“You never get the full picture of your music until you listen to it at the mastering studio and you have a 40-year old engineer mastering your shit, looking over his shoulder at you in disgust.” Trials
|Adelaide’s DJ Reflux, Sesta, Hons and Trials must be onto something with their crew, The Funkoars. Arguably the staunchiest, raunchiest crew in Australia (ie do not read on and do not click on the links in the article if you’re easily offended), their larrikin tales about nights on the tiles have earned them a strong following. And, now, they’re living the life.||
There seems to be such a professional energy with what’s coming out of Adelaide. Is there a strong community feel with the artists who’ve been around for a while and have been building steadily?
Trials: Yeah for sure. The whole Certified Wise crew is built on that shit – everyone learning off each other. Our DJ (Reflux) does Hilltop Hoods’ sound on tour so he picks up things and brings them into the fold. When they were recording The Calling we were recording Step Daddy and taking tips off them. Everyone is learning off each other. It’s a positive thing. There’s a definite drive for professionalism now that people are actually making a living off it.
Obviously the topics you guys cover and the metaphors you use are a bit of a slap in the face to some. Is that just an area you guys stumbled on as a group?
Trials: Yeah. We’ve been down since we were 16 year olds. What people are listening to now is the same shit we were doing back then but a little heavier. We don’t say shit to purposely slap people in the face. We say shit that we did on the weekend. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing really…
There’s a whole generation of kids rapping like this – not that you were the first to do it but you’re probably the most prominent in Australia – is it strange or funny seeing young kids rapping like that now?
Trials: Yeah it’s hilarious. We came up in the whole battle bullshit. The groups above us like Hilltop Hoods, Terra Firma… those dudes are really minded artists, they’re very conscious artists. Then you have dudes like us rapping about painting walls or doing something stupid. The sad thing is that we’re still doing it now. But when we hear kids doing it now, it’s like, “Yeah, fuck yeah. We were doing that shit. I can relate to that. We’ll give them a hand up as well.” I think it’s dope. I’m glad someone’s carrying the flame in the gutter.
I guess most of you would have girlfriends or partners. How do they take songs like Kidney Shifters [offensive language]?
Trials: They’re all cool with it. We basically run on the proviso that it’s just a joke – that’s our excuse. Until there’s concrete evidence otherwise… then we’d shit ourselves. Most of the shit you hear on the record is a half-truth only because we’re trying to cover up what actually happened.
Do you ever see yourselves spinning into political angles down the track?
Trials: I don’t know. As solo dudes we’re really strange motherfuckers. Hons is a gambling addict, Reflux doesn’t eat, Sesta is a bizarre terminator-type motherfucker who doesn’t speak unless he’s spoken to, and I don’t know where my head’s at anymore. So if we got loose solo bad things would happen. As a group we can all decide to rap about stupid shit but if we were solo I don’t like to know what would happen. Me and Sesta read a lot of David Icke books about reptiles ruling the world so if we were let solo and weren’t to rap about getting drunk I’m pretty sure reptiles ruling the world would take over the main subject of the album.
Have you ever turned up to a show as a group and thought, “Hm, I don’t know if this is going to go down so well”?
Trials: Fucking heaps. But we try not to do that shit now because we know we’re not built for it. I don’t want to force-feed this shit to people. You never get the full picture of your music until you listen to it at the mastering studio and you have a 40-year engineer mastering your shit, looking over his shoulder at you in disgust. Then you realise just how fucked the shit you’re recording is. When you’re hanging out with a bunch of drunks every week, it’s nothing to you. It’s run-of-the-mill shit. But that’s why we avoid the tour circuit.
What production setup do you have?
Trials: For this album I was fucking with an MPC a little bit – an MPC1000 – but I didn’t really mess with it because I’m more of a PC guy like most of the Hilltop Hoods. I use Logic Audio which is a wonderful program and Sesta uses an MPC.
You have a bit of a mixed background, don’t you?
Trials: Yeah I’m half Welsh and half Aboriginal.
How do you find the political correctness around the indigenous area with music and government funding? Do you get hit up a lot to be involved in projects when you’d really just be serving someone else’s interests?
