Bleepin’ J. Squawkins: I put a (speak n’) spell on you

Sydney electronic duo Bleepin’ J. Squawkins’ have been hard at work for the past couple of years, sequestered deep in the shadowy (yet still neon-strewn) laboratories of their Bleep Institute, putting the finishing touches to their debut album ‘Floppydisco’ (released last month through Clan Analogue Recordings). Packed with thick analogue grooves, sexy bleep action and a veritable armoury of electro handclaps and clicking TB-303s, ‘Floppydisco’ brings the 1984 to the Oh-4, while twisting familiar elements through the mix along with new ingredients to create a fresh and exciting hybrid of old and new influences.

ITM’s evilchris spoke to Julian and Ed in order to find out more about winning one of B(if)tek’s coveted WINK Awards, the difficulties involved with mastering your record in 5 ¼ inch format, and writing beats for a Dalek hip-hop crew…

ITM: Is it true that you initially wanted to release Floppydisco on 5¼ inch vinyl (in honour of the old-format PC floppy disc) and that Clan Analogue vetoed the idea?

Julian BJS: No, it’s not true…. it’s of course in honour of the Commodore 64floppy disc, and the apple IIe! PCs really sucked, back when 5¼” disks were the main storage medium.

Ed BJS: Development for the 5 ¼ inch vinyl drive for the PC is still in progress, somewhere deep in the Bleep Institute…No one can stop us now!! Hahahahah…

ITM: How did you guys end up winning one of B(if)tek’s WINK Awards, and what category award did you win?

Ed BJS: How we won the award for “Best unsigned act most deserved of a bucket load of cash thrown at them”, we ask ourselves constantly. There is so much quality music being made in Australia, perhaps B(if)tek heard our passion for our synthesizers and drum machines…feel the love…

Julian BJS: I thought we won the category of “band most likely to come up with a silly version of their award’s title, after forgetting what it’s actually meant to be” ?

ITM: After releasing a few Bleepin J. Squawkins tracks on various Clan Analogue compilations, what sorts of priorities did you have for your debut album?

Ed BJS: Our first priority was to finish the album!! One aim we tried to adhere to was to use every piece of equipment in our studios at least once, did we succeed? No. Gear we didn’t use consisted of 1940s Maestrovox (our oldest and dearest tube synthesizer) and a Guyatone distortion pedal. We also, intended to have a vocal element on every track, either in singing, talking, speech-synthesizer, vocoder or sampled form. This helps listeners identify music, e.g. you know that track that goes da da da boing click booom and now for a walk in the Black Forest.

Julian BJS: From the very start, it had to be an actual album. Not just a pile of tracks we’d written, but a collection of songs that all work together. We also wanted to keep it concise and tight. We needed to learn how to shut up, and stop playing stuff when tracks were meant to be finishing. It was hard, so very very hard, to stop playing with all those sliders and buttons on our keyboards. Somehow we managed!

ITM: How did the both of you end up working together as Bleepin’ J.Squawkins?

Julian BJS: We met at manning bar, while avoiding studying for our electrical engineering degrees at Sydney Uni. We started working together on a band for the band comp one year, and somehow we never quite stopped.

Ed BJS: One dark stormy evening, while conducting various voodoo rituals on a Speak ‘n’ Spell, it came to us, somewhere between Screaming J. Hawkins and Stephen Hawking…I’m gonna put a Speak ‘n’ Spell on you…and Bleepin’ J.Squawkins was born…

ITM: Do you find that your music as Bleepin’ J Squawkins is influenced more by electronic music from the previous decades, or contemporary artists?

Julian BJS: Bleepin’ J. Squawkins is of course influenced by the seminal (hehe!) electro bands like Kraftwerk, and Telex, maybe also some of the American stuff like Model 500 too… as well as a lot of synth pop – Music by Georgio Moroder, Vince Clarke, Visage, The Human League, Numan, blah blahblah… but we think it’s also pretty obvious that what we do is also modern sounding… you can’t put our CD next to any of these older influences and claim they sound the same.

