Words: James Frostick and Mahne Frame
Artist image: Tex Crick
Last week, Warrang/Sydney-born and Tokyo-based producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mahne Frame released MAD WORLD – an album of dystopian no-hoper club thump. A vivid reflection of contemporary millennial malaise, the search for purpose and holding on to love and positivity in a world quickly going to the dogs, the record is the perfect soundtrack for our turbulent times.
I truly wonder sometimes how close our world is to degenerating into a Mad Max-style dystopia. If you asked Mahne Frame, we’re probably closer that most of us would care to believe. On his new full-length album MAD WORLD, the multi-instrumentalist and producer digs into his own psyche (one bruised by the pressures of our late-capitalism society) to create a soundtrack of twisted industrial electro drubbers that help communicate the feelings that lurk in the darker recesses of his psyche – loneliness and existential dread, primarily, but also feelings of tenderness, love and positivity (counterbalances crucial in maintaining sanity).
Sonically, MAD WORLD is a hyper-charged collection of maximal and abrasive electro pop – the kind that bridges the dissonant clatter of Australia’s bristly underground and the kaleidoscopic, otherworldly nature of Tokyo (where Mahne Frame resides). This collision of influences and styles helps the artist fashion singular bops out of the most interesting fragments, cobbling together a sonic monument that is at times intimidatingly aggressive and beguilingly soft-hearted. Its this dichotomy (of tone and of content) that keeps drawing me back to MAD WORLD – few records have so perfectly captured the knife-edge duality of contemporaneous living, and as the world continues to rip itself apart Mahne Frame straddles the gap, preaching patience and caring, while simultaneously mentally accoutring his ideal wasteland fit. Thrilling stuff.
Mahne Frame kindly shared some insight into the conceptual genesis of MAD WORLD and the thought process that went into each track. Read below!
I think I know what they mean, but I really truly dunno where the loner songs come from. When I was living in Sydney, I bought my first vocal mic and I set it up and the first recording I made was something like “hi um test um this is the sound of my voice… weird um”, then I opened up a beat I had previously made and LONER 1 just came outa my mouth. I say outa my mouth cos I swear it didn’t come from my brain – my mouth just said it. I kept it hidden for ages cos I thought it was no good but I’d sometimes find it by accident — and one time I heard it in the right mood and it stuck.
And I never planned to make ‘LONER 2’. I was driving from Tokyo down to an airbnb on the Izu Peninsula to finish the lyrics for this album, and I put on some random podcast – ‘n just as I saw the ocean come into view the guy started talking about a Tsunami that obliterated a town along the same coastline. There’s a phone box in that town on a hill that overlooks the ocean and people go there to speak to their loved ones that disappeared. This podcast recorded some of those conversations and I was listening to them driving along that same coastline and got floored. And then ‘LONER 2’ just came outa nowhere n I pulled over and wrote it down on the side of the highway next to the sea. (See above image)
I wouldn’t describe MAD WORLD as a concept album, ‘cos there’s too much spontaneity in the way I work — I’m defs an advocate for doing it rather than over thinking it. But along the way I did create some themes to pull from when inspiration wasn’t just comin’ outa nowhere.
One of the main themes is the idea of two polarising mad worlds, which as far as I’m concerned are the only 2 options for the humanity right now: spiralling into a Mad Max-ian dystopia caused by unkempt capitalism OR embracing our differences (aka the things that call each other ‘mad’) and working together to create a cleaner fairer utopia. And it’s been clear for a minute now that coasting in the middle is sending us towards the dystopia option. So this track is mostly me being frustrated at coasting.
There’s several ways you could look at ‘YAY’. Either me contemplating my dad’s death or my dad’s spirit looking down and contemplating his own death. Or I guess it could be a conversation between us. I’ve been so close to having conversations with him in dreams, but they always get disrupted. Something to look forward to, I guess.
