Hanging out with Hang Massive (UK) on their debut Australian tour

Learning about the discovery of a new species is always a mildly disorienting experience. Call it historical narcissism, or simple ignorance, but it rarely crosses my mind that as things have been discovered and invented before us, they will continue to be so long after we’re gone. Hearing the Hang for the first time, I had one such epiphany.

Invented in 2001 by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in Bern, Switzerland, the Hang is an instrument descended from the Trinidad steel drum. Shaped much like a spaceship, its equally ethereal sound has delighted millions through the handful of artists that have mastered its secrets. Before kicking off their debut Australian tour in Perth last week, we spoke to Danny Cudd and Markus Offbeat who form the duo Hang Massive, about their instrument, their inspiration, and their latest studio release, Distant Light.

First of all, welcome to Australia!

Markus: Yes, thank you so much.

This is your first time playing down under, what are you looking forward to?

Danny: Yeah, we’re just very happy to continue on the mission, really. We were playing in the streets for many years and then a year or so ago we shifted focus to doing more conventional live shows and we’re just keen to continue on. We did a big European tour at the end of last year and, yeah, we’ve wanted to come to Australia for a long time. We live in Goa, India, in the European Winter months. It’s very idyllic there so it’s quite difficult to get us to go anywhere during those months… so we’re just happy to have made the mission down here.

You have been to some really interesting places – you just got back from Siberia. How was that?

Markus: That was amazing! We’ve been going to Russia for many years, we’ve performed in Moscow and St Petersburg, but this time we got the opportunity to travel further into Russia and see a lot of the rural places and for me it was amazing to get out of the conventional cities and to see the landscape and, yeah to meet the people. Russia is so big, you know? So it was pretty impressive.

That sounds awesome! What made you decide to go out there?

Markus: Well, we had some people that were asking if they could organise a concert for us there… and that’s how we work,  when people show up and say ‘hey, we want you to come here, we want you to come here’, then we keep the door open for them to do a concert, to see if it’s possible. So, coming here to Australia, it was quite similar – many people on Facebook and Youtube said ‘Come to Australia, come to Australia!’ So, that’s why we’re here. (Laughs)

So, the two of you have been playing together since 2010. How did you first meet?

Danny: As I mentioned before, we both live in India in the European winter months, or Australian summer months, and we’d been hanging out there for some years and then I was already playing the hang. So, I started playing music with Markus just playing percussion, and myself playing hang. Then after one season in Goa, we travelled together back to England and that’s where we started playing hang together. We lived in a beautiful town in the UK and we just started playing music in the street, really, which went on for some years, and that’s kind of how the whole thing developed, and the time that we put into developing the show.

What drew you to the hang in the first place?

Danny: Well, I was always interested in alternative lifestyles. I was playing the didgeridoo for many years and was very interested in, kind of, other world instruments. I remember the first time I saw someone playing hang at a festival in Europe and at that time there were no YouTube videos and nobody really knew about the instrument at all. Yeah, I was just captivated by it from the first time I saw somebody playing it, saved up some money over about a year or so… at that time you had to just call people in Switzerland, make an appointment, go over to their workshop and you could just choose an instrument.

Is it hard to learn?

Danny: I think it’s like all musical instruments… the more time that you put into, it the more, technically, that you can develop. I think, unlike some other instruments, it’s possible to make a really nice sound from quite early on. You can make very pleasant music for your own experience and also for other people, for sure. Not like the violin when you need to practice for many, many months or years just to make a nice sound. It just takes some time to develop a style and the sound and the technique can always be improved.

Your music has such a new and ancient feel to it at the same time, it’s very interesting. Who, or what, are you influenced by in making that?

Markus: Well, I think both me and Dan have been very much involved in sound parties and psychedelic music for many, many years… spending many years on the dance floor and I think when we first came together to play, that’s the kind of music that we enjoyed playing and the kind of music that were moved by so, I think that our style is taken from that steady beat and those great melodies and we put them into the hang. And, yeah, that’s kind of  the inspiration for how we play the instrument today… we also listen to a lot of different music, but I would say that is the basis of it.

You collaborated with the trance duo Future Frequency on their track ‘Into the Future’. Do you see any more electronic collaborations in the future?

Danny: Oh, definitely! We have many ongoing, different collaborations. In the next few months we’ll release a full album called Celestial Colour which is with a friend of ours who is a producer from Glastonbury. That’s a whole album that covers many different genres of electronic music – Dubstep, Drum and Bass, House music –  all infused with the sound of the Hang.

We’ll also be releasing another EP with a producer from Bristol called Bleecker. So, we released one EP with him a couple of years ago and we have another one that we’re working on currently, also with a great producer called Giolì. She’s from Italy, she also plays hang and she has many millions of Youtube views also, and we’ve just started collaborating on a track with her. Yeah, so, on the side of all of our own music, I think,  we love to explore all possibilities where we can bring in the sounds of the hang and the vibe of Hang Massive into other peoples’ style of production and genres of music.

