Interview: Aoi

“Aoi’s influences come together into one amorphous, pulsating blob of sound, creating something of a mystery as to exactly what is going on. According to (Aoi), it’s the influence of “beat digging culture, anime, italian zombie flicks, gold fronts, weird video games, golden era rap music, dusty drums, no quantising, prog, soul, krautrock and jazz fusion” that made it what it is.” (Nick Sweepah)

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Matthew Jonas has quite a few musical aliases, including juke project Lamborghini Asshole, jungle project Kitburner, former member of Brisbane shoegaze band Shuriken. For this interview, he is hip-hop beats producer Aoi. He has released many albums, EPs, and remixes, has produced for a plethora of rappers, and has featured on Uncomfortable Beats compilations. As a live performer, he’s supported (to name a few) RZA, Peanut Butter Wolf, Ras G, Foreign Beggars, Doshy, Hrvatski, and is soon supporting DJ Krush in Brisbane.

It’s a glum and overcast day in Melbourne as the tram stops at the end of the 96 route in East Brunswick, just near Triple R community radio station. We’re going to visit Aoi, who lives in a flat a block up from here. After repeated rapping on the door, I’m greeted by a bleary-eyed Matthew Jonas.

“I’ve just been rehearsing with L-Burn all weekend, pretty tired,” he slurs, letting me in. L-Burn Illuminati is a burgeoning hip-hop collective of which Matt is a member and co-founder of, who are made up of eight producers and fourteen MCs.

We go into the flat, past a kitchen with many empty beer bottles and pizza boxes (“Oh that’s L-Burn meeting mess”), and go into the loungeroom, homely with the smell of old smoke. There are many crates and shelves of records, mixed with pop culture figurines of Aliens, Akira and Stimpy, and there is Streetfighter 2 and MF Doom posters tacked to the wall.

We settle back for a chat, and Matt shows me some old clips of his friend Brendan “Baddums” Webb’s Sonic Youth-reminiscent rock band filmclips. Brendan acted as a guide, facilitator for Matt in Brisbane, and then Melbourne when they both ended up moving down there, introducing Matt to many influential people in Matt’s life. Brendan was also heavily involved in the bass music scene in Melbourne, helping introduce acts like Digital Mystikz and Kode9 to Australia between 2005-08, and is regarded by many as a under-rated luminary and networker.

“I knew Brendan from when we were both involved in the shoegaze/indie rock scene in Brisbane,” Matt explains. “I was with my band Shuriken, and Aoi was already on the roll.”

We discussed Aoi’s origins and history, of which there was a lot to piece together in order to assemble a whole picture. Matt was brought up by his mother and step-dad listening to tapes of 80s bands like Duran Duran and Inxs, and also played around with synthesisers at home, which led to his sustained interested in electronic sound. Matt remembers visiting his father in Sydney when his life-long love of rugged hip-hop beats took off. “I got a Public Enemy CD and it was on. I was hooked.” He also cites Company Flow, Wu-Tang Clan, Premier and Kool G Rap as his original influences, and later J Dilla and Madlib.

When Matt started Aoi in Brisbane in 1998, he didn’t even have his own computer and used his neighbour’s one to record his samples on a Deck II application. He recorded his own instrumental samples such vocals, drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, Roland 626 drum machine and field recordings before shifting over to record-based samples, and still carries on sampling and collecting sounds for his library for future application.

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Crate-digging is a fascination that helps drive his music. “I’m continually record digging, finding samples, finding new artists and labels to research, I’m gathering material as I buy and listen to records. I generally as a rule don’t buy re-issues and try to stay off ebay or online sales so there’s more of a mystery as to what material I may find and can use.”

When asked about one instrument that drives his tracks, he claims percussion as master. “Drums are the general core of what I’m doing and I will always buy a record that has dope drums on it. When asked about the rawness of his tracks, Aoi said that “I generally don’t get my tracks mastered. I don’t see the need often.”

Aoi first released Lo Tracks Era in 2008 as a one hundred hand-painted CD-R run, and later followed up with releases Breakdance at Tiffany’s (2008) and Prelude to a Come Down (2010). He says that “every record is kinda made the same way if it’s a solo instrumental release, I just go through joints I’ve made and try to find a thematic set of tracks that fit a mood or tell a story in my head…I don’t usually go into it going “oh ok this song is going to be for record X” or whatever….”

He was also released Spotwelders Vol 1 & 2 mixtapes in 2008/9, which were remixes of such hip-hop artists as Wu-Tang Clan, Kool G rap and MF Doom.

L-Burn Illuminati formed in 2009 when Brendan introduced Matt to Jerim Nania aka Mr DNA. “Me and DNA hit it off. We both had a new, fun way of doing hip-hop, and we both wanted to get others to work as a real Melbourne collective with a fresh approach.” The two met up in Frankfurt, Germany,. “We had no real plan of where we were going, we just figured out on the way.” They performed nine shows in Germany, and then made plans to gather others with the same sort of vision as them, “…to make a sort of Aussie version of the Wu-Tang clan.”

