El Gusto and Luke Dubbs are godfathers of the Australian music scene. Their band Hermitude rose to prominence in the millenium’s first years, and they haven’t slowed down since. We caught up with them in New York and got their downlow on the intersection of hip hop and techno, the recent surges in Australian music, and the lasting appeal of a vinyl record.
Hey boys. Tell me first where you guys are from?
We both live in Sydney, Australia, but we grew up in Blue Mountains.
When did you two start playing together?
I was 15 and Gusto was 11. Gus was playing drums in this band I was this googily jazz keyboard player. That’s where we first started playing. Over the years we figured we have a mutual love of hip hop and electronic music.
What were the hip-hop bands you both dug?
Wu Tang, Tribe Called Quest.
Doctor Octagon, Gangsta.
Was hip hop big in the Blue Mountains?
Kind of was. It came through our generation. All the skating kids were into hip hop. Lots of different music was going around when I was a teenager. Techno was big at lots of the doofers and parties out in the bush. Some of my first DJ gigs were out at some of those illegal parties. I was the one person who would play something that wasn’t techno. I would usually get an early slot or a really really late slot.
Vinyl records are huge for you two-when did you guys first come into contact with it? How important is it to you?
I remember going to my mates house in Woodie Falls when I was still in high school to get stoned. His house was on stilts and had a record player in the lounge room. One morning he put on an Onyx record and there this a track called ‘Shifty’ and the whole fucking house was just going boom. It was the first time that I really noticed how amazing vinyl sounds. Because I have the album on CD and it never sounded that good at my house. And I was kind of like fuck this sounds amazing and that’s probably where I started collecting vinyl for it’s sound quality I guess.
The sound is amazing. One of my favorite records of all time is Chameleon by Herbie Hancock off the Head Hunters record. That record, in particular, just sounds incredibly punchy, but warm – just has this amazing sound to it and I think that’s a really big that about what’s so great about vinyl.
What about the physical record and the sleeve-do you think that adds a dimension too?
The artwork is amazing. You get your gatefolds. It’s tangible, you put it on your wall. I used to have records all up on our walls. I think that’s just a really cool thing that you sort of lose that these days with digital releases or streaming. And the credit- I used to read credits all the time: who played on what record, who was a guest, who was the engineer, where was it recorded. That was the sort of stuff that you got stuck into when you had a favorite album. You wanted to find out so much about it. You couldn’t just Google it or whatever. I think those things are what makes vinyl so special.
Do you think there’s a right of passage to be able to mix vinyl, it’s a lot different to people mixing on their iPhone now. How important, do you think as musicians, that you have an appreciation for the sounds?
It is a right of passage, in a way. A lot of the new stuff is automated in a way-you can beat match and sync tempos with the click of a button. Whereas back with vinyl, getting the right tune to work with the next tune was a really important skill. I’m happy that I grew up learning that skill and having it today for our show.
It’s more like learning an instrument, DJing on the turntables because it’s just an analog. It’s all moving parts: you want it to go fast you have to grab the spindle and give it a twist. It’s like a guitar or piano.
There’s something about the imperfection of vinyl, too…
That’s part of why golden era hip hop is so nice – because of those dusty sounding samples. You can’t really get those sounds from sampling a CD.
You guys released your first record only on vinyl right?
Totally. That was a crazy move when you think about it. We didn’t really know shit about promoting ourselves. We just really wanted to put a record out and have people able to DJ it.
It was more just about the dream though wasn’t it?
It was about the dream of putting a record out.
Holding a record that had your music on it and putting the needle on it.
Tell us about the Australian music scene. Where do you see it now, what have you seen change?
The Australian sound is having a renaissance right now. When we’ve come over here in the last year people have been like ‘Australia has such a good sound going on and so much good music coming out.’ The scene in Australia is just now bubbling. The way music is shared makes it so easy to get hold of- you can stream it, Soundcloud it, anything like that. Anyone can hear music from anywhere around the world and I think that’s played a really big part. Also – there’s a cool sound going on in everything from us to Flume to Wave Racer, Ta-Ku. That sound in particular is really hitting the spot.
Why do you think Australia breeds that specific sounds?
Because Australia is so isolated, it’s kind of built it’s own scene, and that’s how sounds are created. It’s the same as New York City-hip hop came from here. I think that’s the same with Australia. It’s a melting pot for lots of ideas.
I think Triple J plays a big part in kids being inspired because it’s the main central location for music in Australia. Everyone listens to it, whereas here it’s spread out. Because the scene is a little bit smaller, it’s not easie, but there’s more of a chance that you can crack in. And that breeds competition and it breeds really high quality of production.
What does New York mean to you two?
I just get this romantic feel when I get to New York. I feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie, especially around Manhattan. It’s just got this amazing energy and it’s kind of intense sometimes.
It’s just been the start of so many different types of music as well. There’s so much art, and I’m a big jazz fan. You go to these clubs where incredible music was literally created. It’s super inspiring. I remember the first time getting out of the subway in Manhattan and just walking down the street and being like ‘Fuck I’m in a movie. This is just awesome. I’m in Ghostbusters,’ Sitting in the Blue Mountains, getting stoned listening to hip hop and hearing about the city for years, then coming here and seeing it-that’s really inspiring.