Generally when you mention the sound of the Australian bush, it is presumed that you are speaking of the steady buzz of crickets chirping in the hot sun, while the sound of Kookaburras laughing in the gumtrees echo in the distance. For a growing number of people however, they are referring to the twisted, squelchy, psychedelic, electronic sounds being emitted from the heart of a gathering of people, anywhere from 100 – 15,000 strong, camping in a make shift community for several days at a time. To those people, these gatherings are known as ‘Bush Doofs’ – A temporary oasis of sound and colour deep in the bush away from any prying eyes, where you can lose yourself completely… Only to find yourself again. The music featured at these gatherings was initially psytrance but now comes in many different forms, spawning unique styles and bush-influenced cross overs. One of the most prominent forms that have taken shape is that of Bush Techno, but rather than have me ramble on about a genre I have seen take shape from the outside, I sat down with the man responsible for the shape it has taken, Michael Muska.
[LIS] I guess we should start from the beginning. What is Bush Techno exactly? Did you coin the term yourself or was it something that was being thrown around a bit before you started using it?
[Muska] I definitely started calling it that and describing it that way to the people on the dance floors whilst listening to specific artists like Boris Brejcha, Extrawelt, old Maetrik stuff, Third Sun, Gabriel Ananda, Dominik Eulberg, but predominantly Aussie producers like Closer Apart, Thankyou City, Child & SQL, Antix (NZ), Timmus, myself – we all capture these outdoor type vibes. But it’s not limited to a genre, it’s really a term used to describe sounds. I would also say someone like Whitebear sounds very bush techno although some people would call it glitch hop, even Tetrameth which is considered progressive psy still really has elements of this distinct sound that has become iconic to the Australian bush parties. It all just started as a way to describe a sound that wasn’t techno for nightclubs, and it just caught on. The next thing I know people are coming up to me saying they really like that bush techno sound I do. I’d been using the term so much since so I guess that’s the style I play, but mostly it’s a sound that has gained a communal respect and like for at outdoor parties in Australia.
Let’s talk about that because I imagine there was an initial backlash when techno was introduced to the scene?
Because the whole Bush Doof community was predominantly psytrance, yeah, it took that transition to welcome other styles of music to the outdoor festivals at the time. There were only certain sounds that were getting booked by promoters, glitch hop was one of them and then this bush techno stuff. At first the psytrance crowd didn’t like techno at all, but now it’s just taken over entirely and it all stemmed from that transition process when the scene was slightly changing and techno was sneaking in there.
Is it crazy to think that techno wasn’t a part of the scene at all?
Yeah it was there just not that much, then festivals like Subsonic and Strawberry Fields really started paving the way for shifting the outdoor festival sound entirely to all realms of 4/4. Now you will hear everything from deep house to techno.
It’s funny to think that the reaction of people to techno being played at these psytrance festivals is akin to the reaction of most people when you play them psytrance in the first place. But psytrance is an acquired taste and such a mind bending genre when used correctly, I imagine putting techno up around it would have been quite a shock to the system.
I guess for me as a DJ playing lots of different nightclubs as a job, I didn’t always play what I wanted to play. I always played stuff I liked but I had to cater to the crowd, especially when you choose to do it as work at first. But there is always a thread of your sound in there, and bush doofs were somewhere I could entirely do that – play what I love over extended periods of time. Because of this I really wanted to play them and it became all I cared about. So a combination of going to bush parties, listening and appreciating all genres of music, and doing psychedelics with a deep music collection allowed me to know what sounds would trigger reactions from them, and you begin to really read the crowd. In an outdoor environment there is something easier about doing all this. The atmosphere and vibe is just there so all you have to do is make sure you take the audience on a journey. Once you have them in your hands, you can go anywhere with it. For the most part if it had those creaky noises, those squeaks and squelches and the synth-y type bass lines, when you start layering it and mixing it, it just works.
So you’ve taken bush techno from the bush in to the city. What does it look like now?
I also run an annual event called Organic Audio which is a producer showcase where we run a Bushtechno room, as well as having a segment in conjunction with Organic Audio at this year’s Strawberry Fields Festival. With the festival scene in Australia growing rapidly there are already a lot of festivals, so we are starting to work with them. We have at least two or three lined up already where we are going to run segments or stages. One coming up is Electric Parade and last year we had Boris Brejcha and Ann Clue play on it.
