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Bag Raiders: ‘The Scene Here Is Just So Watered-down & Weird’

24 August 2023 | 12:07 pm | Cyclone Wehner

“We've had a little sabbatical, a little hiatus, from each other and now we're ready to resume."

Bag Raiders

Bag Raiders (Credit: Lover Lover)

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The Sydney electro-housers Bag Raiders have history – joining Modular Recordings at its peak. But the duo behind the millennial anthem Shooting Stars aren't trading on any nostalgia-core. Instead, Jack Glass and Chris Stracey are releasing cutting-edge future garage and prepping a new live show.

Glass is Zooming from his Sydney base – Stracey, residing in the US, is apparently unavailable due to time differences. "I'm flying solo today," he affirms, ribbing his cohort for "probably doing ayahuasca or Pilates." The beardy DJ/producer, donning a black baseball cap, is seated in a cosy room – a modest wine rack nestled among cherished books.

In fact, Bag Raiders transplanted to Los Angeles in 2013, but Glass returned home before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. "I was settled," he explains. "I did a long stint there – and then I just never really wanted to live there forever. So I think I did seven years and, after that, I was like, 'Hang on, if you don't wanna end up here, maybe it's time to get out.' People call it 'the seven-year itch'. It happens in relationships as well. You know, after seven years, it's like, 'Okay, it's a make-or-break kinda moment' – and it was a break for me."

Donald Trump's presidency altered his outlook. "When Trump was elected when I was there, it was a bit of a vibe kill – especially in the area that I lived, which was pretty lefty. It was just like there'd been a natural disaster or something. The mood just changed overnight – not for the better."

In 2021 Bag Raiders were billed for the retro dance music event Ministry Of Sound: Testament in Sydney – Glass DJing 2000s electro. But they're unusually intergenerational.

Glass and Stracey met as music students at Cranbrook School, both playing in the orchestra but vibing on electronica. Post-graduation, they reconnected – messing around with studio gear in a Rose Bay garden shed. Mentored by the Bang Gang Deejays, the pair established themselves as DJs in Sydney – the 'Bag Raiders' handle a joke about them nabbing records. The duo took on remixes, one Kid Sister's Pro Nails, featuring Kanye West. In 2008 Bag Raiders dropped their break-out EP Turbo Love! – the French house throwback Shooting Stars (the singer Rhys Taylor) garnering early attention. Later, it was voted #18 in triple j's 2009 Hottest 100.

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Bag Raiders signed to Steve Pavlovic's Modular Recordings – the label as much a movement as a brand, having introduced such hipster acts as The Avalanches, Cut Copy, The Presets, Wolfmother and Tame Impala.

In 2010 the cult party faves presented their eponymous debut album, landing in the ARIA Top 10 and receiving an ARIA nomination for 'Best Dance Release' (only to lose to Cut Copy's Zonoscope). In the pany, Bag Raiders marked the LP's 10th anniversary with a "deluxe" vinyl reissue. Coincidentally, Modular is turning 25 this year. "Being part of [Modular] was amazing," Glass recollects. "There were so many cool bands on the label. It felt like an honour to be a part of that kind of crew – because there was no one on there that we didn't like and respect their music."

By 2015 Modular was embroiled in industry lawsuits and, with the charismatic Pavlovic exiting, the fold was subsumed into Universal Music Australia. Bag Raiders still don't have the full story. "We kind of have no idea – like it just sort of imploded," Glass says. "It definitely wasn't a graceful death… But I don't really know what it was.

"So, yeah, it was a shame what happened to Modular. But I'm sure one day there'll be some 10-part documentary on exactly what went on."

Bag Raiders shifted across to Island Records. "We didn't have that same feeling at Universal that like everyone on the label was cool, and we were part of this scene and this movement," Glass posits. "That was much more of your typical label – which wasn't as a good fit for us."

In the meantime, Bag Raiders enjoyed a fluke retrospective global hit with Shooting Stars when, in 2017, it became an Internet meme – affording them unprecedented exposure. It was even covered by New York Magazine. Glass deems the phenom "really positive, but obviously weird and bizarre." They've since cannily offered the original meme for sale as an NFT.

"The main thing that we learnt from that is you can't control the Internet," Glass recalls. "In general, it was a positive experience for us. We got way more people listening to our music and people writing to us saying, 'Oh, I only heard of you guys because of this meme, and now I love all your stuff.'"

Bag Raiders were pressured by label types to manufacture further viral hits – which they "resisted". "I don't think you could generate that thing if you tried," Glass holds. "As soon as you try to do something like that, it's not gonna happen. You end up looking silly. You just have to let it be and see how it washes up."

At any rate, Shooting Stars is now multi-platinum in Australia alone. Recently, Flume and Toro y Moi transgressively revived it for Like A Version.

In 2019, Bag Raiders finally delivered a second album, Horizons, collaborating with The Kite String Tangle on the epic lead single Lightning. They created their most ambitious music, revealing more guest vocalists and live instrumentation.

The combo had cut the album leisurely in LA, amid label turmoil. "We'd had a lot of time in the studio," Glass says. "I think right then there was this big explosion of EDM that was going on in America – and we had moved from Sydney, where, especially back then, the club culture, and dance culture, was really cool and really interesting.

