Dance Moves to Make: in collaboration & conversation with X CLUB.
Who could be better for our first collaborative video project featuring Carhartt WIP—a label that has long invested in underground music—than up-and-coming Meanjin/Brisbane DJ and producer duo X CLUB? In just a few years, X CLUB.’s high-energy electronic productions and DJ sets have earned Ben and Jesse a reputation far beyond the Meanjin/Brisbane dance music scene in which they got their start. Though grounded in techno, the duo join a long line of IDM innovators in appropriating sounds from the history of electronic dance music and incorporating them into their own freewheeling sonic aesthetic. Since their 2019 debut EP Scum, this year, the duo have expanded their international reputation with releases on UK-based labels Steel City Discs, 1Ø PILLS MATE, and most recently, G-Town Records. Looking to the future as interstate borders were announced to open, Ben and Jesse spoke to us about the early days of X CLUB., the supportive Meanjin/Brisbane dance music scene, and why they’re leaving the city as soon as international borders allow it.
You’ve said before that X Club started when you both played b2b one night. Were you already studying music technology together at that point?
Jesse: Not at that point no. I think I was at TAFE during that time studying sound production. Ben and I were both playing clubs in Brisbane; we were doing TBC and Oh Hello! for a while. We met through mutual friends; we played that show. That was like 2017 maybe. We played this random show; we both played at the end and we were like, “fuck yeah, this is sick!” And that was pretty much the start, which was 2017 or 2018.
So you immediately felt a kind of synergy and mutual understanding with both of your approaches to music?
Jesse: Pretty much.
Ben: Definitely, yeah.
J: We both had our own solo projects, which were fine, but I think we were both looking for something different in music and it was around that time that we started listening to different music and sharing it. That’s when we started the X Club thing, because we were both looking for something else.
B: Obviously playing in clubs in Brisbane we were exposed to club music, and it was new for us; we were young. But the biggest thing about starting this new project was that we became exposed to the sort of music going on in Europe that you don’t really hear as much here, like techno and stuff. Well you do now, but back then not so much. And we both sort of jumped on that train in parallel and that’s what made us really keen to start a new project.
Had you worked creatively in collectives or groups before?
J: For me, I was just doing my own thing. I was making my own music; I was traveling a fair bit teaching hip hop to school kids and stuff in Sydney and Melbourne, working with some people. But all my production was just by myself; I wasn’t in a band or anything. It’d been all by myself since high school.
B: Yeah, it’s pretty much the same for me as well. I was riding solo pretty much. The first real collaborative work I did was with Jesse.
What does your creative process look like as a duo? Does one of you come to the other with an idea for a track and then you both start building it together, or do you work individually, sending things back and forth as you go?
B: The first thing you said was spot on pretty much. I feel like the initial idea usually gets put down by one of us, not the two of us, then the two of us build it up from there.
J: Then with our space, we’ve pretty much lived together for the past two, two-and-a-half years. And we’ve always had a workspace wherever we’ve lived and we have heaps of shared equipment, but a lot of the time we use a laptop; we’re always around the same space in the studio so it’s usually pretty easy to get stuff done, which is good. It’s really quick most of the time, really easy. I think it would be harder now if we lived in separate places, because I think we’re so used to waking up, doing music, and that’s all, because we’ve been doing that for years now.
B: Yeah. It’s very much a part of our daily routine, music itself; it slots in between lunch and breakfast and uni work and stuff.
What made you both decide to pursue music education formally?
J: I was living in Canberra for most of my life and then I moved up here when I was 16. I was DJing at that time; I was DJing when I was 14 in Canberra and I came up here because I wanted to do music and my family thought it would be a good idea. So I came up here and went to music school. When I left, I knew I wanted to do music but I wasn’t sure whether being an artist was gonna be possible. So I went to uni because I wanted to do music and if I wasn’t going to be an artist then at least I could still work in the industry. I just wanted to learn; I get a lot out of learning things and I wanted to go to university to be better. So it just made sense I think.
B: Yeah, it was probably the exact same thing for me. The decision was sort of maybe out of, not fear, but uncertainty as to whether I’ll make a career out of just being a musician or producer. I wanted to have the knowledge, the formal education to be able to fall back on a career in that realm that I would at least enjoy. And luckily things are heading in a much more concrete way for us now, in the fact that we’re earning money from doing what we love, but yeah, before you sort of reach any milestone that justifies that for you, I feel like most musicians feel super worried about what they’re doing going nowhere.
J: And I’m getting to this point after university where I’m glad that I did it, I’m glad that I went. Because the point we’re at now with music and production, we’re way better than what we would have been if we didn’t do that.
B: And the other thing is, with this formal education, while we are focusing on a career as musicians ourselves, we still have the opportunity to mix for other people now that we have the formal education.
You mentioned starting to get into techno, four maybe five years ago. What did your journey through that underground scene here look like? Where did it begin? When did you start GRID on that timeline?