The plan is to start a label, but at the moment it’s just a matter of building content. In Australia our producers here are very young in comparison to the rest of the world, not young in age but young in the way that our scene is only just becoming sustainable enough for artists to write music during the week and actually have a platform for it. So now that this is happening and the music business model is starting to be discussed around producers and DJ’s, we’re seeing labels start to spring up here and there. But really in Australia there hasn’t been any big labels yet because the climate hasn’t been right until now, so we see guys releasing through labels like Addictech, Lo-Fi 45, Open Records, Recovery Collective and Chameleon… But there’s no home for this specific sound. So the Bush Techno parties are basically a way to build capital to fund the eventual label.
It must have been interesting to watch the electronic scene evolve so much over the years. For the readers who may not be aware of what you have been up to over the span of your career, can you fill them in?
Well as an artist in Melbourne 13 years ago, there weren’t enough gigs to just DJ and write music. So loving music and needing more of an income than just gigs, I immersed myself entirely in the scene and started doing events and promoting. Plus if you wanted gigs you pretty much had to create your own, especially if you wanted to play your own particular styles. That’s why I started putting on parties, so I could play and book my friends who I wanted to see play. That led from local parties to being offered international gigs from touring agents, which allowed me and my friends to start supporting international events. This then led to being poached by a large venue in Melbourne at the time called Brown Alley, who basically said “come work for us, we’ll give you large budgets to throw whatever parties you like and have creative control to do whatever you want.” So for eight years I was involved to some degree or another in nearly every single show that was put on at that venue, and if you know the venue it featured almost every international artist you can think of and still does to date. We did the very first shows, a lot of them before they blew up in Australia, and that’s anything from Chase and Status to Extrawelt or Sven Vath.
Nice, two vastly different worlds.
That’s it, I did all genres. I moved to Victoria from Western Australia around 2003, so before that I was mostly into drum and bass, breakbeats and stuff like that. These were the first sounds that I really got into, so when I got into event management I knew who people like Pendulum were before anyone did as I was from Perth and went to like their very first gig before they even released a record.
[Suddenly, there is a knock on the front door. The conversation stops, Muska opens the door. A young kid hands him a small white dog, he carries the dog into the next room and sits back down. There is no mention of the dog. The conversation continues.]
So when these types of acts got offered to me or when it came to unearthing artists, as someone who was collecting records, going to gigs and just watching the scene in general worldwide – I knew exactly who to book and what promoters to call on to do any type of party. I wound up doing that for just under ten years and by the time I was over the clubs, I had a lot of close friends around me gaining momentum with their festivals like Elliot (Child) with Strawberry Fields, Marco (Marcotix) and Scott (MSG) with Subsonic, and I was getting more involved with what they were doing. I started to get some creative input, even involved in bookings and promotions, but I had ideas of my own I was saving for a festival concept I had.
Around the same time a lot of the internationals I was doing at Brown Alley were becoming more popular and becoming more expensive, so a lot of the agents that were selling them to me started putting on the parties themselves. I am an artist and a DJ first, so there was no point to try to stay and work in the industry, especially if I could just get back to what I started doing it all for in the first place. So before I quit putting on events to that capacity I rounded up all those networks, resources, promoters and everyone I knew from throwing what was just over 300 parties around town. I pitched a concept and team I had in mind for a new year’s day festival to my old boss and owner of Brown Alley, and with his support and backing we spawned the concept that became Let Them Eat Cake Festival. I also got a friend Matt Bonner involved and the help of Kevin Karlbergs, who doesn’t get enough of a mention for his participation in launching the concept at the time. Now it’s pretty much a Novel event and I am barely involved, which doesn’t phase me. I have my residency playing at the festival each year so I am totally happy, that’s all I care about. It has become a platform to showcase a lot of my original material for the production I have completed throughout each year, and as long as the festival runs true to the original concept I had for it there is no need to change a thing and it still comes through with the goods every year.
I went to Let Them Eat Cake Festival two years ago and was very impressed at what was achieved for an inner-city music festival.
It’s inspired by the best elements of an outdoor bush doof but capitulated within a day and instead of being in the bush it is held in a lush botanical gardens. Plus it was also about moving away from the concrete jungle types like Future Music Festival or Stereosonic festival, which were the only kind of things Melbourne had as a day event and were dominating at the time. It was about raising the bar of what, as an artist, I expect to experience at a festival and it did that. Now everyone is doing boutique festivals with quality decor, art installations, and underground acts. That’s exactly what I wanted to achieve – set the standard and lift the quality of events in Melbourne by leading by example.