Your first musical release was in 2011 with ‘Once Again’. Did you guys expect such a viral reaction to the video?

Danny: To be honest, I did actually! Maybe not to the extent that it has spread, but I saw at that time that most of the Youtube videos of people playing hang were kind of like… in most videos the audio quality was often not professional, so I saw that there was an opportunity to produce some really good quality videos that also had really good quality audio of the hang. And that would be able to introduce people, in a better way, to the sound of the instrument because it’s so new for many people.

So, I think when we released “Once Again” the combination of, you know, it’s a great track, it was filmed in a really nice place in the woods, which appealed to lots of people but then at that time it was one of the first videos of the hang that had really high quality audio. I think that was also a big part in people connecting with the video and wanting to post it and share it with their friends.

I noticed in a lot of your videos you guys are performing absolutely everywhere – in parks, town squares, in railway tunnels –  what is it about public spaces that speaks to your craft?

Markus: I think as we were saying before, we started to busk and play in the street from the beginning so, I think many of these videos in public places comes from the fact that we actually spent real time playing there for people and trying to reach out to people and show them what we’re doing. Naturally, by busking you want to be among a lot of people. I think the railway tunnels and those pictures were just cool images. (Laughs) We made them because it looked great.

Playing  such a new and unique instrument, what kind of reactions do you guys get from audiences when you’re performing in public spaces?

Danny: Generally it’s great I mean most people are still there at end so… I guess it’s good! (Laughs)

Markus: My favourite one is when people look at us and just can’t really fathom what it is that we’re doing. Many people that walk by, they have some funny reactions – they look around us and try to see where the electronics are, and looking for a speaker, and asking where the sound is coming from…  You see that the instrument and our vibe and how we play them is so appealing to people. So we get all kinds of reactions from them actually, and I really like to see them all.

Danny: Something that’s quite amazing is that we can bring- because the music reached people online, it’s not so discerning in terms of who can connect with it. The music has connected with such a wide range of people and when we’re doing more live shows and concerts it’s amazing that we can bring together a whole range of age groups and demographics of people, and we can bring everyone together into varying spaces. Sometimes people are standing up, sometimes they’re sitting down and we can bring people into a place [where] there’s a very unique vibe created by the instrument, by the style of the music. I think it just brings people into a space that’s very unique for them; many people get quite touched by that experience.

Distant Light is your first studio album – did you notice a difference between playing hang in open spaces and performing in a studio?

Danny: Yeah, the first two albums that we released they were just basically live takes, so there was no overdubbing, there was no bringing in other instruments, it was just me and Markus sitting down playing our set and having it recorded in a nice space. With the studio album, obviously, we have the ability to lay many different hang parts together, the ability to bring in different styles of production, other elements like vocals, electronic beats and effects and all of that kind of stuff. Yeah, it’s a really great process, and I think that we are aiming to bring those kinds of elements into the live show over the next year or two. We’re very much looking forward to making more studio and live recordings in the future.

If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Markus: Well right now and right here, I really want to perform in Australia. It’s a funny question because our mission is to really go and travel wherever people wants us. For me, that is the most unique thing with what we are doing, and why we appeal to so many people, is to be able to reach out and go wherever people want to see us. So, to answer that question, I want to be where people want me to be.

Danny: We’re very excited to go the [United] States also, because from the Youtube videos, I would say more than fifty percent of the fanbase is in the States, but it’s quite tricky to get there… the visa process is, like, a big mission, but I think this year we’re looking to really make it happen and do a tour there in the Autumn, around August, September. So yeah, super keen to follow up from here with a big tour to the States. Many people have been asking us for a long time so, hopefully we can make it happen.

More and more people are playing the instrument these days. Where do you see the sound going in the future?

Danny: For now there’s not so many people that have taken to the hang. It’s a very difficult instrument to amplify, and so, something that we’ve put a lot of time and resources into is creating a good system that can really bring the sound to bigger audiences, so I think that’s something that will develop in the coming years. And with that, the ability to bring the instrument into more conventional band settings, and that will become more and more possible. I think the sound will be used more regularly in movie and TV soundtracks.

People will find it is a unique sound and its not the easiest instrument to blend together with other instruments and other production styles, but I think people will be inspired by whatever they are inspired by and they will find ways to bring the hang into those other spaces.

You’re releasing another album this year, what else can we expect from you guys in 2017?

Danny: Just, massive amounts of touring. We’ve already planned seventy-five percent of our European tour which will be starting in first week of October and running through to the first week of December, so yeah, we’ll be playing many gigs there. Hopefully a big tour of the US and Canada, releasing the album with J Rokka and then hopefully also we’ll have a couple of months over the summer in Sweden. We just had the idea now that that would be a good space to record a new Hang Massive album so hopefully we might be able to get that ready before the tour in the Autumn time. So lots of gigs, lots of new music releases, new videos, and more!

We’re looking forward to hearing all that is to come from this dynamic duo.

To find out more, head to hangmusic.com

HANG MASSIVE AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES