Raave Tapes on Their Pedal Obsessions and Newcastle's No-Fi Arts Movement

If you happen to live in or around Newcastle, chances are that you've heard of Raave Tapes. With a reputation both for their music—an eclectic blend of thrashing punk and synthy dance-rock—and their commitment to making sure their audience is sincerely having a good time during every set, it's easy to see why the band is so recognized.

Raave Tapes is also at the forefront of a young arts and music movement happening in Newcastle right now dubbed "No-Fi." In the words of Raave Tapes bassist Lindsay O'Connell, "No-Fi Collective is more just a group of people who are really passionate about music and about all of the creative arts in any form coming together and creating a really great platform to help one another and boost one another."

We had a chance to sit down with O'Connell and guitarist Joab Eastley to learn more about the mission of No-Fi and what the band packs onto its boards for live shows.

How did Raave Tapes get started?

Joab Eastley: We started roughly five years ago as a shitty cover band playing in pubs in Kurri Kurri. We quickly progressed and changed the name to Raave Tapes. We got a lot of pedals and became a dance-punk band. The other two members left at the end of last year because they had jobs and mortgages, and now we've got Lindsay and Lewis in the band.

RAAVE TAPES - "k bye"

Unpacking that condensed history, though, how does a band like Raave Tapes come from a place like Newcastle?

JE: We were really lucky in the way that turned out. We had been playing random shows with random bands that didn’t suit our genre for about six months, when the scene started to brew. We found other garage bands and other grunge bands and other bands not the exact same genre as us but that sort of fit anyway, and everything started to come together from there.

Lindsay, as a newcomer to Raave Tapes, were you aware of the scene that was bourgeoning?

Lindsay O’Connell: Oh, yes. I've always been involved in music, and I had another band in Newy too.

Now that No-Fi has become more established, how would you characterize the movement to someone outside of the scene who’s trying to understand it?

LO: When you hear "No-Fi Records," you immediately think it's a label or something extremely formal. But No-Fi Collective is more just a group of people who are really passionate about music and about all of the creative arts in any form coming together and creating a really great platform to help one another and boost one another.

JE: That's what I was going to say, but she said it heaps better.

RAAVE TAPES (All photos from @lazybonesphoto)

Do you think that same sort of underlying community is possible in bigger cities, or would you say that bigger cities make it harder?

LO: I'll immediately say that yes, [it’s possible]. You can start them up, but what really typifies and identifies No-Fi Collective in Newcastle is the fact that there's nothing like it, and there hasn't been anything like it for a really long time. So it can happen in the bigger cities—and I dare say that there are already collectives and groups of people coming together—but they won't be as easily recognized, just because there are so many.

JE: Yeah, there's an over-saturation in cities that we don’t have. We don't have many other things like [No-Fi], even still. It's just a bunch of mates coming together to help each other and the community out and to create an environment that’s conducive to what we want to do.

And what is it exactly that you want to do? Is it just a general promulgation of an art scene, or is it bigger than that?

JE: It's heaps bigger than that. We want everybody to come together and have fun—and by everybody, we mean everybody. The place we want, it needs to be inclusive, it needs to be a place where art can...

LO: Flourish.

JE: Exactly.

That's inspiring as a sentiment, and it’s even cooler to see it executed in practice. Do you see the No-Fi movement as something that stays Newcastle-based, or are you looking to try and expand the platform geographically?

JE: Well, it's the kind of thing that we take with us wherever we go. Whichever city we’re playing in, I'll make sure I go out of my way to make sure everyone's having a good time during the set. I'll ask people—usually, yell—like, "Hey, everybody! Is the person next to you having a good time? Ask them. If they're not, make sure they do. Please look after each other. Love each other, a lot." Things like that, making sure everyone's having fun and looking after each other. And if someone's not [having fun], then we'll stop and make sure to change that.

That’s very interesting, especially because there are sonically similar Australian bands that preach a kind of opposite, nihilistic fun.

