Sometime around the turn of the millennium, the new wave of Australian Soul music started to stir, to wake up, to reach out it’s hand and come alive. Electrified by young musicians who had been suddenly freed by the internet from the tyranny of distance, it giddily rose to it’s feet and fixed it’s stare far into the distance. Over the next decade this eclectic creature would gather flesh to it’s bones, embodied by artists mining the genres of Funk, Motown/Northern Soul, Afro Beat and Disco/Boogie.
Abroad there was talk of a burgeoning ‘Australian Soul Sound’. Headway was made (and a lot of records). But it wasn’t until 2011 that something truly original was shot into the ears of an unsuspecting world.
Operating out of a small home studio in the mid-Northern suburbs of Melbourne, the four-piece band called Hiatus Kaiyote fired out a unique and kaleidoscopic vision of Future Soul. At once they shook down the paradigm walls and scared (I mean ‘inspired’) even the U.S originators of the music.
Here was a group that arrived fully-formed, fiercely original and musically uncompromising.
In rapid-fire time Pharrell Williams was a fan, Erykah Badu was a fan. Questlove was a fan, even the late-great Prince was a fan.
Their first album ‘Tawk Tomahawk’ took them to the Grammy Awards and the four corners of the globe. As a live act the near-telepathic interplay between the rhythm section of Simon Mavin (Keys), Paul Bender (Bass) and Perrin Moss (drums) set jaws dropping on a nightly basis. Out the front, vocalist Nai Palm combined soaring vocal technique, emotive guitar work and an irreverent, future-primitive DIY fashion approach which proved spellbinding to all.
Last years sophomore album ‘Choose Your Weapon’ saw the band hone their sound into something even more pure, organic and forthright. It went on to win them U.K’s Jazz FM ‘Album Of The Year’ and another Grammy nomination. It also dispelled any notion that they were anything other than an ongoing musical force of nature.
Often revelatory, Hiatus Kaiyote’s music is also well-rooted in all of that rich lineage that makes it feel somehow warmly familiar. Echoes of Donny Hathaway haunt the bassline of ‘Nakamarra’, and ‘Jekyll’ will certainly make Nai Palm’s dream of hanging out with Stevie Wonder one day a reality. But the momentum of their music forever pushes things along with a forward-looking current. Their phraseology cannot be bound simply by the 4/4 meter, it spills out into rhythmic rivulets which never sound unnatural or clever for clever’s sake.
Jazz, Soul, Funk, Folk, Fusion, Hip Hop and Electronica are their predominant building blocks — but the resultant sonic shapes blur the edges and defy the pigeonhole. Indeed, all the while they have eschewed and avoided discussion of genre (the dreaded ‘G’ word) — and left their sound for us to decipher and decode (as Miles Davis said: “Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is”.
But like all great new art, the music of Hiatus Kaiyote has a sense of inevitability about it. It’s as if those notes and beats were somehow destined to fall together in that same inexplicable pattern all along, just waiting to be uncovered, un-locked by the right combination of exploratory, inquisitive musical minds. We can all count our lucky stars that those minds happen to live on our own doorstep.
Hiatus Kaiyote have not only given contemporary Australian Soul music a new set of ears and eyes. They have provided the adolescent beast with a newfound fearlessness, agility, magical powers and a glorious set of wings.