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Step It Up in Brisbane

Step It Up in Brisbane

I was really excited to hear that Brisbane band Step It Up had a new EP, "Push", out in 2011 on Zyl Records, as I'd loved their earlier work on their self titled album released in 1996 and I'd seen them perform in Brisbane when I lived there in 2000/2001 or so. The new EP has different versions of the song "Push"—which includes a sample from their popular song "Flex" with mixes by Obese Bass Beast and Unison Sound System. There's also a new song called "Nudge" by Blunted Stylus (aka Geoff "Jigzaw" Blunted/ex Resin Dogs/Hydrofunk). The musical lineup has changed slightly over the years, but there's still a range of music styles and techniques explored on this release—from house, to jazz, to drum'n'bass, to bass-music and beats'n'squelch styles. All in all, it's a pleasure to listen to and I'm looking forward to hearing their future sounds, as well as the cache of songs yet to be released. Des Reid was kind enough to answer a few questions about the band and its future directions. Keep an ear to the ground for their live gigs in Brisbane and elsewhere—you'll be in for a treat from these talented musicians!

>> AliaK
> Des Reid, Step It Up

track # 1, "Push (Borrowed Moog And Juno) Mix" by Obese Bass Beast via Step It Up's soundcloud page

Push (Borrowed Moog And Juno) Mix by Obese Bass Beast by Step iT uP

>> for the "borrowed moog and juno mix", song #1 on Push—what's the story here? who'd you borrow the moog and juno from and can you keep them for a while?

> The Moog Prodigy belonged to Manny, our old keys player. I should have bought it when he sold it. The Juno 60 was DJ Damage's. They're both killer synths. I've since acquired a Juno 60 and JX-3p.

>> are there any favourite gigs, or memories of them that you'd like to share?

> The "Vibes on A Summer Day" festivals were always great. They were before festivals became commercial and unaffordable. Bondi Pavilion was a great venue. It's always nice to see a thousand people jumping up and down to your music in the sun from the stage.

>> for your live set: "Their new show has wide variety from instrumental hip-hop through Asian and Arabic influences to banging house". can you talk about some of these influences? particularly, the Asian and Arabic ones

> I have been learning some Arabic music and playing with some great oud players. We have an unreleased track called "Ïntefada" and a new one called "Free Gaza". I've always been interested in Indian music since seeing the Mahavishnu Orchestra, although I haven't studied it thoroughly and authentically. One of our best new tunes is an Indian groove tune called "Only One I know". That's partly because it's the only raga I know properly! Rohan plays in proper Indian ensembles in recitals at the Hindu temple in Virginia up here in Brisbane.

>> who are the band members of Step It Up?

> We've had some fantastic players in the past who have left town like Craig Hanicek, Darren MacPherson and Gavin Manikus on sax, Godoy and Steve Falk on percussion and DJ Frenzie. Terepai recorded the drums on "Flex" for us too.

The current line up is :

Steve Francis—drums
Steve is a great drummer and is in great demand in Brisbane. He tours with James Morrison too.

Neil Wickham is our great new sax player. He has a brilliant fusion type sound. The sax can't be too mellow in this type of music or it loses the edge and blands it out a bit.

Rohan Somasekaran is on keys. He is an awesome piano player and leads his own straight-ahead jazz outfit too. We're adding more synth to the live sound too.

I [Des Reid] play bass mostly live, but also a bit of guitar and guitar synth. I want to start contributing to the percussion too, but only in a support role—I'm only a simple player.

DJ Damage does the cuts on the EP. He's also in Terntable Jediz and The Optimen. He's one of the best turntablists I've ever seen.

Roger Gonzalez is our percussionist. He is a conga and cahon specialist, and a fantastic groove player. Marcelo, who played on the "Push" EP moved to Canberra unfortunately. We have loads of percussion recorded by him in the vaults though. Also heaps by his brother, Luis Schiavi—a killer timbales player.

Overall we have a giant backlog of tracks which we will be finishing and releasing soon. Although we haven't been playing out as often over the last few years, we never stopped writing and recording. We're sitting on a few albums really. The new label—Zyl Records will be our outlet now that we're organized.

>> do you improvise during the live sets too?

> There is a lot of improvising live. We follow the jazz tradition of arranged head—improvisation—head. We try to keep some tightly arranged sections too. One big feature of our sets is the breakdowns. We don't just have horn or keys solos—we have big sections where the drums, percussion and DJ are improvising together, feeding off each other. According to Cuban tradition, when two or more percussive players are resonating, that's when the spirits come. We're a bit tribal really.

>> the only problem with your EP is that I can’t decide on which version I like best—they’re all great. especially soothing after a crazy week, to listen and wind down. do you have any favourite versions?

> I can't pick one either, after working on all of them.

Nudge by Step iT uP

>> are there any changes in the music industry / live music community you've seen over the years?

