Surveillance Party is a Sydney record label with global aspirations, primarily powered by Xan Müller, Courtney Calloway, and Mark Forester. The crew have been pushing the cultural and curatorial envelope in this city from the start, and BBR recently took the opportunity to place co founder Xan Muller under close observation with a direct line of questioning …
What was your inspiration to get Surveillance Party up and running?
Initially we observed that for a multiplicity of reasons the Sydney music scene was oppressed and fractured. Often this fracturing was self inflicted along musical genre lines, which didn’t make any sense to us because we ourselves are artists who are eclectic and musically omnivorous.
We learned that people want to feel safe and hassle free, and to party hard in social, diverse environments until they choose to go home. They want to make friends, hear music that moves them, dance, and forget their problems for a while. Its simple, primal and justified, and its our honour to provide it.
The political repression obviously is a constant struggle, but we treat it as a memento mori to go out and actually make something happen and get away with it. And yes, there have been bad times, scary, frightening times, but we deal with them and we learn from them and move on.
You’ve built a great community around your unique parties, was this what you set out to achieve from the start, or are things just evolving?
It was completely intentional, we just wanted to create nights that we ourselves would want to go to. That said, Surveillance Party is rapidly iterative and we change what we are doing constantly.
The current regulatory and commercial environment around our industry is as tough as it has ever been, probably the worst conditions in Sydney since the proliferation of electronic poker machines in the early 80’s. Yet there are some silver linings appearing around the clouds. Surveillance Party has been one of those silver linings, continuing to press on pushing the creative and curatorial envelope at events. How do you stay motivated in Sydney at the moment?
Political repression is nothing new, but the digital tools to prosecute it certainly are. There is no cultural utopia just around the corner, and the name Surveillance Party is no accident. The world is exponentially accelerating in terms of globalisation, climate, and technology. You have to adapt, tinker, iterate, takes risks quickly and learn from them and try again. Not because its cool or glamorous, but simply because you want to survive as an entity. Sydney has unique, mostly latent musical and cultural pre conditions. It has musical fashions and tropes that are at once bizarrely 25 years behind the times, and also totally fresh and inventive. It has wealth, freedom, and also staggering inequality and insipid oppression. It has snobbish enclave exclusivity sitting alongside collaborative diverse enterprises. The unresolved cultural push pull beneath the surface in this city is intense, the identity conflict is naked. Sydney is a wealthy western microcosm of global intergenerational struggle. The Gen Y’s and Millennials can finally see now what they are up against, but they can’t reach the power levers, and they have a creeping sense of dread that maybe its too late.
Electronic Music in particular seems to influence a lot of local scenes from certain global hotspots? We always seem to hear about London, Berlin, New York, Ibiza …. is there much of a reciprocal influence heading out of Sydney back into the global scene? What could we be doing better to amplify this?
Sydney has a sporadic global influence, and it has produced some global musical heroes that never went appreciated here because the lifer curator at JJJ chose not acknowledge them. Its not the fault of an individual, historically every arts organisation which takes governmental or corporate funding will protect the interests of that funder, even if that behaviour is disguised or mitigated. The friendly threat to artists has always been consistent in its hypocrisy, say whatever you like, just don’t say anything we don’t like.
On a practical level, the return airfare down here is intimidating if you compare it to just hopping from Valencia to Switzerland or Tel Aviv or Ukraine for a few sets. The clubs won’t pay the appropriate fee if it doesn’t make sense financially, and the punters can’t give them that financial base because they can’t buy the experience that they want.
We need to remember that historically music and art are always the frontlines of cultural conflict, and due to the shrinking effect of globalisation, the conflict that Sydney entered into has already sparked across to London and beyond. Governing powers have a long and bloody history of executing artists, and they just recently developed a whole new set of digital tools. We are all living in the Surveillance Party. If you want to make a difference its very easy, you just have to unhook from the new anaesthetics. Cancel your streaming subscriptions, lock down your weekly social media hours. It will hurt a little, but you will leave the coliseum stands with your head held high, and in that newly created mental void, an idea will come to you.
Following the collapse of big festivals like Stereosonic and Future Music, we are seeing boutique festivals evolving like Subsonic, Pitch, Babylon, Lost Paradise and Electric Gardens which is a healthy thing. How do you see the relationship of these festivals to the local scene?
The super festival was always a pretty overtly corporate affair, and on some level people began to sense that it wasn’t really about the sharing of a musical experience so much as it was about making money. Once you saw posters for Avicii headlining a festival at the Randwick Racecourse you knew that the game was up really, and it was no longer pretending to be about the music. The newcomers actually want to begin a dialogue with the Surveillance Parties and the Bondi Beach Radios. They still need to turn a dollar, but now it has some genuineness about it in terms of its musical intention. It feels much more authentic.
The Locals Lounge at Electric Gardens will be a great way for some crews to get together and generate a decent vibe amongst a pretty high profile international line up. How many of these producers / DJs do you play frequently or find yourself influenced by?
Electric Gardens headliners Guy J and Guy Mantzur finished a massive tour not long ago where they were closing their sets with “Climb to the Sun Feat. HVPTIC”. HVPTIC is a core Surveillance Party artist, so actually it is us who are influencing them!
Join the BBR and Surveillance party on Saturday 28th January at Centennial Park at the Locals Lounge, industry tickets avail here