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BIGSOUND 2017 Interview: Willaris. K

 
By on Wednesday, 18th October 2017 at 11:00 am
 

The popular saying “technology is great when it works” implies that when a computer has failed, it’s always a bad result. Not so for Aussie Jack McAllister. Such an error came through when he was searching for a name to perform and release his electronic music as. “Here in Australia, we’ve got RSLs, they’re a local club where there’s a bar and restaurant etc. You walk in, hand over your ID and they scan it [Queensland has an especially strict ID scanning protocol for nightclubs, enacted this year]. Around the time when I started Alchemy in early 2016, I went to the local RSL one day, they scanned my ID, as you can see my ID is fairly scratched, my full name is Jack William McAllister , the machine printed out a receipt that had my name printed as Willaris. K McAllister. At the time I had a few options in mind but as soon as I saw that, I knew that was it.”

It might sound like McAllister has come from out of nowhere, but it’s been years of hard graft in clubs, then working diligently on his own to hone his sound to have arrived at this point. He’ s from the town of Tweed Heads, on the New South Wales side of the border with Queensland but he found himself wanting more musically. “There’s not much of a music scene where I’m from. I started DJing in Coolangatta in 2013, but it wasn’t really the music I was into, so I eventually started driving up here [to the Fortitude Valley of Brisbane] and became a resident at the then Bowler Bar, now TBC Club.”

He spent 3 years as a resident DJ at The TBC Club, one of the BIGSOUND 2017 venues where, essentially, he cut his teeth on what made for successful dance sets. “I was a support DJ. I’d usually jump on straight after the headline act to a full room of people. I learnt so much from that time, from watching what the headline act did right and wrong to feeling comfortable on stage.”

But he had dreams of doing something bigger than just DJing in Brisbane. “Throughout that time I was slowly learning to write my own music, that was from 2013 to 2015. I was at the stage where I could make music, but none was at the level where I wanted it to be, at the level of the artists I looked up to.” He knew he needed to take a different tack. “That was when I completed discarded actually writing music and went back and basically started from scratch. I had a schedule for myself after work, music theory this afternoon, technical synthesiser stuff *this* afternoon, etc. I also started piano lessons then too. I worked really hard at it throughout 2015, then started ‘Alchemy’ in February 2016, and it all led on from there.” As a project, Willaris. K is still in its infancy, McAllister only having launched it in January of this year.

McAllister played several sets during this year’s BIGSOUND, all to incredible audience response. Why is that? It could be because his style of electronic music is unique and intriguing. When I ask him to use some terms to describe his sound to a non-electronic fan, he replies, “I think the easiest one would be a blanket term: emotional dance music. If I dive deeper, there’s definitely elements of techno, house, garage, classical and ambient. I can’t really pigeonhole it, all of the new stuff I’ve written for my album so far sounds different again.”

Being different was part of the plan, he explains. “That was the main goal. Having played in clubs and seeing the trends, I wanted to put in the time to make something completely unique and unheard. If people are hearing it on the radio or in clubs, and they’re aware of ‘Alchemy’, I want them to know it’s me straight away.” It’s impressive, too, that his eclectic style music has already reached beyond the traditional electronic audience: “I’ve had a lot of people tell me, people I wouldn’t ever expect to like my music, like my parents’ friends or people who don’t like electronic music, that they’re into it, usually because there’s an emotional aspect that’s relatable.”

Willaris. K at BIGSOUND 2017
Willaris. K performing at a pop-up caravan venue on Brunswick Street Mall at BIGSOUND 2017

I was at McAllister’s BIGSOUND set at Heya Bar, where I saw him play to a packed room of appreciative dancers grooving to his tunes. Watch a clip of it here on his Facebook. We chat about his approach to his live show and the important he puts on his own performance in front of a crowd. “My main thing is how I format the set emotionally. Especially because for most of this year I only had ‘Alchemy’ out, so playing a set of 90% unreleased stuff was sometimes challenging. I usually start with pretty heavy, like in your face tracks, but then pull it back with a piano track, like ‘River Song’ for example. These extreme peaks and troughs are what I personally enjoy with live music, so that’s how I approach my own. With showcases, it can be hard, you have industry people just watching, you know? So having people dancing is really cool. I get so much more into it when everyone is ‘on my team’ kind of thing. I think that also takes down the barrier between artist and audience, just genuinely enjoying it myself.”

