Wednesday, 07 August 2013 15:09

Urthboy: Politically Minded

Five years ago Urthboy was beginning to worry about the future of the music business.

At Elefant Traks, the Sydney-based independent hip hop record label he helped co-found, the internet was beginning to bite and sales of physical product were losing traction. Life on the indie frontline looked bleak.

But cut to 2013 and everything’s changed. Elefant Traks are coming off one of the most successful years in the label’s history. 2012 delivered a breakthrough for Hermitude, the DJ project of Luke ‘Dubs’ Dubber and Angus ‘El Gusto’ Stuart — their fourth album ‘HyperParadise’ crossing over into the mainstream media – as well as the release of Urthboy’s own LP, ‘Smokey’s Haunt’, which itself went on to rack up the critical plaudits.

“2012 was a combination of lots of hard work and a few things going our way,” explains Urthboy, who in label guise is better known as Tim Levinson. “You’re working alongside artists like Hermitude for ten years before they really start to shake up a more mainstream audience, [and] when it finally does happen and you’re working behind the scenes alongside them, it’s really invigorating and just gives you that reassurance that, first of all, what we’re doing is worthwhile, and secondly, nice guys do finish first sometimes.”

Particularly satisfying was the AIR award for Best Label. Essentially, it meant other labels had been voting for Elefant Traks, acknowledging their achievements.

“That other labels think we’re doing a good job – that makes us all have a little bit more of a spring in our step when we’re working. But you reflect on those things and use it as a way of reinforcing your own belief in what you’re doing … I think the fact that we’re all invested in it and believe in what Elefant Traks is trying to do is a far greater incentive than all those things.”

And compared to the gloomy days half a decade ago? A lot of labels slipped under the waters, but Elefant Traks adapted and have since grown their business.

“Our digital ratio of sales is far higher than our physical now,” Urthboy explains. “So it seems that the audiences who embrace Elefant Traks have long since discarded physical product. So we’ve been close to those changes that have affected the industry and sometimes in a negative way. We have more staff rather than less, we have more projects to work on and we feel like there are more things out there that we haven‘t tried out yet. And our overheads – despite the fact that we’ve got more staff – are so low that we can move and adapt.”

As Elefant Traks’ stock has risen, so has Urthboy’s – but not just as an artist or businessman. His label’s thoughtful approach to rap music continues to draw followers, even when the smart money would be on the enlivening, widescreen hip hop of acts such as Hilltop Hoods, Bliss N Eso and 360. Elefant Traks artists aren’t afraid to sign their name to a cause, and as label head, Urthboy is often called upon to do the talking. So you have his appearance on ABC Television’s popular talk show ‘Q&A’ earlier this year — something he describes in encouraging tones as a learning experience.

“I’m all about getting involved and I feel sad for people who pull themselves out of a dialogue,” he says. “Each to their own: people can do what they like, but I’m just a personality that likes to get involved. I’m an empathetic person; I share the concerns I’ve had with my own career with my artists and the artists that I look after. I always come from that angle and want to get involved. And politics is no different: naturally we’re going to be a little rough around the edges and not be polished media players, but that’s OK. You’ve just got to keep that option open.”

[Ed’s note: This article first appeared in Scene February 27, 2013]

Urthboy Headlines Sprung Festival alongside 360 and Drapht Saturday September 21. Sprunghiphop.com.au

Published in Urban
Thursday, 11 July 2013 00:00

Sprung Festival Tickets

In 2013 Sprung Festival returns to Brisbane for a third straight year; and with it a line-up boasting some of the country’s hottest hip hop acts at the moment.

Topping the bill are 360, Drapht and Seth Sentry while other interstaters include: Funkoars, Urthboy, Horrowshow, Thundamentals, Brad Strut, All Day, Purpose and Dialectrix.

The local scene is fronted by Lazy Grey, Jake Biz and DJ Dcide plus Mr Hill & Rahjconkas and Chelsea Jane.

To win a double pass to the Saturday September 21 event at Victoria Park This competition has closed
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Terms and Conditions:

1. Winners will be drawn at random at 12pm Thursday 18th July at Level 2, 192-210 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley. [Winner drawn]
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3. Entrants' email address will not be used for any other purpose except the conduct of this competition.

Published in Competition
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 11:54

Urthboy: Ideas Man

Five years ago Urthboy was beginning to worry about the future of the music business.

