It was hardly a surprise to learn that the stylish Jamie worked at the boutique of Japanese design company Kenzo. Well layered against the cool of a typical Melbourne Spring evening, Jamie interspersed his head to toe Kenzo garb with a pleated button-down from Erdem.
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He was incomparable as Ziggy Stardust and unforgettable as The Thin White Duke. Now the man behind those two iconic musical identities will have his persona explored with David Bowie is, an exhibition curated by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and coming to Melbourne’s the Australian Centre of the Moving Image (ACMI) as part of the 2015 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces program.
It’s a coup for Melbourne, the exhibition having made its debut in London in 2013 before beginning a global tour that has so far taken in Toronto, Berlin, Chicago and – the only other Southern Hemisphere city to rate a mention – Sao Paulo.
The multimedia exhibit pulls together priceless pieces of the artist’s luminous history, from Ziggy Stardust body suits and the Union Jack waist coast designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen, to never-before-seen personal items including storyboards and hand written set lists, along with Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries.
For V&A curators, Victoria Broakes and Geoffrey Marsh, the exhibit is as much an opportunity to consider identity as it is a chance to get a grip on the “real” David Bowie.
Victoria Broakes: “David Bowie is poses the question, ‘what is David Bowie?’, and our approach to the exhibition has been to leave that question open because it invites consideration, not only that we all have different identities, but also that he means different things to different people.”
Along with the main exhibition, ACMI will host a series of events, late-night programs, talks, film screenings and performances to celebrate and put to show the 50-year career of an artist like no other.
'David Bowie Is' opens July 16, 2015. Tickets go on sale in November. Registration for pre ticket sales is accessible HERE
Fresh from Japan on a fly-in visit to Melbourne, we caught sock manufacturing impresario Tsubasa on a South Melbourne coffee break post-meeting with our friends at Beggar Man Thief. Out to discuss the footwear store’s new sock program, Tsubasa impressed with an outfit that looks casual but was all quality, from his Visvim shoes and Maiden Noir Trousers to his Carhartt jacket and Up There made in Japan shirt. “I used to be in to labels when I was younger,” says Tsubasa, “but now it’s just all about understated quality.”
Phone interviews are always a strange affair. It doesn't matter how much you prepare in advance, you never know what's going to happen on the other end of the line. Or what’s going to happen with your phone line.
It’s 1pm on a Wednesday afternoon and Makers is desperately trying to get a hold of Nkechi Anele, front woman of Melbourne band Saskwatch. Our PR supplied calling card has failed, and when we do finally get in contact with the diminutive singer our phone reception is faint and tinny.
After a couple of minutes struggling to hear each other I decide to hang up, with the promise and hope that when I call back our reception will be crystal clear.
I dial a complicated set of numbers but once again the call rings out.
About a minute later, Nketchi phones me direct. “It’s so much easier this way,” she states understandably after I apologise profusely for the shoddy phone line.
It’s nice to hear that after five years of recording and touring both nationally and internationally, success hasn’t gone to the singer’s head. The 9-piece indie-soul outfit have had a hectic schedule since the release of their second album ‘Nose Dive’ a little over a month ago and so far this year have found themselves playing a string of festival shows including WOMADelaide, Panama Festival and Bluesfest Byron Bay. They’ve also just finished up a support slot on British singer John Newman’s debut Australian tour, and were recently announced on the lineup for this year’s Splendor in the Grass. Not to mention that the band will be headlining their own national tour in June and July; travelling through regional Victoria, the ACT, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth before wrapping it all up with a homecoming gig at Richmond’s Corner Hotel on the 5th of July.
Saskwatch started out as a bunch of University students busking outside of Flinders Street Station “It was a quick way to earn money to go out and party,” Anele explains while discussing the heritage of the group. It was only after PBS radio announcer Vince Peach waked past the band that things started to get more serious. The DJ asked the buskers to perform live on his show and later invited them to take up residency at his soul night at Cherry Bar. “That’s when I joined the band,” she continues “and we ended up playing at Cherry for two and a half years before moving into festivals.”
Nkechi: “This is the second band that I’ve sung in, the first was more electro and Saskwatch actually supported us when we launched our single. There were a couple of nights that the former singer of the group wasn’t available to play and the boys asked me to fill in, then I was asked to join the band full-time.”
Things continued in an upward trajectory after those auspicious beginnings, “We were performing at Cherry bar and the night began to pick up to the point where it was selling out every time we played. There was always a queue and each week people were being turned from the door. From there we found a manager who helped us get on the lineup for Golden Plains, that was the big kick off for us.”
