The hammer, the bat, the boxing glove; we as humans use these tools for literal smashing, but sometimes we need a more proverbial smashing. With Arthur Song behind his quickly rising nom de guerre, Whitebear pounds the ground with a visceral harmony of melody and discord, symphony and cacophony. A Malaysian native based out of Melbourne, Australia, he's made his way all the way out to the States for a massive tour alongside Kalya Scintilla, and is headed straight for NYC this weekend.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Whitebear and pick apart his brain just enough to satisfy the suspense of a long-awaited face-to-face blessing with the man, and see what really makes this production powerhouse tick.
The Rust: Your music has been described as “tribal”. Much electronic music from Australia has tribal or aboriginal influence, at least when heard by American ears. What effect can place have on music? Feel free to answer the question in relation to Whitebear music, or in general.
The environment most definitely plays a huge role when it comes to influencing the feel/mood of the music, although I don’t think that it is entirely dependent on it. Most of my music was written in an apartment in the middle of Melbourne city 12 stories above the ground, I guess which is why peppered amongst the “tribal” elements are dashes of inorganic sounds.
The Rust: The infrastructure of the music industry has undergone great change, and musicians, labels, collectives have to get creative to make a living off their music, with Shanti Planti being an example of a successful model with artists helping artists. How can artists help each other succeed? How, if at all, would you like to see the processes behind the publication, distribution, and sale of music change?
We need to stop viewing this as a competition, use the success of others to inspire you rather than depress/discourage you. Stop complaining about how someone else is doing better and level up. That and the sharing of knowledge amongst artists, most of us wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of online tutorials, tips from mates or whatever else it took us to learn the skills we needed to be the artists that we are today. Regarding the sale of music, I definitely would like to see more labels go down the collective route, much like Shanti Planti, and now Enig’matik as well since their rebirth not long ago. It’s a win-win for the “label owner” and the artists- most of the work has been offloaded or at least the weight is now equally distributed because the individual artist is now taking care of their own mastering, artwork, social media etc. with a few exceptions of distribution and promo still being taken care of by the label (depending on the label/collective). Too many labels have been discontinued purely due to the fact that there was too much of a workload and not enough financial gain to warrant that amount of work, which is a shame because we’ve lost some good ones!
The Rust: You told Lost in Sound that there’s a symbiotic relationship between “mainstream pop shit” and tasteful underground music, with the former forcing people to search for deeper, more meaningful music. I’ve been starting to see “edgy” electronic music used in television ads pretty frequently. Can the line between mainstream pop music and underground bass music become blurry at times?
The Rust: You’ve said that in Australia, more people are flocking to the underground music scene, but bringing with them the attitudes and morals of the conventional world. The same could be said in American scene, which has exploded in popularity in the last five years. Can we welcome as many people as possible into the community, while preserving the unique attitudes, morals, and customs that have made the community so attractive?
I’m not too familiar with the evolution of the scene in the US so can’t speak for the scene here, but in Australia, there has definitely been a rise in outdoor festivals that are being run by companies that used to put on one-day raves. As long as we work to educate but more importantly inspire the newcomers, we’re sweet.
The Rust: You said you’ve been asked to play hip-hop here in America, which could in a way be described as the indigenous music of the United States. Are you influenced or inspired by hip-hop?
I never listened to much hip-hop growing up, I appreciate it, but it has never been a huge part of my musical life.\
The Rust: With your recent EP, Dialectics, you retain certain elements of archetypal psybient music, but also develop a darker tonality and sonic direction than previous works. What triggered the inspiration to tackle this shift in sound design and composition?
I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into the “tribal bass” thing, I’ve always been influenced by the darker forms of music with techy sound design so it was natural for me to explore that side of my musical palette.
The Rust: Can you walk us through your workflow? What digital tools do you use to flesh out your music? Do you have any affinity for hardware instruments in conjunction with conventional production methods? (Preferred DAWs, VSTs, Mastering software, etc)
Ableton Live is the main workhorse, everything else is software. Workflow is pretty much- get excited about writing music, start doing sound design, get more/less excited depending on success of sound design session, start sketching out track, whine about how track is not working at all, keep banging head against wall until something works or breaks, repeat until track is done.
The Rust: Do you have a vision for the future of the Whitebear project and of your performance? Are you satisfied with your current methods for performing live, and are you experimenting with any unconventional ways of presenting your music? What does the ideal Whitebear show look like to you?
At the moment the vision is a bit clouded. If you had asked me six years ago if I saw myself doing what I do now, I would tell you- yeah nah. So I’ve been winging it this whole time with no solid plans except to write the best music I can write and to be stoked about what comes out as much as possible. I have some soul searching to do over the next six months. I would definitely like to collaborate with visual artists to create an immersive experience with synced visuals and maybe even surround sound type stuff, but to be honest it isn’t really a priority right now, more an idea I’ve been toying with.
The Rust: Do you have your hands in any other artistic content beyond music? Do you take inspiration from non-musical art forms?
Navigating this human thing meat ship is an art in itself, that’s probably up there with the music. Inspiration comes from everywhere and everything, it's hard for it not to.
If you're in the tristate area this coming weekend, then we're sure you'll be piloting your human meat ships straight to Brooklyn for a tango amongst maestros. Make sure you grab your tickets HERE