It becomes clear in talking to McAllister that in addition to bringing something new to the electronic music table, he’s keen on making sure his music comes from organic beginnings. This could be attributed to the unpretentious, blue-collar work he once did before turning to music full-time, where he was already thinking about his surroundings and how to make things sound more real. “I’m an electrician, well, an electrical and instrument technician. I worked in big high voltage substations that connect the New South Wales and Queensland power grids together. Each state has its own power grid, so there are six cables that connect them with a substation at each end. I would maintain them, part of that involved inspecting the trays that housed the cables out in the bush. One day I was inspecting the cables, walking along the tray, and I started recording on my iPhone. You can hear me walking, you can hear the birds, it gives you this kind of shitty recording which I like, and I ended up using that particular one in ‘Dour Nights’.”

In the studio, I jump between analogue and digital. I’ll usually just play around on my gear until something worth pursuing starts flowing, then I’ll go in and expand on it in the computer. It’s so much easier to start ideas when everything’s at your fingertips, opposed to looking at a screen with a trackpad. I love having to commit to audio with hardware also, you’ll always end up with happy accidents.”

Australian electronic music is going through a bit of Renaissance these days. Sounds Australia took advantage of the burgeoning scene, putting on a second afternoon Aussie BBQ showcase at SXSW 2017 this year to accommodate so many electronic artists coming out of the country. Gone are the days that an artist would have to leave Oz for Europe to have a chance at success. Being Australian might even be more of a positive. “There’s definitely been a post-Flume apocalypse. There’s been more of a spotlight on Australian electronic music since Flume came out. In a way, he also gave birth to a whole new genre. You hear it everywhere now, a lot of the electronic pop music now is influenced by what he started. The rest of the world is definitely aware (of Australian electronic), guys like Nick Murphy (aka Chet Faker) and (the ARIA-winning dance band) RÜFÜS are doing big shows overseas.” Beyond Oz, McAllister has already been discovered by none other than BBC Radio 1’s Pete Tong, which is quite promising.

So what’s next for Willaris. K? McAllister will be playing his first shows outside Australia, in New Zealand, at New Year’s time. With an ear for something beguiling different to offer the electronic music fans of this world, his time in the sun (or should I say night?) in Europe will come soon.

To catch up on all my past coverage on Willaris. K, use this link. All my BIGSOUND 2017 coverage is through here.

 

BIGSOUND 2017: Day 3 Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 27th September 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

The conference portion of BIGSOUND 2017 had an admirable, multiprong approach to addressing the gender divide in the global music business. On a general level, they made a concerted effort to include plenty of female panelists in their sessions. Specifically, they offered a session on Thursday (repeated on Friday) called No More Manels! Public Speaking for Women in the Music Industry, led by Alison Wenham, CEO of Worldwide Independent Network (WIN) and advocate for women to be confident in this male-dominated business. (On Tuesday, to open BIGSOUND, a Women in Music mixer at Eleven rooftop bar as a nice networking event. Another session I attended on Wednesday, Hook-Ups: Gender and Music, had less focus than Wenham’s session and I found it less useful.)

Wenham gave a kind of toolkit to provide encouragement to women asked to speak on their expertise, whether as standalone speakers or as part of a panel, and underscored the difference between men and women when asked to speak in these capacities. While I didn’t agree with all the negative generalisations she made about men in the business and those overwhelming positive towards women given my own experiences, I could see her talk as being a good starting point, as if a therapy session, for women who have felt particularly downtrodden and marginalised in this industry and simply for the fact of being a woman.

I also attended the What Brexit Means for Your Band session. I think it suffered from lack of attendance due to the concurrent sessions on syncs, the technology of live music and the role of labels. I was attending because I was curious whether Northern Irish duo exmagician’s threat of not touring in America if Trump was elected would occur, not because of what has happened in America but because of the prohibitive cost of British artists touring Europe once hard Brexit takes hold. Of the three panelists, two were from England (one a gig booker and another booking festivals) and the third was Clémence Bizien from Paris, a representative of a promoter from the Continent. Clémence pointed a positive of Brexit that I couldn’t have predicted, because I wouldn’t have thought about it this way: the Brits have been lording over those on the Continent for years, looking down on them, that Brexit might mean the Brits will have to swallow their pride, be nice and not demand as much from their Continental cousins. If you think about this on a wider scale, especially given that BIGSOUND takes place in Australia, a former British colony traditionally looked upon as subordinate to Britain, maybe it would do the British music industry some good to be humbled.

At the Data and the Independent Artist session, I was eager to pick up tips and nuggets of advice that I could pass along to artists we champion here on TGTF. It was interesting to hear that the reach of Facebook Messenger is predicted to be bigger and to replace email as the medium of choice to reach punters before and during festivals and other events. The take home message I got from the session was that there’s plenty of data being collected by labels, streaming services and loads of other entities, but many of these collectors don’t really know what they have or how to use it. The same can be said about artists themselves, and like most things in this business, there is no ‘one size fits all’ formula of collecting and then using data as part of an implemented promotional campaign. Sobering, but the truth.