I recall seeing the band play a scorching set at the 2013 Sacred Heart Mission’s Heart of St Kilda concert. It was the first time that Makers of Melbourne had experienced a Saskwatch performance and we were blown away by their efforts on stage that night at the Palais theatre. I tell Nkechi that from my outsider’s point of view, the band seemed to go from playing the charity concert to suddenly being everywhere. (Laughter) “From the outside I guess it does seem like that. A lot of people think that we’ve only been around for about a year and a half when really we’re up to our fifth year of playing together. I don’t know how to explain it, but there was an interesting period of time when my face was on every poster that my friends saw around town. I’d be getting text messages everyday saying “you’re on the radio” or “I just saw your face at the tram stop.”
I mention that the bands sophomore album ‘Nose Dive’ has a darker feel to it than their first release, the 2012 album ‘Leave it all Behind’. “It was a little nerve wracking making the second album because at the time of releasing our first record the soul scene was huge here in Melbourne. We were trying to keep our writing up to that original standard of music, while moving away from that soul movement. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of being a novelty soul band that could only play themed nights. It sounds so exclusive, and creatively being a soul band is quite limiting. As much as the scene had helped us, it felt like it was time to move away and establish ourselves as a more serious band in our own right. The second album was written as a reaction to personal experience.”
She continues “Our first album felt like a party album and I think that’s because we established ourselves in a bar where it was like a party every week. Now we’ve grown up and have moved away from that university lifestyle, we’ve started taking on responsibilities. Moving through life there are some dark sides to relationships and reality and I think we’ve all reached the stage where we are happy explore that. The culture that we find ourselves in as a band reflects our creative output.”
Makers of Melbourne grabbed Theo as he window-shopped on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Fitzroy. Wearing a mix of well chosen pieces, his weekend casual look was made up of trousers by Brent Wilson, tartan tee by sportswear brand Elwood, ASOS shoes, H&M scarf & jacket purchased on a recent trip to Europe.
“I’m trying to make things for people who think for themselves.”
- Mark McNairy
Mark McNairy is a contradiction in terms. He is a designer who expresses discomfort with the term, a man of incredible brand pulling power who is distrustful of conventional brand models, an artist (though he would no doubt dispute the term) operating in a commercial world.
It’s mid-morning when Makers catches up with him at the Blackman Hotel in advance of his appearance at Carbon Festival, Mark having flown in from New York via Hong Kong the night before.
He is quick to profess his unease around interviews, and says Saturday’s public speaking engagement will be among his first (a challenge to his “fear” of the format): but while clearly uncomfortable at being in the spotlight, his reticence shields a clear and authentic creative purpose.
Mark: “I’m basically making things for myself. To me, it’s not a business and I’m lucky that I can make a living by my hobby.”
It’s more than good PR speak. He tells the tale of his first collaboration, a shoe design for Keds, the Dunlop Volley of American footwear culture. There’s a genuine smile as he recalls the project.
Mark: “For me to have my name on a sneaker that I had when I was a kid, that was the ultimate. And that’s how it started.”
The “it” Mark refers to is his prolific schedule of collaborations that operate alongside footwear and clothing releases under his Mark McNairy New Amsterdam label. Along with the current marriage with Woolrich, Adidas and Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club have been joint projects with retailer Club Monaco, shoe brand Bass and American optical company Garrett Leight among others.
Mark: “I have too many ideas for my own collections. When I had my company McNairy Brothers before working with J.Press I was known as Mr Sample by my business partners because I made way too many things. I hate working with plans; my brain doesn’t work that way. Tell me to design 12 things and it’s the 13th thing that could be great. I make what I want and they can edit.”
Invariably, what Mark wants is what the world will be clamouring to wear. His design style is typified by a reworking of the classics. Take the latest collection, where wool suits were made street-ready through a relaxation of the fit and a roll of the trouser cuff, while grey pinstriped pants were given a casual edge courtesy of subtle cargo pockets.
It’s for this reason that he professes to a lingering discomfort with the term “design” being applied to what he does. He insists he is a “maker”. Certainly the word implies a more organic process, an impression Mark strengthens by admitting he can rarely switch off from the ideas that bombard his brain. (He carries a pen and paper always.)
The notion carries through when time comes to talk branding, the topic of the Carbon forum Mark is joining in on. Interesting, then, that he appears to barely believe in the term.
A lot of what should be written next was taken off the record by Mark, who is clearly torn by his desire to remain true to his creative urges while navigating the necessities of commerce. The question is thus: how to steer clear of the pitfalls of becoming a corporate fashion juggernaut (a fate that has befallen many a once-cool fashion house) as the demand for his designs increase?