Ed BJS: Once electronic instruments became reasonably affordable for musicians in the early 80’s, there was a burst of new strange sounds, never before heard by human ears. It’s this excitement and promise that perhaps there’s still a sound out there waiting to be found, that drives us towards the future. One day the world will catch up…

ITM: How would you describe your live show – does it differ in many ways from the recorded studio tracks as seen on ‘Floppydisco’? Are there any plans to take the Bleepin’ J Squawkins live experience further a field / on tour?

Julian BJS: Yeah! We want to play everywhere we can! GIVE US GIGS!! NOW!! Please. Our live show differs lots from the recorded album tracks… the idea with it is to re-interpret the music on the album, rather than just repeat what anyone can hear at home… It’s definitely not just us sitting on stage behind a CD player with our album loaded up in it. We have instruments we actually play. We’re currently sorting out ways to take our show on the road… To become portable enough to do that, but still provide a definite live experience for people to appreciate.

Ed BJS: Our live shows are a combination of live analog synths, guitar synth, an MPC2000XL, lots of FX and knob twiddling. Each show, we try to take a different setup, to give us a different paradigm to play with. We re-write our album tracks into a live form, that allows improvisation and live sound manipulation, to give every performance something new and different. On top of that, we’re constantly writing new material so some tracks are always new, but always some favourites. In terms of touring, we hope to play in Melbourne, Canberra and the odd birthday party in Sydney. We just need to rehearse “happy birthday to you” on an 808…

ITM: After listening to ‘Floppydisco’ a few times now, I can imagine the Bleepin’ J Squawkins live show is quite a neon-soaked debauched synth experience – I can also imagine you guys would have a dream Duran Duran-esque tour rider as well. Any guesses as to what might be on it?

Ed BJS: Girls on film…

Julian BJS: Well, that would have to include Nick Rhodes’ keyboard rig, for a start…… Oooh baby! Our dream Duran Duran-esque tour rider would also include Duran Duran. They look like they’d be fun to hang out with backstage. Plus they’d be handy if we needed money to extend the tour, we could always slip them a mickey and pimp them out a bit. It seems they’re still very popular boys, from their tour last year, and if we can help make some of their fans dreams come true, then surely it’s a beautiful thing we’d be doing – not wrong at all.

ITM: How did you end up working with guest vocalist Suzi Catchpole on album track Minerva Moog (Part One), and do you have any future plans to explore further collaborations with guest vocalists?

Julian BJS: It’s a continual source of frustration to us both that we can’t get our hands on a MIDI controlled vocalist. We would really like to work with R2D2. He’s got the tone and the emotional range as a singer that’s just perfect for us. Plus we reckon we could hack him to accept MIDI. We would also like to get together a band where we’re writing beats and loops for a Dalek hip-hop crew…… Those kids have so much to say, and they’re just totally ignored in the mainstream media. Almost like they don’t exist outside of Dr Who episodes or something. It’s quite puzzling.

Ed BJS: We’re always willing to collaborate with people, it’s just that…err…the synthesizers get jealous…there there…

Julian BJS: Oh, and the story of Minerva Moog also has a couple more installments planned. Suzi is very close to the band – she has a real feel for what we’re doing (which is vitally important for any vocalist not under MIDI control) and she’s lots of fun. How could we not want to work with her again?

ITM: How did you both first become involved with the Clan Analogue collective?

Julian BJS: We were walking down the street one day, and they kidnapped us…And they only let us out to do interviews and gigs. Which is why we are so keen to do gigs… Please help us escape, we’ll do anything!!! Err.. please don’t tell them we said that….

ITM: So, what do Bleepin’ J Squawkins have planned now for the second half of2004?

Ed BJS: We hope to play a few live gigs, create a few more puns and get a video out there!!

Julian BJS: Yeah – lots of gigs! Apart from that, I’ll be hanging out at home late every night, trying to steal Simon Le Bon’s dance moves. We’d also like to put out a record, given the right situation.

‘Floppydisco’ is out now through Clan Analogue/Creative Vibes.