Braille Face Thursday afternoon at BIGSOUND 2017

I have to admit that I was losing steam by this point and the thought of returning to my flat to take a nap was very enticing. I somehow soldiered on to see Braille Face for a second time, at an unofficial showcase at Bloodhound Bar. I was rewarded for showing up by getting to see Jordan White perform not only with a violinist as at his Tuesday performance in the basement of The Judith Wright Centre with his drummer and horn-playing friends. For sure, the Bloodhound Bar receives my top marks for best unconventional indoor venue during BIGSOUND where alcohol was also available, ha.

Willaris K. Thursday afternoon at BIGSOUND 2017

I was next on to the best unconventional outdoor venue of the festival, the pop-up stage on Brunswick Street Mall. Well, maybe pop-up stage is the wrong terminology to use. Electronic producer Willaris K., who wowed a crowd of sweaty bodies Wednesday night at Heya Bar, held court from within a tiki-themed caravan. Never in a million years would I imagine I’d see a DJ spinning from such a vehicle, and I probably will never see one like it again. It may sound strange, but the fact that you could sit down, rest your legs and enjoy his detailed soundscapes after 2 days of running after bands was pure bliss. You’re going to have to trust me on this.

 

BIGSOUND 2017: Day 2 Roundup (Part 3)

 
By on Tuesday, 26th September 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

From The Empire Hotel where Mama Kin Spender brought the house down and finished to raucous applause, my Wednesday night BIGSOUND 2017 rolled on to the TBC Club. I get it that it’s designed to be a space for DJs and their dance-inclined fans (more on that in a future BIGSOUND 2017-related feature), but I felt the next artist on the bill there didn’t quite fit right for the venue. Maybe I had already become jaded by the festival, but the smooth, honeyed vocals of Adelaide’s Lonelyspeck (real name Sione Teumohenga) made me wonder why, like they do for conventional singer/songwriters, they hadn’t given him a stool to sit on.

Lonelyspeck Wednesday night at BIGSOUND 2017

Given the melding of pop, r&b and electronic we’re seeing in the States and the UK and in ways we wouldn’t have imagined a generation ago, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to me how much r&b inflection there is Teumohenga’s vocals and the overall vibe of his music. I guess if you’re reading this and you don’t fancy electronic but you love smooth r&b, then you should definitely embrace Lonelyspeck.

From r&b and Lonelyspeck, the rest of my evening was populated with dance and electronic acts from Sydney, Brisbane, and even a place found between them. Like all good electronic producer acts appearing at a music festival, Polographia were at BIGSOUND not to risk pretension but with one single goal, to throw a dance party to end all dance parties. Upstairs at the Mane Stage of The Woolly Mammoth, which had quickly become my favourite festival venue on par with Latitude 30 at SXSW, Sydney producers Moktar Youngblood and Daniel Finn were achieving that goal.

I arrived mid-set to squeeze myself between and past sweaty, dancing punters who were getting a workout to their take on chill wave and dance. To make things more lively in the live setting, Youngblood and Finn played guitars and drums live to previously recorded parts, much to the delight of the crowd who whupped it up every time there was an obvious instrumental flourish they’d thrown in as an ad lib. I think I would have been quite happy staying there, had they played a full gig at the Mammoth. Alas, I had a date with another artist…

What a difference 2 hours make. Earlier, Resin Moon’s set at Heya Bar was dreamily sleepy, and I didn’t mind it, as it’s nice to be able to sway to your fave electronic music without having the umpteenth person invade your personal space. No such luck upon my return to the club. I guess if you’re an extremely extroverted person who enjoys being squished up in a crowd while you’re dancing, this would have been your idea of heaven? Yes, I am a funny one when it comes to dance parties.

Willaris K., who described at an interview on Friday that he was from a tiny town on the border between Queensland and New South Wales, was up on the decks. When I finally was able to squeeze my body into the main room, I could barely make him out from his pedestal in the corner of the club. This didn’t matter much since I could hear everything he was doing. It was obvious from the gyrating clubgoers around me that were simultaneously in ecstasy over the beats, while simultaneously trying to secure their patch of real estate on the floor.

