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By The Numbers: Ageism In Hip-Hop Doesn't Exist

The argument that rappers must lose relevance after a certain age is as old as hip-hop itself, and artists like Rakim, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, M...

The Coach or the Players?

Manchester United seem intent on become record holders. I think it's safe to say they are one more loss away from taking Felix Baumgartner's record for the longest free-fall in history. And whilst I do greatly enjoy watching someone with an ego the size of a Real Madrid wages bill being publicly humiliated on a weekly basis, it did spark up a question I haven't thought of since 2004.

I was in Darwin on a cricket exchange, and Australia was playing a test series against Sri Lanka. One night after training, we were leaving the ground with a few beverages under our belt and we saw Shane Warne, John Buchanan and Andrew Symonds wandering around our training facility. Warnie had a sneaky dart in his mouth, which he duly apologised for, and they seemed in quite a hurry, so we left them to their own devices. Later that night someone mentioned that Warne never got along with Buchanan, and he also had provoked the ire of a number of other players. I wondered aloud 'why in the world do a group of grown men who are the best in the world at their sport need a coach?'

Why indeed?

It was the first time it had ever occurred to me. I had grown up under the watchful eye of some of the best. Kevin Wilson at Bankstown Bomber AFL club. Greg Beaven at Bankstown Cricket Club. Countless others who had shaped and moulded me as a person and a sportsman, who played far more important roles in my formative years than any teacher ever managed. Coaches were essential, but I figured once I got to a certain age they were no longer needed. They were there to teach and impart skill. What could John Buchanan tell Warnie?

What, indeed, could David Moyes tell his group of title winners? Nothing apparently. Yet Sir Alex Ferguson was absolutely masterful, and the true extent of his genius was hidden until his absence made it blindingly obvious. Similalry with the Australian cricket team. Mickey Arthur was a dreadful appointment, and his approach was outwardly rejected by those he sought to guide. As soon as Mr Lehman takes over, we are back on top of the world! Coaches, it seems, play an absolutely integral role in every sport, regardless of its nature.

Consider the marathon runner. Daily pounding the pavement, icing aches, mentally preparing for races. Who oversees their training? Who tells them how often to run, how far, what to eat, when to taper, what events to enter, how much water to drink? Sure, a runner could spend the time researching all of this himself, but in the time it takes him to gain all that knowledge he's lost 2 months of conditioning because he was sat in front of google all day and not running. The coach for an individual athlete becomes a lifeline to the sane world. Athletes live in absurd conditions, pushing their bodies to the absolute limit, pushing through pain barriers. They need someone next to them telling which pain to push through and which to sit out. They become their confidante, their personal psychologist, mentally preparing them with advice and optimism, and rational thought.

The role of the coach in an individual sport is considerably limited when you compare it to that of someone like Louis Van Gaal, Darren Lehman, Ewen McKenzie or Geoff Toovey. Factor in an entire squad of individuals, all with vastly different needs and personalities, different playing styles and requirements. Of course, nutritionists, psychologists, medical personnel take over the day to day running of these athletes, but the coach is the overlord, he or she sets the rules, outlines the strategy, must be fully aware of all things that may impact upon the performance of a huge array of individuals.

All of a sudden it looks pretty tough doesn't it? I always questioned why managers are the first to face the axe when a team is performing poorly. You hear it every year, in fact we are even hearing murmurs Guy Mckenna may lose his job, despite the Gold Coast Suns having their best year on record. Every season is littered with broken contracts. Andre Villas Boas, Mick Potter, Brenton Sanderson, Steve Price, David Moyes. Alan Pardew is on his last legs. Why are these individuals singled out, when it's the blokes on the park who are losing matches, not the coaches?

Just look at Manchester United. Without a dramatic personnel upheaval, they went from champions to barely staying in touch with the top half of the table in 43 games. As soon as the story about Mick Potter and Robbie Farrah came out, the Tigers starting losing games in landslides. The players never changed. But their relationship with the main man did. How did David Moyes manage to get Everton to such a level when his charges were clearly out-priced by others in the league? How did Darren Lehman turn a team of broken down has-beens in to the number one side in the world?

The job of the modern coach is so complicated, no one approach will work, and if one coach has success with one side, it's no guarantee of success elsewhere (Wayne Bennett ahem). They must oversee tactics, they must massage the ego's of the players, some which are so giant (Mr. Balotelli?) that it's more a case of rolling out the red carpet and letting them act whatever way they want. They must ensure that every member of staff is working ethically and legally (Sorry James Hird you let your club down and should never coach again). The plethora of things they need to calibrate must be why Geoff Toovey is the angriest man in the world. He works so hard to control everything he can, and then when a referee looks at his cross-eyed it sets him off on a rampage. When they manage to implement a system that works, it's magical. When things go wrong, inevitably it is the man in charge who bears the brunt, and rightfully so.