At Elefant Traks, the Sydney-based independent hip hop record label he helped co-found, the internet was beginning to bite and sales of physical product were losing traction. Life on the indie frontline looked bleak.
But cut to early 2013 and everything’s changed. Elefant Traks are coming off one of the most successful years in the label’s history. 2012 delivered a breakthrough for Hermitude, the DJ project of Luke ‘Dubs’ Dubber and Angus ‘El Gusto’ Stuart — their fourth album ‘HyperParadise’ crossing over into the mainstream media – as well as the release of Urthboy’s own LP, ‘Smokey’s Haunt’, which itself went on to rack up the critical plaudits. By December, Elefant Traks seemed to be everywhere.

“2012 was a combination of lots of hard work and a few things going our way,” explains Urthboy, who in label guise is better known as Tim Levinson. “You’re working alongside artists like Hermitude for ten years before they really start to shake up a more mainstream audience, [and] when it finally does happen and you’re working behind the scenes alongside them, it’s really invigorating and just gives you that reassurance that, first of all, what we’re doing is worthwhile, and secondly, nice guys do finish first sometimes.”

Particularly satisfying was the AIR award for best label. Essentially, it meant other labels had been voting for Elefant Traks, acknowledging their achievements.

“That other labels think we’re doing a good job – that makes us all have a little bit more of a spring in our step when we’re working. But you reflect on those things and use it as a way of reinforcing your own belief in what you’re doing … I think the fact that we’re all invested in it and believe in what Elefant Traks is trying to do is a far greater incentive than all those things.”

And compared to the gloomy days half a decade ago? A lot of labels slipped under the waters, but Elefant Traks adapted and have since grown their business.

“Our digital ratio of sales is far higher than our physical now,” Urthboy explains. “So it seems that the audiences who embrace Elefant Traks have long since discarded physical product. So we’ve been close to those changes that have affected the industry and sometimes in a negative way. We have more staff rather than less, we have more projects to work on and we feel like there are more things out there that we haven‘t tried out yet. And our overheads – despite the fact that we’ve got more staff – are so low that we can move and adapt.”

As Elefant Traks’ stock has risen, so has Urthboy’s – but not just as an artist or businessman. His label’s thoughtful approach to rap music continues to draw followers, even when the smart money would be on the enlivening, widescreen hip hop of acts such as Hilltop Hoods, Bliss N Eso and 360. Elefant Traks artists aren’t afraid to sign their name to a cause, and as label head, Urthboy is often called upon to do the talking. So you have his appearance on ABC Television’s popular talk show ‘Q&A’ a couple of weeks ago – something he describes in encouraging tones as a learning experience.

“I’m all about getting involved and I feel sad for people who pull themselves out of a dialogue,” he says. “Each to their own: people can do what they like, but I’m just a personality that likes to get involved. I’m an empathetic person; I share the concerns I’ve had with my own career with my artists and the artists that I look after. I always come from that angle and want to get involved. And politics is no different: naturally we’re going to be a little rough around the edges and not be polished media players, but that’s OK. You’ve just got to keep that option open.”

It’s not often you meet an artist with such well resolved arguments on political and social current affairs. ‘Q&A’ obviously realised this, asking the rapper for a post panel performance of his song ‘Empire Tags’ – a plea for Australia to drop the Union Jack from the national flag – as opposed to current single ‘The Big Sleep’. Urthboy takes this public side to his personality seriously, but at the same time is wary of overkill.

“I performed ‘Empire Tags’ and at the end of it, because of the bushfires and floods around the country, I was shouting out to people affected by that stuff. And I was pointed to one of the main lobby groups for the monarchy over here, and a lot of their commentary was, ‘I cannot believe he blamed floods and fires on the Queen,’” he laughs. “I mean, God, what an advertisement for [having your] fucking head in the sand.

“I’m outspoken because I feel like life’s too short to play poker with this shit. But yeah, I do sometimes feel like the world doesn’t need me to put my opinion on everything. And from time-to-time I’ll have an awakening of, ‘Why would people want to hear my opinion on things?’ And I’ve got to be aware of that instinct to assume that what I’ve got to say is worth listening to. I think from time to time I need to reflect on it, so I just don’t assume … Quite often with interviews and issues where you’re called to make a comment, it’s a one-way street where you’re standing up and delivering your grandiose thoughts on the world. I don’t want to hear the same person talk about a whole bunch of different issues, so why would I want to be that person?”

