The late Mark Fisher once defined weird as the presence of “that which does not belong.” In an intriguing analysis of the Australian Gothic classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, he extended this notion to colonised Australia as a whole, where the culture of European settlers is “imported into a landscape whose very scale – temporal as well as spatial – mocks them, [makes them] appear not only geographically, but ontologically out of place, an invasion from another world.” At the end of his Saturday night set at Inner Varnika 2018, A Colourful Storm founder Matthew Xue, AKA Moopie, conjured a sensation of weirdness that Fisher, an avid fan of The Fall, would have undoubtedly appreciated, playing a sample of Mark E. Smith reading the football results on Match of the Day to a joyous crowd dancing in clouds of dust. “Brentford… 3… Oldham Athletic… 3,” Smith’s half-pissed Mancunian slur spat out across an expansive, barren landscape, one that already feels haunted with apparitions. An invasion from another world indeed.
As a tribute to Smith, who died in January 2018, it was oddly moving, leaving Finn Johannsen with tears in his eyes, yet in less capable hands it might have been an act of cultural discordance that operated purely at the level of irony, it’s placelessness being the butt of a joke. Fortunately, as the records he has released on A Colourful Storm show, Moopie isn’t really one to resort to these kinds of tricks. Indeed, the thread that holds together the label’s incredibly varied catalogue – encompassing reissues, compilations and new music of all description – may well be sincerity: this is music that is intended to produce real feelings upon the listener. Feeling takes precedence over function, and certainly over any conventional notions of what an ‘electronic’ label should release. As Moopie puts it, “who’s writing the rules, anyway?”
Despite existing in various forms since 2010, ACS took shape as a label in 2016 with a reissue of Denial’s California Dreaming / The Weatherman 7” clearly setting the mood for the music that has followed. Originally recorded in Sydney in 1982, Denial was lead by Brian Hall, whose work as Aural Indifference has featured on a number of Minimal Wave compilations – one of a handful of record labels that bear comparison to A Colourful Storm. The A-side, a cover of the Mama and Papa’s 1965 classic, is a world away from the bittersweet warmth of the original, its devastating loneliness amplified immeasurably over icy synthesisers and a minimal drum pattern. On the B-side, ‘The Weatherman’, we’re taken to slightly – only slightly – warmer climes with shades of the jangle pop that was still yet to come at the time of the record’s initial release, overlaid with yet more haunting synth lines. It’s pop music, but not necessarily as you know it.
The same is true for the label’s first compilation, 2017’s I Won’t Have to Think About You, and second reissue, Blueboy’s The Bank of England, released in 2018. The former, compiled by Moopie and Bayu, is a truly gorgeous collection of short songs by long-forgotten bands that somehow leaves you veering between sincere sobs and uncontrollable smiles no matter how often you listen to it; the timeless quality of the music contained in the collection only heightened by the fact that it is not arranged chronologically. Meanwhile The Bank of England, originally released in 1998, is truly widescreen music, dream pop that evokes vast spaces while wearing its heart firmly on its sleeve.
Of course, there is also a side to A Colourful Storm that is more dancefloor-centric, albeit in Moopie’s typically idiosyncratic way. Releases by Nerve, Tackle and Mark may stylistically reference electro and industrial, jungle and drum & bass, popular sources of inspiration for many producers today, but do so in a way that is far more imaginative and interesting than your average nostalgic revivalist, breathing new life into old forms. Even minimal and tech house receive a similar treatment on 2017’s Klon Dump Versus the Open Air, a record that manages to isolate the very strangest aspects of those much maligned genres to almost hysterical effect. It’s fitting, then, that A Colourful Storm’s latest release, Exquisite Angst, is a retrospective of music produced by a master of genre-fuckery, Christoph de Babalon. The collection brings together music recorded between 1993 and 1998, yet like everything on A Colourful Storm, somehow manages to seem completely out of time and place. Or weird, as Mark Fisher might have put it.
In December 2018 we asked Moopie some questions about A Colourful Storm, its past, present and future, which you can read below.
A Colourful Storm has encompassed a number of different forms over the past eight years – how did it come into being, take shape, succeed?
A Colourful Storm started as a mix series by a few students to show off their less than impressive record collections. Its identity didn’t begin to form until much later though, when the idea to turn it into a record label came to mind. It was only then I felt that I could offer a more meaningful narrative. Things materialised in 2016 with the reissue of Denial’s California Dreaming / The Weatherman 7”.
