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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Koolism

By: Nina Bertok

There is no such thing as competition when you are in a class of your own – that’s one thing Koolism super-producer and DJ extraordinaire Danielsan Ichiban [Daniel Elleson] can tell you for sure. And considering his 17-year-old career in the Australian hip-hop scene, there is little reason to doubt his knowledge on the musical phenomenon that has mushroomed in the last decade.
“Aussie hip-hop has taken on a life of its own, it’s grown like a monster in recent years,” he offers. “But it’s also grown into something else, and that’s not necessarily always a good thing. We were a big part of what was going on underground from the time we put out our cassette in 1992 until 2000 when we became one of the major players out there that people were talking about. But it’s totally changed since then, it’s a whole industry now with people trying to get their hustle on, American-style. There were always two sides but there are now various different little networks and some of them hate each other.”

But while Elleson acknowledges his role in establishing what is now nothing less than an institution of its own, he believes Koolism has gradually moved away from the very thing it helped create.

“The thing is that when I was younger I could relate to this whole thing of being part of ‘the scene’ and I also had this die-hard attitude, a little purist, yeah, and just digging the culture of hip-hop and not liking anything else but that. That tight little scene seems to only fuel itself for a while but then it doesn’t go very far in the end. I think we have grown beyond that whole thing to the point that I’m not sure if I’m the best person to talk to about Australian hip-hop anymore.”

Elleson also points out the apparent switch between the crowds drawn to Aussie hip-hop in the recent years.

“Now there are kids growing up that have only ever listened to The Hilltop Hoods and Funkoars and associate good American hip-hop – the stuff that influenced us – with commercial R&B. They think it’s all kind of whack and the whole hip-hop vibe, which to us was what started this whole thing in the first place, is almost completely gone from this new scene now. Now it’s more like the scene that I was never apart of when I was in high school. The hip-hop people were the outcasts, all the Italians and Vietnamese or whatever who got together, guys who used to listen to hip-hop because we weren’t into Metallica or Accadacca like everyone else. And now it’s that actual ‘everyone else’ crowd that is the hip-hop crowd!”

The content of much of the material coming out in recent years is another matter of concern for Elleson.

“Again, when we first start doing Aussie hip-hop we were so anti all American stuff which was so cornball and typical that we really tried to push everything local and just push away from that Australian-wanna-be-American thing that we dissed. But now you have this really big scene of really Aussie hip-hop which, to me, is almost offensively Australian in some ways. Some of it is just absolutely bordering on racism. And that’s the irony because when we started out we were never just Australian. We were Australian but we were also Vietnamese and Italian and so on, that was our crew. It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost cutting off the things that we loved. What I’ve experienced of the scene now, some things have turned me off. I am not going to put my fist up and start yelling, ‘Yeah! I’m Australian!’”

While Elleson admits there are some worrying aspects of the new Aussie hip-hop movement, he is just as quick to point out there is no point in losing sleep over it.

“I don’t even care about staying ahead of the pack of the game,” he confesses. “I’m just trying to make something really good with my music and when I hear something really fantastic, I hope that my stuff can be just as inspiring to someone else listening to me. It appears to me that the best thing I can do is just continue with whatever the hell I seem to have to offer. It’s not even something that I’m trying to physically do, it just comes directly from my imagination and is inspired by living here and my crew. I’m a strong believer that if you just keep doing your own thing you can’t be falling behind. You’re not necessarily ahead of anyone when they’re not in your race. And I guess that way you’re not falling behind either – how can I be falling short of some target that doesn’t exist? No-one else is doing it.”

Indeed – all the proof lies in Koolism’s new album out early next year, a record Elleson himself admits “took forever to make.”

“The album is two years in the making,” he announces. “And it will be a bit of a masterpiece. I’m just very ambitious and I made up my mind from the beginning that the next thing we would put out, I would really work hard on it. I drew this picture in my mind that it had to be at least this or that great so I have been pushing myself a lot and it’s kind of my fault that it’s taken so long to make it.”

Proving themselves as the Jamie Olivers of futuristic and atmospheric soul and hip-hop in Australia, Koolism’s upcoming album is titled ‘Umu’ – Tongan for ‘underground oven’, and a technique practiced throughout the South Pacific.

“It’s a metaphor for the recording process,” Elleson says. “It’s just been wait and wait and wait forever for this stuff to cook. And plus ‘Umu’ represents the culture side of things too, it keeps that flavour of who we are without trying to get down with the trends and trying to sell something.”

As for the new single Jam Hot currently doing the radio rounds, Elleson warns fans not to expect the same flavour from the rest of the album.

“It’s something fun we released for everyone to enjoy, to lift things up a bit before the album comes out,” he explains. “We just wanted to have something out while it’s hot weather, that kind of one fun tune. We seem to always shoot past the summer with our releases, we always wind up putting something out in March or towards the end of the whole warm weather vibe and that’s really annoyed me. I’ve always wanted to have a summer tune out there. So we shot this one out first even though it doesn’t really represent the album as such. It’s not an album of party tunes. The plan is to do our first show in Melbourne for a while which is a Christmas show and which I’m itching to do actually because I can’t wait to get back on the stage after two years. After that, with the new tune being out over summer and people having a chance to feel what we’ve done and anticipate the album, once the record comes out we’ll do some more killer shows. If I can go out there and give everybody the best show that I can possibly give them, I’ll be happy. I am all about just the music right now and less of this hype bulls**t.”

Koolism play the Xmassive party mash up with TZU, Illzilla, and more on Friday, December 12 at the Prince of Wales, St.Kilda.