I am the Unicorn
I should officially be the fittest man in town; the nature of the business has given me more opportunities for run-around’s than I care to mention.
Labels are untamed animals, and unfortunately when you stare deep into the belly of the beast you get to see it for the shivering self obsessed paranoid monster it really is.
There is no money in the music industry for labels, only enough to support wages and keep ageing corporate hating graff writers swimming in enough cocaine to keep them happy.
It is in the middle of this paradoxical soup that a young thrusting rapper is meant to find his or her legs, and make enough noise for the labels with no dosh to ‘loan’ artists enough money to release their albums.
It is a far cry from the lifestyle that most people are deluded into believing exists when they first put pen to paper in the hope of making their music dreams a reality.
Of course, this doesn’t stop individuals who run labels from filling your head with idealistic nonsense about how they are going to make you a star, how far your music could go with the right push, and most importantly, how uselessly crap everybody else is in the entire world when handling their music business.
I’ve been lulled several times into those situations, when suddenly you believe the hype, and suddenly someone who runs a music label from their living room starts to resemble Suge Knight in his prime.
In some cases after a particularly heavy meal, they actually do.
On numerous occasions I’ve stood in the offices of label owners, each of them particularly keen to sign me to their fledging businesses, hoping that a hilltop hoods-esque coup will sweep them onto the same stage as Obese or Elephant Traks.
As late as 2009, I was even prepared to sign my music away to one such label.
I requested the contract, and three months later I was still in the same position I was in three months prior; no contract emerged.
It seems to be characteristic of my, ahem, career, run around after run around searching in vain to find somebody to release an album that was starting to lose its impact more and more as I sank further into obscurity.
As far back as 2002 I was being poached by young new labels.
Chairman Records was a Gold Coast based dance label whose artist roster consisted primarily of a lounge DJ called DJ Szab. Even back then in my impressionable youth it was easy to tell that Szab was just taking whatever samples came free with his version of Cubase, putting them over deep bass drums, and distributing the whole package in artwork that looked like it was a promotional item for a pride march.
The owner’s name was Mal, an idealistic nightclub owner who looked like the gruff bald man who famously had his arm stuffed inside Agro and entertained children for many years.
Mal had a whispy little beard that made him look like a wizard who just had a makeover, and his obvious attempts to clutch to his fleeting youth were reinforced by his adoption of hip hop culture and with his fraternisation with anyone under the age of 20.
He was madly in love with one of my songs, and after a quick discussion both he and I planned to release it as my first single.
Of course, at the time I had little understanding of the music industry, and as a wide eyed 20 year old the fact that this man knew very little about rap music was overlooked because on the surface of it all he talked good game.
I’m sure he could coerce the underpants off a Brazilian supermodel if required.
He owned a succession of popular Brisbane RnB clubs that were always filled to the brim with undesirables; this was long before popped collars and sunglasses indoors, in those days it was spikey hair and neon Fubu 05 tops. It was the kind of material that needed a wash an hour after you wore it, and you could always pick someone who recycled their outfit from the day before because they smelled ominously like a mixture of B.O and novelty fart gas.
On several occasions I was asked to come into one of his clubs and perform; there was no stage, a tiny DJ booth, and apart from a mural on one wall, it was a nightclub that resembled the inside of a concrete shoebox more than a place of entertainment and frivolity.
I wandered around the dance floor with a cheap cordless mic, trying to rap to a crowd that didn’t contain a single white face, and were more inclined to lynch me for being a cornball white dude than throw me any sort of praise or admiration.
Mal’s hangers on all congregated in the tiny store room he had in the back; white rappers wearing flannel and adorned with blue bandanas crowded around trying to scam as many free drinks and associated praise they could from a man who saw himself as the next Suge Knight.
I simply grimaced, got my fill of bourbon, took the cash and went home feeling more sorry for myself than I ever did before.
As I scanned the room I shook my head and fell even further into despair; I was slowly associating myself with people who were doing me more harm than good, and the unfortunate taint of ‘urban’ music that lives, breathes and dies in ‘the club’ was slowly weaving itself into the fabric of my being.
In the end we simply parted ways and never returned each other’s calls, and I often wonder what might have become of myself had I been more proactive with Chairman Records. More than likely I would have ended up as a hype man for a series of ridiculously named RnB theme nights that make white single males look like backup dances for the World Class Wreckin’ Crew, adorned in outfits so outlandish that the juxtaposition could easily be mistaken for a melting Ken Done painting.
In subsequent years more label opportunities would present themselves, but in the end they always seemed to fall short of the hype and expectations that were dictated to me by those people who were ready to promise me the world.
As such, the last few years have been a perpetual running man; a slow dance that required every ounce of my strength and focus, yet always seemed to leave me rooted in the same spot.
I still have all of my label correspondence, including those from Simon Cahill, director of A&R at Sony/BMG, who told me he “loved the music, but it doesn’t fit in with what we are doing at the moment”.
This of course is the nice way of saying “after thinking about it, no”. The musical version of “It’s not you, it’s me”.
So again we parted ways, and with every ounce of strength left in my exhausted soul I filled out a fortnightly form and once again joined the back of a Centrelink queue.
Thus, the perpetual running man continued; the slow exhaustive dance that forever left me glued to a fixed point, never moving forward.
It distinctly seemed that my run of bad luck spilled over from the world of live music performance and into the business aspect that preceded it.
