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January 1, 2014 Comments (0) Views: 4376 Events

NICOLE SKELTYS

Australian musician NICOLE SKELTYS is best known for her work as one half the of the cult electronic duo B(IF)TEK with Kate Crawford.Since their break up in 2003 Nicole has been busy in other genres with projects such as DUST and the acid tinged country folk of THE JILTED BRIDES .Black Forest spoke to Nicole about her past,present and future projects….

Tell us about the electronic music scene in Australia in the 90’s, how b(if)tek formed and how you came to be involved with clan analogue, perhaps explain who and what clan analogue is to our readers…

Ahhh. Ye olde bleeping days:-)  Way back in the early 90s I was getting into Detroit and Berlin electronica and techno, but never realised Australia was cultivating its own world of underground bleeps. I was living in  Canberra at the time ( I don’t recommend anyone try that BTW, it is a very bleak government town), and I was in an indie/dance cross-over all girl band called Area 51. We played a gig at the local university which was part of a night put on by a bunch of live electronic acts from Sydney, an artists collective called Clan Analogue, who I’d never heard of.

I still remember that night was one of the turning points in my life.  After Area 51 had done our set, the rest of the evening was taken up with geeks (all guys from memory) twiddling knobs on stacks of black boxes and keyboards, triggering live samples and making the most amazing soundscapes and funked up grooves.  I was blown away – not just by the freshness of the sounds I was hearing, but also by the friendly, witty, intelligent and ‘out-there’ feeling of the whole evening.

I remember getting goose bumps and thinking distinctly: “I have found my people. These are my tribe.”

I found out more about Clan Analogue – a loose collective that got going kind of simultaneously in Sydney, Canberre and Melbourne – and it was just artists who were really into electronica – including video and computer artists – who were particularly the old school analogue machines – and who supported each other to put on gigs, and pooled money to release vinyl and tape commitment.  That too appealed to me a great deal – the commitment to collective effort, mutual aid.

More info about the history and activities of the Clan over the last 20 years at http://www.clananalogue.org/

The Canberra branch was really small, only really about five of us, but through that I met another geek-girl Kate Crawford, who has a similar sensibility to me, and we started jamming together as B(if)tek in my converted garage studio.  I quickly ended up sinking all my money into black boxes and vintage synths, getting bitten with the ‘modular’ bug. Fairly quickly we ended up recording onto my DAT machine a bunch of live noodling tracks which sounded pretty cool and we decided to release an album.  Our first album called ‘Sub-vocal Theme Park’ was released in 1996 with the assistance of Rosie Cross, also known as Geekgirl, one of the pioneers of the cyberfeminist movement, and is still going strong today http://geekgirl.com.au/blog/52ab4879-6114-455e-8847-25b3c0f1fc1f

Up until then, B(if)tek had played at our own DIY forest parties in Canberra, club nights and the occasional rave in Sydney.  One weekend in Sydney though, I was walking past a record store and heard one of our tracks being played.  I was amazed, and thought ‘Gosh, maybe this obscure little record will take us somewhere?”  It certainly did.  It was released in Europe by a German psy-trance label (although neither of us were into psy-trance!).  And then next thing we know, we were being courted by Sony and signed in 1999.

The rest, I guess, is (pretty obscure!) history.  In short, we ended up getting a lot of radio play, nominated for awards, played all the big festivals and parties, including touring with the Beastie Boys, playing at the Sydney Opera House, lots of television and print coverage.  It was a really fun few years, which resulted in us releasing two more albums before we split at the end of 2003.

Can you share any interesting stories from that time, wild,humorous or otherwise?

