Basenji.” Cosmo (one half of Cosmo’s Midnight) explains.

Cosmo says it’s also about how you network socially. “We recently went to a house party in the Inner West and pretty much everyone in the electronic music scene was at that party. Even if it’s unspoken there definitely is a group kind of vibe.”

Knowing people in the industry is certainly not the be all and end all but it can help you to achieve success, it is often about making connections and utilising them.

Artists with money go further than ones who don’t

Does having some financial support behind your music project determine your success? It definitely helps! But it is not all it takes. Most music groups start up with little finance and receive money later.

“Money helps in that you can buy equipment and you don’t have to work every day. It’s really noble to say ‘I do music just for the love and not for the money’ but it’s very difficult to do music without some form of funding. We [Seekae] tried to do that balancing act. We worked and then had to tell our employers that we were going away on tour for a couple of weeks. We ended up losing a lot of jobs collectively,” George says.

Paul also acknowledges how time spent at an unrelated job can cost you creatively.

“I think money is just time, If you are working 40 hour weeks it’s hard to have the time to develop and try ideas out. The trick is to live on as little money as you can so you can spend as much time as you can.”

The positive thing is that music can open up new doors and that musicians can earn an income from making music outside of their primary music group.

Gigs are where it’s really at

It’s amazing how artists can adapt from playing in their own bedroom, to turning their production into a live act. If you have ever been to an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) gig you will know that the energy exuberated by the DJ producers is out of control. Taking this concept to a festival and delivering an equally outstanding experience is difficult for these musicians to master. Often they must alter their sets to adapt to their crowd and environment, while ensuring they stay true to their creative vision; what has attracted people in the first place.

“In a club you can play whatever you want and people are going to like it whereas at festivals you are playing primarily your own music,” Cosmo says.

“I get more nervous for festivals. Intricate music can get lost at a festival with the speakers, open-air space and masses of people. In a club there are massive speakers and the dynamics mean anything you play is guaranteed to generate throughout the entire crowd. Club shows are fun because they are sweaty and energetic,” Pat says.

So, if you haven’t already, why not slide your socks into a local EDM gig and experience the magic for yourself.

Local Knowledge

Best place to get a caffeine hit in the Inner West?
Paul: Southend on King St
Cosmo: I don’t really drink coffee
Pat: Two Chaps or Brewtown, I only drink coffee because of Basenji

The ultimate Inner West collaboration would be…
Paul: Love Club DJs and Paul Mac (a project that’s in the making!)
Cosmo and Pat: Cosmo’s Midnight and Basenji

Best place in the Inner West to have a schooner in the sun?
Paul: Upstairs at the Townie if you get a window seat
Cosmo: I like drinking in Camperdown Park
Pat: There is something about drinking in parks in the Inner West that is almost cultural

The best place to have a dance in the Inner West is?
Paul: Tokyo Sing Song
Cosmo and Pat: The Imperial

My favourite Inner West place to get a feed is….
Paul: If we’re talking fancy pants probably Bloodwood
Cosmo and Pat: PHD in Marrickville

The Inner West is trendy because….
Paul: There are more hairdressers per capita on King St than any other street
Cosmo: We’ve lived here for 22 years, haha, nah….
Pat: Because it’s a student place and it’s younger than anywhere else in Sydney