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Kangaroo Skull Is The Stephen Hawking Of Electronic Music

Rohan Rebeiro is king of the tech heads.
March 18, 2014, 10:01am

Image by Ben Thomson

Most of us were introduced to Rohan Rebeiro as the drummer of My Disco, one of the most universally admired Melbourne bands of the last decade. For the past few years he's been playing under the name Kangaroo Skull, making noisy and experimental sounds that often push past our expectations of electronic music. His technical skill and impressive live sets mean his shows are always packed with admirers, as interested in catching a glimpse at what he's doing as they are in thrashing around to his sounds.

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THUMP: Hey Ro, although Kangaroo Skull has similarities to My Disco it's obviously a pretty different direction for you, what made you want to step out and do something else?
Rohan: I think it was a point where My Disco was a bit less active, and I just started messing around more with the computer and put time into it. Compositionally there're similarities: My Disco was at times about going and hitting that machine-like rhythm, and then you do it on a computer and it's even better.

Is that kind of a goal for you to get to that machine cleanness? Is it an aesthetic you enjoy listening to?
It's really weird the accuracy of the machine, but then I also miss the physical interaction. At the moment I'm trying to work out how you can do a computer music set but have lots of physical things happening.

You mean improvisation?
Yeah, so if I'm not in this big angry mood I don't have to play this big angry music or if I want to play soft things I can just do it. Same as improvising with the drums, you can try to shape a performance a little bit more.

Like being a jazz musician in the 40s, you'd kind of play 40 types of sets.
Yeah, it would be good to have that sort of freedom—bit difficult with your computer music set and ready to go on what you rehearsed. That's also true with the rock band thing, it's not like you sort of go: Oh there are five people here, we're going to change the songs collectively to suit that environment. Trying to incorporate a little more improvisation is fun.

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The way you make music is quite hands off—like 90 percent is clicking with a mouse.
Yeah that's true. I haven't made stuff with mini keyboards or anything. So far it has kind of been streams of numbers and seeing what comes up from that. You put in a bunch of frequencies and rhythms, and a bunch of envelope details, and you hit the sequence to start it running and feel around for what's happening.

At the moment it's like I've made this system, a crazy stream of numbers, every parameter is represented by one number in a string—it could be six numbers to one block to be hit out at one time.

It's this all in one idea of sequencing that's really tedious to try out. I started this stuff using an MPC, which I loved for ages, and that's really intuitive and easy to bring up a pattern because you've got all of your collections right in front of you. It can get a little bit tedious, just punching the numbers and then seeing what happens. But it's also really surprising when something happens because you missed a digit and produces something cool you didn't imagine—it sounds really fresh.

Are mistakes an important part of your process?
Lately I've got a couple of tracks for the first time that use the idea of random and generative music. It's kind of like there's a rhythm that can select three different options or three different combinations of numbers. In a drum machine situation you've got the kick drum happening, the high hats happening, the snare drum and maybe a clap sound. Basically you've got this clap that's improvising itself, and selecting from five options of rhythms so it generates itself and keeps the feeling of movement happening.

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As someone who goes to a huge variety of shows, what's important to you as an audience member that you feel you'd like to develop?
I think the first thing is the sounds system. I guess that's a given, I don't feel like it has to be that loud it just has to be really audible for the entire room and have a nice equal amount of frequencies for the whole spectrum. Always plenty of bass, but not to the point of a techno gig where all you hear is the womping of the bass drum and you can't hear the rhythmic details. I guess the most important thing is there's so much cool activity that happens in that mid-range, the bass anchors everything and the mid-range directs and gives that danceable element.

You just got back from Camp A Low Hum, how was it?
It was a really good experience, I played a live set, it was pretty nerve wracking. It was the first time trying out this touch screen idea, I'd never played it live and then the first time I'm playing at 2.30AM at Camp A Low Hum. All the classic things went wrong: I was trying to set up a Wi-Fi network from the iPad and it wasn't connecting. I hadn't rehearsed it much but I found it amazing doing things with my hands—like swiping across to trigger delays and stuff. These objects have this weird reflectivity, you can throw a ball and it can bounce and has this weird springy life to it.

On the MIDI controller you've still got the buttons, but you have to look at the screen to see what they correspond to or memorise. With the iPad I've got buttons I can label, read, and punch in different samples and sequences through Lima. The laptop doesn't have to be around on stage, it can be totally blacked out sitting in the corner and i can just perform with touchscreens and maybe a couple of dials. It'd be cool if there were a bigger unit so you could have your entire set.

Like what Bjork was using.
Yeah pretty much, I think she was using Lima, but some crazy custom thing.

You need like five iPads off eBay that you can just glue together.
I've been trying to work out how to do it.

Kangroo Skull is playing our Melbourne Thump Presents show on 27 March with Cale Sexton and Air Max 97. It's free so make sure you RSVP.