While sending out promotional copy and CD’s to media contacts after the release of my first solo effort IOUs, between the date I gleaned my addresses and the date the promotional material arrived, it appears that a large percentage of the recipients moved address, adorning dozens of packages with ‘Return to sender’.
It was just my luck.
By the time 2008 had come around a new label was beginning to show interest; UndaK9 was a self affirmed independent Sydney label famous for two things:
The first was its primary artist Figgkid, who himself was special for not only securing a deal with Sony/BMG for distribution and release, but also for being the most hated rapper in Australian history.
UndaK9’s second point of interest was its domineering and assured owner/director Lui, someone with a reputation that exceeds any other owner or promoter in Australia. There is scarcely anyone in the industry I know that doesn’t have a story that can’t be attributed to the over-bearing nature of this short statured Napoleon-esque warrior.
To be honest, I love Lui, and anything I say here can easily be taken out of context as poking fun or being ungrateful for everything she’s done for me, but to be honest, as I sit back and reflect on the events that almost lead me to pack up everything I own and move to Sydney, I thank whatever god was watching that day that it never was enacted.
Lui and I would chat on the phone, sometimes for almost two hours about how she felt about my songs, the role I could play in the Australian music scene, all while recanting the luminous volumes of stories of her time working as an intern for studios in the US.
“When I was hanging out with Eminem he told me…..”
Whatever it was that Eminem had told her worked, because I was slowly being sucked into the world mutual pats on the back and self assuredness of my own ability. I was being haunted by visions of Mal and his smoke filled concrete shoebox, cramming idealistic nonsense into my head in an effort to get me to sign on a dotted line and put my future in the hands of someone who talked mad game.
With no other offers on the table, and the creeping inevitability of age, I thought, fuck it, and leapt headfirst into my first true music contract with as much plans for the future that suicidal lemmings put into deciding what they want for dinner the next day.
And so come late 2008, I called Lui and told her:
“Let’s do it”
Through her resounding cheers and exclamations of joy, something reluctantly stirred in the back of my mind. A nagging feeling that I had just sold myself short and put into motion a swinging axe that would soon decapitate any chance I had in making a real impact in the community. An axe that had brought swift and resounding justice to Figgkid, and the new UndaK9 posterchild Bukkcity.
The contract never arrived.
A chorus of promises soon followed, and nearly 2 months passed and no contract had reared itself from its cavernous hiding spot.
Punxsutawney Phil slowly meandered from his hole, saw no shadows, and bunkered down for a cold and indefinably long winter.
By April 2009 I began to make other arrangements, and as the first tracks for ‘The Musical’ were being cobbled together, a semi conscious depressive state had crow barred its way into my head; I found myself calling people up for no reason, purely to take my mind off the balancing act I was involved with as I teeter tottered between unemployment and the slowly melting shards of my music hopes.
Of course the reasons for my calls were quite obvious, and on a few occasions I was met with responses such as “Seriously, are you ok?”.
As early 2009 began to tick over and fade into the ether, I looked around the dusty confines of the makeshift office/writing space I had set up for myself in my parents garage. Friends who came to see me found a sense of comfort in my garage space, however all it represented to me was an overwhelming sense of non-accomplishment; a labyrinth of walls that served only to contain my self esteem, and drag me compliantly into death with a slight whimper and nod of appreciation.
At the time, after 9 years of making music, all sense of idealistic bravado had been sucked away by the overpowering brutality of people’s apathy, and the ethereal spine tingling succubus we like to call hip hop music.
I broadened my job search, and after only a week of scouring the employment opportunities other cities presented me, I made a hasty and rash decision.
I was moving to Melbourne.
Within three days I had a place to stay and over 6 job interviews lined up before my one way ticket was even purchased.
I’m not too sure what came over me at that time, it was by far the most irrational and least pondered decision I had ever made; It was like a passing muse crept into my bedroom one night and whispered sweet nothings in my ear, promised me the world, and filled inside me a sense of accomplishment and determination that I had never felt in over 25 years.
The only promise I made to myself was that I could never return to the Gold Coast unless I come back adorned ornately with more than I left with.
Considering all I had with me was a mobile phone, a spare pair of dress shoes and a suitcase, some would consider my mission more than a considerable success, and even now as I sit in my own two bedroom apartment surrounded with an array of electronic equipment I never thought I would ever be able to buy, I still feel my mission is unresolved.
I’ve conquered the mountain of financial distress, and now I can turn my attention to bludgeoning my way into music, a single solitary fan at a time.
Soulmate Records took some interest in the first draft of The Musical sometime in 2009, and after some tweaks I had managed to obtain something that most artists in this country crave more than the oxygen they are so lucky to be given a chance to breathe.
I had a recording contract.
It’s only after the signatures have long since dried do I now realise exactly what the concept of a record deal entails; it means living up to the expectations asserted by others. At the time I had enormous boots to fill, following releases from 360, Pez and eventually Prime.
The record deal is the death nell that pangs after the label cuts the cheque and sits and waits patiently to recoup on their faith in your ability.
And faith in my ability Soulmate has, and I won’t ever forget that.
All I need to do now is break through the barrier of apathy, and I’ll start being able to pay back the emotional cost of my association.
I feel like the Unicorn, an icon of strength and inspiration, coming to the eventual realisation that as Noah sails away into the horizon on his ark the rising water will erase away my existence.
I am the Unicorn; a mythical creature that was once flesh and blood.
I spent years treading water, struggling as the water rose around me.
Now I have found land.
Alone and forgotten I’m still alive, waiting to be discovered again.