February 2017

Perennial Evergreens

Bamboo MusikBamboo MusikBamboo MusikBamboo MusikBamboo MusikBamboo MusikBamboo MusikBamboo MusikBamboo MusikText & Images: Michael Kucyk

Melbourne’s bi-monthly night, Bamboo Musik, is a club utopia. A basement of smoke billowing so thick that club goers turn invisible. Strobe lights flicker the room into a stop motion frenzy. The huge sound system booms medleys of esoteric yet contagious dancefloor freaks, programmed by resident DJs Roman Wafers and Dick Cheese (aka Rohan Bell-Towers and P.A.M.’s Misha Hollenbach) and their equally enthusiastic guests. Music familiarity becomes irrelevant as you accept the inevitability of the deep trance and join the tribe. Whether it’s the Stock Exchange, Pelican Nights or Renaissance Fair, people slave in costume to the arbitrary themes amongst specially scattered props, posters and installations. Dress is neither insisted upon nor encouraged. This is freedom after all; completely open to your interpretation and imagination. We caught up with club co-founder Rohan Bell-Towers at his home studio to discuss how Bamboo Musik has transformed from a passing idea into a local institution.

Michael Kucyk: Why did you start Bamboo Musik?

Rohan Bell-Towers: I needed somewhere to play. The best way to DJ is when you can play for five hours or more and the only way you can really do that is if you have your own night. When Amelia [Borg] and I started Bamboo, we just had an idea of a juicy party that we could go to with our friends, where we’d like the music, could dance all night and have fun. So it began as a party for us, our friends and people who shared this same idea of fun.

MK: What is your idea of fun?

RBT: Friends, music, vibe, memories. That’s the most difficult thing I think, being able to keep those memories. They are definitely what makes the night.

MK: How has your idea of Bamboo evolved over its existence?

RBT: It’s been going for over a year and I feel more comfortable with doing it now. Early on you feel like you’re going to freak people out too much because you’re playing a lot of music that no one else knows. The same ideas are still there, the decorations and the sort of music, but it’s just become better. The nights are going longer, more people are coming, and we’re getting better at DJing. 10% up!

MK: You mention decorations as a focus. Why is interior design so important?

RBT: It’s not really important. It’s more like a distraction. If you have a theme then people tend to forget they’re going to the same party every couple of months. The club is a really good space but it’s nice to tweak a few little things.

MK: Were you regretting this at the last Bamboo when you hung bananas from the ceiling and by the end had a club coated in mushy banana?

RBT: The back of my t-shirt looked like it had cum farts on it and there’s a huge greasy mark down the front. So personally it was bad to me and probably for the people who had to clean up afterwards. But it was cool because a bunch of people came who hadn’t had dinner yet.

MK: How relevant is Mercat X to the overall Bamboo experience?

RBT: Super relevant. It’s just about the right size and we have a lot of freedom there. The staff support anything we want to do, except maybe putting sand on to the dancefloor or using polystyrene balls. You can’t really go to another club and ask if it’s cool to bring in 26 kilos of bananas. But at the Mercat its cool and they’ll even help you put them up.

MK: Most recently you expanded to Sydney. How did it adapt to a new setting?

RBT: The new venue (Goodgod) was good. It’s a similar size. There are always nuisances of a room when you do the same party somewhere for so long. You start to really know the space and the things you like about it, then you go to another venue and you have to start again. It felt like we were doing our first party again, not that that’s a negative thing.

MK: Is the idea to make it a continuous thing?

RBT: Yes.

MK: As resident DJs, you and Misha Hollenbach perform under different aliases at every party. What’s with all the phallic references?

RBT: I don’t know. You’d have to ask Misha about that. It’s a man’s world for him. Tribal rhythm etc.

MK: DJing as a duo is often hard if you’re trying to maintain some dance floor consistency but you two seem to pull it off. How do you create a balance?

RBT: I think we’re interested in the same music and have a lot of crossover. We’re interested to see how two collections can work together. He pushes one way and I push the other and we both end up at a spot that neither of us would have imagined.