Mark doesn’t answer the question except to highlight his disdain for the brands that have walked that path before him. One gets the strong feeling it’s a journey he won’t be taking.
Mark: “I know you’re supposed to have an end goal but I still don’t. I just make things. I make things for people who can think for themselves. I learned through trial and error never to put all my eggs in one basket, which is why I’ve got a good thing going now with the different collaborations. I guess I just care too much (to sell-out) and, in the end, that’s a good thing.”
Wei spotted in South Melbourne on a mid week day off, wearing Reiss jacket & trousers, hat by Truffaux & loafers by Oliver Sweeney
Far from the frenzied math-pop and tribal rhythms of bands past, Fire! Santa Rosa Fire!'s David John Williams is now operating under a different name. As Danvers, David charts deeper and murkier waters with skeletal guitar lines and hazy jazz chords - recalling a world of illicit Prohibition-era bars and crackling acetate records all coloured with a distinctly 21st century melancholy. Propelled by the sharp, minimalist percussion and lurching atmospheres, Danvers delivers each song with a croon and a holler, the impossible biological offspring of Thom Yorke and Leadbelly.
Following on from the debut single ‘Paper Skin’, a home-spun, bedroom recorded affair that proved to be a sleeper hit among the indie music media both here and abroad, the latest single ‘Oh Darling’ saw Danvers collaborate with Melbourne producer Jono Steer and the end product is rich stew of hazy blues that boils over into compressed drums and simmering effected guitars.
We caught up with David on a rainy afternoon and discussed Danvers over a coffee in Degraves cafe.
I never know if interviews need a formal starting point or if they should just flow, but could you please tell me about Danvers?
Of course! Danvers was and still is a musical project that has been in the works for a couple of years now. It was an excuse for me to experiment with some stuff that was more introspective and not really the type of thing that anyone else wanted to get too involved in - When I was younger it was an excuse to mess around and play with different ideas but it has really been in the last year and a half that I’ve wanted to take the whole thing a lot more seriously. I’ve borrowed the sound heavily off stuff that I used to listen to as a kid, lots of folk and blues.
It seems like everyone is dabbling in blues and folk music these days. Are musicians feeling like they can experiment more with the music that they enjoyed when they were younger?
Well that’s it really. Maybe it’s a cyclical thing where people of my generation are listening to that style of music again - It wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice to perform that genre in particular, but it was a conscious choice to assemble the ideas so that they were more easily identifiable as only one genre. I didn’t want to make music that was a bit of this and a bit of that. I wanted to focus on a smaller idea.
Was it an idea that you took to Fire! Santa Rosa Fire! originally or was it something that you felt more comfortable keeping to yourself?
Having played with Fire! for so long I’m a huge fan of the democratic musical process, but Danvers was something that I wanted to start by myself and then outsource other people for their skills. Everybody that I’ve got in the Danvers band now I look to for a certain element, as well as being able to play really well it’s also their tonality or their ear, I can look to them all and learn from their talents as performers.
How many people are in the band?
There are three others. Mark Gage from Foreign/National, Sam Stearne (the drummer in Fire! Santa Rosa Fire!) and a guy called Rory O’Connor who was in an Adelaide band called ‘Steering by Stars’. We’ve all got other musical stuff going on.
And how long have you been playing as Danvers?
Well I was kicking around Adelaide for a while but it’s only probably been around the past year and a half that I started taking it seriously. Now we’re trying to get out, play shows and push toward releases and that sort of stuff.
But Fire! is still together? I was a fan.
Oh yeah for sure. At the moment everyone is just off doing their own stuff.
How will you know when it’s time to get back together?
I don’t know. Probably someone will just send someone else a text message or something. Nathaniel and Caitlin are off performing as ‘Manor’ at the moment and things were headed in the direction of everyone wanting to do their own thing for a while. For example I didn’t think that everyone in Fire! Would dig the stuff I wanted to do as Danvers in the same measure as I did.
I would suggest that it’s also good to have a creative outlet, or a side project.
Absolutely. I’m always thinking of new things and it’s hard to have to say, “will this fit within the band format?” That’s the way it goes.
You said that you’ve only been performing for around a year and a half but were you writing music before that period started?
So much stuff! Writing it, recording it, listening to it and putting it out onto some obscure part of the Internet. All of that was leading up to this and in total I’d say it has been around four or five years. One day I just decided to put that little bit more effort in and be a little bit more critical with it.
It felt like the right time?
I felt it in my waters (laughs).
I love that expression! Is the Internet good for things like that - The fact that you can release music and see what the reaction is?
