Many of you will recognise Gaz Harrison from his many years behind the decks as one half of the Ballarat-bred Yacht Club DJs. An Australian festival and club favourite, the duo recently embarked on a bit of a reunion tour around the country; more of a final lap to hark back to the hectic days. Incredibly well-received, it was a nice dip into the pool of nostalgia, but for Harrison, new music was already well in the works.
Last week saw the release of the first part of his debut EP series as Champagne Internet, Liminal States. A refined and focused approach to producing experimental electronic music centred around hypnotic rhythm, the EP’s two halves demonstrate two definitely different sides of Harrison’s artistry. While Part One is more expressive and ponderous, Part Two is more tailored towards the stomping environment of the dance floor.
As Harrison explains, the influences stem from childhood.
“I grew up in a night club and ever since I can remember, I’ve loved dance music, especially deep house and techno. I think that’s probably thanks to Steve Stratton and Adrian Harris, the guys who taught me how to DJ back then; they really loved that sound. I also played brass in the Echuca Salvation Army Band and was taught drums throughout high school by a guy named Kevin Kielly, who loved Latin music, funk and jazz. I guess if you mix all that up, you get to weird electronic disco at some point.”
“As for the record itself,” he says of Liminal States. “It has been the product of about two years’ work. I initially sent Michal [Schwa, Beef Records] a zip folder with about 30 tunes and he picked a great pair of EPs from them to release. Everything from relicensing a track from the Yacht Club EP I wrote 2-3 years ago, to a track I sent him at the last minute about 3 months ago. Having him to bounce ideas off has helped me see the EPs in a different way. Without him, it would have been a very different listener experience; his approach really turned my random recording sessions into a cohesive set of works.”
Spending eight years touring with Yacht Club DJs, while affording Harrison and Guy Chappell plenty of enviable live opportunities, also took its toll. Harrison reflects how escaping to Europe reinvigorated a love for the music he grew up with, one he thought had disappeared.
“I had gotten pretty salty on the Australian music scene and DJing.” he admits. “We had just announced the Yacht Club break up, the EP had tanked and I just wanted play drums in my band, RMO, and forget about clubs and electronic music. I think I was just burnt out on trying to please people who just straight up hated the Yacht Club brand, which is totally my fault. I took off to Europe to see some old friends and have some fun and ended up having a bit of a musical reawakening.”
“I was around the people who I shared musical passion with, free of all the bullshit I’d accumulated and I didn’t have any of the imagined sideways glances I felt in similar surroundings in Australia. It sounds ridiculous, but I think after the millionth bad thing someone says about something you’ve worked hard on, you really start to feel it instead of hear it. Berlin in particular, was a point where I realised the music I loved as a teenager was still there and if I wanted to, I could shake off all the feelings of what I perceived I ‘had’ to do and just do what I felt like and that someone, somewhere, would like it! Maybe even dance to it!”
Moving from Ballarat to Melbourne and effecting some serious lifestyle changes in the wake of the Yacht Club break up changed Harrison’s general direction, personally and creatively. He remembers how that journey eventually brought him to being a creative space to make Liminal States.
“It boils down to the fact I’ve always tried to have a room full of musical instruments around me that I can just stuff around on, especially synths and drums.” he explains. “I got really sick and had to stop drinking for good after Yacht Club broke up, and Ballarat was a hard place to be with that monkey on my back, so [in] mid-2014 I made the move to Melbourne. I lived just a bit too far out for a lot of my friends to come see me and I was just a bit too poor to be on the train all the time to see them, so sitting in my jam room playing music became my way of spending days.”
“After a while, I was thinking in a better musical language than I had been, so I decided to start putting tapes out of demos I’d made. There were a lot of samples on the early ones from dollar bin records and hacked up YouTube clips, all with me playing drums and synth along to them. During that period, I got some coverage for a Hermitude remix I’d done for a Triple J competition, which made me push a bit harder. Then the lovely Will Cuming, aka LANKS, let me remix his track “Aurelia” and it got a really great reaction far beyond what I’d expected. That drove me to push a little bit harder again and I made another remix for Hobart band, Chase City, which was pretty out there and psychedelic.”
“Then well, I got robbed and it all came crashing to a standstill.” Harrison reveals. “I was on the other side of Melbourne at a party when someone decided my computer, hard drives and a few other bits would look better at their house, never to be seen again. Everything I’d ever produced was gone, just like that. I took it really hard, but some amazing friends put together a campaign for me, which I hated at the time, and got me a bunch of replacement stuff, which I will be forever grateful for. I cried like a baby. After I’d pulled that mess together I went back to University at RMIT; it turned out to be pretty stressful at my age, so I found I didn’t have a lot of time for music.”