Right now, though, Urthboy is thinking more about the art, and in particular the upcoming ‘Smokey’s Haunt’ national tour. It will be the first where he’s not on the road with El Gusto – Hermitude’s continued success now requiring the DJ’s fulltime attention.

“Replacing El Gusto was something I didn’t even want to explore,” he says, “so that’s how the band came up. If I can’t replace him, how do we actually go about it? We have to make the show better. Because that’s the premise.”
He quickly settled upon an idea he’d originally discussed with El Gusto: touring with a full band. And so beyond regular co-conspirator Jane Tyrrell, Urthboy will be packing an all new live show, including Lisa Purmodh on drums, Alex Dawson on keys and Last Kinection and Briggs’ regular, Jaytee, behind the decks. The excitement buzzes down the phone line.

“I don’t really feel pressure, apart from pulling off the songs in time for the show,” he says. “Maybe that’s pressure, but I don’t think of it in those terms. I definitely feel that you can’t get away with doing the same thing over and over again … Particularly when there are so many acts in the hip hop community – you can’t keep coming back and doing the same thing – it has to be a constant refresh and you have to present people with new ideas, offer them something new.”

Urthboy plays Sol Bar, Coolum, March 22 and The Zoo March 23.

Published in Urban
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 16:37

Urthboy: Madness Prevails

Rules are out of the equation as Tim Levinson — aka Urthboy — gears up for the release of ‘Smokey’s Haunt’.

Drawing inspiration from poetry and experience, Urthboy says you can expect his fourth solo album to include a lot of storytelling.
“‘Smokey's Haunt’ is a kind of hang-out and a place where people come together. There's a lot of light and dark on the album.”

The first single, ‘Naive Bravado’, was named iTunes single of the week and features soul artist Daniel Merriweather.
“I could tell you all the boring bits about how it happened [collaborating with Merriweather] but really it was just a big serious of coincidences and events that conspired to make it happen. It was really good.”

Unlike most artists, he’s taking his tour nationally before the album drops, next month.
“Sometimes madness prevails as a logic. We make sure that when you come to our show you have a great time, so the performance aspect of it doesn't really require us to have a new album out.

“It feels like there's room to experiment and do things on your own terms and we're lucky that we've been around for a while so people know when they come to one of our shows, it's going to be a life-affirming experience.”

There’s a large emphasis on his live performance, ensuring everything is about the crowd under that roof.

“This show comes back down to people on stage, putting a whole lot of heart and soul into their craft so that when those songs are performed live, it's actually something worth going and seeing.”
Urthboy balances writing and touring with his other project, The Herd, and managing Elefant Traks, alongside his solo work.

“They don't usually co-exist so everything is about the solo stuff at the moment. It’s part of what makes my life really enjoyable and it's not without its frustrations, but I would probably find running the label pretty boring if that was the only thing I did.”

Urthboy plays the Great Northern, Byron, Sep 14 and The Zoo Sep 15. ‘Smokey’s Haunt’ is out Oct 12.
Published in Urban

Good Charlotte will headline this year’s V8 Supercars ARMOR ALL Gold Coast 600.

The Madden brothers — Benji and Joel — will be joined by iconic rockers The Living End, Oz hip hop’s ‘it’ act 360 as well as Boys Like You, Horrorshow, Urthboy, Sietta, Purple Sneaker DJs and The Faders.

There will be concerts on Friday and Saturday nights at the Broadwater Parklands.

The V8 Supercars ARMOR ALL Gold Coast 600 takes place October 19-21.

Published in Events Music
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 13:58

Elefant Traks - Part One 23.03.11

Part One 

For the better part of 15 years, Elefant Traks have provided a portal to promote and proliferate slightly left of field, local electronic and hip hop releases.

Published in Urban
Wednesday, 16 June 2010 13:55

Dwizofoz Interview

Baked, Not Fried

The best of Dwizofoz’s solo work has been pressed, packaged and produced with an entirely local flavour. “Everyone who is featured on the EP is from Brisbane. I didn’t want to go out and pay an exuberant amount of money for some feature artist who I was never going to talk to again. I wanted it to be a solid, all-local release.”

Published in Urban
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 10:17

Urthboy Interview

Frequent Flyer

Sydney MC Urthboy is about to begin another nationwide tour after playing around the country on the ‘Spitshine’ tour last year. 2010’s incarnation; the ‘Sneakquel’ tour is set to pass through 19 venues around Australia this April and May. Along with regular compadres Elgusto and Jane Tyrell, Mantra will also be supporting.