One of my proudest achievements is that B(if)tek set up our own awards for innovation in the electronic arts called the WINK awards.  From 2000-2003, we funded and hosted these awards nights, which included cash prizes, and we ended up getting hundreds of entries, including from all over the world.  The idea was to reward artists using electronic art forms and media for good political causes, and doing ‘out there’ stuff – the complete opposite of the traditional music awards which are basically pats on the back for people who have proved themselves to be commercially successful. We made a lot of people very happy, including ourselves, and I look back now and still can’t quite believe we pulled it off!
Are there any Australian artists you feel deserve recognition that might not have had the attention they deserved?
Oh God, where to start?  So much great talent in the Oz electronic underground – just have a listen to the offers from the Clan Analogue site.  One band I’ll single out for special mention is B(if)tek’s ‘brother’ band, a boy duo called Dark Network http://newsite.clananalogue.org/releases/ca033-late-set-dark-network/
Tim and Bo were close friends of me and Kate and we used to play together a lot.  I really, really, loved their super-deep, slinky, ultra-stoner but funk/dub sounds.  Very unique, and quintessentially Australian electronica in a way I find it hard to put my finger on – perhaps because there is something sly and humorous and with the samples and a very fresh sensibility.

Are you still involved in clan analogue in any way?

I keep in touch with the Clansters mostly via their FB page https://www.facebook.com/groups/3309238862/
When I was in the States a couple of years ago, I made a pilgrimage to Asheville NC to go to Moogfest, a big celebration of all things Moog, modular synthesis and a big music fest with lots of great local and international acts.  I paid my respects to Michelle Koussa-Moog, Bob’s daughter, and officially handed over the 20 year celebration release of the Clan to her.  We all owe her Dad such a debt of gratitude for his wonderful pioneering work with the Moog synth. It was a moving moment.  I made a little video of an interview I did with her, which you can see on my video page http://www.nicoleskeltys.com/videos/

How did the b(if)tek sound evolve as the projecas it went on?

I still think our first album was the best, because it was so unique – we really had no idea what we were doing, and we created a thing of strange, dark, feminine, beauty, which lots of people became quite obsessed with, and I’ve heard ‘Sub-vocal Theme Park’ described as a cult classic.  Our next album with Sony ‘2020’ was much more upbeat, dance oriented, and our final (double album) was quite Boards of Canada influenced – a mixture of our signature smooth analogue acid sounds with brief soundscape sketches and interludes.  It is a double album, the second album is an album of remixes from artists like Monolake, Khan and Scanner.

Were B(if)teks records acclaimed outside of Australia? if so where else in the world did people pick up on the Australian electronic sound?We got a cult following for a while in the 1990s/ early 2000s in Germany I believe, and as late as a couple of years ago, a friend of ours living in Hungary sent us a link showing that Sub-vocal Theme Park was the most popular electronica album download in I-Tunes there.  Go figure!

Tell us about your other electronic music project Artifical, how did that come about?

I always wrote more than could be accommodated within the B(if)tek project, so I ended up releasing a couple of solo records and some vinyl as Artificial.  Artificial had a much more eccentric sound and love of disco and ‘hillbilly house’.  My albums had great titles if I do say so myself – ‘Electro-Lollipop-Explosion’ and ‘Libraries are Fun’.  The latter album was even released with the support of a local Melbourne library network, and I even got fanmail from some librarians!

After B(if)tek and Artificial you formed Dust in 2004 and the Jilted Brides in 2007 with Tanya Andrea Stadelmann.,Was this something you had been wanting to do for awhile and was this a conscious decision to take a step back from electronic dance music?
Yes, by the end of 2003 I was getting bored with the electronic music scene because the ‘underground’ scene was started to get dominated by boys with laptops and ‘techno’ had become quite commercialised and mostly Godawful.  I felt I was getting older and wanted to return to song writing and playing in a live band as opposed to 20 machines.  So it was great to get a 5 piece together and start writing music in a completely different vein – alt.country, folk rock, and psychedelic folk.  I’m very proud of Dust’s one and only album ‘Songs’, which has a remarkable sound given it was all recorded and produced by the band, mostly in my Melbourne backyard bungalow studio.  I also think we sounded like Midlake before Midlake !  We were after that nostalgic ’70s ‘classic album’ sound too http://www.nicoleskeltys.com/discography/dustsongs/
The Jilted Brides is a ‘folk-tronica’ project, myself and filmmaker Tanya Andrea Stadelmann.  We got together in late 2007 in intense circumstances, with some spooky synchronicities.  We had both been going through hard times – in my case, recovering from a relationship breakdown, the death of my mother and then my breast cancer diagnoses, all within the space of 12 months.   We both wanted to just “run away”, and I hatched a completely irrational plan to run away to the USA, although I had no contacts there and no away of living and working over there.But I kind of got this sense of destiny about going there, and I got Tanya to sing on a bunch of tracks I had been writing over those very dark times, and we recorded an album in my shed within 6 weeks which we called ‘Larceny of Love’- as it is quite a forlorn and ethereal album, but with strong pop melodies too – kind of like The Carpenters on acid.  Anyway, on the strength of that demo, we got invited to do a bunch of artist residencies around the USA, I ended up getting sponsored by Pittsburgh Filmmakers to get a green card and we stayed in the USA for three years.  The whole story is actually quite incredible, and I have been sporadically been trying to write a book about the whole adventure.  You have to admit ‘Jilted Brides in America’ is a best-seller title:-)
http://www.nicoleskeltys.com/discography/larceny-of-love/

