FROM THE FEW TO THE MANY
Words: James Frostick
Hugh Francis talks about the creation of Silo Arts and the state of electronic music in Brisbane.
I’ve mentioned before a few times how ignorant I am of electronic music. Sure, I like the odd Daft Punk song or Justice banger as much as the next bloke, but the connotations electronic music has with dickhead, double-dropping assholes has kind of prevented me from digging deeper. Lumping everything electronic into this category is unfair, I know. What I am coming to realise is that there is an oceans-width distance between the DJ’s at Family to the guys creating interesting and thoughtful music through electronic instrumentation.
With the arrival of thoughtful and innovative electronic acts overseas (James Blake, Washed Out, M83, Caribou etc.) comes a greater desire for home-grown electronic talent and a desire to foster a community for those who put more thought into their electronic tunes than just deciding on the best point to ‘drop the bass’.
Enter Silo Arts – Brisbane based, but nationally focused. This group of electronic artists, producers and graphic designers are pushing their brand of considered and imaginative electronic music to new audiences. After a year of activity, Silo Arts are looking back on their accomplishments with fondness while also looking forward to the next phase of expansion. Organiser and founder, Hugh Francis, has been there from the beginning and is one of the major creative and inspirational forces behind this home-grown movement. His discovery of electronic music is relatively recent, beginning when he heard Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma. Since then he has sought out the best and brightest electronic acts in Brisbane and interstate to assemble a collective dedicated to spreading the good word about good electronic music.
“I just started looking into that type of music and that scene,” says Hugh of Silo’s beginnings. “It started hitting me that it was such as big thing, such and amazing thing and it was only a matter of time before that stuff starts to come to Australia and Brisbane. I loved it so much I wanted to do something in Australia that was similar. I looked into it and there were a heap of collectives especially in LA that were so inspiring to me that I had to start my own collective.”
Silo as it stands includes some of the best electronic artists and producers that Brisbane has to offer. Motion Picture Actress, OUTERWAVES, Tincture and White Palms are just a few that are considered affiliates. Each artist is responsible for not only creating music, but collaborating with Hugh on the best way to put their music out for Australian ears.
“The way it started was, I was producing music, and I sat down with all these songs I produced, I thought, ‘how would I go about releasing this weird electronic music in Australia and getting it into people’s ears’,” says Hugh. “There were no PR firms out there that cater to this kind of music. There are few labels and even the ones that are interested are so sought after by this niche market that they probably couldn’t help either. I realised we needed a collective or something behind us because when you are just one person or one band flogging your own music and trying to release it yourself it lacks a certain element of legitimacy especially when it is stuff like bedroom producing.”
So what does Silo do? While initially formed to release songs in the same vein as a label, over the past year Silo has taken a different approach to distributing music. They have put on numerous events featuring overseas electronic acts as well as members of their collective but more importantly, they have been trying to make people like you and me aware that these artists actually exist, which is probably more important if Silo is to release music in the future.
“When it comes down to it, the artist will put together a bunch of songs, then we’ll work together to find some graphic design for it, we’ll do some media runs and we get the music out to the community radio stations and the blogs and chat to them and make sure the music gets spread by means other than the artist”, explains Hugh. “That’s the real gain here. I don’t claim to be very good at publicity and neither do the other guys. The other guys don’t claim to know much about getting their music out either, so they don’t pay me a cent and I don’t ask for any money from them because we are all just learning and trying our best to make it work.”
“Basically we have just tried to make it as pure and artistic as possible. I feel in Brisbane there are a lot of things out there that try to be cool and to try and make money. With Silo, I wanted to make neither of those things our main goal. I wanted to push just great music and great art forward and not to make a cent out of it, which we haven’t to this day. Just to provide artists in Brisbane who are doing special things with a platform to be able to get their music out there and be a part of something legitimate.”
Part of Hugh’s initial frustration with the electronic scene was (and still sort of is) the lack of support and recognition it receives from the established music industry heavyweights that are on the lookout for the next big thing in the indie rock world. As a form of music that is on the rise, electronic music seems to be constantly overlooked in Australia as a legitimate form of musical expression. Perhaps the notion of ‘if you got a computer, you got an instrument’ is less romantic to these institutions, but Hugh does not see it as a characteristic that lessens electronica’s appeal.
“I don’t usually like to talk about this, but I guess what happened is that whole Triple J syndrome happened to me where I realised that to get something exciting as an indie rock band happening in Australia, you are at the mercy of Triple J,” says Hugh. “It was really disheartening when I read all these blog posts about similar issues and whether Triple J is monopolising the Australian music market. I just got really down about the whole thing.”
“I guess that is what really spurred me to look for something different. I have always been a fan of experimental music and stuff like that – but when I listened to Flying Lotus and all the artists in that genre, it really blew my mind that there was so much more to music and art then just indie rock and trying to become an Australian touring band. It all just seemed really futile and I had to try and do something different.”
