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Three's A Party: Inside the technicolour world of Middle Name Dance Band

29 April 2020 | 12:57 pm | Emma Jones

Brisbane has long been a cultural melting pot for music, but with the success of indie rock bands throughout the last few decades, the River City might not necessarily be front of mind when thinking about cities with thriving dance music scenes. Over recent years however, that's started to change and more recently it has started to seriously pick up steam. A significant driving factor in this is the way in which communities operate within Brisbane and the general attitude that is obvious: we're all in it together, so if we support each other we're all stronger for it. And, it's this cross-pollination of many different scenes and communities that makes for fertile ground to allow new and exciting projects to form and be explored.

One such project is Middle Name Dance Band. A trio of highly respected Brisbane musicians in their own rights as Sampology, Sam Stosuur and Megan Christensen, Middle Name Dance Band is the culmination of each artist's respective talents and musical backgrounds. What started off as just a jam between friends in 2018 has evolved into one of the city's most loved dance acts. Equally inspired by boogie, soul and disco as they are by the city around them, Middle Name Dance Band represents not only an example of what can happen when this supportive and collaborative creativity is harnessed, but also of the rich, cultural capital that it exists in.

Each Middle Name Dance Band show is a full-bodied experience. Packing out dancefloors across the city, and more recently across the country, Middle Name manage to effortlessly infuse all three artists' skills to not only craft floor fillers that are infectiously bright and joyful, but also to deliver fun performances that will have even the staunchest chin-stroker boogying along by the end of the first song. With the release of their first volume of work back in 2018, Middle Name Dance Tracks, and consequent live show, the band knew they were onto something good. From there, they've been slowly crafting new sounds and becoming more unified as a solid "band", and it's during this time that the band's second volume was created.

Now out in the world, the four tracks on Vol. 2 are sonic odysseys, whisking you away to the dancefloors far from global pandemics and into the bright, fun, joyous mini worlds they've created within each song. From the soulful introduction of 'Love Bite' to the band's first single, 'Weekend Love Chant', the undeniable groove of 'Deeper Than Love' to the grand finale of 'Lovers Carnival', Vol. 2 is escapist dance music at its finest and a perfect representation of everything the band is now and has been over the last two years. Across four tracks, Middle Name Dance Band create a time capsule, at once preserving themselves and the flourishing creative spirit of Brisbane as well as providing a glimpse into what the future of their home scene might evolve into.

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Brisbane might not have been a city that was front of mind when it comes to dance music in the past, but it's thanks to acts like Middle Name Dance Band and their fellow communities that this has changed. This city has always been a melting pot for culture and music, and its record like Middle Name Dance Tracks Vol. 2 (and Vol. 1 before it) that prove without a doubt that there is something seriously special happening here. While circumstances out of our control might have paused the roll-on effect of a summer absolutely packed with incredible moments throughout the city and its now many communities for the time being, it's clear that the supportive spirit and collaborative mentality that got this city to where it was in the first place is still here and stronger than ever. It will be no surprise that when life can start back up again and we'll be able to once more dance together, Brisbane's music community will be able to bounce back — and we'll have brilliant records such as this to celebrate to. To talk all about their latest release, I sat down with one third of the band, Sampology to talk Vol. 2, how it feels to now be a "band", and where the greater Brisbane scene is headed to next.

Middle Name Dance Tracks Vol. 2 is now out in the world! How’s the vibe in the band? 

The vibe has been super good. We did a little conversation to include on my Worldwide show. As much as I try not to include my own promote my own work too much on my own radio show but I thought it was a cool reason to have a recorded conversation because we're obviously not in the position to have a release party. It was cool to reflect on it! The release was super cool. Because you can't see people in person, you kind of have to go by Instagram shares and people sending you messages. It was immediate friends, and then friends of friends, and then random people and it was a really nice, organic flow on the day.

The band was initially meant to exist just as a one-off EP project but has evolved beyond that now with a national tour, slots at Laneway and Yonder and now a second record. What prompted the decision to release another volume?

It was pretty much the next week after the release party of Volume 1 at The Foundry in December, 2018. We literally didn't have a name for the band because when we first started working on it, it was just, "We're not starting a new band, it's just going to be a three way collaboration." It was all three of us equally billed as SampologyMegan Christensen and Sam Stosuur. That's what the first project is under. Middle Name Dance Band was really just a name for the poster of the release party for the live group. The feedback was just so good that literally the next week we were like, "Maybe we should make another EP?" It was a combination of the feedback and just us enjoying each other's company, I think. It's one of those things where when you're working on music with people, you're really just hanging out with each other. The first thing that has to be in check is, "Do you enjoy hanging out with each other?" Because if not, it's hard to force.

It's obviously also easier to collaborate with people you get along well with anyway. One of the things that I and I'm sure many others have responded so strongly to with Middle Name's music is how authentic it is. I suppose that comes from that authentic, organic origin story. It's just all been so natural. Does it feel that way for you? 

Totally. It feels really nice reflecting on hanging out together. The way the tracks come about is its a culmination of our personalities, different musical upbringings and the third factor is Cafe O-Mai, a Vietnamese restaurant on the South side. It's an equal part of those three really.

The origins of the band come from a place of three musicians collaborating together rather than being a “band” at all - can you tell me a bit about that and why it was important to have that distinction? Does it still feel like that now, or have you all accepted that it is definitely a band?

