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Kucka on the birth of #Portals, collaboration and visual art

30 May 2016 | 11:55 am | Hannah Galvin

Ahead of her immersive live show with collaborator, Rachael Archibald, for #Portals at VIVID this year, we discussed art mediums with Perth musician, Kucka.

In an age of digital advancements playing a huge role in our everyday lives, it inevitably was only a matter of time before its influence would take precedent and cast great impact on us to some scale.

For music, it's an application that marries up varietal mediums and technologies, customising ideas and contorting originality into weird and wonderful shapes that, in a way, allows extra room for development.

Perth singer/songwriter/producer, KUCKA, has taken great interest in such technological models, by using them to her advantage in creating #Portals - an audio-visual experience born out of an evolving concept relative to technology.

Debuting its live show with her collaborator, Rachael Archibald on visuals as part of the VIVID Festival in Sydney, we were able to pick the mind of Kucka right before #Portals is presented to its audience.

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To backtrack quickly, we’ve witnessed maturity in the sound of Kucka, from your self-titled EP to the release of Unconditional. What would you say has influenced your songwriting over the years?

Just getting better at writing and thinking about it more, what works and what doesn’t, and I think I became less scared to make my lyrics more personal. I guess that’s maybe a maturity thing? Definitely, at first, I didn’t want to write about anything that was too close to home because I was embarrassed, but then was like, you know what? Fuck it. If that’s what I want to write about, I’m not going to restrict myself.

Yeah definitely. Even in the composition as well, it sounds a lot more textural now compared to how stripped back it was before.

Yeah I think being able to balance the sounds a bit better, and just generally getting better at production over the years, that I could add in more interesting textures and use different techniques that I made up myself [laughs], to put into the tracks.

It’s always been beautifully left of field. Explain the process of writing a song.

Everything is different really. Sometimes I’ll start off with just a small idea, that’s maybe a sample that I’ve made and messed around with, and then I’ll try and loop that and run over it; but then sometimes I’ll write the melody of the song and just produce around that. Then sometimes I’ll start with a rhythm idea, so every track is different.

That must keep it interesting as well, having a different formula every time.

Yeah it is, but it also means that I’m always just experimenting and I have hundreds of little ideas that never will see the light of day [laughs] so it’s kind of unpredictable.

Alongside your own material, we’ve been gifted a few collaborations from you this year. How did you come to work with Flume?

So basically I had a chat to his manager last year at Splendour, and he was like, “yeah, keen to work with you. I’ll put you in touch.” So he sent me an email and we kind of worked over email, over a few months, and then met up in Sydney earlier this year to finish off the tracks that we’d been working on.

Had you met him before that?

No, I hadn’t.

You also feature on Dro Carey’s Dark Zoo EP. Could you explain the message behind, ‘Queensberry Rules’?

Actually, I got sent that instrumental, and I really liked it and had some ideas straight away. I emailed back like, “Yep, keen to do this,” and he was like, “I’m thinking about working with Marcus [Whale] from Collarbones on the top-line, so maybe we could do a collaboration.” So I was like, “okay, that’d be awesome!”

So he sent back a version with a melody and lyrics that Marcus had actually written, so most of it is written by him, and then I wrote the second verse. So I guess I’m not entirely sure what exactly Marcus was writing about personally, but I kind of followed his lead and took from his lyrics of what my interpretation is and added to it.

That’s cool, so you both had your own spin on the same song

Yeah! What I got from it was if someone had really cut you up, so you try to get over it and you’ve just had enough.

I feel like without your vocals, Dro Carey’s production alone would have made the track sound much more masculine. Do you find a sense of empowerment mixing your vocals with that song?

Yeah I guess so. The title of, ‘Queensberry Rules’ comes from a boxing reference, so definitely trying to sound a bit stronger and a bit more tough, even though that’s kind of the opposite of me [laughs].

How did you and Rachael Archibald come together to create #Portals?

We’d been friends on Facebook for a while, and I’m not actually sure how we became friends on Facebook, like it was just a thing? So I’d been following her work. I wanted to create this real experimental work, and I was looking for a visual artist to collaborate with. I had ideas and some snippets down, and then she posted something. I thought she’d be perfect.

I just sent her a message and yeah, she was keen, so we had a chat over Skype about everything and went from there.

#Portals was discussed and exchanged entirely through Skype and Dropbox. Did this ever make the process incredibly difficult?

Umm, kind of. I was sending things through in like dribs and drabs and sometimes changing things, but she’d be working on the vibe, then I’d be like, “Ohh I changed this!” and she’d be like, “Ah dammit I did some stuff perfectly in time with that” so I was like, “Oh no I’ll change it back!!” So I feel like if we were in the same room it’d be easier. But then I also think we both get into deep zones, and would prefer to work alone? So overall it’s been really good.

Will it draw on any societal issues or themes?

Well, basically it’s about technology and communication, but it becomes super abstract. So originally we had all of these ideas and were like, “Oh yeah we can do this, and we’ll have this section and it’ll be great,” but then we were like, “Really? It’s kind of obvious. Let’s just take that out and let’s use this idea and use the vibe and make it a little bit less obvious and cliché.”

So although we started with definite, strong ideas, it’s definitely become more and more abstract along the process of writing.

How long did it take to write the whole show?

We started at the end of last year, and we’re just putting the finishing touches on it now, so a few months, but it’s been in sections? So we’d work on it intensely for, you know, a week, and then we’d go off and work on our own projects, come back and be like, “Alright cool, ready?” Then start Skyping and working intensely again, so it’s hard to say just how long exactly.


Will VIVID be the only place to catch #Portals or will you be releasing anything online?

We are looking at venues to do #Portals later in the year, so we want to do one in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane at this point. Definitely going to do some more shows.

Visual art is definitely becoming more prominent in the music landscape as of late. Where can you see its place in future music releases? Do you think that it’s becoming a greater expression in terms of marrying up with music now?

Yeah! I’ve always seen art as super important. With the beginning of like PR and stuff, and like Instagram taking over, everyone’s very visually focused at the moment, and I think that’s a really good thing. I don’t have synthanesia, but I do associate music with vivid images? So I think it’s a huge part of music for me.

So maybe the increase in technology has been influential?

Yeah definitely. Everyone spends so much time on Instagram, and even when an artist is on there that I know makes music, I would just follow them because I like their Instagram profile, sometimes I haven’t even heard their music. So yeah, it’s becoming more and more important.

Can we expect visuals for the support acts too?

I’m not sure yet [laughs], we might project some stuff but it’s not going to be synced or anything.

Any future Kucka collaborations we can expect in the coming months?

I’ve been collaborating with a few people, and I’m hoping to put them out soon, but none of them are really confirmed yet. So not at the moment.

How about the next Kucka release?

Yeah I’m working on a bunch of stuff. Since I finished my last EP, I’ve been writing a bunch of new songs. They’re on their way for sure.

Catch both Kucka and visual artist, Rachael Archibald perform, #Portals at the Basement in Sydney on Thursday, 2nd June as part of Sydney's VIVID Festival. The artists' immersive live show will be supported by Nite Fleit and Lizard Promise (PELVISRetiree). Tickets are available to purchase here.

Words by Hannah Galvin

Photo credit: Jack Steele

Additional artwork: Rachael Archibald