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de-VICE #2

zen paradox / steve law

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de-VICE #1

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Anyone with even a vague hankering to know some of the (at times) outstanding electronica and related beats and pieces that have shaped Melbourne (Australia, not Florida) over the past 20-odd years have a formidable task ahead of 'em.
Starting with Ollie Olsen - who rode shot-gun with his bands Whirlwirld, Orchestra Of Skin & Bone and No from the 1970s, and virtually introduced electronic muzak to this vital city - through the more eclectic, experimental philanderings of Lung U.P.C. in the early '90s, the Detroit-inspired musings of Voiteck, Soulenoid and TR-Storm, and on into the hip hop asides touted by Damian Stephens (Nod/Isnod), the live mess-ups of the LN Elektronische Ensemble, and the guys behind Curse Ov Dialect...
All these people are just the tip of the Melburnian iceberg.
Over the past two decades, too, there's been Steve Law - without doubt one of the most vital, innovative and consistent producers this city has conceived. Respected by his peers, and one of the truly nice guys of the local circuit, Law also continues to make cutting edge electronica within a variety of projects, most notably Zen Paradox.... a solo production outfit he's utilised for 15 years.
We here at de-VICE love the lad, and he now has a new Zen Paradox album out and about called 'Numinosum'. Read on...!

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steve law in his studio - www.solitary-sound.com

de-VICE:
In our last interview you mentioned that you were "listening to a lot of Detroit stuff at that time", back in 1992 when you first commenced with your Zen Paradox project. Which Detroit producers in particular had the most impact upon you, and why?

STEVE LAW:
Initially it was Juan Atkins. I remember hearing 'The Chase' by Model 500 in a record store and being totally blown away. I felt the same sense of excitement when I heard that tune as I felt when I initially discovered electronic music at the start of the '80s.


de-VICE:
Underground Resistance dubbed their own sounds "hard music for a hard city", and it truly felt that way at times - aside from the more soulful moments. If UR were hard music for hard city Detroit, what was Zen Paradox music for Melbourne town?

STEVE LAW:
Underground Resistance were another one of the Detroit artists that I got into early on. As far as comparing cities goes, I think that's a bit tricky. There were so many factors that led to a certain bunch of kids in Detroit getting into electronic music and changing the history of music as we know it.
All these things rely on an enormous amount of chance. As far as myself and Melbourne goes, I just happened to stumble across electronic music on the radio and it really resonated with me.
I think that would have happened regardless of where I was living. It was several years before I met another person who even knew what electronic music was. Melbourne does have a strong artistic culture though, and when I did finally meet others who shared my interest, I realized that there was a lot going on. It was all very underground (except perhaps for a very brief period around 1981-83), until techno arrived in a big way in the early '90s.
I guess I was perhaps the first to start doing regular totally live techno gigs in Melbourne at that time, and because I was often playing in venues more used to guitar rock, I may have opened the eyes of some people to techno and electronic music.

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de-VICE:
Artists like Voiteck, TR-Storm (nee-VOID) and you ushered in a kind of Melbourne take on Detroit early on in the '90s. Do you agree? What's your opinion on that period of musicality over 10 years later?

STEVE LAW:
Well, there was no doubt we were all influenced by the stuff coming out of Detroit. But, yes, we did have our own take on it, all in our own distinctive ways.


de-VICE:
You've also said that Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Nurse With Wound, and Scorn have a "unique approach to making music". How so? What do you feel makes them so special and how did they change your own perspective?

STEVE LAW:
Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire were two artists that I discovered very early on. I think it was just the strangeness of the music that was an attraction initially. Then when I learned a bit more about these bands, I became fascinated with their ideas on DIY production, and also a lot of the subversive issues they were dealing with.
I found out about Nurse With Wound in a fascinating interview that Steven Walker did with John Murphy on 3RRR in 1984, after he had just returned from a stint in the UK. John was involved with a lot of the underground 'industrial' artists in the UK, and via this interview I was introduced to people like Nurse With Wound, Current 93, Whitehouse and Diamanda Galas.
This music was even more out there than T.G. or The Cabs, and I became obsessed from that time onwards!


de-VICE
Fast-forwarding a bit, you released your first few Zen Paradox albums through Psy-Harmonics in Australia, and through Kk subsidiary Nova Zembla internationally. We released our IF? Records stuff through Nova Zembla as well and were kind'a screwed over by them. What happened with your relationship with Nova Zembla?

