Somewhere along the way the burgeoning romance between the synthesiser and rock music lost steam. Maybe toughened rock ancients couldn’t make room in their kingdom for the youthfulness that aimed the newcomer straight at the horizon. Maybe the synth grew tired of rock's rules and posturing. Either way, what could have been a marriage for the ages schismed somewhere around the 80s, with precious few daring to flirt with the idea of reuniting the two.
Skip to 2017 and the chasm has never been wider, the world of synth music has splintered in any number of its own sub-genres and, to many, rock has become a bloated windbag, outdated as corduroy flares. There are a few daring wanderers who tread the line between the two though, and the three minds that comprise Melbourne’s Oolluu are leading the charge into a bright and interesting future.
Bass player Davarj Thomas met synth-smith Ehsan Gelsi while they were 'putting out fires' at an Earthcore Festival some years ago. Once the dust had settled they discovered they shared a deep love of not only modern keyboard-centric iterations like Acid House et al, but also some of the more esoteric ends of modern music. Almost immediately jamming began, as did some extended improvised sets for like-minded festival punters. It wasn’t until concocting a 40-minute set with drummer Ben Crook and successfully putting it on stage that they realised they were onto something special. And thus Oolluu was born.
The power trio launched their eponymous debut in 2015 and from there have not looked back. “The material is wide enough to be interpreted in a number of different ways,” says Thomas when asked why and how the sound morphed into the future prog mélange we hear before us.
Initially influences were notably more modern, with Chemical Brothers era dance floor masterpieces fueling the ship. However, over time the three came to realise that Oolluu, was and is, “a slow burn project, and we’re prepared to stand by it and nurture it with wisdom and patience, a lot like a parent encourages the growth of a child.” Essentially, all ELP and Trans Am references aside, Oolluu is purely and simply what happens when these three men and their impressive rigs get in a room and lose themselves. It’s as altruistic as that.
Synth maestro Gelsi is a self-confessed sufferer of G.A.S., or gear acquisition syndrome. He and Thomas have an almost limitless access to toys via their day jobs and have found themselves in the thick of a healthy community of gear nerds, one in particular has “a cave, if you will, that gives us access to pretty much every synthesiser ever made that has taken his fancy so we have…to try stuff out.”
Aside from his custom Warwick, Thomas and Crook keep their rigs pretty simple, the former has a checklist of bass essentials like ts808 and dd7 on the floor and the latter perches proudly atop his vintage Ludwig kit, as well he should. Gelsi on the other hand relies mostly on Novation’s MIDI capability for live performances, leaving his collection in the studio for when real inspiration strikes. They did however recently pick up an Oberheim OB6 that they’re itching to take out on the road, so keep an eye out for that at shows.
When I spoke to them, they’d just received the final mixes for their second, as yet untitled album from producer Christian Scallan, and they couldn’t be more excited. Recorded and mixed at Scallan’s Soft Centre Studio in Hawthorn, the Oolluu sound “took (Scallan) a little bit of time to understand what we are doing, but now he totally understands it.” It’s every bit as energetic and adventurous as its predecessor, but with renewed focus and clarity brought about by a few extra years of maturity, and they’re hoping that this record will see them finally getting overseas. “The Australian market is not quite our kettle of fish. (The Music is) very synth heavy and Euro-centric, so we’re hoping to head over there and try and break into that scene.”
Given that their totem is the conscientious and all seeing Owl, Oolluu is a band who approaches their music with a refreshing amount of wisdom and objectivity. “We’re less trying to jam the synthesiser into the rock genre and more trying to find out what kind of feels and timbres we can come up with” says Thomas, who’s measured and forthright answers to my questioning speak volumes about the way the collective mind of the band works. “It’s very much suck it and see, make it up as we go along. There’s not a lot we can go on. We’ve got ELP and a few others but we try to do it in a less corny context.” And that they do, clearly and cleanly avoiding the pretense and pitfalls of the more ponderous and self-observing of their contemporaries in both the prog and synth worlds with grace and aplomb, all the while never once resting on their laurels. Writing has already begun for album three even before album two is out in the world and it seems that Oolluu has an eye as well as a sound that knows something about the future that the rest of us do not.
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