In addition to this, Urthboy has been invited to play several European festivals later this year. He will be appearing at Splash in Germany as well as Open Air Festival in Switzerland. Urthboy describes his perspective on the development.

“We’re still quite fortunate to get a spot on those festivals because we don’t have a massive profile over there. It’s a bit of a combination of luck and more and more people becoming familiar with what we’re doing. We don’t have all the normal ways of getting over there like rock and pop artists do; there aren’t booking agents that speak to each other. We’re a completely new frontier in a strange way so we’re just finding out as we go along. But the two festivals we’ve got are really awesome and I’m really excited to be playing alongside some of the artists.”

Indeed, Urthboy’s name will be appearing alongside some definite heavyweights on the respective bills. Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Damien Marley spearhead the affair in Germany whilst Jay-Z and Eminem are headlining at Open Air Festival. However, local fans can expect a typically vibrant set from the acclaimed MC. Urthboy details the preparation for ‘Sneakquel’.

“We’re trying to mix up the songs again but we’ve also written a couple new songs that we will definitely be playing. That’s some new songs we wanted to get out for the tour but they had to go through the sample-clearing process. They’re not ready yet but the samples are all cleared. That involved two multinational publishers so those things take a bit of time. We have re-worked the set. I think it’s important to keep that innovation up. A few of the songs where we have some choreography happening, we’ve flipped it again. It keeps it interesting for us.”

Joining Urthboy will be Mantra who recently dropped his debut LP ‘Power Of The Spoken’. The pair also blessed a track together on Urthboy’s most recent LP ‘Spitshine’. Urthboy explains the rationale behind the choice.

“Mantra has mad respect in the hip hop scene but more importantly, he’s got mad respect from the music scene in general. I’ve worked with Mantra for years and he supported us in Melbourne last year for our ‘Hellsong’ launch and he’s just a great performer. He’s not just a rapper who can spit mad multis, he’s got showmanship and presence on stage. I love the dude as a person and revere him as an artist. It’s mad to have the platform to invite people like that on tour.”

In his capacity at the head of Elefant Traks, the delicate task of self-promotion come tour time can be a difficult process to navigate effectively. Urthboy recently enlisted the services of Umbrella Management to offload the work.

“There are a lot of jobs to do with running the label I’ve got to relinquish from sometimes. Having Umbrella manage me as a solo artist helps me a huge amount because I can put that management hat on when I’m working for Horrorshow for example but it’s very difficult in my own solo capacity. This management allows me to concentrate more objectively on the business side of Elefant Traks.

“I try to minimise that conflict of interest of representing myself. Most of the time if any opportunities come up for myself as a solo artist, they go through Umbrella. Quite often, that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back; the self-managed artist situation. I think it’s important for artists to experience that capacity but as far as a long-term arrangement, it does break you down.”

It’s very much apparent Urthboy has a calculated approach to the dynamic of artist/ label ownership. Under Urthboy, Elefant Traks continues to excel as one of the country’s most vibrant hip hop imprints.


Urthboy plays the Great Northern April 29, Step Inn April 30 and Never Land Bar May 1. ‘Spitshine’ is available through Elefant Traks.

Published in Urban
Wednesday, 24 March 2010 10:36

Mantra Interview

 

Verbal Artistry

Over the last 12 months or so, Melbourne-based MC Mantra has been accumulating respect and acclaim in the minds of many, emerging as one of Australia’s most talented hip hop artists.

Despite this, it is apparent Mantra humbly digests the widespread kudos with a grain of salt. “Obviously when someone I admire is saying something, like they think I’m one of the best in the country, it’s something I try to take in my stride but it’s hard not to feel very proud. It’s not something I’m conscious of when I’m writing my music, but it is very encouraging to hear that from people who are respected in the scene.

“At the same time, there is always room for improvement. If I didn’t keep pushing myself, I wouldn’t be producing the kind of music that gets me that tag.”

The very people singing Mantra’s praises will be eagerly awaiting his debut album, ‘Power Of The Spoken’, due for release later this week. If his recent track, ‘The Freak Show’, on M-Phazes’s album is anything to go by, ‘Power Of The Spoken’ is going to be a powerful display. Mantra describes the processes that have led to his debut solo release.

