Brizzy boys on top; Welcome to X CLUB.

Despite not being the first interviewees for the blog, it felt fitting to kick it all off with two chiefs on the other side of the world who feel like the original VSN duo if we were 12 hours ahead and a bit more tanned.

The Brisbane-based pairing of Benedict Clarke and Jesse Morath; X CLUB., had spent the beginning of 2020 sewing the seeds for what was shaping up to be a guaranteed ‘take-off’ point in their exciting chronology. Like the rest of us that has obviously been momentarily derailed. Having released their debut EP ‘SCUM‘ in 2019, which was laden which their paradoxically raw and refined takes on electro, rave, jungle and even house-y aspects, they steamrolled their way onto radars all across the globe with that and the ensuing releases and sets that have expanded on their tumultuous, storm in a teacup style energy. Evading the title of throwback or nostalgic, the Brizzy boys have managed to re-interpret the sounds that they headbanged to over the past couple of years, to the heights of KETTAMA’s Rinse FM show, as well as conquering their local surroundings and Australia’s other party hubs, Melbourne and Sydney.

I first discovered them sitting in Block E in NUIG (the University in Galway), kicking back from the desk when the synth met the drums on ‘You’re Not on the List’, and since then it has been exciting to see the lads go from strength to strength in their own backyard. Having heard excellent reports after Evan(KETTAMA)’s January trip to Australia which included a stop in Brisbane at their GRID night, along with going back and forth over Instagram, it was time to fire up the VSN machine and get to known the men behind the mullets.

Calling at 10am Irish time after a sleepless quarantine night, the boys were fresh off Mother’s Day down under and ready to chop it up over a video call while the clock read 7pm in Brisbane. Addressing the COVID shaped elephant in the room, we started with where we were at when it came to the minute issue of the global pandemic and whether it has really hampered their growth or if it’s a somewhat useful chance to fine tune some aspects they mightn’t have had time to before;

Ben : “We’ve got heaps of uni to work on so we’re both kept busy. We’re in our last years.”

Jesse : “We both study music technology. I’m in my last semester and you’re in your last year. We’re close [To the end] but it’s a bit hectic”

Ben (Left) and Jess (Right)

B: “We had a few things planned! We were booked to play this festival that Laurel Halo and some others were playing and we had a live set almost ready to go. We were gonna close after her with our first live show and that got canned.”

J: “It was frustrating because we were hoping to move to doing only live stuff and that was good motivation to go get that done. Obviously everything got cancelled and that fucked us but at the same time, it gives us time to make it even better.”

Having read plenty of artists in the past giving mixed reviews of studying music and its effect on translating into making music they actually enjoy, it was surprising to see the pair singing the praises of the benefits of sound design;

J: “It sort of goes hand in hand, because we’re studying sound more so than music theory so it helps.”

B: “It helps in terms of mixing tracks and stuff, not particularly writing but when it comes to mixing it’s so helpful. I think when we started X CLUB. we were really starting to get into techno which quickly led to me and Jesse getting into old rave music. We were like fuck it lets make some old rave shit. Because we’re studying sound engineering we used that knowledge of producing while making rave-y music and ended up with this weird result.”

After a deep dive on Twitter trying to find anything about Ben or Jesse unrelated to X CLUB. (Which provided the below tweet and the useless information that someone called Benedict Clarke played a Young Severous Snape in the Deathly Hallows 2, which Ben actually got a message about on IG right after the call), I learned that Jesse wasn’t originally from Brisbane, which begged the question, how did they meet?

B: “I’m from the UK actually, I’m from Bristol, I moved over when I was 10! (This was a surprising development given his enviable Ozzie accent, but potentially explains the palpably authentic rave buzz) We both were getting into the scene in Brisbane through our own individual DJing and production as well as through some mutual friends. There was one gig that had a big Brizzy lineup and we were booked as the last two DJs so we just did a back to back and that’s how X CLUB. started.”

Jesse: “We just played some bangers like Fuck Yeah.

J: “We’ve both got such varied tastes in music I think we’d get frustrated making 4×4 techno all the time. If we sit down to make something, it’ll usually be fast or hard but it’ll rarely be straight up techno because that’d be boring for us. Of course we have made that sort of stuff but it’s been that bit ravey/clubby.”

The topic of their individual projects is an interesting one, as a deeper dive into Jesse’s Deejay Speed alias and Ben’s NORA DRUM work gives an even clearer picture of their extensive musical talent. To my mind, Jesse seemed to bring a raw, dance-y edge, while Ben’s solo work was definitely that bit more textured, even featuring some vocalists which work surprisingly really well.

B: “I guess that’s kind of true. Out of the two of us, I have more of a musical theory side, so I usually come in with melodies and harmonies.”

J: “He’s way better than me in the theory side of things whereas I’d be much more about samples and pads.” 

Ben: “Our shit is hard, but I think what’s different to a lot of that sort of music is that it has a textural element to it that a lot of other producers mightn’t.”

That definite edge that defines the X CLUB. sound is something that must be hard to muster up when we’re all being told to stay inside by our respective governments.

J: “We’ve both been doing our own stuff this whole time since we’d been in high school and afterwards. During this time we’d obviously have some gigs as X CLUB. (This prompted a collectively depressed laugh). That’s where a lot of our music comes from; playing, raving and partying. We’ve been inside now listening to a lot of funk and soul and stuff like that.”

B: “We’ve put out a lot of solo stuff lately. At the same time, we have heaps of X CLUB. stuff, let’s just put up heaps of that stuff to keep it rolling. It’s good in a way, but the shit thing is not seeing everyone.”

J: “It’s obviously very different to how we usually live, like it is for everyone, but I think it’ll be a lot different after too. We have a lot of plans for music we’ve got coming out. It’s a nice time to relax and really plan what we want to do in the future.” 