“Once I had settled there, I had an enormous friendship ending falling out with someone I didn’t expect and had to move house again. I took the loss of the friendship really hard and felt pretty betrayed. Also, I ended up moving into this tiny little place where for the first time in ages, I couldn’t play music at all. It was apartments and too small, but it forced me into the studios at RMIT to write, practice and play. The formula changed, [but] it was just as easy to set up some mics and record drums as it was to sample them. Amazing musicians were always popping in and out to say hi, and there were synths and drum machines just lying around that I had dreamt about all my life. That’s where Liminal States really came together and developed into what you hear on these records.”
“The name itself was even a pondering on how messed up those few years were; every time something unexpected and dramatic happened, all the weirdness kind of forced me to live this liminal existence where I never felt like I hit the ground. Now that I have I can appreciate the last two years for what they were, but I’m glad they are over and produced something so positive in these recordings.”
When it came to bringing the Champagne Internet material out from the home studio sessions and into a realm of actually properly releasing it, Harrison linked up with Sydney-born, managed-from-Prague label Beef Records to get the ball rolling.
“The lead up to the release was pretty odd, to be honest.” Harrison says. “Other releases I’ve been involved with have been this kind of mad panic right up until the release date and they were out while they still felt fresh for better or worse. Liminal States was really slow and considered. Also, I never 100% intended to release the tracks at all.”
“My girlfriend Rachel and I were talking about it one night last June, just after I’d recorded “Preparation for Re-Entry”,” he remembers. “I decided that if I didn’t ever ask, I’d never know. That was six months ago and I think maybe one of the tracks across the two EPs has been written since then. So it really flies right in the face of how my music used to reach the world and as a result, it has snuck up on me!”
“The last week has been crazy, I’ve done radio shows overseas and been [in the] Top 100 on the Beatport charts, all for music that I wrote a long time ago. It has been a wonderful surprise too, [to] say the least. Michal and Frederick from Beef Records, who put out the record, have been absolutely amazing to work with as well. They were instrumental in picking the tracks that ended up on the release and super enthusiastic about the project.”
Liminal States also features some pretty tight remixes courtesy of Pawas (Spectral Sound) and CutOff!CutOff!, two artists who have inspired Harrison in moving ahead with new music.
“I really love both the remixes,” Harrison says. “They come from such different musical worlds than mine. All remixes I have had done for me are like this “Where’s Wally” of picking my chords and elements spread through these new works, it’s very exciting [over] the first few listens. I was not expecting anywhere near the mayhem of the CutOff!CutOff! modular beating of the “Winter” remix, and hearing my percussion playing throughout the lush Pawas remix was absolute joy! I now religiously follow both those guys. Both of them are so consistent and amazing, I strive to be like that in my work now!”
Spending intensive sessions experimenting with sounds and fashioning it all together into a cohesive collection of material brought with it its own lessons for the producer.
“The number one thing I’ve learnt is to just let it happen and stop and look at what you’ve actually done rather than the idea you had in your head beforehand.” Harrison explains. “So many times when I sit down to make a patch, or behind a drum kit or mixing desk, I have this idea or song in my head and it’s taken a while, but I have to ignore that song and look inward to find something that is my own. It’s when I can successfully do that things start to groove and feel better.”
“Even the approach I took to finding a label and now even my DJ sets are all about being organic and not trying to control the result too much. It’s a far cry from the clinical studio practice I had for working on other stuff (even though the Yacht Club show was the least clinical thing that’s ever existed, the studio time was), but I find it much more rewarding. Learning how to engineer stuff a bit better gives me a sense of achievement too. Though it is pretty far from perfect and lo-fi sound-wise, its mine so I love it.”
With the second half of the Liminal States EP officially being released online come February 20th, Harrison is admittedly more anxious about this release compared to that of Part One.
“Originally I was more worried the first part was too weird and super quirky, but people really responded to it as a piece of electronica in the promos.” he says. “The Beatport charts especially have reflected this support. The second part of the EP is a bit more banging, but the promo responses have been far more divided. I love the second half so much, it has three off my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever done on it, including an old Yacht Club song that has my friend Peggy’s Dad on vocals. All that considered, the people who have heard it haven’t embraced it in the same way as the first. I’ll be sitting there examining the reactions it gets with bated breath.”
“What I really hope people will do, outside of the DJ world, is treat the two EPs as almost an album.” Harrison adds. “Really, they are a snapshot of me musically, from the Yacht Club break up until now and everything that has happened to me. I hope people hear the joy I feel when I listen to the soaring hook line from, “I Was Outside More In Winter”, the chuckle I always give myself when the top line of “MCHRYTHM0001” comes in and how much I adore the tongue in cheek absurdity of “Say Hello To Techno”. For all their electronic convention, these tracks are all quite personal for me; they might not wear it on their sleeve in the same way another genre might, but it’s music that means something to me and I’m very excited Beef Records rolled the dice on me and put it into the world!”
To stay up to date with Champagne Internet, head here.
Liminal States (Part One) is out now through Beef Records, while Part Two is released digitally on February 20th. Visit the Beef Records site here to find out more!