It turns out coaches are essential after all. Someone let Micky Arthur know Georges River have a coaches assistant position available. It's unpaid, but it's a start..

Beatastic - Anti-Matter

Pre-order for only $1 (or more if you'd like) -
Album Visual -

Nico's stock is rising. His audacious plan of cultivating 10 videos to go with his 10 tracks on Anti-Matter is bearing fruit, and that is a testament to the way his music has been recieved in the underground community. Not every artist can reach out in this manner, and actually have people reach back.

Beatastic's work has consistently been evocative, has usually managed provoked a reaction. It hasn't always been an easy listen, and there's times when, in the maelstrom of noises he creates, he hits on a stupidly catchy groove only to move on immediately and frustratingly. On This Lazer Life he penned radio fodder in Body Positive, before going left field on a Hawaiian inspired ukelele number Halloween Party. Whilst this was endearing on his earlier music, last years GL1TCH3S went extreme. Dense post-rock, conscious hip hop, dream pop, ambient, it had absolutely everything.

Anti-Matter is a direct rejection of this model. It's an immediately more focussed, structured album, significantly leaner than his previous efforts at only 10 tracks, and housing the kind of sounds that he has been known to gravitate towards as his bread and butter. Incredibly strong percussive elements underpin every track, and these are expanded on through the use of a stressed out bass guitar and multiple high picked riffs which are instantly familiar and serve to cement each track firmly in your head, even after a cursory listen. We've finally pinned Beatastic down and shone a light on the core musical elements that have made his music so fresh and experimental.

The result is quite stunning, and much darker than his back catalogue defines him. Early work was quite positive, and whilst GL1TCH3S had some extremely dark moments (How Fast The Fog Comes In, Addiction, Lctr), Nico allowed the sun to shine brightly when the clouds did dissipate. Anti-Matter is a tense, hemmed in affair, exploring isolation, dissonance and a disquieting sense of slow dread. The tense explosion of The Waiting Game hides the sinister message 'I'm waiting for us to disappear in history', and a quick perusal of the track names reveals Winter Depression, Sleep is Freedom, Pixelated Heart and Abnegation. Not a happy Nico then?

In the interview I've included below, one of Nico's responses informed that he wanted listeners to escape through his music, to get lost within the mood. The direct rejection of his previous work suggests a soul who has spent more than his fair share of time searching for just that; an escape worthy of his time and effort. The brilliant first single, Sleep Is Freedom, is just DIRTY. That low, aggressive bass groove that settles in before the crisp crash of drum takes centre stage gradually grows in to a crescendo, a tsunami of noise that crashes throughout your speakers as the chorus hits. 'I bury my head under the pillows today, cause sleep is the only time I'm free'. If this were GL1TCH3S it'd be accompanied by spaced out electronics and an upper atmospheric joy ride. Instead Nico takes us down in to the dirt and mud with him, switching his voice from haze to anger, 'It keeps coming, keeps coming', an outward explosion of tension. It's a sinister element he's added to his vocal range, a real edge that wasn't previously present. Karma employs it wonderfully, adding a drone quality that enhances the melodic element of the track.

His vocal performance points to the wider changes and evolution that has occurred in his sound. Reminiscient of a Thom Yorke, he now uses his voice as an extra 'instrument' so to speak, and this opens up an expansive set of options on Anti-Matter. His ability to drone and match the tone of the song deepens the sound. On The Ocean, a whistful selective electronic riff lifted straight from the PC explosion of the early 00s, he croons mournfully, allowing his words to drift in and out of the music mimmicking the very subject he is addressing. He's become so adept at this that during the extended interlude of thumping instrumental at the end of Pixelated Heart, his voice morphs with guitar to almost sound like he is performing a duet with himself. It's an immediate point of difference from traditional post-rock who's main weapon is relentless vibration building to crescendo. On Anti-Matter, Beatastic controls the tempo of each track with the dual aids of his voice and his guitar, allowing him to build and crash at will. Nowhere is this clearer than Konishiwa, a desperate grasp at a percieved escape through human interaction, that never fully dissipates as Nico croons 'Let's just blur in to each other..' as the music dies.

If Anti-Matter is an escapist record, the destination wouldn't find it's way on to too many Contiki tours. It's too inattentive to label this a break up record. Whilst there are multiple mentions of human longing, depression brought about by solitude and even desperation, the feeling is one of ambiguity, not of targeted requests. For example, The Waiting Game, 'I'm waiting for us to disappear in history' has a decidedly Capulet trait about it, and this is backed up on Konishwa, with the doleful 'let's just blur in to each other' hiding a morbid message of a soul seeking a partner in the slow march towards the other side. There's no real central figure, which is in contrast to Your Mistake and Karma, two tracks that directly address frustration and anger towards another. Then Sleep Is Freedom paints the picture of a cautious, self-conscious soul dissecting the possiblity of losing their soulmate.

