OF CURSE, MY DEAR
In the Western suburbs of Melbourne, Sunshine is a large multicultural urban centre populated by a complex mix of peoples, united in the main by their struggle to remain above the breadline. Proudly working class, its large population of unemployed young people has translated into an unfair focus on criminal and welfare issues, eschewing its historical contribution to Melbourne's development. Here you're as likely to see newly arrived migrants, walking down the street passing old diggers, as junkies, schoolkids or first time home buyers. In Sunshine anything's possible, and it's fitting that I'm here at the local kebab house to meet with Raceless, MC and focal point of the innovative fringe hiphop group Curse Ov Dialect, an outfit themselves not all that short on possibilities. Raceless has called Sunshine home for the past couple of years, partly in order 'to keep it real,' possibly due to the cheaper rent that living outside some of the trendier inner urban areas of Melbourne affords, and also to indulge to his self-professed love of absurdity which, in a suburb like Sunshine, you can't escape from.
'With our music, absurdity and sociology go hand in hand,' he offers between mouthfuls of his lamb kebab. 'That's the whole thing, our music was never weird before. It's always been political, but I think the more you bang your head against the wall when it comes to being at odds with other people's minds, the more crazy you get and the more absurd you have to become in your mind, just to know, "God I'm a fucking weirdo. What I do is different to other people." And eventually you become absurd and I think that's what happened to Curse.'
As with all absurdity there is an underlying serious side to Curse, and this is an aspect that Raceless is keen to articulate. 'It's got a lot of socio-political meaning behind it, mixed with the crazy stuff as well,' he suggests. 'It was born from politics. I'd call it sociological avant-garde hiphop or multicultural experimental hiphop. Our music, aesthetically, we take from all over the place.'
What separates Curse from their contemporaries, aside from their innovative, and at times peculiar sounds, is their amazingly energetic and theatrical live show, where the outfit deliver their messages in bizarre and confusing costumes. Creating an upbeat hiphop pantomime experience, the Curse's show is worlds away from the posturing and image manipulation that contemporary hiphop suffers from. Forget brand name tracksuits, basketball singlets and baseball caps turned backwards, this is an outfit who are taking hiphop to a whole other level, taking as much from Faxed Head as Public Enemy. 'You know when you see a traditional hiphop gig there's two rappers and a DJ most of the time,' suggests Raceless. 'We just thought that's really boring most of the time so lets have more fun with it. It wasn't a conscious gimmicky decision, we just did it to be more fun.'
What began with a clown wig or a stupid assortment of similarly ridiculous outfits for a 'serious' hiphop outfit to wear, soon developed into more elaborate guises for the Curse. They also began to see a link between the costumes and their internal philosophies. 'Recently it's worked well with our aesthetics,' reports Raceless, 'because one of the rappers in Curse, Vulk Mackadonski, wears the Macedonian folk costume when he performs on stage. It's becoming more like our costumes signify ethnic diversity and influences, like the whole literal meaning of wearing your influence on your sleeve.'
Ethnic diversity is integral to Curse's message and line-up. Current members of the quintet include Raceless, Vulk Mackadonski, their DJ Paso Bionic, Atarungi, (who's name not only is the Maori word for witchdoctor but wants it known that he believes that all humans are just energy, not necessarily the products of ethnicity), and August 2 (the date of World Anglo Indian Day), who apparently keeps changing his name. Not only is there a large degree of significance in the names of each member and the associated underlying meanings, but each name also tends to reflect each members own particular obsessions that manifests itself in their raps. Each member, as Raceless will say repeatedly during our discussion, is very much on his own trip. 'Atarungi and August 2 are more poets, while me and Vulk are more rappers,' reports Raceless. 'Those guys even sing and vocalise in other ways. It's four vocalists and all of them do different things. And our DJ wears Adidas clothes so he's got the hiphop.'
Despite their crazed, energetic and at times seemingly out of control live show, Raceless is cautious about how Curse are perceived, concerned that the humour and weirdness of their live shows may dilute their message in some people's eyes. For him it's important to stress that not only does Curse have a deep and profound love of hiphop, but their approach, which has evolved over the years, initially came from within, with little consideration as to how the band are perceived. 'It's people who are just free and they want to let themselves go, and if it happens to be scary then what can you do,' he offers. 'We're not doing it purposely to be scary. We're just being ourselves. Because I'm the only one who really does that. The rest of the guys pretty much do their thing. I'm the one that ends up stripping naked. It's not very hiphop I know thatÉ' He laughs for a moment before reconsidering. 'I reckon it's hiphop. I reckon people should start doing it. Breaking out the chains of what hiphop is supposed to be about.'
'I think Australia's got a pretty conservative music scene as well,' he continues. 'And when we get up there we're looking at the whole world and the whole normality of the world. Everyone's so straight so we let ourselves go. It just comes out. It's not premeditated. It's like therapy. Social therapy. As long as people understand the message. I hate when people only focus on the performance.'