> Everything has changed in a lot of ways. It seems harder to get press and radio plays these days without paid publicists and pluggers. A bit sleazy—no pay, no play. I'm sure most music journalists are music fans, but the editors are all about the advertising. It's also weird how music management is now a college course like hospitality and tourism. I'd rather work with people with experience on the street, not a diploma.

The change to online is generally good though—there are a lot of avenues for promoting your music that don't need big dollars.

>> are you involved in the Australian jazz community and what's it like?

> All the musicians in the band play some straight-ahead jazz. When we haven't got a band gig, I play a lot of solo jazz guitar gigs, or guitar + percussion as Ballad Boy. That's mostly acoustic and downtempo versions of Step It Up tunes.

We're playing at the Fortitude Valley Jazz Festival at the end of May which should be great exposure. We don't want to get typecast though. We're danceable and a general instrumental band mainly—not just jazz. We want universal appeal. At a lot of our open, mall-type gigs, we hook the 3–4 year olds. They often refuse to leave until we stop playing.

>> the sounds are so layered and full-sounding. do you all do a layer and email it to each other to be put together or is it recorded live in a studio?

> We record live together when possible, but that needs a larger room. Loops or sections from live gigs can be good to get that feel too. We often start with a beat and overdub layers.

>> I imagine when you're playing live, each musician vibes off the other musician and can adjust according to how everyone is playing? so each time it's played it's slightly different? do you get together for jam / practice sessions?

> You're right—it's never the same twice. We rehearse whenever possible, but when there are no gigs, it's hard to get the whole band together.

>> there seems to be different production methods and instruments in each version on the "Push" EP? is this exploring how different instruments can create different sounds?

> Every tune is different and comes from a different process. That stops us getting too generic.

>> do you have an idea of what the song will sound like, eg which style of music, before you start, or do you just start experimenting with the sounds and see what comes of it? or a mixture / neither of these?

> We experiment a lot. In a way the process is driven by wanting to see what the tune will sound like at the end of the process. I like to try different tempos, textures and feels.

>> what was it like working with the analogue tapes? did you do cut-up editing? what was the process involved? were you influenced by different cut-up artists—both writing and music. perhaps some of the experimental / musique concrete / avant garde. or even some of the Australian artists in 1980s, for example Severed Heads?

> Analogue tape sounds great, especially on drums and percussion. The tape compression is very forgiving and can make up for not having expensive mics etc. I never got the hang of manual splicing though. Cool Edit Pro is much easier! We're not very influenced by the avant-garde, although I used to like Stockhausen, Philip Glass and other composers.

Push (House mix) by Step iT uP

>> there's lots of percussion in all of the songs on the EP—timbales, bells, congas, cahon in song #4, the Push (House mix). are there any influences for percussive music and artists?

> I'm not an expert on Latin music but Roger, Marce and Luis are. I like Arabic percussion too but I'm not an aficionado. I like the hands-on diy of percussion—anyone can have a go. I play a bit and can keep up if I keep it basic. I leave the complex patterns to the experts.

>> what difference do you think using instruments makes to a song? compared to digital / computer generated sounds. for example, I've heard the slightly different timing of the players and "imperfections" can make for a more organic, natural sound which our ears prefer and adjust for. does this sound right?

> Yes, you're right. I like a programmed beat and we play around it. I don't like drum programming to try to sound real, you might as well use a real drummer. I like the interactions between electronic or processed and acoustic or live.

>> what are some influences?

> We all have many influences. I'm a sponge and what I listen to changes all the time. I'm greedy and seem to want a bit of every element I hear. Music is always a cocktail of elements and searching for a new blend is an endless quest.

>> are there any gigs you’d like to mention—your regular gigs?

> Regular gigs would be heaven! We're chasing a residency in Brisbane.

[ Step It Up are also playing at the 2011 Valley Jazz Festival, Sunday 29th May @ the Royal George Hotel in Brisbane - see this gig listing for details ]

>> remixes, other projects—who would you like to work with?

> I'm keen to do remixes and hope this EP will act as a calling card. I have a lot of ideas for deconstruction and rebirth of tunes. Offers please!

I'm keen to do new collaborations too. I've started doing some underground house tunes with DJ Freestyle.

I also want to work with more vocals. We want some vocal elements back in the band—we have had guest vocalists and a toaster (reggae MC) before. I'm also keen to co-write songs in different styles from acoustic to electronic. I've got a big backlog of ideas, some waiting for the right vocals.

>> when did you know you were going to be a musician / why did you choose music over the other art forms? or did music choose you?

> I think it chooses you. You can try not to follow it but you get sucked back subconsciously. I tried to stop for a while when my UK band climbed quite high and then crashed. I just ended up borrowing instruments and writing heaps of tunes without noticing. I suddenly found I had a load of new songs ready to go.

>> what does the future hold?
More gigs, releases and collaborations hopefully.

Visit Step It Up/s website at http://stepitup.net or join the Step It Up Facebook page for more details on their music, releases and upcoming gigs.

Step It Up's "Push EP" is available for purchase at itunes and ebay.

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