301 is the small apartment me and my girlfriend Aya live in in Tokyo. We’ve worn it to death making EPs, albums, music videos and countless photo shoots – let alone living in it. So this track uses that both literally and as a metaphor for the nostalgia-laced positivity of moving on. When I wrote this we were actually in the process of moving on, but then we got stuck here cos 2020, yenno
I’m attached to this track cos the synths are the first analogue patches I ever made myself, but I could never get the drums good and so I almost left it off the record. But my friend Phanosland added the 808 drums ‘n that brought it back to life.
I wrote this one morning after me ‘n Aya had a tiff. She was still sleeping ‘n I just wanted to forget ’bout the night before cos she’s so cute.
‘SOMETIMES I TRY NOT TO CARE (feat. Tohji)’
This track also taps into the ‘mad world’ theme. The chorus is basically me fantasising about coasting i.e. not caring about all the things that concern me on a daily basis, and serving myself only – i.e. snowboarding through life not caring about anyone else (hence why I hit up Tohji for that line).
But I wrote the verse for my close friend who was in a real dark place and contemplating not going on. When he told me that, it made me realise how much the world needs quality, sensitive people. There’s no better way to have a fire lit than by personal experience so I encourage everyone going through a tough time to remember how important they are and how much we need them in this world right now AND for the future. In an extreme sense, the reason why Mad Max can put himself in front of harms way unconditionally is cos of the hardship that he experienced losing his loved ones. So there’s always a reason to go on.
This ties into why the Akira Kurosawa quote, “In a mad world, only the mad are sane” (see image above) hit me like a ton of bricks when I found it — enough that it became a guiding quote for this whole album. To me it’s the ultimate acceptance of each other’s madness (aka differences) and the understanding that we exist in a world so varied that we can safely call the world itself mad. So why create wars around difference? Why kill ourselves for feeling different? It doesn’t make sense separating each other over differences when everyone is different, meaning different is normal. If we can understand that madness is sanity — i.e. difference is normal — we can focus on larger problems and work towards the option of a utopian future.
As I said, I made the verse for my friend — my thought being that he can put this song on as a reminder that he’s important and that someone cares about him even in his darkest moments — but it turns out I need this reminder too, and so do some of my other friends. So I encourage you to use this song if you need it also.
A meditation on money, sex and death
It was Phanosland’s idea to make a reprise of ‘LOVE’. So he took the choir and added a bunch of new stuff around it and sent it back to me and I tied it off.
I’m real grateful cos it created a space for me to get two things of my chest:
1 – sometimes feelings gotta be hurt 🤷♀️🤷♀️
2 – the most alpha of alpha males, the baddest man on the planet, is capable of seeing where humanity truly sits in the ecosystem.
Another mix of the past and present. I wrote this on a flight gettin’ nostalgic about the past. I used to think that I get emotional on planes cos of the altitude, but now I think it’s just cos there’s no phone service so I spend too much time in my head. I was about to leave that there but actually I’ll tell u what I was getting nostalgic about:
When I was 13 I used to sneak out my window at midnight, ride my BMX down the Blue Mountains, climb in my girlfriend’s window and then return before daybreak. Her parents had previously sat me down and told me “if you sleep with her, we’ll cut your nuts off” while brandishing a kitchen knife, but that just added to the adrenaline. And there were some real close calls 🥵🤪 That thirst for adrenaline is a recurring part of my life, which is where the lyric “Near dead, I’m alive” comes from.
Without gettin’ too deep this kinda ties with the above thirst for adrenaline The need I have to feel something hardcore emotionally or physically to feel alive. I relate strongly to Zoë Bell, Dennis Rodman and Max Rockatansky cos of this. And as I get older I’m tryna find ways to use this for good rather than self-destructively, like Max does.
I accidentally bookended the album with ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’. The guitar that opens the album is a really stretched sample from a song called ‘Happy Birthday’ by some of my heroes, a legendary Australian band from the 80s. And it’s a really happy accident cos this album needs all the positivity it can get