Oh Lord! Hugo Race dishes up some ambience
Dishee! - Hugo Race (Helixed Recordings & Films)
"Dishee!" is Hugo Race's umpteenth studio LP - I think the veteran guitarist has stopped counting (if he ever did). Race came up to considerable notoriety in The Wreckery in the 1980s in Melbourne (and Sydney).
On the Allmusic website, Mark Deming describes The Wreckery as "One of the more important bands on the Australian post-punk scene of the 1980s, Melbourne's The Wreckery played dark, atmospheric music informed by the blues and the same sort of chemical and cultural obsessions as their contemporaries Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds".
There's a lot more to Hugo Race; he's been involved in many recording projects; Dirt Music and The True Spirit spring to mind. Also, by dint of relentless touring and recording all over the world, he has built up a considerable overseas following. He also cannot keep himself still, creatively speaking; just recently he's played sizable gigs with The True Spirit, and a Doors' "LA Woman" tribute show. And there's a new one on the horizon...
To make things a bit easier - or more difficult, you decide - I will add that all of Hugo's releases suffer from being recorded and produced extremely well. He's a profoundly gifted workaholic who strives to release the best possible execution of expression, each and every time.
So, to "Dishee!". The first thing you notice about "Dishee!", of course, is that cover ... utterly unlike any record Race has previously produced, it's lary, witty (without a punchline or even the joke proper) and seriously ugly, and if it weren't for the obvious fact that the work is so meticulously arranged and prepared, you'd think artist Josh Lord might have gone bonkers. The painting is hand-painted (even though it may look silk-screened or printed) and measures a whopping 2 meters by 2 metres. If you put it in your living room it wouldn't so much dominate the place but drown out the TV and/ or stereo.
A review follows as well as an interview with Josh Lord. But first, over to Hugo Race:
"Dishee!"… what the fuck is a dishee you might ask? It’s a made-up word derived from ancient Sanskrit that can exorcise demons.
The Melbourne winter of 2020 was a reality shift and my reality unfortunately shifted with it. For decades my life had been a continuum of reckless roadtrips, missed trains, packed intercontinental 747’s, dispassionate, haunted hotel rooms and maverick promoters. For years, I never stayed anywhere for more than a few months. I was searching for something to distract myself. And then I became truly distracted…
March 2020 challenged me to implode inwards instead of exploring outwards – anything to ease the crushing ache of lockdown and the 20-cent coin I now danced upon. I missed my old life. Everybody did. I was skeptical that meditation and searching within could produce a record. But then my someone close to me was taken by a demon and my heart went missing. This record, "Dishee!", is the exorcism of that demon from both of us.
I bought a new guitar from Demonic Dishee town. The guitar was made in Japan the same year I was born and like many haunted vintage guitars contained unheard-of music waiting for the right fingers to set it free. I practiced snap-freezing and distorting guitar sounds, then started using the same treatments on my voice, paralyzing words mid-sentence. I didn’t know where these pieces were going when I started them. Each was a discovery process. "Dishee!" has no rhythm and few words - "So Hung" introduces a fractured beat but it disappears half-way through, and from there on steps into free space. I inserted swathes of liquid ink into every irreverent guitar slide and vocal harmony, searching for a new sound rich with sonic grit and wild unpredictability.
And then something incredible happened. During my nightly night terrors, my "Dishee!" murdered that child-snatching demon at a distance of forty paces with a millennium-old mantra and the practice of detachment. This record is the soundtrack of an exorcism.
Aside from Virginia 's gongs, everything else is Hugo.
The first thing you notice, of course, is that cover ... lariy, witty (without a punchline or the joke proper) and seriously ugly, Josh Lord appears to have gone bonkers. The artwork itself is hand-painted (even though it may look silk-screened or printed) and measures a whopping 2 meters by 2 metres. If you put it in your living room it wouldn't so much dominate the place but drown out the TV and/ or stereo. There's an interview with the man below.
So. Non-government health warning: if you're expecting rawcous rawk'n'rool, fuggeddabahtit. Not here. So vamoose, scram, skedaddle.
You looking for kicks and thickshakes? Not here, sunshine.