Now it's all good, I'm so happy! The thing at the start, it wasn't like I didn't want to start a band. We had hung out together at my place and recorded some tracks from a jam, like so many musicians around town do where they're not part of a group and they're just hanging out. You end up with this folder of music that's unreleased that isn't for a specific project and for a lot of people and me, myself especially, it's quite painful having these tracks that are dope but you're not really sure what they're for. One thing you always say is, "Oh, we'll give it to a vocalist at some point." And sometimes it happens but it usually doesn't, so you end up with this playlist of tracks that causes you pain because you can't share it. My thing was because I'd done my own EP, Mt Glorious, on my own label so that was the first release on my own label. I was setting up this thing so I could release my own music and it was kind of like, it's an outlet in a way. These jams that were happening, the more recent one at the time was me, Sam and Megan, these are kind of a representation of what it felt like to be on a dancefloor at a Bless party at the time. It was a bit of jazz influence, bright club energy, soulful... My thought was that this should be captured, pressed on vinyl and played at the same party. Let's just capture it and it be documented, because if it's not documented and released it'll end up just never getting released and causing pain. That was the real reason and that was the most important thing at the starting point.

It is so valuable how intrinsic it is with how Brisbane has been and is. It feels almost like a time capsule of Brisbane at that time, and volume two feels like a new capsule again with how it feels now off the back of the summer we just had. Given that it was such a deliberate choice on volume one to include Brisbane as much as possible, did you make that decision again this time around to make it about the city as well?

I think so, yeah. We've just introduced slightly different ways of letting the tracks evolve and building on what we did with the first one. In terms of incorporating Brisbane, I would say the Bearded Lady residency we did in the middle of last year really played a new element of bringing the town into it. For the first time, we tried things we'd been working on in front of people physically dancing and seeing the feedback. For example, 'Weekend Love Chant', it's still a dance track but it's a slower groove. We all really liked that track but because it's slower, we didn't imagine it would be our first single that we'd share. But, that was the track that went down the best at the residency. Having that feedback of people dancing and yelling out to that track, we were like, "Damn, lots of people like this track!" It gave us that encouragement.

The visual element of Middle Name is something I’ve always appreciated, from the cover art that your mum does to the amazing video with Megan dancing. Can you tell me a bit about the importance of this strong visual element to a project like this?

It just is a subconscious thing. The actual music in Middle Name Dance Band, it's dance but it's very groove and bright and joyful. I think it's a good representation of us when we hang out together as well. The bright colourfulness of Megan's dancing in the film clip represents that. The Volume One cover was my a lino card of my mum's that I found. She'd done it like twelve years previously. It was kind of like a tree leaf thing and I'd found some old prints she'd done in one colour. It was actually the circular lino piece which was exactly 12x12 weirdly enough so the exact size of a record. We flipped it three times with three different colours serendipitously representing Sam, Megan and myself overlapping together. It was just this bright thing and all the vinyl for Volume One has gone through her press three times for that artwork. Volume Two, I'd edited some of the leaves of Volume One artwork and because all the tracks ended up having "love" in the title, red and white was the colour scheme.

With a lot of what you're saying, it seems like with the whole existence of the band things have just happened really naturally and you all just adapt and roll with it. Does it feel that way for you? Have you ever had a project that is this natural and adaptable?

I think you're right, that's exactly how it's rolled. You could say the project is kind of a representation of a lot of the different music hangs in Brisbane. There's a lot of everyone working with each other and it's such a cool thing. It's definitely been organic and it's good to represent that in music. I feel like listening back to the tracks on both EPs feel that way to me.

The origins of Middle Name have also always been rooted in community, and it really feels like that is such a key factor that all three of you value as well. You’ve been making music for a while now as yourself and seen Brisbane’s musical community develop over the years - how does the community as it stands vary from when you first started? Do you think a band like Middle Name could’ve existed back a decade ago? 

I think it could have. I think the city has been a lot more collaborative in the last few years. When I was just starting to go out, Brisbane was sick and then it went through a four or five year period that felt a bit not-awesome. But then, the last three or four years, I feel like everyone has been supporting each other's parties. I've said this before, cities are organic things and they're always changing. When I think about the time when we first made Volume One and Volume Two and the last couple of years, I think Brisbane has been killing it. The whole time, I think about how happy I am at the moment about how Brisbane is, I'm always conscious of how it could change at any moment as well. I think that's just being realistic about it, and when I think about that it just makes me want to go to lots of local gigs. That's the grass roots of any city's music scene health. In terms of the influences of Middle Name, there's dancefloor stuff but there's soulful stuff. Ten years ago when Laneous was living in Brisbane with all the West End soulful cats, that influence was really strong and a big factor on the younger crop of musicians coming up now. They even influenced Jordan Rakei when he was living in Brisbane, and then even though he hasn't lived in Brisbane for a while, I've heard 18 year old soul musicians now say things like, "Oh man, Jordan's from Brisbane!" He's such an inspiration to them and it's cool to see that trickle down.

We’re obviously in unprecedented times at the moment. It is such a shame because I feel like the summer we just had was so exciting. It was really community focused and there were so many small parties and lots of things happening. We’re obviously a long way away from this but given you know this city so well, how do you think we will rebuild when we can?

I've been thinking through it a lot. Surely no matter what city you're in, it's going to be the smaller gigs that come back first just purely from looking at capacity and social distancing. I think that's a huge shame for all of the big venues but I think those smaller venues have, just personally in my opinion, have been there for the grassroots scene. It's those small venues where you see the people that are going to a gig or two a week rather than the bigger venues where people might go out one or two times a year. It's those people that are going out every week that are really building the music scene and support bands that are coming through. That's what I've been thinking about in terms of how we start up again, in any city but especially in Brisbane. I think in terms of things changing, I feel like that will be a lot to do with the venue owners and party-runners because there's so many different factors beyond just me as a performer because it's a collaboration between all of us.

Middle Name Dance Tracks Vol. 2 is out now, buy from Bandcamp here.

Interview by Emma Jones

Image: Instagram