Matt and Jerim were already mutual friends with many of the to-be members in Melbourne, including MCs Epps and Class A, producer/MCs Kwasi and Yes/No/Maybe, and producers DOS4GW, Tigermoth, Dyl Thomas, Suckafish P Jones and So High. Jerim and Matt then networked with American MCs through checking out their clips on Youtube. These American members were GDP and The Man From Somewhere Else from New Jersey, Noemotion Goldmask from Florida, Lukey Cage from Atlanta who is “obsessed with comic books and booty”, and Prince Mackerel – an abstract Cleveland rapper whose low public profile somewhat contradictory to his prolific recording of seven albums with Aoi.

Aoi says that they all “have a mutually introvertive relationship in L-Burn, that’s why we always have our in-jokes etc, it’s our own little world away from conventional hip-hop. We’re not “aussie” hip-hop, that’s too narrow a definition for what hip-hop’s about. L-Burn’s also a lot of fun, we all hang out and eat pizza, do nangs, drink beer, smoke weed and play computer games together.”

According to Aoi, L-Burn Illuminati’s seemingly irreverent nature towards hip-hop’s cliches isn’t deconstructive. “We love real raw hip-hop and hopefully others can see that. There’s a lot of bizarre cliches and fads we like to poke fun at, but all that sort of stuff makes hip-hop really fun too.”

It’s at about this point that our interview gets side-tracked for more normal conversation. Aoi’s impressive resume and talent is contrasted by his overall humble approach and boyishness. He excitedly talks about holding a Streetfighter 2 night and laments that L-Burn members can’t agree on playing one game. “Some of them want to play Mortal Kombat, but it’s not as playable…” Aoi’s phone rings and it’s Suckerfish P Jones. “He’s rolling around to make some beats and get blazed soon…”

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We get back on track with Matt’s history. Aoi’s continued journey in hip-hop beats with L-Burn Illuminati soon saw him hook up with Wax Museum Records in Melbourne. Wax Museum released the wax-exclusive Funnelweb in 2011, and just beforehand he also released the Mallard Blimps EP, which was released to those who purchased Funnelweb. It proved popular in Japan and America, and soon sold out.

The rest of Aoi’s 2011 was spent collaborating with L-Burn Illuminati members Lukey Cage, Prince Mackerel, Noemotion, GDP, at the end of which they released the first L-Burn Illuminati Christmas “mixtape,” a free digital release on Bandcamp, which would set the standard for L-Burn free releases and their overall sound. This was punctuated by their filmclip of ‘Eight Arms (Octo Marvelous)’, which featured eight of L-Burn’s MCs rapping over the top of a DOS4GW beat. Aoi went over to Japan to tour with Tigermoth around this end-of-year period as well.

The start of 2012 saw Aoi and Class A teamed up as The Baroness to release their self-titled album, which Aoi thinks was “one of the most successful projects I’ve been a part of.” This album and the later release of Fairmont Rear View were received well, and they both featured as hip-hop albums of the week on Triple J. They are now currently working together on another album.

Aoi then ventured off into more abstract beats and time signatures in his 21-track album Steady Dedicated, which took him two week to produce, and his ambient Hindsight remixes of tracks on the album and accompanying Youtube filmclip. This was followed up by another solo release called Do It Yrself, which Aoi reckons is his “best one yet.”

Currently Aoi is working on three other releases, one being a collaboration with Tigermoth, another with TMFSE, and a debut album with L-Burn Illuminati. “Yeah, this is going to be the first time we’ve released a proper album together, the closest we ever got before was ‘Eight Arms (Octo Marvelous).’ The album is going to be like that, but also travelling to a lot of other places too, cause there’s so many of us involved.”

We get side-tracked again now that we’ve pretty much discussed Matt’s music, and talk about the photos we’re going to shoot. “Maybe I can be eating a bowl of Homebrand Cornflakes or something, or show off my bling,” he says, showing off an electrical cord he’s using for a belt for his pants. There’s a knock at the door and it’s Suckerfish P Jones. As I prepare to leave, the atmosphere is relaxed and rather than having a set workflow, they’re more interested in talking about games and smoking blunts.

“That’s it in a nutshell, if you’re just having fun and working organically, then real music will come around itself in good time. Music should be fun.”

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Pay-as-you-please Aoi, The Baroness, Prince Mackerel and L-Burn Illuminati albums…

Current Aoi albums: aoibeats.bandcamp.com

Old Aoi albums and mixtapes: datarook.net/aoi/discog.htm

The Baroness: http://thebaroness.bandcamp.com/

Prince Mackerel: http://princemackerel.bandcamp.com/

L-Burn Illuminati: http://lburnill.bandcamp.com/

Authored by Kristian Hatton

Photos by Lucie Edenbarough

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