I'm writing this about eight weeks after "Dishee!"'s release, and it's never been far from my listening post. There's more and more to it on every listen. But it ain't for everyone. I love it, but I reckon there will be plenty who will either be perplexed, or won't be able to hear it. See, there's so much to hear, and while there's very little repetition, the themes are quite clear. Vast spaces hung with shamenesque talismans, music like totems, internal bleeding, a ball from beneath one of three cups, a rack of billiard cues growing dusty ... and dust motes lazily dancing in a shaft of sunlight.
"So Hung" opens with a tender, careful vibe, like stretching after a nap in the wan winter sun, all those creaks and pops, our tiny mortality writ large. It's also a little like the unconventional introduction to a conventional band's much more conventional song ... doesn't take too long before you realise ... this is the song, and the journey is the thing. The atmosphere is beguiling, patient, and you'll hear different things on each listen. Ever see time-motion photography of a plant opening up?
"IamUR" is the second piece, and while I'm tempted to ascribe this in part to Hugo's love for Alannah, it could just as well be about you, the listener.
My first thought was that Hugo had toppled down a krautrock hole - there are distinct elements of early Kraftwerk (think their second LP) and Faust (their fourth); upon asking, however, I discovered that Hugo had not heard either. My second thought was that if you played this to someone who had never heard Hugo before, they'd never, ever guess how steeped in the blues the man is ...
This is the fuzzy, intimately interior head of Hugo Race. In an early media email, he described "Dishee!" as "Arrhythmic, shimmering with gongs and subsonic bass pulses and deep dark streaks of diatonic blues guitar fizzling with dirty electricity - and because it's actually played by hand, you know it's for real. In lockdown, I channelled something strange and new that I would love to hear but hadn't ever really heard before - meditational music with post-punk attitude and raw, personal, mysterious new-age grit."
That's one way to describe it. But ... it's different for everyone. Completely different. "FOA" reminds me of 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly', for heaven's sake. That huge, dread pulse; those obliterating, snap-plucked guitar lines ... the wind of the desert beneath the vacuum of the cold glitter of space. I found myself thinking that "FOA" was like the beginning, middle and end of a narrative, all at once. Then I moved to the next piece.
"Akaal" does something to your watch. It slows it up, speeds it up. You emerge slightly confused. Something has happened to you. What, I couldn't tell you. Here is where we hear Race's blues spirit animal, disturbed, isolated, craving and quietly picking at the prison bars while aircraft circle, waiting to land. "Akaal" is nothing short of magnificent.
"Blue Pearl" is the perfect closer, the breathing and ringing of ages; the monks remain at their devotions, sealing the spells set over and over the years. Even so, "Dishee!" finishes far too soon. Back on it goes. Over and over.
Now, before I finish, a moment: a term which I despise is "ambient". Most people, I think, see the term and confuse it with 'ambivalent'; that is, wishy-washy of meaning. Ambient is supposed to mean 'all around'. So I won't use either term.
Irrespective of whatever else you may read, "Dishee!" projects an inner sonic world all around you. It's as much a visceral experience as a record. Each track has its own logic, travel, perspective and dare I say passport outta here. And into here.
Hugo Race has released an LP which ranks alongside LPs which, once regarded with low sales and industry dismissal, now rate as profoundly influential. Make of that what you will. I love it, but there's a good chance you won't. Listen before you open the wallet. But make sure you're listening, with nothing else going on. "Dishee!" is not for the faint-hearted.
So, see that image? It's a painting by Josh Lord. That big thing is the Eye of Horus. In Egyptian mythology, broadly speaking it represents health, protection, restoration. Britannica explains, 'According to Egyptianmyth,Horuslost his left eye in a struggle withSeth. The eye was magically restored byHathor, and this restoration came to symbolize the process of making whole and healing. For this reason, the symbol was often used in amulets.'
Needless to say, the cavalcade of images Josh Lord presents us with leaves us a tad puzzled. I mean, those red words - is that part of 'eternity'? Is that the dilemma or is it irrelevant? I pick up the phone and punch in the contrary bugger's phone number.
RB: Josh, what are you up to?
JL: Trying to put what's in my head onto the board, going backwards and forwards... it's very frustrating.
RB: Your process is a struggle. Everyone who's seen you at work can tell you that.
JL: It's just fucking annoying! This should be a lot easier than what it is, but there's no 'easy' in the visual arts, it's always fucking hard...
RB: Let's back-track. You've got a bit of a history with Hugo Race; so how did this cover come about?