Tell us about your soundtrack and film work….

Done quite a lot of stuff over the years including a TV series for Lonely Planet and most recently a feature length documentary about the Australian photographer Robyn Beeche who made a big impact on the fashion and style of ’80s London http://alifeexposed.com/
I love writing for film and TV and always wish I could do more of it!

When and why to you decide to relocate to London , was it for financial or creative reasons?

I’ve always loved London and the time had come for a new adventure.  Since moving here  mid-year, I have started writing a TV comedy series based in an ambulance service.  Its great being here, there is so much interesting and eccentric stuff going on all the time, it feels like its own universe.

 

What are you currently active with at the moment, any music or art projects you want to tell readers about?

 

I really loved it if people had a listen to my latest album  – a compilation called ‘Citizens United’, featuring songs by myself, a revived version of Dust, and some of my artist friends from the USA and the UK.  It spans drone-rock, to glam-rock-techno, to folk-rock, dance beats, Hunter S Thompson-esque spoken word noir, to Beatles tribute tracks.  I really think its all killer and no filler! http://www.nicoleskeltys.com/discography/citizens-united/

Here is the blurb about it below.  Kind of fitting that 20 years later, I find myself organising a collective endeavour again to put out an album – just like how I started with the Clansters way back in me yoof!
“The inspiration for the album came from emails from my LA based screen writer friend Dave Gebhardt who was driving back and forth from LA to Albuquerque in mid 2012 to visit his mother who was dying of cancer in a hospice there. His meditations on the declining state of American politics, corporate consumer culture, war and American history, love and connection, The Beatles, the aching beauty of the desert landscape, and the death of a loved one were profoundly moving. I suggested we work on a project that captured some of these feeling and ideas, and the result several months later – with a little help from our friends – is Citizens United
It is a diverse album both musically and emotionally. Citizens spans Velvet Underground drone pop,Beatles-esque tunes, glam-rock, folk-rock, cinematic soundscapes, to poignant and darkly funny spoken word meditations on death and American culture.
The title is a reference to the 2010 Citizens United v Federal Election Commission ruling by the United States Supreme Court, which effectively removed restrictions on corporations donating unlimited sums to politicians and governments. The ruling has been highly divisive in American society, and spawned grassroots movements to change the constitution to make it clear that “corporations are not people”. Its a massive undertaking, but more and more State legislatures, starting with Montana are passing resolutions in support of this movement, to try and stem the tide of political corruption, demolition of democracy and concentration of corporate power on a scale not seen since the 1890s ‘robber baron’ oil trusts
Calling the album Citizens United is a way of acknowledging this current USA political struggle (which will have implications around the globe), on a scale and importance of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements of the 60s. But also reclaiming the term as what it should really mean, which is about people – in our case artists –  joining together to be good citizens helping each other and supporting democratic ideals and practices.”

 

 

Catch up with Nicoles latest projects and activities here:

www.nicoleskeltys.com

Check out Nicole’s Back catalogue here:

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Nicole+Skeltys

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