JE: It's a tough one with the style of music we play because it's very upbeat, dance punk music, and so very conducive to pushing each other and jumping around. And, I mean, go for it and have fun, but don't have fun at the expense of somebody else. That's it in a nutshell.

How have you found the experience of taking something national from a place like Newcastle?

JE: At the moment it's more about pushing. We've got a few bands that are sort of on the ups, trying to get a little bit of traction—like us and like Vacations.

Vacations are doing really well.

JE: Doing incredibly overseas, yes. At the moment, they haven't gotten much radio play, but they've gotten like a million streams on Spotify. They're huge in Brazil. They actually get real comments that say "Come to Brazil!" every day. And they're not memes or jokes—it’s a real thing.

So, at the moment, it's more just expanding what we're doing. We've just bumped up our art team as well. We had two members, and now we've got four members, and it's just trying to bring everyone up together. The idea is that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

RAAVE TAPES - "2 U XOXO"

How did your obsession with gear start? Where did pedals come from for you, and what did they represent as a creative medium?

JE: Very early on as a guitarist—even at school, like in Year 8 and Year 9—I knew I was never going to be the best guitarist in the world. There were what, ten other guitarists in my class who could just shred, and I was like, "Oh, I can't do that."

But I learned very quickly that I could make really dumb noises sound cool. So you'd have this guy shredding this crazy solo, but I'd go, "Waaah." People would look at me like, "Oh, you're doing that? That's pretty cool." So, you know, I realized that where there's a will, there's a way.

Our old bass player (Joel Burgess) and I worked at Domino’s Pizza together—he was a delivery driver, and I was making pizzas—and we both started buying pedals. We’d have them shipped to the post office next door, so over the years, we’d go to work and be like "I think it’s here, I think it’s here!" It would be so exciting. "Oh, read the manual. Oh, it does this. Oh my God!" I still remember the first one that I got from overseas that I was so excited about.

What was it?

JE: It was the original POG. That was my first big pedal that I got that I was excited about, and it just spiralled from there. It got to the point where I had quite a few on my board, and I enjoyed it and wanted to start this band where we could just make crazy noises and do that kind of thing. I knew I wasn't going to use them all at once, but I wanted them all there so that I always had a palette to create from.

So it was about feeling unrestricted. Do you think you could write the music that you write without the gear that you have?

JE: You could do something similar, yes, but I think [the gear] is the polish. A lot of the inspiration comes from the pedals. You write to the gear—it inspires you. If I hit on a few different pedals, you're going to play a million times differently than you would without them there.

Lindsay, you said you previously played in another band. Was that heavily gear-focused as well?

LO: No, not at all. I used the EHX Cathedral pedal and that was it.

So you turn up to your first practice and you have a Cathedral, and Joab has… the Joab-Raft.

JE: Joab-Raft!

LO: Yes.

How do you slot into that dynamic? What was your initial impression of creating in this new way?

LO: Intimidating. The pedalboard I have now is being curated by Joel. He left this legacy of sorts.

JE: Bless his cotton socks.

LO: Bless... He's a madman. Joab makes amazing sounds, but Joel was playing a lot, to the point where coming into it, I practised my little tush off. Then I came in and did the audition, of course, but I still wasn't sure of it. It was just a conversation Joab and I had late at night. And it wasn't just learning how to play the tabs, it was learning how to use all of the pedals too.

Right. So you were a technician as well as an instrumentalist.

LO: It's being a technician, yes, exactly. With only one guitarist and one vocalist, you need so much lower-end to carry the songs.

JE: She does all the work. We talk about that all the time. She literally does all the work. I just make some dumb noises and scream a bit.

LO: You get people after the gig saying "Wow, that bass turn was amazing, what is it?" Well, it's this POG or this Markbass Synth and then this POG on top of it, and then for this one, I use this and this and this—it's so fun. Fantastic. Someone asked me last night if everything was pre-programmed so that it's switching automatically, and I was like "No, I'm tap-dancing on the stage."