Though occasionally it's hard not to. A few nights earlier at the Empress of India Hotel, before a set by legendary Melbourne free jazz outfit Bucketrider, Raceless was on stage in a different guise. Under the moniker of Slesmr Tape and Videotape, he and a few others blended together an interesting concoction of live-for-the-moment improvised hiphop. Featuring piano, flute, drums, samples and three MCs, their sounds were a crazed mash of beats, chaos and wails amidst peculiar moments of unexpected cohesiveness. As always Raceless was in fine form, producing frantic streams of unconsciousness rapping and spasming through numerous schizophrenic personalities within the one sentence. Samples clashed, percussion and flute struggled valiantly to catch up as Raceless and fellow Curse member Vulk Mackadonski strutted and wailed around stage. 'You thought Curse Ov Dialect was weird,' Raceless laughs at one point, before launching into the next track where he takes off his shoes, socks, and pants to hit a small oil drum in time with the beat. He then puts his jeans back on inside out; wearing them so low he bares his ass. Later he wanders out into the crowd in his underwear. 'We never rehearsed once,' he brags before the music illustrates his point by stopping mid-sentence and leaving him hanging. 'Don't you ever do that to me again cunt,' he begins an over exaggerated ocker tirade against Atarungi, the sample operator before turning his attention to the audience. 'I'll fucken take ya, I wanna see some fighting. We'll take any fucken cunt here.' He puts his arm around Vulk Mackadonski. 'This cunt's from Altona Meadows and I'm from Sunshine. We're proud of our working class heritage.' When they finish he stumbles off stage. His first words are 'I don't know what we just did.'
'We feel that Curse Ov Dialect is becoming too mellow for us,' confesses Raceless by way of explanation, 'and we want to do something that is a bit more out there and heaps more experimental. Just to break it up, to make things more interesting, to tackle different aesthetics. Curse is definitely a hiphop project but Videotape is just all of us going bananas, screaming, opera singers, flute players, hiphop MCs and everything all mixed together.'
Born out of a desire to perform when Curse can't due to other commitments, Slesmr Tape and Videotape first debuted at the Make It Up Club, a regular improvisational night at the Planet Cafe, populated in the main by jazz artists. 'We thought, why can't we just improvise with hiphop? It's the aesthetic that they're practising with jazz done with hiphop - improvising with beats, with the rapping. I guess it's just that hiphop has come to the point, like other types of music, where a lot of things have been done and we're trying to get heaps free with it.'
The artists who joined them on stage playing the flute, piano and drums of course had little idea what to expect having met the Curse only a week earlier, though compared to an audience schooled on avant garde jazz, they possessed at least a vague idea. 'It did shake up the people,' he laughs. 'I live out here in the West and a lot of the people were from Brighton or something, saying,' he continues with a mock English accent, "Oh, a bit of art," and we just came on and went, "Aaah." And they were like "Darling, what happened?" which was funny. That stuff brings back the days of old with Curse when we were heaps more crazy. We used to throw dog shit at the audience and stuff like that &endash;which is in the past. We don't want to bring it back. It would land in wine glasses and stuff. It was fucking funny.'
Regularly through our discussion Raceless bemoans the fact that the Curse are a little too out-there to find a comfortable place in the local hiphop scene. Whether it's their politics or bizarre stage activity, it seems the straight up hiphop kids experience a little difficulty when trying to place the Curse. Interestingly their debut album Hex Ov Intellect did find acclaim in local hiphop culture, though it seems the costumes may have altered perception somewhat. These days you'd be more likely to see the Curse sharing the bill with local DJs or electronic artists than hiphop outfits. Without doubt their sounds do owe much to hiphop traditions, however it's their willingness to push outside the square in a genre not known for its experimentation that makes them outcasts. In light of this the Curse have looked abroad for a home to release their latest album, amongst like-minded individuals such as Bay Area collective Anticon, Buck 65 and Aesop Rock at Mush records. Thanks to the strength and innovative character of their roster Mush might seem like an obvious label for Curse. Raceless reports that they took some convincing to even listen to the album. Sending off their demo they received no response. But that's where the dwarf comes into the picture.
'I like the label because the artists who they release are doing hiphop that's different and these are the sorts of people who I want to be associated with,' he offers passionately. 'We thought, lets get beyond Australia this time. So I started emailing the label, "Did you hear the CD yet?" Everyday for about a month, "Did you hear it, did you hear it?" They were just like, "This guy's insane." And I left the most bizarre messages: "If you don't listen to the CD then a little dwarf is going to touch you on the head at night," stuff like that. And eventually they listened to it and they liked it and decided they wanted to release something new from Curse.'
'We just really, really wanted to be heard because we feel like we don't belong anywhere,' continues Raceless. 'We're so different from other people when it comes to the genre so we thought if we're that different, we're even more different than the Americans, so they've got to like it. Or they better like it, I don't know, I'm just passionate about my music and we want to get it out there. But they really dug the new album.'
Having never seen Curse perform live you get the sense that Mush are in for a rude but pleasant shock, though it's also gratifying for Curse to be judged solely on their sounds. Their new album, tentatively slotted for a release in June sometime, has only recently been completed, much to the excitement of Raceless. Thus far feedback has suggested Public Enemy meets world music with some John Cage thrown in, or the early Avalanches crossed with the Boredoms. As always, it seems like an eclectic affair, the diversity of their ideology being evident in their palette, refusing to close their mind to the possibilities of any sound that crosses their path.
'It doesn't have to be funk or jazz,' offers Raceless enthusiastically. 'It can be rare groove backwards, it could be Spanish women digging holes in Madagascar with a frog sample. Why limit yourself to funk and jazz when there's at least 200 years of recorded music? Stuff from the 60s, psychedelic stuff, or Dada from the 20s or just stuff you hear when you walk outside on the street. There's so much going on and hiphop,' he corrects himself, 'no, sample based music, can never die because there are no limits. And we can have fun forever because we can always find something new to sample. That's the thing about hiphop.'