"[But] we were seeing it just become commodified in this really awful way that felt completely against all the values behind it that we learnt growing up. I think, because of that, we ended up kind of making this album that was almost like an anti-EDM album. It's the most song-based writing we've ever done; it's the least club-ready.

"I remember being in the studio and [in a track] we'd have a breakdown and then a drop, and then we'd be like, 'Is it too big? We gotta chill it out, it's too hectic' – which is not how you would normally think about club music.

"We ended up with something really amazing, but just really different… It's funny when I listen back to that album now, I'm like, 'Wow – did we make a pop album?'"

Leaving Universal after Horizons, Bag Raiders resolved to carry on in that spirit. "It's really important to us that we are always changing and adapting and trying new things," Glass stresses.

Early last year Bag Raiders resurfaced as an independent entity, launching their own label, Broken Head Records, with the clubby single UR Heart – future garage that a sonic chameleon-like Four Tet might appreciate. They promptly followed with Never Forget, and the trancey Letting Go – all similarly emotive. 

And they have reclaimed creative control – dispensing with A&R decrees and the vagaries of major release schedules. "We just wanna be our own bosses – and I guess you can infer from that that we've had some horrible bosses over the years, some uncomfortable relationships," Glass laughs wryly. "We got a bit sick of people trying to tell us what to do or whatever.

"But, for me, it's more just to do with being able to put stuff out whenever we want is the key thing. I've always rejected that idea that you have to finish a song and then it takes six months to come out because the label's doing something – but what mysterious dark art they're doing, you never really get an insight into. So, this way, we can finish a song and have it out in three weeks, which is, in my mind, the way it should be."

Currently, Glass considers Broken Head a platform for Bag Raiders' music, though they may expand. "I would never say 'never' to putting out other [artists'] stuff – even if we have solo projects that we want an outlet for."

This July they aired Love Me Back – disco-house with unrecognisable vocals by Sydney's Meg Mac, who typically performs earthy soul. The track happened accidentally, the two producers "tinkering". They were working with Mac on an indie number – but decided to repurpose her topline, pitching it up, rave-style. They shared the results with Meg, whom Glass notes isn't "exactly like a house music head," and she approved. "She was like, 'Sick! I love it. Let's do it.'"

Bag Raiders will circulate another single before year's end, Glass teases. "There's lots of music that's on the conveyor belt." But they have "no plans" for a third album. "I think what we've been doing – just putting out singles – gives us the most freedom and flexibility."

However, that could again change were they to "have an avalanche of ideas," Glass admits. He occasionally misses curating projects. "I'm working on some albums – like doing some co-writing with other people at the moment – and it is fun. It makes me a bit nostalgic for it – you know, when you're trying to put the tracklist together or work out what's gonna stay in, what's gonna go… There is something nice about that process of making such a big body of work."

These days Glass and Stracey are split between continents – the separation necessitating adjustments during border closures. Initially, recording remotely felt discombobulating artistically. "If you're not there together at the very beginning when you have that kind of spark, it's really hard to collaborate and send things back and forth and feel like you're a part of the song or own the song."

Yet their dynamic remains easy. "We get on really well," Glass starts. "We don't really fight. We're very easygoing, both of us. I think that has helped sustain us for such a long time – especially [when] doing a lot of touring and late nights and not much sleep. It's nice [to have] someone who's relaxed and doesn't get too angry or too worked up about anything. We're both like that, which is cool."

Still, Glass actually regards that space as advantageous. "Probably having this break of three years without doing that much touring together or seeing each other that much, I think it'll be good for our relationship in the long-term. We've had a little sabbatical, a little hiatus, from each other and now we're ready to resume."

Bag Raiders will soon reunite for a series of Australian DJ gigs – the first at Sydney's glamourous hang-out ivy. Ironically, Glass despairs that the city's party scene isn't what it was in the aughts, lockout laws ruining the night-time economy. "There's not really even any clubs here anymore," he rues. "The scene here is just so watered-down and weird."

Extant for nearly two decades, Bag Raiders have achieved impressive longevity in dance music. Many of the acts they came up with have dissolved or disappeared. Bag Raiders remixed Cut Copy's Far Away off In Ghost Colours – and Glass reckons that the Melbourne indie-dance band are underrated. "I always thought Cut Copy should be bigger than what they were. I know they were big but, to me, they were the best. So it surprised me they weren't just dominating the world."

In October Bag Raiders will hit the road Stateside with a fresh live production – Glass psyched. "That'll be fun to get that cranking – and then we'll bring that back to Australia over summer," he spills. "That's the plan. I'm sure that we're doing a few festivals and a few other shows of our own but with a live show rather than DJing. It's been ages. So that'll be exciting."

Indeed, the pair are "conceptualising" an audio-visual affair – possibly harnessing virtual reality as they did in the Love Me Back video. "I always have these grand ideas of some kind of crazy stage structure like a ziggurat pyramid or something – which is probably completely impractical, but I would love to do something like that," Glass fantasises.

Maybe Bag Raiders can acquire Daft Punk's LED pyramid, as the robots no longer need it? "That's true, yeah," Glass laughs. "I'll look on Gumtree after we have this talk."

Bag Raiders will perform for FREE at SPRINGTIME Festival on the Gold Coast this September 1-3 alongside Benee, Matt Corby, Sycco and more.