New Palettes

27 March 2013 | 5:45 am | Cyclone Wehner

“It’s a new learning experience, really – it’s like coming back into the industry and starting from scratch, with the exception [that] people recognise the name.”

More Sonic Animation More Sonic Animation

Melbourne electronica outfit Sonic Animation – Rupert Keiller and Adrian Cartwright – have reformed, unleashing the comeback album, Once More From The Bottom, led by the neo-acid I Will Be Twisted. They've even brought back their furry mascots – or “Technotubbies”. “We've tried to get rid of them forever,” Keiller, Sonic Animation's frontman, laughs. “But people like to see them at the show – and I just give in to that kind of pressure!”

Keiller and Cartwright were originally in the rock band Scarlet Garden, with Keiller on vocals and Cartwright on drums. Cartwright had an epiphany while raving at the Palace in St Kilda to Belgian DJ Frank de Wulf. Soon he and Keiller were experimenting with dance music, forming Sonic Animation with DJ Steve Bertschik in 1994. Their first appearance was at the Lounge's techno night, Filter. They'd release the 12-inch Time Is An Illusion themselves, attracting interest in Europe, then the album Silence Is Deafening on Richie McNeill's Azwan Transmissions. Bertschik quit prior to 1999's Gold-selling Orchid For The Afterworld, which encompassed the crossover hits Love Lies Bleeding and Theophilus Thistler. Over the course of Sonic Animation's career, they'd traverse everything from trance to techno to breaks to 'rocktronica'. And they were irreverent, taking the piss out of superstar DJs with I'm A DJ. Sonic Animation split in 2006 after four albums, a 'best of', Eleven, and one final Big Day Out run. 

Keiller went travelling – but didn't return. “I was supposed to come back here, but I didn't really have anything to come back to in the end – like I didn't have a girlfriend here,” he laughs wryly. “I had some personal stuff going on. I wasn't married, I didn't have any partner, a girl, to come back here for; I didn't have a house, I didn't have a job, Sonic wasn't doing anything – you know, we'd finished.” He decided to settle in Canada, his country of birth, and write music. However, for four years Keiller was unable to create, again due to that “personal stuff”. Then someone made an appealing suggestion. “Our old lighting guy said something – 'You guys might be able to get back on one of the Australian festivals, do some kind of reunion thing'. I thought, 'Oh, that's a good idea'... It was still just a dream, really, but it inspired me to start writing something.” Keiller chatted to Cartwright, who'd remained in Melbourne raising a family and committing to a day job. He was up. And so the pair cut 2011's self-titled EP. 

Meanwhile, Keiller had forged a new career DJing in Canada's ski resorts. “I live in this little town called Rossland in British Columbia – it's like a little bubble,” he says. The old gold rush hub in the Monashee Mountains is a popular destination for those into skiing and snowboarding – and, in summer, mountain biking. However, there are few job opportunities – and Keiller wasn't qualified to work at the nearby smelter. As a DJ, he could, in theory, trade off Sonic Animation since many Australians visit the ski fields. “[But] what I noticed was, as the years went past, the kids who were coming out to these ski hills didn't really know who Sonic Animation was anymore – once they got below a certain age, that was it. It was like, 'Who's this guy? We've never heard of him. We just came from Australia and we don't know who this guy is!'” A profile boost was in order. 

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Along the way, Keiller connected with vocalist Sexton Blake (aka Nadine Tremblay), “a total music theatre nerd” – albeit one into the avant garde (her repertoire includes an Andrews Sisters tribute, Ski Bum: The Musical and Mennonite Mafia: The Untold Story Of Abraham Harms). Keiller worked on Tremblay's productions as a sound technician and tour manager. The pals eventually developed the conceptual project, Electro Social Club (ESC), combining Tremblay's music theatre with Keiller's electronica. “[Tremblay is] a really hard worker, so she really motivated me to finish stuff, get things done.” By now Keiller felt more optimistic about life in general. “A lot of my personal stuff had disappeared and I was a lot happier – and motivated.” He and Tremblay became a couple. Keiller was ready to revive Sonic Animation. “I wanted to do it more for myself than anything else, 'cause I'd just spent so much time not doing anything.” Sonic Animation played Homebake in December. Keiller has stayed on in Australia, preparing for their current East Coast tour and promoting Once More..., but he'll shortly fly back to Canada. 

The music industry has changed profoundly since Sonic Animation's last album proper, 2004's Defective Perspective. “It's a new learning experience, really – it's like coming back into the industry and starting from scratch, with the exception [that] people recognise the name,” Keiller says. Sonic Animation, who now manage themselves, largely financed Once More... by harnessing the crowd-funding site PledgeMusic. Keiller deems it “a pretty good experience”, with “super diehard fans” helping to put the word out via Facebook. The duo have actually raised money by having fans pay to don the iconic costumes. While the kids may not necessarily remember Sonic Animation, others do. Keiller admits to being “blown away” by the nostalgia they've engendered. “There was one couple who met at a Sonic Animation show and then they got engaged at a Sonic Animation show and then [they] sent me a link the other day to their wedding ceremony and, when the bride walked down to meet the groom, they were playing one of our songs... Hopefully they won't get divorced and play another one of our songs, like one of the darker songs – I Will Be Twisted or something!”

Yet Once More... is a contemporary-sounding record, influenced by Keiller's DJing. “I'm always looking for new stuff – I'm always looking online and following different DJs and artists. I spend a lot of time on Beatport and some more obscure blog sites looking for mash-ups.” (He likewise tunes into triple j, the station that did much to break Sonic Animation in the '90s.) I Will Be Twisted has a dubstep wobble. “Where we live, they're really into bass-heavy music like glitch hop and dubstep – every party you go to has that music on,” Keiller says. He digs, too, the post-dubstep genre complextro, but considers the name (courtesy of US DJ Porter Robinson) “stupid”. At the same time, Once More... has songs – always Sonic Animation's strength. “I would sit down with just my acoustic guitar – no beats, no music – and try to figure out, 'Could I play this song just with a chord progression on the guitar by myself and what would it sound like?'” Nor have Sonic Animation lost their quirkiness, Keiller throwing in a rock-cum-ska cover of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's The Message and co-opting several ESC cabaret songs featuring Tremblay – among them the possible second single Punk On The Dancefloor. Indeed, in their third decade, Sonic Animation are on a roll. Born again...

Sonic Animation will be playing the following dates:

Thursday 28 March - Karova Lounge, Ballarat VIC
Friday 29 March - Yarra Hotel, Geelong VIC
Saturday 30 March - The Toff In Town, Melbourne VIC
Thursday 4 April - The Northern, Byron Bay NSW
Friday 5 April - The Zoo, Fortitude Valley QLD
Saturday 6 April - Sol Bar, Maroochydore QLD