RETROROCK -_ THE AVALANCHES

Avalanches Since I Left You

Since I Left You (Salo/Drennen/Webb/Chater/Seltman/Di Blasi/McQilten) and Frontier Psychiatrist (Chater/DiBlasi/Fabay/Kaempfert/McQiltern/Rehbein/Seltmann/Sigman) – 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 above right), the very influential Chemical Brothers (above left) and the Bentley Rhythm Aces (above centre) lead the way, but the genre really took off around 2001 when the Apple iPod was launched.

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Melbourne-based Tony Di Blasi and Robbie Chater (left to right above), former schoolmates from Maryborough High School (Vic) 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. 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.

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The group expanded to include left to right above Darren Seltmann (bass/drums/vocals), Robbie Chater (turntables/bass/drums/keyboards), Dexter Fabay (turntables/keyboards), James De La Cruz (turntables keyboards), Tony Di Blasi (keyboards/ guitar) and Manabu Etoh (drums), founders Seltmann, Di Blasi and Chater 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. For over two years Chater, Di Blasi 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. 

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The title track Since I Left You was the third single taken off the album, and while it has only thirteen actual words of lyrics, it comprises hundreds of samples from the most diverse sources including 50’s doo wop Sky’s The Limit (the Duprees below right), 60’s Motown Take Off Your Makeup (Lamont Dozier), cheesy 70’s disco dance Let’s Do The Latin Hustle (Klaus Wunderlich below centre), 70’s soul/R&B Daddy Rich (Rose Royce), a repetitive hook from The Main Attraction’s sunshine soft pop song Everyday, which features prominently in the chorus, 60’s jazz guitar instrumental Anema e core and By The Time I Get To Phoenix (Tony Mottola), and an invitation to a Club Med disco which opens the song and creates the good-time party vibe which pervades the whole track, even though this is a breakup song.

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 promo video featured two miners emerging from a monochrome world via a tunnel to enter the brightly-lit colored world of a dance studio where one of the miners reveals himself to be a graceful partner as he twirls and shimmies with the dancers. It was a touchingly beautiful, surprising and surreal vignette, the miners were trapped under ground and facing death, but when they break through into the studio, they are on the edge of the afterlife, one miner, Arthur, accepts his fate, and partners  the dancers who are angelic, the judging panel endorses his passage beyond, the other miner is not prepared to go, and three days later he is rescued, it was awarded the MTV Video of the Year Award in 2001.

Brilliant, moving, and deserved the MTV Video of the Year Award 2001.

 Frontier Psychiatrist was the second 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 (above left) 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!”. Twenty years after the release of the song Robbie Chater reflected on their creative process “I had the opening Enoch Light sample hanging around for years, was always trying to turn it into a banging hip hop tune. I heard the Wayne and Shuster comedy skit about a cowboy who hated his horse and a lightbulb went off in my head, we combined the two and made a surreal scratch/comedy song. This is the essence of creativity to me, joining the dots between unrelated elements and showing people the hidden connections.” (NME David Young October 2020). Other samples from golf instruction albums, bizarre Christian records, old western movies, provided further inspiration, and the all-important horse whinny sound effect.

Crazy In The Coconut

The music video featured characters re-enacting and musicians playing elements of the track, including vocal samples, violins, horns, and drums, and it combined the surreal imagery of Monty Python, with the weirdness of absurdist humor, a cartoon aesthetic, and some mariachi madness. 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, #10 on the US Dance/Electronic charts, and #27 locally.

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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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