JL: Well, I did the True Spirit LP cover - "Starbirth/ Stardeath"; we were working on that, you know, emailing ideas and images backwards and forwards, and we were talking and he mentioned that he had this other project that he was working on, and would I be interested in doing the cover? I don't think he'd played it to his record label, Gusstaff Records, yet.
But he had the idea of using the Eye of Horus - the cover was going to be really minimalist. So I got a couple of images together, a b/w, half-tone image and sent them to him, and he sent me the recordings.
So I had a listen, and also sent him some colorisations of the Eye of Horus. There was a blue one, but Hugo said he really liked the yellow, asked we could develop the eye a bit better, do different things to make it really pop out. He did a few colorisations himself but the aim was a minimal approach.
So I enhanced the image with yellows, blues and a little orange, and then he spoke to the record label, and the label loved the LP and said we want to release it, gave him a date ...
... so as I was doing the Eye of Horus I was doing another painting as well and having a rough time trying to work out the main focus on that painting ...
Anyway, I finished the LP cover and sent it off to Hugo, and he sent it to the label. That was a good collaboration, it wasn't just me doing a painting on my own. By then I'd gotten interested in the symbol myself, so I suggested that as the 'Dishee!' image was his and mine I'd like to use the Eye of Horus into one of my own paintings, did he have a problem with that... and Hugo said 'sure, go ahead ...'
RB: It's a rather large painting isn't it?
JL: Yes, it's a two metres by two metres. Not sure how I'm going to get it out to of the studio. Probably have to move a wall...
So while Hugo was doing the Doors tribute shows, I painted my picture, then sent him a pic of it... and he really liked it.
And a week or two later he came back and said that he'd been thinking and thought that my painting worked better than the original minimalist image which he'd sent to the label, and what do I think of using my painting as the front cover?
That meant I had to get busy and work out if I was stepping on any copyrights - but I got that sorted out; then I had to take photos of the image in my very small studio, but then that photo has to go up to be very clear at 30 x 30 cm, 300 DPI, which is the size of the image they need ... to make matters worse, my new studio is a lot darker than my last one, so getting the lighting right was a nightmare, the reflections from bright lights...
So we had a couple of weeks to get that to the right size and get it properly coloured and sent to the label.
RB: A couple of weeks? You would've been a bit stressed!
JL: Well, I finished the painting at the end April and the LP was out at the beginning June...
RB: What did you think of "Dishee!" itself?
JL: It's really great - a very big departure from "Star Birth" - Hugo's kind of creating a soundtrack to a film that never got made... It's Hugo's own creation and his own ideology - they're not pop songs, it's not pretentious, it's just someone who is enjoying making something, for the sake of it, for themselves.
When you hear it, it's not about listening to an LP, but trying to find your own individuality, which is what Krautrock was - rejecting the oversaturated americanism in Germany at the time - out of that came people looking for their own voice.
Hugo's managed to get away from all the expectations of his work - and here's an LP he can't tour with due to covid, he's been stuck in Melbourne for the longest amount of time since The Wreckery, I think, and most of his musical fanbase and musicians are overseas ... so right through "Dishee!" is this sense of isolation, of finding his own self, not being influenced by what is actually going on around him. When you have this energy coming out, the listener is going to identify with something - I'd been listening to a lot of noise bands at the time and that's how I responded to it - while you heard "Faust IV" and the second Kraftwerk LP.
RB: Recognising what's...
JL: ... stored in the back of your head, yeah...
RB: You're a pair of fucking jackdaws, making a nest out of old men's glasses, knicker elastic and hankies.
JL: When you put things together, the meaning is a conglomerate of all the individual things... rather like a collage ... it is a collage.
RB: ... with words so broken they could almost mean anything - it's pointless knowing their origin...
JL: That's the point, building on different things over and over until the original things have pretty much disappeared and what you're left with ...
RB: ... is enigmatic and you end up discovering yourself through the confusion. What are you up to now?
JL: You know. Still continuously reinventing, relabelling, regurgitating ... I'm working on a new exhibition for March next year, in Fitzroy. I'll be working with Hugo again, too...
Hugo can have the last word - again, from an early email media advice:
An album that defies description and eschews genre. Making this record was a labour of love but finishing it was tough - the music is so spaced out that every mix session saw me disappearing into black holes all lined up in a row from which I wasn't sure I'd ever emerge...