Unlike the big names in EDM that tend to make electronic music cold to a lot of people, Willaris K. is one of several rising stars coming up keen in doing something different, making interesting and unexpected sounds and turning what used to be pretty predictable electro on its head. In my interview with Willaris K. coming soon to TGTF, he’ll explain more on his songcraft and how important it was to him to hone this craft. At this point, all you really need to know – and what I hope will encourage you to investigate his music further – is that he’s intelligent about how to write and put an electronic song together, taking ambient music to another level with mood and texture. It’s impossible to put his music into words further, so check out his debut track ‘Alchemy’ below.

Back to the Woolly Mammoth’s downstairs Alehouse stage, this time for local young wonder Yoste, which supposedly rhymes with ‘lost’ according to his Twitter. Unlike Dave Bayley of Glass Animals who never managed to complete his medical degree, Kurt Sines just completed his law degree 2 months before this BIGSOUND, and I guess he can actually practise law once he passes the bar. However, just like Bayley, he’d much rather do music and hopes his current musical project will lead to a sustainable career.

Yoste Wednesday night at BIGSOUND 2017

And who’s to stop him, when he can put out some truly stunning pieces of electronic with emotion, cool as a spare finger snap, and at such a young age? The guy’s got serious talent on guitar and synth, as he proves through the rework below of a beloved Vera Blue track that the Yoste touch is golden. As a general rule, I don’t like falsetto, though I suspect Sines will be up there with Hayden Thorpe (Wild Beasts) and Jonathan Higgs (Everything Everything) soon enough if he keeps the quality of his tunes up. Despite an issue with a laptop acting up (who knew that laptops had to be fixed at a certain height to work properly onstage? Is this an Aussie thing?) and some difficulty with some annoying feedback crunches that shouldn’t be there, Sines got through it like a seasoned performer.

If you’ve done any research over the last few years for indie synthpop bands from Australia, Mansionair were sure to have come up at the top of your search. I know they did for me when they first came out to SXSW in 2015, the year after they released their ‘Hold Me Down’ EP. Earlier this year, they guested on Seattle duo and fellow synthpop act ODESZA, and there’s an air of anticipation hearing that they’ve finished an album and we won’t have long to wait to hear it. Well, that’s me being hopeful!


Mansionair Wednesday night at BIGSOUND 2017

While I was heartbroken I wasn’t able to fit them in on their return visit to Austin this year, I felt like I had a lucky star shining down on me so I could see them at BIGSOUND instead. It’s very special to cover a band in their home country, and so was seeing Mansionair in front of their local and very devoted fans. Many acts performing at this year’s festival were still in their early days of being an artist or group, only now just starting to find their feet. With all their gigging experience up to this point under their belts, Mansionair showed everyone how it’s done.

Their single ‘Easier’, released last year, is a prime example of this. Lead singer Jack Froggatt’s heart-wrenching lyrics on the sense of frustration that you’re going nowhere fast, with nowhere to go, is such a universal feeling, one of isolation and failure. They wrote it to be inspirational, to give hope that things do get better. Having been through some pretty dark days myself, a song like this is like an anchor for those days when you feel afloat with no mooring. The fact that Mansionair can convey such feelings, using such a beguiling combination of beats, synths and guitars to heighten the emotion, it’s like magic.

 

TGTF X BIGSOUND 2017 Playlist: Editor Mary’s best bets (O-Y)

 
By on Thursday, 31st August 2017 at 11:00 am
 

In this final installment of the TGTF X BIGSOUND 2017 playlist, I introduce you to the remaining 12 of 24 acts I’ve chosen as best bets for this year’s BIGSOUND. Australia’s premier emerging music extravaganza will take place in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley 5-8 September next month. Last Thursday, I presented the first 12 acts from Ariela Jacobs to Mammals, and you can read my thoughts on each of them through this link. And the week prior on 17 August, I set my focus on Brisbane’s local talent being given a shout to BIGSOUND 2017. Some of the acts you will read about today were part of the previously posted Brisbane artist playlist. You can read about those artists in the associated feature and listen to them back here.

I’m looking at my coming over for my first BIGSOUND as TGTF’s opportunity to truly get stuck into the Australian music scene, and I’m very excited. If there are any Aussies out there who have further recommendations on who I should see, Tweet me @theprintedword, and I’ll see what I can do about adding the band to my schedule. A playlist with all 24 acts I recommend as best bets at BIGSOUND 2017 is at the bottom of this post.

OKBADLANDS (Brisbane; pop / rock)
Kate Gurren and Sally Latter are Queensland duo OKBADLANDS. Upon hearing them, you will be surprised of their backgrounds: Gurren’s university study of jazz and Latter’s more conventional bass work in indie bands. These gal pals create an interesting blend of not quite rock, not quite pop, and yet a still engaging mélange of the two that draws you in.