JE: I should say, though, programmed switching is so good—programmed switching's the best. If anyone ever asks me the inevitable question, "What's your favourite pedal?" Always, it's the Musicom Switcher. Programmable bypass with looping and MIDI is just the best thing in the world. If you've got six pedals and a looper that's programmable, you've got so many more sounds to use in a band.

So on the gear front, could you talk us through the bass board?

LO: Mainly, I'm running through the Markbass Super Synth, switching through a couple of different settings for the tone, and then the Zvex Mastotron. It's so cool, so much crunch. I mainly switch between those two and then an MXR Overdrive, the POG, and there's the MXR Compressor. Then, at the end, you've got the Walrus Janus with the joystick.

You have two pedals at the start that are kind of generating square waves, kind of synthy, and then processing it from there? That's the vibe?

LO: Yes, exactly.

Do you find that many pedals lose the natural low-end from the bass? Or does it matter?

LO: No, not at all. If anything, I use the sub-octaves on the first two pedals for more low-end.

JE: Yes, there's a lot of high-frequency buzz happening from me, so the bass fills in a lot of the spectrum so that I can play quite high.

Yes, cool. Guitar board, dare I?

JE: It starts with the Boss PS-2, the classic Slowdive one, which I sometimes hit just for the spray of distorted delay at the start of things—just really messy and grimy. Then I go into the Bananana Mandala, which is pretty much a Rainbow Machine rip-off. But it’s really small, and it’s got a big arcade button. And then into the Musicom Labs switcher.

The looper chain starts with a Diamond Compressor. I don't use compression in the traditional sense—I use it purely to make my octave and synth pedals track better. Then I go to a Bit Commander, and then into a Crowther Prunes & Custard. I love that pedal so much, and I put my OC-2 after it. It’s not the logical order, but I’ve tried all of the different arrangements and you have to put it in that order because of the envelope filter kind of thing. I use it a lot when trying to get a house techno sound. If I make my picking go softer, it sounds like you're closing a low-pass filter. As you go a bit harder, it opens up, so you need the octave to be after it for that to work. If the octave's before it, you can't get that.

There's the underrated Digitech Synth Wah after that, which I use heaps as well. That's the kind of pedal that sounds okay on its own but even better with a heavy slap-back delay after it—that’s one of my major sounds.

There’s a Klon KTR after that and then a Moog Overdrive that I use with heaps of tone up in the filter. It works well with the Synth Wah because you get a really high, piercing sort of aggressive sound. They work well together, which is nice.

There are a couple of other things in there, like a whammy in the middle and a Moog FreqBox that I use with an expression pedal for controlling the envelope. It works as an envelope follower, not an envelope filter, which gives it a really, early-Daft-Punk-disgusting kind of sound.

That’s rad. To switch gears a bit, Lindsay, how would you describe the experience of being a female-identifying person in the Aus indie rock community? Do you feel supported in your community?

LO: By the local community, totally. Newcastle's so great and No-Fi's amazing for it, but I distinctly remember the first announcement that I was going to be the bass player for Raave Tapes, and there were those comments like, "She looks good. Putting a girl in the band looks good." So that sucks.

But it also brings people together in a way. It’s so inspiring to find women who really know what they're doing and are really, really passionate about it. Look at St. Vincent—she shreds, she fucking shreds. So many women like that are popping up in Australia at the moment, it's fantastic. Unfortunately, you’re always going to have both sides of the spectrum.

I think it’s sometimes harder for female musicians to feel inspired to play music—and play well—when there are so many boys who can play and have been in lessons since they were young and are getting signed and getting in bands and getting played. You're like, "Oh, well, it mustn’t really matter what I'm doing, you know?"

For the longest time, it’s felt like less and less girls were getting guitar lessons and music lessons. We were getting dance lessons. Boys do soccer, girls do netball. It's that kind of thing. So often when I talk to most female musicians, they've taught themselves.

Are you self-taught?

LO: Yes. That self-determination can be so cool, and a lot of the time, it makes us so much more experimental.

For more of Raave Tapes, you can check out their website here.


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