You could say that it cuts both ways. Now that everybody can put music out, it means that nobody can really put out music and it gets noticed. Because everybody is doing it the stream has become incredibly diluted. But really it’s not a bad thing to have this outlet for releasing whatever you want. It’s a learning curve though, knowing where to put your stuff and when to release it. It’s trial and error.
And what’s your writing process like, if you don’t mind me asking that very clichéd question?
Nah I’m always interested in hearing the answer to that when it’s asked to other musicians. I approach it from a musical element; I’ll pick up my guitar and play it until inspiration strikes. It’s funny because you can be playing for hours and hours and come up with nothing or pick it up and in two minutes you’ve got a song. In my experience it’s the quick ones that work the best. Lyrically I just write stuff down.
Do you keep journals?
Yep. I’ll write things down and look back on them and think, “that’s a cool line” or “that’s a load of crap”.
I wish I could keep a journal.
It makes you feel like you’re a big whale sifting through plankton. There’s so much deluge and lots of barnacles. I feel like I’m constantly raking for good ideas.
There’s only one type [of journal] that I like and I can only find them in Adelaide so I stock up whenever I go back. It’s not like I’m writing down, “Dear diary, today I was sad” or that type of thing. My phone also works well but it’s not the same. I’m not great at doing a narrative lyrical thing. I’m not very good at telling a story that’s worth telling.
Do your lyrics then come from personal experience?
Mainly personal experience, they can get a little schmaltzy sometimes.
Schmaltzy like cheesy?
I listen to a lot of old timey, jazz and blues and there’s so much emotion in it that sometimes I have to borrow one liners and overuse words like “baby” and “honey”. I think they’re nice words. When you listen to a guy like Howlin’ Wolf singing about his “baby” and then Justin Bieber singing about his “baby”, there’s no comparison. I think one of the reasons that I’m so drawn to jazz music is that you’ve got these artists with really unusual sounding voices.
I came to the decision a while back that I didn’t want to sing like anyone else, I just wanted to sound like me. You’ll find that when you start singing and sound very different to other performers you’ll get a lot of people saying, “that’s new, that’s different” and then you’ll get others who are saying, “I don’t like that, I can’t relate” There’s a great contingent of the music populous who just want to listen to something that doesn’t provoke them in anyway, but to take the next step you need to release the fear of making your music a reflection of yourself. Having said that, as a performer someone will inevitably say, “you sound like so and so”.
I guess the fact that people are commenting at all is a good thing, you know what they say - All publicity is good publicity.
It’s very much for me that inspiration comes in many forms and as the result of different prompts along the way – literature or music or architecture. Certain things will peak my interest and then I might work away from that.
- Nicholas Jones
Stepping in to the studio of artist Nicholas Jones in Melbourne’s historic Nicholas Building is a little like stepping back in time, and one gets the feeling that’s exactly the way he likes it. A ‘creative’ of stunning originality, Nicholas has made his name birthing beautiful sculptures fashioned from books: delicate, origami-like configurations; elaborate cut-outs; whimsical interpretations of page and word.
Nicholas: “I was doing a sculpture and fine arts degree at the VCA when, during the third year, I had a total artistic block. That’s when I started playing with books and that’s it really.”
That was 1997. All those years on and his studio is a treasure trove of old and second hand tomes. His latest exhibition focuses on the idea of imagined lands, the result of a fascination with maps and cartography fed by his viewing of one of the first Atlases ever published – a 16th century example of cartography he was lent access to by the State Library.
Nicholas: “There has always been an attraction to history and the evolution of information and how books are often rendered obsolete five or ten years after being published. Recently my interest has been focussed on the idea of an imagined land – Atlantis or Xanadu – those places where there is something unknown. I find that really enthralling.”
Fashion, too, has formed a part of his art by virtue of its importance to his sense of person, a trait he inherited from his always-elegant mother.
Nicholas: “Part of the work that I make is about collection and going to markets and finding certain things and that also happens with fashion, with finding something different. It ties in with that idea of presenting yourself, being a curator of style as well as a collector of objects.”
He expresses his love for the notion of a “uniform”, seen in his preference for boots and the moustache he has carried for 20 years. Not to mention his love of timeless fashions bought when the artistic wage was supplemented by a second career: a beautiful Lanvin shirt, a Balenciaga jumper, Pierre Hardy shoes.
Down and out is clearly not a style choice for this artist, clad as he is in a favoured pair of Crockett & Jones.
Nicholas: “My grandmother still wears high heels at 82.”
He smiles. Expect no less.
Nicholas Jones’ current exhibition, A Conspiracy of Cartographers, is on show at the State Library in the Dome Reading Room.