Trials: In the very beginning when I was just a knockabout I got pigeon-holed. But what I wanted to do is establish myself as an MC before being ‘that Aboriginal dude in the Funkoars’. I want to establish myself as an MC, as a producer first and then start bringing my opinions and setting light to the whole game. I think it’s worked so far. Me and one of my mates Simplex from Terra Firma have started doing workshops in Flinders Ranges with a lot of Aboriginal communities, just real run-down desolate type joints. We’ve been teaching them how to rap, recording tracks with them. It’s real fun. If I get loose on the solo shit you can bet that something will come out – I don’t know how bitter, jaded or strange it will be but it will come out. But I purposely strayed away from it because when I started everyone wanted a piece of it. Same as female rappers – a lot of them get pigeon-holed as ‘female rappers’. It’s fucked. You should get judged on what you do first. But a lot of people exploit it for grants, airplay.
What’s your involvement in the recording process?
DJ Reflux: I’m the technical geek. I set up everything up for them in terms of recording because they’re creative people but not exactly technical people. So I get all the technical things done. Once it’s recorded I take it up to my studio and if it needs fattening up I’ll layer some extra kicks in, some extra hats or some re-working of the beat.
So when you talk about helping to set them up technically, specifically what are you involved with?
DJ Reflux: Sound and mic booths, what mic to use, cabling, mixer setup, headphone feeds, compression settings… what products we will use? I used to work for Derringers Music – it’s like a Billy Hydes or Sound Devices store here in Adelaide – so I had access to a whole heap of product. The tech-y, geek-y side of the Certified Wise crew is what I do. I have my own project studio and we set up another one at Sesta’s place to record vocals down there because that’s where they were always at so it made sense. Trials would give me the raw beats and I’d do my best to get the best out of them.
What’s the one bit of equipment that you just can’t skimp on?
DJ Reflux: Engineering knowledge. You can pull a good sound out of cheap gear. Nowadays cheap gear can sound alright in comparison to what it used to. You still need a good mic – a vocal chain is the optimum. Hip hop has it easy because we only need one chain of recording so you only need a good mic pre-amp and compression. To me, hip hop’s about the art of compression – if you don’t know what you’re doing with compressors you won’t pull a big sound.
Talk to me a bit more about that. What’s the art of compression?
DJ Reflux: The art of compression is making something sound large, giving it room to breathe, not squashing the life out of it and giving it impact. We’re not talking about just sheer volume but how it actually happens. A kick drum may be a big boom but you may want a crack behind it as well. A lot of the ‘oars sound is big and in your face and compression helps you get that sound. Whereas someone with a bit more sparse production, you wouldn’t need to compress it as much. The Hoods’ sound is a bit more open – general compression overall is probably a bit less. We compress on the way in and then in mixing.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to putting cuts into tracks?
DJ Reflux: I put a lot of thought into my cuts and do a lot of takes as well to get the right sound. You can just go nuts and be happy with it and 90% of people will probably think it’s the same but to me it’s not. You need to have the right amount of flashiness as well as the right amount of simple stuff as well.
Who are some of the DJ’s that cut on tracks really well?
DJ Reflux: My favourite – for sheer dopeness – is Revolution for cuts on a track. Babu always has a good funkiness as well. But Rev is just incredible. When he does the cuts for a crew it’s a bit different but when he does his own thing it’s just incredible. They’d be my two main influences in terms of crew DJ-ing.
This is a bit of a loaded question, but what happened to turntablism?
DJ Reflux: What happened to battling or what happened to turntablism?
DJ Reflux: Battling died in the arse. I think it got too over the head of punters. Half the punters don’t get the technical skill of it all and if you just do a chirp for 8 bars then the beat drops out they love it. They don’t get the sheer technical skill of battling, where it went. DJ’s were getting so inward on themselves they forgot about the funkiness. There still are some DJ’s who can incorporate the two and they are the ones who end up winning. That’s what happened in Australia and overseas I guess – they killed it off. Turntablism is still strong but it’s shifted away from the public focus. Hip hop in Australia used to be very much about the DJ but now the DJ doesn’t get much of a look-in. It’s all about the crews. When I was starting out at clubs like Repertoire, the DJ’s were the shit – Madcap and Next, that was the shit. Now it’s shifted to the crews and MC’s. DJ’s play their part but not as much as they used to.
The secret weapon of Adelaide, music aside, seems to be the organisers and managers like PJ and Kirk Wray just gunning it…
DJ Reflux: It does help. The whole music business side of things – we’ve been lucky to learn off the likes of the Hoods and PJ and shit. Those guys are guns. They have it locked at the moment. Just to get 5% of their music business knowledge helps a lot in trying to get our shit out there. Obviously Obese has helped us a lot in getting that exposure. It always helps having someone guide you – we always make the critical decisions but Kirk is there putting it together.
- This Funkoars interview with Trials and DJ Reflux was published in Issue 14
Funkoars – Black Sally feat. Maurice Greer
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