“I’ve wanted to do it for about five years now, ever since I first started recording and performing seriously. I’ve had a few attempts before this to get a solo project happening but this is the first one where I’ve had a chance to devote all my time to it. I guess altogether, this album probably took me about a year. I was still juggling it with Illzilla and other weekly commitments in Melbourne, but all my free time last year was devoted to working on ‘Power Of The Spoken’.”

When it came to producers to work with on this debut foray, Mantra took a relatively nonchalant approach to collecting beats.

“I just worked with a group of producers I really trusted. So I wouldn’t necessarily go to producers with a specific idea in mind, but basically if I heard something I felt I could use to a good advantage, I grabbed it. I didn’t really have any prerequisites, as long as it was banging and I felt it was compatible with my style, that was pretty much all I needed.”

Mantra has also taken a level-headed approach to taking ‘Power Of The Spoken’ to the live circuit. For many, this album will probably be the first substantial introduction to Mantra as an artist, despite the work he has done with Illzilla and Equills. He describes how a timely offer from Elefant Traks’ Urthboy allowed him to spread his name potentially a lot further than completing a headline tour.

“About a month after the album drops, I’ll be joining Urthboy on his national tour; we’ll be doing 17 dates. This worked perfectly for me because that was around the time I had hoped to be touring the album anyway. When Urthboy offered me the slot, it was too good to refuse really. I love Urthboy and he has a bigger fanbase than I do. That means I’m going to get to a bunch of places I probably wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”

This introduction to the Melbourne MC will be by way of a fairly overt concept for an album. Mantra explains how despite a gamut of thematic vibrancy, the focus of the album is not always necessarily the broadcasting of a message, more the capacity to do so.

“The reason I called the album ‘Power Of The Spoken’ was because my name, Mantra, relates to the power of the spoken word; a mantra is an idea, word or phrase that you repeat to try and summon a power or belief in something. Another reason I named the album such is because there are a lot of lyrical influences on there and I go to a lot of different places with it theme-wise. The main focus of the album is the words and their vocalisation. That’s one of the reasons I rap, I believe very strongly in the power of the spoken word.”

Mantra’s debut album, ‘Power Of The Spoken’, is out March 26 through Obese Records. Catch him on tour with Urthboy at the Great Northern April 29, Step Inn April 30 and Never Land Bar May 1.

Published in Urban
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 13:44

Urthboy Interview

The Unflappable Optimist

Through all manner of afflictions, including swollen ankles and shoddy vocal chords, Urthboy is currently completing the stellar ‘Spitshine’ tour along with Horrorshow and Polo Club.

Urthboy, along with The Herd, recently attracted much castigation following their boycott of the Mackay Coal To Coast festival. Despite forgoing the event, partially supported by members of the coal industry, The Herd copped flak from green groups and fickle fans alike, quick to bandy about the 'sellout' tag.

So was playing shows in this area over the past week any different for Urthboy? "I was pleasantly surprised. Most people we spoke to were really understanding. The way the media portrayed that incident was very much in line with Mackay Council and the coal terminal's approach of patronising us because we didn't understand the issue."

One would also expect that the sell-out ‘Spitshine’ tour has been a constant stream of raucous festivities around the country, but as Urthboy explains, he has a newfound touring perspective. "There hasn't been that same sort of indulgent partying that goes on sometimes with tours and that's for the best I reckon. It means the quality of the shows is 100 percent and everyone has mad energy because we're not rocking up feeling like death."

Ever the innovator, Urthboy has begun selling 'musical t-shirts', a regular piece of clothing that’s coupled with a download code on the swing tag. Though the concept is relatively untested, even globally, punters are able to purchase the album off the Internet for a modest $10. "One thing is for sure, CDs are dying, it's no longer a crazy theory to balk at, it's happening. It's platforms like iTunes and mp3 players that have held people’s hands through it. So these musical tees are a way of addressing that reality, you've got to come up with some sort of answers to it and you can't do that without experimenting."

Reality is a notion frequently morphing in Australian hip hop. Ten years ago, nobody would have envisaged a 20-something-date, sell-out national tours, platinum records and ARIA nominations for a hip hop artist. By virtue of this, the future is somewhat unpredictable. Though it is without doubt that Urthboy will remain at the forefront of the movement, both as an artist and label manager.


Urthboy plays the Cooly Hotel November 5 and Sands Tavern November 7. ‘Spitshine’ is available nationally through Elefant Traks/ Inertia.

Published in Urban

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