One can see a clear development from early mix series contributions to the releases on A Colourful Storm today, while retaining certain similarities with your current output: a taste for the esoteric, for music that emerged from the post-punk milieu, minimal wave, electro. How have you approached developing your own sound? What were early sources of inspiration and who inspires you today?
My mixes in the early stages of the series were really just responses to the music I was hearing so prevalently around me, in that they all shared some detachment from contemporary music and especially contemporary dance music at that time. Embarrassingly, I still carry this attitude although I’ve loosened up a lot more. As for inspirations, well… I’d risk sounding like a hopeless romantic if I listed them all, so I’ll just say that a certain mix by Ivan Smagghe left some kind of impression on me.
Melbourne is a small city compared to London or Berlin. The infrastructure that exists to support underground and/or electronic music is not even slightly comparable. Is there ever a temptation to move away, or does Melbourne provide something that the apparent promises of greater success held in Europe simply can’t?
I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but no, Melbourne doesn’t provide me with that ‘something’, or at least enough of it to sustain what I want to do. I needed to forge relationships in music elsewhere.
A Colourful Storm has always had an ear for interesting music elsewhere, with international acts contributing to the mix series, and the club night playing host to a range of international guests including Silent Servant, Shackleton and Rabih Beaini. As a label, releases from Mark (an Australian based in Berlin) and Christoph de Babalon continue this. How have you worked to build these relationships and how have these connections taken shape – has it happened organically, or has it been hard work?
Though they sometimes crossed over, the mixes and club nights were separate entities to show we were at musically. The parties were memorable and I’m grateful for what transpired out of them, but it wasn’t until the label started that things became really interesting – persuading people like Mark and Christoph to work with me was an entirely different exercise in risk and reward.
Despite needing to “forge relationships in music elsewhere”, as is the case with Mark and Christoph, who would you consider yourself close to musically in Melbourne? Other than Nerve and Tackle, can we expect any other Melbourne-based artists to be released on A Colourful Storm soon?
Not many people. However, with the handful I am close to I can delve into, pick apart and most importantly, disagree on things quite comfortably. And yes, definitely – if all goes to plan I’ll be releasing a debut record by a Melbourne-based group this year.
A Colourful Storm’s output has been a mixture of new and old: compilations and reissues are undoubtedly an important aspect of the label. How did the Blueboy reissue come about, what lead you and Bayu to compile ‘I Won’t Have to Think About You’, and what has been the process with the Christoph de Babalon retrospective?
The ‘I Won’t Have To Think About You’ compilation was reflective of the kind of records Bayu and I were playing at the time and wanted to explore further – bands like Blueboy included. It turns out we share similar sensibilities throughout all kinds of music, so I wouldn’t rule out a second compilation happening at some stage. The idea for the Christoph de Babalon LP came early last year and materialised around the time he was playing a show with Mark – he seemed like the kind of guy I could get along with and I guess I was right.
Like Blackest Ever Black, A Colourful Storm’s output and aesthetic is expansive and varied, yet always manages to be consistent and coherent. How does one manage to achieve this?
I just try to follow my instinct during the decision-making process of every release. I try to explore facets within music in which I can see some part of myself, so if consistency and coherency are the impressions that the label gives, I can’t complain.
Someone recently inquired with If-Only as to what genre Mark’s ‘Integrier Dich Du Yuppie’ could be considered and one suggestion was ‘avant amen’. Much of the music on the label resists conventional categorisation, is this intentional? How would you describe the label’s output overall?
I don’t think that conventional categorisation is such a consideration – who’s writing the rules, anyway? Of course I’m aware of what the rules might entail, so if anything, the music on the label might be driven not so much by resistance as indifference. I guess I’m more interested the kind of feelings I want to evoke with each release.
Purely in the realm of fantasy, what would be your dream record to reissue on A Colourful Storm and why?
Fantasising about reissues feels restrictive in regards to what I want the label to be. On a personal level, I’d be humbled if I could give new life to the first two Blueboy albums If Wishes Were Horses and Unisex.
You’ve hinted at a follow-up to I Won’t Have To Think About You, but what can we expect from A Colourful Storm in the immediate future?
New work by Brunnen, the return of Klon Dump, the aforementioned group project and a couple of retrospectives – one of which is of one of my favourite ’90s ambient-techno artists. A whole heap of other things, fingers crossed.