Osaka Punch (Brisbane; funk / metal)
What’s great about a music festival that puts homegrown talent on show like BIGSOUND is that you’re going to get some wild card acts that put traditional genres on their proverbial heads. Osaka Punch aren’t your ordinary rock band. Sure, they can wail on guitars and hit the skins like the best of them, but they also can be as funky as hell. Can metal and funk fuse successfully? Yes. You can also tell that they’re having a whale of a time with music, which is what we need in these cartoony times.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3K9E3avjWQ[/youtube]

Pandamic (Rockhampton; pop / rock)
With the introduction of synths everywhere, even infiltrating what seems to be most of the Aussie music scene, a band like Pandamic is a breath of fresh air. They’re showing how it can be done with a more traditional rock band setup, wearing plaid and making it sound easy. What they’ve managed to do has already caught the eyes and ears of fellow Queenslanders and well known established group Dune Rats, who signed Pandamic to their Ratbag Records label.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5azpjwl5jiM[/youtube]

Polographia (? ; dance / electronic)
Time to take things back to the dance floor. I’m not sure where Polographia are from, but I do know it’s the brainchild of two people, Daniel and Moktar, who are “Tryin’ to keep it real in a digital world.” This is the kind of music current era Phoenix wish they could make.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMbhQuNSsvY[/youtube]

Resin Moon (Alice Springs; dream pop / electronic)
So you’re telling me you need something much more chill, and the award-winning Dave Crowe’s electronic project Resin Moon is, then, perfect for you. Having dream pop qualities that keep the electronic elements of the music from getting too intellectual (you know what I mean) makes Crowe’s music beautifully accessible to all.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlQfX44tpBU[/youtube]

Scalphunter (Perth; hard rock)
But some of you prefer your rock edgy and hard. Fast-paced, in your face rock from a Best Live Act nominee in the debut National Live Music Awards last year, Scalphunter are a no-brainer if you’re looking for your brain to get pummeled a bit at BIGSOUND this year.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=russvSdlbd0[/youtube]

Slow Dancer (Fremantle; pop / rock)
I have included Simon Okley’s solo project here because he’s unlike anyone else showcasing in Brisbane next month. Instead of trying to run with what’s hip and hot at the moment like everyone else, Okley hasn’t forgotten where we came from. He embraces what made rock music in its earliest days: great songwriting driven by melodic guitar, exemplified by Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young, two acts his sound has been compared to.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghnjAV1GZdk[/youtube]

Thandi Phoenix (Sydney; pop / r&b)
Smoky, soulful pop: that’s Sydney’s Thandi Phoenix. What keeps her head and shoulders with the rest of her contemporaries is her integration of wholly modern beats with her r&b vocals and her willingness to collaborate with others, which has become more important these days in a truly global music industry. Watch out, Alicia Keys. Thandi’s about to shove you over and off your piano bench.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCUZfmF8ko4[/youtube]

The Beautiful Monument (Melbourne; punk rock)
Sure, there’s plenty of single girls with guitars singing about heartbreak, and others singing other people’s pop songs in high pitches. But when was the last time you heard an arse-kicking, all-girl group? Probably PINS, right? Fearless and ready to rock just as hard as the guys, if not harder, I couldn’t be prouder as a female music editor that a group like theirs exists.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PW29qdUxIE[/youtube]

WAAX (Brisbane; rock / punk / indie)
With a sneer and ‘tude, the angst game of WAAX is strong. They’re fronted by female vocalist Marie DeVita, so the comparisons to Siouxsie and the Banshees and Yeah Yeah Yeahs seem too obvious. Compelling vocals with equally compelling rock: brilliant.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n4ZJidgaXg[/youtube]

Willaris K. (NSW; electronic / experimental)
With Will Doyle ditching his East India Youth moniker, I’ve been wondering who will pick up the experimental, yet emotional electronic mantle. Jack McAllister is going to take a good shot at this. There’ s a lot one can do with synthesisers, and McAllister does a good job of weaving ambient soundscapes full of texture and points of interest. And like any electronic producer worth his salt, he’s an excellent DJ too, so I expect he’ll be entertaining the masses in Brisbane.

Yoste (Brisbane; dance / electronic)
It seems rather appropriate to end my best bets list with an artist I think should serve as the most effective musical ambassador for his country, like Daithi is for Ireland. Kurt Sines has named Bon Iver, James Blake and Jonsi as big influences on his art, and it’s not hard to imagine his music soundtracking tourism adverts showcasing the beauty of Australia and its people. Fresh and light on its feet, Yoste’s music is equally chill and gorgeous.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOBkeMDStDw[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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