Where did the idea to hold LTEC at Werribee Mansion come from? It is such an awesome spot for a music festival, but I never even knew the place existed.
My friend Chris Mitchell mentioned it to me and like anything, if something is mentioned to me and I kind of get that gut feeling from the universe… it’s a sign I have to know more. So I went and checked out the site and when I saw the trees from all over the world that they plant there I thought ‘yup, this is it.’ They have trees from every continent spread around those gardens, and I’m a massive fan of trees. It was more about the trees for me – knowing that trees hear our conscious thoughts, our emotion and intention, then where else would be more perfect a place to do the festival than at a botanical garden. I’m a bit of a tree hippie.
Yeah I’m feelin’ ya on that, so many questions about those trees man, they know some shit.
Yes they do.
So Let Them Eat Cake Festival was a success, what was next?
Well it took a couple of years to shake the reputation of being a promoter. Because I became such a big promoter and got caught up in that whole side of the scene, it took a little bit away from my DJing. So I shook that rep, made it clear that I am just an artist now and the most I will do when it comes to working in the industry is consulting, maybe some bookings and helping friends, but other than that I just focused on playing tunes again.
Once I established that, the opportunities really started to come in and the next thing I know I was playing main stages. It’s been four years of that now, playing main stages around Australia. Only now am I looking at directing events again, but it has to be completely based around what I am doing as an artist with Bushtechno or running festival stages. I am doing that with Strawberry Fields each year now, and I’m really excited about it because creatively it’s a lot of fun, especially when you come up with the stage ideas and include all your friends and their ideas on top of that to make everyone’s vision happen. For anyone going to this year’s event, wait ‘till you see what we are going to do down at the Organic Audio stage – very excited the guys gave me the space after years of working together. It really is an honor as Strawberry Fields is hands down my favourite Australian festival and their entire crew and team are amazing. Family vibes all the way.
Tell us about your tunes. Your Soundcloud bio states that you have been making tunes for a while but not releasing them. Can you elaborate?
Yeah, well I got to observe a lot of the glitch hop guys in Australia when they were starting out. Although they are releasing a lot of tunes now, when they first started a lot of them wouldn’t release tunes and what they wrote was strictly played in their sets. So over the last couple of years, these main stage festival sets have become predominately my own stuff that is unreleased. I find that in a market that is so flooded the music has become almost disposable, so if you really want your tracks to stand out and have a distinct sound, you want to keep them exclusive to your set for a while. Get everyone knowing the tunes even wanting them, then when you have a bit of a back catalogue, you can start releasing. So for me it’s really about creating a set that I can play without people becoming tired of it. Next year I’ve lined up some time to really hit some proper studios, as there is only so much you can do on your own in your house, getting the tracks into proper acoustically treated rooms and running it all through some serious equipment.
Let’s talk production. Your sound is very glitchy, how do you go about it?
Most of the production skills I’ve learned are from observing the glitch hop guys. A producer called Wasabi probably helped me the most in my development with production. Also my cousin Glen, who is a breakbeat producer by the name of Diistortiion, and Kasey Taylor taught me a lot about the mix down process. Beyond that it’s just eaves dropping on conversations and slipping in questions here and there to whatever high profile producers I meet to gain an overall perspective. Other than that I’ve never watched a tutorial or anything, just a lot of analogue jamming and processing. My trick is just building instrument racks, effect racks, and just twisting knobs and sounds while having the record button on the whole time… Because the gold happens when you’re not trying. Then I go back through that recording and grab everything good, process it again, put more effects on it and so on. That’s it really, I very rarely have a set process and hardly ever remember how I made a tune. I just channel something and do it.
Very glitch hop style production methods.
Yeah it is. But I find it really is all about building a solid foundation of instrument racks and patches.
Nice insight mate – where can we see you play over the summer?
I’m focusing on the festivals at the moment, so the main ones I’ll be at this summer are Strawberry Fields Festival, Subsonic Music Festival, Let Them Eat Cake, Rainbow Serpent Festival and Rabbits Eat Lettuce. They have become my main resident type festivals. As for club gigs, I’m trying to shy away from those at the moment so unless I’m supporting an international I like or it’s the right set time for the right promoter, otherwise it’s all energy I could spend in the studio instead.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down.
No worries. Thank you.