- Darkwave Gothic Industrial Electronica
In this episode we chat with Ivan Bullock, a man of many musical hats. He's the founder of the Melbourne-based underground dark music collective known as DEMUS which evolved in to the Dawn Industry label. Related to that he established and co-organised the long-running (10 year) series of live underground music event nights called Enzyme. He's also the man behind the music projects Mystral Tide and Minorarc and most recently is a member of the band Sleeplab. We chat about all these below.
Before we get in to the interview I'd best mention you can download a free copy of the Minorarc track: "End Point". It is featured on the "S.I.N.G.E.D. 2" compilation album. There are links to more of Ivan's music further below.
Interview by DJ Robot Citizen:
Firstly, let's focus on your personal music projects, starting with Mystral Tide. How did it come in to being?
Ivan: In the late 90's I had the pleasure of living in Japan for a stretch of close to four years, and carried with me a long term dream of forming a band or composing music. Music had always been a strong part of my childhood, collecting records and sitting in front of an old Kenwood to absorb it all. What began as an obsession with piano work ala Rachmaninoff, quickly melded into stranger things like Marillion, and the tastes grew heavier and heavier over time, until doom metal, early Bathory, Solitude Aeturnus and all manner of creepy works lay side by side with classical, baroque and contemporary orchestral pieces. I had studied violin until neck issues declared "no more", and after that always hoped to express myself in a different format.
Tokyo was the joining of strands, which tugged at me until I succumbed. Firstly, the amount of sheer hardware, knowledge and passion for music in the country was incredible. Away from the mass consumer culture I found tiny underground clubs, where lovely locals welcomed me into communities which celebrated Depeche Mode, German Industrial, Metal, and a good dose of classic goth. Then a work colleague loaned me a Roland digital piano, and from there I was hooked. The learning process which never ends, had begun, experimenting with MIDI, synthesis and hard disc recording. When my employer purchased an early model CD burner it spent most of its weekends in my tiny apartment. I created a lot of awful works during those early stages, a reaction to relationship breakdowns and the isolation of living in a place where you could never truly feel “alone”.
With deep gratitude to the development of the internet, I made some life-long friends over there. Adam, a US ex-patriot at the time joined me in a project called Trucido which created aggressive EDM. I toyed around with his Alesis QSR and hit the holy grail of lush piano sounds and film-worthy orchestral pads. From there, it all came very naturally, and Mystral Tide came to be.
Robot: What was the first album you released as Mystral Tide and what did that lead to?
Ivan: The first official release was through Zeitgeist Records, run by a friend who was in Queensland at the time and pressed copies of “Whirlpool of Souls” to spread throughout the world. The disc was given album of the month at New Empire and described as a "sad, brilliant masterpiece". For a lonely guy in a land far away, who was still coming to grips with the basics, this was really good news. Copies were shifted in Australia, the UK, Japan and Germany. It was a fair mix of dance beats, string sounds, piano and a touch of guitar. Sean Cooper [of Alternate Parallel Reality] who founded the Zeitgeist label even came to Tokyo for a while and lugged some pretty heavy gear around for us on public transport to and from gigs. Another highlight was performing for experimental Japanese artist Seij Minus Ç at Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig.
Robot: I'm envious of those grand adventures! And what came next?
Ivan: By the time I’d relocated back to Australia work had begun on a 3CD set called “Geometry of Loss”, followed by a darker classical disc “Isle of Narrows” the year after. Once landing in Melbourne following a short and heart-breaking bout in hometown Canberra, I set my sights on finding other musicians out there, eventually forming a community called DEMUS which ran events every few months. We were engaged in the Melbourne Fringe Festival and numerous live venues, and more importantly formed a tightly knit group of extremely talented friends. I owe those guys a lot for their support and encouragement, and most of them are still actively recording and blessing us with performances.
I'll interrogate you some more about the DEMUS collective further on. Before that, let's discuss Minorarc - what led you to using a new artist title for your music?
Ivan: By 2010 I felt a deep need to move away from Mystral Tide for a while, strip down the ambience, and take things up a notch to a more raw and aggressive level. It seemed fitting to change project names with such a large shift in persona, so the name Minorarc became the way ahead. To be honest I'd never particularly liked the new-age sound of Mystral Tide as a project name. It was as though everything got more personal all of a sudden, and I just needed to access some part of my thinking that hadn't been out on a plate yet. The project created an album and an EP with guest appearances by Ben of what was then Cassandra's Myth, and Brett of Sarcophony, both Melbourne musicians. We are presently working on another release for some time in 2017 if the planets align.
