Sydney 4-piece Svelt are a frenetic, live drum and bass band that uses big synths, stabbing guitars, live drums and wild FX, commonly fronted by MC Joel Rapaport (Big Village Label Manager & Sketch the Rhyme MC). Svelt draw their inspiration from Australian live electronic bands such as PVT and The Bird, but put their own unique flavour into the mix. Svelt have also been nurtured by the DIY warehouse scene of Sydney. We managed to grab synth player James Nichols for a chat about Sydney’s DIY community, artist run venues and spaces, the benefits of community radio and their new release Free Party.
How would you describe Svelt in just 3 words?
Spirited, raw, unhinged. There isn’t much that holds us back.
How did Svelt first come about?
It dawned from a Roland System 100, a crusty little synth with a big sound that James borrowed from a friend. We were offered a gig before we had even had a chance to write anything and Jesse and James wanted to try the synth vs drums combo as a project, so we called our friends Aden and Duncan, and viola, Svelt was born out of a jam session at The Sando.
What can one expect from a Svelt live show?
Sweat, tears, party, mayhem, bass, beats, booze, bouncing bodies. We are really lucky to have a solid local following of party scientists. We love party music, and electronic textures, but we aren’t like producers that design their beats at home on their computers. We were shaped by our experiences playing as a live band, its what we are all about.
We avoid playing with sequenced backing loops. It kills the vibe a little. You can’t go nuts when you’re following a rigid tempo. But we still want that electronic sound – the drums and analog synth bass-lines take the foreground and the guitar slots in the spaces between. It’s all based on the beat, and we layer the sounds like a producer would. We use pads side-chained to the kick drum and laser controlled theremins for some wacky sounds and textures. And we work with Rapaport (Big Village), who MCs on our tracks, and brings his influences from grime and hip-hop, which compliments the band perfectly.
You first broke out in the inner west warehouse scene…(which is the setting for you latest music video for Animalia). How did the warehouse community help kickstart your career?
By being exactly that – a community. The warehouse scene is a DIY reaction to the fact that many licensed venues are a let-down. People that actually like music and enjoy providing eclectic experiences are the ones that run DIY spaces, unlike so many of the pathologically antisocial club owners around the city. This means that they’re just so welcoming, and always centered around the music. And you don’t get a rude bouncer in your face for doing a silly dance. As a result lots of punters come to warehouse events. We met sound engineers, set designers, artists, other musicians, stage crew: a whole bunch of people that love to roll their sleeves up and do their bit to put on great events with great line ups. It’s a whole ecology that’s better for the performers and the audience alike.
Why are DIY, warehouse and artist run venue spaces an important part of Sydney’s creative community?
Sydney has a huge audience that loves to see live local music and arts events. There’s isn’t really a crisis with live music. There’s just a crisis with crappy local politics getting in the way of people that want to do things. DIY is the answer to this, but it’s a shame that it takes so many peoples’ personal efforts to sustain it. And the warehouses are great places to experiment. There’s an anything-goes vibe. Everyone benefits from this.
What’s your favourite Sydney venue and/or space to play at and why?
I’d say The Red Rattler Theatre, as they are one of the few venues that have taken the DIY approach to heart, and put in the sweat, tears and money in to making it legal. It’s genuinely one of the best places to play in Sydney because it’s a nice place to be, the people behind it actually are engaged with the arts, and it’s somewhere you feel welcomed. The other venues we love the best probably can’t be named because they’re not licensed!
What do you think is the biggest problem facing the music industry right now, and how does it affect your work as an artist?
One difficulty is to have a voice above the clamour of all the freely available music on the internet. This makes the role of taste-makers all the more important. People that can digest what’s out there and present it to everyone else. Organisations like FBi radio have helped address this, and there are some great curators that put together excellent line-ups, but there needs to be more. There are many local bands that match the internationals for talent but lots of people don’t know about these bands. And if good bands, promoters, venue operators, radio presenters and VJs get together to put on events and venues with a higher standard of entertainment, it will build more of a culture where people young or old go out to see local music.
Otherwise it’s difficult to make a buck or even cover costs. There’s a lot expected of a band nowadays – intricately recorded albums, well shot YouTube videos. Crowd source funding is a positive initiative in this regard, but I think we’re still waiting for the dust to settle in a post internet world where there’s a clear path for how a band can establish themselves.
If you could collaborate with any artist who would you choose and why?
Reggie Watts, he’s hilarious and he would definitely force us in a new direction. Rapaport may be one of the cleverest MCs in Australia but he just doesn’t have Reggie’s dress sense.
On a more serious note, we’d love to work with someone who could push our production in a new direction. We imagine what it’d be like if we sat down with Flying Lotus or Amon Tobin in the studio. What would they do to our sound?
Svelt seem to feel right at home on the festival stage. Any festival you would like to be on the lineup for in 2013?
We’ve been stoked to be involved with lots of festivals like Subsonic, Wide Open Space, Peats Ridge, and Newtown Festival, but we’d like to play more! Rainbow Serpent would be great, Splendour, Meredith or Golden Plains. Bangface Weekender in the UK. Jesse and James played at Burning Man last year, but we’d love to do that as the full band! The Fuzzy festivals. Camp A Low Hum or Rhythms and Vines in NZ. ALL OF THE FESTIVALS!
Sydney’s Community radio station FBI Radio are currently amidst their supporter drive. How has FBi radio contributed to your success as a band and why would you recommend that people sign up as a supporter?
People should definitely sign up, we’ve all been listening and supporting for years. FBi gives people a chance to discover good local bands. The best bit about FBi is that they honestly do believe in local music. They don’t support local music because they think that they’re meant to or out of some charity, but becaus they actually like local music, and always pick they’re favourite stuff. They follow their nose. TripleJ is great but we need FBi otherwise the j’s would become like a musical dictatorship for Sydney. Radio still has so much influence and relevance post MP3s. We’ve been really lucky to receive allot of airplay on FBi lately, our music has been distributed to community radio stations nationwide through the FBi ADDS campaign.
Tell us about your new release Free Party?
It’s our tribute to the Free Parties where independent crews used to lug massive PAs to abandoned industrial sites around the city. There used to be thousands of people that would call a number on the night to find out where it was, and these were some our first gigs. No one profited from these events, it was just people putting parties on for the love of it. At these events we got to play to hundreds of people in the early days of our band and it shaped our music. The police began to shut the parties down earlier and earlier until the riot police would be there even before the party could get started. We have seen free-party music go through all sorts of genres. This EP reflects those influences and represents the best of our live shows at those events.
What’s on the horizon for Svelt in the new year?
It’s going to be an exciting year for us. We will be touring the east coast early in the year, then it’s on to recording our album that should be released later in the year. We’ve also got a new video coming out soon.