SPECIAL FEATURE _ THE AVALANCHES

 

Avalanches

 

 

Frontier Psychiatrist (Chater/DiBlasi/Fabay/Kaempfert/McQiltern/Rehbein/Seltmann/Sigman) and Since I Left You (Salo/Drennen/Webb/Chater/Seltman/Di Blasi/McQilten) – The Avalanches 2001

 

Mash-ups of various scraps of music from diverse sources, sometimes referred to as hauntology or hypnogogic pop, found its earliest expression in the mid-eighties as analogue formats were increasingly replaced by digital formats and sampling became more commonplace. Early practitioners of this dark art were UK’s Pop Will Eat Itself (Get the Girl! Kill the Baddies!) and KLF/The Timelords (Doctorin’ the Tardis).

In the 1990’s the more identifiable work of such DJ/producers as Luke Vibert (aka Wagon Christ), the very influential Chemical Brothers and the Bentley Rhythm Aces lead the way, but the genre really took off around 2001 when the Apple iPod was launched.

Robbie Chater, Darren Seltmann and Tony Di Blasi, were typical techno geeks, beguiled by a sampled music and riff-pilfering genre also known as plunderphonics, who in 2001 created a landmark album called Since I Left You which became an international hit.

 

Avalanches Since I Left You

The original band members formed in 1994 and coalesced around the RMIT University in Melbourne where Chater was enrolled in a Media Arts Degree and had access to the recording studio there outside of normal class times.

Chater (turntables/bass/drums/keyboards), Seltmann (bass/drums/vocals) and Di Blasi (keyboards/ guitar) were highly proficient at sampling sounds, chords and rhythms from vinyl, tape and other sources, they realized that they could create their own unique and definitive sound this way and abandoned their early preference for thrash/punk and indie, to embrace dance music.

Over the journey band names and personnel changed, Alarm 115, the Swinging Monkey Cocks, Quentin’s Brittle Bones and Whoops Down Syndrome ultimately became The Avalanches; and new members were recruited – James De La Cruz (turntables, keyboards), Dexter Fabay (turntables, keyboards), Gordon McQuilten (keyboards, percussion, piano) and Manabu Etoh (drums).

For over two years Chater and Seltmann hunkered down in front of their Yamaha Promix 01 and Akai S2000 samplers with basic Opcode Studio vision sequencing software, to create their debut album, a mind-spinning, cut-paste collage of over 3,500 pieces of immaculately conceived and connected pieces of sound and music; a veritable patchwork pastiche of anonymous notes and voices, warped and then stuck together to create a dense and enveloping aural montage.

Frontier Psychiatrist was the first single released from the Since I Left You album, it projected a spaghetti western aesthetic and included samples from movie dialogue, classical music, a mariachi band and a 1950’s Wayne and Shuster standup comedy routine, it was all wrapped around the cautionary tale of a child named Dexter, who was thought to be a budding psychopath and a suitable case for therapy – hence the expression that is most identifiable with the song “You’re crazy in the coconut!”. The song charted #48 locally in 2000 but did better in the UK where it peaked at #18, the album’s title track was released in early 2001 and although it failed to impress here (#75 in Feb), it was a #16 UK hit and the debut album climbed to #8 on the UK album charts and #27 locally.

While the song  Since I Left You has only thirteen actual words of lyrics, it comprises hundreds of samples from the most diverse sources including 50’s Doo Wop (the Duprees), 60’s C&W (Jim Webb), 60’s Motown (Lamont Dozier), cheesy 70’s disco dance (Klaus Wunderlich), 70’s soul/R&B( Rose Royce) and an invitation to a Club Med disco which opens the song and creates the good-time block party vibe which pervades the whole track.

In 2001 the band won four ARIA Awards for Best New Artist, Best New Artist Single, Best Dance Act and Producer of the Year (Chater and Seltmann). The cleverly-conceived  promo video featured two miners emerging from a monochrome black hole via a tunnel to enter the colourful and artistic world of a dance studio where one of the miners reveals himself to be a graceful partner as he moves with the dancers; it was a touchingly beautiful, surprising and surreal vignette, and it was awarded the MTV Video of the Year Award in 2001.

 

It would be sixteen years before The Avalanches released their follow up album, Wildflower, in 2017, and in the interim Kylie Minogue would perform one of the most celebrated mash-ups ever at the 2002 Brit awards with a mash-up of her huge hit Can’t Get You Out of My Head and New Order’s Blue Monday.

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