MK: Without getting too wound up in genre talk, how do you describe the “Bamboo” sound?

RBT: We play a lot of the same genres all the time but I don’t know how to describe the sound. What’s the vibe for you?

MK: It’s just fun. Tongue in cheek. Sometimes tough and very deep.

RBT: Scary.

MK: I appreciate that the party openly celebrates the esoteric. People don’t seem too concerned about not hearing music that’s recognisable. They just let go and embrace it. It must be very refreshing.

RBT: Yeah it’s cool. You can’t do that everywhere.

MK: Are there any Bamboo staples that regulars would have created a familiarity with?

RBT: I’m just going to say my records because I hardly know 50% of the stuff Misha plays. I don’t know the names, I never write it down and I never look into it. I just like it when he’s playing them. That’s him. So…

#1. Voyagers – Distant Planet
#2. Mike Francis – Survivor
#3. Eva – Take Me…Mr Love (Instrumental Version)
#4. Minnie & the Pau Pau – I Love the Penguin

MK: Can you isolate any club highlights?

RBT: We once had a dance competition and turned all the lights on. Michael Ozone was hanging upside down from the roof and knocking heaps of people over. This guy from Sydney ended up winning and did a solo dance to Jeanette Thomas’ ‘Shake Your Body’. Then we turned the lights off and went straight to smoke. Ah so nice!

MK: Last year 2ManyDJs appeared as secret guests after Parklife. How did that come about?

RBT: Mainly through Misha’s friendship with them. He shares a lot of music with them and they’ve released a few P.A.M. mixes as The Dee Wees. We’ve always been telling them that we run a great party and that they should play. Finally the timing was right.

MK: Was it stressful trying to control the fact that it wasn’t really a secret?

RBT: Yeah it was stressful but not that much work at the end of the day. We had to call up the Herald Sun digital switchboard because they ran it in one of their gossip sections. That was the hardest part.

MK: You’ve hosted a number of other international guests including Lovefingers and most recently Gavin Russom. Is there anyone on the wish list in 2011?

RBT: We’re not really focusing on guests at the moment. Nozaki (from Tokyo) would be really good though. Super DJ.

MK: Will there be live performances in night’s future programming?

RBT: Yeah. I like the idea of 10 minute live club sets. I really want Bum Creek to play actually.

MK: What do you think those freaks would get up to?

RBT: Something pulsey with drum machines and sequencers with Trev improvising. Maybe hip house?

MK: Bamboo Musik DJs are playing their first festival set at Golden Plains. How are you feeling about that?

RBT: It’s exciting. We just need to think of an approach to the performance. I think we can do more than just DJ. Have a strong visual aspect. We might make an art video for it.

MK: Looping for 2 hours?

RBT: No, just played really slowly.

MK: And you both have a forthcoming release on New York based label RVNG?

RBT: Yes, as ‘Giorgio “Perky” Porcini and Roman Caffe’. It’s a cool mix of only Italian music but not just italo. It’s packaged in a tiny pizza box with some fridge magnets and a 7”. One side of the 7” has a locked groove and the other is a pitched down Italian new wave stuff that sounds like Rastakraut Pasta (by Moebius & Plank).

MK: Italo is a pretty big feature of Bamboo. Why the attraction?

RBT: For me it’s the stupidity and the positive energy. It’s happy music with lots of enthusiasm, the melodies are sweet and you can dance to it. It’s a great genre for me. Good technology, good timing, good sound.

MK: It slips so nicely between house and disco.

RBT: And also high brow and low brow. There are so many different sounds produced within a couple of years. It makes it easy to dig too. You can become an expert on this really loose genre.

MK: In your private time, you produce music under the alias Bell-Towers.

RBT: Very slowly. Canyons are going to release a 12” on their label Hole in the Sky. It’s been a long time coming so it’s exciting to hear that it’s around the corner. I recorded those songs two years ago. It’s cool when you can play your own 12” at the club, particularly when you made it for the club.

Next story: Down By The River – Mark Drew