STEVE LAW:
I sent a demo tape to Kk records, then quite some time later - after I had signed a contract with Psy-Harmonics - I was notified by the proprietor of a CD store, of which I was a regular customer at the time, that Kk records was searching for the artist behind a demo tape that had been kicking around their office; they'd lost the sleeve with my contact details.
It was quite by chance that CVs [the now-defunct record shop in Melbourne] were the main importers of Kk at the time, and I just happened to be a regular customer of the store!
Anyway, within a day they had faxed me a contract. Since I had already signed with Psy-Harmonics, a licensing deal was arranged with Kk (who had started up a techno sub-label called Nova Zembla - my 'Eternal Brainwave' album was the first release). I later signed directly to Kk/Nova Zembla. Unfortunately they were becoming more trance-focused while my music was going in a totally different direction, so in the end things just didn't work out.
That's the diplomatic answer!

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zen paradox live, 1993

de-VICE:
Did that Scorn party in Melbourne in December last year actually happen? If so... how was it?

STEVE LAW:
The Distorted festival certainly did happen! I think they might have had a few more people if they had advertised a bit more outside the goth community, but it was a great gig, and big props go out to the organisers who were brave enough to put something like this on in Melbourne.


de-VICE:
I heard you were going to play at that party with Ollie Olsen as The Mutagen Server. What's the story behind that project?

STEVE LAW:
Yes, Ollie and I played together. It was the first time we had done a one-on-one gig together since the Love Parade in 1993. We had a great time, I only wish the gig had been recorded (and if some of the reactions were anything to go by, perhaps I wasn't alone with that wish!). Ollie and I have been recording a few things together as The Mutagen Server since late last year, and we are hoping to record an album in the near future.


de-VICE:
Regarding Mr Olsen - what's the big deal for you personally working with the guy, and how is his perspective making sounds in the studio (or live) different from your own?

STEVE LAW:
If you are talking about father figures in electronic music in Melbourne, then Ollie is certainly the first name that comes to mind for me. I first met him when I was 18, and he has always been an inspiration.
I actually think we have a very similar approach to music (and we share quite a few other interests), though we do have our own methods when it comes to music production. Ollie hasn't done much live work for quite a few years, so it was a real thrill performing with him recently.


de-VICE:
Any news on further work with Voiteck?

STEVE LAW:
Not at the moment, but I'm always hopeful that something will happen again!


de-VICE:
How would you describe the experience of working with Voiteck, anyway?


STEVE LAW:
I think I have perhaps had the most intuitive partnership with Voiteck out of all the people I have collaborated with. We seemed to be channeling ideas on the same wavelength, and as a consequence things happened very quickly.


de-VICE:
I remember reading an editorial in a Melbourne fanzine in the latter half of the '90s that said, and I quote: "Sonic Animation are the true innovators of Melbourne; they are the best live dance band in Australia now!". How, as a Melbourne-based artist, do you feel about this? True, false, or doesn't matter? Why?

STEVE LAW:
These things are always based on people's opinions, which vary enormously of course; besides, other (often commercial) agendas that may be underlying such statements. I was awarded "Best Live Dance ACT" at the Australian Live Music Awards in 2000 - I don't really know what that means, other than the fact that a certain bunch of people decided I should be given this award; and though it's very flattering to receive awards such as these, it's ultimately up to each individual to decide what they like.


de-VICE:
Do you find such comments frustrating or exasperating in any way?

STEVE LAW:
Not really, though it can be frustrating when you are being overlooked (and maybe missing out on gigs, etc.) due to commercially-motivated hype.


de-VICE:
Respect or fame - which one is most important to you, and why?

STEVE LAW:
Fame is of absolutely no importance - respect perhaps, though I'd prefer to say just a little bit of recognition for what I've been doing all these years. But nothing can compare to feeling satisfied about your own work, and I feel I still have a lot more to do.


de-VICE:
How would you say the Melbourne electronic scene has been different over the past decade from, say, Sydney?

STEVE LAW:
Having not spent a great deal of time in Sydney, I'm probably not best-qualified to answer that. I do know that there has been a hell of a lot more going on down here though, so I'm glad I'm in Melbourne!
But having said that, of course there has been a lot of great music coming out of Sydney - it just seems that the opportunities are quite a bit more limited there. It's a remarkably different city to Melbourne.


de-VICE:
Do you think Melbourne punters sometimes take for granted the talent in their midst?

STEVE LAW:
Definitely!


de-VICE:
Finally, which would you personally prefer: playing a gig to a small room of a dozen people who're right into your more cerebral sounds, or a huge warehouse party with a writhing mass into stomping techno? ...and why?

STEVE LAW:
I've performed in both situations, and enjoyed both equally. There is a completely different energy level in each of those situations, of course, but I'm the kind of person that likes to experience a lot of different things, and that certainly goes for live performance.
I do have a particularly soft spot though for the kinds of gigs where almost the only sounds in the space are the sounds created by the performer, with all the audience intently listening...

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Punch here to head to the ZEN PARADOX interview done in 2005.

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