An interview with David De Thomasis of Paradise Festival and Enhancer Records

· Thursday December 8, 2016

David De Thomasis is one of the brains behind Paradise Festival and the newly launched Enhancer Records. We did some music nerding with him, chatted about his new labels first release with new wavers Curves and asked one really dumb question, the answer for which we can only hope becomes a reality.

You‘re involved in a lot of creative projects, did you have an upbringing that fostered these interests?
I guess I fell into the creative world as a result of my interest in music during primary and high school. I learned piano and was super enthusiastic in choir and recorder class at primary school, and then picked up the trumpet later on, studied music in VCE, and continued playing until I was around 20. I've also been in my share of punk/emo bands as well as electronic/witch house projects too (haha)… Now my interests in music have kind of evolved into trying to foster and support artists and their passions as much as I can.

The first piece of music I bought was a cassingle of The Puppies 'Funky Y-2-C', do you remember how you popped your cherry?
I don't vividly remember the first time I purchased music, but I remember the first CDs I ever owned were (these were from Santa mind you) - Bomfunk Mcs In Stereo, Baha Men Who Let the Dogs Out and Offspring Conspiracy of One. Pretty average taste for a 10 year old in 2000 I'd say.

Do you have any eureka moments where you realised you wanted to be involved in the music industry?
There has never been a moment that I've been like - Yes! This is what I need to do. To be honest, running events really stresses me out and gives me quite bad anxiety, which I know probably sounds ironic given my involvement with Paradise. However, I guess the real 'eureka moments' have been the moments just after a successful event, either scrolling through photos of people who have enjoyed themselves or receiving sweet thank-you messages from an amazing artist, or overhearing a stranger talking about how great it was. I thrive on retrospective satisfaction I guess…

Tell me a bit about your involvement with Paradise, how did it start, what was your initial vision for the festival and has that vision changed at all?
I'm a co-director of the festival, along with Andre Hillas and Andy Glover. Andre founded Paradise after being involved in a few other festivals and just finishing studying - he asked Andy and I to be involved and help run it with him. My main role is booking the line up. I also looked after publicity and marketing this year. The initial vision for Paradise was to celebrate some of the cool artists and musical communities in Melbourne that we thought were doing interesting things, whilst also straying away from the stereotypical summer 'neo-hippie' music festival aesthetic that was dominating the camping festival circuit at the time. I guess since then Paradise's vision has evolved and become a little more defined, with a focus on more left of centre, boundary pushing artists, and a wider focus on Australian music.

Can you think of a particular favourite moment from Paradise?
My favourite moment was seeing Kirin J Callinan (who was headlining Paradise in 2014) performing an impromptu performance on a balcony for a live video for Banalarama. I had to drive Kirin in a buggy down to the stage while he was being interviewed in the back tray. I dropped him off, and the band performed ‘Embracism’. A few people happened to be having their lunch on the balcony at the time, and were unwillingly caught up in all of the commotion. Immediately after Kirin finished playing, I remember overhearing one of them saying - “What the hell was that? Who are these guys!?” with a horrified look on their face.

That moment kind of highlights the ethos of the artist bookings for Paradise - not necessarily booking artists that everyone loves, but booking acts that are creating interesting (sometimes polarising) work.

Your role at Paradise seems to involve a lot of similar aspects to the running of a record label. What is it that attracts you to an artist? Do you feel a need to satisfy your audience?
Yeah, I guess my role at Paradise sparked my interest in starting a label. I run Enhancer Records with Hayden Quinn (who also makes music as Null). I like to think I have a pretty thorough knowledge of Australian music, though with Enhancer it's really a collaborative effort as Hayden has a much wider understanding of global music trends, and a more specialised knowledge of electronic music - so we work together to find artists with an aim to position them within a wider musical context. For me personally, I tend to rely on an emotional reaction to an artist's music to spark my interest in them. I definitely have audience satisfaction in mind when booking for Paradise, however also place a lot of weight on our overall artistic and aesthetic vision. With Enhancer, I feel like there is less pressure to satisfy an audience, firstly given that we are a new label who don't have a fully established audience, and secondly as we know we are appealing to more of a niche audience.

