Luke ‘Dubs’ Dubber and Angus ‘El Gusto’ Stuart lead busy lives. Better known as Aussie electronic/dance duo Hermitude, the pair recently returned from a tour of North America with fellow Sydneysiders RÜFÜS – and I got a chance to speak to one half of the act, keyboardist Luke ‘Dubs’ Dubber. Having arrived back in Australia barely a week ago, Dubs was back in the studio – despite a “tiring” 15-show, 20-day run. I asked about the response they’d received from US and Canadian audiences.
“I think the electronic scene over there has really exploded over the last few years,” he says, “and Australia’s definitely got a good reputation in that scene, so I think people are pretty stoked to come out and see some top-notch Australian bands. As soon as the first note was played on stage by anyone, they were pretty much just dancing all night.”
Though they’ve been making music for over a decade, Hermitude firmly have their feet in the ground of Australian electronic/dance music. The eighth winner of the annual Australian Music Prize (for HyperParadise, in 2012), and the only act to have won the prize with a (mostly) instrumental album, Hermitude remain modest about their appeal.
“There has been that kind of phrase coined in the last couple of years, I guess since Flume kinda exploded, which is the ‘Australian sound’, in electronic/dance music. But we’ve always sat on the periphery of that anyway. We’re heavily influenced by it obviously, and a part of it, and amongst it, and love being involved with it – but I guess the thing that we bring to our music has always been a little bit different.” (Watch ‘Speak of the Devil’)
Plenty of reviewers have choice words for Hermitude’s music, and it’s not hard to see why. The act demonstrate a fluency with phonic language, and they’ve spoken in many tongues – which perhaps explains their skill at breaking down an album and turning it into a live show.
“HyperParadise was probably the first record we put out where we were really aware of how it was going to sound when we played it live,” says Dubs. “We bring a bit more of a band approach to our performance, and also to the writing that we do – so I’ve been trying to get as much live instrumentation on the [upcoming] record as possible. Even if it’s triggering samples that are electronic, or using an electronic medium, we try and inject a bit of live playing into it.”
A lot of work goes into recreating their “shiny” studio sound for the stage performance. On stage, Dubs plays two keyboards, a microKORG and a Nord, the latter loaded up with synth patches from the record. Meanwhile, El Gusto DJs the backing tracks using Serato, and triggers percussion and vocal samples using an MPC. They try to make the show “a bit more exciting, and a bit different from the record”.
But live music wasn’t always so central to the two Sydney-based musicians. Emerging from the Blue Mountains in the early 2000s, Hermitude built their sound alongside hip-hop acts like The Herd, working collaboratively with hip-hop and electronic artists through their label, Elefant Traks. Arguably their first hit, ‘Fallen Giants’ (2005), was a hip-hop track featuring Urthboy and Ozi Batla – both members of The Herd, and both now established Australian acts in their own right.
“Elefant Traks were pretty much a garage, backyard operation when we came on board, and then they’ve slowly just expanded, and taken on more and more artists, and gained more and more of a reputation for putting out good music across the board. They have been primarily hip-hop focused for a while now, but they’re kind of expanding on that, and have been for the past few years as well. And in the beginning they were primarily electronic – which a lot of people probably don’t know. For us it’s like a dream come true because when we go and meet up with ‘the label’, it’s pretty much just hanging out in a park, you know, eating a sandwich and drinking coffee, and we’ll sit there and hang for half an hour as mates before we actually talk about anything business related. They’ve never told us, in any way, shape or form, what to do, but they’re always there to give us advice if we need it – so it’s like a real family thing. And every time they sign a new artist, they throw a BBQ, and all the artists that are in town and can make it come, and just hang out and chat with them. So I guess it’s one of those things where the older we get, the bigger that we get – I see the kind of relationships people have with their labels, like with majors, and I feel really lucky to be in a position where we can have such an intimate relationship with the guys that put out our music.”
‘How have the band’s Blue Mountain origins affected the music?’, I ask. “I think being solely in the city is probably having an effect on the music we’re writing now,” Dubs responds. “Gusto’s dad has a studio up in the Blue Mountains, and when we started out as Hermitude that was the only place that we wrote – we’d just go up there when his dad wasn’t in there.”
HyperParadise “was the first record where we didn’t really go up to the Mountains at all,” he reveals. “So the Blue Mountains are slowly getting phased out. But I think when we go up there and mix the records, the mixing usually takes about two weeks, and we’re pretty much just living at the studio. We do 12-14 hour days for like 14 days in a row, and that definitely rubs off on you after a while. So I’m sure there’s still a little bit seeping in through the cracks.”
It’s not just the Blue Mountains that tend to rub off on Hermitude, a duo that are openly influenced by a shared love of diverse music. In other interviews, Dubs and Gusto have cited Kendrick Lamar, Feist, Bo Diddley, James Blake, and Hudson Mohawke as examples of current influences – today, Dubs cites Lido and Cashmere Cat (two Norwegian electronic acts), as well as the Arctic Monkeys, as influences for the new record.
I asked what fans can expect from the upcoming release. “It’s a bit of an extension of HyperParadise with a few more elements. I guess the only word I can think of to describe it is ‘shiny’,” he says, laughing. “We’re at that point where it’s just time to give it that last little bit of lacquering, before we send it off.”
Hermitude’s latest single, Ukiyo, is “probably a good indication of where the record’s heading”, he says. Released in April, Ukiyo has been played over 700,000 times on Soundcloud, and more than a million times on YouTube. The song, whose title literally translates from the Japanese as ‘floating world’, sounds a bit like the shiny lovechild of slow trap music and light Japanese electropop. “It’s a little bit brighter, and it’s another step for us,” says Dubs.
“It’s a far enough step away from HyperParadise that we can be pleased that we’re evolving in a new direction, but it’s also encompassing everything that we’ve learnt and that we’ve loved up to this point.”
Hermitude will play the Beyond the Valley Music Festival at Phillip Island December 30 2014-1 Jan 2015
Interviewed by Justin McArthur