Hugh, a previous indie-rock musician himself, sought out others in the same inspirational rut and has since decided to push the electronic agenda into the front of Brisbane’s consciousness. Like I said before, Hugh is relatively new to the electronic scene (yet he still has several years of knowledge on me) so I asked him what it was about electronic music that engaged him and why it is slowly engaging more and more people around the world.
“I’m not too sure about the answer to that one,” admits Hugh. “I think that because there is so much electronic music out there at the moment it’s so easy for someone to download a production program and come up with some half decent songs. In some ways that’s a lot more appealing to some people than sitting down with a band and trying to come up with songs. 20 years ago, trying to write and produce electronic music was so much harder. You needed like thousands of dollars’ worth of analogue synthesis and you needed a studio and session drummers, it was a big deal. These days it’s easier and there is so much music out there.”
“Of course, some of it is going to appeal to a really mainstream audience but I feel that what people really connect with in electronica is the fact that with electronic music there is no real limitation on what the song is going to sound like. If you have a band, two guitars, bass and drums there is only a certain range of sounds you can get out of that, but when you sit down with your favourite production software and you start experimenting with sound design you can create something so much more textured. There is so much more detail going into every sound because you’ve got more control over absolutely everything. I think that is what people connect to. They sit down and listen to a new electronic artist that their friends have told them about and they have absolutely no idea what to expect. There is that element of surprise that I think people really dig.”
It’s obvious that Hugh is passionate about electronica can wax lyrical about its appeal. Yet people are still hesitant to get on board with electronica on a scale like we see in the USA. Is Australia narrow minded? Are we really at the whim of the Triple J tastemakers? What is stopping people from throwing themselves head first into the pool of sonic electronica?
“I think electronic music can be really daunting,” admits Hugh. “Especially if you are someone who hasn’t listened to anything expect the occasional Daft Punk banger. I find when you sit down and try and delve into this whole new – I can’t even call it a genre because there are so many genres under electronic music; it’s mind boggling. There is a term being thrown around on the blogs called electronic cross genre pollination; there are so many different genres of electronic music that are influencing so many others that there is no way to keep track of what genre you are listening to. It’s a really daunting thing and I think that is a reason why many people don’t get into it.”
So perhaps the best thing about Silo is you have a perfect launch point to discover electronic music. You might as well start locally, right? Silo seems particularly interested in finding the best electronica out there; they are trying to promote the genre aren’t they? How do they find the good stuff?
“I guess being a label that releases music from any genre; you need to be able to tell what’s good or not,” says Hugh. “It’s really important with electronic music because it is music that anyone can have a go at.”
So rest assured, Silo endorse high quality artists in their collective. It seems Brisbane has a lot to offer the electronic enthusiasts, something that Hugh absolutely loves.
“Just the artists I work with in my opinion are the cream of the crop in Brisbane,” says Hugh. “I really truly believe that. I think they stack up well against Sydney and Melbourne. Music from our guys get flogged down south a lot. I think having them all in the collective has made them want to try harder, there is a friendly rivalry between the guys in the collective.”
“There are some acts in Brisbane that I just absolutely adore that aren’t involved with us. Everything that Room 40 or Someone Good puts out are incredible. Acts like Lawrence English (who also runs Room 40) is a world class performer and a world class artist. Anonymeye, gets it. He gets ambient music and everything he puts out is just beautiful. Guys like Hunz and DOT.AY are great. There is a lot of stuff in Brisbane that is excellent, but at the same time some people are trying too hard or lack the production value. At the end of the day I’m just stoked that anyone is playing electronic music in Brisbane.”
Hugh is a fairly discerning music listener himself, and it seems like he has a fully formed idea of what Silo is and what it’s identity will be. He is self-assured and confident that the electronic change is coming and so he looks for people with similar confidence in electronic music to work with. That being said, the confidence has to extend to the music they make as well, that part is critical.
“I’m open to anything, really,” says Hugh. “But when it comes down to it, I want an artist who has already worked to already create their sound and who has already done some shows, who already has an idea of their aesthetic. To me it’s important that an artist knows everything end to end about themselves. They might be able to produce amazing songs, but if they have never done a show and don’t know how to put together promo photos or album artwork that reflects the same image that their music cultivates, it’s a bit unappealing to me because it says that the artist has thrown together some great tracks but doesn’t quite get it.”
Silo Arts seems to be on to something really cool, the future is bright for them and it is bright for electronica. They may grow too large for Brisbane, but that is ok, Australia seems to need a forward thinking collective like Silo to get the ball rolling nationally. Hugh knows this too.
“We focus on Australia as a whole now, rather than solely Brisbane,” says Hugh. “That said we appreciate everyone in Brisbane that listens to our stuff. When we started it was just for Brisbane, I feel like to some extent if we weren’t around Brisbane would be a slightly sadder place. I love things that push the boundaries in some way. We like people who are doing different things, who are doing something special.”
If Silo is going to be remembered as anything, it will most likely be remembered as special.