J: It’s been a long few years. It’s kind of cliche for me, because I went to Europe and I wanted to go there to experience what real techno is about and to party, and I went to Berlin and I’d never experienced that type of music before. I went to these clubs and I was like “holy shit! What is this?!” Music that I’d never heard before. I came back with all this stuff that I’d listened to that I hadn’t listened to in Australia. I think at that point, Ben and I just started sharing new music we were listening to. From then, we started to find that there were collectives in Brisbane that were doing similar stuff and we started slowly changing the way we made music. Because we were making house and tech-house before all that.
B: I feel like at the time we were young and like I said before, we weren’t really exposed. I think we’re both big people for exploring and finding new music all the time. Our music taste doesn’t really know any bounds in terms of genre. I think back then when we found this rabbit hole of techno and genres around that, we just dove straight in and what we started making immediately shifted to that. I think part of the passion came from the fact that there wasn’t that much of it here in Brisbane and we kind of wanted to expose that. And that’s what led to GRID being started, because even though there were people doing techno events here, we just wanted to be a part of that scene that’s pushing it here.
J: And we felt like there was kind of a gap with the stuff we wanted to play and we wanted people to hear which is exactly why we did GRID. We wanted to play good parties and we wanted to push good techno in Brisbane. There were obviously a few collectives doing that, but at the time it just made a lot of sense. And that was probably about two years ago.
How do you think coming up in Meanjin/Brisbane has given you a perspective that might be different to someone who say makes a name for themselves in Melbourne, London, or Berlin?
J: We’ve talked about this a lot with other people. It feels like in Brisbane, because there isn’t a massive culture for underground music, when there’s artists coming up who are doing cool things, people really notice. And I think there’s room here to grow, whereas you go to Berlin, Paris, London, there’s so many other people doing a similar thing, fighting for that one thing. And I feel like in Brisbane we were lucky, because we were doing it when not a lot of other people were doing it, so we were able to push through the noise I think.
B: Yeah, I think there not being a huge population in the scene we’re part of is a pro and a con. And for us it was a pro in that there wasn’t a lot of competition and it was a pro in that, like Jesse said, if someone’s doing something here, because we’re such a small city, people just immediately push them to the top as much as they can.
J: Definitely. That’s what I love about Brisbane: everyone pushes each other up, which is really cool. Whereas other cities are not like that, I feel like it’s very egotistical in a lot of other places. I guess because there’s so much competition it gets like that. But I feel like there’s such a big community in music and art and it’s cool, because everyone just pushes each other up, which has helped us a lot.
B: I think it’s a good place to come up, but the con is that I don’t think the ceiling is very high here in terms of what’s offered here in terms of the scene, the support from the clubbing scene; there’s no real club for this sort of stuff.
J: And the ceiling is definitely such a thing here. There’s only so far we can go in Brisbane before…
B: Before you have to move. But back to your question, like establishing yourself, I think it worked in our favour being here; there’s just so much room to grow here.
J: I remember we had conversations with some other promoters a year or two ago, and we were talking about the thought of moving to Berlin or moving to London and even they were like, “you’re already doing good things here in a big city. It makes sense for you to just do what you can in your city and then leave.” Because once you go overseas, there’re a lot of other people doing similar things; it will be harder for you to make a name for yourself. So we were just like “fuck it. Stay in Brisbane. Let’s do what we can here.”
B: And then when we’re ready, move. Because as soon as you move you’re going to be a small fish in a big pond again.
J: Europe is the number one goal for us next year. But I think Brisbane just made sense for us for the last couple years.
Do you think you’re going to move to Europe when borders open or shortly after?
J: Yeah, our goal is mid next year. It’s just a matter of when things open really.
B: We have a bunch of gigs at the start of next year, then once those are over we’ll probably just head over I’d say, assuming borders will be open.
Are there any scenes in particular cities that you’re looking to at the moment for inspiration?
J: We’re both really big fans of Eastern Europe. There are these guys called Locked Club, they’re Russian and they throw the craziest parties. They just look so loose, like it’s so intense and so raw. I think we’re really about raw, dark, intense parties, and I think over that side of the world it’s so wild, and I’d love to go there and experience that.
Ben, you have roots in Bristol, a city with a rich electronic dance music history. Would you ever consider moving there rather than London or Berlin?
B: I went back to the UK a few years ago but I didn’t actually make it down to Bristol. I’d love to get back there. I definitely want to visit and experience it myself before committing to moving there, but I’d love to. All the music and culture that comes out of there from what I see from here in Australia looks incredible. Definitely not what I remember as a kid (laughs). But yeah, I’d love to get back. Just anywhere in the UK really. I think what draws us to that side is just how much more is going on in terms of what we do; there’s just so many more artists and venues. It’s crazy; it’s a whole new world over there.
It seems like you’re both really receptive to incorporating new genres and sounds into your own sound, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when you move to a new city.
J: 100%. I think it will really change what we do, in a good way. I feel like it will give us new ideas and new experiences, which will probably change the way we make music in a good way. I think going there will help us learn and grow as artists, which is the whole plan with going.
©2021 X CLUB. & Double Double Store. Film by Simon Kim. All rights reserved.