Robot: I gather that currently you're most occupied with the SleepLab project. I hear a variety of quirky dark electronica, electro industrial, IDM and dream pop aspects in the mix. Please tell us about who is involved and how did it come about?
Ivan: Back when Mystral Tide’s first CD was released, I met Ben Smith of Cassandra’s Myth (another signee of Zeitgeist Records). We truly loved each others work and it seemed natural to work together. At first we offered cameo live support to each other, swapping instruments around and performing gigs under both project names. Now, some years later, it seems I am so in love with Ben’s work that I’m almost in symbiosis with him. We just gel. It’s hard to explain, but we can just pick up instruments in each other’s presence and create new music on the fly. We are very different people, yet we exist on the same wavelength musically, and are probably equally to blame for each other's audio addictions. We have also just added a wonderful bassist/guitarist/vocalist called Robyn Holland into the mix, which will no doubt add some new persona to the often poppy dark electro that we make.
So Cassandra’s Myth became Sleeplab, much as Mystral Tide had become Minorarc. His project shifted, and with it the name and atmosphere of its appearance. I now consider Sleeplab my priority, and Minorarc lurks in the background as a darker part of myself that sometimes demands some attention… a few keys pressed or reverb settings toyed with.
Robot: It's great when solo artists click and collaborate like that; can be so motivating; and the "sum of the parts" can produce something so new. And I certainly like what I'm hearing; am excited for the future of Sleeplab. Let's turn back to the collective you founded that's been known, at different times, as DEMUS and later as Dawn Industry. Can you please share with us: i) what the original aims were; ii) what the collective achieved; iii) future plans... ?
Ivan: DEMUS evolved into a larger sphere of personal interest, and became Dawn Industry when fiction writing, urban art and skateboarding culture became conjoined. In reality it was a community of good friends with similar ideals, a place to share and promote each other, organise performances, and meet up for drinks every once in a while. Dawn Industry still exists, but these days it is mostly for my personal pursuits, as social media quickly took over the need for communication on other web sites. It wasn’t worth fighting against. Social media now filled the void that our sites once had and along with most we relocated ourselves into that realm… a realm without tedious software updates, databases, backups and endless security holes to fill. It was a sad experience at first, but it was a case of adapt or get left behind in the wake.
I’d like to add here that Blatant Propaganda Productions and Infectious Unease Radio were major contributors to our community, and this would be a nice time for me to take my hats off to them for all they have done. Gordon of Infectious was with us to help host events on numerous levels, jam sometimes as an experimental side project with Duncan of BasticH (now Mass Rejection), burn discs, cut up covers, edit websites, eat toast, the whole shindig.
Through the DEMUS/Dawn-Industry collective you produced several compilations, featuring dozens of independent artists - where are these albums currently available from?
Ivan: The DEMUS community made three compilations whilst the community was active, spanning five discs in total. All three are available at https://dawnindustry.bandcamp.com and if anyone asks nicely there are probably a few select few CD copies still available from my collection. We also produced a massive 4 disc, 62 band compilation in celebration of the local Infectious Unease Radioshow, with Mick Mercer* reviewing it as "epic" and "a magnificent work of Art." [* A UK music journalist, radio host and author of the "Gothic Rock Black Book"]
Let's turn our focus to the numerous live music events that you've (co-)organised in Melbourne under the title of "Enzyme". For the reader, these events have usually featured several live acts and several DJs.
Ivan, when did Enzyme commence and how many events have there been?
Ivan: Since 2006 we ran twenty events in Melbourne catering to industrial, noise, experimental and electronic artists. A large portion of these were at Blue Velvet, where we had the luxury of wonderful hosts who fully supported what the nights were trying to achieve… a mixed bag of music from a wide breadth of artists, without compromise or concern for public preconception. It was an audio free-for-all, and every time was an entirely new experience.
Can you share with us about some of the joys and challenges you've encountered while organising these events?