All of this negativity is a fresh direction for Beatastic, and serves to set Anti-Matter nicely apart in his catalogue. The refusal to remain in one place, to be labelled, is endearing if not expertly conducted. But his fusing of heavy, industrial strength instrumental rock with a nervous, wide-eyed dive in to his psyche and the worries and anxieties that assault it is performed with a self-confidence that belies the message. Fortunately, this duality means that the music is, once again, outstanding. There's no longer something for everything in Beatastic's repertoire, but for those that this appeals to there is a huge array of texture and technique that has flourished when given the attention that it always deserved.


Best Tracks: Winter Depression, Sleep is Freedom, Konishwa

Nico is a lovely bloke and someone I've been in close contact with for quite a while now. He was gracious enough to answer some of my ham-fisted questions, his responses give a nice insight in to not only Anti-Matter but his unique way of creating music.

 BC: Anti-Matter immediately feels more mellow than GL1TCH3S, was this a reaction to your current circumstances or were you more conscious of creating a more melodic piece of music?
 Nico: I hadn't noticed tbh, I actually thought the lyrical content was angrier
BC:Your idea to have a video for every track is audacious, especially as an underground artist. What was the process for making each video? Did you write ideas yourself or did you allow others creative freedom? I asked a lot of different artists and a few agreed. 
Nico: I was convinced some would let me down and indeeed a few have. the film is about giving up artistic control, which is something I hate, so the brief for the artists was to do exactly what they want and only give me the final product and I have no say in it whatsoever.

BC: Are you listening to any new music? I saw you were a big fan of Alcest's latest record, I wonder if there is any post-rock influence in the recording process of Anti-matter?
Nico: I am listening to a few things like Alcest, Nothing, Pity Sex etc...but it's more a question of palette. A painter will decide to use a certain number of colours. I will decide to use a certain number of sounds and work around it. The colour of the sounds influences the music.

BC: Gl1TCH3S featured quite a few other artists, yet anti-matter is unashamedly Nico through and through. Was it your intention to knuckle down and create something entirely solo, or did it happen organically?
Nico: Well, I couldn't see any rappers taking part in this and frankly I was busy with coordinating the film project so I couldn't spend any time looking for female guests this time.

BC: At only 10 tracks it's a relatively self-contained record. The sounds explored feel less expansive than your previous work, yet more deeply constructed. Are you beginning to find 'your' sound, or are you still open to experimentation?
Nico:I'm very opened to experimentation but each album is a reaction against the previous one. The reviews all said the same thing: it's too varied. I dissagree. It's varied cause that's what I wanted. So this time it's more focused as a reaction against the last one. I had about 45 songs to choose from so I tried to pick the one that fit togther the most.

BC: The riff on Winter Depression is sublime. I want to know a bit about how ideas for songs come to you. Do you carry a notepad around with you, writing down ideas as they come? Do you sit in the studio and just play around until something fits together and works?
Nico: I don't have much time to record and write, so when I do I have to work quickly. So I'll sit down and write as I record, using the recording gear as an instrument.

BC: Is there a structure to your song writing process, or do you just let creativity follow its course? On tracks like Konishiwa you introduce your vocals much earlier than other songs, yet the background riff is reminiscient of Winter Depression. Yet this is a format not followed on other tracks. Is it intentional to mix things up, to keep it interesting?
Nico: I once read a Billy Corgan interview where he said he sat down and noticed there's about 15 recognisable traits in his songwriting, so after Mellon Collie he made sure that each new song stayed away from that. I think as an artist it's good to be aware of that, so you don't repeat yourself too much, but you must also stick to what makes you sounds like yourself. So I noticed that my second verses were always similar to the first. So this time I changed that.

BC: On the song structure and writing process, I find that the instruments you use to propel each song varies dramatically. On Your Mistake you utilise heavy distorted guitars and a throbbing bassline, similar to Pisces, yet on Pixelated Heart its your vocals and percussion. Do you say 'Ok, on this song I am going to use the bass as the focal point and work around that' or does it happen of its own accord?
Nico: I think it's works of it's own accord. I tend to get a basic drum pattern to work with and then put a bass line down. So this album is probably not very chord based, I tried to do a couple of songs acoustic and not many lend themselves to that. I guess it's just about letting the song find itself

BC: In terms of the multi-instrumentalist nature of your work, do you have a favourite instrument? Is there a 'go to' piece of equipment for Beatastic when writing songs?
Nico: I think basic drums to find some movement and then a bassline. I like elastic basslines, like Joy Division or The Cure. If I was to write with an coustic guitar the songs would have been very different

BC: What would be the overall theme of Anti-Matter, what, as a listener, should we take away from it?
Nico:I guess it's a dreamy album, I just want people to listen to it and get lost in the sound and the mood. Music is a form of escape after all.

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