The situation in Australia is obviously very different to here, no more than any other country, but it was a good excuse to pivot to what it’s like being from a place that has produced such a variety of talent across a variety of dance music’s many spectrums. You’ve got the obvious choices such as Mall Grab, HAAi and DJ Boring, along with the heavy hitters; Nite Fleit, Jensen Interceptor and Roza Terenzi. Even more niche names like D. Tiffany and Andy Garvey have enjoyed fruitful European tours, showing that there’s obviously a long line of names in Australia that are constantly exported to Europe – it must be weird to do the groundwork on one side of the globe and make a living from it on the other side.

Jesse: “I think because we’re so fucking far away, when an Australian leaves Australia and gets to somewhere in Europe where they’ve already heard about us having travelled such a long way, they jump on the hype train.”

B: “I think it’s similar thing to Evan (KETTAMA) being from Ireland and it being an island. Once he popped off everyone was like fuck yeah come on.”

With that being said, there doesn’t seem to be the same uniform tight knittedness among Australian artists as there would be with Irish ones.

J: “I think there’s a huge difference between artists from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. We don’t know that many artists from there personally.”

B: “In Australia it’s definitely more so about cities. When we first started getting acknowledged everyone in Brisbane really started bumping us, exactly like they did with Emmanuel (Skin On Skin).”

J: “We’ve known him for years man it’s crazy. He used to make some hip-hop/trap sort of stuff under the name UV Boy and that’s initially how I think him and Mall Grab got to know each other. Then he moved to more techno-style things, we’d been playing and DJing with him for about 4 or 5 years and really reconnected in the past year and obviously he’s completely blown up!”

Mall Grab and the Steel City Dance Disc crew’s influence on plenty of artists’ careers in unquestioned, with the next release getting that bit closer to home for the boys;

B: “Our best mate is the next release on Steel City Dance Discs, he’s called StacEmp. MG picked him up through Emmanuel and he just did a guest mix for his Rinse Show too.” 

J: “It’s sick because once Mall Grab hears something he likes he’ll really pick it up and push it. I think it’s cool because he’s not pretentious and just cares about good music and that’s what it’s about at the end of the day. Big shoutout to StacEmp! Also Axon Growth Factor, we played one of his tracks on Evan’s Rinse show, he makes sick electro.”

As much as SCDD has been shining a light on plenty of under the radar names, GRID is their own club project that has been a driving force behind not only their own growth, but also Brisbane’s itself too. Coming from Galway, which tends to be forever cast in the shadow of other cities, just like Briz seems to be, VSN has been really important in setting the tone for what G Town is all about, something that GRID seems to be embodying there too;

B: “We had a few shows, like with Evan and had some big ones booked [this year] but obviously they got canned because of this.”

J: “It’s frustrating because we really make sure we book artists that we know and that’re definitely going to bring a crowd so we have no problem waiting for those things to fall into place. We got some really sick offers to double up on shows in Sydney and Melbourne in September. We noticed that in Brisbane there was some minimal techno – chinscratcher shit – nothing that you could headbang to. So that’s why we started GRID and we’re looking to expand it as a record label nearer the end of this year.”

Was there anything in particular that prompted a stay in Brisbane VS more traditional routes like Melbourne or even Europe?

B: “We considered a while ago just fucking off and living in Berlin but that was pretty premature. We started to get kind of big here and really have built something. I think we’re at the point where we could go to Europe for a long period and make some connections.” 

J: “As far as it is to go to Europe there’s only so much that we can do here. We can’t just continuously play Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney over and over. Europe is the next level to what we want to do.”

Ben: “To get over to the UK and Ireland is the ultimate goal. When we checked our streaming stats; Ireland, Galway and Dublin are at the top. Half of our listenership comes from Ireland!”

J: “People are always on the lookout for new music here, especially underground electronic, it had been waiting to happen in Brisbane for a long time and I think that’s helped us so much. There wasn’t really much before that, now people are more keen than ever.”

B: “I think the timing of us putting on our first raves and the whole of Brisbane getting behind that sound around the time we released SCUM was perfect.”

As enticing as it is to head to a more established city and make a name for yourself, more and more it seems to be the done thing to represent where you’re from and then bring that vibe to wherever the party is. As dull as 2020 has been, it seems to be the year of the underdog city.

J: “I think that’s the thing, Melbourne is popping all the time, that’s the place to go if you want all sides of clubbing electronically. Brisbane isn’t really like any of the other cities in that way. Melbourne is so fucking cold during the winter so it’s not as crazy then but during the summer it’s always wild, it’s similar in Sydney. With Brisbane I think it’s just as wild as them, but it’s just not as popular. The parties are big and incredible but it’s not like an every weekend type thing, I think it’s better than Sydney or Melbourne though.”” 

 B: “I always look at places like London and think Melbourne seems like that. If you’re a DJ trying to get up there, you have to compete with a million other people. In Brisbane, there isn’t as much happening so you can shine through that bit more.”

J: “We’re making our own scene here. It’s annoying because we haven’t got gigs all the time [as a result] but it’s also good because we can make a better name for ourselves. It’s funny how you guys seem to have the same sort of culture as us. It seems so similar in terms of fashion and that.”

Ben: “As much as I imagine Melbourne to be like London, when I look at you guys, from what I see from yourself and Evan, the culture in Galway and Brisbane seems really similar.”

On that touching note, I turned off the recorder, while Ben questioned whether my lack of sleep was deeply unhealthy or conducive to some grade A journalism. As you have now read, the latter observation was the correct one.

Keep it real, keep it X CLUB., shout out Brizzy and shout out G Town, more to come!! If you would like to support the launch and pick up our commemorative t-shirt, just smash this link (You’ve got 7 days to pick one up)

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