What position are you trying to fill in the musical landscape with Enhancer?
Enhancer's main focus is on abstract, experimental and lo-fi music - with no real focus on musical genres/trends. We found that there were few labels in Australia that fit this role, as most labels tend to focus predominantly on singular genres or musical scenes. There are a few labels around the world that we've been inspired by such as Software, Acephale, RVNG and Tri-Angle Records.

Why have you started off with cassettes for your physical releases?
There are a few reasons that we've chosen to release cassettes. Firstly, the sound and aesthetic of a cassette aligns with our vision for the type of artists we want to release on Enhancer Records - a lower fidelity format somewhat works with the music we're looking to release. Secondly, it's really important to us that all our releases have a physical component - in which the album art and cassette itself is a considered part of the overall package of the release - we're not interested in being a digital only label. Thirdly, tapes are a lot more cost effective and that means we're able to release more music and keep the business running for as long as possible.

I really enjoy the mixture of sincerity and absurdity/humour in Curves (I’m a big Italo Disco fan for the same reason), I think it’s something that really fits with the Australian psyche. Often though, artists that incorporate a humorous component in their work aren’t shown the same respect as ‘serious artists’. Why do you think a legitimate human response like humour can be distancing for people?
I totally agree. I think there is a fine line between incorporating humour into art and just being kitsch. I think for this reason, people can be a little put off when humour is incorporated at all, and people question how serious an artist is taking their work.

We were super drawn to Curves because of the tension between sincerity and subtle humour that is prevalent in their work. I think this tension helps give their music depth and adds to the emotive nature of the songs. Curves achieve a good balance between the two by using humour quite sparingly, so as it's not the overarching driver of the music, the video for 'Perfumery' perfectly captures this tension.

I read a quote from Tom Ellard of Severed Heads recently where he spoke about how he thought the way music has been compartmentalised into decades of sound was a fallacy. Considering Curves clear reference to the 80s what can you say about this?
I think Curves' reference to the 80s new wave era helps to establish a familiarity with their work, whilst acting as the foundation upon which they can explore new themes and sounds. I think the band have been able to successfully reflect on the era whilst refraining from mimicry. The nostalgic references are counter balanced with nods to more contemporary music such as acts like Blood Orange, John Maus and Hoops.

In the same vein, it can feel like the overwhelming access we now have to different styles of music has led to a lot of new music feeling like exercises in perfecting pre-existing genres. Obviously artists have always mimicked each other but do you feel like this has been heightened at all recently? Does it matter?
I definitely think online access to deep archives of musical work has allowed the re-exploration of forgotten genres of music. I think this is generally a positive thing - like any art form, the act of exploring past works and discovering precedents aids in the creation of new work. Although on one hand this may result in mimicry, on the other hand it opens the sounds and themes to new audiences - now armed with new technology and ideas with which they can create progressive work.

I’ve really been digging a lot of old Japanese City Pop lately like Hiroshi Sato and Minako Yoshida and in general have noticed a lot of attention being turned to what could traditionally have been considered sort of corny easy listening vibes. There is some pretty smooth synth work going on in 'Perfumery'. Where do you think this interest is coming from?
True! I'm not sure where this interest is coming from… I guess it could be driven by a wider disco resurgence, maybe a desire for more light-hearted and danceable music, with the hope of forgetting a generally dismal 2016?

Due to technological advances in music production it has become very easy for people to replicate sounds to a fairly advanced sonic level quite quickly and cheaply. Sometimes though it feels like this can hinder an artists ability to find their own sound by taking away some of that development period bands have traditionally gone through. Do you think there is any truth in this?
I agree that technological advances have made it easier for musicians to get into making music, and made it more accessible for people wanting to create music - especially with regards to electronic and synth based music. In saying that, I don't think technological advances take away from the development of bands. Any artist that really immerses themselves into their art will end up exploring past technology in an attempt to develop their sound. The musical community is now also extremely discerning when it comes to what is seen as an acceptable quality of production and this forces artists to really develop their skills.

It seems like people mostly just want to read and watch things about food and cute animals these days. Please tell me about what sort of act you would put together if the same fate should befall the music industry?
Um. I dunno, a Sausage Dog crooner?