Ivan: The real joy is in watching performers set up their gear, a multitude of endlessly changing gadgetry, and then letting rip with their own compositions late into the night. It was wonderful to watch people express themselves without boundary, spread their message, and make new friends along the way. The challenges were plenty as we went down this road, everything from audio engineering issues, to artists who went too far with smoke machines, to personalities which often bordered on the extreme. It was all worth it though, and I have no regrets and only happy memories.
Am I right to gather you're on a holiday from them presently? Might you recommence the Enzyme events at some stage?
Ivan: It seems that age is catching up with me, and sadly time is extremely limited these days. I had to prioritise some portions of my life and reassess what I really wanted to achieve. It boiled down to an endless desire to just “play” music, be it in the solitude of the studio, or on stage. I wanted to become a better performer, and moved this up the list past event organisation and all that goes with it. Organising events with largely underground musicians is much harder work than most would assume. There is cat herding to do. Chaos to overcome! I needed to make space in my life to sit back, and actually enjoy music again, so for now the Enzyme concept is on a little break.
Robot: Ah yes I certainly can relate! There's so much that one would like to do but time, it runs out! ... I know your artistic adventures go into other realms apart from music - what else do you have on the boil?
Ivan: Aside from music I’ve discovered a passion for fiction writing, so I also have a collaborative project and a probably too long novel called "Child of the Finder" in the oven.
With your various projects is there a guiding theme, philosophy, or set of aesthetics that inspire you?
Ivan: I’d like to say general distaste for humankind, or something as simple as “depression”, but it is far more complex. Music allows access to parts of one’s thinking which isn’t clean-cut. Things can be both harsh and beautiful at the same time. Works can be deeply saddening, yet uplifting in the same breath. I guess the theme is whatever my subconscious is lingering on, and desires the fingers to move on. Most of my recording is done as a live audio feed (not programmed aside from drums), so one can’t say what will eventuate until the work is fully done. I can’t say what it all is or what it means, but every note is something selfish about my often distorted and jaded perception of life.
Robot: What do you feel are some of the main challenges that face independent/underground musicians?
Ivan: Finding support. Locating true listeners and a strong following. So much has changed in the last decade, musicians have been empowered with one hand and left with the other tied behind their backs. Never before has it been easier to create, communicate and distribute music, but along with that goes the great dissolve… public interest wanes, the average attention span of our internet-armed populace is tediously low.
Robot: What are some potential solutions? What sorts of technology, attitudes or likewise could improve things?
Ivan: It’s time to think differently and shift focus. Artists working together and helping each other out makes a great difference. Everything from loading gear out of a van to offering up harsh criticism in a constructive way. We need to be honest with each other, work out what we truly want, and fight for it without need for prisoners. Assess what is important to you, and make the steps to get there, and be prepared for the compromises you are willing to make along the way. The life of a musician for most of us is one of torture and struggle, yet we still head forwards in determination to preserve our art. We need to keep doing this, but also enquire as to what, exactly… is the shining light into which we wish to step. Fame, money, ego, are all worthy items to leave out of the equation, and as most of us know there are gifts far greater out there as a reward.
Robot: What are your plans for your projects for the near future?
Ivan: More Sleeplab collaboration and refining of our live sets, and fingers crossed some Minorarc further down the road. Aside from that it’s just keeping up with everyday life and the random challenges it tosses in the way.
Robot: Anything else you'd like to add?
Ivan: As an old friend and colleague, a DJ whom I greatly adored from my teenage years, I would like to add one thing: a deep and respectful bow to you, for this opportunity to write, and for every single poster you’ve stuck, track you’ve spun on the airwaves, each web page you’ve hand-built, and every smile you’ve gifted on those rare days where we meet up in person. We miss you down here!
Robot: Awww, shucks! Thank-you very much! :-) May I add here that Ivan's work - particularly over the years that I was inactive regards music - inspired me to eventually re-activate and get productive in these fields; which includes building this website!... In closing, Ivan, what are your websites where people can learn and hear more?
- Minorarc: www.DawnIndustry.com/minorarc ... BandCamp Albums ... Facebook
- Sleeplab: www.Sleeplab.audio ... Facebook ... BandCamp Album
- Mystral Tide: www.DawnIndustry.com/mystraltide/ ... album "Isle of Narrows" (bandcamp)
- Dawn Industry label (formerly the DEMUS collective): www.DawnIndustry.com ... Compilations on BandCamp ... SoundCloud
- Live Events: Enzyme Photo and Flyer Gallery
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